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Self-Portraiture As Landscape: Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait

Levé’s ambivalence to the memoir as a construct prevails throughout Autoportrait, its own kind of deformation, wherein the act of explaining a life becomes interchangeable with describing an image.

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Self-Portraiture As Landscape: Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait

In 2002, the French photographer Édouard Levé travelled to the United States to collect material for his photography series Amérique. Limiting his project in chance-procedural fashion, Levé gathered images from American towns and cities that shared their names with other places around the world. For instance, Amérique features photographs taken in Paris, Texas, and Berlin, Pennsylvania, and so on. Levé’s subjects are highways and buildings, people standing outside their homes or inside places of business, and the occasional spot of roadkill—in short, scenes from the classic American roadtrip as seen through the lens of a hypnotized Continental existentialist. Amérique maps the constellation of beauty, dilapidation, and chaos to be found in the national backroads. Its rich Kodachrome color and casual preparation uncover a raw mixture of humor and melancholy that’s rare among Levé’s body of chilly and often hermetic work. The subjects in Amérique are never candid, nor do they exactly pose. They look as though Levé encouraged them to stand however they wanted, and that somehow by trying to look the most themselves, Levé was able to capture something true both about his subjects and the nature of their representation. The effect is somewhere between August Sander and Harmony Korine.

What makes Amérique more interesting still is Levé’s development from a conceptual to an almost classical aesthetic. Levé’s real dynamism is partially concealed in his mannered, somewhat gimmicky early collections, like Rugby (models in civilian clothing posed in positions from rugby photos) or Pornographie (the same, this time from pornographic photos). The organic approach to Amérique comes almost as a shock; compositionally, these photos are as subtle as they are radical. Levé’s distinction between landscape and portraiture is willfully ambiguous, almost naïve: the muted smile of a Stockholm mechanic is as much its own landscape as the desolate Amsterdam roadside is a kind of inscrutable face. The syntax of the artistic photograph has come slightly unglued here; the open road seems to have hypnotized the camera-eye. Which Paris was that again?

Autoportrait, the brief, uncompromising memoir that Levé composed during that same trip, is a variation on this aesthetic in prose. The book is composed entirely of brisk declarative sentences about the author in the first person, often without any discernible narrative coherence. Representative segments can be found virtually at random: “I am against stucco. I do not like exposed stone any better than exposed beams. In company, I am less guilty when I transgress. I have not predicted that Mick Jagger will die of prostate cancer. I have a weakness for negative formulations, counter-formulations, reformulations, and deformations. When I expect to achieve nothing, ideas come.” These confessions, seemingly thrown off at random, nevertheless provide a glimpse into the architecture of the memoir itself. Such strands as the one above are scattered throughout Autoportrait, but, as with the allusions elsewhere to personal alienation and trauma that underscore Levé’s shell-shocked tone, one grasps at them at one’s own peril. From the outset, the book silently dissuades a search for any clé, any resolution to the prevailing mystery. Instead, these fragments and asides, compiled as they are, have an inescapable quality of music slowly building on itself, growing with an urgency that transcends rationality, sustained but never cathartic. Levé’s ambivalence to the memoir as a construct prevails throughout Autoportrait, its own kind of deformation, wherein the act of explaining a life becomes interchangeable with describing an image—whatever details can be discerned, in any order you like. Levé’s own portrait, too, is rendered a landscape.

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Amérique was Édouard Levé’s final collection of photos. In 2007, the year after its publication, he took his own life at 42. His last prose work, the short novel Suicide, was completed 10 days before his death, and expands on an anecdote in Autoportrait about a childhood friend. “To survive an ordeal,” Levé says elsewhere, “I break it up into sections.” One might glean that those sections were his projects—his photos and his books—and that the ordeal was life itself.

In his essay “The Empty Plenum,” David Foster Wallace unpacks David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress by invoking Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as the novel’s conceptual germ, and while I have no way of knowing whether Levé read any Wallace, Markson, or Wittgenstein (in the book he maligns reading in translation) I couldn’t shake Wallace’s explanation while reading Autoportrait: “[According to the Tractatus] the world is everything that is the case; the world is nothing but a huge mass of data, of logically discrete facts that have no intrinsic connection to one another…Any one [fact] can either be the case, or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.” Wallace contends that the tragedy of Markson’s heroine, Kate, is the futility of trying to restore continuity to facts that refuse to hang together—the novel’s own mirror of the Tractatus’s inhospitable world.

Autoportrait and Wittgenstein’s Mistress have much in common. Both are experimental, fragmentary meditations on lives lived relentlessly in the face of depression. For Kate, the last woman on Earth, meaning is crumbling all around. For Édouard, it’s the ability to find meaning for himself that’s crumbling. Autoportrait aspires to a kind of annihilation of the self. Ripped from their emotional and chronological continuum, the atomic facts of Levé’s life leave no system, no root by which we can return to the source. Autoportrait’s singular achievement is the melancholy which haunts its pages like a phantom but eludes comprehension.

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Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait was released on February 7 by Dalkey Archive Press. To purchase it, click here.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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