NOTES ON THE MAKING OF PEYTON PLACE
An edited version of this text previously appeared in Iron Horse
I first read David Trinidad’s terrifically funny Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera shortly after it was published in 2013. Given how much I’ve enjoyed his work over the years, I was not terribly surprised at how sharp and resonant it was. The book reads like an extended DVD commentary track composed in bursts of 5-7-5, the first and only book of its kind to reflect on this new American sport of binge-watching. In Trinidad’s case, the project involved consuming all 515 episodes of Peyton Place, the prime-time soap that ran on ABC from 1964 to 1969, and writing a haiku for each.
David was kind enough to read his poems for my appropriated-film adaptation of his book. We recorded them in my noisy attic, where we often had to pause to allow delivery trucks to rumble past. During one such pause, David mentioned that he thought of the book as “conceptual art,” a term that made me nervous and still does. And it began to dawn on me while reading various haiku, like episode #124—
Shades on, Malone makes
An entrance like the Oscar
Winner that she is.
—that if A Haiku Soap Opera were less conceptual a work, I’d be game to see it. If, say, the poems were to be located within the show itself, I might be able to see what Trinidad saw—Malone making her entrance—and measure the author’s perceptions against mine. For me, that dialogue between writer and reader is one of the great pleasures of literature. And maybe, too, in a visual adaptation of David’s book, I could see who Dorothy Malone was, because I had no idea! (Part of the charm and brilliance of his book is that David makes no effort to provide background or context on characters and actors who might not be known by anyone under 55).
So, for me, this video project is an exercise in wish fulfilment. The video runs about twenty minutes, and distills David’s sprawling book down to a handful of themes—race, the “male gaze”, poetry, celebrity—and contains just 23 out of Trinidad’s 515 haiku. Which doesn’t sound like much. But this project took a long time to make, more than a year of steady work. Because my videos are mostly one or two-man operations that employ simple tools, I’m accustomed to quick turnarounds, but the animation on this project, and the timing required to embed the poems within the space of the TV series was an exacting, difficult, obsessive labor.
Of all the poems in this collection, I always thought those about race—and intolerance and white obliviousness and white fear—had the most resonance, the most power, in the way they argue Payton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (whether book or video) isn’t about TV at all, really. Those poems and those episodes ring so true to this moment in time, in the summer of 2018, that they often threatened to upset the balance of the entire collection—as is right.
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