Help preserve the right to film in NYC’s public spaces

Independent films shot in New York City could soon become a rarity.

Rules proposed by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a public place for a half hour or more to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The time for public comment ends Friday.

The film office has tried to damp down criticism by claiming it is merely codifying “our current procedures with respect to film permitting.” (“Note that this situation [i.e., filming in one place by two or more people for 30 minutes] is RARE for recreational photographers,” says the site. Oh, really?)

In fact, the phrasing of the rules is vague and terribly broad, offering no exceptions for amateurs, and inviting selective enforcement.

“Your everyday person out there with a camcorder is never going to know about the rules,” Mr. Dunn [assistant legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union] said. “It completely opens the door to discriminatory enforcement of the permit requirements, and that is of enormous concern to us because the people who are going to get pointed out are the people who have dark skin or who are shooting in certain locations.”

The rules were promulgated as a result of just such a case, Mr. Dunn said.

In May 2005, Rakesh Sharma, an Indian documentary filmmaker, was using a hand-held video camera in Midtown Manhattan when he was detained for several hours and questioned by police.

During his detention, Mr. Sharma was told he was required to have a permit to film on city property. According to a lawsuit, Mr. Sharma sought information about how permits were granted and who was required to have one but found there were no written guidelines. Nonetheless, the film office told him he was required to have a permit, but when he applied, the office refused to grant him one and would not give him a written explanation of its refusal.

As part of a settlement reached in April, the film office agreed to establish written rules for issuing permits.

Picture New York has posted an online petition protesting the abridgement of First Amendment rights, and the lack of public notice about the proposals. If you live here, please sign. Or, better yet, file an objection of your own. (Thanks, High Low & In Between.)

Interviewing Rupert Thomson at McNally Robinson

All of a sudden I’m going to be doing a public interview with Rupert Thomson — a literary hero I’ve never burned out on — at McNally Robinson on Friday, August 17, at 7 p.m.

The scheduling dovetails with the U.S. publication of his latest novel, Death of a Murderer. A more stripped-down, contemplative story than I’m used to seeing from Thomson, the book still reflects the author’s preoccupation with obsession and the nightmarish paths it can lead down. Last year he explained:

The new novel is set during a single night in November 2002. A police constable is guarding the dead body of a famous murderer in a hospital mortuary north-east of London. It’s a twelve-hour shift, from seven in the evening until seven the following morning. The body in question is that of Myra Hindley, though her name is never mentioned. Together with her lover, Ian Brady, Myra Hindley was responsible for the deaths of five people in the early 1960s. Three of those murdered were young children. For the British public, she became an icon of evil. She was a woman, and she had killed children. People never forgave her for what she’d done. They never forgave, and they never forgot. Even today, she’s something of a taboo subject.

At the beginning of the policeman’s shift, everything is normal and routine — except, of course, that the situation is, in itself, extraordinary. As the hours go by, though, and prompted by the body he is guarding, he begins to meditate on his own life, and the wrong he has done. The novel has something of St Augustine’s Confessions about it, I hope, in that it shows a man being completely honest with and about himself. It is also a gloss on Myra Hindley’s life, since the policeman is reflecting particularly on obsessive relationships with other people, and how they can lead you into patterns of behaviour you never thought possible.

If you don’t know Thomson’s work, start with The Book of Revelation (better read what it’s about first, though) or Divided Kingdom. Or follow James Hynes’ recommendations, in The Dreamlife of Rupert Thomson.

See also:

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that usually appears Mondays at 12:30pm and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please send details to lauren [at] by the Thursday prior to publication, with the date in the subject line.

As of this writing on Sunday evening, I’m still in the country where I’ve been helping out jen bekman at Scope Hamptons, and so Le Smart Set will be postponed until later…ish (It’s been really fascinating. Naturally there were the teeming hordes of the scary tanned and cheesy-rich for the most part and everything is so exey I wanna die, but I also got to discuss the fascination with nature that emerged following the Industrial Revolution as one possible explanation for the mythic animal imagery that’s so hot right now in contemporary art, e.g. “She-Wolf #9,” and I’ve been swimming in the evenings under a starry sky). Until then, check out this artist whose work I saw in another booth on Saturday– Harland Miller does these dead clever paintings of book covers. My favorite: Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore. Of course.

UPDATED, my picks for the rest of the summer:

FRIDAY, 8.3: Jeffrey Frank, the novelist and senior editor of the New Yorker who the Wall Street Journal calls ‘delicately lethal,’ reads from Trudy Hopedale, along with Helen Schulman, author of A Day at the Beach, as part of the Paragraph reading series, which is free and sexy and also involves wine and cheese afterwards with the writers. Yum [Full disclosure, as always: Jeff is one of my PR clients]. 8PM, FREE.

FRIDAY, 8.17: Maud + Rupert = better together. Free convo at McNally Robinson @ 7PM. Be there or cry, cry, cry.

If you are in Los Angeles tonight, lucky things, go and hear the always elegant Mark Sarvas read from his hotly anticipated forthcoming novel. In Paris, there’s the Bicycle Film Festival. In Philadelphia, last chance to catch the Karen Kilimnik exhibition: “Drawing correspondences between romantic tradition and consumer culture, Kilimnik’s work brings a haunting and contrary sense of beauty to contemporary art…a quest for the romantic sublime.”

And with that, I’m going back to reading my favorite poem this week: “I love systems.” I love the Smart Set, too, and you, but we all need a break. Back after Labor Day then.

Hilary Mantel on Orpheus & Euridice — and ghost stories

Hilary Mantel reflects on the enduring relevance of Orpheus and Euridice, arguing that, in the era of modern rationalism, we banish the ancient gods at our peril.

For some years I lived in Africa, in Botswana, and people there used to say that to see ghosts you need to look out of the corners of your eyes. If you turn on them a direct gaze, then, like Eurydice, they vanish.

The whole process of creativity is like that. The writer often doesn’t know, consciously, what gods she invokes or what myths she’s retelling. Orpheus is a figure of all artists, and Eurydice is his inspiration. She is what he goes into the dark to seek. He is the conscious mind, with its mastery of skill and craft, its faculty of ordering, selecting, making rational and persuasive; she is the subconscious mind, driven by disorder, fuelled by obscure desires, brimming with promises that perhaps she won’t keep, with promises of revelation, fantasies of empowerment and knowledge. What she offers is fleeting, tenuous, hard to hold. She makes us stand on the brink of the unknown with our hand stretched out into the dark. Mostly, we just touch her fingertips and she vanishes. She is the dream that seems charged with meaning, that vanishes as soon as we try to describe it. She is the unsayable thing we are always trying to say. She is the memory that slips away as you try to grasp it. Just when you’ve got it, you haven’t got it. She won’t bear the light of day. She gets to the threshold and she falters. You want her too much, and by wanting her you destroy her. As a writer, as an artist, your effects constantly elude you. You have a glimpse, an inspiration, you write a paragraph and you think it’s there, but when you read back, it’s not there. Every picture painted, every opera composed, every book that is written, is the ghost of the possibilities that were in the artist’s head. Art brings back the dead, but it also makes perpetual mourners of us all. Nothing lasts: that’s what Apollo, the father of Orpheus, sings to him in Monteverdi’s opera. In Opera North’s staging, the god took a handkerchief from his pocket, licked it, and tenderly cleaned his child’s tear-stained face.

Happy weekend from the “I’ll always love you” dept.

Robert & Christine at Sivil's Drive-In
Last week I posted the letter my grandfather sent to my grandmother, Martha, after she found out he was cheating and left him. This week’s installment is a letter from Christine, the other woman, pictured next to my grandfather second from left above, who also had a kid and a spouse.¬†According to my mom, Robert married her two or three times.

“Darling,” Christine writes, “I want you to believe that if we were married I would rather die than trifle on you. All those little incidents that you were referring to, well they just didn’t register, you are the only one that means anything to me.”

“If [Martha] really is going to get a divorce, there will probably be some gossip & it might be better for all concerned for me not to be here. That is if she knows about me & I think she does.”


Work, maladies, and other excuses for punting to you

You guys know this isn’t my job, right? I feel awkward saying it again, but some people still don’t seem to realize: the site is a hobby.

Of course I’m always glad to hear from readers, but I don’t wait in suspended animation for email and books to arrive.

My actual job is incredibly glamorous. I sit within the luxurious, cloth-clad confines of my cubicle, and read, write, and edit materials about — fanfare, please — tax law. Typically I heat up an Amy’s burrito for lunch, which I eat at the office –because why venture outdoors when I have carpet reminiscent of ’70s airline decor to gaze upon?

Right now I’ve also got a ton of freelance deadlines looming. Over the weekend I need to finish an essay about a doomed college relationship. (This ex-boyfriend enjoyed playing the Florida version of Russian roulette: turning off the lights on his truck, and weaving between the right and wrong sides of medians. His mother used to go down on her boss for $50 when she was strapped for cash and give us the — sorry — blow-by-blow details later. I think maybe that affected the boy in some way. But I digress.)

Mostly, though, I’m distracted from blogging because there’s trouble with my eyes. The bulging disease keeps them dry and red and tired, and nowadays I feel like I’m constantly blinking back a million tiny grains of sand. Reading, especially on the computer, makes it worse.

Several doctors have recommended orbital decompression surgery over the years. I’ve said no, because for some reason I haven’t been enthusiastic about having larger holes created in my skull just so my eyes might look the way they did when I was seventeen.

Recently, though, I scraped my eyeball on a pillow while I was sleeping. Admittedly the experience was not as horrific as the time twelve years ago when I woke up and rubbed my eye and it started to slide out of its socket, but still: if it could never fucking happen ever again, that would be just great. So the surgery may hurt like hell, and there’s a significant risk of double vision, but I’m considering it.

While I get some work done and consult with doctors, I won’t have much time to maintain the site in the month of August. And that’s where you come in. I hope.

I’d like to post a series on independent bookstores that sell literary fiction. If you run, work at, or are in love with a bookstore, send a photo and a few sentences or paragraphs or pages telling me about it. (Email to bookstores [at] maudnewton [dot] com.)

I’ll put my favorites up throughout next month.