Out and about

Quick guess: who said this?

I was in analysis, you should know that about me, I was in group analysis when I was younger, ‘cause I couldn’t afford private…I was captain of the latent paranoid softball team. We used to play all the neurotics on Sunday morning. Nailbiters against the bedwetters, and if you’ve never seen neurotics play softball, it’s really funny. I used to steal second base, and feel guilty and go back.

And this?

I’m not a fighter. I have bad reflexes, and I can’t fight. I was once run over by a car with a flat tire, being pushed by two guys.

Golly, remember when Woody Allen was actually hilarious and inventive and just plain weird? No? Then go educate yourself–here are transcripts from his stand-up comedy albums that prove his comic genius, over and over and over again. (Thanks, Maud.) Over at the New Yorker, Allen gleans excerpts from Nietzsche’s long-lost diet book.

Since this edition of “Out and About” is starting off New Yorker-centric, let’s direct you to Robert Birnbaum’s two long interviews with the magazine’s last great writers: Susan Orlean and Lawrence Weschler.

Moving outward to France, we make stops at Girish Shambu’s site, where he offers a terrific appreciation of French filmmaker Robert Bresson. Michael at CultureSpace takes on the French remake of James Toback’s Fingers.

The Self-Styled Siren, who’s just returned to Brooklyn from a vacation in Paris, sends her love to actress Lana Turner:

As much as the Siren wants to believe in universal sisterhood, there is no denying that dazzling beauty can make a woman off-putting to her own sex. But from the beginning Lana didn’t arouse that kind of hostility from other women, instead suggesting the sort of goddess who would still be kind to the ugly duckling. Women liked her.

They could see that in real and reel life, Lana knew her beauty was her best card. Instead of playing that hand with icy hauteur, like Hedy Lamarr, Lana suggested a cheerful, but slightly sad, resignation to the ephemeral nature of her good luck. Sure, one day I’ll awaken as a crone, she seemed to say; but in the meantime, I’m having one hell of a good time.

But, just as there are actresses I adore (see: mademoiselles Sorvino, Tomei, Woodard, and Hayek), there are those we just don’t get at all. I don’t mean actresses whose performances I actively despise but rather performers who, on paper, have qualities that I admire in a performer but for whom I’ve never quite understood the appeal. Sarah Jessica Parker has crackerjack comic timing, a kooky sense of physical movement, and an oddly ingratiating voice, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually liked–as opposed to admired–her work in anything. Lisa Rosman diagnoses the problem:

Pictured on a big screen, [Parker’s] long face and wiry body resemble those of a 1950s drag queen, which is hardly her fault. That she overreaches and stammers is. She falls so out of step with her fellow actors that she comes off as more humanoid rather than fully human. Someone get this woman a musical. Just ban [Jennifer] Aniston from the same fate.

For I’m stuck on the idea that not every actress is suited for every medium. Film requires a level of honesty that the small screen doesn’t, but television requires a level of give and take and an insouciance that the long incubation of moviemaking often renders impossible. And stage requires a level of engagement and vibrancy that almost inevitably proves too much for any sort of screen actor….

….But can you imagine how dreadful Meryl Streep, who excels on stage even more consistently than she does on film, would be in a sitcom? She’s already almost too larger-than-life for the big screen. (To be fair, she turned in the best performances of her later career in Angels in America, but HBO hardly counts as TV anymore.) Or take Catherine Keener, a star on stage and big screen whose snide demeanor would merely come off as a lack of affect on TV. Maggie Gyllenhaal is such an ideal film actress that I can scarcely imagine her in any other medium. Jennifer Aniston has flatlined in every movie she’s ever appeared in except for Office Space, in which bad acting was actually the point, but she sported genuine comedic chops on Friends. Julia Roberts really is a decent movie star, if a limited film actress (a whispering Mary Reilly will forever haunt my dreams), but her sputtering guest turn on Friends flailed and Broadway ate her for breakfast with forgivable glee. Some actresses whom I’ve seen shine on stage over the years have never made it to screens of any sort (save the requisite Law and Order episode) not only because their looks didn’t translate but because they couldn’t stop pitching to the back of the house.

Katha Pollitt, who’s got a new book out, takes on both Caitlin Flanagan and Linda Hirshman in a provocative column. Thank God–now I don’t have to read either book. (But get Pollitt’s, folks.)

Speaking of flamethrowers, Econo interviews cartoonist Ted Rall, who has a habit of pissing off everyone with statements like these:

I thought [Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers] was a turd. The only thing that was original content in that book was the foreword. I love it that it’s a board book. How fitting. There’s so little content, how perfect that he would have to pad it to that extent. It was like half Golden Age comics. The rest of that stuff was stuff he had published in the Forward. And the cartoons were just terrible. The imagery of the other shoe dropping and there’s Bush’s cowboy boots dropping from the sky. Could you be any stupider?

It’s unbelievable, really. If anyone else had put out that book, if, to pick a name at random, Ward Sutton had put that book out, everyone would have said he was a worthless hack. If I tried to do that, it would be the same thing.

I can’t think of any cartoonist who could have gotten away with it. But he was reviewed in the New York Times. It’s what I call the Spiegelman effect.

And finally, who wrote this?

An appreciation for the charms of pretty women or pretty men is one of the joys of life. If it’s lust in the heart and adultery to notice that a fellow human being would almost certainly look terrific naked, then I commit adultery 10 or 20 times a day and I’m not the least bit sorry for it. This is the time of year when the sight of a lovely woman in a summer outfit carrying her shoes is often the making of my day. Of my week!

If I’m going to hell for this, then God is a woman. A particular woman. Andrea Dworkin.

Good for you if you said “Lance Mannion.” When he’s rolling, Mannion rarely discusses just one thing. What he begins talking about in microscopic detail very quickly broadens its ethical and personal scope. Here, he starts off talking about the social ethics of dressing up (or down) for church. By the time he’s done, however, he’s riffed on the nature of lust, adultery, flirting, the absurdity of celibate priests, and the even greater absurdities of how men dress in public.

My work here is done. Have a good weekend.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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