Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We know Terry Teachout loves Satchmo - but would Satchmo have loved Terry Teachout?

White conservatives and jazz . . . white conservatives and jazz . . .  hmmmm.

It's strange, is it not, that the avatars of the white hierarchy should so often love the music of the people (or the race, or the class, or what have you) that they oppressed for so long, and with so little pity?

These thoughts come to mind (again - I've pondered this before), as I've noted Terry Teachout's tub-thumping for his dramatic sketch of the great Louis Armstrong (at left), Satchmo at the Waldorf (which has met with lukewarm, but respectable, praise from other quarters).

Now I don't have much interest in Teachout's play, I admit.  My guess from his theatre reviewing is that he's not much of a dramatic technician (although I could be wrong), and the reviews of Satchmo have generally been filled with such puffery as "This play cuts deep."  (Uh-huh.)  On the other hand, I've read some of Teachout's writing on music, and he is, indeed, a passionate and perceptive critic of that art (he's much better on music than he is on drama).

But when I read that Satchmo at the Waldorf concerns itself at length with Armstrong's battles against racism - and other black musician's denunciations of him as an "Uncle Tom" -  I confess I flinched a bit.

Terry Teachout
I guess because while I am quite confident that Teachout truly and sincerely loves Armstrong's music, I can think of few writers more . . .  ironically placed to write about Armstrong's battles against racism than he is.

For Teachout's career trajectory has been almost entirely within the confines of the white conservative establishment: he did once do a stint at Harper's, years ago, but he's best known for his long tenure at the Wall Street Journal, and his pieces for Commentary and National Review.  In short, he works now for the publications and people who opposed civil rights for people like Armstrong, and who generally oppose the great man's legacy today.

And I guess I find that interesting.  More interesting than anything I've read about Satchmo at the Waldorf, to be honest.

And so I wish Terry Teachout had written about that, about how politically he opposes the community whose musical legacy he adores.  About how he idolizes a black artist whom other black artists called an "Uncle Tom" . . .  the irony's almost too intense!  And imagine Teachout trying to explain to Satchmo his own employment history!  Now that would have been unlike any play I've seen in years . . . I'm not saying that no such explanation is possible; but I'd really like to hear it - wouldn't you?

Although I realize such a confessional is basically a pipe dream - I mean, could Teachout be honest enough about his own internal contradictions to give them coherent dramatic form?  (Could anyone?)

But even the attempt would have been fascinating; I'd have paid full price to see that.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Update: Romney's tax return secrecy tied to his possible abortion profits

The Romney abortion-profit story has grown longer legs already - a synergy has been sparked in the blogosphere between it and another simmering Romney controversy. Indeed, even some Republicans are now speculating that the reason he has refused to release his tax returns is that they will show clear evidence of his personal financial gains from Stericycle, the medical waste company that has long done business with abortion clinics (and which Romney's Bain Capital funded).

The embarrassing links between Romney's personal finances and hot-button abortion-activist issues go further, though.  Reportedly Romney's personal trust owns a substantial amount of stock in Novo Nordisk, which conducts embryonic stem-cell research; other holdings include Real Networks, News Corp. and Time Warner, which provide adult pay-per-view networks and distribute porn to hotel chains. Even such anodyne Romney investments as Pfizer could cause him trouble, as Pfizer manufactures an abortion drug. And amusingly, though Romney's Mormon faith forbids alcoholic beverages, he also owns stock in distillers Anheuser-Busch and Brown Forman.  Something tells me this story could be a keeper.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Republican racism (only closer to home); plus - did Mitt Romney make money from dead babies? And did David Koch buy the VP nomination?

Hot on the heels of the racist voter-suppression tactics of Republicans in Ohio, we learn of this recent episode in Vermont:

"A county Republican Party chairman in Vermont apologized Monday afternoon for a racist statement that had appeared on the county GOP's Facebook page. The apology came after Green Mountain Daily reported Sunday that the Rutland County GOP had posted the joke on their Facebook page, generating a series of negative comments. The post and comments have since been removed from the page.

The post read:

Just wanted to let you know -- today I received my 2012 Social Security Stimulus Package. It contained two tomato seeds, cornbread mix, a prayer rug, a machine to blow smoke up my butt, 2 discount coupons to KFC, an "Obama Hope & Change" bumper sticker, and a "Blame it on Bush" poster for the front yard. The directions were in Spanish. Watch for yours soon.

Green Mountain Daily also posted three comments that the Rutland County GOP had posted on the original Facebook post in response to comments opposing the joke -- which has been circulated on the internet. In one, the county GOP said "comedy is usually based in reality .... call it racist if you must ..... not too far off from the truth." The author of the comments for the Republican Party is not identified."

What a riot!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Republicans are apparently only racist "off the record"

If you are an intelligent person, you already know this, but I'm posting it anyway, simply because it's somehow satisfying to watch evil people slip up.

 In case you haven't heard, the Republican Party's mask slipped just a leeetle bit last week in Ohio, when Doug Preisse, party chairman of Franklin County (the state capital), explained in an email that Ohio Republicans supported eliminating weekend hours for early voting because "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban - read African-American - voter-turnout machine."

Ohio Democrats, of course, immediately labeled the email "patently racist."  But state Republican Party Executive Director Marty Borges quickly explained that Priesse "thought his comments...were off the record."

Oh, I guess that makes them all right then.  I mean we all already know Republicans are racist off the record, don't we?  (Nothing to see here, move along . . .)

And at any rate, Preisse doesn't seem too upset about the slip; he told reporters that "claims of unfairness" were "bullshit.  Quote me!"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Trying Wilde

Exhibit A in the three trials of Oscar Wilde.
The contrasts over at the Boston Center for the Arts these days couldn't be more intense. You can choose - as Boston's mainstream critics have all insisted you should - to be body-slammed in the Roberts Studio Theatre by the rock 'em-sock'em identity-politics of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.

Or, you can tiptoe into the Wimberley next door, and slowly be drawn into what could be the subtlest and most absorbing production of the year.

I'm talking about Bad Habit Productions' Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which runs through August 26th behind the curtains (appropriately enough) of the Wimberley, right up on its stage, in a startlingly mature production from new director Liz Fenstermaker, who has generally drawn remarkable performances from a cast of some of the best actors on the fringe.

Now I know we need all kinds of theatre.  And Chad Deity and Gross Indecency do have some similarities (they're both about stereotypes - and closeted gay men, for instance!).  But only Indecency is about actual people - indeed historical figures - even though Moisés Kaufman's transcription of the records and recollections surrounding the destruction (or self-destruction) of Oscar Wilde pulls off a startling trick: it's over-stuffed with period detail, yet it remains essentially a mystery.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A star-crossed Romeo and Juliet

A theatre company's reach should always exceed its grasp, I suppose - but that gap looms particularly large in the Happy Medium Theatre's current production of Romeo and Juliet (at left, which runs through August 25 at the BCA).  I have to be honest, this is a long haul of a show, because in their eagerness to jump into the big leagues, the Happy Medium folks seem to have hoped that the sheer greatness of this play might somehow sustain them, even though they lacked the casting or production resources to do it justice.  They did have local star Paula Plum on board as director, which I too thought would have helped - only Plum flounders quite a bit here, so in the end her presence is a wash.

Still, you only learn how to act Shakespeare by acting it, and even this counts at least as a first step in most of this cast's Shakespearean training, so you may want to support their work (just as long as you know what you're getting into).  To Plum's credit, she has cut the play aggressively, and generally well (aside from one odd scene where we see Lady Cap at the crock pot, and Lord Cap in an apron); her version, though it nods inconclusively toward racial issues, is basically traditional, and keeps moving, no matter what.  And Angie Jepson's fight direction (given the tight confines of this stage, she has chosen to work with daggers) is generally strong.

But as a student acting experience, I think the lesson to be learned here is: don't act Shakespeare this way.  Try not to shout, particularly in small spaces, and try to think of your characterization as an organic whole, with an internal coherence, rather than as a string of "bits" that will pull you through your scenes.  Avoid  "going for it," whenever you can; aim for subtlety as much as possible.

There are a few bright spots in the acting: Michael Underhill comes through, as he usually does, as Tybalt, and June Kfoury has what it takes to make a memorable Nurse (with more careful direction, she might have made it).  Likewise Joey Pelletier has his moments as Mercutio, but often falls prey to the show's gonzo tendencies; meanwhile William Schuller makes an effectively haunting Apothecary, and Sharon Squires conveys a memorable dignity as Lady (and Lord!) Montague, but somehow misses any of that poisonous ancient grudge everybody's talking about.  Alas, elsewhere inexperience and miscasting tended to overwhelm good intentions in this star-crossed show.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Springsteen Paradox

Who's the Boss??
I drove by Kenmore Square this evening, and with the windows down I could just hear the garbled echo of what sounded like "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" bouncing off the walls of the buildings around Fenway Park.  Oh yeah, I thought to myself, Springsteen is playing in town; this must be the night.

Which only made me a little sad, frankly.  Don't get me wrong - when I was sixteen, I wore a deep groove in the grooves of Born to Run;  I listened to it over and over again, all summer long, in the days when songs - and albums - lasted.

Back then, I thought it was genius.

Now, of course, I think it's cheese - but what cheese!  And Bruce himself - well, I know Landau ruined him, that's true, but even now, when sometimes it seems as if he himself is the subject of "Point Blank," there are still a few good new (or newish) songs to be savored amid the inflated anthems.  And no, Bruce isn't any kind of force for cultural change - nor was he ever - but you get the feeling he at least has tried to hang onto the integrity of the romance his songs stood for.

And yes, part of that romance is - political romance.

So here's to Bruuuuce!  But these days, all I can think of when I think about Springsteen are the ugly mugs of Chris Christie and David Brooks.  You see recently it has come out that both these conservative hacks are . . . wait for it . . . Springsteen fans. Indeed,  in a recent Atlantic Monthly article, Jeffrey Goldberg detailed the (Republican) governor of New Jersey's desperate attempts to be blessed in some way (any way) by the Boss, whom he all but worships.  Okay, you may say - Chris Christie is a hearty, hypocritical asshole, yes, but he is white, he's from a blue collar background, and he's from New Jersey. He grew up in a culture that doted on the Boss, and he's still true to that lifestyle (just on a grander scale).

Monday, August 13, 2012

Coriolanus and the commoners on the Common

Coriolanus in triumph.  Photo: Andrew Brilliant.
I finally caught Coriolanus on the Boston Common (across two nights; it closed Sunday), and as usual I was slightly mystified as to why people lug out their lawnchairs once a year and swat mosquitoes while watching amplified Shakespeare.  But maybe that's just what the groundlings like to do on a midsummer eve, I dunno.

Well, the mob that watched the mob in Coriolanus saw pretty much what they see every year, at least: some cleanly-spoken, if over-amplified, verse (and as this is late Shakespeare, that's no mean feat), a production that tagged several perspectives on the play without deciding on any particular one, a few good local actors, and a fair amount of spectacle.  I think even the uninitiated could tell the show was about this Roman warrior dude who just couldn't bring himself to bow and scrape to the common herd, which led to their banishing him, only then he totally turns the tables on them, which is like ironic. Or something like that.

But as usual for director Steven Maler, little of the production cohered emotionally (or politically).  And actually, despite the roaring sound effects and a charge of riot police, there wasn't quite enough spectacle this time; Coriolanus works best when the lifestyles of its warrior class clash with the squalid conditions of Rome's lower 99%, but on the Common, everyone had to make do with Cristina Todesco's toppling fort of a set (a rare misstep for Todesco, btw).

And I wish I could say the acting made up for this gap, but it didn't, not really.  Last year's All's Well that Ends Well marked an uptick in the quality of the Commonwealth Shakespeare ensemble - I remember only the heroine, Helena, wasn't up to snuff.  This year many of the same performers returned, so I had some hope for Coriolanus (even though it's an even more difficult play than All's Well).  But this time around the local stars, strong as they are, could't really play to their strengths; Karen MacDonald can play solid brass when she wants to, for instance, but she's just too warm-hearted to conjure the cold steel of the vulpine Volumnia, Coriolanus's blood-thirsty mama-vulture,  and while Fred Sullivan, Jr. nailed his laughs, as he always does, he had his usual trouble conveying emotional attachment on stage, so as Coriolanus's father figure, Menenius, he never really connected with his protégé .

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is Christopher Nolan the bane of 9/11 pop? (Part 1)

Why . . . so . . . serious, Mr. Nolan?
Was anyone really surprised when a masked figure stood up at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, and opened fire on the packed auditorium?

I wasn't.

When I saw the news flash across my computer screen the next morning, I only felt a flicker of - well, recognition.  Something like: I thought this was going to happen. I had always known it was only a matter of time before the morbidity of Christopher Nolan (at left) leapt right off the screen and into "reality" - or whatever medium it is that the American public is experiencing these days.

Nolan's bleakness - or rather the persistence of his bleakness - is unusual in blockbuster pop; in Nolan's movies, generally the boy loses the girl (sometimes he even kills her), and society is viewed as completely corrupt - indeed, the very texture of reality itself is not to be trusted.  This is usually the stuff of fringe horror franchises, not billion-dollar tentpole events.  Yet overwhelming commercial success almost seems to stalk Mr. Nolan, even though there's little doubt that among the unhappy white boys who make up the latest generation of hip filmmakers (Tarantino, Fincher, Aronofsky), he is the darkest directorial knight around.

The general explanation for this state of affairs is that Nolan has tapped into the ethos of the 9/11 generation in a way that no one else has (in something like the way Tarantino channeled the fears of fatherless children of divorce back in the 90's).  And I think that's true, as far as it goes - certainly Nolan himself, you get the idea, wants us to get the idea that he is bravely working through the neuroses of a nation under terrorist assault.  Indeed, he's probably the king of what I've dubbed "9/11 pop."  But as his pop has literally gone pop, shall we say, the way that semi-automatic weapons do, I don't think it's too much to wonder - in the cultural marketplace, is Nolan actually conjuring the spirit of his hero - or his villain?

In short, is he more like Batman - or like Bane?

To answer that question, I think you have to look more closely at Nolan's appeal, at why loners like James Holmes might be attracted to his premieres for their last stands, at why his movies seem to attack and induce terrorism at the same time.  For while Nolan is constantly cuing us in to the meme that his movies are about a communal response to 9/11 - in fact some scenes from The Dark Knight Rises feel almost like reminiscences from that fateful day - they are also rather obviously absorbed in the kind psychological isolation that makes communal response, even community, period, all but impossible.

I mean just look at his heroes - they all live in hidden lairs, and operate behind masks of one kind or another - and trust in his films is (almost) always a booby trap.  Indeed, of Nolan's eight movies, I can't think of one that isn't drenched in an atmosphere of threat that bleeds into pathological paranoia; Nolan essentially pirouettes, like the little top in Inception, on that line.  What's more, his heroes' psyches - or psychoses - inevitably end up expressed in grandiose technological fantasias.  Batman in particular has access, thanks to Morgan Freeman, to a virtual armory of the very latest military high tech - a panoply of death devices that found its sad counterpart in the actual armory amassed by James Holmes.

It's Nolan vs. Nolan at the multiplex.

Now obviously the mood of the typical Nolan hero resonates with the movie-going public, which, as someone noted years ago, now bowls alone, and socializes most often through a variety of screens, apps, and avatars.  More than ever, "communities" are now artificial constructs, in which no one is necessarily who they appear to be, and in which the idea of a successful "politics" - which would depend on shared concerns - has been slowly but subtly undermined and invalidated.

What online communities turn to instead of politics, of course, is gaming (it's much easier to compete with an avatar than cooperate with one), and a number of critics are now pointing out that Nolan's scripts are best understood as games rather than narratives.  (I explained this years ago, btw, but it's nice to have the other critics catch up.)  And of course the kind of games Nolan's movies are most like are video games, in which players blast their way through battlegrounds of zombies or aliens (or car thieves), and which open up, as the player's skills increase, to progressively higher "levels" of menace and threat.

This moment of transition is, I believe, Nolan's basic cinematic trope; his movies are built on such jumps, they essentially cycle through chains of threat recognition.  The structure is clearest in his first hit, Memento (which rather than "moving backward," as many people thought, basically opened outward instead), but he and his screenwriters are clearly still depending on it.  Over and over again in The Dark Knight series, the hero achieves his "objective" (to borrow from game-design terminology) only to have the tables suddenly turn on him - that objective was actually a form of bait, and his achievement has only lifted him to a new level of danger.

What's more, I have an idea that the key to the popularity of Christopher Nolan lies in a strange parallel between the shock of 9/11 and this general M.O.  Indeed, I'd argue that consciously or unconsciously, Nolan and his collaborators have made a subtle connection between the crystallizing moment of that fateful day and the tropes of their cinematic games.  After all, on September 11, at the instant that the second plane smashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center, it was if the entire nation had jumped from one level of a game to the next.  Suddenly a whole menacing new level of play - the one on which Osama bin Laden had been operating all along - heaved itself into public view.

Now I personally don't feel the sensation of that moment, intense as it was, "means" much aesthetically or even politically; I don't think Osama bin Laden was some maniacal mastermind (surely the way he died contradicts that!), nor do I think he represented some sort of cosmic principle. And frankly, I don't think Nolan thinks so, either.  But I still think that moment cast a long, long shadow through pop culture.  And I am quite certain Nolan knows that it resonates with the cinematic tricks at the core of his appeal.  Indeed, I think he has been rehearsing (and nursing) that terrible epiphany for something like a decade.

But we'll explore that notion further - as well as the idea that perhaps The Dark Knight Rises reveals a flicker of light at the end of Christopher Nolan's neurotic tunnel - in the second part of this series.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Advice to Critics Young and Old, Part 1 - A Review is Not a Proof

People who are unsympathetic to The Hub Review often collar me with questions like "Who are you to say what is art? And what is art, anyway? Can't anything be art?"

Now these are valuable questions - although most don't go nearly deep enough. For instance, isn't "Who are you to say what is art?" really only part of the larger question "Who are you, period?"  And I'm still working on that!

I will note, however, that the people who ask me these kinds of questions almost inevitably then begin to harangue me with their own idea of what art is.  (Generally, it turns out to be what they like but I don't.)   To top it all off, they then inform me that their opinions count as "inclusive," "diverse," or "non-judgmental."  Uh-huh.

Now this is always privately amusing, but I've learned not to comment on it - I just nod (sometimes even with a smile); I know from experience that when my critics are faced with the internal contradictions of their positions, they will react with something close to fury.

But I will point out that I rarely make the overt claim that anything I'm reviewing is "art."  In fact, I'd never say "It made me cry, so it's art," as one former Globe reviewer basically opined (much less "It got me hard, so it's art," as another did).   It's true that when I am talking about acknowledged masterpieces by Rembrandt or Shakespeare or whomever, I will often blithely refer to these works as "great art." But that's simply reportage - time has crowned them "art," not me (and hence they're as good a definition of "art" as we've got).

(I know, I know - it is not "time," but rather the dead white male patriarchy, that has crowned these works as art, and you are a revolutionary dedicated to universal justice, so up with this you cannot put!  This is an argument for another day, but trust me it won't lead where you think it will; to get an idea of what I mean, ponder Michel Foucault's life-long thesis, "I Will Now Disprove the Influence of the Enlightenment by Applying the Ideals of the Enlightenment."  In other words, admit to yourself that yes, those Dead White Guy ideals are embedded in your critical apparatus whether you like it or not.)

Which leads me to today's topic in a new, ongoing series, "Advice to Critics Young and Old," which could be summed up as:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Master Athol . . . and "the boys"

Peter Mark Kendall and Johnny Lee Davenport in "Master Harold" . . . and the boys.
Athol Fugard is a playwright with a great subject - the now-dismantled system of apartheid that held sway in South Africa for much of his life. Whether he is actually a great playwright is, I think, a different question - I don't think he is, not really. But then I'm not sure he has to be - for in the end his scripts are always transfigured by their terrible theme. Fugard approaches the question of racism so fearlessly (in his days producing theatre in South Africa he was pretty fearless, too), that when his dramas inevitably wind their way to their central dilemma, they are always suddenly gripping, simply because he conveys the horror of his topic so directly.

Hence the overwhelming pathos of "Master Harold" . . . and the boys, one of Fugard's greatest successes, now at Gloucester Stage in a solid (and sometimes intense) production through August 12, in which Fugard brought the problem of racism excruciatingly close to home.  The playwright has insisted the play is fiction, but his own first name is actually "Harold" (his full moniker: Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard) and the drama's setting, a struggling "tea room" in 1950, is not so very far from his own parents' first business (a general store), or the days of his own late adolescence.  I think it would be fruitless to probe Fugard's life for further detail, however - these autobiographical elements are by themselves enough to explain much of the play's extraordinary power.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Now why exactly did the state just hand Harvard $150,000 to upgrade the ART's lighting?

More cultural funding down the toilet.
Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry at the way this benighted state doles out its support for the arts.

A case i point: is there any fatter cat than Harvard University around, you might ask?  I can't think of one offhand - nevertheless, the state's MassDevelopment agency, under the stewardship of Marty Jones, has just seen fit to hand Harvard's ART $150,000 to upgrade its lighting and projection system.

I guess that's so Diane Paulus will be able to launch her next Broadway-bound money machine  (a reboot of Pippin, btw) with something like precisely the technical resources she can expect on the island of Manhattan (where it will inevitably land, with top ticket prices in the hundreds of dollars).

And thank God!  We were all so worried. I mean it's so irritating having to spend all that extra time in tech, when you could be off striking your next deal with the Gershwin estate!

I do wonder whether the lighting booth at the Loeb is really among the Commonwealth's top funding priorities, though.  I mean, I hadn't noticed that the Loeb's projection systems are noticeably below Boston standards!  But even if they are, I wonder whether other resources might have been available for their upgrade . . .

After all, Harvard is sitting on an endowment that even now is floating, after the economic tragedy of 2008 (which was, ironically enough, brought about in part by so many B-school grads, and the theories they were taught) at around $32 billion.  From which (I note) Harvard drew revenue of $1.2 billion last year.

$1.2 billion (pretty much tax-free, btw - a savings of something like, what, $180 million? - although I know Harvard tosses a few million to Cambridge and Boston as a consolation prize).  That's twice the size of Boston College's entire operating budget, and one-and-half times the size of Northeastern's.  It's a lotta clams.  Indeed, the $150,000 the state handed the A.R.T. is only a little more than one-hundredth of one percent of that total.  Wasn't there room in the budget of the greatest university in the world for a single lighting upgrade?

Apparently not.  So let's put it this way.  Harvard couldn't be bothered spending one-hundredth of one percent of its endowment revenue on this project.  Yet the Commonwealth of Massachusetts somehow thinks it's worth funding anyway.  With your money.

Hmmmm.  I think we just saw the 1% once again feathering its own nest.  I mean, it feels a little bit like MassDevelopment just remodeled Ned and Abby Johnson's TV room.  Only I think the shows are better over at Ned and Abby's place!

Those were the days . . .

. . . when a brilliant, aristocratic faggot had the balls to call William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi to his face. On live television, no less!  And how Buckley reacts is priceless - he knows how absolutely accurately he has been pinned, so he responds with his own version of the truth - "Listen, you queer," he sneers, "Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face!"  Ah - a prime example of the fabled wit of William F. Buckley!  (Don't you agree, Terry Teachout and David Brooks?)  Rest in peace, Mr. Vidal.  If only you had an heir in the age of Roger Ailes!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Just another note about millennial cultural hypocrisy

Millennial criticism of DWG (Dead White Guy) culture - particularly Shakespeare - has become almost de rigeur on many blogs and sites.

So it's important to remember that Shakespeare is positively progressive compared to the attitudes of many, if not most, millennials.

Take the Web "community."  You might imagine, from the posts of many bloggers, that the Net is a brave new world devoid of sexism and other prejudice.  If only!  An article in the New York Times on the world of online gaming pretty much lays that illusion to rest.  Indeed, during a recent video game tournament, reporter Amy O'Leary explains, a female contestant named Miranda Pakozdi was subjected to the following sexist assault on camera:

Over six days of competition, though, her team’s coach, Aris Bakhtanians, interrogated her on camera about her bra size, said “take off your shirt” and focused the team’s webcam on her chest, feet and legs. He leaned in over her shoulder and smelled her. . . . Sexism, racism, homophobia and general name-calling are longstanding facts of life in certain corners of online video games. But the Cross Assault episode was the first of a series this year that have exposed the severity of the harassment that many women experience in virtual gaming communities.

It's perhaps even more telling that when another woman, Anita Sarkeesian, attempted to fund a study documenting depictions of women in gaming via Kickstarter, her inbox, as well as her accounts on Facebook and Youtube, were immediately overwhelmed with sexist abuse, insults, and threats. (One asshole actually created a video game in which participants could beat her avatar until the screen went blood-red.)  When a male gamer responded to this episode by posting an online pledge against bigotry, it received 1,500 signatures - before it was hacked and the names erased. You can gain some inkling of the depths of millennial sexism (if you really want to) by checking out the site Fat, Ugly or Slutty, which documents the insults and come-ons that female gamers routinely endure.

Kind of makes you feel a little better about The Taming of the Shrew, doesn't it. Seriously, how long do we have to put up with condescending millennial bullshit toward past cultural achievements that they themselves will never match? Women gamers claim that the world of gaming is, in fact, slowly changing in its attitudes.  Maybe.  But please, millennials - until you can do better yourselves - kindly shut the fuck up about Shakespeare, okay?

Would I have voted for Vertigo? No.

Kim Novak ponders taking the plunge in Vertigo.

Word reaches us that after half a century, Citizen Kane has finally been dislodged from its throne at the top of the Sight and Sound "greatest films of all time" list - to be replaced by Hitchcock's Vertigo (with Kim Novak, above), a film whose critical reputation has been building for years.

Vertigo cleared the bar by a substantial number of votes - and Kane is still ensconced comfortably at #2.  So the "decision," as it were, is neither arguable - nor the end of the world.  Still, I think most cinéastes are right now asking themselves - would I have voted the same way as the critics who contributed to that poll?  And I have to answer - no, I wouldn't have.  Not in a million years.  There's just no way Vertigo is a greater film than Citizen Kane.

Which isn't to say that Vertigo will ever cease to intrigue, even fascinate.  There are moments of startling brilliance (such as the suddenly-tunneling perspective of its "vertigo" shots), and a generally haunting, dusty-pastel mood that's unique in Hitchcock.  It's certainly a cornerstone of this director's achievement, and any analysis of his career must treat it as central.

But I think its ascension, if you  will, to the pinnacle of critical acclaim tells us more about trends in criticism than it does about Vertigo itself.  For to crown what amounts to Hitchcock's sexual confession as the greatest film ever made, you have to ignore its panoply of obvious flaws; some sort of unspoken criterion has to paper over its many gaps, and outweigh the hitches in this prime piece of Hitchcock.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

At last, a clever way to close down the MFA mill?

Is this what most MFA programs amount to?
I've rarely been a fan of the HowlRound site, but they have posted an intriguing article by Marshall Botnivick which includes a very clever suggestion as to how to close down, or at least limit the size of, the current MFA mill: tie the size of college arts programs to the professional success of their graduates.

As I understand Botnivick, the idea is that the loaned portion of a student's tuition should not be paid upfront, but rather collected as an annual tithe over the first ten years or so of a graduate's professional career.  If a graduate can't find work in the field in which he or she paid to be trained, they are allowed to default on their loan - hence if a school doesn't produce working artists, it won't collect its tuition.

Hmmmm.  How many MFA programs - or tenured professors - would dare to take that challenge?  I wonder!