Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear Lasse

It is curious phenomenon, rather simple to explain, but when men go off to war, leaving behind sweethearts pledging to be faithful, there often comes a moment when the soldier, sailor, or marine receives a letter from his sweetheart in which she announces that she wants to break up with him, can't wait for him any longer, has met someone else, or just doesn't love him any more. It is such a common experience that, regardless of the man's first name, the letters have long since come to be known as "Dear John" letters.

It is just another of the many outrages of war that it creates long separations for men and women, that places such unfair strains on relationships. I can speak from experience that knowing or at least believing that you have someone waiting for you at home makes it that much harder, not easier, to carry out your duties on a distant shore. The so-called "baby boom" was a direct result of a generation of American men being demobilized at the end of WWII, and making up for all the lost time.

Notwithstanding how common the experience is, the separation of sweethearts in times of war involves intense emotions. There have been some quite beautiful love poems written by soldiers to the women they left behind. A book of poems by the Welshman Alun Lewis called Ha Ha! Among the Trumpets presents a moving narrative of separation. One of the best poems from the anthology, "In Hospital: Poona", can be found here.

The movie Dear John (2010) is much more prosaic. As much as it tries to individualize its characters, it is about as generic as a film on the subject can be. The story goes like this: in 2007, a wounded soldier (Channing Tatum) recalls his relationship with a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) in Charleston, South Carolina (we never see Charleston, only the beaches and some houses far outside the city, and - believe me - it never looked so good) six years before. He was on leave and she was on Spring Break. In two weeks they fall in love. She goes back to college, he to the army, but they both promise to write during what they anticipate will be a year's separation. The rest of the film, given the title and the trite premise, is hopelessly predictable. Even the film's happy ending (you were expecting something different?) comes as no surprise. The style of the film is so leisurely it's almost supine. Scenes go by without the slightest dramatic emphasis. This is partly the fault of the lame material (from a novel by Nicholas Sparks) and the acting.

I only mention this otherwise unmentionable movie because it was directed by Lasse Hallström. In 1985, Hallström directed and co-wrote My Life as a Dog, the story of a boy in 1950s Sweden who compares his problems to other people's (and dog's) so they don't seem so overwhelming. It was the film that got Hallström the international notice he needed to catapult him all the way to Hollywood. Like so many before him, Hallström found financial reward but lost his way as an artist.

He started out, as so many directors do these days, as a director of music videos. He directed several Abba videos, twenty-seven in all, including Abba: The Movie (1977). After My Life as a Dog, which demonstrated a talent with child actors, he directed two children's movies in Sweden, before making his Hollywood debut with Once Around (1991). His second American movie, however, cemented his reputation as a director of off-beat subjects: What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), starring Johnny Depp and Leo DiCaprio. (Unacquainted with DiCaprio at the time I first saw him in Gilbert, I actually thought he was mentally disabled.) I thought the film was rather deliberately quirky, and his subsequent films confirmed my impression. Something To Talk About (1995), The Cider House Rules (1999), which contains the dumbest compliment ever paid to a pretty woman ("It hurts to look at you!"), and Chocolat (2000) were all oddball character studies, none of which were convincing.

Since Chocolat, which, with The Cider House Rules was nominated for "Best Picture" Oscars, Hallström has directed a string of turkeys, including The Shipping News (2001), Casanova (2005) (which shows us the most uninteresting aspect of the real Casanova - his womanizing), and Hachiko: A Dog's Story (2009), a remake of a 1987 Japanese film starring the great Tatsuya Nakadai.

Dear John was almost unanimously panned by critics, which didn't prevent it from earning more than ten times its $25 million budget. The film also got the full cooperation of the Pentagon for portraying the U.S. military in a decidedly favorable manner, unlike, say, The Valley of Elah, which does not. It didn't come as any great shock to learn that Channing Tatum got his start as a model. He certaily shows off his costumes in Dear John beautifully. A cedar armoire is less wooden than Tatum. I have written before about Amanda Seyfried (see Letters to Juliet). She is toothsome but otherwise flavorless. But Richard Jenkins, as John's coin-collecting, obsessive-compulsive, agoraphobic father, is marvelous. Jenkins is being wasted in supporting roles.

Now 66, it's perhaps too late for Hallström to come to his senses and fid his way back to his art (and jis home country). My Life as a Dog was produced by Svensk Filmindustri, the same company that produced Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Troell's The Emigrants. If it was good enough for Bergman and Troell, why wasn't it good enough for Hallström? I guess some artists simply aren't worth bothering about.

[Postscript 9/12/12. Two further quibbles: Hallström knew that he was appropriating the title of the ground-breaking 1964 Swedish film, Käre John (Dear John), directed by Lars-Magnus Lindgren. Far more persuasively that I Am Curious - Yellow (1967), the "first X-rated movie released in America", Lindgren's film demonstrated the real potential for explicit sexual content in a serious film.

And men who serve in the "special forces" (known as Green Berets in the U.S. Army), don't go around informing strangers that they do. Such an admission would lead me to suspect that he mas fibbing just to impress the impressionable.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Inside the Whale

The Book of Jonah isn't the shortest book of the Old Testament. That dubious distinction belongs to Obadiah. But it is short enough to demonstrate in a limited space the superiority of William Tyndale's translation from the Hebrew to the King James Version's. The translators of the 1612 edition, of which I wrote in my post A Good Book, had access to Tyndale's translations, which is more than can be said of most English Christians. His translation of Jonah, whom he called Jonas, was published in 1531, three years before Henry VIII officially broke with the Roman Catholic Church and established himself as the head of the Church of England. A year later, Tyndale, who had to flee to Europe following his published opposition to the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon, was arrested and imprisoned in Vilvoorde, near Brussels. Sentenced to heresy, he was garroted and his body burned at the stake. His last words were "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes."

The following retains the original wording, with modernized spelling.

The Story of the prophet Jonas.

The first Chapter.

The word of the lord came unto the prophet Jonas the son of Amithai saying: rise and get thee to Nineve that great city and preach unto them, how that their wickedness is come up before me.

And Jonas made him ready to flee to Tharsis from the presence of the lord, and gat him down to Joppe, and found there a ship ready to go to Tharsis, and paid his fare, and went aboard, to go with them to Tharsis from the presence of the lord.

But the lord hurled a great wind in to the sea, so that there was a mighty tempest in the sea: insomuch that the ship was like to go in pieces. And the mariners were afraid and cried every man unto his god, and cast out the goods that were in the ship in to the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonas gat him under the hatches and laid him down and slumbered. And the master of the ship came to him and said unto him, why slumberest thou? up! and call unto thy god, that God may think on us, that we perish not.

And they said one to another, come and let us cast lots, to know for whose cause we are thus troubled. And they cast lots. And the lot fell upon Jonas.

Then they said unto him, tell us for whose cause we are thus troubled: what is thine occupation, whence comest thou, how is thy country called, and of what nation art thou?

And he answered them, I am an Hebrew: and the lord God of heaven which made both sea and dry land, I fear. Then were the men exceedingly afraid and said unto him, why didst thou so? For they knew that he was fled from the presence of the lord, because he had told them.

Then they unto him, what shall we do unto thee, that the sea may cease from troubling us? For the sea wrought and was troublous. And he answered them, take me and cast me in to the sea, and so shall it let you be in rest: for I wot, it is for my sake, that this great tempest is come upon you. Nevertheless the men assayed with rowing to bring the ship to land: but it would not be, because the sea so wrought and was so troublous against them. Wherefore they cried unto the lord and said: O lord let us not perish for this mans death, neither lay innocent blood unto our charge: for thou lord even as thy pleasure was, so thou hast done.

And then they took Jonas, and cast him into the sea, and the sea left raging. And the men feared the lord exceedingly: and sacrificed sacrifice unto the lord: and vowed vows.

The second Chapter.

But the lord prepared a great fish, to swallow up Jonas. And so was Jonas in the bowels of the fish three days and three nights. And Jonas prayed unto the lord his god out of the bowels of the fish.

And he said: in my tribulation I called unto the lord, and he answered me: out of the belly of hell I cried, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me down deep in the midst of the se: and the flood compassed me about: and all thy waves and rolls of water went over me: and I thought that I had been cast away out of thy sight. But I will yet again look toward thy holy temple. The water compassed me even unto the very soul of me: the deep lay about me: and the weeds were wrapped about mine head. And I went down unto the bottom of the hills, and was barred in with earth on every side for ever. And yet thou lord my God broughtest up my life again out of corruption. When my soul fainted in me, I thought on the lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, even into thy holy temple. They that observe vain vanities, have forsaken him that was merciful unto them. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving, and will pay that that I have vowed, that saving cometh of the lord.

And the lord spake unto the fish: and it cast out Jonas again upon the dry land.

The third Chapter.

Then came the word of the lord unto Jonas again saying: up, and get thee to Nineve that great city, and preach unto them the preaching which I bade thee. And he arose and went to Nineve at the lordes commandment. Nineve was a great city unto God, containing three days journey.

And Jonas went to and entered in to the city even a days journey, and cried saying: There shall not pass forty days but Nineve shall be overthrown.

And the people of Nineve believed God, and proclaimed fasting, and arrayed themselves in sackcloth, as well the great as the small of them.

And the tidings came unto the king of Nineve, which arose out of his seat, and did his apparel off and put on sackcloth, and sat him down in ashes. And it was cried and commanded in Nineve by the authority of the king and of his lords saying: see that neither man or beast, ox or sheep taste ought at all, and that they neither feed or drink water.

And they put on sackcloth both man and beast, and cried unto God mightily, and turned every man his wicked way, and from doing wrong in which they were accustomed, saying: who can tell whether God will turn and repent, and cease from his fierce wrath, that we perish not? And when God saw their works, how they turned from their wicked ways, he repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them, and did it not.

The fourth Chapter.

Wherefore Jonas was sore discontent and angry. And he prayed unto the lord and said: O lord, was not this my saying when I was yet in my country? And therefore I hasted rather to flee to Tharsis: for I knew well enough that thou wast a merciful god, full of compassion, long ere thou be angry and of great mercy and repentest when thou art come to take punishment. Now therefore take my life from me, for I had lever die than live. And the lord said unto Jonas, art thou so angry?

And Jonas gat him out of the city and sat him down on the east side thereof, and made him there a booth and sat thereunder in the shadow, till he might see what should chance unto the city.

And the lord prepared as it were a wild vine which sprang up over Jonas, that he might have shadow over his head, to deliver him out of his pain. And Jonas was exceeding glad of the wild vine.

And the lord ordained a worm against the spring of the morrow morning which smote the wild vine that it withered away. And as soon as the son was up, God prepared a fervent east wind: so that the son beat over the head of Jonas, that he fainted again and wished unto his soul that he might die, and said, it is better for me to die than to live.

And God said unto Jonas, art thou so angry for thy wild vine? And he said, I am angry a good, even on to the death. And the lord said, thou hast compassion on a wild vine, whereon thou bestowedest no labour nor made it grow, which sprang up in one night and perished in another: and should not I have compassion on Nineve that great city, wherein there is a multitude of people, even above an hundred thousand that know not their right hand from the left, besides much cattle?

The finest reading of the Book Of Jonah can be found in Father Mapple's sermon in Melville's Moby Dick. Of all writers, with the possible exception of Conrad, Melville knew well what Jonah must have endured:

"Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters- four yarns- is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul Jonah's deep sealine sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish's belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God- never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed- which he found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do- remember that- and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Not My Generation

When John Lennon was killed, it brought a swift end to the speculation that had lasted a decade that there would be a reunion of The Beatles. However you look at it, or at whatever value you place their music, I think it was a good thing the Lads from Liverpool never had a chance to reunite. Just look at the bands that never broke up, or broke up only to reunite - men now in their sixties or seventies, with dyed hair and replaced hips, patiently mouthing the words of songs that they wrote when they were kids, as if they were singing something meaningful instead of the same tired old rock songs of rebellion.

The Who, formed in 1964, lost their drummer, Keith Moon in 1978, and eventually their bassist John Entwistle in 2002. It didn't stop them from touring with replacements. Pink Floyd, formed in 1963, has dissolved and re-formed several times. Led Zeppelin lost their drummer, John Bonham, in 1980, and broke up - only to reunite with Bonham's son in 2007 for one concert.

Upon learning last month of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The Rolling Stones, I yawned - an involuntary reflex to raise the oxygen level in my lungs. The news didn't make me "feel my age". I was 4 when the band was formed. Though contemporaries, I have never felt in the least contemporaneous with The Stones.

Roger Daltrey, of The Who, once famously remarked that "if you remember the Sixties, you weren't there." The Stones were there, and if they remember any of it it's only thanks to all the now-valuable mementos lying around them. I choose to remember them from a concert that took place on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California. I wasn't at that particular concert (I was only 11), but the whole disastrous show was immortalized, if that is the word, by the Albert and David Maysles documentary, Gimme Shelter. Certain scenes from the concert became evidence in a murder investigation involving a man, Meredith Hunter, who had come to the concert with his girlfriend (and a concealed pistol) high on methamphetamine, and Alan Passaro, a member of The Stones' hired security team, who was also a member of the Hell's Angels biker gang. Sam Cutler, road manager for The Stones, had hired the gang, their agreement was that they be paid in beer and do nothing but sit on the stage and prevent any rapes or murders in the crowd. They might as well have hired the Manson Family.

Since the concert was general admission, there was a constant crush of people in front of the stage. The Hell's Angels members drank their beer (reportedly $500 worth) and got drunk, while the crowd got high on LSD and meth. Predictably, the mood of the crowd degenerated. While Mick Jagger pranced around the stage like a popinjay, singing songs like "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Under My Thumb", there were people being beaten and one of them, Meredith Hunter, lost his temper. Alan Passaro intercepted him as he was heading toward the stage, the pistol appeared (as the footage showed) and Passaro stabbed him in the head, killing him on the spot. He was 18.

It was just a few months since Woodstock had set a misleading standard for such outdoor concerts. Altamont was a heavy dose of reality that taught promoters to take better precautions. Coming as it did at the very end of the Sixties, the concert was a chilling end to the "Summer of Love".

Many years and many tours later, I can't watch The Stones perform without recalling Altamont. All the while they played their hits to the crowd, the Hell's Angels were simply living up their reputation, jostling and beating anyone who approached the stage. Mick only objected to the violence when it was too late.

Who could forget the tough language of some of The Stones songs, their straining so hard at a raw, bad boy image and sound, while the real bad boys punched and knifed their way through their fans? I always knew that their music was watered down blues, that their cultivated image as bad boys was nothing but a pose. Mick and Keith Richards were college students when they met, not unemployed street kids. If it was their intention to sound slovenly and rough-edged and clumsily literate, they succeeded. Altamont showed me how much The Rolling Stones wasn't much more than a Boy Band. Happy birthday, Old Boys.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pestilential Festival

Just as I am certain that beauty is beneficial to people, I believe that igliness has the power to do actual, appreciable harm. For the past month here in my Philippine barangay, I was subjected to an outrageous ordeal: a festival. Despending on the location or the time of years, a festival of one sort or another is going on perpetually somewhere in the Philippines, in honor of the Savior, a saint, a municipality, and even a barangay.

The festival I took part in was in my barangay, essentially amounting to two days of feasting, drinking, cock-fighting, card-playing, and singing karaoke. And a "disco" was provided for the three weekends prior to the festival, in which a DJ played, for twelve hours through the night, the most unimaginably hideous noise that has ever been mistaken for music, at an unequalized volume that must have caused at least temporary hearing loss for everyone within earshot, which, despite the jungle's miraculous soundproofing powers, extended to several hundred yards.

The provincials here are no different from hicks everywhere else - unsophisticated folk with unsophisticated tastes. There is little for them to do but scrape by. The young people know that if they can't manage to find some way out of here they will quickly slide into a routine of child-bearing that will last them the rest of their youth. By the time they are thirty, it will be gone.

The "disco" was situated outdoors on a basketball court in the midst of tightly-spaced houses. Its wall-sized speakers pounded out the indistinguishable songs, rattling my windows from forty yards away, despite the highway and a cinder-block shack standing between us.

I went over to drink laughably overpriced beer and dance a little, but the noise was overwhelming, and the only thing left to do was return to my house and spend the rest of the night pushing my rubber earplugs, which were designed to muffle the firing of army howitzers, ever deeper into my skull.

I come from a fat country, so I grumble at things I never had to tolerate at home. In the States all I had to do was call the cops and complain about the noise, for all the good that that would do. There is a "disturbing the peace" law here that I read about, but it applies to more serious disturbances such as riots. There was nothing I could do about it. It was their country, and everyone else was enjoying themselves. I must admit that I lack the capacity that these people have for simple joy. When there is so much cause for tears, they always find excuses for laughter.

But they survive on so little - so little money, so little beauty. The worst of it for me was the extreme ugliness of the music. There was not even the consolation of the Panamanian merengue, the Puerto Rican salsa, or the Brazilian samba. All I heard until 4am (and I was awake the entire time) was the virtually interchangeable disco music heard in rave clubs all over the world.

Putting on the finest headphones in christendom and blasting Beethoven would've been useless, since the noise from across the highway would've penetrated through Beethoven's sublime notes. A 120-piece symphony orchestra is defenseless against the decibels of just one of those massive speakers.

For once, I felt sorry for the feral dogs in the barangay, whose hearing is so much more sensitive than humans'. There is a man who lives near me called Ambo. He's a deaf-mute. I see him wandering past my house, lost because his diability deprives him of a normal life. But after having to listen to that sickening racket for eight nights, I actually envied him.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poll Position

I have always thought that Film's best metaphor is Plato's Allegory of the Cave: instead of looking directly at reality, the best we can do is see its reflected shadow on the back wall of a cave. Why else does every movie screen face the street?

On August 1st the British Film Institute announced the latest winners of its film magazine Sight and Sound's six decade old Critic's Poll of the "Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time". Fifty years ago, Dwight Macdonald wrote about the poll, on the occasion of the submission of his own list to the magazine.

I wrote about the polls 1952-2002 awhile ago (see Sight Unsound). All things being subjective, even subjectivities can agree. Great films manage to appear all the time, often from the unlikeliest sources. Sometimes, as the polls make clear, films overlooked at first may suddenly reappear to great critical acclaim (like Sunrise and Vertigo) on the whims of film restorers whose selection of which film gathering dust in a vault will be restored and which will have to wait another generation, can determine its survival.

The use of the words "of all time" has always struck me as silly, since film is only a little older than a century. ("So far" is more accurate.) The truest evaluation of the worth of any work of art is survival. How does it hold up in ten, twenty, fifty years? Citizen Kane was the number one greatest film on the poll for forty years. Despite the recent rise of Vertigo, there is a much better critical acceptance of Kane as the greatest.

The sense of permanence has long since, I think, gone out of discussions about films - especially Great Films, which the polls have inadvertently, decade after decade, demonstrated. Simply examine the newest film in each of the polls. In 1952, Bicycle Thieves was number one (it now ranks thirty-third) and was just three years old. In 1962, L'avventura was also just three years old. In 1972, Persona was the newest film in the poll, but it was made six years before. This sense that the art of film was a contemporary, ongoing phenomenon quickly began to fade. In 1982, 8 1/2 was the most recent film in the poll, mde nineteen years before. In 1992, 2001: A Space Odyssey made its first in the poll, thanks to its restoration and subsequent rediscovery. But it was a twenty-four year old film by then. By 2002, film's slide into the past was to The Godfather, a thirty year old film. In the latest poll, 2001 is again the newest film, except it has got twenty years older since 1992. So the latest film judged great enough to be in the top ten was made forty-four years ago.

When I first encountered these polls, in the late 1970s, I found them a quite useful index of critical consensus. Jonathan Rosenbaum described how he bought the 1961-62 issue of Sight and Sound and decided to use the critic's poll to further his education: "I vowed to see as many films on the list as I could, and for the next several years proceeded like a butterfly collector, dutifully underlining each title in that issue of Sight and Sound as soon as I'd seen the film."

Thirtysomething years and thousands of film viewings later, they are much more useful as an index of the alterations in critical taste. They now indicate to me what a crowd of movie fans film critics have become, people who I once defined as "the hangers-on of the medium who are in it for ephemeral fame or simply the vicarious thrill of rubbing up against, even in effigy, the likes of Jack Nicholson and Nicole Kidman." The difference is between pleasure and principle. Every critical argument starts out as an emotional response to a film, a book, a piece of music. If the critic is any good, he will push his argument as far away from his initial irrational response as he can and attempt to appeal to some aesthetic standard. The best criticism appeals to some quantifiable standard, even if "objectivity" is an illusion.

Too many critics today make pleasure their first - and last - consideration. I prefer to call them fans rather than critics, and it's no accident that there has been a steady increase in the past three or four decades of Hollywood films in the polls. To be continued . . .

(1) All the Sight and Sound polls, from 1952, can be found here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Gore Vidal

"It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

It seems that he made a rule of always entering a room sneering. He was smarter than us and we both knew it. No matter on what occasion he appeared on television, he invariably came across as adversarial. Someone called him 20th Century's Oscar Wilde - I suppose because he, too, was gay. Wilde tried to be entertaining. Gore Vidal evidently wanted to be feared. During the live ABC coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, he called his co-host William F. Buckley a "crypto fascist" and Buckley obliged by calling him a "queer". He never seemed to let ceremony get in the way of his opinions, as when he wrote, in his obituary of Buckley in 2008, "RIP WFB — in hell."

But he also wanted to be taken seriously. Although born into an American elite, educated at St. Albans and Phillips Exeter Academy. He joined the Navy rather than go to an Ivy League college, explaining, "Every fool I knew had gone to university. I didn't think it necessary. I'd seen some of the results, you know." Despite all his privileges, he was a true Republican, in the ancient sense, as one who advocates "a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them." Yet he watched throughout his lifetime as the power in America shifted from the people into the hands of the few with all the money.

He was politically neutral, insofar as neither American party impressed him much:

"There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party ... and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently ... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."

He was out front with his sexuality: "We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime ... despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal."

Unfortunately, he felt obliged to portray himself as a sensualist, claiming an absurd number of sexual partners, both male and - for a time - female. His claims were neither credible nor creditable.

He had a brilliant, acerbic intellect, which perhaps explains why he wasn't a very good novelist. He used fiction to flesh out his ideas. The ideas had more substance than the characters in his novels. He was at his best at the disciplines of critic and essayist. Better than anyone, he knew the reason for the dearth of great writers:

"You hear all this whining going on, "Where are our great writers?" The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?"

Though he often hated it, he was a man of his time. In an age in which everyone would do anything to be loved, he was likable precisely because he didn't care to be.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sight Unsound Redux

By Way of an introduction to my forthcoming comments on the latest Sight & Sound Critics' Poll, here is what I wrote nearly three years ago on all the prior polls.