Film Lore, Dark 'N Stormies, & Killer Prose: Black Clock 15 Reading at The Mandrake
Sunday afternoon marked the celebration of literary journal "Black Clock 15"—a robust, full-color issue devoted to all things cinema. The brainchild of novelist Steve Erickson, Black Clock is self-ascribed as “singular, idiosyncratic, and a little mysterious”—a mantra that precisely mirrors the tone of Sunday’s reading.
Housed in the elusive, demarked Mandrake bar, idling among its wood paneled walls, writers sipped martinis and Dark ‘N Stormies as projected images of legendary films fell across faces, deep in thought and conversation.
A simple scan of the room revealed the stars of Sunday’s lineup: Mark Z. Danielewski, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Phillips, Anthony Miller, Geoff Nicholson, and Matthew Specktor, all of whom looked at home among a crowded bar of film buffs, budding writers, and local LA literati. For the next two hours, these authors read from stories steeped in film lore—from re-imagined movie history, to close encounters with Jerry Lewis, to conjured letters from psychosis-riddled cult icons.
At it’s very core, the reading was a vaudeville performance of pastiche, deadpan, cinematic suspense, and of course—killer prose.
Anthony Miller went first, and the author read a cerebral—and humorous—account of a re-imaged film history from his Black Clock short, "A History of The Cinema 1920-2014." From Tim Burton directing Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian to Wes Anderson directing Nabokov’s Pale Fire (and casting Jason Schwartzman as Charles Kinbote), Miller’s piece was a terrific work of literary, film, and historical ‘rearrangement,’ and his delivery was spot on, garnering laughs at nearly every reference.
Jonathan Lethem was next. The renowned author (Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Chronic City) read two film-inspired accounts, one about Jerry Lewis, and his piece from Black Clock, "Opportunity Unbidden," which featured a hilarious account of “the famously litigious actor who will go technically unnamed here thanks to several agreements painfully hammered out between his lawyers and mine” in a not-so-typical Hollywood story (you’ll have to read the story to discover the actor in question).
Geoff Nicholson read from his Black Clock piece, Buster Keaton: The Warhol Years (An Oral History). Switching between the two protagonists in his story, Buster Keaton and Eleanor Keaton, Nicholson’s reading was a funny and kind of whimsical performance, aided by the brandishing of said characters’ Xeroxed faces to indicate who was speaking. And while Nicholson wondered out loud if the gimmick wore off a bit quick, the story itself is sharp, smart and a highlight of the issue.
Claire Philips read her terrific "Black Clock 15" piece, "Invisible Woman." The story is a wonderfully bizarre series of correspondence from SCUM Manifesto author, Valerie Solanas to Andy Warhol. In this piece, Phillips writes, “Solanas’ ten-thousand letters to Warhol have been distilled here to best represent the writer’s enduring and noble spirit.” Full of voice and a fair bit of mania, the piece is terrifically inventive, and Phillips’ sardonic wit shines.
Matthew Specktor, the afternoon’s penultimate reader, shared his Black Clock piece, "Maximum Dogbreath"—a story steeped in 1970s Hollywood ennui. The story was chock full of LAisms, from egg whites and yoga, to transcendental meditation. And during Specktor’s reading some of the story’s more prophetically wise moments illumined. “You could do a lot of things in Hollywood,” Specktor read, “but whip it out and take a disdainful leak on the parquet floors of the man who still handled Gregory Peck and Cary Grant? Certain things had consequences.” Aspiring film stars: take note.
Mark Z. Danielewski was the afternoon’s final reader—and judging by the amount of people who simultaneously leaned forward in their chairs, perhaps the most anticipated. Danielewski is a prolific writer (House of Leaves, Only Revolutions, The 50 Year Sword) and his public appearances are rare. Danielewski read from his Black Clock piece, "Clip 4," which, as the author disclosed, had been inspired by several of the pieces found throughout Black Clock 15. The author’s piece is written in the form of an academic paper—and it is tademark ‘Danielewskian,’ with multiple narratives and plenty of meta-fictional characteristics, all tethered to a terrifically suspenseful plot. Despite the complexities of the piece, Danielewski’s reading was even-heeled and heavy with precise, cinematic suspense. It was a gripping end to a great two-hour literary matinee.
In his introduction, Steve Erickson quipped that "Black Clock 15" might just be the biggest Black Clock issue ever. Judging by the reading, the turnout, and the work found throughout the magazine’s best looking issue yet, I'd say that's about right.
And as the reading eventually emptied from the dark confines of The Mandrake to the white afternoon sun, it was hard not to draw parallels to life in L.A.—a city that shares the same singular, idiosyncratic, and mysterious qualities as the art that it inspires.
To order a copy of "Black Clock 15: The Film Issue," or to learn more about Black Clock, visit blackclock.org.