No, he most assuredly does not. Loves himself, though. In a weird, twisted sort of way. My thoughts on a fascinating but not really very good documentary, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, are up today at The Daily Notebook.
Young James Mason despairs of ever getting Lena Dunham to love him in Carol Reed's 1947 Odd Man Out. No, of course that's not what he's doing in the above frame. Yes, I am making a little "jest." Yes, the U.K. disc of Odd Man Out is the subject of today's Foreign Region DVD Report. Yes, it is at The Daily Notebook. As always.
There was a rather lengthy period when I considered Christopher Hitchens a reliably engaging and often hilarious writer, and thought he had good taste in friends and associates—Amis pere and fils, Larkin, Robert Conquest, etc. I've grown rather less enchanted with him in recent years. Not because he's an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Iraq war; more that to anyone who objects to the Iraq war, his first line of counterattack is "Well, I suppose then that you'd rather Saddam were still in power," which is, while not, of course, beside the point, at the very least somewhat presumptuous. Let's just say that in recent years his tone suggests to me that he's quite a lot more pleased with himself than his actual ideas and observations warrant. Also, on his older television experiences he gave the rather charming impression of a man trying (and succeeding!) in being brilliant while battling the world's worst hangover; of late he looks like he's actively trying to stop himself projectile-vomiting, which isn't nearly as engaging.
Still, I thought I'd give his new book the memoir Hitch-22, a try, for old times' sake. And almost immediately found myself wishing he had written it before he came upon the self-marketing hook, via his recent best-seller god Is Not Great, of global village athiest. Open this book to almost any page and there will be some thoroughly self-satisfied reminder to the reader of how much Hitchens disdains religion, Christianity specifically, and churches, and priests, and this, and that. A footnote: "Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock.'" (Everything?) On readings at his father's funeral: "My own text was from...Paul of Tarsus, and from his Epistle to the Philippeans, which I selected for its non-religious yet highly moral character. A photo caption: "With the only priest I've ever liked, Archbishop Makarios, president of Cyprus." (This rather reminded me, by the way, of my favorite photo caption from Miles Davis' dyspeptic autobiography: "...the guy at the microphone is Symphony Sid, one motherfucker I never did like.") And so on. It's not entirely intolerable (and I have to give Hitchens credit for having proper literary respect for the King James Bible, something the benighted Janeane Garafolo seems to have yet to learn), but it is a little tiresome, and seems forced, not entirely unlike the musings on Islam in Hitchens' pal Martin Amis' new '70s novel The Pregnant Widow.
None of it is as disturbing as the bit on page 99 in which Hitchens inadvertently reveals that he may well have always been something of a colossal, well, noob. Discussing the radicalization of his youth, he notes, "When I was eighteen and nineteen and twenty, there was no eighteen-year-old franchise, and the single deadliest and most telling line of Barry McGuire's then-famous song 'Eve of Destruction' was 'You're old enough to kill, but not for voting.'" This is all fine as far as it goes, except the sentence ends with an asterisk, which leads one to a footnote, which reads: "It's sobering and depressing to reflect that McGuire, who had mainly been influenced by the war in the Middle East the preceding year, is now one of those bards who still likes to sing about the end of days because he is a millennialist and fundamentalist Christian. But by then I had come to prefer even the hard-line militant verses of Phil Ochs to the more lenient Bob Dylan."
It took a little while for that to sink in, to realize what was irksome about it was not his chiding of Barry McGuire for being a millennialist fundamentalist—because I agree, there really is no God-botherer like an eschatological God-botherer—but the sentiments behind that, which indicate that Hitchens actually took/takes "Eve of Destruction" and Barry McGuire seriously. And this is too much. Pretty much anyone with a smidgen of aesthetic sense understands "Eve of Destruction" as protest kitsch par excellence, just as John Phillips' Scott McKenzie-sung "San Francisco" is the apex of hippie kitsch. Hell, I was barely six years old when McGuire's version became a hit, and even then I knew it was a joke. I wasn't quite old and precocious enough to be making rude alternate rhymes for the absolutely abominable couplet "My blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin'/I'm sitting here just contemplatin'" but you know, I was close. This clip of McGuire emoting "Eve" on an episode of Hullaballo provides a heaping helping of the, well, dingus-like qualities of the man celebrated alongside the infinitely more talented Jim "Roger" McGuinn in the aforementioned Phillips' "Creque Alley:"
See what I mean? Yeesh. Even worse, it seems that Hitchens believes that the McGuire who so disappoints him today actually wrote "Eve of Destruction" ("...had mainly been influenced by the war in the Middle East," nice touch, that), when in fact every schoolboy knows the song had been penned by P.F. Sloan, who was and is a whole 'nother story. And not only was "Eve of Destruction" an exemplary bit of horrifically overstated poshlust, it can also be held guilty on the count of wellspringing, for in its wake came "Dawn of Correction," "Day of Decision," and the goddamn "Ballad of the Green Berets." Oh, and finally, the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion," the only decent song of the bunch, and hardly a patch on "Psychedelic Shack," not to mention "Just My Imagination," at that.
I've gotten into this odd habit of, once picking up a book, seeing it through to the finish, and it is rather likely that I will stick to that plan as far as Hitch-22 is concerned. But after the "Eve of Destruction" passage, I can't say I'm not a little tempted to move on. The next book on my reading list is With The Old Breed At Peleiliu and Okinawa, and I'm betting that its author, E.B. Sledge, was never a Barry McGuire fan.
UPDATE: In addition to my wishes for Hitchens' speedy recovery, I should like to report, as of July 1, 2010 and about a hundred-plus more pages into the book, Hitch-22 is in fact picking up quite a bit and shaping into something I would enthusiastically recommend with a couple of qualifications. So let me amend what I thought my assessment was going to wind up being and just say that if you've ever enjoyed him, you will enjoy this, at least in part.
This evening's too-rare U.S. screening of Chantal Akerman's wonderful 2000 La Captive at New York's Alliance Française has occasioned some new and interesting contemplations of the film, which Akerman freely but in her way quite faithfully adapted from Proust's La Prisoniere. My reason for chiming in here is just to note, in a friendly way, that these contemplations miss one crucial thing, that is, that the film is rather mordantly hilarious almost throughout, at least until its admittedly tragic and haunted/haunting ending.
There's the very odd old-money-Parisian domestic setup to begin with, in which the Albertine stand-in Ariane (Sylvie Testud) is in a menage with Marcel stand-in Simon (Stanislas Merhar)...and his elderly aunt. And then there's Simon himself, who combines an obsessive sexual jealousy worthy of Raging Bull's Jake LaMotta with a ridiculously effete aesthete's delicacy that yields remarkable comic effects throughout. Particularly when he launches into a rhapsody on Ariane's erotic aroma which he interrupts with a complaint of the pollen she carries into their apartment, and how it makes his allergies flare up. What a drip, as it were, and quite the inspired cinematic creation.
I post a new perspective on Amfortas' wound in Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's mind-bending 1982 film of Wagner's Parsifal not just because of commenter haice's droll request, but because the film's been on my mind of late. I've been looking at, or trying to look at, a fair amount of opera on Blu-ray for my July Blu-ray disc Consumer Guide, and I have to say that for the most part I've been profoundly disappointed in the visual presentations. Not that I have a huge reason to be surprised by this, as most opera on Blu-ray is basically just a filmed or digitally captured live performance. Films such as Syberberg's Parsifal, or Bergman's Magic Flute, or Losey's Don Giovanni, are supreme examples of how opera and cinema can merge to create something fabulous and new. Sometimes I think, if Peter Jackson could do Tolkien's Ring trilogy as he saw fit, why can't some other visionary filmmaker do Wagner's Ring Cycle?...and of course I already know the answer to that question. I suppose it's rather adolescent of me to want this sort of thing in the first place, but still, couldn't it be cool? Imagine the material in the hands of Syberberg, or of Godard, or of Coppola, of Cronenberg...
Still, one takes what one can get in this area. Some of my findings might surprise you, when I'm finally through with the July Guide.
So it looks as if John Nolte went out and spent ten bucks, or maybe just eight or so (one wants to give him credit for having the brains to take advantage of matinee bargains), just to spite James Rocchi, who gave a bad review to Grown Ups. Not just a bad review, a bad anti-American review, that bespoke-suit wearing traitorous he-bitch. Thus duty-bound, Nolte sat back and loved it, just as Armond White did. ("Grown Ups borrows a Mike Leigh title but doesn't disgrace it." There, in fewer than a dozen words, is the reason why The New York Press pays White the big bucks. [Also, in citing the White review, Nolte demurs that White's "need to be a contrarian" bores Nolte "to death." I do love when Nolte affects a Wildean indolence, don't you?]) "The audience was amused, the critic was not," noted bearded fury Nolte. "That's all I need to know." Doesn't take much with this guy, does it? Clearly, it might be worth the time to research some ways by which this tendency could be exploited so as to milk some real money out of Elmer here.
Nolte's notice, such as it is, did hip me to some interesting information, which is that Joyce Van Patten has a role in the picture. I've had a little, ahem, thing for Ms. Van Patten ever since her stellar work in Larry Cohen's 1972 Bone, with Yaphet Kotto.
And no, I am not being funny or even trying to be funny; her work in the film is superb and very ballsy, and it led me to thinking of her as The Really Talented, And Kind Of Strangely Hot, Van Patten. I admit I haven't really been following her career of late, but I'm glad to learn she's still working. Which doesn't mean I'll fork over any cash to see Grown Ups, not even at matinee prices. I may give it a look when it turns up on cable or something. I mean, I'm not stupid.
UPDATE: Once again proving himself a model of civil discourse, James Rocchi responds, with civility, to John Nolte, and receives a civil, if not particularly bright, response from Mr. Big Hollywood himself. "I’m just another guy with an opinion no more important or valid than your’s or the guy who reads my gas meter," aw, shucks, John. If only we were all so modest. I also notice that Karina Longworth's Village Voice pan of Oliver Stone's South of the Border (another film I'm not gonna see if I can help it) got a place on Big Hollywood's marquee,and that Ron "there's a communist coming out of my wife's blouse" Radosh has enthused "Right on, Karina!" with respect to said review. So much cross-political love, it really makes a guy snurfly.
They had a drink in a fashionable hotel. The cafés, now that they looked at them, were worn, dirty, spiritless, there was hardly any electricity, no cleaning, few customers,and those customers shabby. Some cafés were already shut at the dinner hour. This Paris was not for them.
"And yet all this is irrelevant, isn't it?" said Emily.
"There's Paris behind the scenes, marching, embattled, tired, hungry, resentful with a long, long memory. They've eaten crow and they won't forgive it. The proud French! I love them. They don't squeal, but they remember. I wouldn't like to be on the dark tablets of their memory. Paris the wonderful, the Venus, the Astarte."
But neither of them could walk as they used to. Stephen still had a cane and little strength. Emily, still roly-poly, was not strong either. Perhaps she had not eaten enough, or she had worked too hard.
"I'm getting hungry, and we're near Les Halles. Dale told us about a splendid little restaurant." They walked by the law courts, the gendarmerie, the flower markets, the Châtelet and the Hôtel de Ville.
"Here Blanqui stood that day, here people's heads rolled in the gutter, people smothered in their own blood. You can't live in Paris and be like we are and not be red, can you?"
Stephen said, "No, lots of people have tried to go back on their life history, their perceptions and their dedication; and you can't do it, tragedy or annihilation follows. They were scarred for life, there was a burning mark on their foreheads. You can't go back. You passed the signpost and there's no turning back."
"You frighten me. What do you mean? How cool it's getting."
"We were dedicated," he said. He showed her a little plaque surrounded by humble bouquets, and some field flowers in a homemade bouquet on which was a handwritten card which said:
Ici est tombé pour le Patrie et pour le Libération de Paris—
Stephen said, "Come on!" But Emily was crying openily, suffocated with tears. She gasped, "I can't speak, it's so touching. It's real. Oh Stephen, I wish we could have done that and be no more; no more harassments."
People were passing them, going home from work, poor Frenchmen in cloth sandals, toil-stained trousers, with sunk faces, tired eyes, a desperate expression. They walked on and Emily said, "You see, Paris stands no nonsense. It says, Here it is, the truth is evident, And passer-by, the truth of your life is evident."
—Christina Stead, I'm Dying Laughing: The Humourist
DJ Kim (Novak, that is) gets set to spin some platters on the hi-fi in Richard Quine's 1954 Pushover. That's Fred MacMurray's back in the back. Pushover, Novak's first credited role, is included in the upcoming Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II set, which I'm going through and enjoying quite a lot, and will have more to say about soon.
If I ever get around to my dissertation on Quine, Novak's place in his filmography will play a great part in it. She creates indelible impressions in two of his best films, 1958's genuinely eccentric Bell, Book, and Candle and 1960's searing Strangers When We Meet. She's memorable in this picture as well, but more for her aura than her actual performance. But, you know, whatever works.
This scene occurs right after the picture's opening, in the wake of a literal "my place or yours" proposition. It's pretty racy stuff, made racier by...well, what was it that Truffaut said to Hitchcock about Novak? Oh yes: "Very few American actresses are quite so carnal on the screen. When you see Judy [in Vertigo] walking across the street, the tawny hair and make-up convey an animal-like sensuality. That quality is accentuated, I suppose, by the fact that she wear no brassiére." To which Hitchcock replise: "That's right, she doesn't wear a brassiére. As a matter of fact, she's particularly proud of that!"
These overdetermined wordplay-on-oldies-song-lyrics blog post headlines don't write themselves, you know. They sometimes take weeks, even months of preparation.
Mr. Jones (and aren't you glad I didn't title the post "Mr. Jones and me?"... of course you knew I'd never do something so gauche and tasteless), whose catch made the last out in the 1969 World Series—and if you have to ask what team, then, among other things, you're not paying sufficient attention to the banners above our heads—visited my local Citibank today and of course I had to pay my respects. I don't think it's telling tales out of school to reveal that as I was walking in, Mr. Phillip Lopate was walking out, having paid his own respects. We old-school Mets fans are quite the band of brothers, happy breed, etc., etc.