Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Richard Brody on ISHTAR--and critiquing a certain type of arts' criticism.

I saw the Warren Beatty/Dustin Hoffman/Elaine May comedy ISHTAR on its underperforming opening weekend in the late spring of 1987 (the film's large budget had already been cluck-clucked about in the pre-Internet entertainment media and audiences were conditioned to expect the HEAVEN'S GATE of cinematic comedy).  It's not the classic that May's A NEW LEAF and THE HEARTBREAK KID still are, but there are enough genuinely funny moments (greatly aided by Charles Grodin's supporting turn as a CIA agent) to make it worth seeking out (apparently, it's on Netflix' film-streaming service and there's a rumor of Sony releasing it to DVD next year).

Richard Brody, who writes for THE NEW YORKER's website, has a significant difference of opinion with the late Pauline Kael's take on ISHTAR:
"Kael had her categories set, knew what comedy was, knew who comedians were and weren’t, didn’t see the film for what it was but for the expectations [due to its partial desert setting, Kael was anticipating an update of the Hope/Crosby/Lamour ROAD TO...formula] it didn’t meet. That’s a review of advertising and of publicity and of self, not of a movie."

Substitute your favorite poetry critic's name and the word "poetry" for "comedy".  And you have a good precis of most criticism of poetry.

[In another online piece, Brody discusses his concept of criticism by comparing it to poet Philip Larkin's I-hate-that-modern-jazz review of jazz music: "...the critic isn’t the one who—as Larkin thinks—takes the resistant, the recondite, the rebarbative, and reproaches his readers for not enjoying it, nor even only the prophet who sees the future of art in its present tense, but, rather, is something of an aristocrat of taste who helps audiences share in the appreciation—the enjoyment—of finer and rarer pleasures. It’s not a job of convincing or persuading; the true modernist is not a village explainer or a professorial explicator but an ecstatic enthusiast who experiences art with a passionate identification apt for a democratic age in which the artist is the uncrowned king or queen."  The complete article can be found at:  Although an
irony is that Brody's explanation tends to match up--particularly the "passionate identification" phrase--with how Kael approached her job as NEW YORKER film critic.]

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