The Scene

Happenings, Events, Gallery of Arts

Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

HEM review by Jeb Harrison

Hemingway, the 2021 three-part, six-hour documentary film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Narrated by former MillValleyite, Peter Coyote.

As a writer, I have tried to avoid digging too deep into the lives of my literary heroes, for obvious reasons. There are few angels there, and, in the case of Hemingway and many of his contemporaries, more devils than any fan would care to hear about.

In the new Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary, little new information is revealed about the life of “Papa,” his four wives or his children. Like many biopics on Hemingway, it’s easy to walk away from the Burns/Novick documentary with the prevailing sentiment that he was a great writer and a terrible person, particularly when viewed through the cultural lens of 2021. The same could be said of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, and many other white male writers from the first half of the twentieth century.

Despite the current tendency to judge the behavior public figures of the past without regard to the belief systems and social context of the times in which they lived, Burns/Novick make some interesting observations about Hemingway, going as far to suggest that his hyper masculine persona was a cover up, or avatar as they put it, to compensate for an androgynous childhood. (Having a trans son in Gregory couldn’t have helped.) While the idea that this supposed psychological conflict pushed Hemingway to pursue extremely dangerous recreations is a plausible theory, I’m not sure it fully explains what appears to many as a “death wish,” pure and simple.

Aside from the moving profile of Hemingway’s tortured soul, and all the salves he applied to soothe it, I came away with two conclusions:

First, “once an adrenaline junky, always an adrenaline junky.” After all the concussions and other injuries, when he realized he could no longer get high off hunting, fishing, sex and ultimately booze, and the critics laid into him like sharks into a hard-fought marlin. He followed in his father’s footsteps and surrendered.

Second: Hemingway wasn’t the first to create a public persona, or avatar, the didn’t necessarily jibe with his writerly sensibilities. But he certainly helped paved the way for celebrities of all stripes to “act a part” that made them appear to be something they were not.

I’m saddened that many of today’s readers allow the lifestyle of the artist to cloud the appreciation of the work. Yet when we witness the flashes of brilliance and the impact of Hemingway’s writing on the literary canon, whether we like the work or not, we can’t deny that genius and madness often go hand in hand. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick make that unfortunate fact abundantly clear.

From PBS TV and available free through streaming channels.

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Coming soon from Baby Bingus Books & Beats. MillValleyLit’s Humor and Audiobook Columnist Jeb Harrison’s book of short stories is coming soon. Jimmy Smith and other stories is a collection of short fiction that is, like the author, all over the place. Beginning with an homage to the transformational power of the Hammond B3 organ, the stories range from silly to maudlin, whimsical to terrifying, hilarious to melancholy, each punctuated with Harrison’s cinematic, lyrical prose. From lizard tail soup to chance meetings with mountain lions, “necro-rhetoricians,” horny geriatrics, junky priests, murderous toll-takers and superheroes in the boardroom, Jimmy Smith and other stories will have you slapping your knee one minute and bawling the next. For more, please visit Babybingusbooks.com and amazon.com/author/jebharrison.

Jeb Stewart Harrison is the author of three novels: Hack, 2012. The Healing of Howard Brown, winner of the 2017 Independent Press Award for Literary Fiction and the 2020 Firebird Award. American Corporate, 2019 Independent Press Distinguished Favorite.

Tongo. Photo: Mabel Jimenez

Please join Tongo Eisen-Martin, San Francisco’s 8th Poet Laureate, and family for “an evening of poetry and exposition on the revolutionary potentials of art; as beautifully no incarnation of craft exists outside of the movements, renaissances; the people who pass us through.” Featuring: Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Biko Eisen-Martin, Mahogany Browne, Jive Poetic, Joyce Lee. This event will be streamed and archived on the SFPL YouTube channel.

Previously on MillValleyLit Issue #19:

ruth reiss, Beat Poet, RIP, (photo: web source)

ruth weiss (1928 – 2020), pioneering female beat poet, died: Friday, July 31 at the age of 92 at her cabin near Mendocino, California. (Note lower case spelling of her name was her artistic preference.) Some say the German-born spitfire introduced jazz poetry to San Francisco and even influenced Jack Kerouac, with whom she became close. She was cited in “Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers.” Her most recognized work, “Desert Journal,” was released in 1977. A 2019 documentary about her life was released titled, “Ruth Weiss, the Beat Goddess.”

Exclusive photos from Beat expert, poet, writer Gerald Nicosia—

In June 2011, Gerald Nicosia threw an 83rd birthday party for ruth at the Art House Gallery in Oakland. Gerald reports, “We had a mob there that night. I had a giant birthday cake for ruth with 83 candles on it.”

ruth with her old Mill Valley friend, filmmaker Willo Hausman.(photos: Gerald Nicosia)
“I had a jazz band there that night, and ruth got up and performed some poetry with them. The guy playing the “log” on the far right was ruth’s boyfriend, who died before she did: Paul Blake,” said Gerald Nicosia. (Note this Blake.is not the Kerouac nephew Blake.)
Happy weiss.

Returning soon for a debut review:

5 years ago, Summer 2015 issue: Grace and Lindy buzz Kansas City in “a NighT in Grace’S ShoeS” by Lindy Krushas. The redux will appear later this year.

ZOOM — the New Scene

Is it real? Literally virtually real. Sensitive Skin Beer Virus Reading #9,” with M.C. Bernard Meisler featuring Circus of the Sun: a novel of San Francisco author J.Macon King, poet Francine Witte and writer Ron Kolm. May 21, 2020. See instant replay here and tune in Thursday nights.

VIRTUAL San Francisco library Online Services from creators Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts.

Happened in June: Friday, 6/19/2020
12:00 – 1:30
A gathering in honor of  Juneteenth and learning about the legendary musicians of the Fillmore Jazz Era. 
Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts will present an illuminating slide show and talk about the new edition of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era. Reservations required: https://bit.ly/HarlemWestJune2020

A platform for the Fillmore’s musicians, nightclub owners and residents of the 1940s and 1950s to tell the neighborhood’s history in their own words, as well as feature rarely seen photographs and memorabilia. Co-sponsored by Heyday Books and the Museum of the African Diaspora. 

Social Distancing — The Hip New Scene