The first and only time David Foster Wallace visited Premiere's New York office, he made a pretty careful inspection of the books I had lying around in my hovel of a semi-detached cubicle, and honed in one one, and made a pretty immediate and enthusiastic connection with it. The book was Gilbert Adair's 1995 Flickers, an unusual kind of meta-history of the first hundred years of cinema, its method being for Adair to choose one still from one film of every one of those hundred years and compose a mini-essay ostensibly about that film but also of course about everything else. I think Dave was immediately impressed by both the eccentricity and the implicit rigor of this nearly Oulipean approach, and I believe that as he read through one piece and then another he was not only impressed by the writing but discovering a kindred spirit in Adair. Adair did not wear his erudition lightly in the Charles-Taylor-approved style; he wrote as himself, that is, as a near-obsessive reader, viewer, researcher. Yeah, Gilbert Adair was a "bookworm;" you got a problem with that?
Flickers abounds with prickly judgments and pronouncements that border on the perverse (to his credit Adair lays all his card on the table at the outset; after listing certain omissions "about which [...] I am prepared to offer no apology" he adds "it is [...] a wholly personal, unapologetically partisan choice"), the most notorious of which, to my mind, is his avowal that he "cannot quite regret" the disappearance of Vidor's 1926 Bardelys The Magnificent. And now I wonder, and I Google,and I do not find: what did Adair make, I wonder, of the fact that since the publication of Flickers, Bardelys The Magnificent resurfaced and was restored? Amazing, these things that happen; of all the lost films to build a theory of the glory of lost films around, he chooses one that comes back. In any event, as peculiar and even sometimes stubborn as Adair's perspectives could seem, he was ever a delight to read; there's a friendliness to his use of erudition. A surrealist as well as a deconstructionist, Adair's polyglot sensibility yielded an an expansive jouissance that's visible on every page of Flickers. At any rate, as Dave was leaving my office, he unabashedly asked me, "Can I have that book?" And I said, "No."
I should explain that Dave had this impression of magazine editors that one used to get from watching the likes of The Best of Everything and Youngblood Hawke. I don't believe that he actually wanted to filch my copy of Flickers; I think he thought that, as a magazine editor, I naturally had ten more review copies of the book in a closet down the hall. I expalined that the book had taken ME forever to find and that in the short time that I'd had it, I'd made it something of an extension of myself. The next time we worked together, Dave, having had a devil of a time himself in finding a copy, made it a condition that I track down another copy and send it to him, which I was able to do. Took some effort, as I recall,maybe a special order from Shakespeare and Company or something. Dave received it VERY enthusiastically.
The bio on the back of Flickers is worth citing in full: "Gilbert Adair has written three novels, The Holy Innocents, Love and Death on Long Island and The Death of the Author. He is also the author of The Rape of the Clock, a full-length verse parody of Pope, and two sequels to classics of children's literature, Alice Through the Needle's Eye and Peter Pan and the Only Children. His non-fiction includes Hollywood's Vietnam, Myths and Memories and The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, and he has translated Michel Ciment's John Boorman, François Truffaut's Letters and Georges Perec's 'e'-less A Void. His is a regular columnist for The Sunday Times." Those 99 words offer, I think, a very nice thumbnail sketch of Adair's range, and this was well before Holy Innocents was made into a film by Bertolucci (The Dreamers) with Adair writing the script, or Adair's epic translation of Ciment's epic Kubrick study. Of his translations, I am particularly grateful, of course, for that of Truffaut's letters, which are ever yielding new insights and...stuff (I was particularly chuffed recently, reading a letter from Truffaut congratulating a colleague and instructing her to make him first on her dance card, and realizing that said daughter is all grown up now and a friend and neighbor of myself and my wife), and for the Perec, which by necessity is very nearly an entirely different book from the French original, which my linguistic skills of lack thereof make it a challenge to experience in anything but a patchy sort of way. And there's a lot there on that list I haven't read, and that I look forward to; nevertheless the fact that there won't be more is very sad, as is the fact that 66 is a sad age at which to die.
Peter Bradshaw's appreciation of the man and his work at the Guardian film blog is a good jumping-off point for those desirous of further Adair awareness.