City Lights, Morbid Curiosity, and Strange Attractor Press present an afternoon in appreciation of the life and work of Mel Gordon
Moderated by Joanna Ebenstein and Peter Maravelis with Maer Ben-Yisreal, Ati Citron, J. Hoberman, La Pustra, Mark Pilkington, Jill Tracy, Christina Ward, and others tba
In celebration of the posthumous publication of
Cabarets of Death: Death, Dance and Dining in Early Twentieth-Century Paris
by Mel Gordon
Edited by Joanna Ebenstein
Published by Strange Attractor Press
A spirited meditation upon three idiosyncratically macabre cabaret-restaurants in Monmartre each with its own grotesque portrayal of the afterworlds of Hell, Heaven, and Nothingness.
From 1892 until 1954, three cabaret-restaurants in the Montmartre district of Paris captivated tourists with their grotesque portrayals of death in the afterworlds of Hell, Heaven, and Nothingness. Each had specialized cuisines and morbid visual displays with flashes of nudity and shocking optical illusions. These cabarets were considered the most curious and widely featured amusements in the city. Entrepreneurs even hawked graphic postcards of their ironic spectacles and otherworldly interiors.
Cabarets of Death documents the dinner shows, the character interactions with guests, and the theatrical goings-on in these unique establishments. Presenting original images and drawings from contemporary journals, postcards, tourist brochures, and menus, Mel Gordon leads a tour of these idiosyncratically macabre institutions, and grants us unique access to a form of popular spectacle now gone.
Mel Gordon (1947–2018) was a professor of theater history, an author, historian, curator, stage director, and producer. He authored 15 books, over 130 articles, and several plays as well as directing many stage productions and had lectured all over the world. He was considered one of the country’s foremost historians of Grand Guignol theater with the New York Times, dubbing him “drama scholar of the fringe.” He taught at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute (1978-1980), the Michael Chekhov Acting Studio in Manhattan (1983-1988), New York University from (1975 to 1989), and finally, the Department of Dramatic Art and Dance at University of California at Berkeley. He served as an associate editor at The Drama Review throughout the 1970’s and produced numerous scholarly articles on a range of subjects including acting theory, Grand Guignol theater, Dada performance, German Expressionist acting, Weimar period culture, Vsevolod Meyerhold and Soviet era theater, the life and work of Anita Berber, Yiddish Theater, and much more. His published work includes Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, Horizontal Collaboration: The Erotic World of Paris 1920 – 1946, Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superman from the Creators of Superman, The Seven Addictions and Five Careers of Anita Berber: Weimer Berlin’s Priestess of Depravity, Dada Performance, and Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler’s Jewish Clairvoyant. His papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin
Joanna Ebenstein is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, curator, photographer, and graphic designer. She is the creator of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library, and event series and cofounded the now-shuttered Morbid Anatomy Museum.
Peter Maravelis is the event director at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He had the great pleasure of collaborating with Mel Gordon on numerous events as well as having him serve as advisor to a number of large scale festivals and symposiums.
Maer Ben-Yisreal is Mel Gordon’s nephew. He is Technology Director at Ecole Billingue de Berkeley.
Ati Citron is Associate Professor of Theatre, the University of Haifa, Israel.
J. Hoberman is a film critic, journalist, author and academic. From 1988 to 2012, Hoberman was the senior film editor at the Village Voice, and has written for The Guardian and The New York Review of Books. He also contributes regularly to Film Comment, The New York Times, and The Virginia Quarterly Review.
Mark Pilkington is the founder of the independent publishing house Strange Attractor Press, which he has run for almost two decades, and the author of Mirage Men (2010) and Far Out 101 Strange Tales from Science’s Outer Edge (2007). His writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, journals and newspapers – most recently Magic: Documents of Contemporary Art (2022), Death: A Graveside Companion, and catalogues for the Waking the Witch touring exhibition, the Courtauld Institute and the New Gallery. Mark also makes experimental electronic music in the duos Teleplamsiste and Luminous Foundation. He’s a regular speaker at galleries, universities and curious occult gatherings.
Le Pustra is an actor, singer, salonnier and kunstfigur who has performed in European Cabaret and Varieté since 2006 but is best known as the creative director of the Weimar Cabaret inspired theatre play Le Pustra’s Kabarett der Namenlosen. Le Pustra incorporates elements of Theatre, Drag and Fashion in his work.
Jill Tracy is a composer, singer, pianist, storyteller and “musical evocateur” based in San Francisco. Her music has appeared on film and television, including Showtime’s Dexter, CBS hit NCIS, and motion pictures Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Other Madnesses. She has collaborated and performed with music legends such as Peter Murphy (Bauhaus,) Steven Severin (Siouxsie and the Banshees,) David J (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets,) Ray Manzarek (The Doors,) Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Nina Hagen, Lydia Lunch, and famed author Lemony Snicket. Her acclaimed short film The Fine Art of Poisoning, (a collaboration with artist Bill Domonkos) has won over 30 film festival awards and screened internationally.
Christina Ward is an author, editor, and publisher. She is the Vice President and Editor of Feral House, a publisher noted for their books on outré topics.
This event is made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation.