IotD: Parker Tyler at Narcissus screening

From the Anthology Film Archives website, a delightful photo by photographer Katherine Bangs from a preview of the experimental film Narcissus by Willard Maas and Ben Moore in 1955.

Parker Tyler Marie Menken James Broughton by Katherine Bangs

Those pictured, from left to right, are pioneering queer filmmaker James Broughton, Julian Beck, the co-founder of The Living Theatre, painter and experimental filmmaker Marie Menken, and Tyler.

Menken and Maas were married, and their friend Andy Warhol famously called them “the last of the great Bohemians. They wrote and filmed and drank (their films called them ‘scholarly drunks’) and were involved with all the modern poets” (Nel 208). It has also been long rumored that Edward Albee based Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?‘s infamous Martha and George on the temperamental pair.

In his collection Underground Cinema, Parker writes at length about Narcissus, which he characterizes as a “Cocteau-influenced film:”

The myth of Narcissus and Echo is set forthrightly in a sort of city slum, a socially deserted warehouse district, where the hero is an infantile young homosexual living a hermit’s penurious life of wandering the streets, collecting toylike fetishes, and daydreaming… (219)

He goes on to state:

Narcissus is a serious and sensitive commentary on a deluded type of homosexual whose infantile withdrawal flows from mental and nervous instability. Without its mythological sensibility, however, the film would have achieved its poetic level” (219)

Anthology Film Archive also has a lovely gallery of stills from Narcissus, which I have long wanted to see but have yet been able. A few choice images:

willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas ben moore narcissus still 1956willard maas narcissus 1956 4


Katherine Bangs
“Portrait of James Broughton, Julian Beck, Marie Menken, and Parker Tyler, at the preview of the film Narcissus” (December 15, 1955)
Source: Anthology Film Archives

Willard Maas and Ben Moore
Stills from Narcissus (1956)
Source: Anthology Film Archives

Works Cited

Manchester, Lee. “Who’s the Source for Virginia Woolf?” Wagner Magazine, 2013.

Nel, Philip. Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

Tyler, Parker. “History and Manifesto.” Underground Film: a Critical History, Da Capo Press, 1995, pp. 197–220.


Magic and Myth of the Movies: Parker Tyler Cover #1

The old adage warns against judging books by their cover, but who can deny the effectiveness and appeal of well conceived cover art? Over the years as I’ve encountered various editions of Parker Tyler’s film writing I’ve been consistently struck by how consistently eye-catching the covers have been, and came across the idea of collecting them together on this site in a kind of archive. That project begins here.

So first up we have the first edition of Magic and Myth of the Movies, published by Henry Holt & Co in 1947:

Parker Tyler Magic Myth of the Movies First Edition 1947

For a book published just two years after World War II, this cover exhibits a very contemporary sensibility–I can easily imagine this dust jacket gracing a 2018 new release. Unfortunately I have so far been unable to pinpoint the exact artist behind this striking design.

I particularly like the technique of presenting the various faces of stars in negative, rending them at once recognizably human but also otherworldly, even phantasmal. The synopsis on the inside flap (included below) characterizes Tyler’s approach to film analysis as getting “under-the-skin,” so collaging x-ray-like images of the Hollywood stars he studies is an extremely clever way of visually signaling both his specific interests and even critical methodology.

Also of note–and probably deserving of its own post–is that Magic and Myth of the Movies would later become beloved by Myra Breckinridge, the irrepressible heroine of Gore Vidal’s novel by the same name. As Myra writes in her diary, “Tyler’s vision (films are the unconscious expression of age-old human myths) is perhaps the only important critical insight this century has produced.” David Bordwell cautions that Vidal’s treatment of Tyler’s film writing in his novel should be taken as double-edged, “partly respectful, partly mocking” (112), but nonetheless this would undoubtedly be the edition Myra owns and refers to as she undertakes her late husband’s mission to write a definitive study of 1940’s Hollywood cinema.

Parker Tyler Magic and Myth of the Movies 1947 Inside Flaps

And to state in an author bio on a book about film that “he loves the movies, but… also hates them” is about as patently Parker Tyler as it gets.


New York Public Library Digital Collections

Works Cited

Bordwell, David. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Vidal, Gore. Myra Breckinridge; & Myron. Penguin Books, 1997.

Thesis Update: Notes from the Archive

This blog is long overdue for an update—and a #jessewritesathesis update in particular. In brief: I’m chipping away at it! Progress doesn’t accumulate nearly as quickly as I’d like, of course, but I now have several docs that hold quite a bit of writing. Still learning to avert—or rather, manage—the crippling inner editor who insists that every sentence or phrase be “perfect” before moving to the next, but things are slowly improving.

ransom center exteriorThe most important development which specifically warrants an update post, however, is that after many years of hoping and scheming I was finally able to do some actual archival research for this thesis. Two weeks ago I spent three days at the University of Austin’s Harry Ransom Center sifting through their extensive holdings on both Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, and it just couldn’t have been a better experience. I was constantly impressed with how the Ransom Center and their staff were able to balance a (rightful) sense of protection over the remarkable material in their possession and an obvious commitment to access. As someone currently suspended somewhere between the categories of scholar and student, it was heartening to see that alongside the scholars were what seemed to be a constant stream of undergraduate students accessing and perusing material.

[That said, even though the Center is extremely generous in allowing users to take as many photos of the material as they want, one must sign a strict confidentiality agreement that forbids sharing it without written permission. So unfortunately I can’t provide any images to accompany the things I mention below. Just an FYI—I’m not being stingy!]

What did I find? Well, that three days was hardly enough to even pretend that I’d managed to scratch the surface in regards to what’s available for discovery in both of these archives. It’s been very heartening to see both Ford and Tyler receiving increasing scholarly interest over the last year or so—something itself I should do a write-up one of these days—which leads me to assume that eyes are starting to get on this material (indeed, I was told someone had been working with the Ford material the week before I arrived), but it was also IMMEDIATELY clear that this is a “story”—indeed, multiple stories—that needs, is even demanding, to be told. Though I was forced to do a lot of scanning/speed-reading, Ford’s prolific correspondence (of which this is only a partial holding; there also seems to be much held at Yale’s Beinecke Library, to say nothing of holdings in archives of his countless correspondents) offers so much first-person documentation of modernism, American expatriatism, the pre-Stonewall queer experience, and early twentieth century American/European culture in general—in addition offering perspectives that have been generally kept to the peripheries of historical accounts of these eras and communities.

djuna barnes letter

Image of a typical Djuna Barnes letter found online [NOT from the Ransom Center collection]

Perhaps the single most personally satisfying experience was the several hours spent poring over the collection of Djuna Barnes’s letters, most written between 1933 and 1936. Some were typed, but the majority were handwritten—itself a thrill (though it took a little while to acclimate to her distinctive handwriting!). I was able to answer some questions I had regarding Barnes’s involvement with the manuscript and initial publication of The Young and Evil, as well as Ford’s contact with Nightwood. I was also able to get quite a bit of insight into Barnes and Ford’s brief but intense romantic partnership, a chapter not widely known, probably because it complicates the most common narratives regarding both figures (and Barnes’s life and career in particular). A long term goal is to carve out of my thesis a publishable article on this specific topic.

Other highlights: several draft fragments from The Young and Evil that provide insight into Ford and Tyler’s collaborative process, as well as facsimile copies of Ford’s correspondence with Gertrude Stein which helped illuminate her involvement with the text.

And finally, more information which only led to more mystery: one of the central enigmas that has emerged during my research is the figure of Kathleen Tankersley Young, a poet and critic initially associated with the Harlem Renaissance and appeared in a number of the “little magazines” of the period. As well as taking on a kind of mentorship role and co-editor credit for Ford’s literary magazine Blues, she is important to The Young and Evil, not only as the novel’s dedicatee but appearing as the text’s only major female character. From her poetry I had started to suspect that she is actually a more crucial influence on Ford and Tyler than even Barnes and Stein; reading through her letters has only confirmed this.

Yet despite all these fascinating connections (and others—she went on to found a minor but admired publication company before a tragic and mysterious early death) Young currently remains more or less invisible—indeed, the several mentions of her currently out there (mostly in studies and compilations of women connected to the Harlem Renaissance) can only mention that practically nothing is known about her. Indeed, I’ve yet to come across a photograph of her. I was cautiously hoping an image of some kind would emerge somewhere in Ford’s material, but that ended up not being the case (at least in what I was able to go through)—though I sense that a dramatic pencil sketch of a female face on one of her letters might be a portrait of her. I’m  now more curious than ever about this fascinating, unknown figure; if anybody reading this happens to have ANY information on Young, please get in touch with me! (My info is in the “About” section.)

The Ransom Center actually shared on their Instagram account a snippet from one of letters from Young that I was able to look at, making it (I presume) ok to share here. I’ll also include below a few other images taken outside the restricted Reading Room.

It’s taken the two weeks since to simply organize and upload the notes and images (nearly 250 of them!) that I took over the course of the three days. Now it’s time to dive back into the writing—something I’m taking on again with a renewed sense of excitement and engagement. Wish me luck!

kty letter to chf ransom centerransom center jacques cocteauoscar wilde ransom center windowransom center leon bakst ballet russes costume

Top to bottom:

  1. Letter from Kathleen Tankersley Young to Charles Henri Ford (1928), posted on the Ransom Center Instagram account
  2. The eyes of Jean Cocteau from the interior of Ransom Center
  3. “Apparition” of Oscar Wilde on the exterior of the Ransom Center
  4. Original costume designed by Léon Bakst for Narcisse, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe (1911)



upcoming academic conference presentation

pamla logoThought I would break this period of extended radio silence (*sigh*) to mention that I will be presenting some research from my thesis at this year’s annual PAMLA conference. It will be taking place in Portland, OR, from November 6-8, and I present on a panel during the first session on Saturday morning. If anybody reading this is also attending, please stop by and say hello!

Here’s the info and my presentation abstract. Additional information (including abstracts for the full panel), can be found here.

pamla header

Cruising at the Intersection: The Queer Collaborative Authorship of The Young and Evil
Jesse Ataide, San Francisco State University

“What kind of discoveries are made possible when two gay men confront each other?” Christopher Hennessy asks, “with the acknowledgment of a shared sexual desire lurking there?” This paper considers how queer content in Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s 1933 novel The Young and Evil reflect a strategy of “cooperative discourse” that compels a reconsideration now only of the concept of authorship, but also how friendship, intimacy, and creative cooperation can function between queer men.”

My paper on Samuel M. Steward’s detective fiction was very well received at PAMLA 2013, and so I’m very much looking forward to presenting again this year!

IotD: Parker Tyler x3

Recently at the San Francisco Public Library Spring Book Sale–one of my favorite events in this city– I picked up a copy of Parker Tyler’s classic Classics of the Foreign Film (1962). I already owned a copy, but the one I already had was missing its dust jacket and I couldn’t resist (and hey, it was only $3 and for a good cause to boot).

What I most loved about the cover, however, was the striking portrait of the author on the back, which is labelled “From Three Film Portraits by Charles Boultenhouse.” Boultenhouse, a filmmaker, was Tyler’s longtime partner.

Parker Tyler

The dust jacket is well worn and that’s reflected in the quality of the scan, but there’s something about it that makes the compositionally beautiful image seem so evocative and haunting.