Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Requiem For a Dream (1978) - Hubert Selby Jr.

Requiem For a Dream (1978) - Hubert Selby Jr. 


Hubert Selby Jr. is a freak, an anachronism, a throwback to an era when literature mattered and American writers wrote about something other than Marilyn Monroe’s hairdo or the last time they had sex with their daddies. Cut from the same cloth as such recently deceased legends as Paul Bowles, Charles Bukowski and William S. Burroughs, the 72-year-old Brooklyn-born author of harrowing novels such as “Last Exit to Brooklyn” and “Requiem for a Dream” (now a film by hotshot director Darren Aronofsky) seems hopelessly out of place in today’s fiction market. A Kafka lost in La-la Land.

“It’s funny,” says Aronofsky, his generation’s answer to Martin Scorsese, when asked about the man whose nightmare he’s just translated to the big screen with the help of stars Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn. “When we went to Cannes to premiere the film, no one wanted to talk to Ellen or to me. They all wanted to talk to Hubert Selby Jr. He was the celebrity over there. Europe, unlike America, recognizes his contribution to literature.”

Indeed, I haven’t met a European yet who is unfamiliar with Selby’s work. Whenever Selby is on the Continent he gets an incredible amount of exposure, whether it’s an appearance on French TV or an interview for a German documentary. But in the States, Selby is routinely ignored. Even those in the literary community who should pay homage to this grand old man of letters, this uniquely American Dostoevski, snub the guy. Pick up any guide to contemporary fiction, and the one name sure to be missing is Selby’s. By comparison, boring old farts like Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer (or boring younger farts like T.C. Boyle) get enough ink spilled about them to almost blot out the fact that they’re so consistently soporific.

“Perhaps it’s that a prophet is without honor in his own country. I mean, even Jesus couldn’t do any miracles in his own hometown,” Selby says with a laugh during a recent lunchtime interview not far from his digs here. “It’s a strange paradox because I consider myself a very American writer. To be fair, there are a lot of people in this country who really like my writing. And a lot of writers respect me. But the so-called establishment? They hate me. I guess I should be flattered, because having the respect of your peers is far more important than being accepted by academics.”

(Of course, the University of Southern California does retain Selby’s teaching services for a graduate course in writing, but after all he’s been through, I’ll cut him some slack on that point.)

America may be paying a lot more attention to Selby with the release of “Requiem” and all the controversy spawned by its hellish depiction of drug addiction, obsession and madness. Aronofsky updates Selby’s tale — originally set in the Bronx of the ’70s (and published in 1978) — to the mean streets of Coney Island in the ’90s. Employing a sort of hip-hop expressionism and lifting dialogue directly from the book, Aronofsky introduces a brand new audience to Selby’s abrasive morality tale involving three young dope addicts looking to finance their dreams with a pound of pure heroin.

Wayans, Connelly and Leto play the addicts — Tyrone, Marion and Harry, respectively. Burstyn plays Sara Goldfarb, Harry’s mom, a pathetically lonely woman hooked on chocolate, TV and diet pills. Set to a soundtrack by the Kronos Quartet, the film exposes the lie behind America’s childish optimism by dragging each of its characters through a hell of his or her own devising. By the end of the film, we’re shellshocked — as if we’ve just traveled through Dante’s Inferno with Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Coney Island’s parachute drop and Brighton Beach as circles of Hades.

“The dream I’m referring to in the book, of course, is the great American dream: prosperity, property, prestige, etc. And the fact that it’ll kill you dead. Striving for it is a disaster. Attaining it is a killer. It takes many forms, and the results are not happy. It’s not a feel-good thing,” Selby says.


“‘Requiem’ is about the cancer of that dream,” he continues. “Of course, there are a lot of people who are successful who work very hard. They’re not all George W. Bush. But the point is they’re misguided. That’s not what life is about. We believe, probably more than anywhere, that life is getting all this material stuff. It’s a case of misguided ambition and desire.”

Aronofsky’s cast members get chewed up by Selby’s meat grinder, and they end up, variously, dismembered, imprisoned, committed or performing in lesbian sex shows for crowds of salivating males. (Thankfully, the lithe Connelly handles this bit.) Supposedly due to these extremes, “Requiem” garnered an NC-17 from the MPAA. In a burst of rebelliousness, Artisan has decided to release the film to theaters unrated. Of course, all the kids have to do is pick up the new edition of “Requiem,” reissued by Thunder’s Mouth Press in time for the opening of the movie, and read the book themselves. Heaven forbid!

requiem
noun
(especially in the Roman Catholic Church) a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead.
"a requiem was held for the dead queen"

an act or token of remembrance.
"he designed the epic as a requiem for his wife"

I. Introit
Requiem aeternam 
dona eis, Domine, 
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion,
et tibi reddetur
votum in Jerusalem;
exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.
Requiem aeternam
dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn, O God, becometh Thee in Zion,
and a vow shall be paid to Thee
in Jerusalem;
O Lord, hear my prayer,
all flesh shall come to Thee.
Eternal rest
give to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.


Requiem for a Dream, 1978 Quotes

"The voice so filled with nostalgia that you could almost see the memories floating through the blue smoke, memories not only of music and joy and youth but perhaps of dreams."
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

"The sun was down which made it night time, but Harry and Tyrone were bugged with all the lights that stabbed and slashed and skewered their eyeballs...Daytime is a drag...you look forward to the night when you can get some relief from the assaults of the day and start to come alive."
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

"The voice was so bright and cheery and so enthusiastic and real that she turned toward the TV set to see if the voice was coming from there." 
"For the first time in memory she was unaware of the television."
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream 


“Obviously, I believe that to pursue the American Dream is not only futile but self-destructive because ultimately it destroys everything and everyone involved with it. By definition it must, because it nurtures everything except those things that are important: integrity, ethics, truth, our very heart and soul. WhyThe reason is simple: because Life/life is giving, not getting.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“Eventually we all have to accept full and total responsibility for our actions, everything we have done, and have not done. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“But you cant shut everyone out. I mean you have to have someone to love. . .someone to hold on to. . . someone--” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“I suspect there will never be a requiem for a dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn it's passing.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“The voice so filled with nostalgia that you could almost see the memories floating through the blue smoke, memories not only of music and joy and youth, but perhaps, of dreams. They listened to the music, each hearing it in his own way, feeling relaxed and a part of the music, a part of each other, and almost a part of the world. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“There's a sorrow and pain in everyone's life, but every now and then there's a ray of light that melts the loneliness in your heart and brings comfort like hot soup and a soft bed.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“For weeks Tyrone thought he was going to die any minute, and there were also times when he was afraid he wasnt going to die.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“Sometimes we have the absolute certainty there's something inside us that's so hideous and monstrous that if we ever search it out we won't be able to stand looking at it. But it's when we're willing to come face to face with that demon that we face the angel.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.


“...and the night was comfortably warm as the soft filtered light continued to push the darkness into the shadows as they held each other and kissed and pushed each others darkness into the corner, believing in each others light, each others dream.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“Life was not longer something to endure, but to live. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“There was a sky somewhere above the tops of the buildings, with stars and a moon and all the things there are in a sky, but they were content to think of the distant street lights as planets and stars. If the lights prevented you from seeing the heavens, then preform a little magic and change reality to fit the need. The street lights were now planets and stars and moon. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“He didnt know what was defeating him, but he sensed it was something he could not cope with, something that was far beyond his power to control or even at this point in time comprehend. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“But to believe that getting stuff is the purpose and aim of life is madness. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“i think thats one of the problems with the world today, nobody knows who they are. everyone is running around looking for an identity, or trying to borrow one, only they dont know it. they actually think they know who they are and hat they aretheyre just a bunch of schleppers...who have no idea what a search for personal truth and identity really is, which would be alright if they didn't get in your way, but they insist that they know everything and that if you dont live their way then youre not living properly and they want to take your space away...they actually want to somehow get into your space and live in it and change it or destroy it...they just cant believe that you know what you are doing and that you are happy and content with it. you see thats the problem right there. if they could see that then they wouldnt have to feel threatened and feel that they have to destroy you before you destroy them. they just cant get it through their philistine heads that you are happy where you are and dont want to have anything to do with them. my space is mine and thats enough for me.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“Sometimes it seems to stand still. Like you’re in a bag and you can’t get out and somebody’s always telling you that it will get better with time and time just seems to stand still and laugh at you and your pain.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“All the energy of their frustration and fear going into their laughter.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“They held each other and kissed and pushed each others' darkness into the corner, believing in each others' light, each others' dream.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“They luxuriated in the feeling of deep and all pervading satisfaction, a feeling of knowing absolutely that all was well with the world and them and that the world was not only their oyster it was also their linguine with clam sauce. Not only were all things possible, but all things were theirs. ” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“Everything about it was wrong. Thats why it worked so good.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.

“... I started to die 36 hours before I was born, so dying was a way of life for me.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.

“I was sitting at home and had a profound experience. I experienced, in all of my Being, that someday I was going to die, and it wouldn't be like it had been happening, almost dying but somehow staying alive, but I would just die! And two things would happen right before I died: I would regret my entire life; I would want to live it over again. This terrified me. The thought that I would live my entire life, look at it and realize I blew it forced me to do something with my life.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.


“I knew the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.

“I think the function of suffering is to let me know that my perception is skewed; what I’m doing is judging natural events in such a way that I am creating suffering within myself. For instance, you have pain over certain conditions, certain situations that occur. And if you just say ‘ok, here I am, I’m going to experience the pain,’ you don’t suffer. The resistance and the degree of the resistance to the natural phenomenon of life causes tremendous suffering.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.

“thats why you cant be worried about the world. theyll just do you in anyway. you can't depend on them because sooner or later theyll turn on you or just disapear and leave you there alone.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream


“However they may have felt when they left they were now committed, they had passed the point of no return.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“Why did you start to write?
I left at 15.. I started to write becase I was taken off a ship from Germany when I was 18. They said I wouldn't live for 6 months.
I'd been given up for dead many times and I just didn't want to waste my life. I had what I now realize was a spiritual experience.
I realized that I would die,
and that just before I would die,
two things would happen.
number one, I would regret my entire life.
and number two, I would want to live my life over again.
and then I would die.
and that terrified me.
to think that I would live my entire life, look at it, and say oh..I blew it. was such a terrifying thought
that I bought a typewriter
I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I bought a typewriter.
but that is what got me to start writing, was
I did not want to waste my life
I wanted to, and I HAD to, do something with my life” 
Hubert Selby Jr.


“she gradually became aware of how dumb the damn show was she was watching and she stared at it, wondering how in the hell they could put anything so absurdly infantile and intellectually and esthetically insulting on television, and she started asking herself over and over how they could do it, what kind of nonsense this is, and she continued to stare and shake her head, more and more of her mind being absorbed by the absurdity she was watching, suddenly leaning back on the couch as a section of the show ended and a commercial came blaringly on and she stared at them too, wondering what sort of cretins watch this garbage and are influenced by it and actually go out and buy those things, and she shook her head, unbelievable, it is simply unbelievable, how can they manage to make so many obnoxious commercials, one right after the other?” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“...and he just sat back and stared at the tube, almost interested in what was happening, trying to find the ability to believe in that lie so he could believe the one within.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream

“But I knew that someday I was going to die. And just before I died two things would happen; Number 1: I would regret my entire life. Number 2: I would want to live my life over again.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.

“Time has to pass. But sometimes its so goddamn long. Sometimes it just seems to drag and drag and weigh a ton. And hang on you like a monkey. Like its going to suck the blood out of you. Or squeeze your guts out. And sometimes it flies. And is gone somewhere, somehow, before you know it was even here. As if time is only here to make you miserable. That's the only reason for time. To squeeze you. Crush you. To tie you up in knots and make you fucking miserable.” 
Hubert Selby Jr., The Room

“I need more than the streets. I don’t want to be a floating crap game all my life. I want to be something . . . anything.” 
Hubert Selby Jr.


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