Once again, it’s time for the regular “About Last Night” Monday-morning Web surf. Here are some links from the past week that I thought worth passing on:
– In case you haven’t seen it yet, Anne E. Kornblut, the Boston Globe‘s senior political correspondent, put together a neat little are-you-red-or-blue culture quiz for Slate. Go here to take it.
The popularity of the film noir was in part, I think, a way of increasing sex and violence in movies — sex implied rather than shown, of course — without violating the rule that movies had to be moral and uplifting. A film noir shows or implies all kinds of debauchery, but then adds that all the debauched people get punished in the end. (Or in the case of The Big Sleep, gets the audience so confused that they can’t tell who committed which act of debauchery.) It’s the equivalent of those early Cecil B. DeMille movies where two hours of orgies are followed by five minutes of spiritual uplift.
– New to “Sites to See” is a blog by West Coast dance critic Rachel Howard called Footnotes (great title). Howard writes
in defense of assigning star ratings to performances:
But why shouldn’t we recommend dance performances to one another with various degrees of enthusiasm? Why shouldn’t we codify that degree of excitement in a symbol that will bring more readers to dance reviews? Instead, right now, the absence of a rating signals to the Everyman Joe reader, “Don’t bother reading about this show, it’s very serious and too arty for you and therefore can’t possibly be entertaining.”
Somewhat to my surprise, I agree–though I’ve never been good at coming up with letter grades and star ratings on the rare occasions when magazines and newspapers require me to supply them. Nevertheless, Howard has persuaded me that it’s not a bad idea.
– Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes interviews Jerry Saltz, art critic of the Village Voice. Money quote:
People often ask me, “Why do you write about things that you don’t like?” And it breaks my heart. You would never say that to a sportswriter or a restaurant critic or a film reviewer or a book reviewer. But in the art world, for some reason, people get down on or even demonize you for saying something is faulty. It’s a very Bush-Cheney time. I think writing what you really think is a way of showing art respect.
Once again, I agree, at least in principle, even though I happen to think I’m better at writing about what I like. Most other critics aren’t–and they ought to work harder at it.
– More on Fahrenheit 9/11 and the problem of political art, this time from Steven Zeitchik of Publishers Weekly, who writes in The Wall Street Journal:
Of course, the documentary form doesn’t always function this way. At its best–e.g., Frederick Wiseman’s films on high schools and hospitals, the weird constellations of “Crumb” and “Capturing the Friedmans,” the Vietnam-centered “Hearts and Minds”–it is propelled by a sense of discovery. Neither filmmaker nor viewer knows what he is getting into until he really starts busying himself with it.
Movies like “Outfoxed,” “Control Room” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” work differently. They begin by knowing their thesis–and their audience–and operate backward. In the process, artists keen to point up the propagandistic efforts of others show themselves all too willing to take part in such efforts themselves.
Yet to call these films propaganda is also to misunderstand them. They don’t seek to convince the unconvinced or herd the untamed. They aim directly at the sheep….Call them flockumentaries, movies people attend en masse, to nestle together in easy confirmation of their most cherished beliefs–to learn, really, what they already know.
– Courtesy of Gnostical Turpitude, a fun piece by Philip Hensher on indexes with character:
A fine example came last year with Ruth Dudley Edwards’s book about Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King. The author had a very difficult time with King’s appalling widow, Dame Ruth Railton, a woman for whom very few people ever had a good word. The book itself was a model of restraint when dealing with her excesses, but when it came to the index, the gloves came off, in part running: “marriage; psychic powers believed in by King; disliked by his friends; King wants as musical director of ATV; encourages his megalomania; increasing possessiveness… moves to Ireland with King; denounces Cudlipp; hatred of Ireland; gets rid of family correspondence; cocoons King from children and grandchildren; and King’s death; disposes of his money; treatment of his family; traumatises Secker and Warburg.”
I’ve never done anything like that in any of my books, but I’ve been tempted….
– Michele Williams, call your office. (And no, the rest of you aren’t supposed to get it. This is a coded announcement going out to Smalltown, U.S.A. We return you now to our regularly scheduled posting.)
– A point to ponder, from Dan Henninger’s Wall Street Journal column about the survey of American literary reading habits issued two weeks ago by the National Endowment for the Arts:
It’s also worth noting that while the Endowment explicitly says mysteries are literature, its definition doesn’t include biography or history. Thus, taking a month to read Ron Chernow’s magnificent biography of Alexander Hamilton doesn’t count. Surely it should.
Under normal circumstances, my next sentence would have started “Speaking as a biographer,” but now that my nomination to the National Council on the Arts has been announced, I’m not supposed to write anything about the NEA, good or bad, until the Senate votes on me. So I won’t.
– A friend of mine who recently had a baby swears that this is her all-time favorite New Yorker cartoon. In fact, she actually thought of sending it out as a birth announcement. (I guess it beats the old Charles Addams cartoon whose caption, if I remember correctly, was “Congratulations…it’s a baby!”)
– Speaking of The New Yorker, yes, Alex, I noticed the anagrams for “Terry Teachout” in the title of your posting celebrating the first anniversary of “About Last Night.” Very clever. This brought to mind a posting from a year ago in which I reported the results of my own anagrammatic self-analysis. For those who’ve forgotten, these were the best ones:
Reroute thy act
Outcry at three
Hey, actor, utter!
Etch your tater
That cuter yore
Ratty, cute hero
Retract ye thou!
And my own favorite:
The Tory Curate
– Finally, Ed outs Our Girl. Who knew?