Saturday, June 04, 2011

Department of Crabby Dissent: Richard Schickel


For someone who professes to disdain Internet writers, Richard Schickel is one hell of an effective troll.

The last time the Siren roused herself to notice Schickel, he was calling bloggers "idiots" and saying no one read us except our mothers and distant cousins. This caused the Siren to weep hot tears that smudged her mascara, until someone reminded her that while her patient readers have disagreed with her on matters such as late Anthony Mann and whether or not Elizabeth Taylor was a good actress, no one, not even a cousin, has ever called her an idiot.

So here was the Siren reorganizing her lingerie, happily forgetting the existence of Schickel aside from his hilarious Twitter doppelganger, when her friend the fine and gentlemanly Tom Shone of Taking Barack to the Movies reminded her.

Tom, you see, has some big fat problems with Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, which he details in a very funny and characteristically well-written review right here. But then Tom had to go and quote Schickel's review, luring an unsuspecting Siren with a famous publicity shot of luscious Veronica Lake. And the Siren, because she never learns, clicked through to Schickel's full post.

Now the Siren hasn't yet seen Tree of Life, and if she holds true to her usual pattern with new releases she should be catching up with the latest Malick sometime in the winter of 2012-13. She comforts herself that if Malick took four years to edit his latest movie, surely he would not begrudge her taking a couple of years to watch it. But here's the quote.


Movies, I believe, are an essentially worldly medium, playful and romantic, particularly in America, where, on the whole our best directors have stated whatever serious intentions they may harbor as ignorable asides. There are other ways of making movies, naturally, and there’s always a small audience available for these noble strivings—and good for them, I guess. But I’m with Preston Sturges, who gave this immortal line to Veronica Lake in “Sullivan’s Travels”: “There’s nothing like a deep-dish movie to drive you out in the open."


This is, simply put, a lot of hooey. So much so that the Siren doesn't believe Schickel, a man with a deep knowledge of Hollywood history and the CV to prove it, can possibly believe this stuff himself, which is why she called him a troll in the first paragraph. Troll is not a word that the Siren trots out for just any old curmudgeon. But she uses it here, because beating Terrence Malick about the head with Preston Sturges is like using the Marx Brothers to critique Samuel Fuller.

Where, the Siren asks you, does the "playful and romantic" notion leave the blackest of film noir? Force of Evil, Scarlet Street, Sweet Smell of Success, they're romantic? Social dramas like Heroes for Sale and The Crowd and Give Us This Day, anti-war masterpieces like The Eagle and the Hawk and Attack! and All Quiet on the Western Front, tragedies like The Old Maid and Make Way for Tomorrow--they're playful and/or their serious intentions are ignorable asides? It's okay for Michael Powell and Albert Lewin and William Dieterle and Joseph Mankiewicz and Victor Fleming to film their notion of the afterlife, but only because they slipped in some sex and some jokes to keep Richard Schickel from nodding off? Hey, John Ford is serious, but playful--oh wait, but Schickel once used a review of Scott Eyman's splendid Ford biography to unload about how Ford's use of comic relief gave him a big pain in the fundament. Schickel's last book but one was about Clint Eastwood, and if he wants to tell the Siren what's so playful and romantic about Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River, and how to ignore any serious intentions, she's all ears.

The Siren admits that Schickel put himself more firmly than ever on her bad side by implicitly dismissing Days of Heaven. The Siren loves Days of Heaven with a deep purple passion, loves it even more than Badlands, considers it a major way station on her road to appreciating what Dan Kois might call "vegetable movies." "Narratively empty and emotionally unengaging"--Days of Heaven is Wings of the Dove, for crying out loud. If you can't find emotion and narrative content, not to mention romance and eroticism, in Richard Gere's hand closing wordlessly over Brooke Adams' to summon her out of her husband's bed, and the wineglass sinking to the bottom of the river, then the Siren must resort to Dimitri Tiomkin's line to David O. Selznick--you fuck in your way, and I'll fuck in mine.

Schickel thinks post-Badlands Malick is tiresome and bombastic, and in the words of the great philosopher Stuart Smalley, "that's OK." But for Schickel to extrapolate from what he sees as Malick's overreaching, that the ideal way to go after big notions of fate and society and the silence of God or whatever is to hide them, like whoever decided to put zucchini in breakfast muffins, is silly. Yeah, tell it to Fritz Lang. Sometimes the filmmakers beloved by the Siren smuggle their seriousness, as Scorsese put it, and sometimes they hit you with it like a beanball. It's a big, beautiful world of cinema out there. There's room for Sullivan's Travels, and there's room for Terrence Malick.

98 comments:

john_burke100 said...

fun'-da-ment, n. Not the poitrine (wq.v.)

poi-trine', n. (French.) Not the fundament (q.v.)

Come for the movie insights, stick around for the prose. Thanks again, Siren.

The Siren said...

The Siren aims to please. Her readers, anyway. If this does not please Richard Schickel, then frankly...

Kimberly Lindbergs said...

I tried reading Shickel's piece but he lost me with his opening paragraph. Anyone who dismisses my favorite Resnais film (Hiroshima Mon Amour) as a scam is an idiot (right back at you, Mr. Schickel) and not worth my time. Preach on, Siren!

The Siren said...

I don't know if I'd have made it past the opening either if I hadn't been looking for the quote that drew me in the first place. I also love Hiroshima, Mon Amour; Schickel's sideswipe is astonishingly reductive.

Dan said...

Wow. It's like Schickel wants take over some of Armond White's territory of ridiculous statements. I haven't seen Tree of Life yet either, but this is a silly review. Yikes.

X. Trapnel said...

Brava, Siren. Schickel may "know" a lot about film and Hollywood history, but I've always thought him a slipshod critic writing about things he lazily half remembers. Against his "approving" condescension toward Hollywood film I shall call on Jean Renoir: "There is no realism in American film, but something much better, great truth."

I guess it's time I finally see a Terrence Malick film.

Arthur S. said...

The seriousness of Terrence Malick makes people uncomfortable because he represents a strain in film-making that used to belong to King Vidor and non-narrative artists like Stan Brakhage. That is they are American film-makers who are not Hollywood film-makers. Raymond Durgnat explained this in his Vidor book that Hollywood's suppression of regional identities meant that film-makers like Vidor who're influenced by 19th Century transcendentalism are even harder for audiences to accept than European film-makers who are allowed to be intellectual.

So that's Richard Schickel's grouse. Terence Malick's roots extend to the 19th Century whereas Schickel's using a misguided image of traditional classic cinema. His documentaries are generally better than his prose criticism. That's as far as it goes.

Funny thing about Scorsese's "smuggling" category is that he himself has never fit in it. He always deals with that stuff directly. Like THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, KUNDUN and LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST or his long-gestating SILENCE which is indeed about the "silence of God".

Gloria said...

I hereby declare that I read your blog without being related.

And to paraphrase Miss Kubelik, let's remember not wearing mascara when reading Schikel ;D

The Siren said...

Gloria, you read my maunderings way back in the day when my own mother did not. Admittedly, I hadn't given Mom the link yet, but still. BTW, I missed your birthday--hope it was happy and you watched some Charles Laughton. Playful, romantic Laughton.

Gloria said...

Thanks Siren! I must confess that on my birthday I gave Charles a bit of rest and opted for Bette Davis in Now, Voyager

Yojimboen said...

Schickel is the Crowther of his generation; Crowther was the Schickelgruber of his.

X@ I guess it's time I finally see a Terrence Malick film.

Start with The New World.

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

As other have pointed out Schickel's review of Tree of Life opens with --

"I think of it as the oshima Mon Amourm."

No halfway intelligent person need read any further.

If you liked Days of Heaven, Siren I'm sure you'll enjoy Tree of Life.. Malick is trying (and to my mind succeeding) at doing something really different here. The film has elements of narrative and character but they're not stated in the usual way. It's a good twenty minutes before we meet Brad Pitt and his family. Malick has been busy wandering all over the universe, revisitng creation and the "Big Bang," scooting over solar eruptions and hanging out with dinosaurs. So when we get to Chez Pitt it's fairly obvious they're not "the point of all this" in the usual way. There are no set scenes as such. And while one might say there's a father-son conflict it's barely stated. This isn't East of Eden. And it's all pre-pubescent so sex doesn't enter the picture in any way.

Most important he's trying to create a new cinemtographic language via the steadicam. Every shot floats -- with sublime grace.

If Ophuls had had access to a steadicam he might well have made a film like this.

Yojimboen said...

Speaking of Max - a long lost and recently re-surfaced Ophuls short:

Peter Nellhaus said...

Tree of Life won't be in Denver for another week, and I'm hoping that like other Fox Searchlight films, it'll play at the multiplex near me, where the seats have more legroom.

I felt like Schickel was hitting me on the head, letting the reader know that only he (Schickel) possessed THE TRUTH. Dissing Hiroshima, Mon Amour? The guy's not worthy of having Marguerite Duras' toe jam as his bread spread.

I'm not sure what my mother would have made of this blog. The only family member who I know of to take a look at my writings has been my brother, but his life is more wrapped up in theater. I wonder what Schickel would make of the fact that the last movie I saw with my mother, at her request, was that light hearted romp, Taxi Driver?

Meredith said...

That fake Schickel account is one of the greatest things I've seen in awhile. I must share it. Thanks Siren (and Dennis!)

md'a said...

Agree 100% with this post, BUT: Apart from the fact that he's your friend, I can't fathom why Shone's dictum that filmmakers should not even attempt to make masterpieces strikes you as any less reductive or ludicrous than what Schickel wrote. Do you really have no quarrel with that position? Or do you just let it slide because it's phrased as a statement of personal preference?

The Siren said...

Mike, I am pleased to have drawn you out here. I let Tom's statement slide yes, because it's stated as a personal preference (and it's funny, which always gets you points with me); but I don't think it's an incontrovertible dictat, either. If you go back through Tom's lists of favorites, which I have, you will find some Certifiable Masterpieces by Big Deal Masters, as well as Slow Movies That Might Strike Some People as a Plate of Uncooked Broccoli.

Schickel, on the other hand, really got me with that "good for them, I guess." I think that was where I said, nope, taking the bait this time, come hell or high water.

The Siren said...

PLUS (and it's a huge one) Schickel is also mischaracterizing the history of American film, which Tom does not.

glennkenny said...

It seems pretty obvious to me that when Shone disparages "masterpieces" he's complaining more about the sloppy throwing around of the term rather than pooh-poohing the actual existence of Great Works Of Art. But while I can argue with him all day about matters of categorization (although I won't, because then neither of us would ever get out of the local market in which we frequently run into each other) I think it's pretty clear in this case that he's venting a personal peeve. As for Schickel, he's an incorrigible goalpost mover, and what I really appreciate about your analysis here, dearest, is how it lays bare one of the most irritating tools in the bad-faith critics' bag: the contingent citation of what is deemed Solomonic wisdom solely for the purpose of one particular argument. It's almost as irritating as someone like Kois's complete bulls--t protestations of guilt about his not liking his "cultural vegetables;" he's doesn't feel a BIT guilty, Tarkovsky's as much of a punchline for him as Nick Drake is for David Kamp.It's all about hating art and STILL wanting to be seen as "smart" and culturally with it, in their case. In Schickel's case, it's all very "YOU DON'T KNOW, and to hell with all of you anyway." One-upsmanship, again and again, and to what end?

Rachel said...

Mike, I too went a little goggle-eyed at Shone's statement concerning "masterpieces and those who would foist them on an unsuspecting public" (and normally I like Tom Shone's writing). I don't like Vertigo because it's important, I like it because it's good. Shone does go on to explain his points on Tree of Life and he does so much more intelligently than Schickel does.

Maybe it comes down to your classification of a "deep-dish movie". Mine would be Stanley Kramer holding my hand for two hours.

md'a said...

It seems pretty obvious to me that when Shone disparages "masterpieces" he's complaining more about the sloppy throwing around of the term rather than pooh-poohing the actual existence of Great Works Of Art.

I'm not so sure. What troubles me isn't so much the specific examples Shone gives (though I do love me some Kubrick, White Album and Vertigo) but his assertion that Malick erred with Tree of Life by "succumb[ing] to the entirely regrettable impulse to deliver a masterpiece." That's taking issue with the filmmaker's ambition, not with any critical assessments of the work. "Don't try so damn hard, big guy" is the essential message. Which is not something I'd want to see our damn few visionary directors take to heart.

That said, I agree that funny is always worth bonus points.

paloaltodad said...

Oh darling, but everyone reads you. Mr Schickel writes like a parody of bombastic prose. Nobody reads him.

paloaltodad said...

but darling, everybody reads you. Mr. Schickel writes bombast like the ancient pseudo-Longinus warned when you strive for the sublime but fall short. In Mr. Schickel's case deplorably short.

The Siren said...

Paloaltodad, you're sweet. I very much like Schickel's book about Douglas Fairbanks Jr., I will say that. The irony is that we should be on the same side; it isn't as though I don't tend to gravitate toward popular, entertaining, witty and fast-moving movies of the past. The absurdity of Schickel's contention about "ignorable asides"...well, I won't repeat myself.

Y., I didn't see you up there; thanks so much for the Ophuls link. XT, I also haven't seen The New World and that's way past my two-year limit now...

David E., I saw you in Schickel's comments, too. (ahem)

X. Trapnel said...

I've always been rankled by Schickle's dismissal of Best Years of Our Lives (to be found in a rather disappointing memoir with a silly title I can't remember) in which he gets every detail wrong. No doubt it was in his view a self-consciously serious bid for masterpiece status, so he missed just how much playfulness and romance break into the performances and the casual, sometimes awkward reality (again, not the same thing as "realism") that Wyler got into the film.

Rachel said...

He dissed Best Years of Our Lives? I'm baffled at how anyone can look at that film and find it sentimental or pretentious. Not to mention that looking at it next to other Wyler films (or other Goldwyn film for that matter), it doesn't stand out from the pack as an attempt to be self-consciously "important" unless you consider touching on war or contemporary issues as automatic pomposity.

Oh well. Deep breaths.

The Siren said...

Courage, XT, people are coming around on that one, as indeed Wyler seems to get more respect than he used to. Speaking of "boring" filmmakers, Jean-Pierre Melville loved him some Wyler.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I was just looking at Best Years again the other day. That a film this complex and deeply felt was made when the war was mere minutes over is amazing. One heartbreakingly true (which is not at all to say "realistic" but rather authentic) scene after another. Myrna Loy acts with her back to the camera in the phenomenal homecoming scene. Harold Russell doing absolutely anything. And the wedding at the end -- whcih turned into a double wedding as its' clar that Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews are headed for the altar from the position and focus of Greg Toland's camera alone!

It was one of both Ozu's and Mizoguchi's very favorite films. Pardon me for being such a snob but I value their opinion over Schickel's.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I was just looking at Best Years again the other day. That a film this complex and deeply felt was made when the war was mere minutes over is amazing. One heartbreakingly true (which is not at all to say "realistic" but rather authentic) scene after another. Myrna Loy acts with her back to the camera in the phenomenal homecoming scene. Harold Russell doing absolutely anything. And the wedding at the end -- whcih turned into a double wedding as its' clar that Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews are headed for the altar from the position and focus of Greg Toland's camera alone!

It was one of both Ozu's and Mizoguchi's very favorite films. Pardon me for being such a snob but I value their opinion over Schickel's.

DavidEhrenstein said...

According to Samuel Goldwyn Jr. when his father won the Oscar for Best Years he came home, went into his bedroom and cried.

DavidE said...

The problem, oh Mighty Siren, is that the Malickites are a rather belligerent bunch and equate finding flaws in the movie with philistinism. A.O. Scott likened its detractors to people who thought Moby Dick should be a fast, fun adventure novel. To which I say, stuff it. I go to Malick movies--all movies--with an open mind and a deep abiding love for Days of Heaven. I found much of it compelling. But the Malickites are too self-righteous for my liking. As for Schickel, he does have a temperamental instinct to make himself odious to whatever audience he's speaking to at the moment--and in this case I admire him for it.

DavidE said...

The problem, oh Mighty Siren, is that the Malickites are a rather belligerent bunch and equate finding flaws in the movie with philistinism. A.O. Scott likened its detractors to people who thought Moby Dick should be a fast, fun adventure novel. To which I say, stuff it. I go to Malick movies--all movies--with an open mind and a deep abiding love for Days of Heaven. I found much of it compelling. But the Malickites are too self-righteous for my liking. As for Schickel, he does have a temperamental instinct to make himself odious to whatever audience he's speaking to at the moment--and in this case I admire him for it.

DavidE said...

Sorry that posted twice--Yours, David Edelstein

VP81955 said...

I suppose if Schickel wants to devolve into this generation's John Simon, there's little we can do to stop him.

The Siren said...

Hi David Edelstein, and nice to see you. Would you consider identifying yourself as "Ernst Lubitsch" so as to differentiate from David Ehrenstein? I just spent a few deeply confused minutes trying to figure out why DavidE did a 180 on Tree of Life in my comments. Or David Ehrenstein could take a nom de blog like "James Whale." I'm easy.

Seriously, on the general topic of Schickel, Dennis Cozzalio has taken him apart at the seams for his past unwarranted nastiness, as he did here. As Virginia Woolf said, one has certain foolish vanities; among mine is a certain resentment at being compared to a finger-painter. You call it a knack of Schickel's, I call it trolling.

I enjoyed Shone's review very much, and yours also, which was witty as ever (for those who haven't seen it, it's here.) And yes, Malick's defenders have occasionally been shrill.

But I have no admiration for that Schickel review. None. You cannot use bad faith to accuse others of bad faith. He says critics are reviewing Malick's biography, not the film, and uses this to contrast with his own supposed fearlessness. This after opening by calling "Hiroshima Mon Amour" a "scam," which implies in no uncertain terms that those who admire that movie also don't know their ass from their elbow. In other words, we're all faking it (at which point I have to point back to Mr. Tiomkin's quote, and suggest that maybe Schickel is projecting).

And he winds up with a transparently bogus assertion that the history of American movies is a history of filmmakers who (since we might as well work this vegetable metaphor until it's ready for the compost heap) timidly put a little parsley garnish of seriousness next to the delicious, playful desserts they're always serving up.

I may be of "surpassing ignorance," as Schickel once said all film bloggers were, but I know an insupportable piece of film criticism when I see one.

X. Trapnel said...

David, glad you brought up that shot of the wedding; even though it points to the future it still preserves a sense of the tension and unease that underscores the ambiguous happy ending ("We'll get kicked around...") and indeed pervade the whole picture. Even though marriage is the essential subtext of the film it took courage to foreground the intertwining of hurt and relief at surviving so soon after the war; in its subtlety the opposite of 50s Now It Can Be Told garishness/sensitivity.

Siren, imagining for a moment that this is a just world, you have laid an immovable tombstone on Schickel's critical reputation.

And speaking of injustices Myrna Loy on the phone in BYOOL melts the gold leaf off of Louise Rainer's Oscar.

DavidE said...

Never thought I'd be defending Schickel, whose Eastwood hagiography I lambasted at Slate (no link or the other David E. will go after me in a way that will leave me cowering in bed for a few days). The thing is, I'm sympathetic to the perversity of what he wrote, which I'm sure is directed as much at Time's remaining film critic Corliss and others with bruises on their knees from kneeling down to Malick. I admire his willingness to alienate everybody, as I admire Armond's. There are trolls and there are trolls and I could probably write a blog item no one could (or should) read on the subject... Part of me wishes I'd written it except, uh, I like Hiroshima mon Amour and parts (but only parts) of The Tree of Life. Your criticisms of Schickel are spot-on. But allow me, here in your delightful universe rather than my own, to give two cheers to someone who had a visceral loathing for the thing and wasn't afraid to indulge himself a little. (As for Schickel and film bloggers, I'm sure he hasn't read them--or the best of them. He was just blowing smoke out his ass.) Best, Ernst Lubitsch

Peter Lenihan said...

I'm not sure how tenable it is to champion Schickel's and White's willingness to alienate everybody only a few minutes after lamenting the Malickians' (whoever they are) belligerence and self-righteousness.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Anybody who disses "Best Years of Our Lives" should be spoken to severely. Then kicked.

glennkenny said...

Sorry to be weighing in again after the thread has taken another tack, but I do have to say, as much as I admire and like Mr. Shone, I'm a little disappointed at his apprehension about artists self-consciously foisting would-be masterpieces on an uninterested or too put-upon public. As a novelist himself, I'd expect that he'd have a little more genuine insight into process. While artists aren't exactly ego-deficient, it's my observed experience that only the hackiest of them go into a project saying, "And now, I'm gonna make my MASTERPIECE." While it's perhaps true that Hitchcock treated the (very great) "Vertigo" as a somewhat more personal project than others, he didn't balk when he ended up with what he considered a less-than-ideal leading lady in the picture. Artists work from a compulsion, yes, but they're not diabolical mad scientists in their masterpiece labs saying "this time I'll fool everybody!" I'm reminded of a very old interview with Mayo Thompson around the time that the Red Crayola's "Soldier Talk" came out, with the interlocuter pressing Mayo on the records arching geo-political themes, and Mayo just saying "Well, we wrote the songs as best we could, and played them the best we could, and..." which, come to think of it, might have been a bit disingenuous. I also remember in college a student asking if all of that light imagery in "Streetcar" was in there "on purpose." Anyway, the point is, I think Malick made "Tree of Life" because he believed that he had to, and ought not be blamed for the claims any of the rest of us make on his behalf. And I, like David Edelstein, love "Days of Heaven" also. But "Days of Heaven" was made a long time ago. Can't say I'm surprised with his impatience with "Tree" and its admirers. I remember running into David on the street in fall of 1986 or thereabouts, having just come out of a Film Forum screening of "Stalker," which I was seeing for the first time with lysergic assistance, and him rolling his eyes at my fulsome enthusiasm. Can't say I really blame him.

Bill Wren said...

I find it funny that Schickel would be an Eastwood biographer. In his career, Eastwood has always been focused on box office. At the same time, when asked who he makes movies for, he points to himself and says, "You're looking at him." Often, he doesn't smuggle his seriousness as much as he crashes through the gate.

Regardless, based on his first paragraph, Schickel is saying that one of the most common and successful approaches to storytelling -- focusing on something specific (like a few characters) to address something thematically large (like war) -- makes for bad movies.

I think that would eliminate well over half of all movies ever made including films like My Man Godfrey, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird and so on.

I have no opinion on Terrence Malick since I've seen few of his movies. But if you don't like a movie or a director, fine. Say so. But sweeping idiocies are just ... well, idiotic.

DavidEhrenstein said...

A "willingness to aliente everybody" is neother an admirable nor a useful quality. Consider the innately dispeptic David Mamet. For years he impressed the middlebrows with angry characters pewing 4-letter-laced rants. Now he realizes that's all gotten very tired, and the likes of Neil Labute and Todd Solondz have arrived tousurp his crown as King of the "Politically Incorrec.t" So he makes a big noise about becoming a "Conservative" and rejecting the dreaded "Liberal" in all its manifestiation -- especially as regards Hollywood.

Next he'll be stripping at the Ent'acte of the dog fights.

What he'lls never be is a writer worth shit.

Dan Callahan said...

In a review of a biography of Lillian Gish, Schickel dismissed her as " a sexless antique," and went on to write that it was the chief job of an actress to be sexy. Well, of course he's right about that! Which is why we put them out to pasture on Lifetime TV at a certain point, I suppose.

His early documentaries on directors are good and valuable, but Schickel's long-simmering contempt for movies and self-contempt at having spent his life writing about them makes everything he writes at this point not just pointless but sad.

Pauline Kael got me at a young age, so I like sexy and funny movies and have no qualms about criticizing an overly solemn or serious film. But I don't see why every movie has to be funny or sexy or overtly "entertaining," which should be a very elastic word. It's obvious to me that too much of the same kind of "sex and fun" can be depressing, while something "serious" can be elating and a tonic.

Yes, perhaps "The Tree of Life" should be shipped straight to the Museum of Modern Art, but I for one love that it might be playing next to "The Hangover 2" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" and the like. I happen to think that "The Tree of Life" is a hell of a lot more fun than what passes for comedy right now, and I was excited by it and even amused at points at every single moment of watching it. That's entertainment.

The Siren said...

Glenn, I think sometimes artists realize that they have an idea they can hit out of the park, like Mary Astor talking about the excitement of making Maltese Falcon, and sometimes they don't, like just everybody involved with Casablanca. Like Tom, I prefer Strangers on a Train to Vertigo, but if Vertigo is lower down on my Hitchcock greatest hits, that's only because he made an inordinate number of great movies.

Who knows what Malick was thinking. I almost want to believe that he was like James Joyce: "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." But maybe he just really likes dinosaurs. It's a movie about small boys, after all. I can testify that small boys tend to be obsessed with dinosaurs, as can anyone who's been to the Museum of Natural History and had a 6-year-old correct their pronunciation of "brachiosaurus." I will be able to judge once I see the thing--I hope.

The Siren said...

David Ehrenstein--I am not and never have been a Mamet fan.

Dan: "It's obvious to me that too much of the same kind of "sex and fun" can be depressing, while something "serious" can be elating and a tonic." Yes, precisely. We've been reading each other long enough to know that neither one of us objects to wit or sex in our movies. And we're both big enough Kael fans to point to serious and/or difficult movies that she liked too.

I am, as a general matter, bone-weary of reviews that shift the focus from the movie to whoever likes or dislikes it. To name another critic who's come up in this thread, that's Armond White's stock in trade, and it's done like last year's taxes. And it is why I had little patience for Dan Kois' New York Times piece, deft and evidently sincere though it was. If he dislikes Solaris, why blame himself? I'd be a lot more interested in reading why he thinks it's a failure than in hearing about the formless blob of snobs who are going to make him sit alone in the cafeteria unless he professes love for Solaris.

If he's talking about film critics and writers (and Kois is far from clear on that point) sure, it can cost you coolness points to dislike certain films or filmmakers. But that's a small group of people, and in my experience, they have respect for a well-reasoned iconoclastic case--well-reasoned meaning, you aren't relying on dubious grand unified theories of American cinema or claiming that a movie's defenders just want to hang with the popular people or feel sorry for the director because it takes him seven years to make a movie. Jonathan Rosenbaum's Ingmar Bergman editorial, with which I agreed not a bit, lays out a case against the director, and even looks hard at what he considers Bergman's inflated reputation, and the reasons for it, without resorting to any of that. As a Bergman lover, I didn't feel attacked after reading that piece. I felt like I needed to see another Bergman movie.

For the record, I haven't even SEEN Solaris, that's how uncool I am, and Glenn and Vadim are still speaking to me.

DavidEhrenstein said...

No reason to suspect you were a Mamet fan, Siren.

The thing about Pauline, that almost always redeems her, is her sense of humor. She could go way off the rails on certain things, but she always strove NOT to be pendantic. She's dead wrong in her "Come Dressed As the Sick Souls of Europe" piece, not fro criticizing Fellini, Antonioni and Resnais but because her real target is a particular sub-set of the moviegoing audience, and that sub-set can't be reduced to some of the films it may have liked. Jonathan Rosenbaum (one of my oldest friends) by contrast had some very specific bones to pick with Bergman AND the way he was used by middlebrows in a knee-jerk fashion as the embodiment of the highest level of cinematic art -- which he most certainly is not. Actually Jonathan's real target is less Bergman himself than the demi-god Woody Allen has made of Bergman. For a while it looked as if middlebrows were going to replace Ingmar with Woody.

But then Soon-Ye happened.

Haven't seen Midnight in Paris yet. Here in L.A. it was press-screened the same day as The Tree of Life and that wiped me out, as you might expect. But it's gotten his best reviews in years, and appears to be genuinely funny, so I'm interested. of his ecent stuff I think Whatever Works is very underrated. By contrast You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is almost unbearable.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, almost forgot; another quite recent bit of Schickel idiocy. In reviewing a new biography of Bogart he makes the possibly valid point that the latter has faded somewhat as a cultural presence, but then adds that John Wayne has not, hence Wayne is a bigger star or whatever (it wasn't too clear). What he ignores is the very real possibility that most of Wayne's current admirers probably don't care much about his films but care a great deal about his politics and macho posturing.

X. Trapnel said...

In addition to his other sins against Melponene, Thalia, and the rest of us, I suspect David Mamet is the originator of the annoying and mannered double-struck Fuck You ([growl] "Fuck you! [shout] FUCK YOU!") heard in so many 80s/90s movies. The fact is, intellectual and artistic standards in the American theater have always been low, and our comic/dramatic genius is to be found in film, so fuck you! FUCK YOU! Richard Schickel.

Arthur S. said...

Well I am in a minority who likes YOU'LL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER and would go as far as to claim that the 21st Century is his most fertile film-making since the late 70s to 80s.

md'a said...

Siren: Preferring Strangers on a Train to Vertigo is fine and dandy. As someone who likes (to pick an example at random) Too Late Blues way more than Love Streams, I'm in no position to point fingers. But this was just silly:

The reason people like Vertigo so much, I've found, is that it's the least Hitchcocklike of Hitchcock's films. It's too long, its plot wanders, and it contains no jokes.

In response to that last charge I submit the two words "Midge" and "brassiere." But even if we stipulate that Vertigo is humorless and overlong and needlessly digressive, those qualities obviously aren't what people are secretly pretending to admire. I love Vertigo because it rips my heart to shreds like few other movies, not because I performed some obscure calculus of cool and determined it to be the Hitchcock outlier.

Tom, Tom. Just accept that sometimes people flip for stuff you think is meh, and maybe it's you. I'm having to do it with this new Woody Allen picture.

The Siren said...

Oh dear XT, don't go overboard!

Mike, Vertigo is just about the bleakest statement on men and women and what we're fated to do to one another that I have ever seen, so your reaction is mine. I don't think Vertigo is too long and its plot holes are no larger than most other Hitchcocks, but I agree with Tom that there's not a single authentic laugh in it, the Midge/bra thing being mildly amusing and no more. (Whereas Strangers is one grim quip after another.) I'd argue, though, that Vertigo doesn't need laughs. Anyway, I don't think it's the bleakness that draws in film nerds. Otherwise I would be constantly reading that Frenzy is Hitchcock's masterpiece, and I tell you, that would make me as cantankerous as RS. I think it's because the movie is so damn beautiful, in every respect.

Marilyn said...

Well, quite a lot to respond to.

I'm very sad that Schickel has this Mr. Hyde side to him. I have been extremely grateful to him for reconstructing The Big Red One and his doc on James Cagney has a permanent place of honor in my library. The comments about where this might be coming from are enlightening.

"...flaws in the movie with philistinism." It has been my experience that whenever someone disses a movie, no matter what the movie is, someone will be standing at the ready to call them a philistine. Though the modern term is "hater."

The Best Years of Our Lives has performances that triumph over some flimsy material. It seems pretty clear to me that the script wanted Myrna Loy and Frederick March to be another Nick and Nora, right down to March's ever-present cocktail, and that Andrews and Mayo are a riff on a types that appeared in a much earlier Wyler film, Dodsworth (1937). The only completely original characters are those in Harold Russell's story, most particularly Homer and his father. I've seen TBYOOL many, many times, and while I still love it, I am finally seeing the chinks in its armor. I may lose some fans for it, but I have to be honest. I'm ready to be beaten and kicked no.

@David Ehrenstein - I am a very big Mamet fan, and I find your attacks on him almost obsessive. The connection of him to this discussion is tenuous at best, and I don't appreciate being considered a middle brow. Or even a philistine. Or a hater.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, you are right that Vertigo doesn't need laffs, so it's to Hitchcock's credit that he takes that big whoopie cushion risk in showing us Midge's Carlotta portrait (contra Johnny O'Scotty, it is damn funny, but the laugh sticks in our throats).

X. Trapnel said...

Marilyn,

I'm still a fan of yours, but I strongly disagree that March's drinking is in the Nick and Nora spirit, more like the J. O'Hara, Cheever. It starts out as comedy in the homecoming binge, but becomes unobtrusively unnerving as the film progresses. March's tipsy country club speech is only a temporary redemption; he's at it again at the wedding, and I suspect his drinking may have something to do with the marital problems alluded to earlier in the film. Walter Russell is splendid as Homer's father as are the whole Parrish and Cameron folk, I especially like Don Beddoe's awkwardness after Harold Russell upsets the lemonade pitcher. Realism, no; something better.

X. Trapnel said...

Sorry, Walter Baldwin, though a forgivable error in this context. How good are Baldwin and Russell? I keep forgetting that we don't actually see the former cleaning his pipe and then hiding his hands.

Marilyn said...

X. - I understand what you are saying about March, and I agree that his drinking has some more serious foundation, including his wartime experiences. His speech is far too lucid for the amount of drinking he has been doing, and rings a false note to me. But I still think the association to Nick and Nora, while perhaps not direct, surely must have been hoped for by the money men.

X. Trapnel said...

Ah, but Myrna Loy would have had to join in then; she's pretty sober throughout. March does seem to me a convincingly depicted suburban drinker, no glamor and not much wit. You're probably right that the drinking was a movie add on. I don't recall anything of the sort in the (rather odd) Mackinlay Kantor source material.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well that's a shame Marilyn. But in the immortal words of Carol Burnett "It's your baby -- don't leave it crying in my
arms."

DavidEhrenstein said...

X -- did you say Cheever ?

Marilyn said...

@ David - I have no intention of leaving my baby in your arms where you'll rip it limb from limb. I just wish you'd try not to bring up your hatred at every opportunity. That's simply snatching the baby from my arms, and it's very unbecoming, my dear.

DavidEhrenstein said...

It's funny you shoudl bring up The Thin Man, Siren because recently in my perusal of th 30's (my favorite cinematic decade) I've been struck by what a big star Frederic march was -- often as not in lighter-tha-air material, like Design For Living. Maybe there was a sne that he's insert a of this into BYOOL. But the war was over and just as the character he was playing had changed, March had changed. From here on in he's a distinctly dramatic actor. His performance in Middle of the Night is incredibly moving.

And leave us not forget a little four-hander he premiered on Broadway called Long Day's Journey into Night long after its author had bought the farm.

DavidEhrenstein said...

But Marilyn, I LOVE BABIES!

The Siren said...

David & Marilyn - is this where I offer to cut the baby in two? Because I don't even care enough about Mamet to argue about him. He leaves me stone cold.

March, on the other hand. Love him. Such a sexy, vibrant presence, could do comedy or the darkest of dramas. His politics were so liberal that he was getting hauled before HUAC in 1940 (some sources say even before that, in 1938), before HUAC got all touristy. He doesn't appear to have been flat-out blacklisted (accounts differ, if anyone knows for sure do let me know) but he kept getting dogged by whispers and articles and he was part of the Committee for the First Amendment, and none of that could have helped. Plus he was just part of an older generation once the war ended. I'm curious about Act of Murder, a post-war drama about euthanasia, which he made with his wife Florence.

In BYOOL I could watch his moment at the mantel, looking at the old picture of himself, and then his unshaven, hung-over reality in the mirror, over and over and over.

DavidEhrenstein said...

March was probably graylisted -- considered "suspect" even though they cou;dn't pin party membership on him. Just like Marsha Hunt.

But as he was older roles weren't coming to him in the same way in Hollywood anyway. Plus he had a thriving career in the theater as a result of LDJIN.

HUAC started in 1947. Quite a year, 1947: The Dead Sea Scrolls, Good News, me.

The Siren said...

David, actually 1938 under Martin Dies, but it was called the Dies Committee then. You're right that it didn't become HUAC until later, 1946 (I think, not in position to check). As I recall one of his first salvos at Hollywood even named Shirley Temple.

DavidEhrenstein said...

As I recall the first salvo resulted in Alvah Bessie's name being taken off of Rutheless -- which for my money is Edgar G. Ulmer's best film. Bessie was called before HUAC every early on and gave them hell. His name was restored to the film about two years ago.

Rachel said...

To backtrack a little to the March/Loy commentary, the only Nick and Nora vibe I got from them was during the dance scene where March, completely hammered, tells her, "In a way, you remind me of my wife." Loy, without missing a beat, says, "You didn't tell me you were married." Love it.

I'm totally on board with throwing a little love in March's direction. Some other March moments to cherish:

His reaction to a dreamy-eyed Miriam Hopkins describing Gary Cooper as "barbaric."

The way he says "So long," as he gently lets go of Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born. He doesn't hold on it, barely gives it any emphasis, but it breaks me. And the way he gazes at the waves with this sick longing.

Vanwall said...

The thing about March for me is, as he got older, he retained the levels of ability he had - frequently he was the strongest character in the films he was in, or at least one of the smartest. His post-war performances are worthy indeed.

glennkenny said...

Siren: For the record, you write rings around Kois, I don't believe that his professed guilt about not liking certain works is at all sincere, and think that his ostensible deftness is of a piece with his clubbishness, which I find utterly repellent. Of him I say what David Mamet's Al Capone said of Eliot Ness, that would be the speech beginning "F--- him..."

My favorite joke in "Vertigo" is about Judy being from Salina, Kansas. (See "Picnic.")

As for the notion that artists come up with ideas that they believe they can hit out of the park: Yeah, it happens, but even then, these things take on a life of their own. The artist sometimes winds up with something like a Frankenstein's monster on his or her hands. I remember being thoroughly annoyed (okay, homicidally enraged) when Kaite Roiphe (or however the f--- you spell her name) referred to "Infinite Jest" as a "look-at-me novel." I mean, in a sense it is, but if that's the case, so is "Miss Macintosh My Darling" or any inordinately or judged-to-be-inordinately long piece. The fact of the matter was that Wallace really did think and write in long form; it was his metier. And he didn't invent footnotes or endnotes in novels anymore than Flann O'Brien did. He DID, with some difficulty, write the book that he had in him, that he needed to write. There are parts in it where you intuit the strain that he's wrestling with something that's getting away from him, and other parts that run so smoothly and beautifully that you can't believe that a human being lived who wrote so well. But the fact of the matter is that Wallace was somewhat unhappy with some of the more unwieldy aspects of the book; a part of him wished they were or could have been different, but at a certain point he just accepted the result was the best he could do at the time. (And that's not to say the parts he was proud of, he wasn't SUPER proud of.) "Jest" is not a perfect book, but to reduce it to a "look-at-me" gesture is just...diabolically flippant and transparently a refusal to even deal with the work.

Which is, ahem, a problem in much contemporary criticism. More and more I'm finding myself on the side of giving artists the benefit of the doubt rather than holding my finger to the wind and seeing what position or angle will be the most "interesting." let us recall that while Rosenbaum's op-ed piece on Bergman was, indeed, of some interest, he himself expressed definite misgivings concerning it, after the fact.

X. Trapnel said...

March with Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray F S seems to turn the latter from his customary tree into lumber. I just saw March in the interesting, though uneven So Ends Our Night (sluggish and powerful by turns with moments of real beauty). He's as convincing as a German political refugee as Spencer Tracy is not in the dire Seventh Cross.

Yojimboen said...

Silent long enough. (Mother-in-law and “Marie-Noelle” [the sweetest-natured, most loving and lovable feline that ever walked the earth]; may they both R.I.P.) Onwards:

Chère Madame Sirène, just as I gently tapped you upside the haid with The New World, please accept a slighter harder zetz up the other side via Mamet’s rather splendid remake of The Winslow Boy, about which, more in a moment.

If The New World doesn’t answer any and all of your questions about the nature of cinematic genius as exemplified by Terrence Malick, then you’re not the man I thought you were.

Mamet, on the other hand, is who he is, what he is and where he is. How he got there, frankly my dear, I don’t give a fuck :-).

But the fact is, he’s made some decent movies; his filmic ‘long-cons’, House of Cards; Spanish Prisoner are delightfully- and craftily-wrought farces, albeit of a noir shading.

F’r chrissakes, he wrote The Verdict - anyone out there within the sound of my voice think The Verdict is a bad film?

Granted, he also wrote The Untouchables - strangled in its crib by De Palma – plus one or two others featuring R. De Niro, about which, the less said the better – but set beside those the “let’s at least try for something original in established genres” gentle menace of Things Change and (face it, it’s now in the language) Wag the Dog.

State and Main(?) cripplingly funny for those who’ve been there. A desert-island DVD for anybody who ever worked an Indie crew.

A link to a piece on The Winslow Boy worth perusing, if only to find out why the blogger feels TWB’s curtain lines are better than “Nobody’s Perfect” or “Shut Up and Deal!”.

Finally, on Mr. Schickel: he’s a bitter old man whose ungrateful world has passed him by (see Billy Wilder and a hundred others); everything he says now has about the same weight as “You kids get off my lawn!”


Silent long enough. (Mother-in-law and “Marie-Noelle” [the sweetest-natured, most loving and lovable feline that ever walked the earth]; may they both R.I.P.) Onwards:

Chère Madame Sirène, just as I gently tapped you upside the haid with The New World, please accept a slighter harder zetz up the other side via Mamet’s rather splendid remake of The Winslow Boy, about which, more in a moment.

If The New World doesn’t answer any and all of your questions about the nature of cinematic genius as exemplified by Terrence Malick, then you’re not the man I thought you were.

Mamet is who he is, what he is and where he is. How he got there, frankly my dear, I don’t give a fuck J. But the fact is, he’s made some decent movies; his filmic ‘long-cons’, House of Cards; Spanish Prisoner are delightfully- and craftily-wrought farces, albeit of a noir shading. F’r chrissakes, he wrote The Verdict - anyone out there think The Verdict is a bad film?

Granted, he also wrote The Untouchables - strangled in its crib by De Palma – plus one or two others featuring R. De Niro, about which, the less said the better – but set beside those the “let’s at least try for something original in established genres” gentle menace of Things Change and (face it, it’s now in the language) Wag the Dog.

State and Main(?) cripplingly funny for those who’ve been there. A desert-island DVD for anybody who ever worked an Indie crew.

A link to a piece on The Winslow Boy worth perusing, if only to find out why the blogger feels TWB’s curtain lines are better than “Nobody’s Perfect” or “Shut Up and Deal!”.

Finally, on Mr. Schickel: he’s a bitter old man whose ungrateful world has passed him by (see Billy Wilder and a hundred others); everything he says now has about the same weight and value as “You kids get off my lawn!”

Yojimboen said...

Sorry, don't know that got doubled. (Out of practice?) The link is live on the lower post

The Siren said...

Y., The Verdict. You're right. I forgot The Verdict. I like it very much. Also Glengarry Glen Ross. Great movie. Mea culpa.

I have not seen State and Main. The Untouchables--well, I like De Palma, but it's far from his best and the script has to take some, perhaps even a lot of the blame. House of Cards, The Spanish Prisoner, meh. Not bad, but shaggy dogs, both of 'em. And The Winslow Boy suffered from the dreary Rebecca Pidgeon and was not as good as the original (I love me some Robert Donat) although the curtain line is indeed great. I cannot for the life of me remember if that is in the 1948 or not.

Wag the Dog I actively despise for reasons I won't hijack the thread to detail.

Basically, I'm willing to venture afield for Fredric March (I'd go ANY number of places for March circa Nothing Sacred) but not Mamet; hence I admit to being more dismissive than he warrants, in order to head Mamet off at the pass.

The Siren said...

There are a lot of double posts in this thread, I notice. Everybody's all worked up. We need to go watch something very slow and contemplative to recalibrate our inner Malicks. :)

DavidEhrenstein said...

"F’r chrissakes, he wrote The Verdict - anyone out there within the sound of my voice think The Verdict is a bad film?"

Present!

Lumet and Newman on automatic pilot with Charlotte; Rampling on board for occasional mout-to-mouth resussitation.

DavidEhrenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DavidEhrenstein said...

As for The Winslow Boy, David mamet trying on Terence Rattigan's tuxedo is truly groteque -- for reasons Alan bennett can describe better than anyone else, if he's a mind to.

Do not forget that when Entertaing Mr. Sloane opened to scandalized notices from all and sundry, Rattigan wrote a letter to Joe Orton and told him what a great playwright he was.

Mamet isn't worthy of sniffing Orton's jockstrap. (And we all know he wants to.)

Joe Leydon said...

You should remember that, way back in the day, Richard Schickel panned "The Graduate." A memorable quote from that review: "I am beginning to think that the most pernicious phrase of our time is that well-known battle cry "Never trust anyone over thirty." Personally, I couldn't care less if our junior citizens don't trust me, because I don't trust them either." It's worth noting that RS was all of 34 when he wrote that.

The Siren said...

Joe, welcome, and thank you, sir, for bringing this thread back to its original purpose, which was to discuss why and how Schickel's general manner in numerous forums is pointlessly rude, and while he may for all I know be right that Tree of Life isn't good, his review relies on sweeping generalizations, specious reasoning and deliberately belittling assumptions about people
who happen to like Terrence Malick.

Failing that, there's always Fredric March. I don't think we have ever discussed I Married a Witch. I can tangentially relate the Rene Clair film to my post, because Veronica Lake was mentioned by Schickel and hey, that movie is, without a doubt, worldly, playful and romantic.

Clearly Mamet is a third rail. If you had asked me how I thought this thread would progress, kung-fu fighting over David Mamet would not have ranked high in my prognostications. How the hell...

Rachel said...

Clearly this thread is all about the M's. Malick, March, and Mamet. Schickel can just file himself under "Misanthrope."

March and Lake were great in I Married a Witch even if they couldn't stand each other. Poor Veronica Lake, is there any co-star she didn't manage to piss off?

The Siren said...

Rachel, I knew a man who worked summer stock with Veronica Lake after her Hollywood career hit the skids and said she was smart, funny and completely delightful. Loved her to bits. The play called for her to turn on water in the set's kitchen, and one night the water didn't turn on. She said, perfectly in character, "Hm. They told me there would be water," and went right on.

He also said that she'd long since cut her hair, and he thought she was much sexier, as you could see her eyes, and they were dazzling.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I liked The Tree of Life quite a bit. There is, however, a perfectly good case to be made for not finding it "all that." However in the current climate of critical hysteria that case isn't being made. What we've got instead are sweeping indictments of anyone who dares to care for it on any level.

Rachel said...

Ah, thank you, Siren, that gladdens my heart. I've got a soft spot for Lake.

I think I remember reading on TCM that she and Ladd both were friendly with William Bendix during the filming of The Glass Key.

Marilyn said...

Mamet doesn't have to be a third rail. However, some people choose to discuss him in very inflammatory terms ( e.g., "Mamet isn't worthy of sniffing Orton's jockstrap. [And we all know he wants to.]). And this is relevant in terms of how Schickel is treating Tree of Life. How different is the above comment and what Schickel has said? This is not discourse; it's bitchy.

Yojimboen said...

Pray forgive my loutish manners, dearly beloved hostess, if I have contributed to any pugilistic ambience hereabouts – never my intention – I just sensed that Mamet was being subjected to the same, somewhat facile dismissal that Schickel was visiting upon Malick and felt the need to speak up. (Anyway I think Rebecca Pidgeon is hot – it’s a knuckle-dragging guy thing.)

I mean we alternately praise and slam directors, actors, composers and movies ad infinitum in these parts, but I don’t remember any filmmaker being so completely dismissed out-of-hand. Clearly Mr. Mamet pushes buttons I didn’t know existed. I’m just sayin’…

FYI (I checked) the Mamet and Donat versions end with essentially the same dialog. Interestingly there’s a 1989 TV version - with Emma Thompson and Ian Richardson – happily it’s on Youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STWwQCnJFXM

This version ends with Rattigan’s original text:

Sir Robert (After having complimented Kate Winslow on her delightful blue hat, which first caught his eye in the House’s Visitors Gallery): May I hope, Miss Winslow, to see you again in the House?

Kate Winslow (suffragette): Of course, Sir Robert… But not in the Gallery, across the aisle…

The Siren said...

You could never be loutish if you tried, Y. I was trying to cut the Mamet discussion off at the pass, not indulge in Schickel-esque waving-off; perish the thought. He's just no great favorite of mine. However, Mr. Mamet is, as someone pointed out to me, one tough hombre and undoubtedly doesn't give a damn what we say here or anywhere else, so there is that to comfort (or annoy) us all.

I'm totally up for a Robert Donat discussion...

Yojimboen said...

Bobby D

Joe Leydon said...

David Mamet deserves props for several of his films. Especially this one.
http://www.movingpictureshow.com/archives/mpsSpartan.htm

gmoke said...

David Mamet is a Gracie Jujitsu guy, if memory serves, and very much a jock-sniffer, as Tom Wolfe used the term once upon a time talking about TV writers and directors who identify with their police technical advisors a little too much. Doesn't mean everything he does is bad just means that he doesn't have much judgement about some things. Misplaced macho mostly, I do believe. (He slept with a friend's wife a long, long time ago and I may have absorbed some of those negative feelings.)

BYOOL was on TCM during Memorial Day weekend. Still moves me every time and Frederic March and Myrna Loy do a superlative job. The music works very well, Hugo Friedlander I think but then there's also the great Hoagy Carmichael down at the bar. Can't go too wrong with that.

Schickel, meh. He doesn't read bloggers and dismisses them out of hand. Speaking from ignorance. Not the best move for a so-called critic. Strikes me as contempt for his audience and the subject at hand.

As for artists and masterpieces, most artists I've known learn a lot from their own work. I would think the wisest ones are scared to death of creating a masterpiece and knowing it, as such a work would hang over their heads for the rest of their days. "When am I going to produce something better? Was it all downhill from there?" Yikes.

Better to be like Hokusai, the old man crazy about drawing, who in his 80s said that if he had a few more years he might really be able to create something wonderful. Looking now at a page from one of his manga collection, there is something wonderful in every one of his lines.

Vanwall said...

Siren, I read your work because it's really great stuff. Any competent film buff should, as well.

Schickel has never interested me, one iota. I'm not dismissing him in one generalization, I just don't care for the man's writing. I have no dog in this hunt, so I'll leave the others to run him to earth.

Mamet-ese is an acquired tolerance, and I'm not a huge fan, but there are elements of interest for me in his work, not necessarily large swatches of fabric, however. I will now let dogs lie, who are sleepers.

Andrew Grant said...

You had me at "reorganizing her lingerie."

The Siren said...

I just wanted to emphasize that ordinarily, I have better things to do.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"This is not discourse; it's bitchy."

"Bitchy" is discourse at its most sincere.

The Siren said...

Not that I wish to interfere, but for anyone who is interested in discussing David Mamet, my pal Glenn Kenny of the very fine blog Some Came Running has a post up this very morning that touches in part on David Mamet. Perhaps Glenn, who is a gentleman at heart, took pity on the Siren. In any event, it's right here and I'm sure he wouldn't mind my pointing anyone with a burning desire to discuss Mamet, in a manner bitchy or meticulously polite, to his comments section, where I can often be found myself.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

A high school drama teacher gave me a copy of American Buffalo to read ages and ages ago. I liked it, but I run hot and cold on Mamet. The last thing I liked was Spartan. The last thing I saw was Olleana, and it made me want to throttle the man.

I run hot and cold on Malick, too. I love Badlands to death, but I haven't been able to get into the rhythms of his subsequent movies at all. I never even finished The New World. There's nothing wrong with this, really. It happens to everyone. I've had the same experience with Antonioni. L'Aventura is arguably "slower" than Blow Up, but I can't sit through Blow Up and L'Aventura holds me mesmerized every time I watch it. So will Tree of Life bore me or will I sit through it with my jaw hanging open? Hell if I know, but I'll be damned if I'll put up with Richard Schickel sneering at me for my opinions.

Trish said...

I can't help but think he's been genuinely shocked by how good things are out in the film blogosphere. He's fighting a losing battle, and snobbery is his last defense. It's my experience, especially among the creeping sycophants of my own Toronto film festival, that the way to get the upper hand in a conversation is to name-drop Preston Sturges. It really is old-hat.

Bobby Wilson said...

Check out this new indie film:

http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/movies/Jelly/155899/1464430233/Jelly/videos