My Year 2000: Leaving Something Behind

My Year 2000: Leaving Something Behind

by Douglas Messerli


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My Year is the title of Douglas Messerli's ongoing cultural memoirs, which began in 2000 with the turn of the 21st century. This volume covers cultural events from 2000, including essays on film, literature, art, performance, and autobiography. It is structured around the theme "Leaving Something Behind."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781557134431
Publisher: Green Integer Books
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Series: My Year Series , #1
Pages: 640
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Poet, fiction writer, dramatist, and essayist Douglas Messerli is the editor of Green Integer and, previously, Sun & Moon Press. He has won numerous awards for his writing and editing, and was named Officier de l'order des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Read an Excerpt

Looking Backward in Order to Safely Go Forward: An Introduction

This volume of My Year, representing the shift into the new millennium, will be the last episode in the back and forth rock of what I have been describing as “out of the cradle.” Henceforth, I will only swing forward—and we all know the inevitable result of that! At some point I will surely simply fly into space and these cultural memoirs will come to a close.

Like the volumes from 2001 and 2002, the 2000 volume was composed somewhat “after the fact,” and, accordingly represents essays written over a fairly broad period of time which, put together, seemed to represent my slightly nostalgic subtitle, “Leaving Something Behind.” I am, after all, a product of the 20th century, despite the fact that I hope to continue fairly far into the 21st. Many of the pieces in this cultural memoir thus represent events of the past century: readings, films, travels (to both Brazil and the Soviet Union), and theoretical works and interviews which I wrote as a younger man. A long piece selects great moments of dance in 20th-century American film musicals. Essays on the films of Renoir, Tarkovsky, and Bresson, as well as on American westerns and the works of Samuel Beckett, all look backward to the century through which we had just passed.

In a strange way, however, many of the pieces—despite the fact that when I wrote them I had not conceived of an annual series of cultural memoirs—were created contemporaneously. During the year, I had planned a volume covering the year’s works of fiction, to be called Fiction 2000, which I had hoped to continue as an annual series—in some respects an ur-form of my 2003-conceived My Year volumes. For that never-realized publication, I read numerous volumes of fiction published during the year, including works by John Updike, Franz Hellens, Jane Unrue, Eliseo Alberto, Antonio José Ponte, Peter Handke, Daniela Fischerová, Fran Ross, and J. Rodolfo Wilcock. So, in some respects—at least with regard to fiction—a significant number of the pieces were written during the year about works also published at the turn of the century.

Particularly within these works there was a strong sense of the century just finished, despite the recognition of its horrific wars and terrifying ideologies. Indeed, I would argue, my own after-the-fact discussion of films, theater performances, and other fictions such as the brilliant The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai (the translation published in 2000, but Messerli read and wrote about it the following year) strongly revealed the sense of the ambiguous transition into the millennium. If this 2000 volume is, thus, not precisely a “natural” product of experiences and cultural events of the year, it clearly embraces many works I read and saw during the Millennium. While I would still characterize it, as I did in the 2001 and 2002 volumes, as a fictional representation of the year—although using only truthful reactions and perceptions—it is also, to my way of thinking, a fairly accurate one.

As late as 2014, viewing Agnés Vardas’ wonderful documentary/memoir of the same year, The Gleaners and I, I perceived the perfect match to my pre-determined title of this year’s volume. Seeing Raúl Ruiz’s vision of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past during that same year, I felt the issues of the past and change in his Time Regained, a film that appeared in the US in 2000, should also be included. The death of director and acquaintance Paul Bartel led me to look again at his Eating Raoul, which, in turn, helped me to recognize how much of a salute it was to a past period which, while he clearly satirized, he also loved.

Perhaps I should characterize the major activity of 2000 as being not only one of transitioning into the new century, but of trying to recall and piece together the world out of which we had just come. Knowing one cannot return to the past, and would not even want to, it is important—so it seems to me—nonetheless, to remember it. Unlike the volume of the following year, where it became necessary, in order to go forward, to keep history a secret, in 2000 it seemed important—as we stepped into new territory—to look backward in order to safely go forward. If, hereafter, I am only moving forward, I can still recognize what I expressed in my review of Ponte’s 2000 collection of stories, In the Cold of the Malecón: “Death becomes the only relief, something from which the survivors have no choice but to walk away in a kind of silent envy and respect, leaving the door open.”

There is, finally, a sense of possibility along with a sense of sadness in the works of My Year 2000. All possibility lay before us, but we could never be certain that we wanted to go there. In fact, looking back now on what I have written about the first 16 years of the new century, many of the qualms I felt were highly justified. As awful as it was, the previous century, at least, was something that we knew and comprehended. And there were, we all must admit, wonderfully exciting moments!

From the very beginning, I now realize, I had marvelous friends and supporters who helped me to create this volume, even if they did not know they were contributing to a series that has now spanned nearly two decades. Among them are Erland Anderson, David and Eleanor Antin, Nelson Ascher, Don Askarian, Tom Beckett, Charles Bernstein, Régis Bonvicino, Haraldo de Campos, Clark and Susan Coolidge, Gene Corman, Lígia Cortez, Horácio Costa, Arkadii and Zina Dragomoshchenko, Ostap Dragomoshchenko, Nicholas Frangakis, Cola Franzen, Rebecca Goodman, Lyn Hejinian, Fanny Howe, Mary Klaus, Abram Lerner, Joe Martin, Deborah Meadows, Lorna Messerli, Harryette Mullen, Cristina Mutarelli, Martin Nakell, Larry Ochs and the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Michael Palmer, Marjorie Perloff, Joe Ross, Rod Smith, Pat Thieben, Carolyn L. Tipton, Peter Vilms, Frederick Wasser, Don Wellman, Mac Wellman, Mary Woronov, and my companion Howard Fox, who read several of these pieces, particularly the long series on dance, and commented extensively. Once more, this volume could not have been possible without the careful proofreading and brilliant typography of Pablo Capra, who now probably knows my life better than even I do.

Los Angeles, July 5, 2013, January 4, 2016

Table of Contents

Looking Backward in Order to Safely Go Forward: An Introduction

Before the Curtain Rises

The Moment to Say No

Leaving Elsinore

A Historical-Romantic, Tragi-Comical, Post-Modern, Sentimental Mystery

A New Way of Seeing

Leaving the Door Open


Responsible Parties

The Miracle of Our Empty Hands

The People are a Fantasy

The Frightened Rabbit Flattens Against the Grass

Normalizing Violence

A Long Sleep

A Sleepwalker on a Roof

Inside the Wound


Poetry and Perception

Majorie Perloff: Interview with Douglas Messerli

Experiment and Traditional Forms in Contemporary Literature

Leaving Something Behind

Three Renoir Films of Art and Life

Reel Life

Recreating the Past

The Theater of Love

Acting and Perceiving

Bending Time

Six Stories of São Paulo: The 2nd Night (The Professor of Everything and the Professor of Nothing)

Six Stories of São Paulo: The 3rd Night (The Raw and the Cooked)

Six Stories of São Paulo: The 4th Night (Crybaby)

Six Stories of São Paulo: The 5th Night (Hello, Goodbye)

Six Stories of São Paulo: The 6th Night (Memorial)

Two Beckett Films

Mouth on Fire

Be Again

Poet to Painter

The Emperor is an Emperor is an Emperor

Why Does the Concubine Have to Die?

Cataloguing Evil

Saving the Drowned


Shall We Dance?: Some Masterpieces of Film Dance

Groucho Marx

Bill Robinson

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (2)

Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire

Ray Bolger and Judy Garland

James Cagney

The Nicholas Brothers, Katherine Dunham, and Company

Carmen Miranda

Ann Miller

Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, and Léonide Massine

Fred Astaire: The Ceiling Dance

Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly

Tommy Rall, Bob Fosse, Ann Miller, Carol Haney, and Jeanne Coyne

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly

Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye

Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall

Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd

Marge and Gower Champion

Gene Nelson, Charlotte Greenwood, and Chorus

Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr

Carol Haney

Gwen Verdon

Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Yvonne Wilder, Tucker Smith, Eliot Feld, Tony Mordante, and Choruses

Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Chorus

Ron Moody and Boy Chorus

Difficult Dances

Missing the Ball

Funeral March

The Marvelously Loony Imagination of Man

Swinging at the Swingers

Wellman’s Crowtet

A Linguistic Fantasia

Music from Another World

You Can’t Go Home Again

There are No Such Things as Crows

Two American Satires

Speaking in Tongues

Out of Step

In a Tight Spot

Paranoia in the Library Stacks

A Western Quartet

What the Night Does to a Man

Leaving Nothing to Chance

Geriatric Heroes

Irritable Comfort

What Isn’t to be Done?, or Take the Money and Run

12 Last Days of the Soviet Union

Day One: Gogol’s Coat

Day Two: Waiting for Tea

Day Three: Africa

Day Four: Lives of the Artists

Day Five: Hurry, Hurry!

Day Six: The Train

Day Seven: Too Many Churches

Day Eight: Candies in the Snow

Day Nine: The Resort Hotel

Day Ten: Moscow Thanksgiving

Day Eleven: Breaking the Rules

Day Twelve: Trying to Leave

Four Films by Andrei Tarkovsky

The Star at the Bottom of the Well

Creating the Impossible


Waiting for Something Else


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