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Hemingway with Sylvia Beach and others outside Beach’s bookstore and library Shakespeare and Company

There are certain facts many people know about Ernest Hemingway without ever reading one of his books. He was an American writer who lived in Paris and Cuba. He was a drinker, a boxer, a soldier, a poet. He won the Nobel Prize for literature and took his own life in the early 1960s.

But none of this tells you much about Hemingway the man. A Moveable Feast is the American writer’s most comprehensive and revealing memoir, and was particularly interesting to me as an expatriate writer living in Paris nearly a hundred years after the events it describes. …


Erika Kohut is a 40 year old pianist teaching at a prestigious Vienna conservatory. Despite being talented and beautiful, Erika has no partner and no friends, and shares an apartment with her overbearing mother.

Erika displays strange, hyper-sexualised behaviour when she is able to escape her mother’s watchful eye. She cuts herself in the bathroom before dinner. She spies on couples in drive-in cinemas. She visits porn theatres and sniffs discarded tissues.

It is not clear whether Erika is lonely because she is deranged or deranged because she is lonely. But one thing is clear. The route to her heart…


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With his black female companion, arched shoulders and prominent rib cage, several of Joaquin Phoenix’s scenes in the recently released film Joker directed by Todd Phillips are reminiscent of Christian Schad’s 1929 painting Agosta the Pigeon Chested Man and Rasha the Black Dove. And the similarities extend beyond appearances. Both humanise men considered freaks in their respective societies. Both have a strong sense of place and impending doom. Both are appeals to sobriety in moments of collective stupor.

Freak Shows

Both Fleck and Agosta were paid performers, Fleck a low-grade clown for hire in Gotham City, Agosta a sideshow in a northern…


William S. Burroughs lived a life of transgression and experimentation, and for this reason is loved and hated in equal measure. Like his ostensible successor, Hunter S. Thompson, the myth of Burroughs overshadows the man, causing many to overlook the work of one of the few true geniuses of 20th Century American letters.

The Man

Born in 1914 into a Patrician mid-western family, Burroughs’ grandfather, William S. Burroughs I, invented the adding machine, and his uncle, Ivy Lee, was the founder of modern public relations and a Madison Avenue grandee.

A misfit and a brilliant student, after graduating from Harvard and pursuing…


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I woke up around nine and picked up my phone. I had a message from my mother.

Happy birthday treasure. 30 today. I remember holding your hand on your first day of school. Where did the time go? We’re very proud of you. We’ve put $200 into your account. Go and celebrate. Will try and call later. Love, M & D.

I put the device down on the pillow next to me, rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. It was true. It was my birthday. I’d planned to ignore it. But it’s something you can’t pretend isn’t happening. You’ve done the full revolution. Charted the entire circumference of the sun. It’s the only human observance not to be based on lies.

How would I fill the day? I could go to the Louvre. One year in Paris and I still hadn’t…


One of the most prescient and misunderstood works in the history of cinema

Stanley Kubrick bought the production rights to Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) in the 1960s, and mulled over its realisation for his entire career. The project finally came to fruition in 1999 after what remains the longest shoot in the history of cinema (400 days).

The production was highly secretive. Rumours flew around of bizarre and oppressive conditions on set. Cruise and Kidman — then the highest profile couple on the planet — were kept separate unless shooting a scene in which they both appeared, but, oddly, were made to sleep in the bedroom used in the film.


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A Film by Jim Jarmusch

I like all of Jim Jarmusch’s films, but Night on Earth is probably my favourite.

It is not so much one film as a collection of five shorter films set in five world cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki.

Each vignette is linked only by the fact that all of the action takes place in a taxi in the course of one night.

In LA, Corky (Winona Ryder), a brash young tomboy driver is uninterested in the career propositions of a well-heeled Hollywood casting agent (Gena Rowlands). In New York a circus clown fresh from Eastern Germany…


Comparing Life in Three World Cities

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I grew up in Sydney, lived in London for five years and am now in my third year in Paris. What is life like in these three world cities?

Broadly speaking, London is a city for partying, Paris for socialising and Sydney for settling down. I expand on this below, addressing each city in turn.

Sydney

Sydney is, in my opinion, the most naturally beautiful city in the world, with the possible exception of Rio de Janeiro, and along with the Brazilian metropolis and LA is one of the world’s few genuine beach cities.

The…


A Bizarre and Beautiful film by Rolf de Heer.

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Bubby is a grown man whose mother has convinced him that he can never leave their small, filthy, windowless flat in suburban Adelaide because the air outside is toxic and will kill him if he does. She uses this lie to enslave and exploit Bubby for her own emotional and sexual needs, leaving him with nothing to do in his free time but catch and dismember cockroaches and taunt their long-suffering pet cat.

The cat is the key to Bubby’s escape. Bubby surmises that it must have come from outside, and when his mother tells him that cats do not…


Paul Bowles seemed to experience just about everything in his life. Before becoming a novelist, he was a successful composer for Broadway plays. He collaborated with Tennessee Williams and Orson Welles in New York, befriended Christopher Isherwood in Berlin and was an initiate of Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris.

On Stein’s advice, Bowles settled in Tangier’s international zone in 1947, and especially as a result of his first novel, The Sheltering Sky, attracted generations of visiting cultural icons to Morocco (the Beats, Truman Capote, Mick Jagger) until his death in 1999 at the age of 88.

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Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs and Paul Bowles in Tangier, 1961. Photo probably taken by Allen Ginsberg.

It was Bowles who…

RJ Smith

I’m an Australian writer and academic living in Paris. I run a site called POLITE which publishes culture reviews, essays and fiction. See rjsmithauthor.com

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