Books

Brad Gooch's Memoir, 'Smash Cut', Is That of a Literary Connoisseur

Gooch traces the life of '70s and '80s New York with his partner, Howard Brookner, with humour and poignancy.


Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the '70s & the '80s

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 256 pages
Author: Brad Gooch
Price: $27.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2015-04
Amazon

Brad Gooch, whom in the last 20 years or so has become increasingly known for his biographical works, started his career in New York during the '70s as a model, landing himself in the pages of high fashion magazines. Modeling, in fact, was a means to keep paying the rent.

Gooch’s true vocation in literature would see his works published in various magazines during the first lap of his literary pursuits.

It’s not surprising, then, that the author would keep notes on his day-to-day life during this period; a writer of sincere devotion, Gooch has been committed to his craft, essaying city lifestyles that somehow manage to be deeply detailed studies explored at reserved distances. His biographical works on writers Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor have been widely praised and his fiction considered stylish and modern revisions on traditional narratives. In his memoir Smash Cut, Gooch traces the life of '70s and '80s New York with the same fashionable tongue of a literary connoisseur, approaching the details of his life with humour and poignancy.

Smash Cut deals mainly with the writer’s relationship to the late filmmaker Howard Brookner, whose life would succumb to AIDS in 1989. Despite the grim trajectory that would follow the relationship of love between these two men, Gooch, through meaningful humour, maintains a perspective that never allows Brookner to be viewed as a tragic figure. His honesty in the events that unfold in the ways he has observed and remembered them ring with a truth that is at once careful and emotional.

In essaying his friend and lover’s life, we also become witness to just how much of their life together was framed by the insistent and urgent energy of New York’s downtown scene. One passage examines the particulars of apartment-hunting, an activity customary of new lovers; the romance of strange new spaces, the kind which could only exist in New York, is essayed with a perceptive and detailed eye: “In a photograph Paula Court took of the two of us in the kitchen soon after we moved in, we look like each other’s doppelgänger, both in flannel shirts, and matching curly locks, Howard smiling gleamingly while poking with a knife at a turkey in the oven in the dirtiest kitchen imaginable (for Thanksgiving , 1979), me smirking, looking down, overwhelmed, at a counter strewn with a dirty jar of mayonnaise, a dirty black pepper tin, a dirty Triscuit box.”

Surrounding the sometimes precarious relationship between Brookner and Gooch are the dalliances with celebrity life as seen during New York’s heyday of '80s cool. Madonna (who was a good friend to Brookner, supportive during his deteriorating health) makes a number of appearances, as Gooch journals her life during the recording of Like a Prayer and her role in Brookner’s Bloodhounds of Broadway. As well, Gooch relays an interesting experience in his work as a journalist, interviewing Kathleen Turner, fresh off the cart from her star-making role in Body Heat.

Ultimately, however, the complications of Brookner’s illness soon come to eclipse the energy of both youth and creation. Gooch who, during the course of his relationship with Brookner, begins to discover the potential of his creative powers, is faced with the prospect of continuing his life without the man who helped cultivate those powers with both love and inspiration. Gooch has often maintained such objective readings for the admired subjects of his meticulously-researched biographies (his latest topic of interest is that of 13th century Persian poet Rumi, whom he is currently researching for a new book). But the author makes it known that, here, the truth between two people are measured entirely with the heart.

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1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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