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July 02, 2011


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Bilge Ebiri

So, is ABOUT LAST NIGHT any good? It's been years since I "saw" it, and I put that in quotes because "seeing" it in my case meant fast-forwarding through my dad's VHS to see if the sex scenes were any good.


It's been a long time since I've watched it, and my memory is it's basically two different movies inhabiting the same space. The first is James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins basically doing the play that the movie is based on, by which I mean their characters in the movie are pretty much true to the characters as written in the play, and Belushi and Perkins are completely credible in those roles (yes, Belushi did show flashes of talent, and this is one instance). The second is Rob Lowe and Demi Moore basically attempting a weird hybrid of Mamet's play and Edward Zwick's attempt to make the whole thing "nicer", and while I happen to think Lowe is a decent actor (alas, I can't say the same thing about Moore, with the exception of MORTAL THOUGHTS and a couple of other movies), the whole thing seemed beyond his and Moore's capabilities at this point in their careers.

Kiss Me, Son of God

Heh. Here in Mamet's hometown of Chicago, the main branch of the Chicago Public Library -- the massive Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop -- has various library-friendly quotations printed on its walls, e.g. T.S. Eliot's "The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man," and so on. One such quote comes from Mamet himself: "My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library." This quote being something of an insult to Mamet's actual alma mater, Goddard College in Vermont, but still. Whattan asshole. (Though I maintain that anyone familiar with "Oleanna" shouldn't be all *that* shocked that Mamet's right-wing tendencies have gone full-retard.)


'Oleanna' aside, I remember Mamet's decree that directors shouldn't use the Steadicam and thinking to myself that no good could come of such absolutist aesthetic asshattery.

James Keepnews

a.k.a. Political Perversity in Hollywood. Or, given its eponymous proximity to The Secret Doctrine, perhaps Kneejerk Dave might consider changing his name to H.P. Bloviatsky.

Briefly, fuck this guy and the mannered, reproducible horseshit he rode in on, mindful that, when less reproduced, its effect was galvanizing (see American Buffalo, The Woods, &c.). What has his tired, predictable, reactionary, cracker apostasy done for me -- or anyone -- lately?

D Cairns

Re About Last Night: it CLONES the sex scene in Don't Look Now, right down to the shot of Donald Sutherland/Rob Lowe walking past a doorway while putting his necktie on. Zwick is thereby shown to be the hackiest of hacks, but his lamebrained choice still seems more interesting to me than any of Mamet's directorial choices, which are, you know, tasteful and sensible and simple, but incredibly dull in effect.

I don't think he forbids the steadicam, however: he laments the way it's generally used to cover stuff quickly in an "exciting" way. But he basically declares all stylistic flourishes verboten, which makes him an asshole of another kind.

Account Deleted

Best Demi Moore movie: The Seventh Sign. Spectacular The Omen/Rosemary's Baby mashup. I miss heartfelt, low-budget 80s genre movies, especially ones with Michael Biehn and Jurgen Prochnow.


Mamet has a way of writing that is very persuasive in tone, but not neccessarily as well thought out as he pretends. This happens to serve his drama very well (he is one of the greatest living playwrights after all) and even a bit of his essay writing, but political rhetoric is another matter....

In regard to pools (funded partially by donation), check this out:


Marc Basque

About Last Night is very, very bad. It also happens to be the first review in Roger Ebert's Four Star review book, and its inexplicable presense shouldn't (but almost does) put you off the whole thing.

Dan Coyle

I always thought Jim Belushi had talent. He could be great with the right material. Unfortunately, he rarely seeks it out. In the 80s at least, he could be good with some awful material- like the insufferably sad Homer and Eddie, or the otherwise forgettable actioners The Principal and Red Heat (which was written by- of all people!- Troy Kennedy Martin).

As for Mamet, "Why I am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" opens with Rebecca Pidgeon chuckling as Mamet complains about 'National Palestinian Radio' which, to me, pretty much said all it needed to say about where Mamet's really coming from.

Dan Coyle

Marc: you could make a whole other book filled Roger Ebert's inexplicably positive reviews. Sleepers! Home Alone 3!

zombie Gene Siskel

Roger Ebert giving About Last Night a four star review becomes much more explicable when you take into account that the film was set in Chicago. Roger always had a soft spot for the Windy City.


What's most surprising about Mamet's conversion is how... knee-jerkily wholehearted it's been. I mean, it's one thing to declare that free markets are the best economic system ever invented (an arguable but perfectly defensible position), which is what he was saying in the Village Voice back in 2008, and another to go from there to deny global warming, sympathizing with Sarah Palin, claiming that woman's place is the kitchen... He seemed to have thought that the "conservative" ideological package was one of those "all-in-one", unsplittable things, and that he had to buy everything in order to get the one he was interested in.

Bilge Ebiri

Paul, that's Mamet's problem. He's merely trading in one from of orthodoxy for another. He's switching teams, not actually thinking for himself.

For anyone curious, Hitchens's takedown of Mamet's book in the NY Times was surgical and delicious.


Yeah, but isn't Hitchens v Mamet an 'Alien v Predator' situation -- "Whoever wins, we lose" -- if ever there was one? :-)


Oliver: No, actually, it isn't.

Marc Basque

@Dan: Could call it "Stop! or my Inexplicably Positive Review Will Shoot!" Pushing it?

The Hitchens-Mamet takedown was nice, though I could have done with more vitriol. If only Mamet had embezzled money through the Catholic church, then we'd REALLY have something.

David Ehrenstein

No let's NOT give david Mamet "some slack." He was two-bit fascist when he started and he's a two-bit fascist today. His "Saul at Damascus" moment is about as sincere as a Televangelists tears.

He's a lousey writer and always has been. The last straw was his cribbing Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy.






This post must be considered a gross libel of Demi Moore, a far more sophisticated political thinker than Mamet.


//I always thought Jim Belushi had talent. He could be great with the right material. Unfortunately, he rarely seeks it out. In the 80s at least, he could be good with some awful material//

Off-topic, I just saw the Ghost Writer and didn't even recognize Belushi (not that I was ever a huge fan) in the small role of a gruff, no-nonsense book publisher. I certainly wasn't thinking "Hey, that's Jim Belushi, the comedian" or "that's the lesser Belushi brother" but "hmmm, who is this guy? He's good. I know I've seen him before..."

warren oates

Yeah, I always thought citizens should get a line-item veto on the federal budget. People who don't drive, for instance, needn't bother with highway maintenance (never mind how all the goods and services they depend on get to them). Those who aren't sick now can forget about health insurance or cancer research. Heck, why stop there, my house has never caught on fire, if I want to take my chances, why do I have to support my local fire department?

It's exactly this kind of dumbass provincialism that turns Plato off to the idea of direct democracy in THE REPUBLIC.

As for Mamet's recent and unfortunate turn to the ultra-right, I think of other writers who made bad political judgments in their personal lives like Knut Hamsun's flirtation with Nazism and Peter Handke's support of the Serbs. While regrettable, none of these choices lessen the greatness of their best creative writing.


@ warren oates: I agree with your last line, yet I have to express my doubts about Hamsun or Handke being able to write a piece as hilariously inept and badly written, ideas notwithstanding, as that thing on the Village Voice. I first discovered it through this link,


... and couldn't believe there weren't deliberately chopping off sentences in between, or something. It's like watching a clip of 'The man who saves the Earth' (AKA 'Turkish Star Wars') on Youtube, and saying "wow! I can't believe anybody could have edited a film like that, this is a joke!"... then watching the entire film to discover that yes, the clips on Youtube are unedited, the thing is absolutely insane, and that I fuckin' love it.

Which goes a long way to say that I would like to read the Mamet book if its style alone, not just the content, rendered it moronically unreadable. Sadly, it seems just boring...

P.D.: the post is two days old, and no Victor Morton yet? Me are disappoint'!

Sally Hardesty

At least she didn't mention Solaris...


What Brandon said. Mamet has a rhetorical gift that is mostly unrivaled by contemporary writers, but when he gets stuck on politics, he doesn't bother to include logic, or even most of the relevant facts, in the discussion. I count myself as a fan of many of his dramatic works (and several of his movies, chief among them The Spanish Prisoner, which is a pretty impressive pastiche of Hitchcock). It's clear that he delights in provocation, in playing the gadfly and the grumpy old sage. The fact is, whether he is serious or not, you can't take his screeds seriously; there's no real argument, just a litany of shrill complaints and self-righteousness. It's a shame, because up until that last few, they were even kind of fun to read. Now I mostly just feel bad for him - who can't help bragging how good he has it, even as his entire raison d'etre is a seething resentment against the world.

On some level, he seems to understand he's full of shit - witness him squirm whenever he's asked to discussed politics in person, as he does on an appearance on Charlie Rose.

Glenn Kenny

I have to say, as wonderful as I find the best of Mamet's creative writing, even that is somewhat behind what Handke and Hamsun were capable of at their respective heights. And I do think there was also more genuine conviction behind their avowals of genuinely repellent positions; with Mamet there's a good deal of bullshit showmanship, a "Hey, look at me, I'm a conservative now, am I pissing you off yet? How you liking me NOW?" exhibitionism that's become part and parcel of the new rightie new media sideshow, of which Andrew Klavan is such a delightful example.

You know, if Mamet had come out espousing the virtues of Whitaker Chambers, of Koestler, or some such, that would have been one thing. But to profess to care somewhat about the English language, and about good writing, and then turn around and endorse an incompetent not-even-hack like Thomas Sowell; well, there's giving the shell game away right before your eyes. Not that I don't think Mamet believes that he believes all the nonsense he spouting.


@David Ehrenstein: Is it fair (or accurate) to say that Mamet "cribbed" from Terrence Rattigan's THE WINSLOW BOY? He adapted the play, and gave credit where it was due. Are you referring to how good a job he did with it? I saw it years and years ago and thought it was pretty good, hopelessly square and outside the Mamet wheelhouse, but with some fine performances and involving bits.

Anyway, Mamet's work has meant a lot to me over the years. I think he's actually pretty underrated as a director of films. There's great, cinematic stuff in movies like HOUSE OF GAMES, SPARTAN, and HOMICIDE (maybe his most personal film and also greatest?) And though THE EDGE may not be great exactly, I sometimes think of Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin out there in the woods with the bear and I smile. I don't plan on reading his new book.

David Ehrenstein

It is the height of laziness (to be polite about it) to "adapt" a perfect play.

The "virtues" of Whittaker Chambers elude me. There is no virute among vengeful closet queens -- and that includes the object of his affection Alger Hiss.


Though I still haven't read this "Secret Knowledge", I'd like to point out that Mamet has stated in several pieces of writing that he does not approve of intentional, political art. So, for whatever political rhetoric he may involve himself in, rest assured that his plays should remain as consciously unencumbered (lest he wish, for shame, to be branded a hypocrite).

I was actually reading today from his previous book, THEATRE, where he states the following opinion:
"...These issue plays are then a mild form of propaganda, not putting forth the view of the state but, perhaps more dangerously, positing the existence of and recruiting for that group greater than of the state: the cofraternity of right thinking. The invitation is potentially the mild beginning of fascism.
Should the theatre be political? Absolutely not" (56-57).

Taking works like OLEANNA or RACE into account, I would guess that Mamet makes some sort of distinction for himself between political intention and provocative rhetoric. By not taking a 'side' in his plays, he is simply writing about 'the human condition'. Voicing these political ideas, granted in a wholly different medium, could cause some people to retrospectively make assumptions and inferences into the intentions of his text. To which he would probably answer, 'What intention?', I guess...

Sorry for the excessive wordage, but Mamet is a favorite to read and watch. Separating the artist's words from his character's words is an important concept, whether we use it as an excuse to justify or vilify them....


"It is the height of laziness (to be polite about it) to "adapt" a perfect play."

- David Ehrensetein, 1966, upon release of the Nichols/Lehman film adaptation of Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Glenn Kenny

Kids, when David E. asks you not to get him started, well...I wouldn't get him started.

That said. I'm big on "House of Games" and "Homicide" and "Glengarry," and, yeah, bits of "The Edge." Didn't really give a damn about "Olleana" but very much liked Stuart Gordon's properly lurid rendering of "Edmund." My problematic feelings about Mamet, I have to admit, began with "Hoffa," during which I remember thinking, "The screenwriter is really enjoying the license he's given himself to throw the word 'cunt' around a lot, isn't he?"

Then there's the disastrous final third of "Spartan," the dopey final fifth of "Redbelt," and the rightly forgotten—because it cannot be forgiven—novel "Wilson." Which appeared in 2003. Around the same time that I went to see a "conversation" between Mamet and Ricky Jay at Town Hall with two screenwriters, one of whom was a hardcore, unapologetic Mamet worshipper at the time. And Mamet was such a pompous, pretentious blowhard (Jay was fine, a little ruffled), that we all walked out about midway through.

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