Qompendium is an evolving and ever-changing platform for philosophy, art, culture and science, represented by a series of print publications: magazines, books and monographs. Furthermore, it is enriched by a gallery concept, a work shop and a fast-moving online portal.
CS Leigh is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of twelve books including "The Annotated Spectacle", countless monographs notably "Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory Works 1982-1993" published by Abrams, and has written for most major arts and culture magazines over the years and is currently a contributor to A Magazine, Sight & Sound, Kino and The Believer. He is the Editor of Syntax which was launched in 2009.
His films include "Far from China" with Marianne Faithfull and Lambert Wilson, "Process" starring Beatrice Dalle and Guillaume Depardieu which was featured in more than 35 international film festivals including the Berlin Film Festival where it was in the Official Selection and Edinburgh where it was nominated for the Michael Powell Award for British Film of the Year, and "See you at Regis Debray" about the month Andreas Baader went on the run in Paris in 1969. Leigh has collaborated with Suede, John Cale, and Cat Power on performances and film soundtracks. He is currently completing "Nobody fucks Nico" about the Warhol actress and Velvet Underground singer.
CS Leigh and Kimberly Lloyd in a conversation about the adventures of publishing and film making.
Photography below: Preview to Snytax# 3,
Screen shots of diverse CS Leigh films
Kimberly Lloyd: A creative mind's dreams come true when he is able to direct movies, to be able to visualize ideas on screen. I have always thought and dreamt of doing so but ended up in creating print publications. And here you are doing exactly the opposite – from movie to print, to writing and publishing. Tell me more. How did this happen? What made you do it?
CS Leigh: First I should say I have worked in print before and I edited and had books published in the past. Also more importantly I still make films. I will never stop doing that because it is my greatest passion. On the other hand I find the process of making films difficult on many levels. I find it a rather harrowing experience.
About two years ago or so I decided I wanted to make a book on the subject of Spectacle which I worked on for a year though the idea had been in my mind for many years. I wanted to engage with artists and writers and ideas in a different way than I do making films and I love books so much that it seemed like the ideal vehicle for that project. I wanted to open up my process again.
That was "The Annotated Spectacle" and it came out last year in the Fall. It was supposed to be one book. The response was very good and the publishers asked me to continue the project and in the way that things seem to happen with me the project expanded and we are doing all kinds of other things now too.
If for some reason I had to choose books or film the decision would easily be film. I feel cinema runs through my veins although I want to make fewer films and work longer on them and try to be outside the system without being invisible. This is not easy to achieve because my films cost a lot to make and earn next to nothing. I'm not the man to make a film for £100,000. Not at all.
True, creating movies is a costly endeavor but so it is in the independent scene if you are going for quality and not quantity. Was it easier, more fun, and enlightening to think in written words, spreads and pages? Or was it a limitation in a way?
Everything has limitations. I try not to focus on the limitations. The most "fun" part is that making the whole book takes about a year which in film is the time it takes to research the first idea. It's also a big kick to have the books in reader’s hands. I was recently in Selfridge’s in London and I watched someone buy a copy of Syntax #2 and it was a great feeling. I can't explain exactly why that is.
Yes, it is our ego responding and our vanity calling … vanity publishing is what a marketer threw at my face back in 2001 and a year later he wanted to book ads, and now he collects zines. Your editor’s note in Syntax is of great joy to me. To quote you: “Too much representation, too much acting, too much posturing, too much hairspray, too much make up, too much Botox, too much bullshit, too much fraud …” So what is “Too Much Night” about?
That's very kind of you to say and as I admire what you are doing very much it means all the more. I think "Too Much Night" is about being fed up with all the bullshit and all the fake dazzle that is painted over everything in the culture industries nowadays and the way that most people accept or even protect that. It's actually something of a quote from Pat Cleaveland the legendary model who was talking about the seventies and eighties in Paris. I extrapolated the last words of her much longer and insightful quote. I use it in a very different way.
In a way, I can relate to your note very much. When, I was working on Qompendium I saw too much of everything everywhere in the publishing and design scene. I wanted to work out a magazine that is silent in its design but strong in content, not necessarily following the typical magazine maker’s dogma. On page 45 of Syntax you have an interview with Pontus Frankenstein and he says: “I believe a book must be like a giant Kinder egg.” What do think about the current publishing scene especially all these magazines on the market?
I think most of them are a waste of trees. On the one hand you have all of these faux fashion magazines which are about gaining access and on the other you have the "Me and My Penis" magazines which are all about who the editor has slept with or wants to sleep with or pretends to have slept with. Sex is a great subject though I prefer real porn to that kind of second rate exploitation which is tedious. I don't use my work as a tool with which to realise my social life. I try to use my social life to engender and encourage my work. I don't care if I'm invited to the party. I'm 45 years old and I have a routine which is outside that.
I haven't bought a fashion magazine in twenty years except for one issue of Bazaar Italia because Kirstin Mcmennamy was in it and most of the ones I get for free I never open. The only magazines or publications I read religiously are the music magazine The Wire, TLS, and usually The New Statesman. I like Encens and Vestoj. I think Monocle now feels like a magazine worth buying. It manages to converge the web and the in-your-hands experience very well. I don't read every issue though when I do I am glad I took the time. I also enjoy the How To Spend It supplement in the FT a lot which is not something I would have imagined. I read a lot of newspapers online as well. Maybe ten a day and certainly I read a lot of books. Reading is the closest thing I get to a holiday.
At last! Some one says it. I know exactly what you are referring to and I sometimes can’t even believe they are successful with pulling wool over people’s eyes. Unfortunately, this is the case in every business even in the film and music industry.
I haven't bought a fashion magazine in twenty years except for one issue of Bazaar Italia because Kirstin Mcmennamy was in it and most of the ones I get for free I never open. The only magazines or publications I read religiously are the music magazine The Wire, TLS, and usually The New Statesman. I like Encens and Vestoj. I read a lot of newspapers online as well. Maybe ten a day and certainly I read a lot of books. Reading is the closest thing I get to a holiday.
And notable contributors such as Ralph Rucci, Aj Abualrub, Joachim Hoge, David Berridge, Justin Gabbard, Jo Mitchell you have lined up. Was it easy for you to do so?
I would say natural rather than easy. I admire great work and I seek it out. Even when we're at the printers with a book I'm adding content to the last second. I knew a lot of these people personally before and the others I went out and looked for. That was neither difficult nor easy.
Do you call or drop by with these lines: “hey, I am doing a new book?” Independent magazines are not always appreciated at fashion houses of big names with big budgets.
I have to say the designers have been very kind and supportive to Syntax from the first moment. I know how to make my case. As an editor or publisher you have to know how to get the content you want. I have no complaints. The New Yorkers are more difficult though to be honest my interest in fashion is not very New York. We do have stories coming up with New York designers though. I love Paris fashion. I would like to work more with London designers in future. Syntax #4 will be a London issue though it will still have a lot of Paris designers in it though probably shot in London. London is a magnificent if difficult city
Is Syntax a personal journey? It should have a soundtrack to listen to while going through the book. I choose Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Smoochy and Illustrated Musical Encyclope to listen to. Ever thought of composing music for it?
That's lovely. I think your way is better. You created your own soundtrack and I love that. I have a film with Sakamoto in the works. He is brilliant. I don't think Syntax is my personal journey or diary as others have suggested. I think it is a way of exchanging and sharing ideas and it is also about a belief in the power of print. I never thought we would be selling out the complete print run of Syntax and we have done on both editions. I thought I would have boxes of books in my living room for the next twenty years and I'd use them as tables.
Oh, those kinds of nightmares haunted me too. But I too believe in the power of print and know that there are people who appreciated what we are doing.
In your essay “When Arthouse Film becomes Pornography” you make some clear points on the culture vultures of today’s entertainment industry and society. Is this essay your official letter to the film industry?
I'm not sure that I would look at it that way. Like Popeye "I Yam What I Yam" if you know what I mean. I speak my mind. I don't care who likes it or doesn't like it. I think being in opposition can be interesting in criticism though in creating work I think being idealistic is probably the better and bolder option.
There are dividers (black pages) with intriguing quotes. Are they yours?
Some are quotes and some are mine. They are a set of secret annotations.
Are you happy about your print manifestation? I am informed that Syntax Number 3 is in preparation. What secrets can you give away? For Qompendium, I can say that we will need more pages, more philosophy, more CS Leigh and that Syntax has inspired us contentwise.
Again your words are very kind. Syntax #3 will be out in the Fall and will have a Film theme though told from a very unconventional perspective. I would like to tell you more though until it's actually printed I can't because it will undoubtedly mutate in to something else as we come closer to being a book.
You must be familiar with Ayn Rand's Magnum Opus "Atlas Shrugged" and you must have heard that some independents are working on it as a film. In the late 1970s, NBC had plans to bring Atlas Shrugged to television as one of the multi-part mini-series popular at the time. Ayn Rand wanted Farrah Fawcett to star, but the project never materialized. In late 2008, the book was on the bestseller list again due to the financial crisis. Many Americans needed moral support by reading her work again they got their dosis of comfort.
What do you think about this? Is the time right? Should it ever be turned to a movie? How would you wish this film should be executed? Any suggestions? What do you think about classic material and modern films of these materials?
Well it's an amazing question for a number of reasons. I think bad books make better films than good books though with "Atlas Shrugged" you can't really test the concept. I'm still not sure if it's a good book or a dreadful book. It's my mother's favourite novel and I read it for the first time when I was a teenager and I loved it. More recently I read it again and I thought it was terrible almost laughably so. Still it is a great object and for a filmmaker it provides many challenging goals worth taking on. I never heard that Farrah Fawcett was involved. The last name I remember was Angelina Jolie. I recently read in the trades that it was actually in production and I wondered who had finally managed it. I think it should be turned in to a great massive film good or bad and I think the timing is always right for bold audacious films. The film I might make it of it would be re-titled "John Galt" and it would totally be told from "his" perspective. I think a film like "There will be Blood" might also provide a certain clue as to how to make such a film work. Another idea would be to give it to Bela Tarr and hope he actually reads it before he makes a film out of it which I mean in the most complimentary way. What's missing nowadays is major ambition in work. I don't mean ambition to be famous. I mean ambition to do something that can't be done or that no one sane would do. For years my friends used to ask playfully "When will you make "Perfume" in to a film?" which made me laugh because I never much liked that book. I guess I would like to make "Atlas Shrugged" to make my mother happy though my quest for the unfilmable rund more in the direction of "The White Hotel". When I was a teenager I wrote to DM Thomas and said I wanted to make a film out of his book and he very kindly replied with the utmost seriousness. Another great one is "Pale Fire".
Atlas Shrugged was written by a unique and exceptional mind, yet it was written by some one who adored Victor Hugo's epic style and was sligthly caught in the times of 1920 romance. I hope that her book will be matrialized in a contemporary way not giving us another "Gone with the Wind" meets "Titanic" meets "Tamara de Lempicka" movie. I hope it turns out to be a movie that fascinates people by communicating the essence of Rand's philosophy: reason, freedom, individual rights and capitalism as a moral system. Yes, it is true that Angelina Jolie is booked for Dagny Taggart. I personally would have wished it was some one else but from a marketing point of view she is apporpriate, as she might drive some people to watch it. Let the masses watch it, if they are too lazy to read the book and picture a movie with their imagination. Yes, I also think that John Galt would be a better title and having him as a narrator would be captivating the audience to the screens.
Do you prefer reading a book over watching the film of the book?
I don't think there is any relationship between the two and I like one as much as the other as long as it's good or interesting or compelling. The problem is most of the time the directors who get their hands on great books or well loved books don't have any relationship to the material beyond their ability to get the film financed.
CS, we should do another conversation for the print edition of Qompendium ... Thank you very much for this great hour.
Photography below: Preview to Snytax# 3,
Screen shots of diverse CS Leigh films