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The following interview with Viva by Bob Colacello originally appeared in the May 1975 issue of Interview magazine:

VIVA
Viva, video-novelist, on video at the Factory.

You all remember Viva? The Botticelli beauty who just wouldn't shut up in LONESOME COWBOYS and BLUE MOVIE? WEll, she's shut up long enough to write her second novel, THE BABY, which will be published by Knopf June 1. On a recent visit to New York, INTERVIEW got her talking again.

BOB: What's your life like in California?

VIVA: We live in a mountain cabin with no central heating. While Michel [Michel Auder, Viva's [then] husband] saws wood, i'm writing books for five hours a day. And then we take a drive to the coast to watch the whales migrate and the pelicans. So I've had a completely domestic life. A Virginia Woolf life. You seem to be getting bored already.

BOB: No. I'm just listening.

VIVA: And Virginia said to write good literature, you have to read good literature and take long walks. So I began writing at 9:30 in the morning with a bottle of Jack Daniels and when the tip of my tongue got numb around two, I quit. Michel took Alexandra [Viva's child] to school and finished sawing wood for the fireplace. This is after living in a trailer with now windows, a 30s trailer, you know., that costs a million dollars today, full of inlaid wood, with Alexandra sleeping on a table...

BOB: But...

VIVA: ... in the rain, in the mud, typing on a battery-operated typewriter, outside the trailer, in the mud - alright we finally got into a house. So I was living like Virginia Woolf, taking long walks through the mountains, reading Proust and writing. And going to bed at nine at night and getting up with the sun to watch the chicken hawk who landed on the telephone pole outside the bedroom window every single morning at the same time. And the mountains had all been burned in a fire so they were a beautiful golden color right out the bedroom window.

Alright I've come to New York and I'm surrounded by a field of phalluses - every man I'd ever been in love with ten years ago who couldn't get it up and was too fat and alcoholic is now slimmed-down, thick-haired, brilliantly elegant, thin and incredibly virile. So I went through several days resisting a field of phalluses only to wind up in a car crash with John Chamberlain and Neil Williams. This is their fourth or fifth car crash in the last few years and John's just gone back to sculpting crashed cars so I went to his loft to see about 40 crashed car sculptures and ended up in one. But since all the telephone companies have been bombed and I was sitting in the back and didn't see it coming, I thought it was a bomb. It was a four-car collision and I had buried my head in my arms, instantly on impact, after the whiplash got me. So when he hit the taxi next to to us and the taxi hit the car next to it, I thought it was bomb #2, a chain-reaction. I was sure of certain death. But here I am, totally alive.

And then I discovered this Osaka Health Club, at 4 E. 46th St., above the Ginza Sushi Restaurant, and had a fantastic two-hour sauna, hot tub and what's the massage called? That Japanese massage? Where they stand on you? A 25-year old Japanese girl kneels on your ass, kneads your buttocks, spreads her legs and gets you in between. And I kept saying, "Harder, harder, harder!" She stood on the table with her heels in my calves and her hands on the ceiling. I said, "I still think you can do it harder!" Well, two days later, I could hardly move. But then she said, "You need injection, injection!" So I went to my doctor, Gene Schwartz, who had just had a stroke, and was described to me as paralyzed, totally. I'd expected this dottering old man with a left arm completely screwed-up, but he was perfectly healthy, he didn't look a day older and didn't seem paralyzed at all. So he gave me an injection of antibiotics and cortisone and some empirin and codeine. Well, that treatment cured me. I tell you. I was on the verge of the worst cold imaginable - hacking, coughing, sneezing, sinuses clogged... now I'm perfect, right? (Viva coughs.) Almost perfect.

Because I had to go to this literary party that Barbara Seaman gave me. She wrote "Free and Female". So I went to Barbara Seaman and told everyone they were seeing an artificial state of health. I was really on the verge of pneumonia but between the Osaka Health Club and Gene Schwartz, I was ambulatory. And they were wonderful, all of them. I'd expected Feminist Writers - oh dear, this is going to be dreadful. Well it was fantastic. They were the best women I had ever met. Jill Robinson was just incredible to me. Alix Kate Shulman was fabulous. Their husbands were fabulous. Everyone was great. They inundated me with praise, showered me with compliments and told me I'd written the Last Word on Motherhood.

So by this time I was really on a Surrealist dream and Suzanne McGany of the Book of the Month said, "If only you'd had the husband hooked on jelly-beans instead of heroin, we could have taken the book." I said, "My God half the country's on heroin! The Vietnamese Army's on heroin!" She said, You're ten years in advance." I said. "Ten years in advance? I mean, the country's been nodding out for the last 20 years!" And I called Michel and I said, "Well, they said jelly-beans." He said, "Quick, change it to jelly-beans!" Well, it was too late. By this time Suzanne was crying. I'm back at the party, right, and it's about one in the morning and I said, "Suzanne, don't worry, I'm anesthetized to pain, after my years in the trailer, in the mud, and the no-heating and the burned-out trees. I've gone through such hell to write this book, that I feel no pain that the Book of the Month won't take it." But now they're reconsidering it, probably thanks to Barbara Seaman. I hope so.

Having a baby was such a shock to my system, and I really wanted to write a book about that, about children and mothers and how the most important thing in the world is really how we bring up our children and you can't start at the middle and work through to the end, you've really got to start at the beginning. Because for years I've been obsessed between my mother and the John Birch Society and my Marxist guerilla video-tape friends and so on - I've been obsessed with politics, but it finally came down to where I saw that if you don't start with your new-born babies, you can't change anything in the world. You've got to start at the beginning.

So Michel and I have been videotaping for four or five years, starting when I was pregnant with Alexandra. So we had these 400 tapes so I took them and Michel made stills for the novel. First I wrote the novel and then I found chapters where I knew there was a video-tape that went with it, even though it might have been a month or two off or a different country or something because I fictionalized the novel. You know, I changed countries and...

BOB: Did you ever refer to videos for dialogue?

VIVA: All the way through. Constantly referring to video.

BOB: So that's why you called it a "Video Novel"?

VIVA: Right. And there's 200 stills. 20 plates of video stills like eight or ten on a page with a caption under each one. I wanted to go back to the 19th Century with the idea of illustrations. It's always intrigued me. The idea of writing a novel and everyone knows that a novel is really real except my mother who says, "I only read non-fiction." So the idea intrigued me out of writing a novel and taking the real models for the novel and using their photographs in the book. So I used myself and Alexandra and Michel because I couldn't use anyone else without getting "the pants sued off me" as my lawyer father would say. So I just used sections where I could have the three of us in it. And I have pictures of like me smashing up the kitchen in a fit, washing dishes at midnight in a pair of rubber gloves and nothing else. I have this scene where the mother finally takes on a lover because the husband hasn't been fucking her in years. The minute he sees her pregnant, he's turned off. So I have this terrific love scene in there and I found this tape that could correspond with that and put that in, where the lover is on either heroin or cocaine, we don't know which, we just keep referring to it as "the white powder" and he sniffs it off his favorite book, "Philosophie Dans La Boudoir" by the Marquis de Sade. That's my favorite page.

And I got totally involved with Marcel Proust the whole time I was writing so I did a sort of hommage a Proust in the third section of the book where I describe the husband's French background - his family who'd worked with Pierre and Marie Curie on radium and I sort of do a take-off on Proust's style when I described these turn-of-the-century Victorians and their radium laboratory and so on. And now I'm on to Flaubert.

BOB: What happened to your film career?

VIVA: Michel and I just sort of exhausted our resources and spend everything we made on the video-tapes and didn't have much business sense. So by the time I started this book, I was completely drained financially, emotionally and mentally from going to Europe and making these films with the French. You know, you cast them, costume them, do the dialogue, put your money into them and end up with a hideous case of the flu and dysentery and...

BOB: Which movie? The Agnes Varda...

VIVA: The Agnes Varda movie was scripted. I flipped out on the Agnes Varda movie because she had me living on the set and I couldn't get any sleep - the footsteps only stopped above my head for about four hours a night.

BOB: This is "Lion's Love", right? And you did "Cleopatra" with Michel after?

VIVA: Was that after "Lion's Love"? Yeah. And that was never shown. We were sued for a million dollars after we'd put so much work into it. The producer sued. And then they made their own version of it and gave a sneak preview and then it sort of disappeared. I don't even know where it is or if they've burned the negative or what. But we spent so much time on it. It was really rich - the locations were really beautiful. We shot in these old Roman gardens and at Cinecitta and we had Yugoslavian wrestlers.

Three of the women in that movie were dead within a year of either murder or suicide. Agnetta Frieburg, Barbara St. John and Andrea Feldman. Andrea was fantastic in the movie. Do you realize what a great actress she is? Andrea? She played my slave and she carried the whole thing out in real life. I had a terrible case of the flu, a temperature of 104 and dysentery. I was shitting blood. At that point. At the high point scene where Cleopatra is dying, I'd have to run to the toilet - this horrible hole in the wall in Cinecitta - and Andrea would follow me carrying my train as my slave and she would actually wipe my ass. Andrea. She was incredible. Fantastic.

OK, she's dead, Agnetta's dead, Barbara's dead, so by the time this period was over, I was just bankrupt emotionally so I started writing and I got into Proust and Virginia Woolf.

BOB: You said on the talk show today that your baby Alexandra still breast feeds?

VIVA: No, No, not at all. She just tweaks my nipple to go to sleep which drives me crazy.

BOB: What did you do last night?

VIVA: I went to dinner at Luchow's and then I went to Ron Ferry's to look at his neon sculptures which were quite beautiful and I talked for several hours to Diane Von Furstenburg and then I dropped what's-his-name - guy Burgos - off in a taxi and then I went home to my chaste little bed. To dream about my one true love.

BOB: Who's on his way to India.

VIVA: I'm writing a new book now. On Malibu. I'm writing it from - I'm eliminating myself completely. My central character is a male hustler. Not a hustler but a guy who lives off women because he wasn't able to find a job after enjoying two minutes of fame in the 60s. He was an actor and has a heart of a poet and is always reciting poetry and women won't take him serious because they love his cock so much and his beautiful green eyes and his fabulous tanned body. He's a male sex symbol and he wants to be treated as a whole man and no one will. And my inscription page says: "Madame Bovary c'est moi" - Flaubert. So I'm trying to project myself into the mind of a man who's being used as a sex object. I'm writing in the third person and trying to go back in time rather than forward. I thought I went far enough into the future with Michel and now the only way to go is back.

BOB: Do think it's harder to write in the third person?

VIVA: It's harder to write in the first person because you have to be so careful. Of yourself. It seems easier because you're writing directly from memory, from your own mind. But you read it over and think, "Is this corny? Is this..." You keep reading over and over and over, trying and trying and trying to make yourself more universal.

BOB: What about your poetry?

VIVA: My poetry I write in spurts.

BOB: Can you recite any of it from memory? The Diane Arbus poem?

VIVA: Oh, sure. I'll give you a choice of what you want to hear. I have a Saint Lawrence River series, I have a marriage series. These are my latest ones in Iambic Pentameter. you really want to hear the Diane Arbus one? It'll start a terrible scandal. I could read "Ode to a Husband". Then there's "Wife" and "Marriage". I have "Reality Setting In" and I have...

BOB: Do "Wife".

VIVA: Here's a pretty good,biting one - "Authoress":

They've rejected my last two chap-
ters and hate the subject of my book
They want to give me money, if only
I'll learn to cook
Cut out the extra spices, double the
entree
Not enough mashed potatoes, not
even a toss in the hay
How about the hero, what does he
have to say?
What is his reputation, what hap-
pened on the quai?
Couldn't take more than a week you
know, of working night and day
Of paying attention to problems, you
know what you want to say
The landlord is waiting silently, a
bird who circles quietly
The grocer no longer smiles at me,
can't wait for another day
And at my desk I'm writing poetry,
while my mind is reeling hopelessly
And my anguise screaming out at
me, that you have gone away
Cut out the extra spices, double the
entree
If they knew I'm writing poetry,
they'd take my pen away
The carpet needs a cleaning, the
children are a mess
He's having a nervous breakdown,
and wishes I'd confess
Can't say I'm really sorry, can't say I
won't do it again
Can't say say it was an aberration, or
even a mortal sin
Only have this one obsession, to find
the perfect verse
So my love will be congealed, in a
aspic rich and terse
In a soup no one can drink from, in a
jelly that never melts
In a frozen food compartment, to
benefit his health
In a frozen food compartment, to
benefit his health
Then I'll finish my novel, then I'll de-
scribe the terrain
Put words in every mouth, write
reams about the rain
Hire a carpet cleaner, shampoo all
the kids
Go on television, to tell it like it is.
Go on television, to tell it like it is.
Go on television, to tell it like it is.

I'm still looking for Diane. Lately Iambic Pentameter had been slamming itself into my brain... alright, this is "Elegy for the Late Diane Arbus":

Your body is pink and lovely, a white
unopened egg
You stand there so unguarded,
naked with unshaved leg
No don't put on your clothes dear,
you're so relaxed this way
I'm only shooting a head dear, that's
what they told me to say
Yes please roll up your eyes dear, yes
do it again that way
You look just like you're dreaming,
that's what they told me to say
Don't worry about your ribs dear,
keep the blanket out of the way
I'm only shooting your head dear,
that's what they told me to say
When I saw the photo spread, in New
York magazine
When I saw what you did to me, I
wept and howled and keened
You who are older and wiser, whose
eyes were brown and deep
No pimp of hustler or gigolo, but a
woman who could weep
So I wasn't shocked in the least dear,
nor did I shed a tear
When they found your body, your
bathtub as your bier.

Everyone will hate me for it. Because Diane's been sainted.

BOB: Did you know her well?

VIVA: Not terribly well. I used to pose at Parson's School of Design for the fashion illustrators. And she was teaching there and that's where I met her. She knew everybody I knew.

BOB: She really made people look awful.

VIVA: Those photographs of me would probably be great in 20 years. When I saw the close-up at the Museum of Modern Art it looked really good.

Waiting for the telephone, to ring
me a reprieve
Get me out of washing dishes,
cleaning up the sieve

I know I've pronounced "sieve" wrong but...

Take me from this prison, these
walls I made for myself
Baking every brick with care, mak-
ing sure to keep me there
Adding with each day, another pile
of underwear
And when I was a hooker, when I
lived for randy men
When I dined in fancy restaurants,
when I screwed in walnut dens
Can't believe I envied the wives that
were betrayed
Can't believe I wanted to be some-
body else's slave
Can't believe I worried that my body
was my purse
Didn't know in time I'd find my mind
my only curse.

[end of interview]

[Note: Spellings used throughout are the ones used by Interview. "Anguise" is probably meant to be "angoisse" - French for "anguish" - as "anguise" is not a word in any language. The word, "anguis", does exist but it is a genus of blindworms - probably not what Viva means. The repetition of the line "In a frozen food compartment, to benefit his health" in Viva's "Authoress" poem may be an Interview typo.]

 

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