Art and Culture #13: The Brilliance of Bret Easton Ellis

22 Feb

While this is my 13th Art and Culture article, there is a writer that has always stuck with me since I have been reading and writing, and is influential to me in my fiction career. Bret Easton Ellis, is a misnomer in the world of literature. He’s not a very prolific writer, but from Less than Zero, Rules of Attraction The Informers, American Psycho, Glamorama, Lunar Park, Imperial Bedrooms, and his first collection of nonfiction, White. As he is known for writing screenplays like the Canyons, and he directed a web series, The Deleted. 

Ellis is a minor character in the world of literature, but still as important as any like Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut. He’s cool, calm, and rather hilariously deals with millennials with a shrug of “sissy be damned” attitude that makes him a legend in my eyes. With his words to disaffected liberals in 2016 was “chill out” it was only going to make him infamous to my generation, the sissy millennials. But I see his importance, and his skills of puppetry, moving tweets with ease, but made him famous, in a new way.

Born in Los Angeles, 1964, he wanted to be a musician, but it wasn’t going to happen, as his grandfather paid his way to go to Arts school in Vermont, Bennington, where he developed his writing style, and even helped him create his own courses, and a curriculum that helped him write his novel, Less than Zero. Apparently the “attrition rate of freshmen and sophomores dwindle” as many can’t handle the freedom Bennington gives students to help them write there novels (WTF with Marc Maron – Bret Easton Ellis. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bW-vF2103sI&t=1883s. Found Feb. 22, 2021.)  

            His biographical work, is small, but deserves attention. 

Less than Zero, published in 1985, a book despised by his publisher, Simon and Schuster, “if there’s an audience for coke snorting cock sucking zombies, let’s publish the damn thing” which at 21, sold more than 65,000 copies, and was made into a film, by the same name. Starring Robert Downey Jr, Jamie Gertz, and Andrew McCarthy, that didn’t represent the nihilistic tone of the book. The book details the life of three characters, Julian, Blair, Clay, (through the novel lens is captured) are all nihilistic, and represent a hedonistic lifestyle long evaporated but crystalized in the book, have no real arc to any character, and represents a confessional story telling approach. 

With the original book a thousand page tomb, which written on a “crystal meth binge” was paired down as he was kicking crystal meth. It’s almost a miracle that the book was popular at all, but it shows that editing is just as deserved an art form, as writing is.

But being resourceful and cunning, Bret offered up his next work, Rules of Attraction in 1987, which Sean Batemen stars, (and all characters from his work reprise his work later on). It detailed a group of kids in a small fictional college town, Camden, where everyone is depraved, and the most noticeable detail is that each character is allowed there time in the book, all through the first person. Since Less than Zero was a sleeper hit. 

But the book that set him apart and would later haunt him. 

            It makes sense that in the modern culture that American Psycho was born in the early 1990’s, but curating in 1980 Wall Street Yuppie culture. Patrick Batemen, a Wall Street Yuppie in 1980’s New York, “wants to fit in” but in his rage, starts murdering innocent people. While many know the film version starring Christian Bale, it was directed by Mary Harron and written by Guinevere Turner, which disproved the misogyny claims promoted by feminists in the 1980’s.

            Some could say that was Bret being “cancelled” before the word even existed. Also, famously he said, “A depiction of misogyny is not an act of misogyny.” (TimesTalks: Bret Easton Ellis. The New York Times. April. 18th, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDQ-dkEG0PY&t=2965s. Found on Feb. 22, 2021). Which is true.

The Informers (1994), was a short work of fiction, collected from his earlier writing, “as it was in my contract.” It to me is the weak link in Bret’s career, but it serves as a work of collected essays that have some bright moments, with a vampire making an appearance. It’s kind of a middle ground appreciation for all who love Ellis, and it’s not really my favorite, in his long bibliographic career.

            Glamorama (1998) is a book to me that I didn’t come to like until later on, and see the brilliance in Bret’s words, and as a first person narration, still amazes me to this day. His attempt to write a thriller is quite admirable, as it combined the best of Bret’s visionary voice with a “mockumentary” type of attitude as the main character gets deeper and deeper into the mysterious world he can’t help falling in. The action scenes surrounding a terrorist group are grand and the world surrounding him, gets weirder. It definitely deserves another read, and one of my personal favorites now, just like Rules of Attraction.

            Lunar Park (2004), which details a character named Bret, that is an exercise in writing a horror story but also reflected parts of Bret’s life while using fictional elements to help tell his story. While it may not be controversial, it helped me during a dark time in my life, (when I checked myself into a nut house) as all fiction books can do. It covers Bret’s life, but also deals with him having a family, while the past Bret ran away from haunts him in more horror movie manifestations. Lunar Park is often the books critics loved, as it dealt with his hatred for his father, and how he had to change in order to save his family, but would end in such a bittersweet way, spreading his father’s ashes out into the ocean. The ending is the most moving of his oeuvre, and represented a retirement novel, for Bret Easton Ellis.

            In Imperial Bedrooms (2010), which served as the official sequel to Less than Zero, wasn’t a best seller, but it did prove that Bret was taking control of what the movie represented, a lie. The opening pages with the characters watching the movie that didn’t represent the life they lived. “They kill me?” Julian whispers in the movie theater, watching it. It’s probably one of the better sequels to a literary life surrounding a writers career.

            Brett’s defiant behavior, as he wouldn’t agree with that statement, garnered him the ire of his generation and previous. 

In early 2013, he started the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, interviewing many countercultural figures, Adam Carolloa, Kevin Smith, Marilyn Manson, and Kanye West. Some of my personal favorite interview subjects are Eli Roth, Kevin Smith, Kanye West, Marilyn Manson, John Carpenter, Paul Schrader, Dana Brunetti, Sam Outlaw (which covered the fallout of his democrat friends and the media’s overreaction to Donald Trump’s victory of becoming President in 2016 in the most perfect way possible), Walter Hill, are some I revisit all the time.  

His twitter page performed far more than a best selling novel could. With observations about Kathryn Bigelowe’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) and her importance as a film director compared to the overrated praise the film received to attacking millennial sissy cultures “Safe Spaces,” it seemed that Bret found his way into the public eye by taking his ire on society and movies once again, as he discussed private meetings about the disastrous Ben Affleck Batman film (now titled Batman V. Superman), as Bret received an disgruntled email from Ben Affleck himself. In White (2019), Todd, his boyfriend remarked, “How did he get your email” and he flippantly responded, “like a jaded insider,” “everyone knows everyone’s email in Los Angeles.”  

            The importance of Ellis is not only from a literary standpoint, but to me, when I was having trouble, Lunar Park was comforting to me. It reminded me that everyone else has problems too. I was really at a low point in my life, and it gave me perspective. 

            What Bret Easton Ellis offers is that sign of rebellion we need as we are approaching the beginning of 2021. To Bret Easton Ellis, being yourself is far more offensive than intentionally trying to shock people. “To sustain a 35 long career with intentionally shocking people feels like a fruitless gesture.” (TimesTalks: Bret Easton Ellis. The New York Times. April. 18th, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDQ-dkEG0PY&t=2965s. Found on Feb. 22, 2021). 

            What Bret’s books, films, webisodes, articles represent is that being yourself is just as original as being overly shocking. Sometimes, you don’t have to do much in order to shock people. 

            Because originality is far more offensive than blood or violence ever could be, and sometimes, that is intermixed. Bret Easton Ellis, while not a prolific author, stands head and toes above his peers like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen.

-Louis Bruno is the author of more than 15 books, including, The Michael Project, The Michael Project: Book 2: The Lost Children of Eve, Thy Kingdom Come, The Disintegrating Bloodline, Apocalypse Soldier, Hierarchy of Dwindling Sheep. His books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu. He can be found on Gab, https://gab.com/thereallouistbruno, Minds https://www.minds.com/lbruno8063/, and Parler https://parler.com/profile/therealLouistbruno/posts. Instagram @lbrruno8063 and @louisbrunoofficialbook. His latest, Come Home, Young One, a dark fantasy novel is out now at Lulu.com. Link is here: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/louis-bruno/come-home-young-one/hardcover/product-pw8q7z.html?page=1&pageSize=4

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