|. . . Rohmer|
|. . . 2000-08-29|
"a specialized shop, department of a store, etc., usu. catering to fashionable clients"
Pamphleteer Juliet Clark writes:
Re the Salon.com Guide to Feeling Hip Because You've Heard of John Updike:And David Auerbach weighs in more fatalistically:
I'd like to point out that Eggers misspelled "aficionado," and the copyeditor didn't catch it.
I think your copyediting/programming analogy is apt in a lot of ways. In fact the whole Salon Guide reminds me to a painful degree of startup culture: young people who won't be young much longer demanding to be taken seriously for not being serious; seeking the Big Time while clinging to a fantasy of countercultural identity; using strained irony, self-created urgency, and an excess of spin to mask a fundamental laziness.
All I can suggest is that you sell your author copy and use the money to buy a good book. Wouldn't that be, like, "ironic"?
I do think that the Salon guide fills a void. We currently have no one to tell us which of the many, many idiomatically similar novels are the real thing and which are the product of overheated middle-class ramblings. The academics can't be bothered with it, since they're too busy keeping their own little flame alive. People like Lewis Lapham hate it all, and people like Michiko Kakutani are either indiscriminate (if you agree with them more often than not) or too harsh (vice versa), and they lack consensus-building skills. The remainder of the book-reviewing populace don't have enough credibility to be reliable. So I think contemporary mainstream book reviews, if there's a strong enough drive to hold people's interest, will go the way of movie reviews and devolve into capsule reviews, top ten lists, and "personality-based" reviewers. I don't think I can blame anyone for this process; it just happens when the collective standards of the producers and the consumers are low enough that the work being produced becomes undifferentiated.Oh, I don't really blame the Salon editors; I imagine it's pretty hard to resist the temptation to milk the cash cow when it's looking up at you with those big brown eyes. I just wish I hadn't seen the result. And I probably wouldn't have if the usual uncentrifugeable muddle of curiosity, vanity, and sense of responsibility hadn't talked me into becoming a contributor.... Being a critic, of course, although I blame myself, I attack them.
Consequently, tho, Carol Emshwiller will certainly be ignored, and even someone like Disch, who has needed to work his material into ostensible potboilers for the last 20 years. There is a need for something of a unified conception, and Carol Emshwiller may as well be Les Blank for all they care. (Which might make Michael Brodsky Kenneth Anger.) There definitely is a "celebration of shared limited knowledge", but who were the Salon editors to deny those who looked towards them for guidance?
If Auerbach's right about the editors' ambitions, the match was doomed a priori, since I'm even less of a consensus-builder than Michiko Kakutani. (Case in point: For the last twenty years every single time I've tried to read the NYTBR I've ended up throwing it across the room, and so I didn't even recognize her name.) When it comes to art, I don't see that consensus is necessary, or even desirable. That's probably what attracts me to the subject: I wouldn't be so exclusively an aesthete if I were a more enthusiastic politician.
One clarification / pettifoggery as regards "personality-based" reviewing: It's true that I believe a critic can only speak as an individual, and that criticism is most useful when individual works receive close attention as individual works. That means that I consider generalities issued from a presumed position of consensus to be bad criticism. It doesn't mean that I consider class-clown-ism a guarantee of good criticism. In my Salon.com tantrum I emphasized voice because voice was being emphasized by the book's publicity and reviews, but what really set me off was the 400-page-long lack of new insight into individual works: a generic free-weekly voice was just the means to that dead end.
In my own practice I use an overtly performative voice only because I have to. When I attempt a detached tone, I become too stumble-footedly self-conscious to move; when I do the jutht a darn-fool duck shtick, life seems better. That's a personality flaw, not a deliberate choice. Behind the Dionysian mask, I'm ogling those Apollonians plenty: I empathize with Jean-Luc Godard's film criticism but I'm in awe of Eric Rohmer's; Lester Bangs is a role model but I'd be so much more uncomplicatedly proud of something like Stephen Ratcliffe's Campion; my favorite Joycean is eyes-on-the-page Fritz Senn; my favorite historian is no-see-um Henry Adams; I loathe the bluster of Harold Bloom and Camille Paglia....
What matters is whether you communicate anything of what you see. If you don't have to keep twitching and waving and yelling "Hi, Mom!" while you do it, all the better.
|. . . 2002-07-17|
Movie Comment: Eric Rohmer: With Supporting Evidence
"Every possible decision entails some sacrifice, paradox or irony. But irony doesn't subvert morality; morality is about choosing the lesser of two ironies."Godard was louder and funnier, but the best criticism in Cahiers du cinéma was written by Eric Rohmer, and it used to seem sad to me that he didn't, like Godard, keep it going as an occasional thing.
-- Raymond Durgnat on Eric Rohmer
One of the rewards of sitting through this two-part TV interview-with-dumbass-arty-touches is that instead of sad it now seems inevitable, and louder, and funnier. Unlike Godard's too-cool-for-school improvs, Rohmer's criticism was labored over; it was never "occasional" prose. Even if it had been, there's no room for any occasion outside movie-making in Rohmer's post-Cahiers life: every strand, scrap, and moment of his existence is replete with movie-making, and the tools and souvenirs of movie-making threaten to bury him as we watch, cassettes, notebooks, videos, photos, lights, filters (colored tracing paper), reflectors (made in 1959 from tin foil and a portfolio), projectors, photos, and props piling on the desk like from Harpo's inexhaustible trench coat....
|I've always been against destruction. I think that in order to build, we mustn't destroy.|
In still photos, Rohmer always looks dignified and aristocratic. In action, he's an enthusiastic (if still very polite) goofball, fondly mimicked by Jean-Louis Trintignant in My Night at Maud's and by Hugues Quester in Tale of Springtime, more like a monomaniacal Roland Young than like cold-blue-blooded Antonioni.
Maybe most like Joseph H. Lewis: happy as a pig in low-budget slops.
|I believe more and more what I wrote in my last article, that is, that cinema has more to fear from its own clichés than from those of the other arts. Right now, I despise, I hate, cinephile madness, cinephile culture. In "Le Celluloid et le marbre" I said that it was very good to be a pure cinephile, to have no culture, to be cultivated only by the cinema. Unfortunately, it has happened: There now are people whose culture is limited to the world of film, who think only through film, and when they make films, their films contain beings who exist only through film, whether the reminiscence of old films or the people in the profession. The number of short films by novices who in one way or another show only filmmakers is terrifying! I think that there are other things in the world besides film and, conversely, that film feeds on things that exist outside it. I would even say that film is the art that can feed on itself the least. It is certainly less dangerous for the other arts.|
If movies are your entire life, life can't enter your movies except through the knotholes and the rust-streaking leaks and the breezy gaps between the amateurish joins. Hollywood can pay to seal itself in; Rohmer can't, and that's exactly what he enjoys about the process.
So nice to think that this is what can happen to a fine analytical critic. Loving the pre-decadent days of cinema, Rohmer, almost uniquely, understands and follows its percepts, that is, its precepts -- that is, its restrictions, which is to say its freedoms. As the man says, it's better to have fifty films made by crews of ten than to have one film made by a crew of five hundred. You can't have a healthy art form without excess production.
Taking the responsibility of adaptation as seriously as any other responsibility, Rohmer didn't go through the same improvisational process with the three movies he's based on existing texts. Instead, as if to fill up any time gained by starting with a finished script, all three laboriously emphasized technical demands and formal experimentation -- and stumbled (sometimes with a triumphant lurching leap) over anti-realistic (or stiff, or inappropriate) acting, or even (in the latest, anyway) horrendous structural problems in the script.
Rohmer is a great moviemaker, and so his experiments are interesting. But one reason he's a great moviemaker is that his rote way of making movies works reliably.
His latest 100-super-movie-au-maximum, Tale of Springtime, I figured was planned from the start as a wiser and more gynocentric answer to My Night at Maud's. It turns out the philosophical discussions that connect the two films were only constructed after long negotiations with the actress who had been cast as the lead. She was a philosophy scholar, the sketchy teacher of Rohmer's original plan was, at her request, realized as a philo prof, and the bare branch blossomed from there.
That's the routine that works, like the seasons. Rohmer quietly worries for decades at vague ideas, suspending their resolution until they can opportunistically latch onto the particulars of setting and collaborator. He films in vacation spots because that's where his friends' empty houses are; he picks amateur actors because they're unyielding enough to propagate story and grateful enough to do it again and because he can afford them; his shots are dictated by his cheap bundle of equipment, and he loves it like a muse. New life is born of abundant wish and a lack of choice.
|. . . 2004-05-01|
Oh, the other stars "play it straight," but for them it remains play. Such distance is far from fatal to Guy Maddin's films, any more than it is to the work of John Waters or Jean-Luc Godard, or the non-series diversions of Eric Rohmer. But only with McMillan does acting become this film's life; only there do we see cinematography document the mechanics of the soul. The sincerity of his melancholy seems bottomless — completely depthless, in fact, yet as inarguable as the black matte circle a Warner Brothers character slaps onto a mountainside.
Oscars™ all round! All round Ross McMillan, that is, closing in while he shrinks, shuddering, transfixed in anticipation of their chill, hairless, gentle but unyielding press against his fleshy calf!
|. . . 2010-12-11|
A plot only tells so much about its telling. And where better to exhibit the gap between narrative line and narrative effect than the cinema, at twenty-four gaps a second?
The most horrifying such exhibitions are start-to-finish misreadings like Adrian Lyne's Lolita and Joseph Strick's Ulysses. The most satisfying are burlesques like Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, Altman's The Long Goodbye, Fields's Fatal Glass of Beer, Rohmer's Dangerous Liaisons (AKA Claire's Knee), and Gilligan's Island's Hamlet. Most alienating are the mob actions.
But as a connoisseur of closure, my favorites reverse the end's polarity.
They do so within the small back wiggle room between fabula and reflector, that magical space in which we drop our cake and eat it too. A favorite hangout of Howard Hawks, who suffered from a morbid fear of unhappy endings — for example, in Come and Get It, which has all the makings of a Greek tragedy and follows through on most of them, only to have the tragic lead decide, "Fuck this shit, I'm Edward Arnold!" It's as if Oedipus Rex closed on a shot of the retired monarch shrugging, twirling his cane, and shuffling a jaunty soft-shoe while being led down that lonesome road.
And while the fingers fumbled on the dread bomb, his woman waited, patiently, for Sam Rice to prove his manhood.
For conceptual purity, however, nothing beats Powell-&-Pressburger's reversal of The Small Back Room.
Midlist middlebrow mainstream novels don't win the twilit immortality of other genres, and Nigel Balchin never tipped into academic respectability. But I'm fond of this novel, and I suspect it might find fellow admirers among the Better Sort of science fiction readers — it's the depressive alcoholic reclusive grandfather that Carter Scholz's Radiance never met.
You'll find it over there on the left, courtesy of Perkus Tooth's garage sale. Ah, the glory days of paperback publishing, when even impotence was titillating.
The come-on is, as always, a rip-off. Any attempted fucking in Sammy's and Susan's illicit cohabitation takes place offscreen and near-as-damn-it to unconsciousness. The come-on is understandable, though, insofar as our hero has had one foot cut off, has an aching stump, is relentlessly defeatist and drunk, and was authored by a psychologist.
So far, so midcentury mainstream. But these are just the generic handholds one sets to let oneself finish or publish a story. Try to focus past them, as you focus past the talking squids in a Margaret Atwood novel, and you find something very special: a novel about work. (The text excerpted on the paperback's front cover actually concerns career strategy.)
And not gangster work or cop work, but intellectual work, done with skill and for a good cause — yes, even a better cause than Google, perhaps even better than open-source software for institutions of higher education! It's the appropriate day job that was denied to poor Denard and his poor president.
And it still sucks, because at the end of the day it's still a day job. The book's real titillation is having been published by an Army researcher during World War II, in the same year Churchill wanted to ban Powell-&-Pressburger's sentimentalized Colonel Blimp. It's a home-front geek's "Willie & Joe." If you thrill to this selected-at-random scene, you may be among the intended audience:
I was busy with the report for the progress meeting. Not that anybody would read it properly. No one ever did. But it kept things straight for me.
I said to Joe, "This colour filter thing. It's been on the books for about six months and nothing ever happens to it."
"There are four other outfits messing about with it anyhow," said Joe.
"Passingham. The doctors. Rea. The Staines Lab. And I think the R.A.F. are doing something themselves."
"Where did we get it?"
"God knows. The Old Man came back from a meeting full of it. The whole place was chucked on to it for about half a day, and then he got bored and it's never been touched since."
"Think we might write it off?"
Joe said, "I should think we might write off about two-thirds of the stuff you've got there."
I said, "I think I'll go through and do a grand scrap."
Till said, "That's a most extraordinary thing."
"According to this," said Till, peering at his figures, "the seventh round had a negative muzzle velocity."
"Oh come!" said Joe.
"Was there anything funny about the seventh round?" said Tilly to me.
"Not as funny as all that," I said.
In such fashion Balchin keeps the pages staggering downhill to a deservedly celebrated finale: Sammy somewhat arbitarily sets himself a near impossible goal which should conclusively decide his worth, most likely by erasing him utterly at the moment of failure, and then we watch him work it.
And god damn it all to hell, he doesn't quite meet his arbitrary goal and it doesn't kill him:
The facts were that Dick was dead, and Stuart was dead, and the Old Man was gone, and Waring was Deputy Director, and I was just where I had always been. The good chaps went and were killed, and the crooks got away with it. But I just stayed put. I tried to think of something concrete to do — resigning and going to the Old Man, or something like that. But it wouldn't fire. I knew it really didn't make any difference where I went, or who I worked for. And I was too tired, anyway. I didn't like what I was, and couldn't be what I liked, and it would always be like that.
It'll be all right with Susan. She'll take it and make it into what she wants, just as Strang did. We shall all know, but I'm the only one who'll mind.
(Those who accuse Susan of fantastic saintliness might want to review Balchin's 1955 screenplay for Josephine and Men, which instead suggests a diagnosis of "perversity." Misery loves company, and Balchin's kind of woman loves misery.)
So how were Powell-&-Pressburger able to turn this downer into a tale of redemption and optimism? Their solution was elegant: don't include a voiceover. Because without Sammy's whine, the producer and the director and the cinematographer and the composer and the audience can, just as Susan and Strang did, take it and make it into what they want.
|. . . 2011-02-05|
The last good newish novel I read and the last good newish movie I saw both reprised Death Comes for the Comically Awkward Maiden. The novel, O Caledonia, was distinguished by Scottishness, lavish attention to immediate experience, and a jackdaw. The movie, The Forest for the Trees, was distinguished by mounting as its suicide method the most bizarre and least analyzed of all massively shared nightmares.
I'd call this a coincidence but distinguished examples are too quotidian to count. Male writers in a self-pitying or self-loathing mode find the effort of tragic narration magically ease once they change the sex of their protagonist — no producer has to worry about Blanche Dubois being told to man-up. And, should the writer happen to have been a comically awkward maiden herself, she'll find acceptable closure so wonderfully close to hand. What was it Michelangelo said? Take a block and chip away anything that doesn't look like a story?
Thank the BVM for las locas of Barbara Comyns, of Ernst Lubitsch and Eric Rohmer.
I saw The Forest for the Trees recently too, and it is hands down the most horrifying movie I've ever watched. I watched Ade's other, more championed movie Everything Else, but it didn't have me reeling in my seat and feeling depressed. What's odd is that this movie was at first created to be comedy of all things.
Even odder, I believe it remains a comedy, and a fine one, too — as does O Caledonia, whose sardonicism vinegars a potentially oleaginous cling to the matter of world and word. But my taste in comedy is notoriously broad.
I think the commenter meant Everyone Else, not Everything.
Thank you for the segue to our next scheduled puffabilly of thought!
|. . . 2011-08-10|
Historical fiction with no magical props (and no lack of unlikelihood). Like Buster Keaton entering the Civil War, like Abbott & Costello meeting Frankenstein, the John Crowley Novel transplants to a new setting and thrives.
There's a feckless horndog protagonist, of course, under the entirely characteristic name of Prosper Olander, but here his fecklessness carries an objective correlative: crippled legs in a world without ramps or lifts. The home front compensates him with the sexual access American heterosexuals later came to associate with college, and Prosper may be the least embittered disabled hero ever to visit high-mainstream fiction.
Four Freedoms is a rare bird, a war-industry pastoral, and the task of raising Arcadia from the dry and Dry state of Oklahoma lies far beyond the means of a John Crowley Hero. Playing Prospero is an airplane manufacturer who combines the benign shrewdness of George Arliss, the bulk of Eugene Pallette, and the ideals of Charles Fourier. (I suppose it reflects the prejudices of my own notoriously not-so-great generation that I find this throwback more acceptable than the Superhippie who killed Ægypt's buzz.)
And to end all, an All-American Tempest.... The John Crowley Novel intends (and this time achieves) the effect produced in some by Shakespeare's romances, the effect Pericles had on Louis Zukofsky and The Winter's Tale had on Eric Rohmer. (I'm left untouched by both plays, but not by Rohmer and not by Crowley.) A comic cast in a tragic set-up with a comic resolution, unpleasantries drowned in mellow amber, a happy ending from a lost world. Opened, close, closer, and closed.
Addendum for Joyceans: the fabulous company town is named "Henryville".
The other romance (implicitly stated) that is a huge influence on Crowley: Orlando. It's helpful to me to think of Crowley as an author of "romances" in general, because it's a framework in which he can have emotion be trumped by "magic" in one form or another, a theme which seems universal across his work.
|. . . 2012-01-30|
There are fourteen of these light and pleasant proverb-comedies in the volume. As their editor states, they were played in Parisian social circles fifty years ago, the idea being to guess the proverb from the stage representation and from the language of the actors.- W. S. E., "Longfellow's First Volumes", The Literary World, Nov. 18, 1882
A dramatic proverb is a playlet, usually comic, intended to be performed in private homes, that illustrates a well-known proverb without using that proverb in the text.... it became enormously popular during the last third of the eighteenth century, and it achieved recognition as a serious literary form in the nineteenth century, thanks to the genius of Musset.- Perry Gethner, "Catherine Durand: Proverbes dramatiques (1699)",
Writings by Pre-Revolutionary French Women: Volume 2
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.