Tag Archives: Joseph Cornell

Tanaquil (Donald Windham, 1977)


In the first two chapters of TANAQUIL, the heroine, who has heretofore thought of herself as a tomboy uninterested in boys, falls in love with a young man whose only interest seems to be sex and motors. He’s quickly killed killed in car accident, a reason to leave town and move to New York, where she picks up handsome men and feels no guilt about it; on a double date, she gets treated like a prostitute by the man her friend had fixed her up with, moves away, takes acting classes, stars on Broadway and turns down a Hollywood contract because she’s fallen for a photographer’s assistant – Frankie Le Messina, nicknamed the Lemon Squeezer — who’s rescued her from a fire in a bar that is unconsciously but all too clearly coded as gay — the bar that is, not the boy, though he’s quite happy to move up and down the Kinsey scale as it suits. Phew!

Frankie’s gorgeous; his preference is for women but he’ll take pleasure when and as he can; lumberjacks, sailors… In Boston a friend tells him someone with his looks can make his fortune in New York and he decides to give it a try, though it doesn’t quite work out. He does luck in with a job as an assistant to Page, a famous photographer, and that is the point where he meets Tanaquil. He and Tanaquil fall madly in love, get married; they have two children; he gets drafted into WWII but the separation only strengthens their feelings for each other; he never achieves the critical recognition the book says he deserves. It’s probably symbolic that he specialises in tattoos, and he never gets a clear  picture of the anchor tattooed at the point of a penis that he first took in Boston until the end of the novel. The anchor in the penis, always in his mind; a barrier, a destination, never quite in focus. As a novel, it’s all a bit flat. But the reason I read it is because it’s meant to be a roman-à-clef on George Platt Lynes and his circle and there the book succeeds in offering a much better picture of Pre-Stonewall life than YOUNG MAN FROM THE PROVINCES.

Donald Windahm by Paul Cadmus

George Platt Lynes is pictured as Page: kind, generous, extremely social, assertive but not pushy, very elegant,  very bad with money,  and always out to have fun. It’s a fond portrait. We get to see many of the others in the Platt Lynes circle, Pavel Tchelitchew is figured as Stëpa, a once fashionable figurative painter, for example. The surprise is to see Joseph Cornell, here figured as William Dickinson, an artist who lives with his disabled brother and his controlling mother in the suburbs. He makes collage boxes he doesn’t really want to sell that go for so much money the sale of the one he gifted them dig Frankie and Tanaquil out of a financial hole and enable them to buy a building in Manhattan. Cornell is also fondly depicted though his romantic attachments to too-young girls are differently interpreted by Tanaquil and Frankie and creates friction between them.

A not very good novel that is nonetheless a fascinating document, not only of a particular way of life and fascinating people, but of a particular place constantly undergoing change. So, for example, I loved reading not only about the homosexual hookups but also, say, what the neighbourhood that made up the site currently occupied by Radio City Music Hall was like and what was lost by it being torn down.

José Arroyo



In Conversation with Catherine Grant

Catherine Grant is one of the scholars working in the area of video essays and videographic criticism I most admire. Her work ranges from fan videos to explorations of form, the transnational, queering, interventions into theory, materialising criticism and artistic self-expression. I very much wanted to talk to her about her work and the result is this podcast below,  a wide-ranging reflection on these particular forms of criticism, her own practice and that of other scholars who have influenced the development of her own work. With typical generosity, every reflection on her own works incites heaps of praise for that of others.


Video Essays by Catherine Grant in order of discussion:

‘Need something to work with and against. Footage which is absolutely beautiful. Peggy Anne Garner. Discovering some writing. An elaborate video. Dedicated to her own family’.

‘A metacritical look at videos made using split-screen’.

Insight and expression through a photograph, movement and song

Influenced by  Gordon Hon, collecting dissolves from Vertigo and slowing them down. Also by Aaron Valdez´film, Dissolve, a study of dissolves that he found on the internet archive. Such a beautiful film, the transient comes through brilliantly in it. Afterwords Mandy Merck mentioned the  American Tragedies adaptations of Dreiser. Whilst making A Place in the Sun, someone had advised George Stevens to watch Brief Encounter. Abundant Dissolves. Very interesting and lots of them.

In her video essay, she changed the colour of the film. It´s bluer, a midnight blue filter. There was an inertness, maybe due to digital copy. So she added the filter just like Joseph Cornell in Rose Hobart.

The need to be cognisant of the tension between quoting something and making something yourself.

An important dimension of Grant´s work, loosely called queering. The gesture on the shoulder in Carol and Brief Encounter.

‘Video essays materialise what are otherwise virtual spectatorial encounters. Cluster of work around thinking and feeling around the films. Transforming a  queer experience we have in our head and making it material through videographic work’

‘Dialoguing with a written tradition of film studies and art criticism’


Videos by others in order of discussion:

‘Really good criticism, really insightful, intertextual, influential: The Substance of Style wowed by his use of split screens.´


‘The confidence to run things together, voice-over, speeded up, Pure Bazinian technique. Dismantling or defamiliarisng the look on a full frame. We rarely engage in peripheral spectatorship. It becomes a work of genius when he does speed up´.

On the insights of Ian Garwood on voice-over and on his generosity as a scholar

In praise of Adrian Martin´s use of his voice in this particular work by Martin and Cristina Álvarez López

Joseph Cornell´s Rose Hobart (1936):


The Patrick Keating video essays discussed can be found here

And Grace Lee´s youtube channel, What´s So Great About That can be found here:

We did not get a chance to talk about Grant´s other important contributions to film culture but it´s worth mentioning the invaluable  open access scholary website, Film Studies for Free, Mediático, a website on various aspects of Latin American and Iberian film cultures, and as an editor of  [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies 

José Arroyo