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Showing posts from August, 2007

Bill Douglas, 1937-1991

In a singular denunciation of the insincerity of Hollywood rhetoric, Clifford Odets has his struggling movie star Charlie Castle say in The Big Knife, "This cheerful 'giving of hearts' chills my blood." I don't know when or how that level of fake piety and fake emotionalism infiltrated the rest of our culture (although the enduring popularity of Frank Capra leads me to believe that it predates television by quite a lot), but a lot of important words have been devalued as a result.

I'm thinking today of the word "tragic" in particular. I have heard/read the use of the word to describe everything from the destruction of the World Trade Center to a tough loss in a baseball game. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (which I refer to because it is available on-line and therefore close at hand) gives this series of definitions for tragic:

1: of, marked by, or expressive of tragedy 2 a: dealing with or treated in tragedy <tragic hero> b: appropriate to or t…

Guilty . . . As Charged

I don't know how many of you listen to Brian Lehrer's show on WNYC-AM here in the city or download the podcast. Lehrer is a smart, thoughtful guy who does excellent local and national political stuff, mixed in with a leavening dose of culture and humor. This past week, while he was on vacation, several guest hosts sat in for him, and I was listening moments ago to a segment with David Cruz and Kalefa Sanneh of the Times about the secret songs you have on your iPod that you are embarrassed to admit you like.

As I just wrote in an e-mail to a friend, I probably should be embarrassed about the fact that I use my iPod more to listen to lectures, audiobooks and podcasts than to music. Yesterday I heard about 90 minutes of a panel discussion with Jacques Derrida from a past meeting of the American Academy of Religion. I'm not trying to impress you. I also listened to a half-dozen different English football podcasts, every single one of which dissed my Premier League side, Tottenh…

A Little Family Bragging

If you are a regular reader of this blog (and if you're not, how did you get here?), then you know that Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times, also is my wife and best friend. You also know that her new book, Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind, has just been published by Simon and Schuster and has already received several highly favorable reviews. Needless to say, I'm very, very proud -- and I've read the book so I can tell you, quite honestly, that it is excellent, a compelling and highly intelligent piece of work, and I was a book critic for 20 years so I'm not just blowing smoke up your butt.

Anyway, Margo is doing a few radio shows and podcasts, so allow me to draw your attention to Leonard Lopate's show on WNYC here in the Apple. If you are home tomorrow during the day, you can hear her as Lenny's lead guest. Or you can download the podcast and hear her at your leisure. You can also download the New York Time Book Review'…

More on Bunuel

So, I'm sitting at home last week, watching the Cardinals finish off a sweep of the Brewers with a getaway day game victory (the Cardinals don't seem to want to go away, but I suspect the manhandling they took from the Cubs this weekend may damper their ardor a little bit), and between innings I start running the dial. You can usually tell just how bored I am by whether I click on the favorite channels all the way through or if I start with New York 1 and go station by station -- we have well over a hundred, so it takes about fifteen minutes to establish that there is nothing on -- but this time, since all I was doing was avoiding some idiot trying to get me to come to St. Louis to buy a car, I didn't expect to be seriously distracted for long.

Except that I clicked onto Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie in a handsome, letterboxed print on one of the Showtime channels (if I remember correctly) and within seconds I was hooked. Hey, what would you rather do, w…

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

One of my favorite observations in English literature is Jerome K. Jerome's sage remark, "I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."

Unfortunately, it has not been lack of work that has kept me from my appointed blogging rounds. But the focus of my most recent contributions to Jewish Week has been largely musical this summer, very pleasant but not germane here. On the other hand, I neglected to post anything about the Pedro Costa series at Anthology Film Archives, for which I humbly apologize. Colossal Youth, which received its theatrical debut in New York as part of the series, is my first Costa but will definitely not be my last. The film is a riveting blend of Straub-Huillet and Cassavettes, sort of a neo-realist-Marxist-minimalist ode to the downtrodden residents of one of Lisbon's worst slums, Fountainhas, now gone. Costa's use of screen space is challenging, fascinating, and I wish I had a copy of the film to look at again and more c…

I'll have a lot more to say soon, but for now . . . .

In the wake of the deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni there has been an absolutely fascinating e-mail discussion among the extended family of Ira voters that began with some talk about the impact of the art-house films of the '50s and '60s and has gradually transmuted into a weighing of the pros and cons of the fragmentation of the audience and market, not only in film but in most forms of popular (and elite) culture. I'll replay some of the choicer tidbits in the next day or two, if my brothers-in-Ira-hood will permit.

In the meantime, I want to draw your attention to a non-film item, but one that must cause any reader to reflect on the tragedies that surround the repression of free expression. Once upon a time, the Zimbabwe International Book Fair was one of the largest in Africa. Founded in 1984 it began as a refreshingly energetic gathering of publishers, authors and book dealers and distributors. This year, it limped to a close Saturday with only 84 ex…

The Dog Days of August

That's the title of an album by the excellent blues duo Cephas and Wiggins and it sure sums it all up.

Edward Yang, Ousmane Sembene, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni. Well, as John Garfield says at the end of Body and Soul, "What can you do, kill me? Everybody dies." I must say that this has been a deeply dispiriting summer in our house, and I can't wait for Labor Day and the hope of beginning something better. I wish I had something cogent to add to the discussions of Bergman and Antonioni. I stand by what I wrote earlier -- Bergman is a brilliant director of actors who had no affinity whatsoever for film as a medium. Antonioni is a brilliant director of decor and a master manipulator of screen space who has little feeling for human beings, but that makes him a voice uniquely well-suited to the changing face of Italy in the wake of the 'economic miracle' of the late '50s-early '60s. If you combined them, you'd either get a brilliant bu…