Saturday 30 November 2013

J. D. Salinger: the leak...

JD Salinger's unpublished stories leaked online
Kept under lock and key, JD Salinger's three unpublished stories have now escaped online, to a mixed response from fans

Maev Kennedy
The Guardian
Thursday 28 November 2013

If the reclusive, controlling, JD Salinger had not died three years ago, inevitably he would be suspected as the source of the leak of three short stories, including an early version of The Catcher in the Rye, which he had ordered not to be published until decades after his death.

Salinger's life and work have been wreathed in conspiracy theories, fanned by the temperament of the man himself, including assertions that his greatest masterpieces were being written during the silent years, and that a safe – or an entire room – full of unpublished treasure would one day be discovered. A recent biography claimed that the author had planned the phased release of a string of works.

Now, apparently accurate transcripts of three stories, whose original manuscripts are kept under lock and key in university libraries, have escaped into the world.

In a particularly Salingerish touch, the source appears to be a scan of a pirate edition of the texts with a title page bearing the brain-twisting words: "The three stories in this book remain unpublished and locked by JD Salinger for publishing."

The copy, said to be one of 25 printed in London in 1999, was apparently sold on eBay in September by a seller listed as seymourstainglass, with an address in Brentford, west London. It sold for a mere £67.50, considerably less than a first edition of The Catcher in decent condition.

The scans were posted on a members' only site, called The site later took the post down, but by then the stories were being commented on and copied across other sites, including Reddit.

These three stories were not unknown unknowns; Salinger scholars knew of their existence, but the terms on which the world at large would ever see them were sternly laid down by the author.

The stories include An Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, which has only been available under lock and key to scholars at Princeton library.

The tale is an early version, originally written for Harper's Bazaar magazine but withdrawn before publication, of The Catcher in the Rye. The narrator is the older brother of Holden Caulfield, the teenage narrator of the later book.

The terms attached to the donated work were precise: the story was not to be published until 27 January 2060, half a century after Salinger's death in 2010.

The other stories, entitled Paula, and Birthday Boy, were held by the University of Texas under similar conditions.

Kenneth Slawenski, a Salinger scholar and biographer, who has read the stories in the university libraries, told the website BuzzFeed that the text appeared accurate. "While I do quibble with the ethics (or lack of ethics) in posting the Salinger stories, they look to be true transcripts of the originals and match my own copies."

PJ Vogt, a Salinger fan and radio producer, said the text of An Ocean Full of Bowling Balls appeared accurate but the scan was not a copy of the Princeton manuscript. "When I finally read it I was just convinced it was the best story I'd ever read," he added.

A Princeton University spokesman said: "The story is probably an unauthorised version transcribed longhand in our reading room. It's also possible that it came from photocopies of the typescript probably made before the mid 1980s when we decided we'd no longer allow photo-duplication for any work by Salinger."

Salinger, born in New York in 1919, was apparently traumatised by the wildfire success of the Catcher, a classic of teenage angst, which regularly tops lists of favourite and most influential books, and which has never been out of print.

He increasingly withdrew from public view, staying at the New Hampshire village of Cornish where shopkeepers delighted in misdirecting literary pilgrims. He took back some stories already offered to magazines, and published less and less, until, as far as the world understood, he stopped writing in 1965.

Further glimpses were afforded by his efforts to squash various memoirs, including the 1972 account, and the auction of letters by Joyce Maynard, telling of their nine-month affair when she was 18 and he was 53. There was also legal action against a proposed unauthorised sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.

A biography by David Shields and Shane Salemo claims Salinger completed a string of works, including autobiographical material and stories, for which he planned a release over the coming decades.

Fans are split between those eager to get at every unpublished word, and those respectful of their eccentric hero's determination to control his literary legacy from beyond the grave.

Dead Caulfields, a J D Salinger fan site goes into the unpublished stories in depth, but notes: "We are respectfully aware of the author's privacy … while walking on eggshells, it is our attempt to shed as much light as possible on these stories without overstepping either legal or moral bounds."

The scans posted to, then removed by the site, prompted the website to state: "Due to this case's rare and unlikely circumstances, due to the unnecessary and unwanted attention the Salinger leak has brought, and due to our desire to comply with the desires of the Salinger estate or other involved parties in this matter, the content has been removed … It is not to be re-uploaded under any circumstances, and anyone found doing so will have their account disabled." Salinger could hardly have put it better.
As JD Salinger's works leak online, one smells a rat
No one will be disappointed by the three new Salinger stories – but they have got into general circulation by an elaborate ruse

John Sutherland
Friday 29 November 2013

How much do you like the fiction of JD Salinger? It has long been an option open to fans of the author, who wrote so wonderfully but left us tantalisingly little, to buy a flight to New York, get on a bus to Princeton, New Jersey, and sit in a comfortable reading room in the university's library (under discreet supervision), reading The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, which is regarded as a key peripheral text to Catcher in the Rye. You can then take off on a short flight to the Harry Ransom Center, in Austin, Texas, and do the same for the short stories Paula and Birthday Boy. A number of devout Salingerologists have undertaken such a pilgrimage.

There are excellent summaries of the above stories on the delightfully named Dead Caulfields website. But Salinger ordained that these works should not be published until 50 years after his death. It's an edict of extraordinary egotism – not to say spite. Salinger, one deduces, came to hate his contemporaries: not until every single one of them was dead should there be access to the fruits of his genius.

That prohibition has been overturned by the sale on eBay, of all places, of a so-called book – or what bibliographers call "a ghost"; a non-book that doesn't actually exist – containing the three stories. The copyright page describes it as number six of 25, printed in London in 1999, but there's none of the formal copyright data that a printed book requires. It also contains the misinformation that all three manuscripts are in Texas, whereas the most interesting is in Princeton. The text is clearly not typeset, but word-processed.

The sale itself is hugely suspicious. Only 14 bids, with the winner paying a derisory £67.50. Everything points to the conclusion the book was mocked up and the sale rigged to get the contents into the public domain, which the website Reddit has duly done.

Whereas lovers of Salinger will rejoice, Princeton university and the Harry Ransom Centre will be most miffed. Some will claim they have failed in a duty of trust to Salinger's estate, so vigilant of copyright that it is said it will charge you for the use of the words "and" and "the".

There's a concept in law called mortmain, meaning the hand of the dead. How powerful should that hand be? At the time of his death, Vladimir Nabokov was working on a novel. A perfectionist, he decreed that the imperfect manuscript should never be published. And then, instead of destroying the text, he perversely deposited the manuscript in a Swiss bank vault in the custody of his wife and son. It was an exquisite dilemma for them. Eventually, his son Dimitri gave his permission for it to be printed. The Original of Laura was, after all this, found to be disappointing.

No one will be disappointed by the three Salinger stories. But they have got into general circulation by an elaborate ruse. Who did it? One doesn't yet know. But it is a certainty that some will be applauding – most notably those who believe the internet has made mortmain historically obsolete.

Friday 29 November 2013

Wed night's set list

The Elderly Brothers at The Habit, York: -

Bring It On Home To Me
Green, Green Grass Of Home
The Singer Not The Song
When You Walk In The Room

An eclectic mix of tunes on a packed night at The Habit. Loads of players, plenty of punters.

"Unseen" J. D. Salinger stories leaked...

Unseen JD Salinger stories leaked on to filesharing site
In defiance of the late author's wishes, three stories have been released following an eBay auction

Liz Bury
Thursday 28 November 2013

An anonymous filesharer has gone against the wishes of JD Salingerabout the posthumous publication of his works, by leaking a scanned version of three of his short stories online. They include"The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls", thought to be one of the author's best, and which he directed should not be published before 2060.

A pdf which appeared to be a scan of a paperback book entitled Three Stories first showed up in an eBay auction. A post on Reddit suggested that a scan of the book was then uploaded to a filesharing site. Notes on Reddit reported that the uploader claimed that the paperback was number six of 25 copies published in London in 1999.

Ocean Full of Bowling Balls has previously been available to read under supervision at Princeton library. The story concerns the death of Kenneth Caulfield, who developed into the character of Holden's little brother Allie in The Catcher in the Rye. The terms of its donation to the library stipulated that it should not be published until on January 27, 2060, 50 years after Salinger's death.

The two others stories in the scanned paperback are "Paula" and "Birthday Boy", which have only previously been readable at the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center. "Birthday Boy", completed in 1946, is referenced by Salinger in letters as late as 1951.

Salinger scholar Kenneth Slawenski, author of JD Salinger: A Life, told Buzzfeed that "they look to be true transcripts of the originals and match my own copies".

After publication of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951 Salinger fled New York and the limelight to lead a reclusive life in New Hampshire. Makers of the documentary film Salinger, released in September, have claimed that he was writing during this time and that he left instructions to his estate to publish five new books between 2015 and 2020, including A Counterintelligence Agent's Diary, based on the writer's experience interrogating prisoners during the final months of the second world war, and an unseen collection of short stories, The Complete Chronicle of the Glass Family.

The record of the eBay auction, now closed, showed that the winning bid was for £67.50.

Here's a link to the leak, kiddies...

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Tuesday 26 November 2013

John F. Kennedy in Art

Lyonel Feininger - Manhattan II, 1940 

JFK in art: all the president's pictures
The night before he died, President Kennedy and his wife slept in a suite that had been turned into their own private art show. Fifty years on, the exhibition has been recreated. Charles Darwent on how America is reliving the assassination through art

Charles Darwent
The Guardian
Wednesday 20 November 2013 

Just before 8am on 22 November 1963, John F Kennedy stepped bare-headed into the rain outside the Hotel Texas and addressed a crowd of 3,000 people waiting stoically there to see him. There were, he deadpanned, no faint hearts in Fort Worth. JFK apologised for his missing wife, upstairs in their room: "Mrs Kennedy is still organising herself – it takes longer, but of course she looks better than we do when she does it." Then he left with her for Dallas.

We all know what came next, but what had come before?
Morris Graves - Spirit Bird, ca. 1956 

The Kennedys had spent the night of 21 November in suite 850, hung for the occasion with works of art lent by local collectors aghast at reports that the president and his wife were to be fobbed off with the hotel's second-best rooms (the best went to Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, the vice-president and his wife, both Texans). The loans – this was Texas – included a Van Gogh, a Picasso, a Monet, a Raoul Dufy and a Henry Moore. Visit Fort Worth today and you can see the dozen paintings and sculptures again, reunited in a show at the Amon Carter Museum called Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs John F Kennedy.
Charles M. Russell - Lost in a Snowstorm - We are Friends, 1888

Like all tragedies, this one began in comedy. When the Kennedys arrived late the previous night after a gruelling two-day barnstorm through south Texas, they took the Monets and Moores to be chain-store reproductions and went off to bed. The room intended for JFK had been hung with images of American manliness: Charles Marion Russell's Lost in a Snowstorm, in which shivering cowboys and Indians bury the hatchet, was among the stranger choices curators had made for the president. Mrs Kennedy was known to be a francophile. ("My grandfather was French," she had breathed to General de Gaulle on a visit to Paris two years before. "Mine too, madame," he growled back.) She got the impressionists.
Suite 850 at the Hotel Texas on 22 November 1963, showing Thomas Eakins's Swimming and Charles M Russell's Lost in a Snowstorm. Photograph: Byron Scott/Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Thomas Eakins - Swimming, 1885

For some reason now lost to history, the couple, unaware of this his-and-hers hang, switched bedrooms. It was thus Jackie who went to sleep under Thomas Eakins's Swimming, a study of naked youths at a water-hole, chosen as a nod to her husband's escape from his sinking patrol boat in the second world war. President Kennedy would spend his last night on Earth under Van Gogh's Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade, a scene of rural poverty curiously unsuited to the gilded first couple.
Van Gogh - Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade, 1887

There is something painfully intimate about seeing these works half a century on (if you can't make it to the show, Yale has published a book), but also something oddly revealing. More than any previous first couple, the Kennedys had set out to make themselves icons, creatures of the eye, works of art. Thus the paintings hanging in suite 850: the worthies of Fort Worth would not have lent their Picassos for Ike and Mamie Eisenhower.
Franz Kline - Study for Accent Grave, 1954

JFK's had been the first presidential election to be won in a televised debate. A few hours after the Hotel Texas speech, his would be the first assassination caught on film. That, too, has added to the Dallas myth.JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander's View of History, a show at New York's International Centre of Photography (ICP), suggests how disconcertingly democratic the assassination was. Its defining moment – the plume of brain tissue as the president's skull is blown open – was captured not by a news photographer, but by a retired garment manufacturer with a Bell and Howell Zoomatic movie camera, while the assassin turned out to be a shelf-stacker in a book depository.
Pablo Picasso - Angry Owl, 1951–53

Since the founding fathers, the belief that anyone could be president had been a cornerstone of the American dream. As of 22 November, it seemed, anyone could shoot him as well. It was the visual complexity of this new idea that made the assassination so charged. Cameras do not lie: here, for every man to see, was the bare truth, filmed by an American everyman, Abraham Zapruder. And yet the more people looked, the more truth they saw: shadowy figures on grassy knolls, flying skull fragments, faces reflected in warehouse windows. Under the weight of visual fact, the Warren Commission stalled. Anyone might have done it, or everyone. The question "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" took on a dark edge.
Henry Moore - Three Points, 1930–40

In the end, the very visibility of the assassination would make Americans disbelieve their own eyes, and their own innocence. Andy Warhol understood this straight away. Within weeks of that November day in Dallas, he was working on images of the widowed Jackie. In 1968, he would produce Flash – November 22, 1963, a grid of 11 silkscreened prints from which the expected 12th is missing, echoing the riderless horse at JFK's funeral. These works – drawn from news images from Dallas – are at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, in an exhibition called Warhol/JFK: November 22, 1963.
Andy Warhol - Flash – November 22, 1963, 1968

They are not the simple tributes they seem. Raised as a Byzantine Catholic, Warhol knew all about icons. He also understood the fogged relationship between belief and knowledge. "I'd been thrilled about having Kennedy as president," he said. "He was handsome, young, smart, but it didn't bother me that much that he was dead. What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing."
JfK image from Warhol's collection
Archival material from Andy Warhol's collection of news clippings from 1963. The Archive of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

As with the endless news photographs from Texas and Washington, the point of Warhol's Kennedy images would lie in their number and reiteration. Sixteen Jackies, his 1964 work, was followed in the same year by Twenty Jackies; another 16-Jackie canvas (called simply Jackie) appeared in 1965, with Twelve Jackies coming out shortly afterwards. 
Andy Warhol - Sixteen Jackies, 1964

You sense Warhol playing with his audience, doing something that artists are not meant to do: brazenly reproducing the same image again and again on a single canvas, then reproducing and re-reproducing that canvas. Yet the joke was on him. The more Jackies he made, the more satirical his making of them became, and the greater the demand for Warhol's images grew. Truth, artistry and originality had all ceased to count after 22 November. All that mattered was that the pictures were of Jackie.
Andy Warhol - Jackie Smiling, 1964

Half a century later, that paradox still has a hold on artists, and not just American ones. The Brazilian Vik Muniz, two years old when JFK was shot, out-Andied Andy a decade or so ago by remaking his Jackie multiples in that most Warholian of mediums: ketchup. One of Muniz's re-re-re-makes is included in the ICP show, near stills of the Zapruder film, one of them the appalling "frame 313" in which Kennedy's head explodes.
Vik Muniz - Jackie: Eight Panels in Ketchup, 

In that frame, Mrs Kennedy leans, frozen, towards her husband; you can see, or imagine you can see, her scream. Later, famously, she refused to change out of the pink Chanel suit spattered with the president's brains for the flight back to Washington with his body. "Let them see what they've done," she said. Even Warhol did not question the truth of that image, the icon of the first widow as a latter-day American Antigone.

Muniz's use of ketchup to reproduce Warhol's reproduced Jackies seems not so much satirical as tasteless, the crass product of a crasser time. Actually, though, the point of ketchup as a material is not that it looks like blood, but that it is perishable. Muniz, with his tomato sauce, takes on the vampiric image of that day in Dallas in 1963 and tries to make it fade away. And it won't.

• Hotel Texas: An Exhibition for the President and Mrs John F Kennedy is at Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, until 12 January 2014 (; a book of the same name is published by Yale University Press, $25/£15. JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander's View of History is at the International Centre of Photography, New York, until 19 January ( . Warhol/JFK: November 22, 1963 is at Telfair Museum, Savannah, Georgia, until 9 March (

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Zapruder Film, JFK Conspiracies and Parkland...

Abraham Zapruder: the man behind history's most infamous home movie
Andy Warhol loved it – so do conspiracy theorists the world over. But how exactly did Abraham Zapruder's fuzzy home movie of the Kennedy assassination 50 years ago became one of the great cultural icons of our time?

Steve Rose
The Guardian
Thursday 14 November 2013

It's a scene etched into our collective unconscious. The smiling couple waving to crowds from a black open-top limousine. Bright green grass. Her bright-pink suit and hat. Then something seems to catch his throat. She leans over to him. His head snaps back and forth violently. She rises out of her seat and reaches out across the boot in horror. The car speeds up and drives off.

Except something's not right. That's not Jackie Kennedy in the pink suit; it's a man in drag. And the president doesn't seem to be hurt after all. In fact, they've driven right round Dealey Plaza and the whole thing is happening again. This isn't Abraham Zapruder's infamous home movie; it's actually The Eternal Frame, a brazenly irreverent reenactment of the Kennedy assassination, or more accurately, a reenactment of the Zapruder film itself. It was made in November 1975 by two San Francisco-based art collectives, Ant Farm and TR Uthco. Just before the "shooting", the actor playing JFK makes a television address. "I am in reality only another link in that chain of pictures which makes up the sum total of information accessible to us all as Americans," he says, in an exaggeratedly thick Boston accent.

"It was, of course, in bad taste," says Chip Lord, Ant Farm's co-founder, now a film professor at the University of California Santa Cruz. "Just to do anything other than show reverence towards the Kennedy family and the myth was obviously a taboo in American cultural life. So that became an attraction of the project. I think we felt there might be some essential truth in going to Dallas and re-performing the event."

They didn't have any official permits, Lord recalls. They just turned up and started shooting early one Sunday morning. When no one stopped them, they went round and did it again, and again – maybe 20 times. A crowd of tourists formed to watch. Many of them assumed it was an official event. In the film, one woman sheds tears and calls it "a beautiful reenactment", which it clearly isn't.

JFK has been dying again and again ever since, particularly in the movies. The echoes of his assassination still resound through cinema. The post-JFK golden age of Hollywood conspiracy thrillers has been well chronicled, but what has arguably had a deeper impact is the Zapruder film itself. From the moment it recorded Kennedy's life horrifically cut short, it took on a life of its own. It is technically a short documentary: just 26 seconds long, 486 silent, colour, 8mm frames. It is also an official piece of evidence, a historical record, an art object, a genuine snuff movie. Some have called it the foundation stone of citizen journalism – a harbinger of the current YouTube era, where anyone with a camera can create something of global broadcast value. To some, as well as JFK's death, the Zapruder film represents the death of cinematic truth itself.
None of this was anywhere near Zapruder's mind when he strolled out to Dealey Plaza on his lunch break to record Kennedy's drive-past. Zapruder had actually left his camera at home that day. An assistant in his dress factory persuaded him to go back and get it. Within hours of the assassination, Zapruder had given copies of his movie to two men, thus setting it off on divergent but intersecting paths. The first was Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels, who requested it for official investigatory use. The second man was Richard Stolley, an editor at Life magazine, who won the media bidding war for the movie. Zapruder sold it to Life for $150,000, with the promise that they never publish frame 313: the fatal shot itself.

The world knew about the existence of the Zapruder film almost immediately. CBS presenter Dan Rather described its contents (inaccurately) on television, two days after the assassination. Life printed still images from it in its commemorative issue a week later, and would go on to print images over the coming decade. But mainstream audiences would not get to see the entire, unedited film until March 1975, when it was shown on late-night TV. That was a few months before The Eternal Frame's reenactment, but, by then, Ant Farm and many others had already obtained bootleg copies of the film. Lord got his through a contact with "a conspiracy-type network," he says. "It was a 16mm copy. The colour was almost completely washed out." That didn't stop a local TV station asking if they could borrow it to broadcast.

By that time, the film had already seeped into popular culture. The Kennedys were rapidly co-opted into Andy Warhol's lexicon, since they ticked the boxes for both media celebrity and violent crime. Many of Warhol's iconic images of the couple were based on photos from Life magazine. Like Ant Farm, he was commenting on the media portrayal of the event. "What bothered me was the way television and radio were programming everybody to feel so sad," he said at the time. "It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get away from the thing." Warhol turned Zapruder himself for his 1966 film Since – an unfinished, amateurish reconstruction using his regular Factory "superstars". In 1967, film artist Bruce Conner incorporated the Zapruder film in his influential Report, a stirring montage of news footage and voiceovers from the day of the assassination. Then John Waters restaged Zapruder in his very first film, 1968's Eat Your Make Up, on his parents' lawn, with Divine as Jackie Kennedy. Now the Zapruder film is out there in the pop-cultural ether, reproduced and referenced in movies (from Kentucky Fried Movie to In The Line of Fire to Watchmen), sitcoms (Seinfeld, Family Guy) and music videos (Lana Del Rey's National Anthem).

But that other path the Zapruder film took, via the copies he handed to the Secret Service, created a parallel history. From Sorrels the film found its way to the investigating Warren Commission the following year. However, the commission's printed reproductions of it omitted some frames and switched around others, planting seeds of suspicion. Over the course of subsequent investigations of the Kennedy assassination, official and unofficial, the Zapruder film somehow became evidence of a cover-up. It still is today. A simple internet search throws up dozens of analyses of the footage, explaining why it is a fake, how it has been doctored, why it doesn't match other official accounts, why there was another shooter – you name it.

"You might think it would close down conspiracy theories but it opens them up," says Dr Clare Birchall from the Institute of North American Studies at King's College London, who has written extensively on conspiracy culture. The fact that the Zapruder film "proves" so many conflicting versions of events says something about the inherent instability of film as factual record, and the gap between film and experience, she suggests. "The camera 'never lies', and yet it is precisely that which allows one to lie. Visual evidence is eminently interpretable. In that sense it already contains the possibilities of conspiracy theory."

You can see the same process in modern-day events such as 9/11, Birchall continues, where the same images have been used to support innumerable theories. "But in terms of disputed visual evidence, the Zapruder film is the classic. It's seen as the motherlode of conspiracy theory. The theories that draw in everything, from the Illuminati to the New World Order, always have JFK in there at some point." Is cinema any different? What is a movie if not a selection of moving images arranged into a persuasive narrative? No wonder so many film-makers have been drawn to the subject. Within that golden age of Hollywood conspiracy thrillers, a few addressed the ambiguity of media directly – Antonioni's Blow-Up and Coppola's The Conversation. But in later years has come a new breed of film-maker committed to cracking the JFK mystery themselves. Prime suspect: Oliver Stone, and his 1991 movie JFK, in which district attorney Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner, pieces together a vast conspiracy involving Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, the mafia, the military-industrial complex, the gay community, possibly the Dallas Cowboys – it gets confusing. Ostensibly based on fact, it uses repeated playings of the Zapruder film to give credence to Garrison's on-screen argument, but in terms of historical accuracy, it's as flawed and contestable as the crackpot YouTube theories.

Still, Stone's JFK struck a chord with an American public who felt they still weren't getting the truth. Its success prompted the US government to collect and make public all the government records relating to the assassination to prove there was no conspiracy. Those records included the Zapruder film: in 1999, the family sold the film to the government for $16m, though they still retain the copyright. The asking price for use of it in a movie, such as JFK, is now $80,000.

Stone hasn't been the only one drawn back to Dealey Plaza. In 2011, Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris made a short film focusing on the "Umbrella Man" – a background figure, caught in the Zapruder film incongruously holding an open black umbrella that sunny day. Was it a signal? A concealed weapon? Morris's film closes the case (no spoilers here), only for another esteemed film-maker, Alex Cox, to reopen it. Cox posted a YouTube response effectively dismissing Morris's film. He's something of a JFK nut, it turns out. In another YouTube short, Cox questions the authenticity of the Zapruder film itself. He has recently published a book on JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. Doing a considerably more thorough job is Irish film-maker Shane O'Sullivan, whose new documentary, Killing Oswald, which sifts through the paperwork made public after Stone's JFK, and raises compelling new questions about the whole affair.
Paul Giametti as Abraham Zapruder in Parkland.

And finally we have Parkland, a new big-budget dramatisation of events, produced by Tom Hanks. Centred on the hospital that treated both Kennedy and Oswald after they were shot, it includes all the now-familiar suspects: agent Sorrels (played by Billy Bob Thornton), the Dallas police, Oswald and his family, and here's our man Zapruder, played by the eminently sympathetic Paul Giamatti. Parkland almost functions as a Zapruder "making of". Rather than restaging the assassination yet again, it homes in on Zapruder's face during those moments, registering his shock as he films. Similarly, the only time we see Zapruder's film, it's reflected in the spectacles of Zapruder himself. Giamatti found the experience overwhelming, says Parkland's writer and director, Peter Landesman. "He had a little nervous breakdown before he started. He's playing Zapruder, in Zapruder's clothes, where Zapruder was in Dealey Plaza. It was a very weird out-of-body experience. He enjoyed it but it was a very freaky thing."

Landesman, a former journalist, doesn't indulge in any conspiracy theorising. "There's no doubt where the bullets came from unless you really want to believe in Santa Claus." Instead, Parkland restores some humanity to events numbed by 50 years of mediation and repetition, putting us in the emergency room as doctors frantically try to revive the dying president, as Jackie hands them a piece of her husband's skull she's still clutching.

The film also restores some humanity to Zapruder himself. Landesman had prolonged conversations with his family to obtain their permission, and he feels great sympathy for the man. Zapruder was the embodiment of the American dream: a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked hard to integrate and to make his fortune. Some accused him of greed for demanding money for the film, but Landesman (who also stumped up his US$80,000 for the rights) is more forgiving: "He was smart enough to know what was going to happen. He wanted some kind of compensation for what he knew was the end of his life as he knew it, but also it was the crushing of his American patriotism. Immigrants are converts and converts make the most vociferous ideologues. He was a flag-waving patriot, so to have his president have his head blown off right in front of him was a big deal."

Zapruder was haunted by the assassination for the rest of his life. He testified at both the Warren Commission hearings and the Clay Shaw trial in 1969. He wept on both occasions. "I have seen it so many times," he told the Warren Commission, having been effectively forced by law to watch his film again. "In fact, I used to have nightmares. The thing would come every night – I wake up and see this." He died of cancer in 1970. According to his family, after 22 November 1963, he never looked through a camera lens again.

Friday 22 November 2013

Jacques Lowe and JFK

Jacques Lowe: the JFK photographer who lost his life's work on 9/11
The man who got unprecedented access to JFK's life stored his whole archive in a safe in the twin towers. A new exhibition shows the painstakingly restored fragments that survived
resident John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, May 1961
A silhouette of President John F Kennedy in the Oval Office, May 1961. © Estate of Jacques Lowe, 1961

Ranjit Dhaliwal
Friday 27 September 2013

What do you do when, as a photographer, you are told your image archive is so precious that it's uninsurable? The answer for Jacques Lowe, whose images helped create the legend of John F Kennedy, was to store them in JP Morgan's seemingly impregnable vault in Tower 5 of New York's World Trade Center. But then 9/11 came, and his life's work went with it.

After the terror attack, Jacques Lowe's daughter, Thomasina, campaigned to try and retrieve her father's archive from the twin tower's rubble before they were razed. Amazingly, the safe in which they were stored was found intact, but the contents – over 40,000 negatives – were reduced to ash. All was not completely lost though, as 1,500 of Lowe's contact sheets were located elsewhere in New York. From these, selected images were painstakingly restored for an exhibition at the Newseum in Washington DC. A collection of prints from the original negatives were also made by the photographer himself, prior to his death four months before 9/11. An exhibition at Proud Chelsea in London is now showcasing these rarities.
Jackie Kennedy signs autographs at a campaign stop in California, 1959. © Estate of Jacques Lowe, 1959

Jacques Lowe became John F Kennedy's presidential campaign photographer in 1960 and, after his election victory over Richard Nixon, became the first family's personal photographer after turning down an official White House photographer role. It was a wise decision to decline the restrictive job on staff in favour of unprecedented access to the family both in and out of Washington. Kennedy's term in office became known as one of the most captivating periods of 20th-century US history, and Lowe was on hand to document what went on behind the scenes.

The images are familiar: in one, Kennedy's brother and campaign manager, Robert, looks decidedly unimpressed by his choice of running mate, Lyndon Johnson.
Senator Lyndon B Johnson, Robert F Kennedy and John F Kennedy discuss the vice presidential nomination at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, July 1960. © Estate of Jacques Lowe, 1960

It has been claimed that Johnson blackmailed Kennedy into offering him a place on the ticket after threatening him with evidence of his womanising, provided by the FBI director J Edgar Hoover.
Jackie Kennedy at the seaside near their holiday home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, August 1960. © Estate of Jacques Lowe, 1960

In another image, Jackie Kennedy flashes Lowe a warm smile as he snaps her in swimwear on a seaside break.

But most notable are images that show how close Lowe got to Kennedy, such as the shot that captures the moment when he heard Patrice Lumumba had died. Lowe's 1983 book, Kennedy: A Time Remembered details that moment: "On February 13 1961, United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson came on the phone. I was alone with the president; his hand went to his head in utter despair, 'Oh, no,' I heard him groan. The ambassador was informing the president of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, an African leader considered a trouble-maker and a leftist by many Americans. But Kennedy's attitude towards black Africa was that many who were considered leftists were in fact nationalists and patriots, anti-West because of years of colonialisation, and lured to the siren call of communism against their will. He felt that Africa presented an opportunity for the West, and, speaking as an American, unhindered by a colonial heritage, he had made friends in Africa and would succeed in gaining the trust of a great many African leaders. The call therefore left him heartbroken, for he knew that the murder would be a prelude to chaos ..."
President Kennedy hears of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, February 1961. © Estate of Jacques Lowe, 1961

Disillusioned after Kennedy's 1963 assassination and the further shootings that claimed the lives of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the German-born Lowe returned to Europe in 1968. His Kennedy negatives meant so much to him that he bought an extra seat for them on the plane to France. And 33 years later, another aeroplane was to decide the fate of the images that had defined him as a photographer.

• Jacques Lowe: My Kennedy Years, is at Proud Chelsea until 24 November 2013

JFK: Conspiracy in Fiction and Film

John F Kennedy assassination: 50 years of conspiracy in fiction and film
The assassination of JFK and the conspiracy theories that followed have proved irresistible to writers and artists, from Oliver Stone to Stephen King

Colin Kidd
The Guardian
Friday 1 November 2013

The grassy knoll. The book depository. Any further description of the location is superfluous. We know where we are, and when. Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963: the scene of the assassination of President John F Kennedy. History assumes mythic proportions when its very familiarity requires no further explanation or scene-setting; when it provides instead a well-signposted point of departure for artistic creativity. The matter of Dallas has been as resonant in the fiction and film of the past half century as the story of the Trojan war was in the literature of classical antiquity. Only Hitler and the Nazis rival its influence on the modern imagination.

Yet the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination will not be marked by consensus. Two contrasting versions of these mythic events remain in circulation, as hotly disputed on the web today as they were in radical magazines during the 1960s. Are we commemorating the meaningless assassination of Kennedy by a lone dysfunctional misfit, Lee Harvey Oswald, who fired on the presidential motorcade from behind, from a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository? Or are we marking a much more sinister incident, the shooting of Kennedy by more than one gunman, including, perhaps, a sniper on the grassy knoll firing at the president from the front? If the latter, was this a conspiracy so successful that the authorities still, for whatever reason, don't – or won't, or can't – acknowledge it?

For most of us, the two myths are blurred and conjoined. Whether or not we accept the official interpretation of the assassination, set out in the report of the Warren commission, established by Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B Johnson, its central finding, that Oswald acted as a lone assassin, is weakened by various suspicious features of the case. Oswald shouted out to pressmen after his arrest that he was merely a "patsy", set up, presumably, to distract attention from the real killer.

Oswald, to be sure, had led a rum life, including a mysterious spell in the Soviet Union, to which he had been able to emigrate mid-cold war, before returning – seemingly just as easily – to the United States, with his Russian wife, Marina. Within two days of the assassination, moreover, Oswald was himself murdered in the custody of the Dallas police live on television by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. Ruby's motive, or so he claimed, was that he wished to spare the president's widow,Jacqueline Kennedy, the agony of a trial.
More controversial still was the so-called "magic bullet". The commission was able to make sense of the ballistic evidence only by positing a trajectory for one of Oswald's three shots that went through Kennedy's neck and then through the ribs, wrist and thigh of Governor John Connally of Texas, who was sitting alongside the president in the limousine.

The fog of anomaly and doubt provided dank, but fertile, conditions in which a Kennedy assassination genre would eventually flourish. The emblematic character of Don DeLillo's 1988 novel Libra is the CIA archivist Nicholas Branch, encumbered with the task of cataloguing and chronicling the mountains of disparate evidence surfacing about Kennedy's assassination. Novels and screenplays depended not only on audience familiarity with the happenings of November 1963 and the Warren commission, but also on nagging concerns that the whole story had not been told, that there was something vital missing from the standard account of the assassination.

Spookily, such anxieties had been anticipated the day before the assassination, 21 November 1963, when the distinguished American historian Richard Hofstadter delivered the Herbert Spencer lecture at Oxford University on "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". The lecture, which was later published, examined the dark, distended underbelly of conspiracy theory and scapegoating in American political culture.

More eerily, fiction had, it transpired, anticipated fact. In his 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon told the story of a brainwashed prisoner from the Korean war who was programmed to assassinate the president. Hollywood filmed The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. Its star, Frank Sinatra, coincidentally, was not only a crony of President Kennedy, but had also starred in a 1954 film Suddenly, which dealt with a presidential assassination attempt.

In the aftermath of the real assassination, Condon tried to puncture any attempt to conflate the murder of Kennedy with his fictional account, but performed this public service in a magazine article unhelpfully headlined "Manchurian candidate in Dallas". A decade later, he was more deliberate in his mischief. His 1974 novel Winter Kills, which became a Hollywood film in 1979, mocked speculative theories about Dallas. It also presented a bizarre scenario in which a president committed to a campaign against organised crime was assassinated on the reluctant orders of his mobster father – a scarcely veiled allusion to Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.

The reverberating hum of small ironies provides the mood music of 11.22.63 by Stephen King, published in 2011. King's compelling assassination novel – begun in the 1970s, but put down until he had the time for the exhaustive research it required – explores the counterfactual possibility of preventing Kennedy's murder. A teacher from present-day Maine slips through a portal in time which takes him back to the late 1950s. If he stays around long enough in the past, can he take out Oswald and prevent the murder of Kennedy? What if all those conspiracy nuts were right, and there was another gunman on hand to finish off the job? The overlapping legends of 22 November 1963 permit the teasing interplay of myth and counter-myth.
From the outset, Kennedy's assassination invited interplay with other bodies of mythic material: Arthurian, Homeric and Shakespearean. Only a week after the assassination, the president's widow, Jacqueline, arranged for the journalist Theodore White to interview her at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. She told him that the late president liked to relax in the evenings by listening on his record player to Alan Jay Lerner's lines from his recent musical Camelot: "Don't let it be forgot,/That once there was a spot,/For one brief shining moment,/That was known as Camelot". Notwithstanding some editorial qualms about the excessive focus on the Camelot theme in White's article, Life magazine chivalrously complied with the wishes of an insistent widow, but at the long-run cost of distorting the significance of the assassination.

A year later, the mock-heroic review of the Warren report in Esquire by Dwight Macdonald, one of America's leading public intellectuals, described it as "an anti-Iliad", and compared Kennedy to an Achilles incompetently protected by the sluggish Myrmidons of his secret service. Macdonald's conclusion, that "the Warren commission did not undertake its enormous labours … to provide material for novelists or detective-story addicts", was unfortunate. The Warren report became a vast quarry for imaginative writers of all kinds, from those knowingly composing fictions to those operating in a less certain genre.

Among the transparently polemical fictions was Barbara Garson's 1966 play MacBird!, which presented the Kennedy assassination by way of a series of interlinked parodies of scenes and speeches from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Hamlet and Richard III. President Johnson, whose wife was Lady Bird Johnson, was the MacBird of its title; Kennedy became the usurped king, John Ken O'Dunc; and the chief justice of the US supreme court, who chaired the Warren commission and whose name, conveniently for Garson's purposes, was Earl Warren, was neatly transformed into the Earl of Warren. Garson's anti-Johnson animus derived from her experiences in the Berkeley anti-Vietnam war movement. The play's cynical wit proved popular in countercultural circles and, in 1967, MacBird! found its way into paperback and on to the New York stage.

Yet, notwithstanding the creaking joints of the Warren report, the first years after the assassination marked a period of quiet consensus. Although niche leftwing magazines such as Minority of One and Ramparts ran anti‑Warren pieces, the leading men of letters on the American left such as Macdonald and IF Stone were staunch in their support of the commission's version of events. Suspicious as they were of the establishment, they were conscious, too, of the "paranoid style" identified by Hofstadter that they associated with the extreme right. Stone proclaimed his allegiance to "a sane politics, against conspiracy theories of history".

The first sign of a major fissure within the left began with the publication in 1966 of Rush to Judgment, an attack on the Warren commission by Mark Lane, a radical Democrat. The left began to fragment. The trajectory of Carl Oglesby, who moved from presidency of Students for a Democratic Society to prolific JFK conspiracy buff, epitomised the flowering of a "paranoid" style on the new left. In 1972, Oglesby founded the Assassination Information Bureau "to politicise the question of John F Kennedy's assassination".

However, for the broader public, 1968 was a more significant turning point. The killing of the late president's brother, Senator Robert Kennedy of New York, by Sirhan Sirhan, a Jordanian Christian, a couple of months after James Earl Ray's assassination of Martin Luther King, raised doubts – and in the most complacent quarters – about links between the assassinations. Were these various assassinations connected, possibly part of a larger plot? President Johnson set up a National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in June 1968.

The 1972 presidential election campaign, which was marred by another attempted assassination and by a burglary at the Democratic HQ in the Watergate building, seemed to confirm rather than quell public anxiety. In 1973, Richard Popkin, an eminent philosopher and leading critic of the Warren commission, publicised the plausibly outrageous complaint that the three previous US presidential elections had been influenced by the assassin's bullet. Without the events of Dallas, John F Kennedy, not Johnson, would have headed the Democratic ticket in 1964. The killing of Robert Kennedy in 1968 came moments after his victory in the California primary, at a point where he appeared a strong contender for the Democratic nomination. In May 1972, Arthur Bremer's shooting of Governor George Wallace of Alabama when he was campaigning at a shopping centre in Maryland left the governor paralysed from the waist down and effectively finished his campaign for the Democratic nomination. In 1968, Wallace had run in the presidential election as a third-party independent, taking five states and 46 electoral votes, and in 1972 had already won the Florida primary.

The unfolding Watergate scandal merely reinforced suspicions about the integrity of the electoral process. What, after all, was the central offence of the Watergate affair but the series of dirty tricks that allowed Richard Nixon to play a sinister and unhelpful part in choosing his Democratic opponent in 1972, the unelectable liberal senator George McGovern? But in the aftermath of the Watergate revelations Nixon – having already lost his original vice-president Spiro Agnew to a scandal – was forced to resign. As the bizarre outcome of this chain of circumstance, the United States had by the autumn of 1974 an unelected president: Gerald Ford, who a decade earlier – coincidentally? – had been one of the seven members of the Warren commission. Could a novelist or director plausibly explain the real mechanics of the American political system without reference to the invisible coup d'etat? For Oglesby, Dallas and Watergate were "intrinsically linked conspiracies in a drama of coup and counter-coup".
Kennedys riding in Dallas motorcade
The anxieties of this era are captured in the films that comprise Alan J Pakula's "paranoia trilogy". Klute (1971) deals with eavesdropping, and All the President's Men (1976) with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's exposure of the Watergate affair. However, between these films was The Parallax View (1974), which is framed by two assassinations. In the opening scene Senator Charles Carroll is shot on the Seattle Space Needle – apparently by one lone gunman, or could there be two assassins? At the conclusion, another politician, George Hammond, is shot at a political convention. Warren Beatty plays a radical journalist who witnessed the first assassination, without quite knowing what he saw, but becomes alarmed when he realises how many of his fellow witnesses on the Space Needle that day have met violent, if seemingly accidental, deaths since then. The vivid evocation of estrangement in The Parallax View owed much not only to the vision of Pakula – who exploited to the full in his film-making the brutalising emptiness of modern commercial architecture and its unsettling aesthetic possibilities – but also to the cinematography of Gordon Willis, who helped to realise Pakula's dark vision. Long-distance shots of scenes in giant hangar-like spaces that become only gradually meaningful to the viewer create an ambience of alienation, abstraction and obfuscation. Peering into an atmosphere heavy with portent, the viewer knows something significant is going to happen, but doesn't know where in Pakula's vast, yet often virtually empty canvases.

In 1975, the Zapruder film – taken on a cine-camera by Abraham Zapruder, a Dallas clothing manufacturer, a bystander at Kennedy's assassination – was shown for the first time on network TV. The film had been bought by Life for $150,000 the day after the assassination, and many of its still frames had been published in the magazine, but these did not have the same impact as the moving image. It appears from the movement of the president's head in the Zapruder film that he must have been shot from the front – from the grassy knoll – rather than from the book depository. There were immediate calls for further investigation, and the House of Representatives' select committee on assassinations was set up. Informed, or misinformed by acoustic evidence from a Dallas police dictabelt, it concluded that there had been four, rather than three shots, in Dealey Plaza, and that more than one gunman was involved.

The Zapruder footage inspired a clever, self-referential film about film-making by the pasticheur Brian De Palma. Blow Out (1981) tells the story of a B-movie sound recordist (played by John Travolta) who, in the course of a night-time scouting expedition in the suburbs of Philadelphia for sound effects – such as an owl hooting – to be used in a forthcoming slasher movie entitled "Co-ed Frenzy", accidentally records the assassination of Governor George McRyan, a presidential contender. The film also alludes to the Chappaquiddick incident of 1969 involving the surviving Kennedy brother, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. During the shooting, McRyan's car veers into a river with a young female escort on board.
A distinct phase of controversy began in 1991 with the appearance of Oliver Stone's film JFK. This told the story of the only prosecution thus far for Kennedy's assassination, the unsuccessful case brought in 1967 by the New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner) against a local businessman, Clay Shaw. Stone also made the grandiose claim that Kennedy was assassinated at the behest of the "military-industrial complex" in order to prolong the war in Vietnam. The significance of the film lies in its political impact. The Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992 was passed to reassure a sceptical public that the government was not withholding material evidence. Tensions on the left reached bursting point. The philosopher and polemicist Noam Chomsky published Rethinking Camelot in 1993 to counter Stone's misleading, but influential, myth of how an innocent Kennedy would promptly have exited the war in Vietnam.

The very familiarity of myth and counter-myth has made it possible for writers and film-makers to experiment with surprising permutations on the assassination theme. While James Ellroy's American Tabloid (1995) explores the murky tangle of interconnections between the mob and the security state, it seems all too straightforward by comparison withCharles McCarry's 1974 novel The Tears of Autumn. In the most complex resolution of the Kennedy whodunnit, McCarry presents an ironic case that the South Vietnamese – the assassination of whose leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, in the autumn of 1963 Kennedy could perhaps have prevented – were responsible, with Ruby's killing of Oswald explained by a further delicious twist. Warren Beatty's satirical film Bulworth (1998) relates the picaresque voyaging around Los Angeles of a corrupt and world-weary Democrat. Contemplating suicide, but wishing to make provision for his daughter, Senator Bulworth arranges for his own assassination and cooks up a deal with the life insurance industry to pay out. However, liberated from short-term political calculation, Bulworth changes his mind about his death wish, and tries to cancel his assassination.

Widespread awareness of the mythic storyline also permits writers and directors to approach the assassination from oblique angles. In the Line of Fire (1993), which stars Clint Eastwood as an ageing secret service agent who had been on duty nearest to the president in Dallas, sees the assassination through the eyes of Kennedy's bodyguards, and their sense of having failed in their primary role. Eastwood's character, Frank Horrigan, is faced with the taunts of a new assassin who threatens to leave Horrigan with the responsibility for a second presidential corpse. In a similar vein of perversity, Stephen Sondheim's 1990 musical Assassinslooks at the sorry lives of American presidential assassins, from Oswald and Lincoln's killer John Wilkes Booth, to less canonical figures such as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and John Hinckley, who made assassination attempts, respectively, on presidents Ford and Reagan. More conventionally, the new movie Parkland, released this month, explores the day of the assassination from the perspective of the staff of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas where the president and Governor Connally were treated. Parkland is a deliberate attempt to distance the assassination from the looking-glass mythologies of conspiracy buffs; instead, the drama of the casualty room revisits the tragedy on a human scale.

Bizarrely, perhaps, the branch of the performing arts whose exponents became most besotted with the matter of Dallas was stand-up comedy. The patent absurdities of the Warren commission tantalised comedians. Two of America's leading stand-up comedians in the 1960s – Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory – participated in the district attorney Jim Garrison's investigations. Gregory ran for the Freedom and Peace Party, with the outspoken Warren commission critic Mark Lane as his running-mate, in the presidential election of 1968. In the 1970s, Gregory supported the researches of Richard Popkin, and co-presented the first screening of the Zapruder film on network television. Whereas political activism did nothing to dent the popularity of the versatile Gregory, a fixation with the Kennedy assassination helped almost to finish off the high-flying career of the Jewish comedian Sahl.

Sahl's keen political satire had been a bracing sensation in the 1950s. Indeed, he was hired to write jokes for Kennedy's campaign in 1960, but maintained his independence after the election with anti-Kennedy quips, much to the irritation of Kennedy's father and backer, Joseph, who allegedly put pressure on venues to drop Sahl. By a further irony, Sahl's later preoccupation with the Warren report, chunks of which he read out as part of his act, led to a perhaps understandable fall in his bookings.

Faint echoes of Sahl's predicament can be detected in the obsession of Alvy Singer, the left-liberal New York Jewish comedian, played by Woody Allen in his 1971 film Annie Hall. The assassination comes gradually into focus when Singer reflects on the failure of his first marriage, to another Jewish leftist, Allison Porchnik. In a memorable bedroom scene, Allison tries to tempt a distracted Alvy into having sex. The moment we hear Singer, as he gets up from the bed, mention "the book depository", we know the precise nature of his distraction. Allison tries to make sense of Singer's alternative to the official version: "Then everybody's in on the conspiracy? … The FBI, and the CIA, and J Edgar Hoover and oil companies and the Pentagon and the men's room attendant at the White House?" Although Singer thinks she's gone too far – "I would leave out the men's room attendant" – Allison has his measure: "You're using this conspiracy theory as an excuse to avoid sex with me."

The emergence of alternative comedy pushed back the boundaries of decorum. The radical comic Bill Hicks (1961-94), who described himself as Chomsky with dirty jokes, happily slayed all manner of pieties, religious as well as political, relishing the way conspiracy theories made awkward, gaping tears in the fabric of conventional wisdom. Hicks included in one of his most famous routines an account of his visit as a tourist to the supposed sniper's nest on the sixth floor of the book depository: "Anyway, they have the window set up to look exactly like it did on the day. And it's really accurate you know … because Oswald's not in it."

The most accurate barometer of taste – and its obverse – in the post-assassination arts was Jacqueline Kennedy. After the death of her second husband, the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy Onassis returned to New York and began working for Viking, the publisher. However, she moved to Doubleday when Viking published a novel about an assassination attempt on a putative president Edward Kennedy. The 1977-78 novel was Shall We Tell the President? – its author one Jeffrey Archer...

Thursday 21 November 2013

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Love Song
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Love/Art Blues
Walk Right In
Mother's Lament
Oh Lonesome Me
And I Love Her

With Ron sidelined with a slipped disc, there was no Elderly Brothers' set. The new wood-burning stove kept the bar warm - a welcome addition on a bitter night, although at the expense of two previously high use tables. A quiet start soon morphed into a packed venue. Plenty of new turns and a grand night all round.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

JMW Turner and The Sea

Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth

JMW Turner: master of the ocean
Turner is the sublime artist of the sea. But many of his seascapes were produced away from the public eye – and never finished. As an exhibition of his work opens, Richard Johns explores the impact of these 'secret' paintings

Richard Johns
The Guardian
Friday 15 November 2013

A broad sweep of cobalt blue, applied across a wet page with a few strokes of a loaded brush, sets the scene. The dampness of the paper gives the artist a valuable few seconds to manipulate the vibrant watercolour before it dries: enough time to add a disorderly flourish with the tip of the same brush (without pausing to adjust the colour) to indicate a fully rigged ship sailing into the picture from the left; and to work a neater, calligraphic pattern into the blue to suggest the rolling breakers of an agitated but unthreatening sea. The lightest of washes above and below denote the sky and a sandy beach, while a handful of darker yellow marks towards the bottom of the page indicate something else. But what? The carcass of a wrecked fishing boat? A group of figures? It is not clear, but the marks are just sufficient to animate the foreground, as the waves and the three-masted ship above draw the blue sweep away from the viewer towards a distant horizon.

With an economy that few artists have been able to match, Turner evoked a coastal landscape – the kind of marine view that he had created countless times before, in all manner of ways. Blue Sea and Distant Ship probably dates from the early 1840s, though there is not much to distinguish it from similar works of 10 or even 20 years earlier. It belongs to a group of several hundred rapidly made and highly expressive watercolours, sometimes referred to collectively as colour "beginnings", that form part of the body of preparatory studies, unfinished work and related items from Turner's studio that went to the national art collection after his death in 1851.

If such works are experiments, they are so only in the loosest sense of the word, as exercises in imagination. After a lifetime of experiencing and imagining the sea, there was little practical value to be learned from such experiments, which seem to convey their maker's undiminished delight in the materials and techniques of his profession, and in the process of transforming unadulterated colour into a boundless seascape.
Blue Sea and Distant Ship

The more elemental of Turner's late watercolour sketches are often discussed in relation to the non-figurative painting that emerged and flourished during the 20th century. Yet, for all their abstract appeal to modern eyes, Blue Sea and Distant Ship, and other watercolours and oil paintings made in the same spirit, are determinedly figurative. A more rounded view of the work that Turner produced away from the public eye reveals a far greater variety of imagery reaching across his whole career. Some of it is experimental, some even verges on the incomprehensible, but much of it is more conventional in subject and technique, and more clearly grounded in the principles of land- and seascape painting that had been established during the previous century.

Turner rarely travelled without a pencil and pocket-sized sketchbook to hand. Among his belongings during his second visit to Scotland, in 1801, was a small sketchbook treated with a tinted wash that could be scratched away to reveal the white paper beneath. Thus armed with a single brush and colour, he was able repeatedly to model the infinitely complex surge of North Sea waves breaking on Dunbar beach. One such wave reappeared a year or so later on the walls of the Royal Academy, much embellished and combined with the contents of another sketchbook but in essence unchanged, as the central motif of Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather.
Turner: Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather.
Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore, in Squally Weather

Increasingly, he made his watercolour sketches and compositional studies in the studio or, when travelling, in his lodgings after a long day exploring and observing. They are filtered by memory, simplified and reconfigured by the physical properties of the artist's chosen medium. At first glance, a watercolour thought to represent the Eddystone Lighthouse gives the impression of having been made rapidly in front of the subject. It appears in a sketchbook interleaved with numerous pencil drawings of West Country scenes and other landscapes from the early 1810s, when Turner made several visits to the Devon coast. But the lighthouse is situated 12 miles off Plymouth, and the image, a night scene, is one of three that show the structure at different times of day and in various stages of a storm. The effect of immediacy was fabricated safely on dry land, heightened by the storm of watercolour that the artist conjured around the remembered outline of the isolated tower.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘?The Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm at Night, with Shipping’ c.1813
The Eddystone Lighthouse in a Storm at Sea, with Shipping

Turner was known for being secretive about his methods and means. Those few who saw him draw or paint first-hand recalled with excitement the variety and inventiveness of his technique. Manipulating the pigment in every way imaginable, he would even plunge whole sheets of paper into a bath when working in watercolour, as he conjured an image into existence. On one celebrated occasion, Hawkesworth Fawkes, the eldest son of his patron Walter Fawkes, expressed his amazement on seeing Turner create from memory a richly detailed watercolour of a man-of-war within a few hours – pouring, tearing, scratching and scrubbing "in a kind of frenzy" until the final, detailed image emerged in time for lunch. Others, too, likened Turner's finished watercolours to the work of a magician who could bring forth poetical views on to the page, as if from nowhere. However, there is a marked difference between his finished watercolours, such as that witnessed by Fawkes, which he was able to sell as quickly as he could make them, and the many thousand sketches and drawings that he produced for his own purposes, and about which he was even more guarded.

In the past 50 years, this once-hidden aspect of Turner's enterprise, particularly those drawings and watercolours that are concerned with the sea, has shaped the artist's reputation at least as much as the oil paintings. The subjects he depicted and the many handwritten annotations, observations and memoranda that are scattered throughout his sketchbooks provide an essential, if at times elusive, source of information about the artist's many journeys around Britain and Europe, the places he saw and the works by other artists he deemed worthy of visual record. But this incomparable record of artistic endeavour almost disappeared without trace.

Turner had made clear his intention to leave about 100 finished oil paintings to the National Gallery, but he made no explicit provision for the vast quantity of preparatory and unfinished material that filled his West End studio at the time of his death. As a result of this uncertainty and a poorly drafted will, Turner's estate was subject to a legal challenge by the artist's extended family. The finished oil paintings that he had intended to leave to the nation – a representative selection which, with an eye on posterity, he had extended and refined over several years – already ensured that he would become (as he remains) the most comprehensively represented British artist in any national collection. With the addition of around 180 other oils that were deemed by his executors to be unfinished (the precise figure varies according to the definition of "finished") and more than 19,000 drawings, watercolour studies and other works on paper spanning more than 50 uncommonly productive years, the legally determined Turner Bequest of 1856 grew into an unprecedented and unwieldy record of a creative life.

John Ruskin was the first to impose a semblance of order on the Bequest, in ways informed by his own impassioned vision of the artist as a purveyor of divine truth through his engagement with the natural world. Named as one of Turner's original executors, Ruskin stood down when the will was contested, but once the court case had been determined, he set about preparing an unofficial catalogue for the inaugural exhibition of works selected from the Bequest, which opened at London's Marlborough House in 1856. A second show at Marlborough House included a selection of sketchbooks and a small group of preparatory sketches, or "trials of effects for pictures". However, there was only a handful, as Ruskin concluded that, while such works might be useful to students, "they are not, in general, interesting".

Selections from Turner's studio gradually became known to a wider public through a series of further displays, in London and beyond. Also selected by Ruskin (or otherwise informed by his ideas on the artist), these emphasised Turner's experiential and imaginative response to nature, and endorsed a rigid chronological assessment of the artist's creative ascent, maturity and decline. As Ruskin worked his way through the remainder of Turner's career, preparing for display those works he regarded as exemplary and consigning others to tin boxes, he became the first to appreciate the full extent of his brilliant, and at times chaotic, artistic life.
Turner: Waves Breaking against the Wind
Waves Breaking against the Wind

Now prominent within the Bequest is a group of late and atmospheric seascapes, painted in oil on board or canvas, that seem to transcend the function of the preparatory sketch, and which blur the distinctions between a finished and unfinished work of art, confounding all modern attempts to assign anything as certain as a title or even a subject. They are among the most evocative (and provocative) of Turner's works, and much about them, including his hopes for their future preservation and display, is clouded in uncertainty. They include Waves Breaking against the Wind and Seascape with Storm Coming On, two of a series of canvases that were first taken seriously and incorporated into the permanent Bequest during the 20th century, having previously remained rolled up in the basement of the National Gallery. These later exercises also include Calm Sea with Distant Grey Clouds, one of a group of chromatically complex but austere paintings that lay unnoticed for more than 100 years after his death.
Fishermen at Sea

With few exceptions, these late marine studies (usually described as "unfinished", if only for want of a better word) focus on that essential maritime motif – the wave. It was a phenomenon that Turner had attempted to capture in countless sketches throughout his working life and which had been a defining aspect of his public seascapes from the beginning. From the luminous, threatening swell of Fishermen at Sea (1796), his first-exhibited painting in oil, to the storm-tossed waters ofThe Shipwreck, one of a series of stormy scenes that had done so much to secure his reputation in the early 1800s as a painter of the sublime sea, the visible action of the wind and tide was the driving force behind a series of seascapes that effectively reinvented the genre while raising their maker to the highest level of artistic achievement. The hoard of canvases that Turner produced during the last 10 years of his life indicate that, towards the end (a period that Ruskin characterised as one of decline and increasing incomprehensibility), the anonymous, unrelenting churn of the sea became the focus of deep self-reflection.
The Shipwreck

Following the completion of AJ Finberg's monumental inventory of the Bequest in the early part of the 20th century, and the physical relocation of the work from the National Gallery to the Tate (via the British Museum), Turner's private world became the subject of renewed study. As the contents of his studio became known, his posthumous identity was increasingly constructed around the shifting priorities and new formal challenges of the contemporary 20th‑century art world, which valued repetition and championed the abstract, the provisional and the raw as signs of untamed creativity. As a result, a very different artist emerged – one who would have been unrecognisable to his contemporaries. Turner was reimagined as a progenitor of modern art; first of impressionism, then of postwar abstraction.
Staffa, Fingal’s Cave

The late 20th-century reinvention of Turner found its clearest expression with an exhibition for the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1966. Dedicated to an artist who had been dead for more than 100 years (and who thus lay outside any commonly accepted definition of "modern" art in 1960s America), the show was unprecedented for MoMA, an institution then associated with American abstract work on a heroic scale. Within this transatlantic context, Turner was defined more than ever as a modern creative force. The re‑emergence of a body of later works that appeared to be more abstracted than anything previously known from Turner only enhanced the notion that he had single-handedly released painting from the conventions and expectations of the Victorian art world: it was as if they had come straight from the artist's studio.

More recently, with the advent of digital technology and the gradual realisation of a longstanding ambition to conserve and catalogue the entire collection, the Turner Bequest is now more accessible than ever before in its permanent home at Tate Britain. However, the visual challenge of those later, unfinished paintings remains. The "indistinct" (especially where it is deployed in such an expressive manner as, for example, in the Whalers Sketchbook) has come to define the artist's reputation above all else: restless in his work, ceaselessly creative, and an artist whose output seems to transcend the historical circumstances of its production. The notion of Turner as an abstract artist persists precisely because the critical language of modern and contemporary art offers an explanation that these extraordinary late works otherwise seem to lack.

Although Turner is not known to have sold any of his preparatory or unfinished works, a substantial number did find their way into private collections following his death. In July 2012, a watercolour study of a storm at sea was sold at auction in London. The sketch was advertised as "the first idea" for one of the artist's most powerful late seascapes,Staffa, Fingal's Cave. The exceptionally high critical and commercial value placed on Turner's preparatory works (the single sheet sold for a little over £120,000) is only partly explained by their evident aesthetic and technical qualities. Equally important is the mythical status of Turner's private studio practice, as a result of which such "beginnings" have come to represent something essential and immediate about the artistic process. In the context of Turner's reputation as a painter of the sea, it is notable that such a brisk sketch, one of several thousand similarly ephemeral works by him on paper (albeit one of only a few that could ever appear on the market), far surpassed the record amount paid for a finished oil painting by the most prominent and successful marine painter among Turner's contemporaries, Augustus Wall Callcott. If such a disparity tells us anything, it is that history (like the market) is fickle, and that the art of the past is always and inevitably reinvented according to the desires of the present.

• Richard Johns is co-curator of the exhibition Turner and the Sea at the National Maritime Museum.

JMW Turner
Turner and the Sea
National Maritime Museum, London SE10
Starts 22 November
Until 21 April