06/02/2011 AH, THE SANGUINE SCENT OF COMPULSIVE SELF-DOCUMENTATION AKA: “if it’s supposed to be camp I think I understand but then again that would eliminate it’s legitimacy as real camp? Nevermind I still don’t get it.”

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“…A sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about; but there are special reasons why Camp, in particular, has never been discussed. It is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such. Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric — something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques. Apart from a lazy two-page sketch in Christopher Isherwood’s novel The World in the Evening (1954), it has hardly broken into print. To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it. If the betrayal can be defended, it will be for the edification it provides, or the dignity of the conflict it resolves. For myself, I plead the goal of self-edification, and the goad of a sharp conflict in my own sensibility. I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can. For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it. To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.

4. Random examples of items which are part of the canon of Camp:

Zuleika Dobson

Tiffany lamps

Scopitone films

The Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA

The Enquirer, headlines and stories

Swan Lake

Bellini’s operas

Aubrey Beardsley drawings

Visconti’s direction of Salome and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Schoedsack’s King Kong

the Cuban pop singer La Lupe

certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards

Lynn Ward’s novel in woodcuts, God’s Man the old Flash Gordon

comics

women’s clothes of the twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded dresses, etc.)

the novels of Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett

stag movies seen without lust

18. One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying.

19. The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious. The Art Nouveau craftsman who makes a lamp with a snake coiled around it is not kidding, nor is he trying to be charming. He is saying, in all earnestness: Voilà! the Orient! Genuine Camp — for instance, the numbers devised for the Warner Brothers musicals of the early thirties (42nd Street; The Golddiggers of 1933; … of 1935; … of 1937; etc.) by Busby Berkeley — does not mean to be funny. Camping — say, the plays of Noel Coward — does. It seems unlikely that much of the traditional opera repertoire could be such satisfying Camp if the melodramatic absurdities of most opera plots had not been taken seriously by their composers. One doesn’t need to know the artist’s private intentions. The work tells all. (Compare a typical 19th century opera with Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, a piece of manufactured, calculated Camp, and the difference is clear.)

20. Probably, intending to be campy is always harmful. The perfection of Trouble in Paradise and The Maltese Falcon, among the greatest Camp movies ever made, comes from the effortless smooth way in which tone is maintained. This is not so with such famous would-be Camp films of the fifties as All About Eve and Beat the Devil. These more recent movies have their fine moments, but the first is so slick and the second so hysterical; they want so badly to be campy that they’re continually losing the beat. . . . Perhaps, though, it is not so much a question of the unintended effect versus the conscious intention, as of the delicate relation between parody and self-parody in Camp. The films of Hitchcock are a showcase for this problem. When self-parody lacks ebullience but instead reveals (even sporadically) a contempt for one’s themes and one’s materials – as in To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, North by Northwest — the results are forced and heavy-handed, rarely Camp. Successful Camp — a movie like Carné’s Drôle de Drame; the film performances of Mae West and Edward Everett Horton; portions of the Goon Show — even when it reveals self-parody, reeks of self-love.”

-Misc. selection of Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp: “these notes are for Oscar Wilde”

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