Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Talking Out of Turn #48 (Podcast): Wallace Shawn (1981)

Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner With André (1981).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts at CJRT-FM in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, I did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1994, after I had gone to CBC, I had an idea to collate an interview anthology from some of the more interesting discussions I'd had with guests from that period. Since they all took place during the eighties, I thought I could edit the collection into an oral history of the decade from some of its most outspoken participants. The book was assembled from interview transcripts and organized thematically. I titled it Talking Out of Turn: Revisiting the '80s. With financial help from the Canada Council, I shaped the individual pieces into a number of pertinent themes relevant to the decade. By the time I began to contact publishers, though, the industry was starting to change. At one time, editorial controlled marketing. Now the reverse was taking place. Acquisition editors, who once responded to an interesting idea for a book, were soon following marketing divisions concerned with whether the person doing it was hot enough to sell it. 

Tom Fulton, host and producer of On the Arts.
For a few years, I flogged the proposal to various publishers but many were worried that there were too many people from different backgrounds (e.g., Doris Kearns Goodwin sitting alongside Clive Barker). Another publisher curiously chose to reject it because, to them, it appeared to be a book about me promoting my interviews (as if I were trying to be a low-rent Larry King) rather than seeing it as a commentary on the decade through the eyes of the guests. The book soon faded away and I turned to other projects. However, when recently uncovering the original proposal and sample interviews, I felt that maybe some of them could find a new life on Critics at Large.

In a decade that many considered to be drowning in narcissism, I decided to include interviews in Talking Out of Turn with artists who posed alternatives to self-centeredness in the eighties when it came to examining the self. That included the Canadian poet bp Nichol, whose life work in both narrative and experimental poetry was almost always autobiographical in nature; D.M. Thomas, who inserted the theories of Freud and the horror of the Holocaust into fiction in The White Hotel (1981); and William Diehl, a pulp fiction writer (Chameleon, Sharky's Machine) who was also a pacifist: he wrote violent dramas to purge himself of the turbulence within him. The chapter on biography also included Wallace Shawn talking about the process of making (with Louis Malle and André Gregory) the highly experimental fictional documentary My Dinner with André (1981). My Dinner with Andréa film about two men having dinner and discussing personal and philosophical issues, created an unusual – yet still dramatic – form of autobiography that Shawn considered frightfully raw,

– Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with Wallace Shawn as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1981.

– Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of ZappaRandy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask ReplicaArtificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.

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