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Marionette: A biography of Miss Marion Davies

2014 - Shortlisted


Judges' comments

This book could be described as a self-extracting archive that has ‘rescued’ significant meaning to be found in a set of old film reels at the point of final information loss. It produces something new from almost nothing, and brilliantly reassembles much material found in the UCLA Film and Television Archives. Jessica Wilkinson choreographs and comments, as both biographer and researcher, on the material and the experience of digging through archives. Its subjects are both a real but obscure Hollywood actress Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst, and other figures in the Hollywood film and media industry.

It is also an incisive meta-narrative on the act of researching/writing biography, a genre which the author deconstructs with great wit, a deceptive insouciance of tone, crafted playfulness and critical engagement with feminist critiques of patriarchy. In its use of archival material and technique it owes much to Susan Howe’s innovations. Sailing against a current trend for elegiac biography projects, the poetry is remarkably lively in its re-modulation of media – sound, music, image – and is explicitly presented with notational features of a musical score and a script for the live stage or a radio play. Innovative with language, the page is a field for sound-poetry, a scrapbook of wisdom, and a scholarly essay gone feral. As montage, it uses a variety of framing devices, graphics, and scripted morphological fragments, and rewards multiple reading.