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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

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In Which Winter Days Are Just A Magazine

The Comfort of My Mother and The War


I think of reading a book as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love.

Jorge Luis Borges was born in the center of old Buenos Aires in late August of 1899. The particular date of was of no importance to young Jorge, who despised his own birthday. He did not like gifts when he had done nothing to receive them.

with his sister at the palermo zoo in 1908

Jorge was constantly in ill health. He could not see or speak clearly.

He loved tigers and there was one at the Palermo Zoo. If he could persuade his mother to take him there, he would plant himself obtrusively in front of the tiger cage, refusing to leave. His mother feared what would happen if she tried to drag him away.

young Jorge's drawing of a tiger at age four

His mother gradually began to use the threat of removing his books at a sort of blackmail. His father possessed an elaborate library of over a thousand volumes. (Clearly he did not anticipate the e-book.) The senior Jorge Borges had tried his hand at poetry, penning a sonnet or two before he set his vocation temporarily aside in favor of practicing law. His father took charge of young Jorge's education in a few crucial ways, using an orange to explain Plato's theory of forms.

He did not enter school until he was eleven, wearing huge glasses and a jacket and tie his mother purchased specifically for the big day.

By 1913, he had moved on to secondary school. He did decently well in some subjects, barely passing French, drawing and geometry. His first story appeared in the school's literary magazine. In it, a tiger kills a black panther, but then is himself killed by a man's arrow. He titled it "The King of the Jungle." His byline simply read "Nemo."

1914. Dr. Borges moved his family to Geneva, where he planned to get an eye operation. He and his wife agreed to send their children away to school in England so they could tour the continent as a way of revitalizing their marriage. A German ship, the Sierra Nevada, set course for Bremen, and this family was on it:

Because of the chaos that surrounded the Great War, an English education rapidly became impossible. The only subject that Jorge was able to excel at, given his lack of French, was Latin. Language became his only strength; he taught himself German to read Schopenhauer in the original.

His father's attempt to reunite with his wife was a failure. The man sampled the prostitutes of Geneva at his leisure. Dr. Borges' now-teenage son began to write for the first time, crafting sonnets in French and English, largely patterned after Wordsworth. He embraced the German expressionists as soon as he discovered they existed. In due time, all of these literary possibilities were supplanted by Walt Whitman.

He made his first Jewish friend, a boy named Simon. He taught his first clique how to play the Argentine card game truco. The first woman he fell in love with was a Czech named Adrienne. He could barely bring himself to speak in front of her and she was completely uninterested in eighteen year old Jorge.

His other romantic forays were thwarted by his shyness and the general uncleanliness of Geneva's women.

His first girlfriend was named Emilie, and he was entranced by her green eyes and red hair. He was possessed by a ginger. By the next year, he spoke of her as an object, writing his friend to ask if he had sampled Emilie's wares.

When his father found that Jorge had never consummated his relationship with Emilie or any other woman, he gave the boy the address of a brothel. On his way to the landmark Jorge was consumed by the idea that if his father knew the place, he might well have been with the same woman. Jorge was unable to rouse an erection, so his father took him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a weak liver.

His father gave him a long manuscript. "What's this?" Jorge asked him. "My novel," his father said.

His family traveled a bit around Europe before a sojourn to Majorca. He later described Berlin as one of the ugliest cities in the world.

Although the family returned to Geneva, Jorge never completed his high school education. His relations with women were reduced to a platonic friendship with a whore he called Luz. He wrote to his friend in March of 1921, "I tell you, I really loved that Luz. She was so playful with me and behaved with such ingenous indecency. She was like a cathedral and also like a bitch."

Jorge and his mother

The family returned to Buenos Aires later that year. Some of his childhood haunts remained familiar to him, but most now were opaque and foreign to his eyes. He wrote to his Spanish buddy, "Don't abandon me in this exile of mine, who is overrun by arrivistes, by corrupt youths lacking any mental capacity and decorative young ladies."

He fell in love with a girl, and the feeling was mutual. Her name was Concepcion Guerrero, and she was the daughter of Spanish immigrants from Granada. Her father taught elementary school, and the family lived in the poverty stricken orillas. He could not bring himself to apprise his mother of the relationship. "God knows how it all will end," he wrote.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about decisions she's regretted.



In Which He Was One Of Those Kids Who Drove Me Crazy



The diaries of Andy Warhol were meticulous. Their purpose was to create a record of business expenses and personal expenses that could be presented to the IRS in case of an audit. But they became more. It was a conversation between two friends, who would call each other daily at 9 a.m. and talk for an hour or two. Pat Hackett would keep notes, then immediately type them after getting off the phone, capturing his voice while it was still stuck in her head. This log was over 20,000 pages, which she edited to 800 and published as The Andy Warhol Diaries.

I have experienced a lot of hostility about the friendship of Andy and Jean Michel Basquiat — mainly surrounding the idea that Andy was using him. My friends make disparaging and dismissive comments that Andy was a hack and a jerk. But a lot of these same friends aren't impressed by Jean Michel either. Trying to persuade them is to argue against "nuh-uh," and "you're wrong." So, instead, here's every diary entry he composed about Jean Michel, for your consideration. The point, the reason why, was because, I love Jean Michel, I love Andy, and I love the truth. 

Monday, October 4, 1982

Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean Michel Basquiat with him. He's the kid who used the name "Samo" when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-shirts, and I'd give him $10 here and there and send him up to Serendipity to try to sell the T-shirts there. He was just one of those kids who drove me crazy. He's black but some people say he's Puerto Rican so I don't know. And then Bruno discovered him and now he's on Easy Street. He's got a great loft on Christie Street. He was a middle-class Brooklyn kid-I mean, he went to college and things-and he was trying to be like that, painting in the Greenwich Village.

And so had lunch for them and then I took a Polaroid and he went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together. And I mean, just getting to Christie Street must have taken an hour. He told me his assistant painted it.

Tuesday, October 5, 1982

And I forgot to add that with Jean Michel Basquiat the day before, he reached into his pocket and said he'd pay back the $40 he owed me from the days when he painted T-shirts and used to borrow money from me, and I said oh no, that's okay, and I was embarrassed — I was surprised that's all I'd given him, I thought it was more. 

Monday, November 15, 1982

Jean Michel Basquiat who used to paint graffiti as “Samo” came to lunch, I’d invited him.

Wednesday, May 18, 1983

Oh, and Paige is upset — Jean Michel Basquiat is really on heroin — and she was crying, telling me to do something, but what can you do? He got a hole in his nose and he couldn't do coke anymore, and he wanted to still be on something, I guess. I guess he wants to be the youngest artist to go. Paige gave him a big art show uptown last month and she's the reason he's been around the office-they're "involved."

Wednesday, June 1, 1983

Bruno came to lunch, and Jean Michel Basquiat. And after Paige'd been crying away that he was destroying himself on drugs and was going to die, here he showed up as healthy as a horse, he's put on twenty pounds, and he was just in Jamaica, and he looked actually handsome. He gets his hair cut at this shop on Astor Place that's gotten so chic, it used to be $2.50 for a haircut and now it's $4 something.

Tuesday, August 9, 1983

Paige stayed overnight with Jean Michel in his dirty smelly loft downtown. How I know it smells is because Chris was there and said (laughs) there were crumpled up hundred-dollar bills in the corner and bad B.O. all over and you step on paintings. The day Jean Michel came over to exercise with me he made a point of saying that Paige had made it to work on time, so that's how he was letting me know. He'd thought that Paige was Jay's girlfriend, which she was at one point, but then he asked her out and she went. And they had a date and this was the date-they rented a U-Haul and went out to Brooklyn to a black neighborhood and went to a White Castle and had eight hamburgers and then two people came in with big sticks and they thought they were going to kill them. You know, it was a "kooky date." This was the day before he went to St. Moritz to see Bruno. Mary Boone and Bruno are both handling him. And Thomas Ammann without either one of them knowing had a few works of Jean Michel's to sell. I don't know where he got them. He said from some "secret source”-oh wait! I bet it was Paige! Oh Thomas is a creep, meeting all these people through us and then being secretive. I bet they were from Paige because she had that show a few months ago of Jean Michel's stuff!

Monday, August 15, 1983

Cabbed to meet Jean Michel Basquiat at the workout with Lidija, he was doing it with us (cab $5). He's in love with Paige Powell.

Thursday, August 18, 1983

Went to meet Jean Michel Basquiat and did a workout with Lidija (cab $5).


Sunday, August 21, 1983

Cabbed to meet Jean Michel Basquiat and Paige Powell ($5). And Paige is just so nutty, she laughs so loud at nothing. I would put her in the category of schizophrenia. Jean Michel said he never finished high school. I'm surprised, because I thought he went to college. He's twenty-two.

Monday, August 22, 1983

Went to meet Jean Michel at the office and I took pictures of him in a jockstrap. 

Friday, August 26, 1983

Cab to meet Jean Michel and we worked out ($6). He's going to rent the carriage house we own at 57 Great Jones Street. So Benjamin went over to get a lease and I hope it works out. Jean Michel is trying to get on a regular daily painting schedule. If he doesn't and he can't pay his rent it'll be hard to evict him. It's always hard to get people out.

Wednesday, August 31, 1983

Cab to meet Lidija ($5). Worked out with Jean Michel who brought me some of his hair, cut off and put on a helmet. It looked great. He got Bruno to pay his first month's security and rent. He wanted to buy the Great Jones Street carriage house from me but I told him that together with our other one around the corner from it on the Bowery it was a nice lot, and that we might put a theater on it some day. He and Paige had a big fight because they had a date for 9:00 and he didn't show up till 1:00. 

Friday, September 2, 1983

Jean Michel didn't show up for the workout because he was up all night. He was in love that day with Paige.

Monday, September 5, 1983

Labor Day. Jean Michel called, he wanted some philosophy, he came over and we talked, and he's afraid he's just going to be a flash in the pan. And I told him not to worry, that he wouldn't be. But then I got scared because he's rented our building on Great Jones and what if he is a flash in the pan and doesn't have the money to pay his rent (supplies $35.06)

Monday, September 12, 1983

Jean Michel was late and he had to go back downtown so he was missing his pedicure. So I went over there and took his appointment ($35).

Tuesday, September 13, 1983

Jean Michel came over, he was drugged-out and excited, he brought a painting he wanted to show me. He told me a story about how he'd wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes so he did a drawing and sold it for $.75 and then a week later his gallery called up and said they had this drawing of his there and should they buy it for $1,000. Jean Michel thought it was funny. It is. And he was on his way upstairs to see if anybody would buy a painting of his for $2. I mean, because now his paintings go for $15,000 and so he wanted to see if anybody would give him $2 for one. Lidija was there, did a workout. Oh, and the girl Jean Michel took around the world and left in London arrived in New York and wanted a ticket back to California.

Wednesday, October 5, 1983 New York - Milan

Jean Michel came by the office to work out with Lidija and I told him I was going to Milan and he said he'd go, too, that he'd meet us at the airport. Worked all afternoon till 4:30. I hadn't thought Jean Michel would come, but while I was waiting in line at the airport he appeared, he was just so nutty but cute and adorable. He hadn't slept in four days, he said he was going to watch me sleep. He had snot all over the place. He was blowing his nose in paper bags. It was as bad as Christopher. Paige has turned him into sort of a gentleman, though, because now he's taking baths.

Thursday, October 6, 1983 - Milan

Jean Michel came by and said he was depressed and was going to kill himself and I laughed and said it was just because he hadn't slept for four days, and then after a while of that he went back to his room.

Saturday, October 8, 1983 - Milan - Paris

Jean Michel came in when we were leaving. He said he was staying on with Keith Haring to get publicity. Jean Michel's trying to get so famous so fast, and if it works, he'll have it, I guess.

Wednesday, October 12, 1983

And Paige is really upset because Jean Michel hasn't called her. He hasn't called us, either. She sells his paintings, she's been doing that for a while. And he dropped Mary Boone — she took 50 percent, Paige only takes 10 percent. He's still with Bruno, though, so that's how he'll still be shown. I told Paige that Jean Michel was after Joanna Carson in Milan, and maybe I shouldn't have. Paige said she might just forget him, that it had to be all or nothing. But naturally people are people and a fool is a fool so no matter what they say, they'll just go on being in love.

Tuesday, October 18, 1983

Jean Michel came by and I slapped him in the face. (laughs) I'm not kidding. Kind of hard. It shook him up a little. I told him, "How dare you dump us in Milan!" Benjamin put me up to it.

Friday, October 21, 1983

Jean Michel came in and Paige Powell was there with some clients. And Paige had set it up for Jean Michel to go to Vassar with Jennifer that night to give a talk — Jennifer goes to school there now-and the car was going to pick them all up. But Jean Michel told me he didn't want to take Paige up to Vassar with him because he would be wanting to fuck the girls up there. So when I got home there was a message from Robert Hayes saying Paige was hysterical because Jean Michel had never come in the car to pick her up. So that was mean. And I told her that that's the way life goes and I said we'd go out for drinks and I called Sean McKeon to come with us so that I could handle it better. And Sean's had a crush on me for a few years, and it's nice to be around someone who likes you. So we went to the Mayfair and had two champagnes and a coffee ($40). And Paige was so upset-here she'd just handed Jean Michel a $20,000 check for selling some of his paintings. She said she'd never show or sell his stuff again. I told her I'd let her do an exhibit of my work called "The Worst of Warhol" where I would just go into my closets and find all the really horrible stuff that had never worked out, so then she cheered up a little. But then in a little while she left because she was still so nervous. Sean dropped me and I went to bed.

Wednesday, October 26, 1983

Jean Michel was at the office all afternoon. Paige came in but left in a huff. I guess it's over between them because he wants to be free and easy and she wants to be involved.

Tuesday, November 1, 1983

And now Jean Michel has this blonde WASP girl that he's fucking. I think he hates all white women.

Sunday, November 13, 1983

At 9:00 Thomas picked me up and he said Richard Gere and Silvinha would meet us at VanDam, so we went down there and it was empty on Sunday night. Had broiled fish but didn't eat it. Richard was wearing a little hat and a mustache, and that's his look from The Cotton Club. And he was screaming about newspapers never getting things right, he was grand. He said he only came because he wanted to meet Keith Haring. He's buying art. He told me how he threw a Come painting of mine into the fireplace. What happened was I'd given Jean Michel a Come painting and he had it with him when he and &chard got drunk together, and Jean Michel didn't have anything to write his phone number on for Richard Gere except this painting of mine, so he wrote it on that and gave the painting to Richard. Then when Richard woke up the next morning. He said he saw it and thought it was disgusting and threw it into the fire. I told him it was my Come but actually it was Victor's. And Richard said that if he had all the money he wanted, he'd buy all the paintings of Balthus, who does the little girls smiling like after sex. They cost over a million now.

Tuesday, November 29, 1983

The New York Times had a big story on AIDS. The tourist business in Haiti is down to nothing.

Probably the tourists were only there secretly for the big cocks. Because Jean Michel is half Haitian and he really does have the biggest one.

Wednesday, December 14, 1983

Bruno came and drove us crazy. He didn't bring Jean Michel's rent payment, so later I called Jean Michel about his rent being due and then I had a fight with Jay because he gave Jean Michel my home phone number. He said, "Oh, I didn't know you didn't want..." I yelled at him, "Are your brains still with you?" I mean, he knew I wouldn't have Jean Michel coming up to my house — I mean he's a drug addict so he's not dependable. You can't have — I mean, so then why would I want him to have my home phone? Jay should have known better.

Tuesday, December 20, 1983

Jean Michel came up to the office but he was out of it. Clemente brought up some of the paintings that the three of us are working on together, and Jean Michel was so out of it he began painting away. Jean Michel and Clemente paint each other out. There's about fifteen paintings that we're working on together.

Monday, January 2, 1984

Got back to New York and got a Scull limo ($20 to the driver). The driver said he'd picked up Jean Michel and drove him to the airport to go to Hawaii for two months. And I hope he paid his rent in advance.

Wednesday, January 11, 1984

Jean Michel called from Hawaii. He said it wasn't so primitive out there, that the first guy he saw said, "Aren't you Jean Michel Basquiat, the New York City graffiti artist?" And he said he met these hippies out there and mentioned my name and they said, "Oh you mean that death warmed-over person on drugs?" And I mean, it's him they should be talking about. Jean Michel called again from Hawaii. I told him to cut off his ear. He probably will.

Monday, January 23, 1984

And Jean Michel is meeting all these women in Hawaii and he's going to L.A. to paint Richard Pryor and then going back to Hawaii. And Paige is going out there and I told her that she should make sure he's really going to be there when she gets there. I mean, she'll make all these plans and she'll get there and he'll be gone.

Sunday, January 29, 1984

No one was available to accompany me to the office, and I was afraid the elevator would get stuck, so I didn't go down. Paige made it to Hawaii. Jean Michel did make it back from Los Angeles to meet her there, I guess, and they were going off to some ranch.

Tuesday, February 7, 1984

Jean Michel called from Hawaii and talked a long time. Paige is back here now and she's in seventh heaven, overfucked, I guess. And now he's flying this other girl out there. Paige was stupid and paid her own way — she insisted because that's the way she is — and now he's paying for this other girl. He's paying $1,000 a week for this house. He owes us three months' rent and he's trying to get Bruno to pay.

Monday, March 12, 1984

Jean Michel came by, he's back from Hawaii, and he brought a rent check which was good.

Saturday, March 17, 1984

Dolly Parton was coming to the office to be interviewed. She arrived and she was great. She had two people with her. She said she has a place in New York and goes out and around, but I don't know how she can unless she puts another kind of wig on. She talked nonstop for four hours. She's a walking monologue. Jean Michel came by and he misunderstood something she said about "plantations" so he didn't like her but then I got him to come back in and she charmed him. She repeated herself a lot, called herself "trash" a lot. She said most of her groupies were lesbians and fags. She has a group of dykes that follows her around. She had her hairdresser and her girlfriend Shirley pick her up. They just came in a cab, not a limousine. I worked late.

Wednesday, April 11, 1984

I think Jean Michel called a couple of times before 8:00 but hung up. Then at 8:00 he called and we talked.

Thursday, April 12, 1984

Jean Michel came by. He'd been out all night. Got him to work on one of our joint paintings. He wanted spaghetti so we got some from La CoIonna ($71.45). He fell asleep and then he got up and he was up front by the phones with a big hard-on, like a baseball bat in his pants. I guess that's being young, I forget about those things.

Monday, April 16, 1984

Jean Michel was at the office, he brought his lunch and he was on the floor painting and not talking much. I think he stays up all night and so that was his bedtime. I did a Dog painting in five minutes at five of 6:00. I had a picture and I used the tracing machine that projects the image onto the wall and I put the paper where the image is and I trace. I drew it first and then I painted it like Jean Michel. I think those paintings we're doing together are better when you can't tell who did which parts. Then the streets were deserted and we finally figured out it was Passover. Dropped Benjamin ($7). 

Tuesday, April 17, 1984

The 860 office said that Jean Michel was waiting there, but I went to the new office and since I was high I terrorized everybody. Walked down to 860 and as we passed the new chic food place on 23rd Street a couple of black truck drivers yelled, "Hey faggots!" so that got me down. Especially because truck drivers are usually the ones who're cheerful and recognize me and wave. Maybe these were faggots themselves. Got to the office and called Jean Michel and he came up and painted over a painting that I did, and I don't know if it got better or not.

Wednesday, April 18, 1984

Kate has eyes for everyone. She's so bubbly, so pretty. Let's hope Jay stays in this good mood. And Jean Michel was after Kate, too-she styled an Interview shoot of him and de Antonio in Armani clothes and he left five joints for her. 

Monday, April 23, 1984

Cabbed downtown ($7). Called Jean Michel and he came up and ordered Chinese food from a place on Sixth Avenue. And then Keith Haring wanted me to go and see his paintings before they got shipped out, because he said 1 influenced him-he's painting on canvas now. So we ate Chinese food and things from Pie in the Sky.

Monday, April 30, 1984

Then Jean Michel called me. His show at Mary Boone is coming up this weekend and I guess he's nervous. Sent out for lunch ($44.25).

Wednesday, May 2, 1984

Jean Michel was there but he was nervous about his show and I had to push his hand around the canvas. For the first time in a while he'd taken heroin, I think, so he was moving slow (cab $7).

Thursday, May 3, 1984

Jean Michel called and wanted us to come down to the Mary Boone Gallery to look at his show, so I said we would. So I took Jay and Benjamin and it looked great (cab $5). Jean Michel was very nervous. He was with a pretty Korean girl who's the secretary of Larry Gagosian, his gallery person in L.A. But he'll just break her heart. All these pretty girls go for him. They were lovey-dovey, holding hands. Then Jean Michel wanted to go to dinner, so we decided to go down to Odeon because that way we'd be close to the Area party for Vincent Spano that Vic Ramos was having (cab $6). 

Saturday, May 5, 1984

It was beautiful and sunny, did a lot of work. Called Jean Michel and he said he'd come up. He came and rolled some joints. He was really nervous, I could tell, about his show opening later on at Mary Boone's. Then he wanted a new outfit and we went to this store where he always buys his clothes. He had b.o. We were walking and got to Washington Square Park where I first met him when he was signing his name as "Samo" and writing graffiti and painting T-shirts. That area brought back bad memories for him. Later on his show was great, though, it really was. 

Monday, May 7, 1984

So went to the office and the office was busy. Bruno was there and Jean Michel was hiding our work from Bruno-the ones that just Jean Michel and I are doing. Bruno has the ones that Jean Michel and I and Clemente did, but he doesn't know about these that're just the two of us.

Tuesday, May 8, 1984

Jean Michel came up and was so paranoid, he smokes so much marijuana and then gets paranoid. Then he called me up in the middle of the night and said that his painting at auction went for $19,000. I bet mine went for nothing. Probably. My Liz. Probably $10,000. I can just see it. So his went for $19,000. And there were all these parties for the Museum of Modern Art and I was invited to all of them but I didn't go to any of them.

Monday, May 21, 1984

I had invited Jean Michel as my date and I was next to him, so maybe they thought it was a girl's name. Richard Gere's Silvinha moved her seat to sit next to Jean Michel. And Jean Michel gave me all his meat for the dogs, and Silvinha did, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 1984

Jean Michel came down to the office early. He was reading his big review in the Voice. They called him the most promising artist on the scene. And at least they didn't mention me and say he shouldn't be hanging around with me the way the New York News thing did. 

Thursday, May 24, 1984

Jean Michel came by and he was in a pretty good mood. We had Chinese take-out food. He was painting some big black screaming people. Worked till 7:00. 

Monday, July 2, 1984

Jean Michel called at 8:00 in the morning and we philosophized. He got scared reading the Belushi book. I told him that if he wanted to become a legend, too, he should just keep going on like he was. But actually if he's even on the phone talking to me, he's okay. And the phone calls from pay phones are now .25 . I'm just not going to make calls anymore. All the pay phones uptown were converted already to .25; downtown there are still some .10 ones left.

Sunday, August 5, 1984

Jean Michel wanted to go to the Jermaine Jackson party at Limelight. So we went down there (cab $7). And it was one of those parties where the bouncers were all dumb Mafia-type guys who didn't know anybody. Jean Michel took us to the wrong section and they told us to beat it, and he said, "Now you see how it is to be black." And all the people who I don't know, Jean Michel's just sitting there and then he'll say, "Hi, man." He went to school with them or something. He told me he went to a school in Brooklyn, St. Ann's, that's sort of chic because you had to pay. And then he said that when his father lost money he had to be bussed to a public school that was a lot of Italians and the boys there used to beat him up and he didn't like it. But I guess the education was good, though, and that's why he's smart. Oh gee, that was Benjamin calling and he said that he and Paige were at the Limelight and they heard 1 was in the VIP room and they tried to get in but couldn't. And-this is funny he said that there were three Olympic guys there wearing their gold medals. So I guess those were the ones 1 thought were drag queens with jewelry! Gee.

So anyway. Jean Michel wanted me to see his paintings down on Great Jones Street, so we went there and it's a pigsty. His friend Shenge — this black guy — lives with him and he's supposed to be taking care of the place, but it's a sty. And the whole place just smells so much of pot. He gave me some paintings to work on. Left there (cab $8).

Monday, August 6, 1984

Jean Michel ordered a lot of champagne and he said he'd pay for it but I wouldn't let him (dinner was $550). It was underplayed, nobody said "Happy Birthday" and it went smoothly. Paige had a strapless pink dress on and she took her camera into the kitchen to do movies. Jean Michel dropped me off and it seemed like being with Jean Michel didn't bother Paige too much, she's more recovered from him. Then when he was dropping me off he said that he wanted to go fuck her. I told him that that would just start trouble again. I told him he should give her some artwork because she's the only girl who ever really helped him out, gave him his first uptown show and sold so many of his paintings. And she never would let him pay for her, she was being very independent, paying her own fare to Hawaii and things like that, and I don't know why he never liked that, somehow. And it was nice to see little Suzanne the makeup girl the night before at Limelight wanting not to get stuck with him — it was refreshing to see a girl trying to get away for a change.

Tuesday, August 7, 1984

I was meeting David Whitney and Philip Johnson for dinner at the Four Seasons. Invited Keith Harring and Juan and Jean Michel. Philip goes to bed at 9:00, so he wanted to have dinner at 6:30 but I made it 7:30. Keith wanted to go to Rounds, the gay place at 53rd and Second, and I didn't, so I said I'd never been there because I hadn't in five years, and so we walk in the door and the first thing the waiter says is (laughs), "Mr. Warhol! It's so nice to see you again!" Jean Michel wouldn't go to Rounds. He called this morning and told me that in the old days when he didn't have any money he  would hustle and get $10 and he didn't want to remember that. So Jean Michel went downtown with Keith. I walked the Doc uptown and he kissed me on the cheek, which was so tender.

Monday, August 20, 1984

Jean Michel called at 7:30 A.M. from Spain but I was in the shower and I missed it. He was in Ibiza and now he's in Majorca, he's the new darling of the Bruno set. And I'm just expecting him one day to come in and say, "I hate all these paintings, rip them up," about the ones we've done together, or something. Oh and Keith told me that the name Jean Michel used to use, SAMO, stood for "Same Old Shit," and he said that Jean Michel was the biggest influence on the new artists.

Tuesday, September 11, 1984

So Jean Michel just called me and I haven't heard from him in two days. Now he's staying all the time at the Ritz Carlton instead of down on Great Jones, and his room is like $250 a night.

Saturday, September 15, 1984

Had dinner with Jean Michel who brought a woman who's doing a cover article on him for The New York Times Magazine. He's getting the cover! And he told her all this stuff about being a male prostitute before but she can't use it. I guess he told her because he wanted to be fascinating. The right woman can get anything out of him.

Sunday, September 16, 1984

Jean Michel called and he told me about the problems he's having with Shenge, who takes care of his place on Great Jones Street. Shenge has his own place downstairs but then he goes up and uses Jean Michel's bath and bed, and now after staying at the Ritz Carlton, Jean Michel is used to having his bed tucked in. He found Shenge on the streets, he wasn't living anywhere. He's like a Rastafarian. He's married, he has a wife and little boy in the Bronx, I think. Shenge's bed used to be right by the front door so it was like he was just yanked in off the street, it was so peculiar.

Monday, September 17, 1984

And Bruno had called earlier. These combined paintings of Jean Michel and me and Clemente that he said were "just a curiosity that nobody would want to buy" that he paid $20,000 for like fifteen pictures for, he's now selling for $40,000 or $60,000 apiece! Yes! And I have a funny feeling that he's actually giving Clemente more because I can't see him doing this for this little. And I should get more because I bring up the prices . . . oh but well, Jean Michel got me into painting differently, so that's a good thing.

Sunday, September 23, 1984

Tried Jean Michel because he'd wanted to go to the Pop Art show at the Whitney and then work together, but he wasn't around. Jon and I went there without him (tickets $5).

Saturday, September 29, 1984

Talked to Keith and Jean Michel. Wanted Jean Michel to come over and paint, but he was giving his mother a birthday party so I went to meet him and met his mother. She's a nice-looking lady, a little matronly, but she looked good. He sort of resents her, though — he said she's been in and out of mental hospitals and he felt neglected. But he doesn't have to be ashamed of her, she was really nice and everything. His father was a no-show. They're divorced and the father is living with another woman. He's an accountant. And Jean Michel still keeps a room for $250 a day at the Ritz Carlton. And that fifty-foot concrete table that he had Freddy the architect do up special for the Great Jones place, it filled the whole room and Jean Michel just broke it up into pieces.

Tuesday, October 2, 1984

Jean Michel came over to the office to paint but he fell asleep on the floor. He looked like a bum lying there. But I woke him up and he did two masterpieces that were great.

Wednesday, October 3, 1984

Jean Michel called three or four times, he'd been taking smack. Bruno came by and saw a painting that Jean Michel wasn't finished with yet, and he said, "I want it, I want it," and so he gave him money and took it, and I felt funny, because nobody's done that for me in so long. That's the way it used to be. Then cabbed to Mr. Chow's where Jean Michel was having a birthday party for this girl who'd talked him into having it for her. He had Diego Cortez and Clemente and people and when I got there he was asleep, snoring actually. We woke him up to pay the check, because I wasn't going to get this one.

Friday, October 5, 1984

Jean Michel came by. Worked all afternoon.

Sunday, October 7, 1984

It was a beautiful day. Talked to Jean Michel and he wanted to go to work, so we planned to meet at 860. I went to church and then there were no cabs, so I wound up walking halfway to the office (cab $3.75). I let Jean Michel in downstairs. He did a painting in the dark, which was great. This was the day of Susan Blond's wedding to Roger Erickson, and the thing was at the Cafe Luxembourg and I didn't want to take Jean Michel home with me to pick a painting up for a present, so we both made her a painting there. Jean Michel is so difficult, you never know what kind of mood he'll be in, what he'll be on. He gets really paranoid and says, "You're just using me, you're just using me," and then he'll get guilty for getting paranoid and he'll do everything so nice to try to make up for it. But then I can't decide what he has fun doing, either. Like when we got to Susan's he didn't like it, I don't know if it's because of the drugs or because he hates crowds or because he thinks it's boring. And I tell him that as he becomes more and more famous he'll have to do more and more of these things (cab $10).

Monday, October 8, 1984

Picked up Jean Michel and he has people ringing his bell every fifteen seconds, it reminded me of the old Factory. He says things like, "Listen man, why don't you call before you come over." A guy he'd given fun drawings to once when he was needing a place to stay sold them now for a fortune-$5,000 or something. So Jean Michel's finding out how you have to be a business, how it all stops being just fun, and then you wonder, What is art? Does it really come out of you or is it a product? It's complicated.

Monday, October 15, 1984

After work I went with Jean Michel to finally check out of his hotel room at the Ritz Carlton, but when we got there he decided it was too beautiful to leave.

Tuesday, October 16, 1984

Jean Michel, me, John Sex, and Fab Five Freddy cabbed uptown to the Lyceum and the Whoopi Goldberg show ($8). We were late and in the second row. Whoopi was great, for one and a half hours just a blank stage but she held your interest. She's really intelligent and everything. She does a thing where she asks for quarters from the audience, but then she didn't give them back. So when it was over and we went back to see her she said that she usually gives them back — I asked her — but that a guy had given her a dollar bill and that threw her off, and now she had about $4 and so she might just now give the money to a Catholic charity. She really liked Jean Michel and I invited her to dinner, but she said she had cramps or something. 

Tuesday, October 30, 1984

Jean Michel was in bed with some new girl and didn't show up. Bruno arrived and surprised us. And his wife-Yoyo. And they looked at the big paintings that Jean Michel has been doing silkscreens on, and they had a sour look, they said it ruined his "intuitive primitivism." But he'd always Xeroxed before and nobody knew, it just looked like new drawings, and put on with that stuff. Worked till 7:30.

Wednesday, October 31, 1984

Bruno just called — at the Christie's auction Jean Michel's painting went for $20,000. I think he's going to be the Big Black Painter. It was one of his sort of big paintings. I think Jean Michel's early stuff is sort of better, because then he was just painting, and now he has to think about stuff to paint to sell. And how many screaming Negroes can you do? Well, I guess you can do them forever, but . . . And he bought a $700 mask for Halloween yesterday. Mexican. He just spends money. He did give up the room at the Ritz Carlton and he doesn't take limos now, so that's an improvement. But what he should do — and I've told him this — is keep his early paintings and store them so that he'll have them to sell later on. Because Bruno just buys up everything and then sells them off slowly. But Jean Michel really should be keeping them for a nest egg. The paintings that get good prices are Rauschenberg's early pieces and anything by Jasper and Cy Twombly. Wesselmann's sort of selling off . . . Rosenquist's prices are just medium, but I think  he's the best, I really do.

Friday, November 2, 1984

Went to meet Alba Clemente, the beautiful wife of Francesco Clemente at their loft in the Tower Records building. She studied acting, she has a great laugh, and she's rich. They live in India six months a year. That's why his paintings look the way they do, I guess. Then we went to the Odeon (cab $10). It was fun, we chit-chatted about art. There were big silences, though. Jean Michel is so hard to talk to. His thing is he's in love with waitresses, so he gets quiet and watches them. Alba said that her girl who was minding the children had a crush on him (lunch $90). And then we went back to her place so that Jean Michel could meet the girl, Monica, but she'd taken the kids out. And then Jean Michel was getting inspired from seeing Clemente's work and wanted to go do some painting himself. So we went to the studio (cab $3.50) and worked two hours. Jean Michel was painting back in the images he'd painted out when he was on smack and he came up with some masterpieces. Then he called the girl, Monica, and invited her to dinner. She wanted to go to the Lone Star because her semi-boyfriend who's Schnabel's assistant was going to be there, but Jean Michel didn't want to go there because he was afraid if there was competition that he would lose the fuck. 

Tuesday, November 6,1984

So we ordered lunch and that was expensive. Jean Michel ordered a '66 Chfteau Latour wine for $200 (lunch $500). Then we limoed to the Sequoia, the presidential yacht, and it was cold and miserable and getting dark. Same old people. Peter Max and his girlfriend, who's so beautiful, tall and Texan, and I don't know why she's with him. She was at the beginning and ending of Heaven's Gate. A top model, I forget her name. I talked to Chip Carter while I was there. Then we went back to the hotel and Jean Michel rolled a joint. Then we ordered dinner, which was disgusting (tip $5).

Wednesday, November 7, 1984 - Washington, D.C. - New York

I called Jean Michel's room and said we'd be leaving in one second. And I went into his room and photographed him getting out of bed with a hard-on. And then he began rolling a joint. Jean Michel ordered a whole meal but it never came. Cabbed to the airport ($20). Jean Michel and I went to the back of the plane and he was smoking joints, and I realized that he'd left his brand-new Comme des Garqons coat in the hotel room when he'd been rolling, and he called and I called but they'll never send it. He knows just what looks good on him. He's 6'-or 6'1" with his hair. He's really big. Went to Private Eyes (cab $7). Scott was at the door, so he let us right in.

Madonna was on the platform and since Jean Michel had once been involved with her, we started to go up, and the bouncer said, "Step aside for Mr. Warhol." and then tried to block Jean Michel and I said that it was okay, he was with me. And Madonna kissed Jean Michel on the mouth but she was with Jellybean, who said he'd heard his pictures in Interview made him look 6' tall so he was thrilled because he's 2'. And Jean Michel was moody because Madonna got so big and he'd lost her.

Thursday, November 8, 1984

Marina Schiano was there and Jean Michel asked me if she was a drag queen. And Annina Nosei was there. She had a gallery in Soho and Jean Michel used to do paintings in her basement. She would bring people down to look at him like an attraction and he would yell, "Get the fuck out of here!" He destroyed twenty paintings once, he ripped them off the walls. And after she reminded him of all these old days he felt funny being at this chic uptown place. He's not happier now that he's uptown because it's all before him now and he doesn't know what to do. I told him, "Look, those tantrums weren't real anyway." He's confused. Stayed till 11:30.

Monday, November 12, 1984

Cabbed to Mr. Chow's for Jean Michel's party ($7). And it was great. I feel like I wasted two years running around with Christopher and Peter, just kids who talk about the Baths and things, when here, now, I'm going around with Jean Michel and we're getting so much art work done, and then his party was Schnabel and Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch who directed Stranger Than Paradise and Clemente and John Waite who sang that great song, "Missing You." I mean, being with a creative crowd, you really notice the difference. It’s intriguing both ways, and I guess both ways are right, but… And Jean Michel became the hostess with the mostest last night. He said it cost him $12,000 — the Cristal was flowing.

Thursday, November 15, 1984

There were a lot of parties this night but Dustin Hoffman called and said he'd left tickets for Death of a Salesman so Benjamin and I got to the theater and met Jean Michel there at 7:58. At intermission the people behind us tapped Jean Michel and asked if I was really who I was. 

Thursday, November 22, 1984

Thanksgiving. Went to see Boy George at the Garden with Jean Michel and Cornelia. I just couldn't like him because it reminded me of what Jackie Curtis could have been, but Jean Michel really liked him. Boy George is so fat. And then Jean Michel started remembering Halston's last Thanksgiving for turkey and wanted to get there, so we left (cab $6). The turkey was already put away and dessert was out. Bianca started punching Jean Michel and me really hard, I actually got a black and blue mark. She was screaming about how we had to contribute to the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Thursday, November 29, 1984

Jean Michel came in and painted right on top of the beautiful painting that Clemente did. There was lots of blank space on it that he could've painted on, he was just being mean. And he was in slow motion so I guess he was on heroin. He'd bend over to fix his shoelace and he'd be in that position for five minutes.

Monday, December 3, 1984

Jean Michel had a date with Paige last night and I think they made it again, which would be a mistake. 

Sunday, December 16, 1984

And while this was going on, the phone rang and it was Jean Michel from Sweden and when he heard these other kids were at my house, he began to go crazy because he's never been there. But it's just that I don't like anything pre-planned. If he just dropped in or something it'd be okay.

Thursday, January 10, 1985

Benjamin dropped me at Jean Michel's and he has like twenty people working for him, getting big canvases ready. It's really neat and clean there now and it looks great. And he has a $5,000 TV set that's really big. Bruno wants me to go there for Jean Michel's opening. Someone was saying that when all these dealers heard there was a really talented black artist who would probably die off soon from drugs, that they hurried to buy his things and now I guess they're frustrated because he's staying alive. I think Jean Michel will be the most famous black artist after this New York Times thing comes out.

Saturday, January 12, 1985

Jean Michel called and said he was coming by to work and he did, and he brought his mother. Jean-Michel's mother is a sweet mother, she brought him a birthday present that said from Mami-M-A-M-I.

Wednesday, January 16, 1985

I talked to Jean Michel and invited him to the party that Fred was giving for Natasha Grenfell at Le Club. And he asked if he could bring — he said, "My girlfriend," and I was shocked. I said he'd never called anybody that before, and he said her body was so hot that he would come five times in a night. This is a black girl he met who works at Comme des Garcons. 

Tuesday, January 22, 1985

Talked to Jean Michel and he was in a funny mood. He thinks his "girlfriend" doesn't love him and so he's taking heroin again. The black girl. Charlotte. I told him I would come and visit him. Cabbed to pick him up ($8). We went to Odeon and had two tables and there were twelve of us. Boy George had that boy Marilyn with him. Jean Michel was nodding out. There was a little kid with Keith who didn't say anything, and Keith didn't say much, and I didn't say anything, so Boy George had to do all the talking and he's really intelligent, really a smart kid, and he does talk a lot.

Wednesday, January 30, 1985

Jean Michel invited me to dinner with his father at Odeon (cab $6). And the father was this thin normal-looking man in a business suit, smart, and so you can see where Jean Michel gets his smartness. And now Jean Michel doesn't even like his girlfriend from Comme des Garcons, Charlotte, because she borrowed money from him. He likes to give people money but then he resents them for taking it. He'll say, "They're using me." It's a funny attitude. And in a moment of passion once he told her he loved her and she told him that she was a "free woman," so he tied her up and told her how dare she think that he meant it.

Saturday, March 9, 1985

Talked to Jean Michel and he said he was straight, but he sounded like he was on something. He was with Jennifer, Eric Goode from Area's sister, who's his new girlfriend. He's got three or four girls on the string now, but he's only still in love with Charlotte, from Comme des Garcons. And Jean Michel was complaining about the show that we're having with Bruno... oh, I don't know, I think that whole period is over, with him coming up to paint. He hasn't come that much to the new building, just a few times, and-well, he's feeling on top now that his show is running downtown, but I don't know if he's working.

Thursday, March 28, 1985

Jean Michel was really sweet and sent over a drawing for me. He's gone off to Hawaii.

Friday, May 3, 1985

Then, I’d promised Jean Michel this dinner at Le Cirque. So Benjamin dropped me and I glued and went over there. He’d invited Eric Goode and his girlfriend and Clemente and his wife Alba and then when he ordered the most expensive wine they said they were out of it, and then when he ordered the next most expensive, they were out of it, too. I don't think they wanted to give it to us, see, because it was a free dinner. Sirio's been telling me for years he wanted to give me one, so here it was. And they gave all these excuses and apologies, and then Jean Michel ordered the cheapest wine, and that they had. And it was actually good. And the next day when Paige and I went there with Interview, Sirio was still apologizing. But anyway, it cost me in tips ($200).

Wednesday, May 8, 1985

There was a big Area party. Jean Michel picked me up and we went down there. And my display window had my Invisible Sculpture in it and Jean Michel's stuff looked great.

Thursday, May 9, 1985

Went to Jean Michel's, picked him up (cab $6). And he's working again and his work is wonderful, it's so exciting, and I think he will last. 

Sunday, May 12, 1985

Jean Michel called, he's working on his painting for the Palladium. But it's collapsible and he can take it away any time he wants.

Tuesday, May 14, 1985

And Jean Michel was in a dark mood. He'd bought Jennifer a dress to wear to the opening and then he didn't even bring her, he left her home. And I didn't lecture him about the heroin he takes because I didn't want to have a fight.

Wednesday, May 29, 1985

Then Jean Michel came over to paint and he was laughing and kidding around and Paige called up to me on the phone and screamed, "Get him out of here!" And I just didn't know what to say, she hung up before I could even think, and then she just left the office. She was calling Jean Michel a creep and everything.

Monday, June 10, 1985

And Jean Michel said he got a huge bill — like maybe I think $100,000 — from his dealer in L.A., Gagosian, for his stay there when he was living so high.

Friday, June 21, 1985

Called Jean Michel but he hasn't called me back, I guess he's slowly breaking away. He used to call me all the time from wherever he was.

Wednesday, July 10, 1985

Jean Michel came by and did a masterpiece upstairs. He wants to get work done before he goes away again. He had Jay filling in paintings, and I'm going to have Jay fill in, too. He tried to hire Jay away, but Jay didn't want to work for him.

Friday, September 6, 1985

Jean Michel came in and our show is on Saturday. But really, the shows that get noticed are in October and November, so it's still kind of early, but it'll be okay, just a little thing. And in his stupor Jean Michel knocked paint onto the Dolly Parton portrait and messed it up. And Sandy Gallin keeps calling, saying he wants it right away, and 1 wish they wouldn't rush me because I want to make it really good and it's not ready.

Friday, September 13, 1985

Jean Michel called and said he was invited to the MTV awards thing. Keith called, same thing. MTV must want artists to do their logos for them. And Keith was upset because his tickets were up on the mezzanine. Jean Michel arrived in a limo. He said he didn't want to go with Keith because Keith was too pushy. And it did get sick later on-Keith just wanted to be photographed so badly. And he wanted to go with me so he'd be sure to be photographed.

Saturday, September 14, 1985

Called Jean Michel and said I'd pick him up and did. Went over to the Tony Shafrazi Gallery (cab $5) and it was wall to wall. I was wearing the Stefano jacket with Jean Michel's picture painted on the back, but I've decided I can't wear odd things, 1 look like a weirdo. I'm going to stay in basic black.

Thursday, September 19, 1985

When we were at the Odeon I asked for the paper, and there in Friday’s Times I saw a big headline: "Basquiat and Warhol in Pas de Deux.” And I just read one line — that Jean Michel was my "mascot." Oh God.

Friday, September 20, 1985

I had my opening at Leo Castelli's to go to, of the Reigning Queens portfolio that I just hate George Mulder for showing here in America. They were supposed to be only for Europe — nobody here cares about royalty and it'll just be another bad review. And I told Jean Michel not to come to this. I asked him if he was mad at me for that review where he got called my mascot, and he said no.

Sunday, November 24, 1985

Jean Michel hasn't called me in a month. so I guess it's really over. He went to Hawaii and Japan, but now he's just in L.A. so you'd think he'd call. But maybe he's getting tight, maybe he's not throwing money around the way he used to. I heard he locked the door to his bedroom when he left so Shenge can't get in, and he didn't leave him any money, either. Can you imagine being married to Jean Michel? You'd be on pins and needles your whole life.

Sunday, December 8, 1985

Went to church. Paige called and she's thinking of going to a place uptown to get treatment for being a chocolate addict, some treatment they give heroin addicts. And she said she finally is completely over Jean Michel. It happened to her at the Comme des Garcons fashion show. She said he looked like a fool out there on the runway modeling the clothes and that's when she finally was over him.

Monday, December 9, 1985

Jean Michel called me early in the morning to tell me about the fight with Philip Niarchos he had at Schnabel's on Friday night. I guess he still remembers some funny comment Philip made once about how now they're "letting n------ into St. Moritz."

Thursday, December 19, 1985

Tina Chow called and said there was a dinner for Jean Michel at 9:00, just really small. Jean Michel had his mother and her friend there. I brought him a present, one of my own hairpieces. He was shocked. One of my old ones. Framed. I put '"83" on it but I don't know when it was from. It's one of my Paul Bochicchio wigs. It was a "Paul Original."

Sunday, December 22, 1985

Then went over to Jean Michel's birthday lunch at Mortimer's that Marsha May from Texas was giving. And finally I gave Jean Michel a gift he really loved-the rhythm and blues six-album set, that Atlantic just put out. And Ahmet Ertegun wrote some of the songs, those were his big years. Jean Michel was reading the liner notes all through lunch. And then afterwards Jean Michel wanted to go to Bloomingdale's, it was 4:30. So we went over there. He wanted to get a $3,000 gift certificate for his mother and when he took out his gold Amex card one guy asked to see ID but the other guy nudged him and said, "It's okay."

Wednesday, January 8, 1985

Called Jean Michel in L.A. and he said no stars had been at his opening, and he said Jon Gould had been there but he wouldn't talk about him to me for some reason.

Monday, January 20, 1986

Jean Michel woke me up at 6:00 this morning and I went back to sleep and now my tongue can hardly move. He's got problems because he's trying to get Shenge out of the house, he says he's been supporting him for three years, but the main reason is that (laughs) Shenge is now painting like he is. They're copies of his paintings. Jennifer's away. And oh, Jean Michel must be so hard to live with. I told him I'd had dinner with Kenny and the Chows and he wanted to know why I didn't invite him and I said that I'd called him three days ago and he didn't call back.

Tuesday, February 25, 1986

Jean Michel called and said he found a dead person in his backyard yesterday. He called the police and they were in the backyard all day, and by 6:00 they still hadn't taken the body away. He was from the flophouse next door. And Jean Michel sent the cat that didn't catch rats down to Atlanta, he sent it on a plane for $100 down to some gallery there. The poor cat probably never got taken care of — I mean, can you imagine being a cat in the hands of Jean Michel?

Monday, March 24, 1986

Went home after dinner with Jean Michel and caught the Academy Awards. Saw Geraldine Page saying she deserved it.

Sunday, April 6, 1986

Jean Michel was picking me up to go see Miles Davis at the Beacon and it was rainy and cold, and I curled up and watched W for a while, and ate some garlic and then he called and said to meet him over there (cab $4). His cab arrived after mine and he had Glenn O'Brien with him and some other people. He and Glenn are friends again. B.B. King played first and he's just great. And then Miles Davis came out, blond, in gold lame, and he plays really terrific music. High heels. Then we went to Odeon for dinner.

Monday, August 18, 1986

The day started with Jean Michel calling from Josie's, she's the South African Calvin Klein model.

He's not in a gallery now. He left Mary Boone and they're both glad. He wants to be with Leo, but I don't think Leo's taking anyone on. Jean Michel would just like to have one show there, though, even though he knows Leo won't sell anything.

Thursday, November 27, 1986

And then Jean Michel called and he’s furious at Paige because he finally found out about his father playing the cannibal in Paige’s pictorial spread for Tama’s book, A Cannibal in Manhattan, he’d just seen the item on Page Six about it. He said, “What is she trying to do? Is she after my father?” And he said his father’s writing a book, and he said (laughs), “He’s not even a drug addict — how can he write a book? About what?” That’s the first time I ever heard Jean Michel say something funny. I wonder if that’s his sense of humor. And he didn’t go to Germany for his big show. 

Damian Weber is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Buffalo. He last wrote in these pages about Ted Berrigan. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. You can listen to his album here. You can purchase his book a dictionary in the subjective here.


In Which We Witness The Murder Of Keira Knightley

Anna Karenina In One Blog Post


Anna Karenina
dir. Joe Wright
129 min.

Screenwriter Tom Stoppard and director Joe Wright decided to join forces and bring Tolstoy’s epic Anna Karenina to the big screen. Casting aside the fact that the novel revolves around a full cast of characters before even introducing Anna, or that all of these characters go through developments that happen through much internal thinking, the novel clocks in over 800 pages, some translations closer to 900. The film, at approximately 130 minutes, is then anywhere between only 1/6 and 1/7 the total story. No matter which way you slice it, or how many scenes you condense, there is undoubtedly going to be a lot left out of the final product.

Anna Karenina is entirely shot on a stage. Why on a stage, Mr. Wright? It isn’t adapted from any play, the story is a serial novel that originally spanned four years of publication. The stage is almost a mockery of what it is introducing. I imagine them in the wings joking until their next cue, or rehearsing lines for an upcoming monologue. It somehow takes me out of the story of the novel and forces me to focus on the absurdity of the “play” before me (such as snowfall and wild flowers and train stations, all on the stage, in the house of the theater, up in the rafters, backstage, etc).

director Joe Wright

Anna Karenina is like a motion-picture version of a SparkNotes chart for the novel, one page of the most pressing plot points, all condensed for your consideration. But is it considerate to cut out so much of what was written originally? Watching the movie lets you know what happens in Anna Karenina, but it doesn’t tell you the story. Let’s take a look. Oh, there is quite a lot to look at…

TITLE: Imperial Russia, 1874

FADE IN: an empty theatrical stage with spotlights and large luxurious curtains. False snow falls “outside” in the background. Prince Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) nervously accepts a comically-quick shave, leaving his mustache in tact, long and sweeping to match the rest of his clean-cut dignity in uniform. His blue eyes (blue being a constant theme in bold color choices and emotion) are bright and lit like a child’s, the lighting feeling like a Christmas card come alive. The subtle humor and stylized composition evoke The Polar Express and I expect CGI and/or Tom Hanks to take over the rest of the film at any moment.

We quickly establish Oblonsky’s home – which he enters from his barber chair onstage – where his children receive French lessons from a very French, very buxom mistress, Mademoiselle Roland (Marine Battier), who assigns them work as she exits sans-excuse with Oblonsky into a back closet, revealed to be a literal backstage of the “set” (or is it the backstage of the “home”?). But Oblonsky soon catches himself up – finding, through a door again, his pregnant wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) in a crying fit onstage, alone, no audience in the void of black beyond her, clutching a note. We put it together: love letters and secret meetings between Oblonsky and the tutor finally falling into the wrong hands. Of course, who is really the wrong one here?

Meanwhile, Oblonsky’s sister Princess Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) stands in her dressing room, a slender alabaster figure, arms hung like a dancer at rest, the light falling just so on her in the center, reading a letter. She is being dressed. Wealth and class and impeccably good looks. The room, the set of the whole house, the train tracks laid outside, all change on-screen, a mechanical contraption of a world we know not the size of.

Anna, now having learned of her brother’s new trouble, asks permission of her high-ranking statesman husband, Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Jude Law), to travel to Moscow and visit the Oblonsky household. Her duty would be to talk sense into Dolly to forgive Stiva and carry on their lives with all five or so of their merry children popping about.


Do you think nine years of marriage and children should count for nothing against an infatuation?


No… But sin has a price, you may be sure of that.

Granted permission, Anna goes to say goodbye to her seven-year-old son, Sergei (Oskar McNamara), playing with an elaborate train set. Here, Anna reads more as if she were the tutor herself, there to watch and care for the child (whom is one of the few she truly loves deeply). Playing trains, she seems a child herself. It’s hard to imagine she and Karenin have a 20-year age difference, even with Karenin’s receding hairline and soft-spoken patience.

Anna’s youth carries her through her fate en route to Moscow. Giddily showing the locket photograph of her son to the woman across from her on the train, Anna beams the pride of a mother, but looks more like the student being proud of a report card, or young woman with a new boyfriend. “Look!” The woman across from her, Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams) is taken more with Anna’s beauty than with her offering, calling her a “charming creature.” Charming, indeed, creature, absolutely. Taming and understanding Anna will only become more difficult as she gains her own autonomy; for now, she is praised and shuttled by everyone. No wonder she feels so in love with her son – they are, to a degree, in the same position, to take others’ commands and please them.

Stiva greets his old friend Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). In shoulder-length caramel locks, with a beard to stereotypically match his agricultural occupation, Levin’s country life has finally caught up to him – he has returned to the city to seek Stiva’s help in securing the woman he has dreamed as his betrothed for so long: Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Shcherbatsky (Alicia Vikander), the 18-year-old younger sister of Dolly Oblonsky. Delighted to couple and man-up his friend, Stiva eagerly invites him over.

Changing the set from office to private dining room for the two, musicians with painted faces enter into the set, a sort of on-screen intermission taking place as the background confusingly is picked up, shuffled around, twirled and swung in and out of frame. Finally, the new set is ready, as Levin’s cabbage soup is served (much to Stiva’s laughter – why order something so poor when in the company of class capable of ordering whatever you desire?). To quickly dissipate Levin’s contented moment, Stiva humorously breaks to him bad news (that has passed through in the time it took to change the set): a new rival has entered the contest for Kitty’s heart, the reputable Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (the 20-year-old Aaron Taylor-Johnson). And to be honest, Levin hasn’t much a chance – the farmer or prince charming for the Shcherbatsky Princess?

The set rotates away to a lush dreamlike staging, quite literally on the stage we now know to be the main stage, the heart of all meaningful scenes (if not all of them) no matter where, when, or with whom they play out. Kitty, looking very much the young girl she is – if not younger still – lounges on a chaise in the middle, surrounded by cloud-like backgrounds, stage lights all on her. It is not us catching her in a private moment, it is her catching us looking at her – the poise, with such self-conscious and girlish awareness, captivating the newly-groomed Levin, watching her from the theater entrance. The scene is almost comical – is he dreaming her on a pedestal, on this chaise lounge on a stage, him just a lowly admirer in the peanut gallery? But no, it is the Shcherbatsky’s ball, the first reception Kitty is holding. She uses his formal name in greeting, perhaps because it has been awhile since seeing him, perhaps because he tries to excuse himself out of the room (no one likes to be the first guest), but in her innocent-Lolita glory sitting pretty before him and all the arriving dancing couples, Levin jumps.


I came with only one purpose – I want to – will you be my wife?


I’m sorry – sorry – wrong moment – but will you?


I can’t. I’m sorry.

One of our main characters has already hit the climax of his boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-or-gets-girl drama and we’re only 26 minutes into the film.

On his way out, Levin passes new nemesis Vronsky – who looks rather ridiculous in his beamingly bright clean attire and overly-crisp good looks: hair with a dark undertone but glistening blond like a Russian Adonis, eyes a piercing blue offset by his dark lashes, skin like the continuous alabaster statues Wright has created out of all his characters. Perhaps it is his mustache, or those eyelashes, but something just seems unreal about Vronsky, and it isn’t making me swoon at once. Levin, however, senses the gig is up for him and exits the stage, entering into the rafters overhead where he watches Vronsky greet and woo Kitty on the chaise lounge.

But in the rafters Levin has another agenda: that of his screen-snubbed elder brother, Nikolai (David Wilmot), who is poor and dying of consumption with only his prostitute-turned-“wife” Masha (Tannishtha Chatterjee) to care for him, although she is at a loss of how to nurse him back to health at this point. It is clear that Masha truly cares for Nikolai, who respects her deeply, but because of her past it is offered that she not be in Levin’s presence, should it offend him. Dismissing this, Levin simply invites them to his country home so Nikolai can recover.

Vronsky enters the screen through a hidden door in a “wall” of a winter wonderland; we are at the train station in Moscow now, Anna’s train having just arrived. As Vronsky enters into the train, crossing paths with the black-clad (as so often she is) Anna, he gossips with his mother over our leading lady’s beauty before she re-enters to say goodbye and hello to the Countess and her son. Even during talk of Anna’s own son, Vronsky eyes her hungrily, the plotting to win his new prey working upfront in those ice-blue eyes.

The train has brought the guillotine of fate down for Anna’s world for good – an invisible worker, covered in soot, grime, and oil, a black mass of death, has been torn in half by the train, bright candy-colored intestines oozing onto the snowy stage. Anna is devastated; she will remain haunted by this nobody she had passed by only moments earlier.

After warmly greeting one another, Anna and Stiva, like two partners in crime reunited, return to the Oblonsky household where Anna talks to a very pregnant Dolly, alone. She is bulging beneath her dark green dress, set against the lush wood and deep reds in the room –  she is like a Christmas gift, or that holiday coziness full of warmth, not hatred for her cheating husband. And when Dolly cries to Anna and reminds Anna that she was not the one who did anything, Anna merely keeps her cool and asks if Dolly should have enough love left in her heart to forgive Stiva.


Kitty’s coming by to see you. She’s all grown up, and a bit frightened of you – the belle of St. Petersburg society!


Is that who I am? 

Happy to have this duty done, Anna plays with the children and Kitty, with whom she briefly discusses marriage and the debutante-ism of being 18, Anna pining for the past with that forlorn “to be your age again” despite not looking so far from it. She confides to Kitty that she was the same age when she married Karenin, “but it was not love” – which isn’t immediately apparent in the patriarchal relationship between husband and wife, their union we already assumed to have been born not from mutual infatuation.

Kitty, according to Tolstoy, becomes so enamored with Anna and infatuated with her beauty and self-confidence and power, that she falls in love with Anna simultaneously with Vronsky. In Wright’s depiction, it is more like the relationship between the young girl and the older babysitter – wanting to be good friends but knowing, and keeping, a distance. The infatuation never comes across unless it is what I am mistaking for mere politeness.

At the debutante ball, Kitty is in virginal white. Her face recalls Mia Wasikowska, but with harder lines and less cheekbones. Vronsky, in white as well to match his Cupidesque looks no doubt (which we accept by now as not a joke) dances with Kitty while very poorly hiding his eyes from watching the black-clad Anna, dancing nearby with Stiva. In fact, Vronsky is so bad at concealing his enchantment that even Kitty is prompted to ask him if anything is wrong, realizing slowly that his desires linger nearby, but not with her. Meanwhile, Kitty has the very young Boris, who is probably more excited by her than anyone else there, doting on a dance which she of course obliges.

As the two begin their steps on the floor, Vronsky sidles up to Anna (who has already begun looking for him).


Dance with me.


I am not used to being spoken to like that by a man I met once at a railway station.


I dare say, but if I’m not to dance with you, I’m getting out of this operetta and going home.


Then for Kitty’s sake.

At least she had good intentions.

The dance floor freezes, not through special effects but clearly the actors are all ignoring the “couple” in stillness, recalling Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. As the two pass each couple, they suddenly come back alive one by one, as if these two hold the true flame of life – in which case they can extinguish it too. Their breathing, amped up by the separate sound, takes on an erotic shallow quivering and suddenly the floor is empty save for the two in the spotlight.

As the rest of the dance floor comes back into the light, interrupting the lovers' moment, Kitty’s worry and fearful watching, spastic with the quickness of the dance, enmeshes her own breathing with that of Anna’s and Vronsky’s. It is a triangle Kitty knows she has fallen out of, although what isn’t made so clear by the film is that Kitty, having rejected Levin thinking that Vronsky would surely propose to her, is now realizing that Vronsky may not actually propose, and that she may have lost all the eggs in her pretty princess basket.

Kitty is given her moment for a new dance with Vronsky, her face suppressing tears as they take center floor, lit from above. As she cries, the rest of the guests whisper amongst each other – they are like the Greek chorus, foreshadowing to each the gossip to come of what they’ve just witnessed between married socialite Anna and eligible young bachelor Vronsky.

Escaping from the twittering in a flutter of self-aware gasps and watering eyes, Anna goes over to a hanging mirror, where the train is barreling towards her. Then she is on the train. When it stops, she exits for some air, seeing Vronsky doing the same. She tells him, with tears, that she will forget this. But Vronsky refuses to go back to be Kitty’s. As we pull out and reveal the train traveling through the night, I can’t help but wait for the camera to pull back further still, revealing a child playing with toys – the look of the train is so false, its movements so familiar from toy trains I played with myself as a child, that it’s a bit of a joke when we leave the scene, supposedly having accepted it as a realistic “shot of the train in the night.” Hardly.

Anna visits her sleeping Seryozha in what is perhaps one of the most beautiful sets, and most tableau of settings, plain and simple, a large wooden sleigh bed nestled into the middle of the stage, with a small cove-like insert behind it, a scene of ships en voyage painted in the background. The whole cubicle is framed in ornate gold, only underlining the tableau quality; as if the “real world” were too much for her, Anna can crawl into a painting and be still for just a moment. She lightly skims her fingertips over Seryozha’s skin as he mechanically thanks her for his Moscow presents, the monotone words like a child greeting a school teacher in the morning. Anna must extract herself and go to bed for the night.

The next day Anna goes to visit Princess Elizaveta “Betsy” Tverskoy (Ruth Wilson), the only one who might be anywhere close to Anna’s willingness to disregard society rules. Betsy, however, does not get herself into gossip and trouble, perhaps because she too is of high social standing and understands the shame it would bring to her family, such as her dear and close cousin, Vronsky.

Through a series of small events with Betsy, Anna and Vronsky glance each other again and again like a dream sequence, one moment starting just when the other has ended, during which Vronsky’s youth seems to grow more and more alabaster and pristine with each costume: baby blue, blinding white. And like the young child, Vronsky’s mother is calling him to return home and leave St. Petersburg. Leave Anna. Take up the promotion offered over in Tashkent. As Vronsky tells Betsy (who has innocently caught onto him and Anna) that evening at the opera, “I’m afraid I’m becoming quite ridiculous.” Like the frat boy realizing how outlandishly useless his whole yuppie-façade is – figure yourself out quickly or you will not really reap much reward in the end.

But at Betsy’s little after-party, of which Anna had already dismissed as a favor to straight-edged religious stiff Countess Lydia Ivanova (Emily Watson), the ladies murmur of “Anna’s shadow” arriving before her – Vronsky, of course. After Betsy chides him on being desperate to persuade a married woman to leave her vows, he gets fed up with Anna’s absence and leaves. Finally Anna makes a hurried entrance at the nick of time for Betsy’s surprise: a strange display of fireworks viewed from an opening in the ceiling that causes everyone in the room to tilt back Matrix-esque. It’s an odd movement for a bizarre “surprise” that, to our 21st century eyes, holds more of a circus-opening feeling than one of great amusement.

After Anna confronts Vronsky about their budding flirtations, to which he believes he has fallen victim, she pleads him for peace and he replies that he has none to give her. We’re either all very melodramatic because of the always-apocalyptic seeming Russian winters, or passion is a self-guided beast we all carry, without mercy. Of course, Alexei Karenin has come onstage by now. “I’m not sure my nerves can stand another Alexei at this moment,” quips party-guest Lisa Merkalova (Emerald Fennell). Karenin tells Anna (in more of an announcement heard by the whole crowd) that he has come to call her home – to which she cheerfully (rather oddly) replies without a second thought that he can go on without her, she’ll be staying. Send the carriage home. As if he had asked if she wanted a sandwich and she said she was really very full already, thank you very much. Karenin, the patient government man he is, humbly agrees and leaves. Is it power or inconsiderate ignorance on Anna’s part? Regardless, she admits to Vronsky that she does not want him to leave St. Petersburg (again, power or ignorance?), and she returns home to a calm chastising by Karenin who warns her that everyone else in the world has noticed her and Vronsky’s mutual cohorts of secrecy.


I have nothing to say to you, and I’m tired.


And you have a son.

And with that she departs the room. Karenin has just pledged his love for her, his warning out of pure desire to save his cherished wife, and Anna certainly respects him to a degree and loves her son – but clearly, she does not want to have to deal with either of them, either for fear of hurting the two men of her family or fear of what it might do to her if she altered their family dynamic. She dismisses her reality with the ease of changing rooms, changing sets.

The Karenins lay down for sleep, Anna entering into the first sex sequence with Vronsky, lifted from her own bed (in memory?) in a perplexing series of events Stoppard has scripted as “SEX AS BEFORE” and “prelude to sex” as if the literary devices of chapter headings would somehow transmit themselves to viewers via film cuts. Their sex is more like a dance (between scene changes) constantly in fluid motions spot-lit in the darkness until Anna, her face upside down as she stretches out on her back, asks for forgiveness into the camera, as if from the audience. There is a sort of “don’t look at me” quality to this act, so sudden and unforeseen by those who have not read the book, and oddly interjected into the story for those of us already familiar. As they continue back into their entangled naked dance, she calls out – perhaps in joy – “Murderer!” again and again, as if it were his name, or a satisfying “Yes!” Perhaps it is – and she is only, in this vulnerable state, willing to admit to herself what she is doing: murdering her family, her social standing, her vows, her husband’s love, her future, herself.

Back at the Oblonsky house, Kitty swears off marriage altogether, calling the whole business “disgusting.” Embittered by not having had Vronsky propose to her, and feeling cheated by Anna, Kitty declares she officially hates the woman. Even Dolly, cheated over again and again by Stiva, tries to tell Kitty that love is joyous love. But at eighteen years old, she still has enough angst to disbelieve her sister.

On a pure white blanket set in the middle of a bright green area, trees sprouting up all over, Vronsky and Anna both in blinding white on the blanket, a lavishly sparse picnic laid out. The softness of the white’s flare gives it a sort of Twilight-CGI effect, especially in the “idyllic” forest setting. Frou Frou, Vronsky’s horse, chews grass in the distance, declared to be Vronsky’s only love aside from Anna.

Vronsky enjoys a drink with his men, merriment all around. His older brother, Sasha, has come to visit him, warning him against chasing after a married woman. He encourages Vronsky to enter into marriage himself, for it will actually set him free to do what he wants, knowing he has the safety and honor of marriage at home. Younger, bold still, and in the middle of a scandal, Vronsky disregards his brother, instead taking him out of the set, onto the stage, to introduce him to Frou Frou. In the spotlight, the white horse, his darling, is his Anna: loving, smooth to the touch, his to tame, his to ride, muscle to show off.

The stiff Countess Lydia hurries into Karenin's office, almost desperate for his attention, to warn him of his wife. Her conservative chastising gets her nowhere.


Forgive me, but you are too tolerant! Your wife…


Oh, is this about my wife? My wife is beyond reproach. She is, after all, my wife.

Next we find Vronsky visiting Anna in a field. It is more like a dreamscape than anything, as she turns to him and rather abruptly, context-less, tells him she is pregnant. But it is not a dream and he is overjoyed. “Now we can be together,” he says, and urges her to tell Karenin everything so they can leave. Anna, smarter and wiser, knows Alexei won’t “make a present of me,” granting a divorce for their sake. She would never be able to see Seryozha again… but she settles on Vronsky, her proclaimed happiness.

Vronsky’s big horse race arrives and Princess Betsy picks up Anna for the show, Alexei wearily saying he will arrive later. Giddy like a girl to the dance, Anna leaves. Now, given that every other scene has taken place “on the main stage” regardless of an indoors or outdoors setting, it should come as no surprise that the races happen “outdoors” upon the stage… but there is no virtual reality to the scene: the horse race is on the stage, not “outside” in a painted setting, but through the wings of the stage, crossing before the crowd only briefly as the horses fly out from stage right and over to stage left before disappearing behind the curtain again.

Vronsky suddenly crashes off stage on his white Anna, slamming into the dirt with only the real Anna’s voice shrieking his name into the void of the theater: “Alexei!” Her husband, Alexei, watches her almost with interest. Her doppelganger, Frou Frou, whose back is broken, must be shot. The editing, which must tell the story through visuals, has Vronsky shooting Anna.

In the carriage ride home, Karenin softly confronts Anna on her outspoken behavior at the races. Even Vronsky’s mother didn’t make a commotion. She responds tersely, admitting to being Vronsky’s mistress and that she fears Karenin and hates him too. The carriage jolts to a stop. Karenin grants Anna nothing but to not see Vronsky again. Young lady, you are grounded and I don’t want to hear another peep. Like an angry teen, she bursts through the door and runs out into what is immediately the mazelike gardens of their estate, disrobing her dress in the dusky light, coming upon Vronsky (who has just been in her gardens waiting? After falling from a horse and losing the race and being scandalized before even his mother?).

In bed that night, Anna, defeated of anything already, finishes her confession by declaring herself Vronsky’s wife and the mother of his unborn-yet child. The quietly disturbed Alexei puts away his plans for their evening and calmly walks out of their bedroom, Anna chasing after to pause in the doorway seeing him sitting in a chair in center stage, alone, all lights off except the glow of the floor lanterns. “What did I do to deserve this?” he asks, genuinely – of her, or of the universe, the black void in the theater?

Levin is meanwhile distraught over missing Kitty, missing marriage, missing out on all the plans he had for himself. A family was all this man ever wanted. Awakening one morning atop a haystack from his farming, he catches Kitty in a passing carriage, her quiet and youthful face like glossy dew in the morning light, the slightest smile on her lips, her face not yet hollowed out by age, society and burgeoning mature cheekbones.

Cut to Vronsky awkwardly passing Alexei as the former enters the latter’s home. This is not supposed to happen. The men ignore the instance as much as they can. Vronsky, furious about it though, charges at Anna, who bulges in an elegant dress much as Dolly had earlier. Perhaps beneath it, Keira Knightley is wearing the same faux-fetus belt. When Anna walks around, like a bird fluttering within a cage, chirping about Vronsky not loving her this, not loving her that, quick quips that have clearly been consuming her home-ridden mind, she finally enters into a round partition where she takes the center light. The baby moves, and she laughs, the calmest she has been in the scene. Vronsky merely watches her, the poor woman pulling out her last act for the pitying crowd.

Later Alexei Karenin is also furious about what is going on! Being polite and contained can only get you so far, if social elitism is your priority, but to his wife he lets loose that he will not return to his home “until divorce has driven you to the streets.” Anna will be ruined, unable to marry again (as Karenin would be the “victim” party), unable to see Seryozha, and her child with Vronsky would be considered a bastard damned without patriarchy or honor.

At the Shcherbatsky’s, a sort of family gathering, Levin confesses to having seen Kitty in the passing carriage (which seemed like such a strange coincidence, in the early dawn hours in what felt like the middle of nowhere) and she dismisses it by calling herself “silly and young” in the days they had last seen each other –  “months and months ago.” It has the same quasi-ridiculous quality to it as Anna’s line about recalling being 18 again – these women still seem like the youth they long for, and to some degree it never left either of them. Stiva declares dinner as a servant presents a mysterious note on a silver platter, clearly causing some out-of-sorts anxiety for Stiva, who stammers out to find Alexei Alexandrovich, who has come to sever ties with Stiva (in the most polite of phrases) as he is giving Anna the divorce she and Vronsky had so terribly thought they desired for their best interest. Stiva, however startled he is, insists Alexei must stay for dinner – “Divorce is one thing, but dinner is quite another.”

Dinner turns out to be expectedly awkward. Love is the first topic they all try to discuss. Dolly ends up playing Anna’s previous role of interlocutor after dinner, trying to get Alexei to forgive her. He claims she is the only one he hates with all his soul. Forgiveness, then, is apparently not an option – the patience he had for her has clearly, through his short but tersely strong-voiced opinions, dissipated entirely.

Love does, however, remain on the minds of the rest of the diners as Levin and Kitty play with the alphabet blocks while everyone else pretends to mind their own business. Their game is simple, phrases spelled by acronyms, which the other must fulfill. In the novel, the meaning of their game is not made known to the reader until some time afterwards, when the lovers openly declare it. Here, Stoppard condenses it all into one moment: Levin places a vertical line reading “DNMN” (“did no mean never”) and Kitty answers with “TIDNK” (“then I did not know”); “CYFAF” (“can you forgive and forget”), “ILY” (you know that one). It’s refreshing to read their interaction immediately on the screen, but it removes the anticipation of their romance, the anxious waiting-game played by both lover and reader.

Karenin leaves the house, puts on his hat, and walks onto the main stage before a backdrop of a painted snowy city-scape. He opens one of Anna’s letters which he had forcefully broken into her private cabinet to steal (as evidence that he is the “victim” party in their divorce), reads the short love note Anna signed in her usual blue pencil (which was nice to see carried into the screen from the book, blue being a prominent color), tears it up and throws it into the air. As one might expect, the falling bits of paper become a full-on snowfall, covering the entire empty theater in which only Karenin stands, the camera having pulled back to reveal it all.

We come back to Anna's room to find her surrounded by doctors in bed. “No one knows him except me,”  she mumbles, speaking quickly, sentences not pertaining to reality, Alexei Vronsky in the room, Alexei Alexandrovich on the other side. Anna calls him a saint, her famous scene of forgiveness. Her Vronsky lovechild – a daughter, Anna (or “Anya” in Stoppard’s script) – nurses in the other room as she blesses her forgiveness on Vronsky and Karenin, feeling she is near death, wishing she were near death.

Outside the room, the two men wait around, as if for a final notice from the medical team, but Karenin cuts the silence by asking Vronsky to leave, promising to send for him if Anna calls – would she not call all the time though? Or at least once she were recovered? Vronsky is the only thing that gave her life, and now as she feels she is losing it, would she prefer to not have Vronsky around to remind her of the mess she got herself into? When her new fever cools, will it lead her back into Karenin’s caring arms, he who has forgiven her too?

Regardless, Vronsky leaves and is chastised by his mother, who declares him “finished here.” Anna chops off her dark locks in bed, her context lost in the scene without the inner thoughts there to be read; it seems a dramatic move for the screen without a solid grounding. Betsy, wearing a putrid green ensemble (which seems an awful choice to visit someone who is bed-ridden) comes to visit Anna and gossip. Karenin interrupts, seeming to surprise the ladies, and Betsy leaves so that Alexei can have a private word.

Vronsky has asked to come by and give his farewell to Anna, who has told him no. Her thinking does not come off as clear, but it is no secret to a reader that she is still in love with Vronsky – both men, really, but with very different needs of both. Karenin reminds her that she had begged for his forgiveness and he gave it to her – she replies that yes, she had done that, but she had thought she would die and guess what? “Now I have to live with it,” she says. Bitterness and loathing spits from her lips as she vocalizes her wishes to see Vronsky, “but not to say goodbye.”

Karenin, upset and angry now, reminds her again about being the guilty party in their divorce and that the consequences, again, remain that she will be unable to remarry and her daughter would be illegitimate (whereas for the time being, the daughter is at least protected by Karenin’s name). Anna is thrown out of the house and is rejoined to Vronsky, alone. 

Levin and his new bride enter his large and elaborate wooden home in the country, the first time as man and wife (although she has not been here before). To celebrate their union, the house has been decorated with paper snowflake chains strung throughout, illuminating both Levin and Kitty’s glittering highlights, particularly Kitty’s youthful prime, like a child in her Russian furs for dress-up. But there is a surprise for both: Levin’s brother Nikolai has taken him up on his offer of his home to recuperate, Masha there trying to nurse him. Levin does not want to offend, frighten, or repulse Kitty with anything regarding Nikolai’s state, but Kitty quickly dismisses his attitude and takes over with a genuine matriarchy, ordering the setup of a proper environment for the dying man, showing Masha how to tend to the ill body. Seeing this mature takeover by his wife instills a deeper affection for Kitty than Levin had had before – on the screen, it comes off as a sort of awe-stricken observance. Even though it is Kitty who surprises us by taking charge, the ethnic music identifies the moment with Masha.

Meanwhile, Anna writes to Karenin asking to see Seryozha for his birthday; Karenin is not surprised and seems to feel like he might oblige her request (either for her sake or Seryozha’s, perhaps both). But Countess Lydia, with all her reformative opinions for Alexei, encourages him not to blow on the embers of Anna.

Anna browses a toy shop with the kind of awe a child might have, until she spots a perfect thing – a toy horse, a white one among all the colors of the rest of the shop. Bursting into the Karenin household, Anna disregards the pleas of the servants (who are told to forbid her entry) and makes her way to Seryozha’s room. Where before we had seen it as a stage of beauty, his bed like a cocoon of safety in luxury, it now is an open room, reminiscent of an empty and dead attic. If it is supposed to reflect his sadness at missing his mother, it comes across more as if he had been kept a hostage (which, of course, he had not). Reunited at last, mother and son are joyous, he unknowing of why she is not around anymore, she vague and careful with her words, aware she cannot stay. Karenin watches them onstage. It hurts to see them so in love as much as it hurts to see her again at all.

Anna leaves, returns to her own home, ignores her crying daughter, and sits in her black veil, lace like a spider web covering her face, as if she had been in a comical coffin for some time. The light in the room seeps out screen-right, behind her head (indicating the whole day has passed) until Vronsky enters immediately from screen-left and lights a lamp, asking why she is sitting in the dark. Anna pounces on him as response – does it take all day to visit your brother, as you had said you were doing? Vronsky doesn’t want to hear it. So she makes plans to visit the theater (odd in itself in Wright’s film, considering everything is the theater) but Vronsky is hesitant to let her – people will talk. This she knows, but she is not ashamed.

In a glittering white dress, as if begging everyone to grant her a renewed light of social virginity, Anna sits with Princess Myagkaya, who tries to engage in conversation with nearby opera guests; they ignore her at the sight of Anna. On the other side of their box, a man stares at Anna with interest, as if asking her how much for the night. Everyone all around either eyes Anna with disgust and contempt, or sexual appetite.

Vronsky tries to convince others to invite Anna to social events, but even his brother and sister-in-law refuse, in order to save their own social standings, or what’s left for the Vronsky name anyhow. The couple next to Anna denounce her before the silence fallen over the rest of the crowd, recalling Marienbad once again, a spotlight on Anna’s white and heartbroken face. Betsy even encourages Vronsky to marry someone, just to solve everything for himself, such as the lovely Princess Sorokina (supermodel Cara Delevingne) whom his mother has been actively trying to get him to pursue throughout, much to Anna’s frustration and jealousy.

Vronsky ends up taking the blame for Anna’s humiliation. They seem tired already, like a married couple exhausted by one another but appeasing each nonetheless. In Tolstoy’s novel, Vronsky and Anna have a much more tumultuous love affair, frustration seeping into almost every passionate moment, or spawning from it. The depth of their doting and overall relationship is not fully conveyed through the silver screen – it comes off as flat, rapid, and shallow. An affair that ruined everything, but quickly and flakily.

Anna sits alone dressed in shining white (again, trying for redemption?) among the rest of the room’s women dressed in shades of silver and beige. She is about to leave, brought to tears by the gossiping looks and whispers of the ladies around her, when suddenly Dolly sits down out of the blue (pun intended). She cheerfully claims she wishes she would have done what Anna had, but that no one asked her to. Stiva is the same as always, she says, perhaps indicating his lust after a dancer or other new pretty figure. Clearly, men want two things: safety on the one hand and lust on the other.

Back in Anna and Vronsky’s blue fabric-walled chamber, they are trapped in a strange and bizarre world. Her hair is messy and lazy looking compared to her pristine white dress, Vronsky in white as well, as if they are always in denial of their situation. She is asleep on the floor in her undergarments, her hoop skirt, and suddenly it seems as if we have been taken into a dream.

Anna gets up and goes to the window, where down below she watches Vronsky meet Princess Sorokina, dressed in white with white horses atop the hardwood floors of the theater stage, no attempt by the set to hide the fact that they are not in a real street. There is the feeling, as we look down on them from Anna’s point of view, that everyone is not just on a stage, but is a puppet – rather than an actor – in the show.

Distraught, Anna walks away and, suddenly clutching her gut, sits herself down onto a bench which quickly transforms her surrounding to that of a train car as she pulls back the blue curtain of the adjacent window. Looking out the window, of the speeding train, Vronsky on the mind, Anna has visions of him and Princess Sorokina making love in the shadowy reflection.

When she exits the train, she is back in the rafters of the theater, this time being the location of the station. The well-dressed people are all frozen on the stage as they wait for the coming train (despite Anna having just gotten off one). The visions, or flashbacks, one could say, of the speeding train that have haunted Anna throughout the film, seem to inspire her in this moment to get up from a bench, her eyes watering.

Everyone is still frozen, her red dress trembles like blood to be shed. She walks to the edge of the platform. The train is coming – it passes her. And then, somehow, as it continues to pass her, she manages to throw herself beneath, screaming “Please forgive me!” between wheels, the next one coming quickly crushing her back with a too-loud-to-be-believable cracking of her back – cut to Vronsky in their blue room, looking up as if hearing the crushing – cut back to Anna on the tracks, now frozen like all the rest, but in death, not in pausing. A near-perfect line of blood is smattered across her half-lit face. Her hair has come down from its 'do somehow and almost looks prettily poised about her head on the snowy ground.

Wild flowers and tall grasses fill the entire space, a sky above two children playing – a bit-older Seryozha with his little sister Anya. From a chair a little way’s off, Alexei Karenin watches the children as he reads a book. Then what once was the wide-open countryside is revealed, through a pull-back of the camera, to be within the theater boundaries (of course), the Karenins on the main stage.

The back of the proscenium is opened up to let more field flow out past Karenin, as if out into “the real world.” The doors of the opened wall are wood, raw, like the back of barn doors. We may be backstage. We may never be leaving the theater.

But we are at the end.


Shelby Shaw is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Chicago. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

"On Top of the World" - Imagine Dragons (mp3)

"Ho Hey" - The Lumineers (mp3)