Saturday, November 30, 2013

NEW YORK TIMES op-ed contributor (an author) applauds banning negative book reviews.

Here's a radio host from NYC named Bob Garfield who has a debut genre novel titled BEDFELLOWS, applauding the pop culture site BuzzFeed's decision to eliminate negative reviews of books altogether:

Yes, Mr. Garfield is rather flip and shallow with the use of space the NEW YORK TIMES allowed for his op-ed. 

But I don't advocate the entire elimination of negative book reviewing.  Instead, the reviewer (even if told to be "entertaining" by his print/online editors--and consigned to writing in no more than bite-sized form) should minimize-to-avoid-altogether personal feelings about the author and concentrate on how successful the book is on its own terms.  And, also, the reviewer should try to avoid fitting all the books he/she reviews into a Procrustean-bed template of what must pass his/her tests of Lasting Literary Quality.

Even negative reviews may interest potential buyers in a book, regardless of the reviewer's opinion.

And limiting printed reviews to just-raves is another chilling chapter in a huge, ongoing cultural-commando volume titled WE DETERMINE WHAT IS TO SURVIVE: GET OUT OF THE LIFEBOAT!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Bruce Dern Primer.

"There is a human time bomb ticking away in Hollywood. He is called Bruce Dern. One of these days he is going to light up the sky. How, nobody knows. At 39, with a suitcase of rave clippings, Dern is poised to become a star. Trouble is, he has been in that position for a couple of years, ever since he scored a personal hit as the bellicose Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. But the brass ring has never seemed to get any nearer. "--from the August 11, 1975 issue of TIME.

Read more: Show Business: Will Bruce Dern Become a Star? - TIME,9171,917691,00.html#ixzz2l1VsZDtl

Bruce Dern, in my childhood and teenage years, was often considered a go-to actor for viciously intelligent villain/psychopath roles, particularly in biker films andWesterns.  He had a memorable role in Burt Kennedy's SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969), as the  mean-but-dumb son of outlaw Walter Brennan--in effect a send-up of parts Dern played on series like GUNSMOKE.

This period of Dern's career was capped by the role of the sadistic rustler known as Longhair, who  killed John Wayne's rancher Wil Andersen in Mark Rydell's THE COWBOYS (1972).

After that, Dern could be seen in more "normal"  performances such as the college basketball coach in Jack Nicholson's DRIVE, HE SAID, the Atlantic City wannabe-tycoon in Bob Rafelson's THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS--and (four decades before Robert Redford in ALL IS LOST) carrying the majority of Douglas Trumbull's sci-fi/ecology elegy SILENT RUNNING by himself.  All three films appeared in theaters in 1972.

By 1975, Dern had two personal-bests with  his Tom Buchanan in Jack Clayton's THE GREAT GATSBY (more nuanced than Joel Edgerton's rich-jock portrayal in Baz Luhrmann's recent remake) and the car-salesman/civic booster in Michael Ritchie's unjustly-overlooked beauty-pageant comedy/drama SMILE.

I recall the TIME magazine article from 1975 carrying a quote like this: "Bruce needs to make love to a woman on the screen."

Afterwards, Dern's career contained mainstream choices which seemed sound on paper: the 1920s  imitation Mel Brooks of Michael Winner's  WON TON TON: THE DOG THAT SAVED HOLLYWOOD, Alfred Hitchcock's thriller/light comedy FAMILY PLOT, the post-10 adultery-with-younger-woman MIDDLE AGE CRAZY (better than its current obscurity suggests), returns to psychopathic villainy BLACK SUNDAY and TATTOO (in the latter, Dern made extensive love to Maud Adams on the screen).  None of these films were the commercial blockbusters imagined by their makers.

From this period, the two films that survive in today's consciousness are Hal Ashby's COMING HOME (Dern was superb as the psychologically scarred Vietnam vet husband of Jane Fonda) and Walter Hill's robber-and-cop cult classic THE DRIVER, with Dern as the latter to Ryan O'Neal's title character.

Post-TATTOO: I can remember Dern in a personal-to-him role as a professional runner in Rob Nilsson's ON THE EDGE (1986), as part of the ensemble in Jason Miller's film version of his play
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON and (his last great role before Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA) the crime boss in James Foley's AFTER DARK MY SWEET (1990).

Perhaps Bruce Dern wasn't accepted by mainstream America as a Movie Star because he committed to playing Outsiders and Troublemakers without signaling to the public "Hey, I'm just a Star playing a  part.  I'm not really that way."

To me, Dern's always been a star and one of our national acting treasures.  Here's hoping NEBRASKA is the beginning of a series of late-career gems.

Monday, November 4, 2013

SNL and diversity of cast members--comparing current season to 79-80.

From an INDIEWIRE article about Kerry Washington hosting Saturday's episode of SNL (I only watched the first half-hour):
Perhaps more revealing than the complexion of the show's cast was the fact that virtually all the characters Washington was given to play, from a Spellman poli-sci prof to a teacher at Booker T. Washington high, was written as black, which is to say the writers started out saying not, "What can we write for this beautiful, prodigiously talented actresss?" but "What black characters can we write for her?" The lack of voices goes beyond what public characters the show can and can't impersonate; it affects what it can, and can't, imagine.
Link to the complete article:

For some historical perspective, let's look at a comment about Season 5 (the post-Belushi/Aykroyd year) of SNL, when Garrett Morris was the only African-American cast member:
"The Incredible Man," a [parody] of The Wizard of Oz, marks the nadir of the show's mistreatment of Garrett Morris. After being put through several women's parts, Garrett was cast as a flying monkey for this sketch. Six day[s] later, Garrett broke down in front of the entire staff, no longer able to contain his resentment for five years' mistreatment.
Link to article plus comments:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Two views of a one-time SoCal Poetry Icon.

Someone who I won't mention by name here (don't like the person, but sometimes appreciate his columns/essays) wrote the following about someone else who used to be a Very Big Deal in Southern California poetry during the first four to five years I was involved with The Scene.  Name and certain details redacted:
[Poet] was in rare form, and the crowd ate him up. What I like about [poet] is that you can drop him in front of just about any room, and he's fine ... even that night, when a heavy metal band upstairs was drowning out half of everything. (Not sure was up with that. [venue] doesn't usually book bands upstairs on Mondays. Odd.)

Anyway, it was good to see [poet], and great to see him having a blast on that stage. Like I said, the crowd there adored him, and he was just letting loose and flying, climbing furniture and shouting (although, as I said, that was partly out of necessity.) Not sure I would have reprised the poem [signature poem title omitted] in the 2nd half, but eh. Whatever. The crowd was buying what he was selling, and I have to say, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed him till he turned up. I get that a lot, actually.

My view of [poet] during the time I was on the outer edge of his orbit:
[Poet] once described himself and his craft as like "folk music" in a world where slam could be compared to rock and roll.  And I'll agree with the above writer that [poet] when he was "on" was an enthusiastic venue host expert at working a room.  The poetry of [poet] leaned towards storytelling for the most part (in my opinion, where it best played to his strengths), though it became more consciously "artistic" when he began courting the favors of the Artistic Leaders in the SoCal Community around the years 2001-2002.

This will sound small to some people who know and still unconditionally love [poet], and I don't care if it does.  [Poet] never thought I was good enough to feature at his-and-hosting-partner's venues (when it seemed like to do so was akin to a 70s/80s-era stand-up comic being asked by Johnny Carson to sit in the honored Guest's Chair) in those early years, although other places in LA/OC had no problem giving me featured bookings--which, in retrospect, made up for being slighted (especially since there were more opportunites and venues back then).  Perhaps it hurt me that I wasn't writing enough progressive-tinged poems, instead doing humorous pieces about office workers and--gasp!--poems about Hollywood.

And, to be honest, I witnessed (plus hearing stories of) [poet] being really small and mean and petty to some members of the community who were outcasts (for one reason or another) not liked by the Scene in general.  The seminal moment I became disenchanted with [poet] was a night in late 2000 at a Latin-American restaurant in a Hollywood-adjacent area.  [Poet] was forced by restaurant owner to cut the reading short; [poet] didn't explain this to audience, but promised rainchecks for the remaining open readers the following week.  Unfortunately, an Outcast Poet picked that moment to chastise [poet] for cutting the reading short.  [Poet] handled it in a bad way--screaming at Outcast Poet until an acolyte of [poet] came to hustle Outcast Poet away.

Perhaps the darker, jerkier, sanctimonious side of [poet] is why I've spoken my mind over the past decade (sometimes unwisely, at other times ready to risk misunderstanding/hatred for not being passive and careerist when I see prominent poets abusing their prominence/Brand Names at the expense of others they can afford to trample on).

In any event, I'm glad [poet] is on one coast and I'm on the other.