Books Archives

March 27, 2012

Today's Carrie: she's really pretty

Chloe Moretz in Dark Shadows

There's some more news today about the remake of Carrie, which I've been curious about since it was announced last spring. Maybe no one will be able to top the perfection of Sissy Spacek in the original (one of those rare perfect casting choices, as That Fuzzy Bastard noted) but the success of the remake will rest with the lead actress and her gym-incinerating prowess.

And hey! It's going to be Chloe Moretz! Wow. She's only 15, but she's definitely got the guts to pull off a dark, violent role (see Kick-Ass, Let Me In). The only problem I can find is that Moretz looks a lot more like one of the popular pretty girls who torment Carrie than a social reject whose rage bursts out of her in a swath of telekinetic scorched earth.

Chloe Moretz looking very pretty

But what are you gonna do, cast an ugly girl? In a major motion picture? Please.

The other news is that Kimberly Peirce is directing, who has exactly one good movie to her credit (Boys Don't Cry). But at least she knows how to make movies about rebellious young women who don't fit in and experience major trauma when they get their period.

For Carrie's scary psycho-religious mom, I still like Amy Ryan, or maybe--think about it for a second--Courtney Love. Terrifying, right?

March 26, 2012

Cronenberg's Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis trailer

A mini-trailer is out for the David Cronenberg adaptation of Don DeLillo's book Cosmopolis. Last year's A Dangerous Method was Cronenberg's first time making a sorta-biopic period piece, and overall it was OK but a little disappointing. Cronenberg just doesn't do Protestant repression and propriety as well as he does fatalistic descent into uncontrollable chaos, savagery, and squishy sexual weirdness.

Thankfully, we've got all that delicious Cronenbergian perversity and mayhem packed into this new 30 second teaser trailer (that's in French, and not exactly SFW.) Cosmopolis is about a 28 year-old coolly-detached rich guy and his journey by limo down the entire length of 47th Street in Manhattan. Things don't go as planned, and it gets pretty surreal and horrific. It might not be DeLillo's greatest book (reviews were "mixed to negative") but it gave Cronenberg plenty of disturbing material to work with: riots, naked people, stabbings, freaky limo sex, and what appears to be Robert Pattinson shooting himself through the hand.

By the way, Cronenberg has been touting Pattinson's acting chops all year, and recently said he was a dream to work with on the (Toronto, obvs) set. "A ray of sunshine." So sweet! I believe him when he says Pattinson's got more to offer than Twilight would suggest.

Here's the trailer:

The rest of the cast includes Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, and Jay Baruchel--pretty great! We'll probably end up seeing most of these people get either naked or eaten by a giant rat.

January 31, 2012

Casting The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

The movie adaptation of The Hunger Games is coming out in a couple of months, and since I just recently finished reading the book, I've joined the swarms of 14 year-old girls who are braiding back their hair and perfecting their rabbit-skinning skills in anxious anticipation. I'm just starting to understand how important these books have become to young fans of dystopian fiction, so I can imagine how big a deal it was when the role of Katniss Everdeen was cast.

The first time I heard about the books was when Jennifer Lawrence was cast back in March. After reading the book, I feel like I can work backwards and envision director Gary Ross looking around for young actresses that could bring a combination of toughness and teenage vulnerability to the role.

Cue Winter's Bone. Lawrence's character in that movie, Ree, is so similar to Katniss I almost feel like Debra Granik should get some sort of retroactive casting agent fee. After all, Granik is a small independent filmmaker who spends years raising money between movies. She cast Jennifer Lawrence in a difficult role where she lives in a poor, rural, dangerous environment, she's lost her father, her mother is distant and useless, she's responsible for the care and feeding of her younger siblings, and knows how to shoot and skin squirrels to make really gross-looking stew. She can get the crap beaten out of her and keep on going. She's a gutsy-yet-terrified survivor in pretty much exactly the same way Katniss is. Gary Ross says putting her in The Hunger Games was "the easiest casting decision I ever made in my life."

(By the way, Gary Ross may not be the most exciting director (Seabiscuit) but he wrote and directed Pleasantville, which was OK, and he wrote Big, one of the better 80's hits and, I would argue, the best work Tom Hanks has ever done.)

I think Lawrence is perfect, but there was some outrage when the casting decision was announced, partially because of Katniss's indeterminate race in the book. The character has straight black hair and "olive skin", and many readers assumed she was probably racially mixed. But the casting call requested only white actresses, and the selection of blonde, blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence was regarded as white-washing by some readers eager to see a non-white ass-kicking heroine. In stills from the movie, she's dyed her hair brown, but she's definitely a big ol' white girl.

The male leads also show how their characters were translated for the movie: Gale is played by Liam "Thor's little brother" Hemsworth, and he's hot and hunky. Peeta is played by the kid who played Laser in The Kids Are Alright. I worry that they'll make the character too sensitive and wimpy and lovelorn--the unrequited teenage romance isn't the greatest part of the book, in my opinion. But I guess protracted love triangles are the name of the game for young adult fantasy series, so I'll just have to cover my eyes for the mushy stuff, i.e. any time Katniss has to suspend her survivalist awesomeness to pretend to like Peeta.

Here's the trailer. I'm very excited to see Woody Harrelson as the hero-turned-drunk, staggering around boozily and slurring "sweetheart" to the girls.

Here's the cover of this year's Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair, with a re-blonded Jennifer Lawrence front and center.

November 9, 2011

Now R. Kelly has an autobiography

The title and cover of R. Kelly's autobiography were just released. This is it:

R. Kelly's Soulacoaster

Kelly announced that he was writing this book two years ago, because he was "tired of being misunderstood." Finally, we'll get a chance to hear straight from the man himself (and his co-writer) about his protracted court case for having sex with and peeing on an underage girl, what was happening with that midget ("Midget! Midget! Midget!") in his hip hopera opus "Trapped in the Closet", his illegal marriage to/impregnation of a 15 year-old Aaliyah, and his forthcoming album "Black Panties".

About the title, Soulacoaster. It's everything we've come to expect from Mr. Kelly: nonsensical, grandiose, funny, and painful. It's so far removed from having any meaning that I don't think you could really call it a metaphor. The photo makes R. Kelly look simultaneously like an egomaniac and a reluctant star. Like, does he want all those microphones to be there? Or is he angstily dismissing them, like, he's gotta get off this crazy Soulacoaster? Does he think he's Jesus in Ray-Bans?

Well, the book comes out next week, and R. Kelly is a born quote machine--one of my favorites, from 2004: "In life, you have people that love to party. That's me. People that love God. That's me. People that love sex. That's me. People that love people. That's me. And people that make mistakes. That's me also." So get ready for an avalanche of breathless excerpting all over the internet.

September 13, 2011

Lana Wachowski

Wachowskis and Arianna Huffington

Some articles floating around today about Hugh Grant joining the cast of the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas highlight an interesting bit of Hollywood gender confusion: what to call Larry Wachowski, erstwhile Wachowski Brother, now that he's become Lana Wachowski. On IMDb and everything.

That's Lana up there on the right with the adorably cartoonish fake pink dreads, next to her brother and, for some reason, Arianna Huffington. A lot of articles, including one by the trans-insensitive AP, refer to the directors of Cloud Atlas as "The Wachowski Brothers", the name they've used in credits of their other movies like The Matrix. Hollywood Reporter is one of the few publications I've seen today that just calls them Andy and Lana Wachowski.

Back in January of this year, the Wikipedia entry for "Wachowski Brothers" was redirected to "The Wachowskis" after what looks like several years of passionate, politically-charged debate over what to call them and how to refer to Larry/Lana. I'm glad we settled on that rather than the clunky Wachowski Siblings.

If Cloud Atlas is twice as good as Speed Racer, I'll gladly call them anything they want. German director Tom Tykwer is co-directing with the Wachowskis. If Cloud Atlas is half as good as Run Lola Run, I might start remembering his name, too.

I love the book, and I'm glad to see the adaptation is looking pretty great, and a little unconventional. The rest of the cast includes Susan Sarandon, Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and other people like Academy Award Winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry who I guess will be OK. According to Ben Wishaw, the actors playing the main character in each of the 6 storylines that make up the book will also appear in smaller unexpected roles in the other storylines. For example, Wishaw plays three characters: a 1930's era pianist, an American woman in the '70's, and an extra in a nursing home in the 2000's.

About the movie's casting, Wishaw says, "Everybody's swapping race and gender, so it's very ambitious and quite fun. I'll really love playing a woman!"

Any guesses on whose idea that was?

May 15, 2011

Bridesmaids: #2!


Did you see Bridesmaids? Because it's really funny. A lot of people saw it, sure, though not enough to achieve my desired goal of it becoming the #1 movie in America. That's because Thor is the #1 movie in America, for the second week.

According to the head of distribution for the the studio that released Bridesmaids, Nikki Rocco, coming in second on opening weekend is "pretty good considering this is a picture titled Bridesmaids." Maybe a little defeatist there, Rocco, about a movie that it's your job to promote? What about a picture titled Thor? I'll tell you right now, I'm not interested in a picture titled Thor, particularly if it's directed by Kenneth Branagh. I'll see Shakespeare by Kenneth Branagh, but a Norse god comic book adaptation? I'll stick with Bridesmaids.

Also, am I just being paranoid, or is the (female) head of distribution for Universal implying that a movie primarily by and about women is inherently less watchable than a movie by and about men? She's just flat out saying that, right?

Bridesmaids is a very funny movie, and Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote, co-produced, and stars) is wildly talented, but it's most notable for two things. First, Melissa McCarthy, aka Sookie from "Gilmore Girls", as the sister of the groom. She is a comic genius, and her character is, in Manohla Dargis's words, almost radical: a fat lady whose sexual confidence and outrageously brash physical comedy aren't signs of any pathology or deeper insecurity, but are accepted as simple, hilarious fact. Sort of like a female Jack Black. Everything she says and does is funny.

Also, Bridesmaids might be the best example of the then-nonexistent movies about believable, cool women that Cynthia Heimel described in her wonderful short essay from 1992, "I'd Like to Lose it At the Movies", which you can read on Google Books:

I want to see women who are rowdy and difficult, who are not victims, who control their own destinies, who are prey to lust and confusion and unbelievable fuck-ups, who are complex, who are real, who are adventuresome, whose entire existence does not rely on the way in which their men treat them.

She then goes on to imagine her own movie studio, where she would remake every movie that stars Jack Nicholson with a woman playing his role: "Picture Five Easy Pieces with Goldie Hawn as a lapsed concert pianist who is so tortured by the ironies of life that she has to pick up Matt Dillon at a bowling alley and fuck his brains out." Yeah, it's from 1992. Still.

It's not perfect, it's heavy on the poop jokes, and it's 100% formulaic, but I think Cynthia Heimel finally got the movie she was looking for. And it's a lot funnier than Baby Mama.

April 18, 2011

Hey everybody, it's TAX DAY!

Tax forms

There are a few different approaches you can take to paying your taxes:

  • Protest large corporations that rake in billions in profits yet somehow don't pay any taxes at all (e.g.'s protests at Bank of America and Boeing.)
  • Protest the very existence of a federal government and its tendency to spend money on things (e.g. the Tea Party's "out of control spending" rallies.)
  • Feel mild resentment about the things you don't support that you know your taxes are helping to pay for (wars, high fructose corn syrup) but pay anyway because it's the right thing to do, plus you have to.
  • Refuse to pay your taxes for 10 years due to a belief that law enforcement and the IRS are part of the "Zionist Illuminati", stockpile weapons, and end in an 8-month standoff with US marshals, like Ed and Elaine Brown of Plainfield, NH.
  • Derive a certain dorky satisfaction from doing your civic duty and making sure that you and the government and your fellow citizens are square. In more ways than one.

Related to that last approach (where I ended up this year) I really like what David Foster Wallace has said about taxes. In 2005, he wrote a letter while researching The Pale King, saying, "I have a vague, hard-to-explain interest in accounting and tax policy (utterly divorced from my own taxes, which I pay promptly and fully like an Eagle Scout)."

He's a little self-deprecating about his dutiful approach to taxes, but he's more profound in his essay about grammar, "Authority and American Usage", which appears in Consider the Lobster. In a discussion of politically correct language, he ends up comparing right and left ideological arguments about redistributing wealth through taxes, pointing out a huge mistake by the left in framing taxes as some sort of charity:

Progressive liberals seem incapable of stating the obvious truth: that we who are well off should be willing to share more of what we have with poor people not for the poor people's sake but for our own; i.e., we should share what we have in order to become less narrow and frightened and lonely and self-centered people.

Along the same lines of paying taxes as a form of self-improvement, there's a great short essay on leftist fiscal policy website Our Fiscal Security called "Giving Meaning to Taxes". Here's an excerpt:

Most other things that require effort and sacrifice--family, service, charity, and volunteerism--have virtuous, or at least redeeming, meaning associated with them ... The stories we tell about tax day reflect a chronic disconnection from our role as citizens; they are devoid of civic meaning. Taxes pay for the things that underpin our public life and connect us to one another through our communities, our states and our country. When we lose sight of this, taxes are seen as merely depriving us of our individual property. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as stewards of a common good, as citizen managers of public systems and structures that secure the city, state and country we live in, then taxes are our contribution to something important that is bigger than we are.

Let's thank our grandparents and great-grandparents for building the highway system, Social Security, and public universities, and pay our taxes with a cheerful, Eagle Scout smile.

January 12, 2011

First look at Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Now that everyone's seen Rooney Mara in The Social Network, we thought we had an idea of how good she'd be in David Fincher's remake/adaptation of Swedish novel and movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Today we're seeing some photos of her in character as spiky, blood-thirsty vigilante avenger Lisbeth Salander, and they look pretty good.

Specifically, Rooney Mara looks great. Very snarly and severe in the cover shot, and I love her "fuck the world" sneer in the cigarette/ink shot. The dragon tattoo is supposed to be on her character's back, I'm pretty sure, so I maybe she's getting a Snoopy on her butt.

Mara didn't even have pierced ears before the shoot started, so I hope she's embracing the new look. She looks like she'll be at least as much of a patriarchy-slashing badass as the Swedish film version of Lisbeth. Here's the W article about Mara and Fincher and the shoot.

I wonder if Fincher's version is going to be as filled with rage as the book would suggest: remember, the original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women, and the author Stieg Larsson was sort of consumed with horror about sexual violence, after witnessing an episode as a teenager.

The movie's being shot in Sweden, which sounds like a good idea, and the character names haven't been anglicized. Trent Reznor says the soundtrack will have lots of strings.

October 3, 2010

The Social Network and DFW

The Social Network bar scene

The Social Network is #1 this weekend, which is lucky for whoever decided to saturate the universe with ads for the last 2 months.

I don't whole-heartedly love David Fincher's movies, or rather, I completely love them for the first 1/3, think the second 1/3 is pretty good, and the last 1/3 either runs out of steam or falls off a cliff. But this one was a lot more even and consistent, and the movie's energy didn't start to flag until the last 20 minutes or so.

The acting is fantastic--Jesse Eisenberg is going to be Hollywood's biggest sweetheart, and Armand Hammer (really!), the man who was born to play the uber-WASP Winklevoss twins, is really hilarious. For some reason I hadn't been expecting much comedy, but these actors could handle Aaron Sorkin's po-faced earnestness and make it sound like how normal, funny people talk.

At the end of the opening scene when Mark Zuckerberg gets dumped, his ex-girlfriend's closing line went something like this: "You're going to think that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And that won't be true. It will be because you're an asshole."

Anyone else think about David Foster Wallace's 1997 essay about John Updike and the other Great Male Narcissists when she said that? The essay presents a thoughtful argument about the weird sexual obsessiveness, loneliness, and misogyny in Updike's books, and then ends like this: "It's not that [Updike's main character] is stupid ... His unhappiness is obvious right from the book's first page. But it never once occurs to him that the reason he's so unhappy is that he's an asshole."

Maybe a little bit of unintentional DFW inspiration/lifting from Aaron Sorkin by way of Erica Albright, there.

At least it's not based on a Dennis Lehane novel

The Town

I watched the latest in the decade's glut of Boston crime movies, The Town. It wasn't too bad, and given how easy it would have been for it to get lost in the Shutter River Gone Baby Departed chowdah pot, it does OK for itself.

The biggest benefit of directing when you're already a movie star seems to be that you can assemble a phenomenally good cast. Ben Affleck was so good at casting this movie that he got a few more top-notch actors than he even needed. Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper are two of my very favorite actors, and while it was nice to see them again, they're given basically nothing to do but get through their brief scenes without completely overshadowing everyone else in the room. Cooper was especially wasted as Ben's imprisoned dad--if his one scene had been cut, it wouldn't have made any difference to the story at all.

The movie goes for quantity over quality in some other ways too. After Ben and Rebecca Hall meet, their relationship has to progress to a certain intensity and seriousness pretty fast. But instead of showing any real passion or chemistry or reasons why they're so into each other, we just see them go on about 85 different dates. Then they kiss. Then they're in love. Because the screenplay says they are.

One downside of casting lots of exceptional actors, besides having to create needless scenes for them all to act in, is that they make the less talented actors stick out uncomfortably. Especially when those actors are also the director. There are a couple of fantastic scenes between Ben Affleck and his best friend and partner in crime, Jeremy Renner, but Renner is so far ahead of Affleck in focus and believability that he makes Ben look like he's just sitting there waiting his turn to say his lines. Almost everybody in the movie is more memorable than Ben Affleck, and he's in just about every scene. He's not terrible, he's just out of his league.

Here's another actor that did a better job than Ben Affleck: Blake Lively. I know! She plays a broken-down local girl whose hometown has chewed up and spit out. It's not at all a glamorous role, and she doesn't try to make it into one. I was impressed. Especially considering she was probably the weak link of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Plus: excellent action sequences! Sometimes I tune these out in heist movies, but these were fantastic. The car chase through those narrow, winding streets of the North End was my favorite scene. Nice camera work throughout.

OK, let's say something else nice about Ben Affleck. My favorite Ben Affleck acting jobs: Extract and Dazed and Confused.

September 28, 2010

The non-political implications of guns at UT

Police clear students out of UT after shooting

Today's shooting at University of Texas today might be most distinguished from other campus shootings because the ski mask-wearing gunman didn't actually shoot anyone besides himself. After running down the street carrying an AK-47 and terrifying students and professors, the 19 year-old Colton Tooley went to the 6th floor of the library, opened fire, missed everybody, then shot himself.

Cushie sent me a blog post from the Austin paper the Statesman about a reading that had been scheduled for tonight by John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, a sentiment that after today's events could be viewed as more reasonable than ever or morbidly perverse, depending on what you think about guns.

Anyway, Lott was brought to campus by a student group called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. The best part of the post is a quote from the president of Students for Concealed Carry on the reading's postponement due to an armed student opening fire on campus: "I don’t want to comment on any political aspects of this."

I know I'm a Democrat from the Northeast so am fundamentally unable to understand nuanced concealed-carry arguments, but seriously, more guns?!

Here's a great article from Harper's from a month or two ago, "Happiness in a Worn Gun", in which a liberal pro-gun guy in Colorado tries carrying his gun around for a few weeks to see how it feels. His conclusion: not so great.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Charles Whitman, who killed his mother and wife, then went on a shooting spree at the University of Texas in 1966.

June 16, 2010

Books about movies: the Brits beat us

BFI Film Classics, Star Wars

The other day I mentioned a new series of short books about individual movies that Soft Skull Press was going to launch later this year. Cool, right? Sort of like the 33 1/3 series of books about individual albums that I like a lot. Everyone's got a movie they've watched enough times they could probably write a book about it, it seems, so this sounded like a wonderful and novel idea.

Except that the British already did it. A film buff friend who knows a thousand times more than I ever will about German expressionism and film noir pointed out that if I'm so psyched about this new series, maybe I should check out BFI's existing series of short books about movies. Ahem.

Since the 90's, the BFI (British Film Institute) has been putting out these great little books as part of its Film Classics series, and they've got some really good ones. Like, well over 100 of them. They've got tons of standard selections like like Star Wars (above), Vertigo, and Lawrence of Arabia, and smart, less popular favorites like Night of the Living Dead, Cat People, and Sweet Smell of Success, which comes out later this summer.

But check these out. They did a book about Groundhog Day. Spirited Away. In August they're putting out Back to the Future. Manohla Dargis did the book about L.A. Confidential ! They got freaking Salman Rushdie to write the book about The Wizard of Oz !

They're all available in the US through Macmillan, and they're all up on Amazon, too. Just about all of them are 10 or 11 bucks, and mostly under 100 pages! Though, mysteriously, no books about Alien or Tootsie.

Wow. Hard to know where to start. Maybe I'll go for Mark Kermode's book on The Exorcist--he's pretty great, and apparently believes it's the greatest movie ever made.

June 8, 2010

French feminist encourages us all to be bad moms

Elisabeth Badinter

Feminist cultural theorists tend to be a radical, provocative bunch--they have to be. But it's the French feminists that have a special place in my heart. Maybe it's their legacy of existentialism, sexual freedom, and Joan of Arc, but the French feminists have always been way more incendiary and out there than their American counterparts. While Betty Freidan was hypothesizing that maybe women want to do something with their lives other than vacuuming, Monique Wittig was claiming that she didn't have a vagina because the naming of body parts imposed an artificial order and a masculine bias on the natural body.

Anyway, a contemporary feminist writer, Elisabeth Badinter, has gotten a lot of attention for her new book, "Le Conflit: la femme et la mère" ("Conflict: The Woman and the Mother") which isn't even out in an English language version yet. I first heard about the book on the Bust blog, which reported that it's causing a major ruckus in France over her argument that women should be women first and mothers second. Women are pressured to be perfect moms, which increasingly means staying at home, breastfeeding, making your own baby food, and using washable diapers--things that many women aren't interested in and others don't have the luxury to even consider.

In a great article in the London Times, Badinter says, "It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food, and disposable diapers were all stages in the liberation of women." As for moralizing about women who eat unpasteurized cheese and drink the occasional glass of wine while pregnant, she says, "You don't enter a religious order when you have children."

Over the weekend, the NY Times did a piece on Badinter. It's in the Style section, where the Times continues to publish all its journalism about women's professional lives. Oh my God that pisses me off. Anyway, in the article, she advocates for a more open-minded approach to motherhood, letting women raise their children they way they want without passing judgment. A mother of three, she says, "I'm a mediocre mother like the vast majority of women, because I'm human, I'm not a she-cat."

Environmentalists and some feminists don't like her argument, but I think I love her. I also agree that many women don't seem to want other women to make their own decisions about how to raise their kids. When I hear women my age (always women, never men) vehemently insisting that all mothers must breastfeed their babies and women who don't are bad and selfish, I can't help but think of social conservatives spouting off about gay people being sinful or America being a Christian nation. For some reason, many progressive thinkers have no problem telling women what they can and can't do with their kids or during pregnancy, but would never consider telling other people what kind of sexuality or religious beliefs to have.

Hopefully when Badinter's book comes out in translation, it will inspire more women to embrace a feminist approach to motherhood, i.e. do what you want, and let other people do what they want. Have kids, don't have kids. Breastfeed, bottle feed. It's up to you. Do you see fathers passionately condemning each other over disposable diapers?

Also, I love that Jezebel used a photo of Lucille Bluth, bad mom role model, in their post about Badinter.

June 3, 2010

Books about music, books about movies

They Live by John Carpenter

One of the coolest things to happen to music criticism in recent years is Continuum's 33 1/3 series of short books, each one about a different album and by a different author. Each book is around 100 pages long, and includes background, interviews, heady analysis, and often some wacky, highly personal musings, reflections, and rants on the importance of the album in question. They're a lot of fun--the experience of reading one is sort of like meeting an interesting person at a party and suddenly finding yourself in a long, meandering conversation about the album that's playing, which you both happen to really love.

The albums in the series range from the obvious but necessary ("Led Zeppelin IV", "Doolittle", "OK Computer") to the well-informed if less canonical ("Meat is Murder", "Born in the U.S.A.") to the truly inspired picks that you might not immediately think of for a series like this ("Rid of Me", "Trout Mask Replica", and one brave monograph about Celine Dion.) There are new ones coming out all the time--I can't wait to see the book for Wu Tang's "36 Chambers", especially the crazy recording studio anecdotes. Here's the whole Wikipedia list and Amazon list.

Many of the writers of these books don't have any other author credits on Amazon, so there's a tantalizing sense that you yourself could one day write a 33 1/3 book on "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" or "Faith" or "Elastica" or "Very Necessary", and that music fans everywhere would read about your own personal musical obsessions.

(As a side note, I've always thought it was an unfortunate indicator of my own musical ignorance that the one book in the series written by somebody I actually know is about an album I have zero personal connection with: The Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime".)

This news has been out for a bit, but I just found out (via Rex) there's going to be a similar series of short books -- about movies! It's called Deep Focus, and it's being put out by Soft Skull Press. The first two books in the series will be about John Carpenter's alien takeover movie They Live, by Jonathan Lethem (!), and Charles Bronson's Death Wish by Christopher Sorrentino. Both are out in November.

So the next obvious question: if you could write a book for this series, what movie would you choose? It seems like they're going mainstream so far, but let's assume that the movie selection will be wide open. I might pick a favorite comedy like Tootsie. There's so much to say about that movie. Or, oh man, can you imagine getting to write a whole book that encompasses every tangent and diversion about Blue Velvet? Or The Apartment? Or Dead Alive? Or Hannah and Her Sisters? I can't wait to see where they go with the series.

If you were going to get paid to go off at length on your own totally subjective analysis and personal adoration of a movie, what would you pick?

April 20, 2010

Mars and Venus make a movie

Women are from Pluto, Men are from Uranus

The latest insanely popular relationship self-help book to be made into a movie will be early 90's juggernaut "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus", a book I was almost as happy to see fade from public consciousness as the marginally more odious "The Rules". I'm sure you remember this book. There was a time that every single person on the planet was reading it, or one of its thousands of spin-offs ("M&V On a Date", "M&V In the Bedroom", "M&V Starting Over", "M&V Grit Their Teeth Through Endless Years of Tedium and Despair"). And by "every single person" I mean women who can't stand their insufferable husbands/boyfriends.

Time for Mars & Venus: The Movie! Which sounds exactly like last year's He's Just Not That Into You: The Movie, except with even more rigid and stereotypical gender roles.

The book was a giant step backwards in terms of breaking down useless and stifling assumptions about what men are like (i.e. rational) and what women are like (i.e. emotional), and reinforced the notion that you can make generalizations about men and women so outrageously broad that you can claim things like this:

"In Chapter 3 we'll discover the different ways men and women cope with stress. Martians tend to pull away and silently think about what's bothering them, while Venusians feel an instinctive need to talk about what's bothering them ... In Chapter 5 you'll learn how men and women commonly misunderstand each other because they speak different languages ... You will learn how men and women speak and even stop speaking for entirely different reasons."

As to what kind of pseudo-chick-flick nightmare this movie is going to be, you can pretty much imagine. On the upside, I can't wait to read Manohla Dargis's eviscerating review, which will probably spit as much venom as her HJNTIY review.

As far as casting goes, the movie could go a few different ways. The standard Hollywood movie star route would probably go with Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper (who were both in HJNTIY). The really horrifically unfortunate cast would be Katherine Heigl and Ben Affleck. The luckier cast that might create an OK movie could be someone like Emily Mortimer or Rosemarie DeWitt, and Adam Goldberg or Paul Rudd. But would actors like them want anything to do with a movie like this?

In an ideal, admittedly psychotic, world, I would love to see the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus movie starring David Cross and Jane Adams as the hostile, bickering couple from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind who appear throughout the movie, staying together while loathing each other. Here's a short video clip of one of my favorite scenes ("I am making a birdhouse!")

December 7, 2009

Holiday gifts for kids

Mr. Squiggles and Chunk

Like a lot of people out there, I have a growing number of small children in my life, and all those children need presents. When you don't spend a whole lot of time around kids, it can be hard to keep up with their interests and obsessions. For example, I only recently found out about Bakugan and its vast universe of Battle Brawler merchandise that any self-respecting 6 year-old is required to possess. You could randomly select a few toys from this product line, but how do you know if you're choosing the coolest action figure, video game, or, God help you, activity book?

And now that this year's insanely popular Zhu Zhu hamsters have turned out to have too much of the toxic fire-resisting agent antimony in them (surprise!), you've got to find some alternatives.

If you're playing the role of the cool but untrustworthy aunt/uncle/family friend, you could just give all the kids on your list a carton of Kool cigarettes and a handle of whiskey. Or if you really want to ensure that you'll never be invited to a Christmas celebration again, give them a new book for families that I received an email about today, just in time for the holidays. It's called Why He Hates You!, and it's a book that invites mothers and sons to explore all the ways they hate each other.

The targeted audience of the book is black women who raised their children alone and black boys raised by single moms, but why not share the hate? Author Janks Morton uses his own experiences as the basis for uncovering "angst-creating parental techniques such as negotiation, manipulation, and castigation"--techniques that, let's be honest, span all races and backgrounds, and lead to deep-rooted parent-hating. Actually, mother-hating.

(Not surprisingly, Janks is a big conservative who is very unhappy about Obama's stimulus efforts and thinks making a case for reparations is "a waste of energy." His hero is his dad, Janks Morton, Sr., and in case you were unclear on this, he hates his mom.)

Give out a few copies of Why He Hates You! to the boys and mothers in your life, and watch the magic of the Christmas season unfold.

October 26, 2009

The Box, which is really "Button, Button"

The Box

You might have seen the ad for the new psychological thriller The Box, which is a retelling of the classic short story and Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button" [video] about a mysterious man who offers a desperate family a lot of money if they push a button that will kill someone they don't know*. The movie clearly goes way beyond the scope of the original story.

But did you know it's directed by Richard Kelly? Who did Donnie Darko and the craziest movie of 2007, Southland Tales?

It is! He's apparently decided to go somewhat mainstream again, which sounds like a good decision considering Southland Tales brought in a total of $275,000, which as far as his distributor is concerned might as well be $2.75. He sounds really energetic and a little loopy in the Times article, though actually not as nuts as you might think. Jake Gyllenhaal says he's like "the missing character in The Breakfast Club" and his producing partner friend tactfully comments that "Richard's greatest strength is his imagination, and sometimes it's his biggest hurdle," which sounds like code for "yeah, he's mental, but his movies are sick!"

The movie's website is surreal and anxiety-producing. Or you can skip through the Flash to the less interesting, non-crazy part. Here's the trailer.

Here's Richard Kelly Twitter page.

* I refrained from giving away the zinger at the end of "Button, Button", because yesterday I summarized the whole story, with the ending, to a friend who as it turned out did not happen to read that story in school. Whoops.

October 15, 2009

Crazy celebrity books

Richard Belzer and Tracy Morgan

Yesterday's Daily News reported on two new celebrity memoirs that are probably better-than-average reads: I Am Not a Psychic! by Richard Belzer, and I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan.

Belzer's character Detective John Munch has appeared on Homicide: Life On the Streets, The X-Files, Law & Order, SVU, The Wire, and Sesame Street. Before he played Munch, Belzer was a stand-up comedian and a talk show host. The book is fiction, but stars Richard Belzer as Richard Belzer. He says, "For years I've been playing a cop, and when you are on television a lot, you get mixed up. Reality and celebrity kind of convert sometimes. I was going to write a novel, but then I decided to use my own name because my life is so interesting. So I figured I could just fold a fictional crime into my real life and take off from there." Pretty meta, Belzer--and sort of like Chuck Barris's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Belzer has a colorful collection of books, including one called UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe. He tells the Daily News that his latest conspiracy theory is that banks run our country and are responsible for every bad thing that's happened in the last 100 years, which sounds pretty reasonable, actually.

Tracy Morgan's I Am the New Black comes out next week, and sounds like a series of wacky anecdotes from the old unmediated Tracy, with some bragging/ranting about his notoriety: "I had my finger on the pulse of urban comedy, but when I brought my act to SNL, those motherfuckers just felt bad for me. None of the cast I came up with saw this future for me. No, sir. All I have to say about that is, where's Chris Kattan now? Where's Cheri Oteri now? That bitch can't even get arrested."

Shouldn't this book have come out a year or so ago when Tracy coined "Black is the new President, bitch" on SNL, and before he stopped drinking and started doing serious interviews?

Anyway, 30 Rock starts tonight.

September 23, 2009

A Mamet/Anne Frank joke script that's funny

David Mamet and Anne Frank

Earlier this summer when it was announced that David Mamet was going to write and direct a film version of Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, the smirky jokes flew fast. Some of the many fake script excerpts out there are OK, though a lot of them don't move very far beyond all the characters swearing a lot and being inexplicably aggressive. (NY Mag, The Independent, The Voice.)

One pretty good one incorporates this line for Anne: "You know what it takes to live in an attic for two years? It takes BRASS BALLS." The Onion's highlights from their imagined script uses the same the brass balls joke (taken from Alec Baldwin's big scene in Glengarry Glen Ross [video]). And (this is great) The Onion also predicts, "Rebecca Pidgeon is shoehorned into the plot, ruining movie at last minute."

Anyway, one of the best joke Mamet/Anne Frank scripts was performed and broadcast on last week's edition of Filmspotting, a good movie discussion podcast. The script was submitted by a listener and the podcast performance got posted on YouTube:

August 25, 2009

Surprise returns


  • MTV has bought the rights to remake British teen TV show "Skins". The original series was pretty great--you can watch it on BBC America and on YouTube.

    Fans are worried the MTV version will be watered down, meaning there won't be as much drugs, drinking, smoking, swearing, nudity, sex, binging, purging, and suicide attempts, all of which were well-represented on the original. They'll probably pull off casting unknown actors, since they're used to doing that already. It sounds like the original producer and one of the co-creators are coming over for the new series -- the producer says his goal is to make sure the new show is "the absolute opposite of 'Gossip Girl'."

  • I would never in a million years have guessed who has the #1 album this week. It's Third Eye Blind. Huh?
  • Spout is putting out a book based on their blog, probably my favorite of the movie blogs out there.
  • A long piece on Wired about Craigslist is titled "Why Craigslist is Such a Mess", but is really more about the mystery of why Craigslist is so incredibly successful when it doesn't follow any usual business or organizational rules at all:

    Craigslist gets more traffic than either eBay or eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30. Craigslist may have little to teach us about how to make decisions, but that's not the aspect of democracy that concerns [Craig] Newmark most. He cares about the details, about executing all the little obvious things we'd like government to do. "I'm not interested in politics, I'm interested in governance," he says. "Customer service is public service."

August 17, 2009

London Fog, then and now

London Fog ads

  • Last night's season premiere of "Mad Men" featured a storyline about a campaign for London Fog. Above are two real London Fog ads--the first appeared in an copy of Playboy from the early 60s, and features a tearful woman using her man's raincoat as a Kleenex. You can read the text of the ad in a blog post about using deep zoom with Playboy's online archives (for the articles, of course) which touts the coat's imperviousness to "emotional outbursts or sudden cloudbursts". The second ad is a not-so-pregnant-looking Gisele from a few weeks ago.

    Don Draper's new campaign, which he briefly described last night, involves a woman wearing a London Fog raincoat flashing a man on the subway--which sounds a lot more like the 2009 ad than the actual ad from back then.

    And of course, the whole storyline was a big product placement (so was the Stoli reference.) London Fog probably got to request that their ad on the show feature a naked lady to keep their branding consistent.

    (Also, pretty good episode, but Sal and Joan were both great. I bet this season will be good because of the supporting cast, and not so much the stars.)

  • "Reno 911!" got canceled. It ran for SIX SEASONS. If "30 Rock" gets canceled this year, I'm gonna riot.
  • Brad Pitt is allegedly going to be in the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movie as Professor Moriarty. He wouldn't be my first choice for Holmes's menacing nemesis, but maybe Eddie Izzard isn't available (wouldn't he be good?)
  • Mike Nichols is going to direct an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Deep Water. The book is about an unhappy couple who agree that the wife can see other people. She does. Then her other people start dying off. Mike Nichols is better at quiet personal dramas than thrillers, but it still sounds cool.
  • And here's a great Times article about Al Bell, former owner of the late, great Stax Records in Memphis. He's trying to bring Memphis back as a musical capital, through the Memphis Music Foundation and one of the greatest museums I've ever been to, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

August 4, 2009

More movie news, other news

Coffee and Cigarettes

A few links for today:

  • A new study shows that people have a lot less self-control than they think they do, and people who think they're good at resisting temptation are actually terrible at it. One of the tests involved college student smokers watching Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes (which features Iggy and Tom, above) while holding an unlit cigarette in their hand or, for the hardcore delusional people, in their mouths. Three times more students who thought they had unbreakable self-control smoked during the movie than the other students.

    The lesson: you are helpless to resist that donut/cigarette/drink/cute flirt, so who do you think you're kidding? As Wilde said, the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

  • Latest cast addition to Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch: Carla Gugino. If this movie isn't fantastic I'm going to cry.
  • Review copies of G.I. Joe aren't going to be released, which is usually a bad sign. But really, what have they got to lose? Transformers 2 showed that fans don't care what critics say anyway, so why put what's probably a pretty disappointing movie out there to get bad reviews? One reviewer who has seen it called it "a big, silly, pulpy, cartoony action film." Yeah, no kidding.
  • Some statisticians who think language used in song lyrics and on blogs indicate our national mood found that teen blogs use "an abundance of 'sick,' 'hate' and 'stupid.' "
  • Michiko Kakutani weighs in not so positively on Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which sounds like an intentionally breezy read: "it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself."

June 29, 2009

Lynndie's back

Lynndie England, 2009

After causing a crisis in US military morality, being the subject of an Errol Morris documentary and spawning the global internet photo meme "Doing a Lynndie", what is Lynndie England up to in 2009?

Not a lot. She hardly leaves her house, she's depressed, she can't get a job, and she's on welfare. AP has a piece on her today about her upcoming pulpy-sounding biography called Tortured: Lynndie England, Abu Ghraib and the Photographs that Shocked the World.

Lynndie served half of a 3 year sentence for her role in Abu Ghraib, but says she's still getting treated unfairly. "They think that I was like this evil torturer ... I wasn't." We all know that the highest levels of government authorized "enhanced interrogation" of suspected terrorists in Iraq, but the lead prosecutor from Lynndie's case points out that prisoners that she was guarding at Abu Ghraib weren't terror suspects, and none of them were interrogated. As the article says, they weren't terrorists, they were regular suspected "Iraqi-on-Iraqi" criminals. Her mistreatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners was just as unacceptable as mistreating any suspected criminal in a US jail would be.

So here's Lynndie, back in West Virginia with her 4 year-old son, getting turned down for restaurant jobs because the other employees said they would quit if the manager hired her. Clearly, moving back to one's rural hometown and sending around a bunch of resumes that say "Lynndie England" on them isn't a good post-release employment strategy.

May 20, 2009

Vampire lady smackdown

Charlaine Harris in her officeStephenie Meyer

The Times has a great feature today on Charlaine Harris, the middle-aged southern lady who writes the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels that has become the basis for HBO's True Blood series, the show about dirty, sexy, campy vampires that stars Anna Paquin. This lady has got it going on.

I'm coming in really late in the game, here. I've never read any of her books, and I haven't seen True Blood. I also haven't read any of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books, or seen the movie that came out a few months ago. My opinion is based solely on this one article and the press about the books and tv/movie adaptations. But next time I'm taking a really long flight or recovering from dental surgery and need a vampire soap opera potboiler, I'm picking up Sookie Stackhouse.

Both Sookie and the Twilight series have been wildly popular. The latest Sookie novel, Dead and Gone, came out last week and debuted at number one. Twilight has sold one hundred billion copies (actually 42 million) and preteens everywhere went completely mental for the movie.

But from what I can tell, Sookie has it all over Bella Swan and the Twilight crew. She's a waitress in a rural Louisiana bar, she's kind of trashy, she can read minds, and she likes to have freaky swamp sex with vampires. The TV show itself sounds like it unfortunately abandoned its pulpy roots to devolve into a misguided metaphor for identity politics. I love this quote from Slate's review: "its ideas (about race, gender, sexual orientation, what have you) simmer on the artsy-fartsy backburner while blood and lust boil away in the low-culture pot up front." The opening credits are good and nasty.

Meanwhile, Twilight's main character, Bella Swan, looks wan and ineffectual, and her relationship with her vampire boyfriend involves a lot of pained chastity. I like Kristen Stewart in Panic Room and Adventureland, so I hope she doesn't get trapped playing bad gothy damsel in distress roles in this series for too long. A few months ago Stephen King said in an interview that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a damn."

Here are a few good bits from the Times article on Charlaine Harris. In addition to the latest one, she's also written 25 other books, including an earlier series about a librarian-turned-sleuth, and another "more violent and sexually explicit storyline" about a cleaning lady who investigates murders.

"It was just a huge relief that I finally hit on the right character and the right publisher," said Ms. Harris. Or, as she put it more succinctly, with a cackle that evoked a paranormal creature: "I had this real neener-neener-neener moment."

She had always wanted to write about vampires. From the outset, she wanted to set the story in the prosaic trailer-park and strip-mall landscape of northern Louisiana, to distinguish it from the gothic opulence of Anne Rice’s New Orleans.

Driving last week along a tree-lined country road dotted by an occasional horse farm or a row of abandoned chicken coops, Ms. Harris said it was how she imagined the road to Sookie’s house. Ideas for characters come from all over the place. "Every trip to Wal-Mart is an inspiration," she said.

I already love her.

May 12, 2009

Note to Obama: This is not your next Poet Laureate

This story includes weirdo Oxbridge traditions, a Nobel Laureate/sexual harasser and an anonymous smear campaign. So... Oxford University elects a Professor of Poetry every five years. The tradition has been in place since 1708, and previous Professors of Poetry include Seamus Heaney, Robert Graves and W.H. Auden, as well as a bunch of men I have never heard of. The voters are anyone with a degree from Oxford (except for those fakey honorary degree people, no votes for you). Oh, and it's not really a job or anything. It consists of a small salary, an even smaller amount of work and a fancy professorial title.

This year there were three candidates, one of whom was Derek Walcott. Walcott is a Nobel laureate. But he's now withdrawn because people keep talking about his history of sexual harassment.

He's been accused of sexual harassment at least three times, has never denied it, and seems to have reached a settlement with at least one of his accusers. Salacious details of one of the incidents are here, and in a book called The Lecherous Professor, including a dirty comment he made to one student about "licking".

An anonymous person or group felt that Oxford should not be honoring this harasser, so they bombarded various Oxford folks with an anonymous note. Meanwhile, various prominent poets like Carol Ann Duffy and AC Grayling were taking sides in the election. And it really is an election, with campaign statements etc. His 'flysheet' states his credentials and his endorsements, and includes a poem.

Some of Walcott's supporters think his little sexual harrassment problem shouldn't get in the way:

[Feminist Scholar] Professor Hermione Lee, a campaigner for Derek Walcott, said that these allegations should not interfere with Derek Walcott's running for the post.

She said, "I ask myself how far this puritanism might go. Should students be forbidden to read Derek Walcott's poetry, lest they be contaminated by his long past behaviour?"

"I am campaigning for a professor of poetry who will be a person giving public lectures to students and professors. I am not campaigning for someone who will be in pastoral relations to students."

"This matter has arose in the past, when Derek Walcott was given a honorary D.Lit at Oxford and these issues were raised at the time as with the many awards and positions that Mr Walcott holds. These historic matters of previous bad behaviour were set aside."

She added, "You might ask yourself as a student body whether you wanted Byron or Shelley as a professor of poetry neither of whom personal lives were free of criticism."

There were rumors that Walcott would speak at the Obama inauguration, since Obama has been caught reading him (see photo above) but apparently Obama's vetting team knew better. He wrote a poem entitled "Forty Acres" to mark the occasion anyway.

Walcott has dropped out of the race, claiming a character assassination. Now it looks like the Oxford Professor of Poetry will be Ruth Padel, the first woman to hold the position.

Tx Amy.

April 23, 2009

Dieting for dudes

Skinny Bastards

The ladies who brought us Skinny Bitch are coming out with a version for the fellas, which is titled Skinny Bastard.

The original book for women was marketed as a dieting book, but turned out to be a well-reasoned argument for becoming vegan. Some angry would-be skinny bitches did not want to hear about animal cruelty in their dieting books, but it still sold 1.1 million copies.

The publishing company admits that they expect mostly women to buy Skinny Bastard on behalf of their menfolk. An article in the Times quotes the new, guy-oriented introduction: "Chances are, you haven't done so badly, despite the few extra lbs you're carting around ... But don't kid yourself, pal: A hot-bodied man is a head-turner."

But come on, what kind of man is going to buy a book called Skinny Bastard? The subtitle is pretty good: "A Kick-In-The-Ass For Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff", but the title is terrible. There are loads of women out there who would love it if people called them "skinny bitch" behind their backs. And there's definitely a segment of men who would be into the "bitch" part, but how many men aspire to be called "skinny"?

So let's think of some better titles that might interest that special population of men who buy dieting books. A few thoughts:

Fit Jerk
Stud Asshole
Tight-Ab Prick
Sculpted Moron
Pumped Dick
Ripped Fuckface
Beefy Jackass

Wouldn't you rather buy those titles? Browse the Men's Health site for a few minutes, I swear this is totally what guys want.

January 30, 2009

DFW, en español

As a tangent to the John Updike/Irving post, my friend T-Rock sent over a photo he took of a couple of Spanish-language translations of David Foster Wallace books in a bookstore in Buenos Aires recently [click for larger image]:

David Foster Wallace covers, in spanish

Hilarious and strange.

Looks like the Argentinian publishers decided to go with a literal interpretation of the "Consider the Lobster" essay on the cover of Hablemos de Langostas (which T-Rock, whose Spanish is better than mine, says would probably be "Pensemos en la Langosta" if it were a more direct translation.) In the essay, DFW does some anthropomorphizing of lobsters as part of his growing anxiety about the questionable ethics of throwing a live animal into boiling water. Here's a clearer image of that cover photo.

I took Spanish in high school, so I deeply appreciate how many Spanish/English cognates there are and love learning new ones. Such as the delightful "repulsivo" in Entrevistas Breves con Hombres Repulsivos.

I wonder if Krasinski's movie version of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men involves a pudgy man in a superhero costume. Here's a clearer, small photo of that cover.

Check out other Spanish translations of DFW's works, like the classic Algo supuestamente divertido que nunca volveré a hacer.

January 28, 2009

Irving on Updike, DFW on Updike

John Irvin and John Updike

I'm not a big follower of the late John Updike, but I like this little anecdote that John Irving tells today on Slate about how they used to receive each other's fan mail:

For a period of time—no longer—fans used to confuse the two of us. How could this have happened? Because we were both "John"? It was baffling, but I got numerous fan letters that were meant for him, and he got fan letters that were meant for me, and this gave us the occasion to write to each other—and send the misdirected fan mail to each other. This has stopped; it hasn't happened in five or six years. Maybe this was mail from a single demented village or the same deranged family; maybe it was generational, and they've died out—those idiots who thought I was John Updike and John Updike was me.

The letters would begin "Dear John Irving," and I would read for a while before I realized that the letter-writer was talking about an Updike novel; it was the same for him. I admit that I miss this craziness; it will probably never happen again.

I wonder what it was about a misguided fan letter that tipped John Irving off that it was a letter intended for John Updike. Maybe something like:

Dear John Irving,

I'm a big fan, I've read all your novels and stories and essays. You write exceptionally beautiful and vivid prose about truly unlikeable men, who usually sound like they would be self-involved jerks who can't keep it in their pants if you knew them in real life. But your use of language sure is nice!

Truly yours,
Avid Reader Who Isn't So Hot With Names

Anyway, Irving includes a few other amusing stories. This little essay is probably the most uniformly positive thing I've ever seen written about John Updike.

A less positive reaction came from David Foster Wallace. Here's his essay titled "John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists?", originally published in the New York Observer in 1997, also appearing in Consider the Lobster with the I'm assuming deliberately opaque title, "Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think."

December 3, 2008

Pitchfork 500

Pitchfork 500

I should have written about this earlier, but Pitchfork has a new book out, Pitchfork 500. It's a collection of the 500 best songs ever according to them.

Last week I went to an event at a bowling alley in Greenpoint where a DJ played tracks from the book, and it seemed like a great selection. With 500 tracks to pick, they covered everything--some huge hits that probably appear in the majority of our planet's CD collections ("Holiday" and "Push It") as well as a Stereolab B-side ("French Disko") and a Magnetic Fields song released on a tiny label from Chicago that I mailed a check to in 1995 to order the album and they never sent me the damn thing ("Take Ecstasy With Me"). Justin Timberlake appears right next to Luomo. So it's a really eclectic list and a lot of fun to peruse.

They organized the book chronologically, starting in 1977 with "Heroes" by David Bowie, a song that on some days I think is the best song ever. It would probably be in my Pitchfork 1. Anyway, it's the perfect year to start with for anyone who is in my generation and doesn't want another rehash of how great our parents' music was. Pitchfork says they picked that year because it was "the birth of punk and independent music".

The book then travels through chunks of years that represent sort-of distinct periods of popular music with little blurbs about each song selected. There are also lots of pull-out mini-lists about notable (or made-up) sub-genres that might be the most compelling part of the book. They've got a section on Yacht Rock (which of course includes "Sailing" by Christopher Cross), Career Killers, and something like Bleep Rock which includes a personal favorite, I-F's "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass".

Listening to selections from the book as they were played leads me to guess that a significant number of the editors that chose the songs were mid-90's college radio DJs who happen like all the same stuff I liked when I was 20. Including some I've hardly thought about since I was 20 (Felt, Unrest). But there are many moments of recognition. My favorite Pavement song ("Summer Babe (Winter Version)") my favorite Kate Bush song ("Running Up That Hill", of course), AND my favorite Orange Juice song ("Blue Boy")! Whoa.

As with any "best of" list, there are going to be a lot of selections in there that you'll strongly disagree with (for example there is NO WAY that "Setting Sun" is the Chemical Brothers' best song) but the book is a pretty fascinating flip-through. And it would make a great gift for music fans, provided you are prepared to accept their refusal to leave the house, talk to you, or do any activity apart from read that book for several days after they get it. If you choose to give it as a gift, expect total engrossed silence, punctuated by outbursts of impassioned ranting about "Highway to Hell" vs. "Back in Black" and how just because Bon Scott was dead doesn't mean that they didn't record some of their best stuff post-1980.

Here's the full list.

November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

spaghetti carbonara

In honor of our national celebration of face-stuffing, we bring you an excerpt from Calvin Trillin's groundbreaking 1981 essay about his overthrow of the traditional Thanksgiving menu, "Spaghetti Carbonara Day".

I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara.

It does not take much historical research to uncover the fact that nobody knows if the Pilgrims really ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing we know for sure about what the Pilgrims ate is that it couldn't have tasted very good. Even today, well brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth. (It is certainly unfair to say that the English lack both a cuisine and a sense of humor: their cooking is a joke in itself.)

It would also not require much digging to discover that Christopher Columbus, the man who may have brought linguine with clam sauce to this continent, was from Genoa, and obviously would have sooner acknowledged that the world was shaped like an isosceles triangle than to have eaten the sort of things that the English Puritans ate. Righting an ancient wrong against Columbus, a great man who certainly did not come all this way only to have a city in Ohio named after him, would be a serious historical contribution. Also, I happen to love spaghetti carbonara.

[At the first Thanksgiving,] The Indians, having had some experience with Pilgrim cuisine during the year, took the precaution of taking along one dish of their own. They brought a dish that their ancestors had learned from none other than Christopher Columbus, who was known to the Indians as "the big Italian fellow." The dish was spaghetti carbonara--made with pancetta bacon and fontina and the best imported prosciutto. The Pilgrims hated it. They said it was "heretically tasty" and "the work of the devil" and "the sort of thing foreigners eat."

The entire essay is available in The Tummy Trilogy.

Spaghetti carbonara doesn't exactly solve the problem that vegetarians face at Thanksgiving, but it's a step in the right direction. Even if your Thanksgiving hosts fail to offer you a tasty plate of spaghetti carbonara, you can feel lucky that you're not a NASA astronaut at the international space station. Here's their dinner:

NASA Thanksgiving dinner

October 31, 2008

Upcoming sci-fi

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet from 1956 is one of the most entertaining sci-fi classics out there, even for a not very committed sci-fi fan like me. In the story based on The Tempest, a young Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to a distant planet inhabited only by the sweet-faced Anne Francis and her father, and lovable sidekick Robby the Robot. The movie also had the first all-electronic movie soundtrack, and this was years before the first Moog synthesizer came out.

So now there's going to be a remake, which hopefully will hang onto some of the endearing qualities of the original, or at least include a Leslie Nielsen cameo. The remake is being written by J. Michael Straczynski, a man who I think formed my childhood concept of what sci-fi/fiction is: he wrote for He-Man, She-Ra, and the 80's version of the Twilight Zone. (He also created Babylon 5, which I wasn't into.) And he did the screenplay for the Wachowski Brothers-produced Ninja Assassin, which comes out next year and looks OK.

But: more important. J. Michael Straczynski also wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Max Brooks' World War Z! The book is a really fun read, a surprisingly well thought-out and thorough collection of oral accounts of the great zombie war that engulfs the globe in the near future.

Here's a review of the leaked World War Z screenplay, with some excerpts. Looks like the movie will stick with the current fast-zombie trend, and attach all sorts of criticism of government corruption and consumer culture to the zombie metaphor--the reviewer calls it "a George Romero wet dream."

September 18, 2008

The Joads, 70 years later

Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

One of the books I read in high school English was The Grapes of Wrath, which we read for its social commentary on the Great Depression-era exploitation of desperate people and their struggle to maintain some dignity as they fight to survive. Mostly what I remember about that book is being grossed-out by the last scene in which Rosasharn breastfeeds a dying old man. That one scene probably prolonged millions of teenagers' feelings of confusion and revulsion over their adolescent bodily development for many months or years.

But one other scene I remember is where Pa Joad, the patriarch of the Joad family that we follow on their journey to find work out west, is confronted by a man who explains the harsh economic truth behind the myth of plentiful jobs in California that all the people in the migrant camp have been clinging to.

From the screenplay based on the book:

"How many of you all got them han'bills? Look at 'em! Same yella han'bill--800 pickers wanted. Awright, this man wants 800 men. So he prints up 5,000 a them han'bills an' maybe 20,000 people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' starts movin, wes' account a this han'bill. Two-three thousan' folks that's crazy with worry headin' out for 800 jobs! Does that make sense?"

Today, AP describes our current economic situation as "the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression". In another article, they describe modern-day Joad families setting up tent cities in western towns where people have come expecting to find jobs. Except that instead of looking for fruit picking jobs in California, they're looking for casino jobs in Reno:

A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer. Then others appeared — people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.

Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a "tent city" — an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.

Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.

"I figured this would be a great place for a job," said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn't find one and ended up taking showers at the men's shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.

The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.

The article also refers to growing tent cities in Santa Barbara, Fresno, Portland, Seattle, Chattanooga, San Diego, and Columbus.

October 22, 2007

This week's teeth-gritting Style section

Grammar Bytes

A few articles from yesterday's Times Fashion & Style section that seem to provide some meta-commentary on the world we live in.

First there's a piece on socialite Tinsley Mortimer's husband. His name is Topper, he's an investment advisor and a fan of Caddyshack, and he offered many spectacularly clumsy quotes that I am very grateful to the Times for choosing not to clean up at all:

"It’s worked out well for Tinsley," Mr. Mortimer said. "She’s built a great business for herself, she’s heading in the direction that she’d like to see herself."

But, he continued, "I don’t know that the route to how she got there is what I’d tell my 5-year-old girl to follow if I had one... I just never liked that whole thing with everybody trying to gain status from being involved in these charity events."

As awkward as his criticism is, Topper is clearly unhappy about his wife's pointless fame. Sure, he could have married someone who wasn't such a calculating publicity-hog, but he didn't know he would end up connected to the empty, self-serving elite social scene. He later compares Tinsley unfavorably to LeAnn Rimes, who also attended an event, because at least LeAnn "didn’t make her bones going to charity parties. She did something else." Preach it, Topper!

Next we've got a "What's Next for Lance Bass?" piece about his memoir, Out of Sync (a title I bet celebrity biographers have been dying to use for most of the last decade.) He says "it was very, I don’t know, like, therapeutic" to write the book, but as much as he hopes his former bandmates will read it (especially JT, who he slams for going solo) he's not sure they will. "It’ll take them a while because none of them like to read," he said.

It must have been hard for the Times to publish so many gems in one section, but later they indulge their editorial superiority with "Your Modifier Is Dangling", a tribute to hopeless cause supporters who rage against grammatical abuse. These people have started Facebook clubs like I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar and Grammar Freaks United in which they can vent their outrage at the world.

OK, I hate it when shampoo ads say their product "structurizes" your hair as much as the next girl, but check out this advice from business writing consultant Lynne Agress about what to do when somebody you're talking to makes a grammatical error:

Don’t point out the mistake. Instead, repeat what was just said, but with correct usage this time, and in your own sentence. Then keep talking.

"So if someone tells me that everyone has their issues," she said, "I reply, 'Yes, everyone has his issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to worry about them.'"

Yuck! Gee, I think they might pick up on your totally unsubtle correction, there. I know, "their" is wrong. But many people who have a robust appreciation of grammar use "their" as a replacement for the clunkier "his or her" when speaking, knowing it's incorrect, to avoid using sexist language. The fact is, there is no polite or non-prickish way to correct someone's grammar unless you are a teacher, or unless someone specifically asks you to edit their writing. You're just going to have to bitch to your grammar vigilante Facebook group.

August 29, 2007

A whole new way to destroy the world

Humane Society environmental ad

Last year, the UN came out with a report on climate change that said that the livestock industry generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation all over the world. It sounds pretty unbelievable, but it's true: methane is 21 times worse, climate-wise, than carbon dioxide, so all those cow farts are screwing up the environment a lot worse than SUVs are.

Thing is, a lot of environmental groups and figures like Al Gore aren't saying anything about the livestock industry, at least not the same way they're talking about cars and coal-burning power plants and fluorescent lightbulbs. But today, the NY Times speaks up about it: an article about meat as a cause of global warming is right there in the Business section. The big environmental groups aren't targeting meat in their campaigns, but, not surprisingly, animal rights groups are.

PETA has this ad directed at Al Gore, who didn't include anything about the meat industry in An Inconvenient Truth:

Al Gore PETA ad

It's funny in that blunt, mean PETA way, and it's good to let people know that not eating a lot of meat will help the environment. But when groups like PETA or The Humane Society (who made the car key/fork ad above) talk about the environment only in terms of saving animals, it probably won't convince people to change their behavior. PETA is good at stopping KFC from chopping the beaks off chickens and sometimes getting attractive people to pose naked, but we need more mainstream environmental groups to start talking about the meat thing.

And why shouldn't they? The head of the Sierra Club says "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective." But they have no problem telling people to take public transportation more often and to buy different air conditioners and those damn ugly fluorescent bulbs.

Is reducing meat consumption just too radical for environmentalists to mention? Even ELECTRIC COMPANIES are telling consumers to buy appliances that use less electricity to help reduce global warming.

It reminds me of the dust-up over top selling diet book Skinny Bitch that women are buying like crazy, then becoming outraged by one of the central messages of the book: a good way to lose weight is to be a vegan. In another Times article, we learn about readers such as Laura McGlinchey, 41-year-old computer network manager:

She bought the book on Amazon because she was attracted by the packaging and "irreverent tone."

So she was surprised to encounter chapters on meat and poultry farming practices. "It seemed to be pushing more of a PETA agenda," she said, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights advocacy group. Ms. McGlinchey said she was so fed up that she didn’t even finish the book.

Aww, poor little offended baby. As Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman said, "They’re mad that they spent $14 on a book that was not what they thought, but they’re not mad that chickens are having beaks chopped off their faces? How is that possible? I can’t even wrap my mind around that."

It seems like the best way to get people to actually change their behavior is to create a product that they can buy to feel like they're helping to save the environment. Toyota and Honda have done a great job letting drivers know how their hybrid cars are good things to buy if you want to reduce emissions, and Panasonic will happily tell you all about their energy-saving flat screen TVs.

The corporations that would benefit from more consumers adopting vegetarian diets need to get on the ball with marketing some celebrity-endorsed tofu. Forget those Sierra Club wimps--Vitasoy and Morningstar, you guys get on the phone with Pamela Anderson and Forest Whitaker and make some good ads, OK?

August 27, 2007

How to seduce your best friend's wife

Pattie Boyd, Wonderful Tonight

There are already thousands of Beatles biographies out there, and all of them recount how George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd left him for Eric Clapton after he hounded her for years, and they both wrote all kinds of songs about her, including the beautiful and tender "Something", the classic rock standby "Layla", and maybe the worst song ever written "Wonderful Tonight".

So now Pattie Boyd has a new autobiography. She decided to go with Wonderful Tonight for the title, so that the world would never forget that this treacly piece of prom theme garbage that Eric Clapton insists on singing with his eyes closed is about her. Poor lady.

Janet Maslin reviewed it for the Times. She exhibits some kind restraint, but still notes some of Boyd and her collaborator Penny Junor's more vapid observations: "This book includes perhaps the least useful account of the much-described 1968 all-star idyll in India: 'If it was anyone’s birthday, and there was a surprising number while we were there, including George’s 25th and my 24th, there would be cake and a party.' "

But what makes my heart go out to Boyd is her account of Eric Clapton stalking her for 7 years until she finally divorced George Harrison and married him. The guy sent her anonymous letters like this--"for nothing more than the pleasures past i would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence, and still you will not move", started dating her 17 year-old sister, then wrote "Layla" for Pattie in 1970 and played it for everybody telling them it was about her, and then actually threatened to start using heroin if she didn't leave George for him.

She didn't, but the determined Eric Clapton started doing heroin anyway. By the time Pattie finally left George for him in 1977 he had become a big junkie, then in kicking that, transitioned seamlessly into raging alcoholism. "It was as though the excitement had been in the chase," Boyd realizes, and she eventually ended what sounded like a completely awful marriage in which he drank two bottles of brandy a day and impregnated other women all over the place and wrote songs like "Wonderful Tonight".

She sounds like she's doing OK now.

July 9, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning

Bronx is Burning

Tonight at 10 is the premiere of ESPN's original miniseries The Bronx is Burning, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Mahler. It runs for 8 weeks, and will air on Tuesdays at 10 after this week.

It's going to be awesome. The book, whose subtitle is "1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City" is an incredibly thorough portrait of the nadir of New York City's troubled history. 1977 represented the culmination of poverty, poor governance, racial tensions, and general urban dysfunction; there were the Son of Sam murders, a nasty mayoral election, the blackout, and ongoing, slow recovery from the 1975 fiscal crisis. Outside the city, New York was seen as a national embarrassment: as the book says of the looting and mayhem that went on during the blackout, "America had expected the worst, and New York had not let it down."

But the real narrative of the book, and the focus of the miniseries, is the rise of the Yankees and Reggie Jackson, culminating in his famous 3 consecutive home runs in the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers. Not surprising that ESPN chose to devote the most time to the sports story, and as Mahler says in an interview in this week's Time Out, "Reggie's three home runs is as much a symbol of New York's resilience as its rebirth," though he says identifying it as the point at which the city's fortunes started to change would be an oversimplification.

But this is ESPN: the reviews suggest that the TV show has no problem with oversimplification. It emphasizes the Yankees story and maybe doesn't deal as much with all the other stuff going on in the city (Daily News review says they've "taken on several major, meaty stories at once, reducing them to their essences and intertwining them.") But it looks like we'll at least get to see Jimmy Breslin covering the Son of Sam murders. He's played by Michael Rispoli, who played Jackie Aprile on The Sopranos, and was also in Spike Lee's Summer of Sam, which covers the same historical territory as this miniseries. No mention of hat-loving agitator and mayoral candidate Bella Abzug in the cast list, though, which is too bad, since she is at least as larger-than-life a character as Billy Martin.

Which brings us to the fantastic Yankees cast: John Turturro as Billy Martin, the Yankees' legendarily hot-tempered manager (Daily News reported he maybe got a little too Method during the shoot,) Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, and Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson. Sunjata is also on Rescue Me, where he plays firefighter Franco Rivera. On Rescue Me, his character typically has a lot of lady troubles, and he plays his dramatic scenes with intensity as well as restraint, which is especially impressive considering how outrageously tragic the storylines of the show often are.

Now's his chance to lose the restraint and cut loose as the preening, egomaniacal Jackson, who always seemed at least as concerned about his image off the field as he was about his baseball games. I hope they recreate the interview he did for Sport magazine where he dropped the "I'm the straw that stirs the drink" bomb. In the Bronx is Burning book, Mahler writes that Jackson later said that interview was "the worst screwing he ever got from the press."

Anyway, Sunjata looks like he's heading into casting territory currently occupied by John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub, where he can convincingly play any number of ethnicities. Also interesting is that in 2002 John Turturro played Howard Cosell, whose quote inspired the title, in TNT's Monday Night Mayhem.

The Daily News has a good special section on the summer of 1977, and the Post has a great article on the chaos of the blackout, part of a five-day series of articles leading up to the 30th anniversary this Friday.

May 21, 2007

Good news! Your book got reviewed in the Wall Street Journal

Bad news: the review is by Dan Quayle.

Sports writer John Feinstein's latest book, Tales from the Q School about the qualifying tournament for the PGA tour, is sure to be popular among Journal readers. Feinstein, who describes himself as "very liberal and obviously not a big fan of Dan Quayle politically" didn't know who was going to review his book until he picked up the weekend edition of the Journal and saw the byline. "Oy vey," he said.

Quayle is quite an accomplished golfer, so his review isn't that much of a surprise. Given history's assessment of his political career, it's also not so surprising that the review identified him only as "a seven-handicap golfer and the chairman of Cerberus Global Investment." It also just so happens that the parent company of his investment firm is in the process of gaining control of Chrysler even as we speak, as the Times helpfully points out.

Here's a picture from 2005 of Dan Quayle with his golfing buddy Alice Cooper at a celebrity golf tournament.

Dan Quayle and Alice Cooper

Which does not imply that Dan Quayle is a rockin' kind of guy: Alice Cooper is a self-described golf monster and also supported Bush.

May 16, 2006

Readers: dumber than you think they are

Da Vinci Code maybe taken a little too seriously

If you're like me, you probably think the Catholic church and Catholic-affiliated organizations are making way too big a deal out of The Da Vinci Code and the ways its story deviates from Biblical assumptions about Jesus. I mean, come on. Nobody really thinks that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children together, or that Opus Dei are a bunch of power-hungry murderers, just because that stuff is part of the plot of some popular airport novel.

But the chuch has gone so far as to appoint an archbishop to counter all the non-factual elements of the book, produce a documentary called The Da Vinci Code: A Masterful Deception, and Opus Dei wants a disclaimer about the fictional nature of the story to be shown at screenings everywhere. Which is ridiculous--doesn't the Vatican have bigger issues to worry about than a movie? Don't they know that people can tell the difference between a novel and a history book? How stupid do they think the general public is?

Well, pretty stupid, as it turns out. A group of Catholic leaders in the UK recently sponsored a survey to compare the beliefs of people who have read The Da Vinci Code and those who haven't. It turns out that the book does appear to influence what people believe about Jesus and Catholic institutions.

A Reuters piece on the survey says, "They interviewed more than 1,000 adults last weekend, finding that 60 percent believed Jesus had children by Mary Magdalene -- a possibility raised by the book -- compared with just 30 percent of those who had not read the book.

"The novel, which has sold over 40 million copies, also depicts Opus Dei as a ruthless Machiavellian organization whose members resort to murder to keep the Church's secrets. In the survey, readers were asked if Opus Dei had ever carried out a murder. Seventeen percent of readers believe it had, compared with just four percent of non-readers."

Considering that over 20% of the adult UK population has read The Da Vinci Code, maybe the Catholic church has some basis for concern. We all know that surveys can be biased and skew results in favor of a particular position. And I don't believe that writers and movie producers should be held responsible for some viewers' beliefs being overly influenced by their work. But if that many people out there don't understand that movies and novels aren't real, maybe Dan Brown is actually a frighteningly powerful figure in modern theology.

March 14, 2006

Spam, direct from Winesburg, Ohio

Not sure if anyone else has documented this yet, but apparently some spammers are big fans of Sherwood Anderson.

We received the following email from someone using the nom de spam "Nysse Sterne":

--- Nyssa Sterne  wrote:

> Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2006 17:12:05 -0800 (PST)
> From: Nyssa Sterne 
> Subject: Re: Your wife.
> To: [redacted]
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> Have you ever wanted to impress your girl with a
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> Its easy, just follow here
> stock, the respect of Colonel Tom Rainey and the
> directors, the fear of
> for days stayed in Sam's mind as a kind of
> realisation of the part he
> mother and boy had stayed with the girl, out of
> sight in the house, sick

Can you guess which part the spammers wrote, and which part is mangled Sherwood Anderson? I wish I could say I immediately recognized the Anderson passages, but instead I had to rely on my old literary assistant Google (just like when I was teaching and had to show disappointed mothers that their 14-year-olds didn't really write that precocious analysis of Waiting for the Rain). Turns out these literary fragments are taken from various chapters of Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son.

This makes sense: the erotic promise of multiple orgasms followed by a quick taste of one of America's finest short story writers is the perfect combination of the hard and soft sell. If the spammers keep this up and vary the authors a little bit, I might be able to make it through Light in August after all.

And that might be even more impressive than a huge cum shot.

January 26, 2006

Tristram Shandy: postmodern before there was even modern

Tristram Shandy

Michael Winterbottom's new movie Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story might be the first interesting movie of 2006. It's an adaptation of Laurence Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which was written in the mid-18th century but reads like an absurdist 20th century experiment in postmodernism. The book is introduced as an autobiography, but has no narrative structure at all, never gets very far beyond Shandy's conception and birth, and is full of stories-within-stories, anecdotes that go nowhere, and endless ruminations about how Shandy can't be sure about anything about himself or the world. If James Joyce had tried to write this book, it would probably be much more popular than Tristram Shandy is (it's allegedly rarely read) but it wouldn't be half as funny. Even so, 700 pages of digressions and drawings of sqiggly lines are hard to get through.

Anyway, Michael Winterbottom is great at making self-referential movies that tell the exaggerated stories of larger-than-life figures--2002's 24 Hour Party People was a sort of biopic of Ian Curtis, Shaun Ryder, and Tony Wilson, but was open about much of it being fictional. In that movie, Steve Coogan hilariously played Tony Wilson, and Coogan is back as Tristram Shandy in this new movie.

Michael Winterbottom is probably the best person around to take on a project like this. In an NPR interview that aired earlier today, he was asked what obligation he felt to be faithful to the book, and answered "None whatsoever."

From the sound of it, the movie Tristram Shandy makes use of all the diversions and self-consciousness that make the book so weird and hard to adapt. Actors drop out of character; there are a lot of references to the making of the movie and the DVD release; at one point Steve Coogan is interviewed by what I think is the real Tony Wilson.

The movie opens on Friday in New York; I don't know when the hell it opens anywhere else.

Note: Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina did a great short movie with Jim Jarmusch that was included in 2004's Coffee and Cigarettes, and it was one of the best comedy moments of the past few years. Steve Coogan is the master of being self-important and simultaneously making fun of his own self-importance.

October 24, 2005

Tonight, the role of Holly Golightly will be played by Michiko Kakutani

Three makes a trend--Michiko Kakutani, books editor for the NY Times, has continued to indulge her weird penchant for writing satirical reviews in the voice of a related fictional character.

Two years ago she wrote that insane review of Candace Bushnell's Trading Up in the form of a memo from Elle Woods (you know, Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde) to the book's main character. She doesn't always hit the nail on the head with this concept, but there are some great moments that suggest that she did really love that movie: "But I have to say, and I hope you won't think I'm being impertinent here, I really think you need to have a little more faith in people. You come across in ''Trading Up'' as this really cold, hard, cynical, manipulative -- you know, rhymes with witch. Maybe you just had it with all the creeps hitting on you and got depressed and jaded. Haven't you ever heard of Zoloft? Or maybe this is just a P.R. problem -- like did you authorize this biography or what?"

Then a few months back she reviewed Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision in the voice of as Holden Caufield. She loves good old HC, too, but she gets a little clumsy: "But hey, Dwight and his friends have spent the better part of their lives getting these chemical assists, and I've gotta say that Dwight (or this Mr. Kunkel, who turns out to be pretty great at channeling old Dwight's thoughts) does a swell job of describing what it's like to be high -- on weed or Ecstasy or this South American hallucinogen that makes everyone puke their guts out before transporting them to nirvana or whatever you want to call Drug Heaven. This drug Dwight takes in Ecuador gives a new meaning to stream-of-consciousness narration that old James Joyce certainly never, ever envisioned."

So today, she writes a review of Summer Crossing, Truman Capote's newly released first novel, in the voice of Holly Golightly: "Tru, Dear, There's Only One Holly. Moi." Not as creative a choice as her other wacky reviews, but she has a good time with it. Though perhaps Kakutani has trouble making those subtle character distinctions between Holly and Elle Woods: "As for her choice of men: well, darling, there's simply no accounting for taste. I've had my share of rats, certainly, even more superrats than I can count, but none of them were supersize, King Kong-type rats like Grady's. Her first love was this über-married preppie rat, who hotfoots it after the poor girl while his wife's pregnant, then the minute the child's born, can't wait to proclaim what a happy family man he is. I mean, yikes and double yikes!"

I can't stand Breakfast At Tiffany's, and this little game might start getting old soon. But hey, Michiko, whatever gets you through the day.

January 18, 2005

Naughty Little Monkey on PBS

Probably the most irresponsible series of children's books ever made, H.A. Rey's Curious George, is being adapted for 30 half-hour animated shows for PBS. William H. Macy will narrate.

No word yet on how they're planning to handle the infamous Curious George Sniffs Ether episode from the book Curious George Takes a Job, (now a popular subject of t-shirts for stoner college students,) the stories that conclude with Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat smoking their pipes, or the lesser known Curious George Falls Into a Wicked K-Hole storyline.

September 10, 2004

Dave Eggers on Conan

dave eggers on conan

Dave Eggers appeared on Conan O'Brien last night. Not much new information for those who follow him much, but still either entertaining or annoying or maybe both, depending on your pre-existing feelings about him.

So here's an MP3 of the entire interview. [~7.5 mins, 3.5 mb]

Don't forget he has that new Future Dictionary thing out, and a McSweeney's anthology.

August 24, 2004

The Life of the Celebrity-slash-Addict

Interesting NYT piece about Jerry Stahl's new book I, Fatty (the best title for a book I've heard since Cintra Wilson's) a fictionalized memoir of Fatty Arbuckle. Arbuckle was a very popular and successful silent film star--the first actor to get a million-dollar contract--who was at the center of a major Hollywood scandal when he was accused of raping and murdering a starlet during an orgy at a San Francisco hotel. Although Fatty was acquitted at three separate trials, he was forever tarnished by the case, and his image was destroyed through a deluge of defamatory articles in the Hearst tabloids.

And: Fatty was a heroin addict. You may recall that Jerry Stahl, TV writer for ALF, Moonlighting, and Twin Peaks, also wrote his own memoir called Permanent Midnight (made into a movie starring Ben Stiller) about his $6,000/week heroin addiction. In discussing his own drug problems in the article, Stahl makes a lot of vague metaphors about addicts creating themselves as alienated beings via their addictions, but, as usual, the anecdotes are more interesting. He says he still buys a car with a consideration of what it would be like to live in it.

His book is doing well, and Johnny Depp's film company has optioned it. So let's think about who could play Fatty Arbuckle, if the film ever gets produced. Johnny Depp says he wouldn't play the title role, but suggests that Philip Seymour Hoffman could do it. How about Dave Attell? Or maybe Kiefer in a fat suit? He did a great job almost shooting up during 24's season this past year.

Stahl says about modern celebrity scandals, "self-destruction is a wing of show business... It has almost become a station of the celebrity cross to have that rehab moment, when you do something, you're caught, then you come clean and everybody loves you again and you're back in." It's the Bill Clinton model of the glorious return after shame. Robert Downey, Jr. aspires to follow this path, but somewhere around The Singing Detective I started doubting. And, of course, there is an ocean of celebrities who have blown it and never quite regained their previous stature (OJ, Christian Slater, Nick Nolte, Bobby Brown, Courtney Love) all of whom could likely relate to the plight of Fatty.

August 23, 2004

How to go to college

The New York Times offers some helpful advice today on what is probably one of the easiest things one can do in modern America: being a college student. Chuck Klosterman, our patron saint of metal fandom, reviews a new book entitled Real College: The Essential Guide to Student Life [tx Rungu]. He points out that the most difficult part of college for many students is paying for it--an area of advice that the book's writers mysteriously omit in favor of trickier topics such as "social life" and "studying". Klosterman notes that if your biggest worry about attending college is how to get your roommate to vacuum more, you probably don't really need an advice book: "For those who actually paid for college themselves, the repayment of student loans was the only 'real challenge' higher education ever presented; everything else was just sort of fun and exciting and amazingly drunken."

The breezy assumption that college students' parents pay the bills is one flaw of the book; as far as I can tell, the other major problem is the usage of the name "Rollo" as one of the "real-life freshmen" characters who write in questions about college life to the writers. I mean, is "Rollo" attending clown school? Will his (her?) concerns be relevant to a student who is not taking classses like The Anthropology of Dance or Television and the Nation at UC Santa Cruz?

Anyway, Klosterman comes up with his own bits of practical advice for the kid entering college which strike me as important platitudes for adults to hold onto as well: "if something makes you vomit, don't worry about it; everybody vomits sometimes" and "your parents will never, ever understand anything about you (and it is unreasonable for you to expect otherwise)" are especially relevant.

But perhaps college students really do need book-length advice from authoritarian figures to guide them through higher education. At least, maybe the kids who study a semester abroad need it. It appears that our ambassadors of the American education system have been promoting the ugly American stereotype to our foreign friends: dropping beer bottles onto passing cars from their dorm windows, getting into knife fights, skipping their classes for weeks at a time, getting caught with drugs, and, of course, getting drunk and puking all over everything. The host universities are complaining, and some U.S. colleges are requiring their students to meet some strict academic standards before they are accepted into study-abroad programs, or even take a class before they go on how to be an exchange student without getting arrested.

Kids: if all you want to do in college is drink, you can do plenty of that right here in America--just join a fraternity or sorority. If you want to have a European vacation, just get your parents to pay for one during the summer--hey, they're already paying for college, right? (see above.) What's another couple thousand bucks? OK, some full disclosure: I was one of those college students who studied abroad, and I was even one of the ones who went to a university in an English-speaking country, which college administrators say are "more likely to attract students who have no language expertise or interest in foreign culture." Sometimes I opted to spend an evening in the bar that was in my dorm rather than do my reading for Gothic Literature. But I did manage to vomit exclusively into appropriate receptacles, and never once wore a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt while actually in a Hard Rock Cafe.

July 1, 2004

There痴 No Such Thing as a Free Book

Today痴 print edition of the New York Times carried a very exciting full-page advertisement for the 敵reat Summer Read� Program. Starting July 12, the Times will serialize a book a week for four weeks as an in-paper giveaway: The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany痴, Like Water for Chocolate, and The Color of Water.

展hat better way to bring our diverse city together than by offering readers the opportunity to 'gather' around a great book," said Alyse Myers, Times vice president of marketing services. "As a newspaper, we are a natural advocate for fostering literacy and a passion for reading. To advance these causes, we decided to revive the old tradition of serializing books and to offer them free, with the daily newspaper -- for the whole city to enjoy."

Free books! It sounds too good to be true! Well, that's kind of because it is. Only the first chapter of each novel will be available online; otherwise the insert is available only to those who buy the print edition. And, since the serial runs seven consecutive days, folks who may perhaps have a weekday-only subscription (ahem) will need to shell out for both weekend papers to find out who comes to Gatsby痴 funeral.

Altruism? Community service? It seems more to me like the circulation department finally realized that people are reading the Sunday magazine on their monitors instead of curled up on the couch. Now, I love reading my hard copy during the week, but a girl on a budget can稚 be expected to pay those Sunday prices week after week. By the time you buy seven issues, you致e spent around $10 on a book you could pick up used for $1 on any street corner.

While I知 at it, let me get my two cents in about these book selections. Overall, I applaud the idea of serializing classics both old and new, but�

People. I'm with you on three out of four, but if you wanted a novel by a Latina, why didn稚 you just ask me? Like Water for Chocolate is a lovely book, but the other three all deal with different lives in different periods of New York's history. How about How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents? Or When I was Puerto Rican? Or Dreaming in Cuban? Or if you just needed a woman of color, what about Breath, Eyes, Memory? New York's literary community is as rich and diverse as the city itself, and although I would never argue the appeal and greatness of a Gatsby or a Tiffany痴, why not use this opportunity to showcase some more diverse talents?

Now, I don't want to sound entirely down on this project, because I'm all for getting people to read more. And the Times will also be sponsoring readings and panels through the summer as part of a larger initiative. But seriously, New York Times Community Affairs Department, give me a call next time you're going to plan something like this. I知 right around the corner and my consulting fees are very reasonable.

June 22, 2004

Day of Book Readings

A lot of big name book readings scheduled today in New York:

1) Calvin Trillin, who seems to be so in tune with the interests of the writers of this blog that we can only assume that he is a fan. He's reading tonight at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble for his new book Obliviously On He Sails. Trillin's last book, a novel about parking in NYC, seemed to be written expressly with ADM in mind, and this latest book about Bush and his administration, written in verse, includes Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired lines such as “I am, when all is said and done, a Robertson Republican.” We love you, Calvin, and we know you love us too.

2) Alex Garland. Remember him? The hot young pomo English guy who wrote The Beach and encouraged a generation of backpackers to feel really alienated and smoke a lot of dope? Well remember, he also wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, the pomo zombie movie from last year. Now he's written a new novel called The Coma. In case you missed him last night at Housing Works, you can see him tonight at the Borders in the Time Warner Center (scroll down past David Foster Wallace.) The new book is about a guy who wakes up from a coma after being attacked, but starts to wonder if he might still be unconscious. Then suddenly lots of REALLY! FAST! ZOMBIES! show up and EAT HIS BRAIN! [note: this plot point is speculative.]

In case you want to actually read the book before going to either of these two readings, you could ditch the rest of your day and probably get through both of them: Trillin's book is 128 pages, and The Coma is a mere 144.

3) Clinton. In midtown and Harlem. The entire city is currently standing in line to get into these signings. Forget it.

June 18, 2004

Clinton's NYC Book Signings

Here are your options:

June 22, 2004 - 12:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
600 Fifth Avenue [at 48th Street]
New York, NY 10020

June 22, 2004 - 6:30 p.m.
Hue-Man Bookstore
2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd. [at 125th]
New York, NY 10017

June 23, 2004 - 12:30 p.m.
Borders Books
100 Broadway [at Pine Street]
New York, NY 10005

Hue-Man would probably be the best choice, but that 6.30 pm in Harlem sure seems unrealistically optimistic. You know how he is -- you can pretty much bet your paycheck that Bill will be at least 90 minutes late, after he's done gabbing with the throngs in Midtown.

If you can't make the appearances, catch him on TV: it appears he will be on every single talk show on every single channel next week. Except Fox, of course.

[via Knopf's site and Babak.]

April 26, 2004

The Culture Of Fear

At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I spent the weekend glued to C-SPAN 2痴 coverage of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. There were many interesting panels this year, but Manufacturing Fear: American Culture Today was a real standout.

The panel was moderated by sociologist Barry Glassner, author of the terrific book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Glassner (who you may remember from Bowling for Columbine) asks why Americans fear crime and violence rather than societal problems such as poverty and ignorance that cause them. The Culture of Fear was published shortly before 9/11, and I was interested to see if Glassner痴 views had changed. As it turns out, the heightened hysteria of our media and government since then has only proven his previous ideas correct.

Other panelists included:
Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror
Michael Shermer, The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health*

Continue reading "The Culture Of Fear" »

April 23, 2004

Young Upstarts

If you're feeling guilty about that unfinished manuscript in your desk drawer - well, you should. It seems like every time you turn around, another teenager is publishing a novel. Last fall 17-year-old Zoe Trope had success with Please Don't Kill the Freshmen, and now Paris-based Flavia Bujor is promoting the American release of Prophecy of the Stones, already a bestseller in Europe. Don't worry though - it wasn't an easy road. Even though Bujor started writing the book at 12, she didn't find a publisher until she was almost 15.

Are young novelists a new trend? As a youngster one of my very favorite books, She was Nice to Mice, was written by a precocious Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy, Age 12. Yes, before she was shooting up and having lesbian sex in High Art, or even eating popcorn sandwiches in detention, Ally Sheedy was writing was a tale of intrigue and betrayal in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Still not sold? It's also written from the perspective of a palace mouse.

What a thought for a Monday morning. I'm past my novelist prime, and considering the treatment that two mice in my own court received this weekend, no youngster will be writing about my love of animals anytime soon.

April 21, 2004

America's unhealthy relationship with food: Night Eating

The authors of a new book, Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome, say that getting up in the middle of the night and eating uncontrollably is not a new problem, but an old problem that is getting new attention. Night eaters seem to mostly be women, and they are characterized by lack of hunger during the day, insomnia, and inability to fall asleep unless they get up and eat. A lot. Which makes them feel horribly depressed, and sometimes suicidal. It's not related to dieting or anorexia, but rather to stress and insomnia. The authors say, "Eating becomes a conditioned response to waking, working better than any sleeping pill."

If night eating is really a result of insomnia and life stressors, why does it just so happen than these women are turning to food as their source of relief? The many different ways that people can have weirdly secretive and dependent relationships with food ("I sometimes fall asleep with food in my mouth") that have been problems for decades points to a larger problem that our culture still has with food. Therapy for night eating mostly consists of eating three regular meals a day, instead of addressing the underlying stress and depression that is causing the behavior in the first place. Even the experts on this issue are identifying food and overeating as the problem. Eating three meals a day might make night eaters lose weight, but will their lives and self-images improve? This kind of treatment sounds to me like prescribing Pepto-Bismol for bulimics, or suggesting that alcoholics stop going to happy hour so much.

April 15, 2004

Franz and James Wright

NY Times has a great article on Franz Wright, one of my favorite poets, who won the Pulitzer Prize recently. His father, James Wright, also won it about 30 years ago, also for poetry. Franz grew up almost entirely without his father around, but their lives have followed very similar paths involving a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and general misery and self-destruction.

James Wright's life as a poet involved a lot of famous people: Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, John Berryman. Says Franz about his childhood with his father and his friends: "I thought that all adults were insane drunks and chain smokers." That's poets for you.

March 18, 2004

Maureen Dowd on Spain, France, Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Bush, Kerry, and Jane Austen

A typically all-encompassing column from Maureen Dowd today, in which she takes on a little more than one Op-Ed piece can handle (it's only 700 words, Maureen!) Still, a lot of good points.

The current administration is reacting to the recent Spanish elections with a lot of "By voting the current party out of office, the Spanish are letting the terrorists win!" Of course, what they mean is, "If you American pissants all vote the current party out of office, you'll let the terrorists win!" The thing is, the Spanish people never seemed to support the war, and they certainly don't like it now that we know about the global wool-over-the-eyes deceptions that led to it in the first place. The latest reason we're hearing for why the war happened was that we want to promote democracy and political freedom in all nations. Not, however, in renegade countries like Spain, where the people democratically stated their preferences in the victory of the Socialist, anti-war party.

Then she goes into some Pride and Prejudice metaphor in which Kerry is "Pride", as the snotty-nosed, condescending rich boy (who she says is Mr. Collins in the book, but isn't Mr. Darcy supposed to be the "pride" character?) and further promotes one of the more irritating co-opted catchphrases in international politics, unfairly stolen from The Simpsons. She characterizes Bush as Elizabeth "Prejudice" Bennet, the dogmatic, inflexible one, incapable of recognizing facts that differ from his assumptions. Not the most carefully thought out literary parallel, but maybe she can come back to it in another column in which she hasn't also taken on the political developments of many European countries.

March 6, 2004

The Secret Window Between Depp and Vollmann

Note the similiarities between the photo of William T. Vollmann and the ad for Secret Window that ran right next to it on today:

vollmann depp
[full size]
Secret Window is about an author. Vollmann is an author. The left side of each person's face is shadowed. Each has glasses and light facial hair, in the same pattern, and finally Vollmann is in front of A WINDOW. And note that grid of shadows on Depp's face -- it matches Vollmann's window. Look out, William! He's right behind you!

The only difference, I think, is that Depp's lips have been Photoshopped.

February 5, 2004

Hollywood is Burning

Page Six has a few tidbits from the forthcoming Hollywood expose Hollywood Interrupted today. Courtney Love, super-producer Robert Evans (of The Kid Stays in the Picture), and Michael Ovitz are among many excoriated in its pages. The book has Evans ordering up a 17-year-old prostitute from Heidi Fleiss, and goes into the tribulations of Ovitz's nanny. (The item is accompanied by a great pic of Robert Evans looking sort of demented and girlish.)

The book will join Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal on the shelf of recent Hollywood tell-alls, a genre that people (including us) seem never to be able to get enough of. In case you've fallen behind in your reading in the last few years, check out You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips, the producer who revivifed the genre a while back, and Hollywood Babylon which spills all the secrets of old Hollywood, right up to the 1970s.

Random Family, New Identities

random family
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of last year's Random Family, a book about an extended family's life in the South Bronx, had a long piece in the NYT last weekend about how her experiences researching her book for ten years have helped her understand herself and her own family in ways she initially wouldn't have thought possible.

Random Family is one of the the most powerful non-fiction books I've ever read, and in my opinion, is akin James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in its efforts to accurately portray the difficult lives of a forgotten underclass. LeBlanc's book follows an extended family's travails over the course of about 10 years with a non-judgmental objectivity that preserves the story's believability despite its seemingly incredible nature. LeBlanc's rigorous narrative style also offers a dispassionate, but never cold, look at the individuals in the family, without either condemning, pitying, or glorifying them. Her book depicts the reality of this family in a way that a reader completely removed from that reality can understand, but it's not an easy book. You have to struggle to remain as nonjudgmental as LeBlanc, and struggle to open your mind and heart to the pain and love she portrays.

Despite growing up in a Massachussetts suburb, LeBlanc went on to feel the distinctive pull of the South Bronx and describes how the neighborhood has redefined her. Her time there changed her on many levels, and showed her that her true identity is now neither entirely in the Bronx or in Massachussetts, but somewhere in between. Her identification with this middle-ground is symbolized by an unexpected development in her own life: her family life eventually became intertwined with her subjects, when they became involved in her father's battle with cancer. Her experiences have shown her that "home" is not merely a physical space, but an approach to life that transcends geography:

To be where I am is to accept where I came from, to be both a visitor and an escapee. Maybe always-leaving is my closest kinship, but I've learned to claim the life I live here, wherever that may be. The open invitation is what I cherish most about my work in this city - the righteousness of my ignorance, the job of getting lost again and again.
In any case, LeBlanc achieved something remarkable with Random Family, and it is fitting that after putting so much into the project, she learned as much about herself as we learned from her.

February 4, 2004

Natalie Wood in print and on TV

NY Times reports on a new biography of Natalie Wood that has just come out, and a Peter Bogdanovich-directed dramatized movie about her called "The Mystery of Natalie Wood" that will show on ABC on March 1. The circumstances surrounding her death by drowning have always been a fascinating mystery--and don't forget who the third person on the boat was besides Natalie and her husband Robert Wagner: Christopher Walken. She certainly isn't the most celebrated actress of the '50's and '60's, but watch her in Splendor in the Grass, and you will be knocked out.

The book was written by Gavin Lambert, who apparently was asked by Robert Wagner to write such a book years ago. It seems that Wagner got the author access to people who otherwise might not have agreed to interviews, so some new information will probably surface that wasn't included in all the other books out there about her.

January 30, 2004

Michael Jackson and To Kill a Mockingbird

Today's revelation that Michael Jackson drinks wine (which he calls "Jesus juice") from Coke cans so no one will know he's drinking reminds me of Dolphus Raymond, a character in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, except with a twist.

Just like Michael, Dolphus Raymond is regarded as an eccentric figure in his community, and like Michael, he has more money than most. Also like Michael, Dolphus has an ambiguous relationship with his race: he's white, but he had an affair with, and then married, a black woman, with whom he had a handful of bi-racial children. Similarly, Michael has married a couple of white women, with whom he has had some bi-racial kids. Dolphus spends most of his time hanging out with the black people of Maycomb in the town square, where is he derided by judgmental passers-by, just as Michael spends a lot of time in the public eye, and is similarly derided because of his eccentricities and indefinite relationship to his race.

But what makes the latest revelation about Michael really reminiscent of Dolphus is this: Everybody in town thought Dolphus was an alcoholic, because they always saw him in public drinking from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. But one day, Scout and Dill learn the truth: Dolphus was drinking Coke, not alcohol, out of that brown paper bag. By contrast, Michael Jackson appears to be drinking Coke, but is really drinking alcohol. Both Dolphus and Michael (reportedly) allowed children to taste their respective beverages to learn the truth.

When asked why he acts so strangely all the time and lets everyone think he is an alcoholic, Dolphus says he wanted to give people an excuse for his behavior, so they would leave him alone. Without his alcoholic persona, the people of Maycomb would persecute him because of his relationship with the black woman. But because they could say, "Oh, that's just old Dolphus the alcoholic," they gave him a free pass to act oddly. Unfortunately for him, the "oh, that's just how Michael is" excuse has worn thin for MJ, and his eccentricity doesn't seem to be much protection any more. Maybe he should have followed the lead of his literary complement and laid off the sauce.

January 25, 2004

What Thomas Pynchon Sounds Like

After much anticipation, Thomas Pynchon appeared on The Simpsons earlier tonight, with a paper bag over his animated head. The set-up: Marge writes a book and needs celebrity author endorsements of it. Pynchon gives her one, of sorts. Here's the mp3 and some screen captures:

He's speaking as he's standing in front of a house with a flashing sign reading "Thomas Pynchon's House -- Come On In." The paper bag has a question mark painted on the forehead. He says, "Here's your quote: Thomas Pynchon loved this book...almost as much as he loves cameras." As a car drives by he yells, "Hey, over here! Have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph! But wait! There's more!" The voice after his is Tom Clancy's.

ps. In case you were wondering, Pynchon says his own name "Pinch-On," not "Pinch-un." That settles that. Maybe John Le Carre will show up on The Simpsons next week, so we can solve that mystery, too.

January 19, 2004

The History of Thomas Pynchon on TV


It's been talked about for what feels like forever, and on Sunday it will finally happen: Thomas Pynchon will appear on The Simpsons. [Update: Here's our post containing screen caps and audio from the episode.] The famously reclusive author will not show even his animated face, though: he'll be wearing a paper bag over it. But at least we'll get to hear what he sounds like. The episode involves Marge writing a novel and is called "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife."

Pynchon's association with the Simpsons began in an episode called "Little Girl in the Big Ten," in which Lisa heads off to college, and is in awe of those around her. She asks a girl holding a copy of Gravity's Rainbow whether the girl is reading it. "Rereading it," she replies.

But there are many other intersections of Pynchon and television.

  • Those who follow Pynchon's occasional transgressions of his own wall of secrecy will remember his relationship with The John Larroquette Show. Larroquette considers himself a pretty literate guy, and is a big fan of Pynchon, so he started slipping references to Pynchon into the show. Eventually, the writers sent a script mentioning TP off to the man himself. The script called for TP to be represented on camera by an extra with his back turned, but Pynchon vetoed that idea. Nonetheless, the plot of the episode revolves around a character who claimed he knows Pynchon. Before the show was cancelled, the writers managed to squeeze in a few more TP references, including one in which the the girl from Blossom assumes the name of a character from V.. If you're really that interested in Larroquette's literary tastes, here's a long interview with him about that very topic.
  • In 1998, CNN attempted to track down Pynchon in New York and videotape him. The film crew quickly accomplished its mission, and a seemingly panicked Pynchon contacted CNN and offered an interview in exchange for the tape's never airing. CNN agreed, and the interview is here. After the segment ran, an announcer revealed that TP could be spotted among the pedestrians in the street scenes it had just shown. Shortly thereafter, Salon featured an article about Pynchon's appearance on the tape, written by someone who saw an enhanced version of it. If you still have access to the old video streaming software VXtreme (remember those heady days?), you may be able to view the video.
  • On the sitcom Pearl, which starred Rhea Pearlman and lasted only one season, a character named Professor Pynchon (Malcolm McDowell) played a prominent role, and several TP references were made. There's even an episode called "Pynchon's Pynchon."
  • The worlds of TP and Star Trek collide in an episode of Deep Space Nine called "In the Cards," in which the plot bears a resemblance to Pynchon's short novel The Crying of Lot 49 [synopsis | full text(!)].
  • You can catch some Pynchon references on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in their 1993 treatment of "The Rebel Set" and a couple of other movies.
  • Finally, it's not from TV, but the movie The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension is in its entirety a pretty big reference to Crying of Lot 49.

Here's another page that covers some of the same ground as this post, sometimes in more detail, sometimes in less.

November 18, 2003

National Book Awards

Tomorrow we learn the winners of the National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children's literature. There were free readings all over the city this afternoon, and you can see all the finalists read tonight at the New School. My own Serbian hometown poet, Charles Simic, showed up late at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble today, after he encountered some wicked traffic on the Henry Hudson, but still read. His stage banter is also better than most rock stars' and celebrities': anecdotes about Chinese restaurants in the Village he frequented in the 1950's, his cat, and some improvisation about the self-help books surrounding the podium. Maybe he'll be asked to host Punk'd next season after the Ashton backlash hits.

October 9, 2003

Dictionary of phrases in common usage, US and UK versions

So an Oxford Dictionary of phrases that just came out in the UK includes the term "sex up", an acknowledgement of the accusations that the British government embellished reports of Iraq's weapons to encourage the war. What kinds of phrases would be in a new US version of this dictionary? How about:

The Governator: (noun) The newly elected governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who replaced the existing governor due to winning a lot of votes from idiot Californian douchebags who use democracy the same way you would drop that statistics class two weeks into the semester because you're not sure you'll pass. (tx Whiskas)

October 1, 2003

Fortress of Solitude excerpts, part 2 of 2

Late in the novel, in a scene set in the late 1970s inside CBGB's, a minor character presents his theory that almost all group dynamics can be understood in terms of the relationship between The Beatles: every group has its own John, Paul, George and Ringo. The other characters challenge the limits of this theory:

Dylan's friend Linus Millberg appears out of the crowd with a cup of beer and shouts, "Dorothy is John Lennon, the Scarecrow is Paul McCartney, the Tin Woodman is George Harrison, the Lion's Ringo."

"Star Trek," commands Dylan over the lousy twangy country CB's is playing between sets.

"Easy," Linus shouts back. "Kirk's John, Spock's Paul, Bones is George, Scotty is Ringo. Or Chekov, after the first season. Doesn't matter, it's like a Scotty-Chekov-combination Ringo. Spare parts are always surplus Georges or Ringos."

"But isn't Spock-lacks-a-heart and McCoy-lacks-a-brain like Woodman and Scarecrow? So Dorothy's Kirk?"

"You don't get it. That's just a superficial coincidence. The Beatle thing is an archetype, it's like the basic human formation. Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can't help it."

"Say the types again."

"Responsible-parent genius-parent genius-child clown-child."

"Okay, do Star Wars."

"Luke Paul, Han Solo John, Chewbacca George, the robots Ringo."

"Tonight Show."

"Uh, Johnny Carson Paul, the guest John, Ed McMahon Ringo, whatisname George."

"Doc Severinson."

"Yeah, right. See, everything revolves around John, even Paul. That's why John's the guest."

"And Severinson's quiet but talented, like a Wookie."

"You begin to understand."

See page 264 for more, including the analysis of Gilligan's Island.

Here's our earlier excerpt.

September 28, 2003

Fortress of Solitude excerpts, pt 1 of 2

Here's a little something from Fortress of Solitude, the new novel by Jonathan Lethem. A woman writes to her son Dylan on a postcard that shows a shirtless Henry Miller and a woman at Big Sur:

don't let hank fool you d
a brooklyn street kid never quits
dreaming of stickball triples
egg creams and the funnies
in his mind he's dick tracy
she's brenda starr
not venus on the half shell
love beachcomber crab
The rest of the novel up to this point (page 104) captures equally well the drifty haziness of childhood, and foreshadows the way memories of such things -- though disjointed and confused -- will anchor and haunt you.

Coming soon: page 261.

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