... I'm all for artist expression, as anyone who reads me regularly will know. It's very hard to get me to the point where I'll say that maybe an artist shouldn't do what they want, or that perhaps the government ha some role in regulating art.
But this story gave me pause. Read it, and let me know what you think. I hope to have some expanded thoughts later.
Here we have yet another kurfuffle in the ongoing "MSM vs. Blogosphere" wars with some minor columnist calling us all creepy and someone in the blogosphere going apeshit on them. Great. Lovely.
But lost amidst all this shouting is any attempt to create an answer to some rather thorny questions...
1) Given that bloggers rely on mainstream press for food like Ramoras to a Shark, and given that the mainstream press has benefited greatly from the research capabilities, diversity of professions, and ready-made talking-head-ness of bloggers, what is the weird hostility that the mainstream media and blogger have towards each other about?
2) Most people make the point that bloggers are basically DIY opinion columnists, whereas journalists are, well, journalists. This is not always true. Josh Marshall, for example, often does llittle mini-exposes from a center-left perspective. And all of the debunking of, say, Judith Miller or Dan Rather was done on the blogosphere. In the theater world, however, no one is really doing journalism. Not the mainstream press (with the exception of the occasional article in the Times or American Theater), not the blogosphere, nowhere. Why is this?
Those are the two questions I have... any thoughts?
Judging by all of the accolades it is getting, Munich will certainly be the consensus choice for Best Movie of the Year if not possibly Spielberg’s Masterpiece. It combines an extremely relevant question (what is the value of vengeance?) with writing by America’s best known playwright (Tony Kushner) in his first screen writing venture and America’s most loved director, supposedly at the top of his game, following up a big-budget 9/11 Catharsis like War of the Worlds with a bizarre hybrid film… call it the Ethical Thriller. That I believe the movie is actually not great but rather pretty (or even quite) good probably sounds like an insult in the face of all the praise it has gotten. I do not mean it as any knock on what is a really quite good film, it’s just not great, and it’s certainly not the best thing the artists involved in it are capable of.
Munich concerns the (largely invented, or at least conjectured) adventures of a group of ex-Mossad agents, tasked by the Israeli government to kill 11 Jihadists in the wake of the deaths of 11 athletes at the Munich Olympics. The Mossad agents essentially form a sleeper cell, moving from European city to European city, hunting and killing alleged Palestinian terrorists (I say alleged simply because the movie underlines the lack of evidence of their involvement in Munich) with the help of some sort of shadowy French Mafia. I'll leave off telling you anything more about the plot simply because, at its core, this movie is a thriller, and the less you know going in, the better an experience viewing it will be.
The film examines the ethics of vengeance, the practicality of a policy of assassination and the very human psychic costs of violence in powerful and poetic ways. The cinematography is gorgeous and brilliant, with Spielberg constantly driving home the period by using 70’s-style thriller camerawork (The quick zoom-in, the surveillance-style overhead shot, the washed out frames etc.) that recalls, amongst other things Dog Day Afternoon and The French Connection. This is also the first movie in a very long time that Spielberg’s need to please his audience does not completely undercut and ruin in the final act (or the final five minutes) the way it has movies like Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds or (shudder) Minority Report. Although he comes extremely close with a very goofy sex-scene-slash-emotional-moment at the end (if you’ve seen the movie, I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about).
So why isn’t the movie great? First off, it is anchored on Eric Bana, who is simply not a really good actor. Not that he’s bad, he just lacks the effortless grace of costar Daniel Craig or the dramatic flair of costar Geoffrey Rush, both of whom have such antipodal charismas (one compelling, one repulsive) that you can’t help but watch their every move. Everything Bana does feels labored and, well, like acting. You don’t for a moment really believe his wife is his wife, or that Avner (his character) feels the deep patriotism that everyone says he feels. It seems that he decided to play the ambiguity note from the get go, and as a result, the journey of his character feels less like a voyage down a deep dark pit and more like a trip down the block to the local deli. The events that happen are convincing—you believe the character they are describing would go through this and that it would happen, it’s just not necessarily convincing that Bana is that character that they’re describing. The film would’ve been greatly enhanced by getting someone is both a good actor and a muscular, good-looking, cheekboned goyim… someone perhaps like Christian Bale, who has shown both his talent and his versatility in everything from American Psycho to Laurel Canyon or even Batman Begins.
Furthermore, the movie cannot help but fall prey to Spielberg and Kushner’s worst instinct: didacticism. Although I agree whole heartedly with the point of the movie, I didn’t need to be told it so many times. Merely seeing the movie is illustration enough. Kushner makes a novice screenwriter’s mistake: rather than “show it don’t say it” he does both. At times this renders moments in the film, even entire conversations, redundant. And it completely undercuts the excellence that runs throughout the screenplay—the way even the small characters are detailed, interesting human beings, the way several conversations in the film have no easy answers, the humor, the ruminations on post-Holocaust, post 1967 Judaism etc. Spielberg also has developed of late an addiction to a kind of episodic feel in his movies, from Saving Private Ryan on, his films happen in twenty minute chapters. While this worked well for a movie like War of the Worlds which tells an enormous story from a very small, very confused POV, here in Munich it simply makes the three-hour movie feel much longer.
Ultimately, however, the good far outweighs the bad and I would recommend seeing it, and paying full evening price for it (if that’s what you’re wondering). It’s worth it. It is simply not the work of unadulterated genius that some critics think it is, on some level, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. But I mean this not as an insult, and the movie’s better moments and lofty ambitions make seeing it worth it. Furthermore, there are few Hollywood movies coming out that actually capture the thorny and complicated nature of violence and its politics, and when the film loses its didacticism, it is remarkably unwilling to condescend to its audience, and if for no other reason than that, we should pray that many more Munichs are forthcoming from today’s filmmakers.
Have any of you out there tried Pandora? I tried it over the holiday and was pretty damn impressed...
it's an internet radio station that somehow mixes incredibly ease of use with really great results. Just go check it out... I was blown away with all the great new music I heard after simply plugging in one band (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)... and the fact that I could throw in a lot more bands and have it search for more music is just awesome.
It's hard to explain, but easy to use. Check it out.
In other music news, I got myself (Thanks in part to a gift card form my older sister) the Talking Heads: Brick boxed set which includes not only 5.1 remixes of all 8 of their studio albums, plus outtakes, demos and unreleased songs, but also has (thanks to the dualdisc format) B-side DVDs of live performances and music videos.
Totally. Friggin. Awesome.
Rep. David Obey (D- Ohio) released a statement today about the spending priorities of the Republican party and the way it uses procedural and parliamentary tactics to screw over the little guy and the opposition in today's America. It's called "A Shameful End to a Shameful Congress" and I think you'd all enjoy it. Check it out, after the jump.
David Edelstein is leaving Slate.com at the end of the week to take a post as New York Magazine's film critic.
This is sad for a number of reasons, including I will now have to read New York Magazine to get Edelstein's reviews. I (often) disagree with Edelstein, but he is a smart, funny, thoughtful, passionate critic who also comes across as a kind of good friend, a guy you'd want to get together with for a nice dinner and then yell at for liking The Skeleton Key. He is by no means soft on Hollywood, and has populist yet ideosyncratic tastes.
But here's my question.... New York Magazine almost certainly means more money for Edelstein. It also means a certain kind of prestige (I have yet to see "I LOVED IT!" -- Slate.com slathered on a billboard, but New York Magazine rutinely makes the blurbs) and yet... doesn't it also mean his reviews will be read by fewer people and, therefore, his influence on the movie going public will almost certainly diminish? Wouldn't you guess that more people read Slate.com's movie reviews worldwide than read a hard copy magazine specifically geared to Manhattan?
The reason why I mention this is that I think the relationship between print and online media is constantly evolving. And one of the albatrosses around online media's neck is that its authors aren't taken as seriously as print simply because ".com" appears at the end of their byline. And that's ridiculous. Edelstein is a much better writer and reviewer than, say, Armond White or Elvis Mitchell, and he writes (currently) for a very important political and cultural magazine. It just happens to only exist in the world of bits and bytes.
Anyway... thoughts on theater starting again soon, I suppose...
the FBI has been spying on Quakers and Peta, and the NSA has been reading literally all of our e-mail, but at least that story about the kid who got a visit from Homeland Security for checking out a copy of the Little Red Book is a complete fabrication and hoax. I mean, in retrospect, why would Homeland Security visit him? Wouldn't it be easier to throw him in a plane, take him Egypt with a bag over his head and torture him into a false confession providing evidence of a link between Sadaam and Al Qaeda?
These are distressing times to be a US Citizen...
But in the meantime, a very happy non-denominational, half-Jewish, half-Christian, all-atheist Holiday to you all!
Bruch Ackerman, writing in Slate.com talks about how the law could have gotten so perverted in the eyes of the Bush administration that wiretapping and torture could be thought of as legally allowed:
Secrecy creates perverse incentives for the very lawyers upon whom the president relies for candid legal advice. And yet we are asked to trust them as they devise secret new security regimes behind the backs of the American people. It is not enough merely to end NSA spying on Americans. It is time to put an end to secret initiatives, rationalized in secret, and justified in the name of national security.
What Ackerman is missing in his article is what, exactly, Bush clearly thinks lawyers are good for.
So... in case you didn't know.. we have a transit strike here. Imagine what NYC is like without public transportation... no really. Now double that.
Anyway... my experience has been stressful, but positive. The thing I love about New York is that in difficult times, my experience is that people are really really nice to each other. Out of towners in New York, on the other hand? Well... let's just say the one guy I heard cursing at another driver (pull over that car and I'll kick your ass!) had New Jersey plates on his car.
What have your strike experiences been like, readers? Please post in the comments section!
Why is it that when I'm about to go on vacation (as I am today) I get all these great ideas for theater posts?!
Well, dear reader, I'm off to not smalltown USA for a few days... I will try to post my awesome great theater posts that I have floating around in my head when I get a chance...
a Happy Holiday to you all, and you're not the holiday type... a warm bah-humbug.
Thanks a whole lot Terry! Now I have to join the Meme band wagon.
The Rule of Four:
Four jobs you've had in your life: Director, temp, book store clerk, hotel front desk guy (For three hours)
Four movies you could watch over and over: Out of Sight, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, The Big Lebowski, The Muppet Movie
Four Shows You Love to Watch: The West Wing (seasons I-IV), The Wire, The Simpsons (seasons I-IX), The Office
Four Places you've Been on vacation: Ireland, Singapore, Denmark, Virginia Beach
Four of your favorite food: Beef randang, a pumpernickel bagel toasted with butter on one half and cream cheese on the other, braised chicken with hard cider and parsnips, duck in all its varieties
Four places you'd rather be Copenhagen, a fancy hotel anywhere, the beach, my grandma's house.
Over to you, if you're reading this and have a blog....
George Hunka has a slam-bang post up on his site here which connects the issue of warrantless spying on people with his ongoing writings about preserving the individual (and his/her rights) in our society. Perhaps he should write a book of essays on that very subject, and go from wiretaping to censorship to the death penalty with some stops along the way to look at niche marketing and CostCo or something.
And Josh Marshall writes about preserving Democracy here.
Anyway... for exactly the absolute wrong take on the issue, check out Andrew Sullivan's guest bloggers who dismiss the whole thing as legal muckety-muck before going on to simply look at tactically how this doesn't work to the Democrats advantage. This kind of horse-race opinion writing is my least favorite kind of political thinking. Because it isn't thinking, really, and it isn't feeling, and it has no values. It is a way of taking any event that happens and not having to reckon with it's actual implications.
It doesn't matter to me (as a life long democrat) whether the wiretapping scandal will help the Dems take back the house. I don't care. I just want it to stop and I would like the people who perpetrated this crime against the American people to face some sort of consequence for doing so. It would be nice as well if the American people would wake up and see what a dangerous government we have in charge right now... how close to dictatorship we are coming... and how fast a hyper-industrialized, democratic nation can betray its own ideals if it thinks there is an external threat of some kind.
Secret prisons. Rendition. Torture. Extrajudicial imprisonment. Imprisonment without trial. Bogus WMD evidence. Spying on American citizens without warrants. All of these are of the same piece: they fit in to the M.O. of an administration that has regularly publicly claimed it is above the law. For those of you who haven't read your Arendt recently, that's the first step towards totalitarianism.
That is what matters. Not Democrats picking up votes. Not Republicans losing seats. That.
Ultimately, horse-racing is just a way of dismissing the real issue. And that's what gets me so riled up, I suppose.
PS: First they came for PETA...
US District Judge John Jones rules today that Intelligent Design cannot be mentioned in Pennsylvania classrooms according to the New York Times.
Here, I suppose, is my question... (after the jump!)
Hello readers. I am going to try to prevail upon you to write your Federal representative, Democrat or Republican, with all deliberate speed. I mean, as citizens in a Democracy, it is important to write letters to your representatives in general when something comes up in the news. But today, I think it is very important that you write your representatives about the President's ongoing, illegal and unconstitutional program of wiretapping US Citizens with out a warrant.
And I'll try to convince you some more, after the jump.
AO Scott panning the new film of The Producers has this to say in today's Times:
So it may take a faithful rendering on-screen to reveal the real essence of "The Producers" in its musical incarnation - its vulgarity, its cynicism, its utter lack of taste, charm or wit.
I don't just mean that the show's retrograde humor - drooling over showgirls, sending up antiquated homosexual stereotypes - is offensive. The intention seems to be simultaneously to mock that kind of humor and to enjoy it, as if you could double your laughter that way. Perhaps onstage you could, but that speaks less to the vitality of Mr. Brooks's imagination than to the terminal morbidity of the Broadway musical. Once upon a time - that hazy 50's New York golden age in which "The Producers" seems to take place - musical theater was the class of American pop culture, a source of democratic delight and artistic ingenuity. Now, many big musicals represent the lowest common denominator: theme park attractions for tourists.
The movie audience, I suspect, is more discriminating.
Do you agree, dear reader with Mr. Scott's evaluation of the Broadway musical? Why or why not?
John Spencer died of a heart attack yesterday, which you all probably knew. He played White House Chief of Staff (and lifelong best friend to President Bartlett) on The West Wing, which for its first four years was one of the great dramas in television history. As the show grew, it became apparent that one way it functioned was as an epic portrayal of a life long platonic love between two men, Spencer and Sheen, as their paths crossed and fortunes changed, usually for the better.
I've been rewatching The West Wing on DVD with my girlfriend whose never seen the show before, and last night we got to the episode The White House Pro-Am which has a scene in which John Spencer informs the President that the head of the Fed has died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack. It was a bizarre confluence of fact and fiction that made the episode (a rather innoculous one about the Bartlett's marriage) very moving to watch.
I found myself almost- almost- in tears yesterday when I heard Spencer died, which (if you think about) makes almost no sense, considering I did not know him and, in fact, knew almost nothing about him. But by watching him night after night as the heroic and complicated Chief of Staff, a man made of leather who weathers countless indignities, it was hard not to think of him as a close friend, or a father figure.
John Spencer's role on the West Wing had many great moments... and I would call everyone's attention to the episode from season one entitled Let Bartlet be Bartlet and the Thanksgiving episode from season three (which makes me cry every time I see it) forr some great acting from the White House Chief of Staff
A really beautiful post by Terry Teachout about his health and his recent hospitalization can be found here. I, for one, am glad to see him back safe and sound, so I can get back to the business of disagreeing with him whenever possible.
Welcome back, Terry!