Frederick Seidel and an Unmade Movie about Frank O’Hara

In the Guardian’s new interview with the polarizing poet Frederick Seidel, one exchange caught my eye.  Prompted by a recent review of Seidel by Dan Chiasson in the New Yorker — which had argued that “at his best, Seidel reminds me of a poet who sounds nothing like him, Frank O’Hara. Both are poets of the New York night; both are name-droppers and coterie poets” — the interviewer, Lorin Stein, asks Seidel about O’Hara:

The New Yorker reviewer mentions Sylvia Plath and Frank O’Hara as evident influences on your work. Do you think of them that way?

Not Plath, not at all. She has great force, great frightening power, but it’s a bit Grand Guignol. O’Hara is a different matter. His is not my way of writing, but his is pleasurable. It’s lovely to walk around New York with him and meet his friends with him. He obviously was an impossible, delightful, brilliantly gifted man.

Is it true you once wrote a screenplay about him?

I did. The painter David Salle had long wanted to make a movie about Frank O’Hara, and asked me to write the script. I wrote a script. It was not quite up to snuff.

This is a tantalizing detail: I knew of the life-changing impact O’Hara had on David Salle‘s life and work (which I wrote about here) but wasn’t aware that Salle had once contemplated making a movie about O’Hara, or that Seidel had actually written — and scrapped — a script for it.

Seidel has mentioned Salle’s desire to make an O’Hara movie before (though not his attempt to write the screenplay) in the poem “East Hampton Airport,” which appeared in the 2006 volume Ooga-Booga.  There he writes:

I write this poem thinking of the painter David Salle
Who wants to make a movie
About the poet Frank O’Hara.
A beach taxi on Fire Island hit Frank and he burst, roll credits.

At the risk of being nitpicky, I feel obliged to point out that this poem actually gets the details of O’Hara’s strange, nearly-mythical death wrong– which seems to be an occupational hazard when people talk about the day O’Hara died.  Frank O’Hara was not struck and killed by a beach taxi on Fire Island. He was standing near a beach taxi that he had been a passenger on, and that had gotten a flat tire, when he was struck down by a dune buggy driven illegally on the beach by a young guy on a date.  (For more on these details, see here).

Nevertheless, it’s enticing to think about the kind of movie David Salle and Frederick Seidel could’ve made about Frank O’Hara —  if only they’d brought that film to fruition!




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