Paperbacks and Pictures as Portals
My charity shop compatriot recently brought over to my flat a video he had uncovered from the local Save the Children. With a photocopied cover of a louche figure standing amidst trees and a hand-scrawled label, this was a home-made Smiths compilation, with all the slightly embarassing obsessiveness that portends. The cover implied that what he had here was a mere mix of live performances and videos, but this would prove to be rather stranger than that. The aforementioned are present and correct, but interspersed - upon an abrupt freeze frame - with scenes from films, offering an index of Morrissey's references and fixations. 'Asleep' plays over footage of West Side Story, dragging melodrama into this most intimate of Smiths songs; Lawrence Olivier yells at Michael Caine that he is nothing but 'a jumped up pantry boy who never knew his place!', Albert Finney glowers in the mirror, and of course, the sundry excerpts from A Taste of Honey and Billy Liar. You also notice that one of Morrissey's live dances/mimes/whatever they are is lifted from Billy's imaginary machine gunning of his family and boss.
What does it signify, all this uncovering and revealing of someone else's obsessions? Is this someone acknowledging that their hero is just the sum of his preferred cultural ephemera by splicing all that ephemera together? In fact, it seems to resonate with a lovely aside in Mark Sinker's review of the new JD doc in Sight and Sound: 'Curtis' own writing was a teen scrapbook of anti-pop titles and sensibilities ('Interzone', 'Atrocity Exhibition', 'Colony', 'Dead Souls', invoke Burroughs, Ballard, Kafka and Gogol respectively, the effect dismissable only if you decide not to see such namings as portals'. Portals - that's perfect, the book and the reference as a transport into other dimensions. Interesting that it's so often people from less than salubrious backgrounds (there's at least one other group I could mention but I'm resisting the temptation) who wear their reading (not their listening, which everyone signposts) on their sleeves. Precisely by being the sum of books (or films)-as-portals, you find a way out, and a way into the kind of vengeful self-construction that made these people so prone to others' fascination. An element of list-making and reference taking perhaps, but always subordinate to the use of these texts, objects and ideas. Isn't a possible way of out of a cultural trough an interest in what is extraneous to a particular form, as opposed to incessant art about art? Rather than that being insular and cultish, it can be a projection outwards.