Friday, November 24, 2017

Writers' rooms / Siri Hustvedt

Photo by Eamonn McCabe

Writers' rooms: Siri Hustvedt

Friday 26 October 2007 16.59 BST

A room to write in isn't like other rooms, because most of the time the person in it doesn't see it. My attention is on the page in front of me, on what the people in the book are doing or saying, and my awareness of the things near me is muted, part of the vague sensual information that comes and goes as I mull over the next sentence. I do feel the light in my room, however. My study is on the top floor of our house, which has four storeys, and the windows face south, so the sunshine streams through the panes, and even on a bleak winter day my workplace is luminous.

I usually sit down at my desk around eight o'clock in the morning and write until my brain begins to dim - around two o'clock. My morning mind is far better than the blearier one that arrives in the afternoon so I take advantage of the early hours. I have lots of reference books near me, various kinds of dictionaries - bilingual, medical and psychiatric, 34 volumes of the Grove Dictionary of Art, style manuals and handbooks, the Bible, Gray's Anatomy, some poetry anthologies, and when I'm deep in a project there are often piles of books on the floor to which I refer when needed.

Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster

I have an eclectic mix of photographs and objects tacked up on the bulletin board behind my desk and placed on the shelves above it. Aside from images of my husband, daughter, sisters and parents, my favorite things are: a picture of the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot's most photogenic hysteric, Augustine, from the Salpetrière hospital archives in Paris given to me by my sister, Asti; seven keys I found in my father's study after he died, which he had labelled "Unknown Keys"; his last passport, that expired six months after his death; a wind-up toy monkey I've had since my childhood; and a rubber brain that sits on a little stand and which can be taken apart. Even though I don't spend much time looking at these odd treasures, I like knowing they are there.

Siri Hustvedt's Top Ten List

Siri Hustvedt

Siri Hustvedt's Top Ten List


Siri Hustvedt (born 1955) is an American novelist and essayist of Norwegian descent whose wide-ranging writings explore various themes including the world of art, the intersection of the humanities and science, the nature of identity, selfhood and perception. She has published six novels: The Blindfold(1992), The Enchantment of Lily Dahl(1996), What I Loved (2003), The Sorrows of an American (2008), The Summer Without Men (2011) and The Blazing World, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Her five works of nonfiction include the essay collections Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting (2005) and Living, Thinking, Looking (2012) and the neurological memoir The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves (2009). She is an internationally acclaimed lecturer whose honors include the Gabarron International Award for Thought and Humanities and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Oslo. In 2015 she was appointed lecturer in psychiatry at the Weill Medical School of Cornell University. She married the writer Paul Auster on Bloom’s Day in 1982. For more information, visit her official website.
If one takes a lesson from the various literary frauds that have been perpetrated over the last couple of centuries—the “masterpieces” that have been typed up word-for-word and sent to publishers under other names and been rejected or the novels published under pseudonyms by celebrated authors that have been ignored—then one must approach all lists of greatness with skepticism. If one further believes, as I do, that every book is animated by its reader, that reading is a collaboration between reader and text, then that same skepticism increases rather than decreases. Moreover, if one knows that the very idea of greatness creates an implicit bias in the reader, which enhances the physiological experience of said great work and activates reward systems in the brain that are not activated without that contextual bias, then caution is in order. And, finally, if all literary works are held in sway to the beliefs of a particular culture (its prejudices about masculinity and femininity, for example) and to the changing whims of time, then one may be left scratching one’s head about what it all means.
Americans in particular are keen on competition, on the dogged reinvigoration of a mythical biggest and best, whether their object is a hotdog or a work of art. That said there seem to be books in a given culture at a given time that many writers share as beloved works. And there are not ten, of course. There are hundreds. In my list, I detect an obvious bias for nineteenth century books written in English. There is nothing rigid about either my order or my choices. Tomorrow they might be different.
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847). First published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847, the novel both shocked and confused its reviewers, many of whom regarded its author as a rough, unrefined man of brutal character. Slowly, the book grew in stature among scholars, but its subtle structure and diffuse, complex meanings are still fought over. For me, it remains a book of almost incomprehensible power, both in thought and in feeling.

2. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667) There would be noWuthering Heights without Milton. That is certain. I remain in awe of the poet’s dense, rich meanings and his music. The two are inseparable.

3. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72). Like a number of books on this list, I have read it four times, and with each reading, it generates new thoughts and emotions in me, a tribute to both its intellectual rigor and immense sympathy for human weakness.

4. Either/Or: A Fragment of Life by Søren Kierkegaard (1843). This is either the novel as philosophy or philosophy as the novel by the master of irony himself. It is, in all events, a long work of prose fiction, written under a pseudonym with a fictional editor’s introduction. Diabolical in its wit, passionate, and sly, it is a book at once immensely difficult and deeply pleasurable to read.

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817). As I get older, this is the book of Austen’s I return to, not because it is her most perfect book, but because the psychological acumen of its narrative continues to haunt me.

6. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1864–65). The author’s last finished book is for me his best, a book that explores the fragmented nature of human identity in his inimitable prose.

7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927). I loved this book when I was nineteen, but I had to grow up and read it again to understand its profundity.

8. Stories of Franz Kafka (1883–1924)—because Kafka’s work is irreducible.

9. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904). Nobody dissects the muddle of human feeling and desire with greater subtlety than James.

10. Sorry, but I resist. This one could be Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, O’Connor, Proust, Tolstoy, Wharton, Dante, Bachman, or an eccentric choice, chosen because it is a book so spectacularly ignored, that brilliant small novel by Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Harvey Weinstein had secret hitlist of names to quash sex scandal

An extract from Harvey Weinstein’s hitlist.

Harvey Weinstein had secret hitlist of names to quash sex scandal

Producer hired team to investigate 91 film industry figures in attempt to stop harassment claims going public
Mark Townsend
Saturday 18 November 2017 21.57 GMT

The Observer has gained access to a secret hitlist of almost 100 prominent individuals targeted by Harvey Weinstein in an extraordinary attempt to discover what they knew about sexual misconduct claims against him and whether they were intending to go public.
The previously undisclosed list contains a total of 91 actors, publicists, producers, financiers and others working in the film industry, all of whom Weinstein allegedly identified as part of a strategy to prevent accusers from going public with sexual misconduct claims against him.
The names, apparently drawn up by Weinstein himself, were distributed to a team hired by the film producer to suppress claims that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women.
The document was compiled in early 2017, around nine months before the storm that blew up on 5 October when the New York Times published a series of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein.

Individuals named on the list were to be targeted by investigators who would covertly extract and accumulate information from those who might know of claims or who might come forward with allegations against the film producer. Feedback was then to be relayed to Weinstein and his lawyers.
The size of the list – 85 names appear on one document, with an addendum identifying another six individuals – appears to corroborate claims that sexual misconduct allegations against the 65-year-old were an open secret throughout Hollywood.
Prominent stars were among the first tranche of individuals on the list to testify publicly against Weinstein. Among those named were the actress Rose McGowan, who days after speaking out accused the producer of raping her. Another was Laura Madden, who told how Weinstein pestered her for massages at hotels in Dublin and London, beginning in 1991. McGowan and Madden were among the first to speak out against Weinstein last month.

Rose McGowan
Photograph by Richard Shotwell

A typed note on the document appears to suggest that by February 2016, Madden had already been targeted by one of Weinstein’s hired investigators. Her view of the producer is, says the note, “very bitter”.
Another name is Zelda Perkins, a London-based production assistant for Weinstein’s Miramax film company, who left the firm’s London offices on Brewer Street in Soho in 1998 after, she says, enduring years of sexual harassment by her boss. Last month Perkins revealed that she had broken a confidentiality agreement to describe alleged sexual harassment by the Hollywood producer.
Also on the list is the English actress Sophie Dix, who has described how her career trajectory was “massively cut down” after an alleged sexual assault by Weinstein in a London hotel and who was among the first to come forward.
Although at least 10 individuals are based in London, the majority live in New York, with others from Los Angeles. They include individuals working in acquisitions, marketing and distribution, along with producers, publicists and human resources staff, as well as actors. Forty-three men are named and 48 women.
Weinstein, the list confirms, was aware that the New York Times was gathering testimony from his victims long before it first ran the story. A public relations professional is named alongside a note stating that “HW [Harvey Weinstein] in contact w/him. Friends w/Jodi Kantor”. Kantor is the New York Times journalist who broke the story that immediately engulfed the producer and the film production company he co-founded with his brother.

 Sophie Dix Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

More than 50 of the names have been coloured red to highlight those who should be prioritised by investigators – individuals Weinstein most keenly wanted to target. The names of the actresses McGowan, Dix and Madden are all coloured red.
Following an initial list of 85 names, another six individuals were identified during August 2017, including the actress Annabella Sciorra, who two months later publicly alleged she was raped by Weinstein after he barged into her apartment in the 1990s.
Also named on the later list is the US actress Katherine Kendall. Weeks later she revealed how a naked Weinstein “literally chased” her around his New York apartment in 1993.
Another is a former Weinstein employee, Lauren O’Connor, who documented several allegations against the producer in a 2015 memo in which she described a “toxic environment for women” at Miramax.
Interestingly, the document includes the filmmaker Brett Ratner, who has been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct by six women in the wake of the Weinstein allegations.

Annabella Sciorra Photograph: Bruce Glikas

It is unclear whether Weinstein intended subsequently to approach any of the individuals on the list with a non-disclosure agreement. Evidence has emerged which shows that over the past three decades Weinstein reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on condition of anonymity, after he was confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact.
Not surprisingly, considering the psychological abuse and bullying allegations emerging from his former film studio Miramax, more of the film studio employees are also named. Among them is Kathy DeClesis, former assistant to Weinstein’s brother Bob, who has revealed that she told him about Harvey sexually harassing women over a period of 25 years.
So far, more than 50 women have come forward with allegations of rape, harassment and inappropriate behaviour, prompting police investigations in the US and UK.
Weinstein “unequivocally denies” all claims of non-consensual sex, a spokesman for the producer has said. The spokesman dismissed reports that the producer hired spies to stop claims, saying: “It is a fiction to suggest that any individuals were targeted or suppressed at any time.”
The producer’s alleged targets were often young, aspiring actresses. Among the high-profile names who have spoken out against Weinstein are Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale.

What if only one woman had accused Harvey Weinstein?

Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein

What if only one woman had accused Harvey Weinstein?

Sunday 22 October 2017 11.00 BST
n recent days, as fallout from the Weinstein sexual abuse allegations spreads beyond Hollywood, a decidedly optimistic narrative has taken hold. This is a watershed moment – a tipping point that will come to mark a dramatic change in society’s treatment of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the movie industry and beyond.

It is understandable that this moment has taken on a collectively self-congratulatory cast. The swift and nearly universal condemnation of Weinstein following revelations in the New York Times and the New Yorker is undoubtedly a sign of progress, mostly because the women who came forward were believed unlike countless others in the past.
I have a forthcoming paper on “credibility discounting” in sexual violence cases, which gives me a special appreciation for the reaction to Weinstein’s accusers. But this appreciation is tempered by the knowledge that credibility discounting – an undue failure to believe an account due to bias – will continue well after the dust settles on this appalling casting couch.
To be sure, allegations against Weinstein are terribly familiar to the many women who have experienced much the same. Even so, the Weinstein case is also unusual, primarily because of the sheer number of accusers. Until we grapple with this reality, the progress we are celebrating will remain incomplete.
As of this week, more than 40 women have alleged that they were sexually harassed or assaulted by the movie mogul. Originally, when the story first broke, fewer accounts had surfaced. Yet the fact that not just one woman, but many women, came forward to describe Weinstein’s abuse is hugely significant.
We might call this credibility in numbers. The accounts of multiple women are needed to corroborate one another – that is, to show that an accusation which, on its own, would likely be discredited, can be believed when considered along with a constellation of similar allegations.
The Weinstein accusers are not alone in facing this particular hurdle. Credibility in numbers means that men like Bill Cosby – whose accuser ranks now stand at 58 – can be vigorously condemned in the court of public opinion.
Likewise, recent high-profile cases involving Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump featured clusters of women coming forward. At least by the measure of public sentiment, enough women were together able to surmount the barrier of skepticism that remains in place when allegations of sexual misconduct arise.
But what happens, as is typically the case, when a lone woman reports sexual harassment to a supervisor, sexual misconduct to a college administrator, or sexual assault to a law enforcement official? Often nothing – which helps to explain why the vast majority of women opt not to divulge their sexual abuse, whether in the workplace, on campus, or through the criminal justice system.
In the Weinstein case, one woman, alone, did come forward soon after she was abused. In 2015, Ambra Battilana, an Italian model, promptly reported to New York police officers that Weinstein had grabbed her breasts after asking if they were “real”; he then put his hand up her skirt.
After investigation, prosecutors determined that a case was not provable and declined to bring charges, notwithstanding a recorded conversation in which Weinstein admitted to touching Battilana’s breasts. (Disclosure: I worked in the New York County district attorney’s office 15 years ago.) According to reports, Battilana’s credibility became an issue after prosecutors learned that she had backed away from a previous sexual assault complaint and was untruthful about a past consensual relationship.
Along with a fear of retaliation, the prospect of just this reaction – disbelief – for years kept the many other women from disclosing Weinstein’s abuse. As one accuser recently explained: “Telling others meant ‘I’ll never work again and no one is going to care or believe me.’”
In the Cosby case, the deadlocked jury suggests a similar distrust of a lone woman’s accusation. Andrea Constand was the only victim whose allegation resulted in a criminal prosecution. (Due to the passage of time, the statutes of limitations on the other dozens of accusations had lapsed.)
Her account, along with the testimony of a “pattern and practice” witness who described also having been drugged and sexually violated by the actor, was not sufficient to persuade jurors of Cosby’s guilt. Despite a good deal of corroboration of Constand’s account – more than can be gathered in the typical case – it was not ultimately credited.
Since most sexual abuse allegations begin as “he said, she said” contests, credibility in numbers is not a solution to the problem of discounting. Every single accuser deserves a fair assessment of the allegation – that is, one not derived from an unwarranted baseline of skepticism. This means that credibility must be judged without regard for race, socioeconomic class, or immigration status, to name just a few of the factors, apart from gender, known to trigger longstanding biases in sexual violence investigations.
Regardless of how the Weinstein scandal ends, scores of famous actresses have now validated an experience that has long been dismissed as false or trivial. This portends a frontal attack on rampant sexual harassment in Hollywood and perhaps other industries. Without minimizing the significance of this development, we should demand even greater change. Credibility by the numbers cannot be the endpoint. A lone allegation of sexual abuse by even the least powerful among us requires fair treatment.
  • Deborah Tuerkheimer, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, is a professor of law at Northwestern University


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The 25 best horror films of all time / Don't Look Now / No 3

The 25 best  

horror film

of all tim

No 3

Don't Look Now

Nicolas Roeg, 1973

Anne Billson
Friday 22 October 2010 11.52 BST

icolas Roeg's trademark non-linear approach to narrative is put to unnerving use in Don't Look Now, a haunting adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's short story about a couple, John and Laura Baxter (played by Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), who relocate to Venice in an attempt to come to terms with the accidental death of their young daughter. And that's just the start of a film that establishes such a mood of doomy anticipation that no one who watches it can ever again negotiate the narrow, labyrinthine streets of La Serenissima without wondering if they'll catch a glimpse of a small figure in a red raincoat flitting over a shadowy bridge.

Right from the opening sequence it's established that John, an art restorer, possesses the gift of clairvoyance – but, as shown time and again, he fails to act on or even recognise it – with tragic consequences. Images of water, the colour red and broken glass repeatedly intersect in a kaleidoscope of ominous foreshadowing. The presence of a serial killer at work in Venice doesn't so much turn the film into a psycho-thriller as contribute to the backdrop of watery gloom.

Don't Look Now was well received by critics and achieved a certain amount of notoriety thanks to rumours that the (for then) unusually explicit scene of lovemaking between John and Laura wasn't faked. Typically, Roeg intercut the act itself with footage of the couple getting dressed for dinner.

Pino Donaggio, who would go on to score some of Brian De Palma's most successful movies, made his film debut with the poignant soundtrack, and the movie's final shocking reveal is one of the most famous since that of Psycho.

The 25 best horror films of all time / Rosemary's Baby / No 2

The 25 best  

horror film

of all tim

No 2

Rosemary's Baby
Roman Polanski, 1968

oman Polanski's first Hollywood feature was an adaptation of Ira Levin's bestseller, and its success launched a trend for devil-baby, evil-kiddy and satanic pregnancy movies that extended well into the 70s. The novel was first recognised as potential film material at proof stage by low-budget horror entrepreneur William Castle, who ended up as the producer and had a fleeting cameo in the film as a man smoking a cigar outside a phone booth.

According to a (probably spurious) film-making legend, Polanski, having never before adapted a novel, didn't realise he was allowed to make changes, with the result that his screenplay is remarkably faithful to Levin's book.

Mia Farrow, best known for her role in the TV soap opera Peyton Place and as the wife of Frank Sinatra (who served her with divorce papers during the shoot) played Rosemary Woodhouse, a nice Catholic girl who with her husband Guy (John Cassavetes), a struggling actor, moves into an apartment in The Bramford, an old New York block with a sinister history. (The exteriors were filmed outside the Dakota building on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where John Lennon would later be shot dead.) Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer play Minnie and Roman Castavet, the nosy neighbours from hell – and that's even before we find out they're satanists. Gordon won a best supporting actress Oscar, the only Academy Award for a horror movie until 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

The film works on multiple levels – as a supernatural thriller (though explicit paranormal elements are limited to a hallucinatory dream sequence and the final shot of the baby's eyes), as a psychological thriller about a paranoid pregnant woman who imagines herself at the centre of a conspiracy, and as the last word in marital betrayal, since the most despicable villain here is surely Guy, who allows his wife to be raped by the devil in exchange for an acting role.

Polanski's achievement is in immersing us so completely in Rosemary's point of view that we share her doubts, confusion and suspicions as she becomes increasingly cut off from former friends and begins to believe her husband is in cahoots with the Castavets in a diabolical plan to harm her baby. This is horror rooted not in misty Carpathian castles, but in recognisable modern life, with the satanists depicted not as outlandish fiends but the sort of everyday folk you might encounter on any urban street.