I had to file my Wall Street Journal drama column a day earlier than usual, and as a result I find I’m plumb tuckered and all written out. Sorry! I’ll post more (and more originally) if and when inspiration strikes, but don’t be surprised if I stand mute until Wednesday or Thursday. And yes, I know, I always end up posting three times as much as usual whenever I announce that I’m not planning to write anything, but this time I think I might mean it, maybe….
Archives for June 21, 2005
A few choice tidbits gleaned from the blogosphere:
– Mr. Alicublog rides my hobbyhorse, even though he mounts it from the other side:
The thing that makes a piece of work worthwhile is the mystery, but that doesn’t mean an inspired fauve who doesn’t know what he’s doing can put it over without skills. (Usually.) The talented, trained people who get that thing on the stage or the page or the screen must be good with their tools, but they must also be working to realize the mystery, whether they would think to say so or, as with some hard-bitten old magicians, would rather portray themselves as clock-punchers trying to keep up their pay grade. You see the total absorption of great craftsmen at work: is it all for the money, do you think? Anyone who has worked on a production of any kind knows what it feels like when magic is being made–or failing to be made. Audiences know it too….
This is where ideologically-minded critics go wrong. They aren’t at all interested in the mystery. When I read their poli-sci reviews, I can see that they’re trying to assess the impact of the work in question–as if it were a social program or an economic stimulus package–on something they are pleased to call The Culture. In that sense, their work is indeed technical, and they often know their own grim metrics very well. But it has nothing to do with humility, or mystery, or art.
What he said.
– My favorite blogger-of-the-moment, Ms. in the wings, has posted “seventeen ways of looking for the beautiful.” Here are three:
1. As evident in the clean lines of modernist design or Renaissance counterpoint, I prefer the simple and austere to over-populated, messy masses.
2. Complexity is most intriguing when it juxtaposes the simple.
3. I prefer solving mysteries to being lectured by the head detective….
George Herbert perhaps no, John Donne yes
John Milton no, Andrew Marvell yes
John Dryden no, Aphra Behn yes
Alexander Pope yes, Jonathan Swift very definitely yes
William Wordsworth no, Lord Byron yes….
Correct on all counts, I’d say.
– Lileks and I are watching the same early-morning TV shows:
Last night on “What’s My Line,” the guest was a young man who signed in as “Tom Eagleton.” Could it be? It was. His line was “District Attorney for St. Louis,” and he was 27. (The episode aired in 1957, I think.) Right from the Jack Webb line of lawmen, too–square head, flat hair, G-man stare, thin tie, a smile that was rare but genuine. He was followed by Mamie Van Doren, a breathy va-va-va-voomer who performed the odd facial alphabet of the 50s sex siren–the moue, the wink, the coquettish smile, the wide eyes, the teasing glance. And she ran through the sequence again and again, a performance completely disconnected from the questions. It was like watching a prototype Sexbot stuck in an programming loop. She really was from another era–a time when the sex stars had hips like oven doors, hair the color of astronaut suits, brains the size of ant thoraxes, and a life of giddy leisure that revolved around small, portable dogs, beefy Pepsodent morons, pink convertibles, and the purchase of ceramic cat statuary with long necks. A bratwurst to Paris Hilton’s Slim Jim….
– Finally, I’ll be blogrolling this shortly, but you need to read it now if you write a blog or are thinking of starting one. No exceptions. Now.
I’ve been tagged with the book meme:
1. How many books do I own? About 1,250. (I got rid of two-thirds of my books when I moved to this apartment two and a half years ago.)
2. What’s the last book I bought? Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, by Edward McPherson.
3. What’s the last book I read? Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography, by Piers Paul Read.
4. Five books that mean a lot to me:
– Boswell’s Life of Johnson
– The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
– Enemies, a Love Story, by Isaac Bashevis Singer
– The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
– Art in Its Own Terms: Selected Criticism, 1935-1975, by Fairfield Porter
Get with the program, Girl. You’re a meme behind.
From Edmund White’s recent New Yorker essay
For most of my life I’ve been a shoulder to cry on, and all of that time I’ve wished I could do more to ease the pain of the women in my life. If I were straight, I could have married one of them. I would have known how to comfort her. I would have worked hard to provide her with the security and even the luxury she required. I would never have run off with another woman. I would have been as sensitive to her needs as a sister, as protective as a father. And I would always have told her where I was going and exactly when I’d be coming home. This was what distinguished me from the straight men I knew, who, it seemed, were united in their ability to treat women badly and then laugh it off….
In fact, it isn’t quite so easy, but I do know what he means.
“I was always that kid who went to the library and took out every book; I find that to be a very sexy thing about somebody.”
Erin McKeown (interview with Jay Ruttenberg, Time Out New York, June 5-12, 2003)
This week your faithful correspondent catches up with two overrated movies, each of them suffering from its own big, basic flaw that seems mainly attributable to nobody being bothered to flesh out (no pun intended) and execute (ditto) a decent half-idea.
First up is House of Sand and Fog, which has, of course, beautiful casting and a promising set-up: a fatal battle of wills between two essentially well-meaning but very desperate people. Then, alas, there’s the wild card that is Ron Eldard’s short-fused, xenophobic cop, with his totally inordinate degree of influence on the course of events. He seems to have stumbled in from a different film and genre altogether, or more likely to have been brought in as insurance against Kingsley and Connelly’s characters bonding over their perfectly matched freakish intensity, working things out, and robbing the movie of the shock and gravitas it’s so determined to deliver. Thanks to the cop’s antics generally–and to the gun that hitches a ride into the climactic sequence with him specifically–the movie’s ending, though obscenely sad, is too much of a freak accident, too detached from the principal characters’ wills and actions, to count as tragedy. Without the cop this might have been a good movie, but who can tell?
Shaun of the Dead is a pretty good joke while it lasts, which it does for almost half its length, at which point it runs out of steam and turns into…a straight-faced retread of what it’s supposed to be parodying. Whoops. The movie squeezed a little more goodwill out of me than it strictly should have, by virtue of the title character’s sweetness. But I got a far bigger kick out of both the straight-ahead 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and the inspired mess 28 Days Later–it’s a better problem to suffer from too many ideas than from too few. There’s some point to made here about the zombie-mall movie being too close to a joke in its pure state to be successfully parodied, but I lost a version of this post once already last night and, let’s face it, it’s way past my bedtime now. If this makes sense to you, though, tell me why in email. If it doesn’t…oh, go ahead and email me too.