Samuel R. Delany's "The Orchid"
September 19, 2013 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Samuel R. Delany's 1971 film The Orchid is on YouTube. According to K. Leslie Steiner (aka Samuel R. Delany), when it "Primiered [sic] at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago that September (Delany himself was not present), it caused a riot. Outraged fans tried to shout the film off and even pulled down the screen." Sci-fi writer Scott Edelman explains why: "Imagine that you're 16 and collapsed in the film room of an early '70s Phil Seuling Comic-Con, dazed from a day storming the dealers room and attending panels. You're with your friends enjoying Star Trek bloopers and installments of old Captain Marvel serials and maybe even Bambi Meets Godzilla ... when all of a sudden you're staring up at Bernie Wrightson's junk!" And he explains how you can get a much better copy of the film, along with a doc about Delany.
posted by goatdog (44 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh wow cool! Thanks for posting this, although my Delany-sense tells me that I should not watch it at work.
posted by Frowner at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, I thought you meant Wild Orchid was on youtube. I have fond memories of this Carrie Otis and Jacqueline Bisset classic. Oh, yes, I suppose Mickey Rourke was in it too.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2013


Could I get a quick disambiguation on the word "junk" in this context? I'm at work and I'm vaguely curious.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2013


Could I get a quick disambiguation on the word "junk" in this context?

Completely nude, nonsexual (flaccid), hippy romping.
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2013


Could I get a quick disambiguation on the word "junk" in this context?

Are you, uh, familiar with Mr. Delany's work?
posted by louche mustachio at 1:38 PM on September 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Frowner knows what's up.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


If there aren't any close ups of bitten off finger nails, I'll be disappointed.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:42 PM on September 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


There is a great deal of full frontal prancing and also some nekkid monster things.


Overall, less peen than I expected.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:43 PM on September 19, 2013


There is a great deal of full frontal prancing and also some nekkid monster things.

Outrageous! LET'S TEAR THIS PLACE APAAAAART!
posted by Hoopo at 1:46 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Overall, less peen than I['d hoped for].

Me, too.

To be fair, I wanted up to half of part 3.
posted by MoxieProxy at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never heard of Mr. Delany before, why doesn't his wikipedia page mention the film?
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:58 PM on September 19, 2013


I would just like to mention that one of the best things I saw in college was a picture of (one of my very favorite writers) Mr. Delaney in a leather bondage suit holding a hairless cat at a party from SF in the 70s. So I am both fascinated and pretty sure I won't watch this at work.
posted by freebird at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


People were just outraged because it's goddamned awful.
posted by xmutex at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2013


holding a hairless cat at a party from SF in the 70s

<stevemartin>Now this doesn't happen very often...</stevemartin>
posted by zippy at 2:42 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I look down at my groin -- at the barren place where once there was a golden bracelet -- and I wonder where it is...
posted by benzenedream at 2:45 PM on September 19, 2013


This is just not a very good movie.
posted by Mister_A at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


wasn't kid's knife named the orchid?

but i've figured out the plot - hippies dose square man with acid - weirdness happens - he finds terror, joy and meaning in inexplicable archetypes and then discovers true horror in the banal work experience of a man with a microphone - he escapes into solipsistic states of rage, wonder and peace and finds it is all under his control, while the hippies look on approvingly

not a great movie by any means - but a very good time capsule of the 70s alternative culture
posted by pyramid termite at 3:37 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Somewhat-unrelated note : I tried reading Dhalgren, got maybe 50 pages into it and gave up. Even for me, it seemed kind of disjointed -- and I like nonlinear stuff like Pynchon, Murakami, Bolano, DeLillo, et al. Should I give it another shot? If I do, what's a good way to think about it while I'm reading it?
posted by evil otto at 3:41 PM on September 19, 2013


i would strongly suggest that you DON'T think about it when you're reading it - but it's a fairly interesting portrait of underground america in the 60s (and 70s), which was fairly disjointed
posted by pyramid termite at 3:46 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had Mr. Delaney as a professor in college. He was like a weird, funny, engaging, totally cool, gay, black Santa Claus.
posted by xingcat at 3:54 PM on September 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Part of the attraction in Dhalgren for me was unwrapping all the layers -- there are at least two, possibly three, stories told by unreliable narrators in a place where society (and possibly time and space) are breaking down. Each scene is like a puzzle, but you don't know the picture and they might be from several different puzzles.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:56 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know it marks me as pretty simplex but I still like Babel-17/Empire Star the best.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:21 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It just got all Ligeti up in here.
posted by sonascope at 4:56 PM on September 19, 2013


I've been waiting for The Polymath to hit Netflix for long enough that it's probably time to admit it never will and just send Taylor some money. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by RogerB at 5:08 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]




I tried to watch that. You know what? It was the sound-track that made it unbearable. Not just the horrid atonal music...but ..the intonations and the line readings...even the static of the silences. All the squeaks, the absence of any rhythm or any semblance of natural environmental sound... if I was forced to watch this, with no context or warning, I could understand how rioting could happen. I could understand how this film could create an agitating environment. To use the parlance of the film's times, it's a bad trip.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 5:57 PM on September 19, 2013


i liked the soundtrack - it was musically interesting - and seemed to add something to the film

and most of it was not atonal or without rhythm - there's definite tonality there and rhythm
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on September 19, 2013


This is so, so, so, so so so Sixties. It reminds me of the things we were given to watch in Unitarian Sunday School in 1968 (albeit with more nudity). Come, repressed old man! The hippies are on your trail! Release your repressed uptight white inner self and speak to the hippies with their papier mache masks and VW Beetles! Resistance is futile! We were stoned when we made this and you should be stoned when you watch it, so that our mindspaces are synchronized!

Heavy.

This movie is also pretty terrible, except that I think one of the women is Marilyn Hacker, which makes it better.
posted by jokeefe at 6:22 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually the music was the most interesting part, imo. The music would be worth listening to in another context; the movie is and will only ever be an artifact of its time.
posted by jokeefe at 6:24 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tried reading Dhalgren, got maybe 50 pages into it and gave up.

I suggest you pick up Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand. The plot is more linear, the world invention is quite intense... Well, worlds invention, because several entirely different cultures are explored... In fact, part of the point of the book is that cultures can be entirely different and alien, and yet with a minimum of context one can come to understand them even if one is unfamiliar with their practices and expressions...

It's a book which has haunted me for decades. I return to it regularly. It may not be considered a masterpiece like Dhalgren is, but I enjoyed reading it much more.

(I could also recommend The Mad Man.... but for a lot of reasons which only are clear if you've actually read the book, I won't.)
posted by hippybear at 7:14 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I tried reading Dhalgren, got maybe 50 pages into it and gave up.

I started it in high school, and was about half way through, feeling like it was deeply significant but couldn't quite put my finger on it, was talking about it with a girl I thought was very smart and she pointed out the protagonist was insane. This scared me and I stopped right there, and have thought to start over occasionally but am still a bit scared.
posted by sammyo at 7:26 PM on September 19, 2013


BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:34 PM on September 19, 2013


I suggest you pick up Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand.

Don't. It's an incomplete story as the sequel has so far not appeared yet.

To get the Delany bug, try Nova, The Einstein Intersection, Triton, perhaps some of his earlier, more conventional works like the Jewels of Aptor, The Ballad of Beta-2, Babel 17 or the short story collection Driftglass.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:35 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to K. Leslie Steiner (aka Samuel R. Delany)

I feel bad for not knowing Delany was not his real name.
I have (and I just measured) the length of my wrist to my elbow in unread Delany books.

Babel 17 has been my one - and only - intersection with his work.
It is not a good book.

For a long time I snapped up and and all cheap SF Masterworks or Fantasy Masterworks when I saw them cheap. Babel 17 convinced me that was not a winning plan.

It's not a long book, but my god was it turgid.

Don't. It's an incomplete story as the sequel has so far not appeared yet.

Thanks for the warning! I have that one. But in 30 years he hasn't completed the promised sequel?
Woah.
I guess Delany is really not our bitch.
posted by Mezentian at 5:25 AM on September 20, 2013


An article by Frederik Pohl on publishing Dhalgren.

*pours out a 40*
Man, even the comments are worth reading.
posted by Mezentian at 5:44 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't. It's an incomplete story as the sequel has so far not appeared yet.

Thanks for the warning! I have that one. But in 30 years he hasn't completed the promised sequel?


He's spoken and written about why the sequel has never been completed -- the end of the 8 year relationship which had inspired him to write the story plus the AIDS crisis drastically changing NYC gay culture.

At this point, I nearly feel like the lack of the sequel is part of the experience of reading the book. The way the book ends is very similar to real life -- how you can have an intense experience meeting someone who you simply never see again.

Don't let the lack of a sequel stop you from reading the book. I think the experience of this one volume is worthwhile.
posted by hippybear at 6:03 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


plus the AIDS crisis drastically changing NYC gay culture.

Wait, he was black and gay in the 1960s/70s and not hiding it? And he has an impressive beard? (No pun intended). And he wrote for Wonder Woman.
So much I did not know.

I'll read Stars..., same as I will bloody Joanna Russ' books, I just might not enjoy the experience.
posted by Mezentian at 6:10 AM on September 20, 2013


I would say that Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is very highly recommended if you are interested in something kinda challenging but thought that Dhalgren was a bit too challenging. Stars... is probably my favourite Delaney book.

For those with more conventional tastes, some of his early novels and novellas are in the more classic Sci-Fi mode. Empire Star is a Luke-Skywalkeresque tale about a farm boy from a backwater village who eventually goes on to lead the defense against a galactic invasion fleet. This story would probably make a swell generic SF blockbuster project someday.
posted by ovvl at 6:18 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey, did you know that I just taught a community ed class about Samuel Delany? I mean, it was sort of a "lab class" for me and I learned a lot about both Delany's work and the best ways to approach it. However!

There's a lot of ways to approach Delany. I don't think I'd start with Dhalgren or Stars unless I already enjoyed experimental writing and had a lot of SF background or just liked jumping into the deep end of the pool. Some folks do!

But if you don't, here are some thoughts:

1. You could start with the short stories. These are very New Wave with a lot of emphasis on characterization, landscape and language - and thus they're very 19th century. If you like SF stories that do a lot of worldbuilding via narrative and that focus on characters and social systems, you could do worse than starting with the short stories in Aye, And Gomorrah. I especially like "The Star Pit" and "Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stones".

2. You could start with some of Delany's memoirs and essays, which would introduce you to his tone and his concerns. His memoirs are great to read - they really stand on their own and you don't need to be interested in his other work to enjoy them. The classic one is The Motion of Light In Water, which deals with his childhood and young adulthood and has a lot about memory, the sixties, Auden and his relationship with Marilyn Hacker. I also like Heavenly Breakfast, which is a bit harder to find and deals with his time in a commune and rock band in New York in the Sixties. There is a really super short essay in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw about his travels to Greece which just opened up my understanding of his work. There's also Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, which is a great reflection on labor, sexuality and gentrification. Also, he's got some online essays and interviews - "Racism and Science Fiction" is one I've used twice in class.

3. I am not nearly as familiar with the sort of classic SF middle-period stuff - The Einstein Intersection, Babel-17 and so on. They won a bunch of awards! You would probably like them!

4. I actually started reading Delany by reading the Neveryona books, because that was what the library had. These are sort of reconfigured, continental-theory-ized sword and sorcery...The idea is, there's this society on the borders of a sea kind of like the Mediterranean, surrounded by hinterlands of varying degrees of trade and cultural integration with the metropole. And the city has had this recent civil war and upheaval, at the same time as there are huge changes happening in terms of trade, invention and culture. Plus there are the mysterious women of the Western Crevasse, who carry crooked swords and are actually kind of annoying, and there are the dragons that can sort of fly, sometimes, and the hill and shore people, and Old Venn, who invented green paint and fountains and a certain kind of bridge and who lives among the shore people in seclusion for reasons of her own. And there's slavery, and the mines. The story of Gorgik, a mine slave who - through fortune, struggle and intelligence gains his freedom and heads a guerrilla liberation army - runs through the books. These are actually great stories to read if you want to become painlessly familiar with certain bedrock concerns of postmodernism. Start with the book that contains "The Tale of Old Venn", I forget which one that is.

5. Or you could start with The Mad Man which really isn't science fiction at all but which Delany alleges to be porn. Really, it's a serious murder mystery that's also about sex. I mean, Delany writes what he describes as porn, and it certainly has a lot of sex in it so it's pornographic in that sense, but it's really basically just Delany writing about sex with the same thoughtfulness, attention to embodiment and political and social sensibilities that he brings to his other writing. Not to knock the regular, idealized kind of porn! But that's not what Delany writes. I like The Mad Man a lot. It's pretty sad, though.

Honestly, if you're not familiar with Delany, my personal recommendation would be The Motion of Light In Water. People don't listen when I say this because they want science fiction right away and they don't understand what a great book it is.

Vis-a-vis Russ, if you think you don't like her work then you should start with the short stories in Souls. She didn't really like the title story, but I personally defy anyone who likes SF (and doesn't just like, say, space opera or Warhammer novels but who likes a reasonable variety) not to like that one. Or start with the Alyx short stories - those run the gamut from sword/sorcery through regular SF through a really great classic New Wave/Feminist short story called "The Second Inquisition" which is so fucking sad that I feel like crying just thinking about it.

The Country You Have Never Seen, which is a posthumous collection of her reviews and some minor critical essays, is also great if you like reading reviews. I love reading reviews and I routinely take that book with me as airport/travel reading even though I've been through it a couple of times already.

The thing is, most people start with The Female Man. I adore that book, and indeed, I adored large chunks of it even on my first confused reading of it back in, like, 1997. But it confused the hell out of me and if I hadn't thought big chunks of it were funny, I would never have reread it and gotten into it.
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on September 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


The only worthwhile part of this film is the music.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2013


Triton is the book; the height of Delany's work as far as I'm concerned. I plodded through Dhalgren and Stars, as well: I like the short stories a great deal, but more for language and cleverness than content. Nova was wonderful, but it's nothing compared to the powerhouse of Triton. The gender theory which underpins it, the character study of Bron-- a "garden-variety 20th century misogynist"* dropped into a world of near-complete sexual freedom-- constitute, again, the finest writing he's done. The fact that he manages to create this world and position Bron unhappily within in, and then show us bit by bit why he is unhappy, and the unreasonable-- and reasonable!--nature of his unhappiness is just dizzingly skillful. I've been disappointed with everything he's written since.

Also, in a perfect world, I'd want to be The Spike.

*Remembered from a critical essay about Triton which I'm sorry I don't have time to source properly right now
posted by jokeefe at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2013


And Joanna Russ-- I couldn't possibly start to work out what she means to me in a comment field which I'm typing in during a lull at work. Her work forever shaped my view of the world.
posted by jokeefe at 9:54 AM on September 20, 2013


Ahhh, Dhalgren. I was 14 when I read it and, well, I blame a lot of my issues on reading that during my formative years. Even for a precocious reader it was hard but I kept coming back to it. At that age porn will draw you through dense plot. That was one dog-eared book.

It's been a long time but my memory of the book is "grunge" - like a Mad Max truck crashing into 1990's Seattle but the truck is packed with folks from the Castro District.
posted by skepticbill at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2013


I feel bad for not knowing Delany was not his real name.

It is; Steiner is a pen name/persona.

As for Dhalgren, it took me about three times to get past page 50, but once I did, it was pretty smooth sailing (although the last 50 pages become pretty disjointed as well). I have meant to reread it for years (and I've read and reread a lot of his other work), but there are so many books.
posted by Casuistry at 6:51 AM on September 23, 2013


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