Welcome to The Perpetual Pool Party in the Sky!
We interrupt the regularly scheduled writing on Paris by Frau Kolb
For a message from the great pool party in the sky…
Read HERE: choice snippets from a posthumous interview with Burt Lanchaster (Via Sighle Lanchaster) and a moment of glittering reflection upon the work of comedy genius, entertainment goddess, the eternally amusing, Joan Rivers, these two heavenly talents, combine, as the subject of this meandering tribute to “The Swimmer,” Joan Rivers, and Everyone’s Favorite Art Critic… Two Giant Talents reaching from beyond the grave to touch and one living guide into the deep end of art a, “Sister Wendy in Swimming Trunks”.
Last night we fell into a cult classic, “The Swimmer,” directed in 1968 by Frank Perry and Sydney Pollack, starring Burt Lancaster, with Janet Landgard and Janice Rule in key roles, plays Ned Merrill, a man with only his swimming trunks left to lose. His mind, he lost sometime before the beginning of the film. He returns into a manicured world of Connecticut glamour. Mansions are backdrops, sets for petty dramas to unfold, poolside. Ned Merill (Burt Lancaster) is a fallen hero, come back from someplace beyond the conventional realm of understanding. He was dead to his friends, a stranger straggling from one former friend’s private pool to the next, for a quick dip in chlorinated symbols of renewal, prosperity.
He never had his own pool. He was a guest, a husband, a father, a lover of beautiful women, and a “suburban stud.” Yes! Burt Lancaster plays the role of a man losing it all with faultless grace. His face made mask-like by what he called, “The Grin,” a special smile, so difficult to read that it might be the emblem of archaic nobility. Yes, Lancaster plays, “The Swimmer,” with the prowess of an mythical beast trapped in a maze of HORROR. He is primal, an actor turned animal, so free and beautiful as to be beyond the pale of comparison with another male demigod in any American surrealist film. This may be the most beautifully shot film of the 1970’s. Lancaster, holds his mantel of acting genius, wearing only swim-trunks in the lead role of a “major motion picture!” Sighle reveals, the personal detail that the Academy award winning actor, he was going through a divorce, his marriage to my friend, Sighle’s mother, the alcoholic mother of his five children, was unraveling. His personal life was a perfect reflection on his distorted personal experience of reality as a Hollywood Star.
We were watching, “The Swimmer,” because Sighle Lanchaster or I mentioned Joan Rivers’s death, earlier and Sighle informed us that River plays a small role in the classic cult film. Yet, her performance, and her personal acting power, a strong presence able to match the greatness of Lancaster’s toned, tanned, athlete’s body in motion, diving, dripping, a fish in water.
Rivers plays a party person, poolside… looking perhaps for… and then he is there, flirting… bright blue eyes flashing, a vibrating magnet of seductive intention, pulling her toward something deep… maybe wet. She leans toward his masculine beauty, male perfection. She is confused, insecure. She wants to dive in, maybe… runaway with the mysterious swimmer, but then a man calls her possessively toward him, “Joan!” She turns away and The Swimmer drifts back toward the water. His strokes are perfect. Yet he comes crashing into reality as he emerges from the water, on the other side of the gigantic heated purified swimmer’s paradise, a private Olympic size pool.
It becomes all too clear that, he is not welcome by the owners of this particular mansion pool. They throw him out after he attempts to lay claim to a hand painted ice-cream truck, which was once his… from his home… toward which he swims on, running, walking hiking barefoot through fields adjoining the “five acre lots,” of the very wealthy, in a stratified town where middle class business owners are but servants, in a rich man’s world. The ultra rich, stand apart in a self celebrating sphere of private pool glee, are not OPEN to anyone unable to afford the entrance ticket, which requires access to a fortune.
The Swimmer, is shunned by most of his former friends. He was once an advertising executive, married to a “Vassar girl,” presumably an heiress. Those that still embrace him, have some meager purpose for him, now that he is penniless, yet still handsome in his swim trunks, he commands a few invitations to bed and pitiful job offers. His once-upon-a-time ardent mistress, an actress, of course… reveals that she was always faking it with him, even when they were intimate in her private backyard pool, she didn’t really like it or him. This revelation almost kills him, another well placed blow to his dying ego. She kicks him out. He keeps walking and swimming, being rebuked, rejected, and refused entry into all his old haunts.
Is he a ghost? Is he a man in a swimsuit that has perhaps escaped from a mental Institution? We do not know. Yet, the film invites us to ask questions not only about the narrative and its arc, but also about our selves, our flimsy ambitions and wildest desires. Are we all yearning for pool of our own… to “drown our sorrows,” in the the glittering liquidity of the affluent?
WE all know the feeling, the feeling of not being welcome, of being suddenly rejected, of running, of needing to get home, of looking for salvation by diving into the ocean of Voodoo, in cleansing pools of “healing waters,” bought at the nearby Santeria shop. We all seek a fountain of youth. We are all convinced that with enough money we might be able to buy eternal fame, fortune, and enduring happiness. Yet… we all know that money creates as many problems at it solves. When one is well off, one is often seen by others as a resource. This can be exhausting… I imagine.
Several years ago, the New York Magazine Senior Art Critic, Jerry Saltz wrote that he intended to “swim,” from one museum to the next, all summer, basking in the air conditioning, “immersing,” his self in great art, which is “refreshing,” to the overtaxed “aspirational,” visitors to great museums. The critic, writes, “I spent a month dipping in and out of our city’s museums, like the character in John Cheever‘s classic short story, “The Swimmer.” No mention of the Hollywood movie. No mention of Burt Lancaster in his glorious fading Adonis swimsuit glory… no, no mention of Rivers and her bit part, in the beautifully shot and creative film, which tanked at the box office, none.
This film, “The Swimmer,” is a work of art. You may agree with me that the possibility of immortality is encased in the degree to which one is able to dive into the making and venerating of the encapsulated timelessness that is art. Dance. Writing. Music. Painting. Sculpture. Performance. Film. All is art if made by artists. The artist seeks to create that which represents what is of deepest significance to the shallow and vain and deep, alike. LOOT with aspiration of being more than mere gold, but rather gold and jewels expertly fashioned into objects utilitarian and spiritual! The artist seeks fulfillment in the creation of a ripple, a connection, a spark of emotion… some alteration of the status quo by which the dirt becomes clay and pigment becomes priceless porcelain, portraiture, landscape, framed significance, power on a pedestal, and The Artist is thus transformed from one that comes and goes, into one of the ever present immortals of memory and historic importance. For example, “Picasso!”
The artist’s greatest achievement maybe in the willingness to dive into the unknown. It is a gel-like and glittering, preserving liquid, the ambrosia of the spirit, which gushes from a hidden spring, a common source. Saltz nailed the feeling that I have when replenishing my “aspirational,” soul in the grand halls of great museum collections, it is one of refreshment, and charged inspiration to do, be, and enjoy the deeper end of the sparkling pools of loot, stores of endless splendor, pageantry, human achievement, the wars, the battles fought and made memorable with songs and soaring banners! The blood splattered and marched into the mud… the forgotten mushroom cloud over Hiroshima… can be transformed into a silkscreened ornament for an elite abode. Art is thought. It maybe carved or poured, pasted or sanded, sprayed, etched, splattered, stained, dripped, and hammered. It comes in all shapes, sizes, materials, and immaterial forms. It is enduring, fleeting, transient, permanent, monumental, priceless, and/or “readymade,” for the trash and interchangeable with… other objects… as proven by the many replicas of Duchamp’s Urinal, the many “Fountain(s),” which are housed in Museums around the world.
What is art? We don’t know. The pool is too deep, murky. Yet, we know that museums are more than merely amusing and that for Frau Kolb, the study of art… is something of an obsession… not on-par, of course, with the truly immersed, “Sister Wendy in Swim Trunks,” specialists which invest their entire lives in learning to LOOK deeper and share their insights with the rest of us, but in my own breezy focus, which tends to latch onto the absurdity of glorifying the golden and forgetting that we all shit.
Art is, for me, a refuge from the shallow, and yet I know that it often comes into being, BLING as a devotional playthings upon which wayward “Kings,” can see reflected their own image(s)…(to paraphrase Author Danto… sort of because I don’t really know what “Beyond the Brillo Box,” was about… other than being about modern art.) mirrored sculptures being a HUGE HIT every year when Art Basel, pitches its tent, in culture starved, Miami. This “refreshment,” I crave remains a rarefied experience despite the fact that all major museums have FREE days and people of all kinds, students especially, are welcome into the museum to gawk and experience a moment of ownership over the glorious… the preserved eternal… except The Barefoot (no shoes/no service) in swimming trunks… type. Lunatics are not welcome, anywhere. One must conform to a degree of convention to be allowed into the temple.
Joan Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, on June 8th, 1933 in Brooklyn, was famous for many reasons. Plastic surgery became one of her claims to fame and like so many stars famous for… drinking, drugging, or otherwise obliterating themselves for the public’s pleasure, she was masterful in her execution of a collective fantasy. (Amy Winehouse lived up to her name). Rivers flowed with the Hollywood ethic and became the unapologetic poster girl for plastic surgery. She was an exceptional woman that could laugh at her own folly, tragedies, and invited others to laugh along with her at herself and anybody that wore the wrong outfit to the right party.
We have the pleasure of seeing her in “The Swimmer,” when she was a young woman, long before her excursions under the knife began. She was a goofy looking B E A U T Y a sweet Jewish American Lovely, with a charm that distinguished her from a universe of Hopefuls. She moved with TALENT we venerate. The great comedians: George Carlin, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor were her early peers, playing the comedy club circuit in Manhattan’s West Village. It is clear, seeing her, on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, courtesy of You tube, which was the professional moment that launched her career in television as as a talk show host, that she was at ease in her black cocktail dress and pearls, before all the surgeries began. She was a blast of fresh air in the mostly male business of being willfully entertaining. She was dexterous enough to pull back the curtain on Hollywood and show herself to be as naked as the next human playing Emperor, nude. She was masterful in the construction of a queen sized mask to protect herself until the day she died on the operating table.
We “pool,” our money and crave “cash flow.” The English language is replete with metaphors that equate money with water, “liquidity,” and being “flush.” Water, in turn, being synonymous in Judeo-Christian traditions with purification and cleanliness. I’ve also heard of the “healing waters of the Ganges River.” When the old testament god gets angry, he washes humanity away with loads of water. The women of Judea have long practiced ceremonial bathing to ensure a purity which Nietzsche found… amusing or significant… to say the least. Protestants insist, “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Rivers made no bones about the necessity for a youthful visage, vicious styling, and merciless materialism. She was it. Aphrodite, Venus, was said to become a virgin again after every bath. Rivers, sought the same level of miraculous transformation with every new procedure. She pushed toward immortality.
Spirituality is freedom from physical limitations, from need. Rivers never promised us a dip a deeper pool. In fact, she appealed to the simple desire to laugh at misery, including one’s own. She demonstrated a strength to find the humor in life’s tragedies, which distinguished her again and again. She was true to her mantra and believed in herself, to the degree that she was willing to forge forward with her mission to “self improvement,” via surgery until the end. In this mastery over her own course, Rivers embodies a type of divine purity that makes it easy to imagine her having a hoot at the never ending pool party in the sky.
WE want to know that there is more to life than this. Yet… in the meantime, until we figure out what all this need for significance comes from… well… we might as well, have another drink, another kiss, another lover, and erase the worry about tomorrow or the next day or what happens when we die… with the colossal splash of a cannon ball executed from the greatest possible distance, the highest possible springing board.
In Joan River’s case, a dogged determination to ACT, to be seen, heard propelled her march to legend status. She shared herself with the public, from behind the increasingly tight mask of a youthful façade. The importance of being physically attractive was a theme in River’s work.
Burt Lancaster’s beautiful physique made him the object of attention, when he was “discovered,” somewhat reluctantly acting in a short running Broadway play and cast in “The Killers,” (1946), a runaway hit, which launched his long career. (I had the pleasure of seeing “The Killers,” and “Cris Cross,” at the invitation of Sighle Lancaster, at The Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater.)
Alcohol, which provides a thirst enhancing false nutrition of the body in exchange of a taste of oblivion, the little sink, on ice, a cup in which sins are dissolved, minimized, or dismissed until the hangover sets in an consequences become to big to bare, plays a major role in the drama of the American Dream. 90% of American Adults drink. According to Gabrielle Glaser, author of “Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink and How They Can Regain Control,” American women guzzle oceans of white wine, in swimming pool sized vessels, with a gusto matched only by the girls of “Sex in the City,” downing Cosmopolitans with the aplomb of screen legends since the beginning of Tinsel Town projections of the relief from cares and the cultured delight to be found in spirits.
What is it about alcohol that so entices? Lures? Why is intoxicating the self such a… vital… part of Western Culture. It is as though… we just can’t enjoy the show, without our “beer goggles.”
The film opens with, “The Swimmer,” Burt Lancaster running through forested sunlight, onto a pool terrace where he is warmly greeted by friends utterly surprised to see him, again. They are terribly, “hung over,” having had, “too much to drink, last night.” This story of poolside bars and perpetual drunken decadence in cycles of debauchery and cartoon redemption, hollow respectability, flaunted by those that manage to construct a fortress façade to hide their entirely human frailty.
Martinis, and other “Cocktails,” are offered to one and all accept children… who appear at key moments in the film to remind us… of what innocence might look like. A boy, left alone for the summer by his honeymooning mother, “swims,” across an empty pool with the imaginary support of The Swimmer. In another key scene, Our “Hero,” offers a girl (Janet Langard) her first sip of Dom Perignon, from the bar at a “Happening Party,” the two crash, after he plucks her like a ripe crocus, from a teenage gathering about another private pool, and runs with her—a leaping, prancing, show horse—a man, the actor, the star, over fifty years old and jumping over obstacles with a blond Barbie girl, face painted to look younger, at his side. Before long, she confesses, to having had enormous crush on him years ago, when she babysat his… no longer so young… daughters. Yet… she reveals herself to be completely shallow, an accident waiting to happen, when he tries to dive in for a kiss, with worn out promises of love and protection, she leaves him to his fate. “I have a boyfriend,” she suddenly reveals, explaining that she met her new lover (a very jealous fellow… with real problems), “on the computer,” (how progressive!) before running off, back to her peers, presumably.
“The Swimmer,” is linked, in my mind, to “Under the Volcano,” by Malcom Lowry, a book on an alcoholic man’s last day among the living. He surrenders to the abyss that is obsessive alcohol abuse. He sinks, dying from an unquenchable thirst for a reason live, the soul of the abyss is a lack of faith in goodness, a replacing of authentic values with false idols… glittering golden calfs held high until they, too are melted down and used for some other soon forgotten purpose. Some sacred objects bob and float, emerging from oblivion to be held dear for eternity.
Yes… we all know the myth of Narcissus and his ever-locked relationship with a body of water. I think of David Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools... evoking the placid purified depths of ambition and the filtering systems that keep some places segregated, entirely WHITE… fenced in… Swimming pools, splashy and full of water that one can not drink, but which cool the body and promote a feeling of well being in those that dream of swimming forever and never needing to reapply sunscreen.
“A River of Swimming Pools,” a wait.