Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bret Easton Ellis’s Real Art Form Is the Tweet

That’s a tweet from Bret Easton Ellis, a thing that, as an entity unto itself, may have less valence than most molecules in the universe. And yet it’s a well-crafted ­almost-sentence, a 140-character snip (complete with missing words) of Beat poetry, which flows out of Ellis in an endless roll. These days, instead of writing books—as he says, he isn’t working on a novel now, or even notes for one—he can stir up trouble with just a flick at his keyboard. It takes him “30 seconds to one minute,” or so he claims, to beam out pop-cultural observations, L.A. vignettes, and world-weary ­little outbursts, sometimes featuring his boyfriend (“the 26-year-old”) to a respectable 340,000 followers and the media at large, which often picks them up as gossip items. “I just have these random thoughts, go to bed, and then next day it’s sort of world news,” Ellis says, waving a hand.

Twitter mixes literature (of an admittedly minimal sort) with performance, and it’s perfect for Ellis, who has always been, when you think about it, more of a conceptual artist than an author. The work isn’t beside the point, but it isn’t the whole point. In this new métier, each part of his persona is on view: satirist, nihilist, glamour guy, exhibitionist, knee-jerk contrarian, self-pitying cokehead, and a few other things, all of which make some laugh with glee and others avert their eyes in boredom, and even more glance back in spite of their revulsion, wondering, as one of his followers did the other day: “Is Bret Easton Ellis dead inside?” Indeed, on Twitter, just as it was with Less Than Zero almost 30 years ago, that’s still the question. It may or may not be a question he asks himself—that, too, is part of the show. Ellis has worked hard to make himself a pop-cultural monster—“monster” has been one of his nicknames—then denies that he’s anything but a middle-aged homebody.

Anyway, a quick refresher on the particulars of his tweet: James Deen is the porn star he’s cast alongside Lindsay ­Lohan in the new movie The Canyons, catching them both in a typical Ellis low-culture embrace. (Ellis has long been in touch with Deen’s talents through the “many private porn sites that I am a member of,” he says). Lohan, in her decline, is basically an Ellis character, like she sprang from his mind, and The Canyons is a dark, soapy thriller with a great ­tagline—“It’s not the Hills … ”—and production values that are actually much higher than the ones in the trailers playing on various gossip sites on the web. There’s a love hexagon among twentysomethings in L.A. who are bored by each other, bored by the Chateau Marmont, bored by sex, even with hired third parties—in other words, not a deviation from his other work. Ellis was a bit offended by The New York Times Magazine cover story about the film, which said that he didn’t like the final product. “That was wrong, as was the fact that we were a bunch of losers trying to get our careers on track,” he says, referring to himself and Paul Schrader, the director of the movie.

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