Out and about

There’s a ton of Altmania out there in the wake of the director’s death, but The High Hat decided wisely to pay tribute to the great filmmaker while he was still around to it. Its Fall 2006 issue, posted a week before Altman went out to the wild blue yonder, is devoted to him. Lots of good stuff to read.

At Suicide Girls, there’s a smart, long interview with the Brothers Quay, whose spooky, mesmerizing, often animated movies are thrilling.

Michael at CultureSpace writes the second-best response to Sofia Coppola’s deeply flawed, but still intriguing, Marie Antoinette:

Marie, after all, is thrust into the French court and forced to abandon all vestiges of her Austrian youth; her primary role is to provide the French monarchy with a male heir, which essentially makes her a servant of the state; she is expected to follow codified customs that, to modern eyes, seem pathetic and hilarious. Coppola edits the royal rituals into repeated montages of Marie waking up in the morning to a bevy of servants, attending mass, and watching young Louis eat. Marie barely ventures beyond the walls and gardens of Versailles, except to similarly gilded palaces in Paris and the French countryside. The upshot might be predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less axiomatic; all of the empty rituals and expectations, the boredom and isolation, foster a political and social vapidity in a woman who, instead of maturing gradually, is hastily transformed into the dauphine of France.

The absolute best response to the movie, however, that I’ve read belongs to Daniel Mendelsohn. I’ve told you to read him before, especially when he writes about movies. I’m gonna tell you again, because here he is:

And so Coppola’s movie, which works so hard and with such imagination to include in its portrait much that has been ignored, ends up leaving out much that cannot be ignored. Most egregiously, it fails completely to convey in any way why it was that this particular queen aroused the loathing of many in her country. You get absolutely no sense from this film of the immense hatred that was felt for the Queen as the years went by, as she was languishing in her unstructured muslin lévites among the soft pillows of the Petit Trianon, to which Coppola’s swooning camera gives an almost erotic allure. The irony is that this willed ignorance of the larger world disserves Coppola’s artistic and emotional purpose. If the director had gone into all this, she’d have only underscored some of her subject’s sympathetic qualities; for there’s little question that while she could make gross mistakes of judgment, nearly all of the calumnies heaped on Marie Antoinette, including the notorious Affair of the Diamond Necklace, were absurd and vicious misrepresentations, when not downright inventions.

Girish also finds resonance in filmic French: he got to see Jacques Tati’s Playtime on the big screen. I’m very, very jealous, though ameliorated by the fact that I got the Criterion edition of the movie for my birthday. (Thanks, Aunt Phyllis!)

Popeye, one of the most playful and rambunctious comic strips ever produced (and the source of a Robert Altman movie), gets some love from Zak Sally.

Switching gears, have you heard of the Evening Whirl? Commandeered by Ben Thomas, it was among the weirdest, most lurid, and most fascinating black-owned newspapers in America. I’d never heard of it until reading this article. (As of today, there’s no article on it at Wikipedia). Shame on me. Apparently, the St. Louis rag regularly published its snippets and smaller articles in verse form. It also had the habit of pissing off the black bourgeoisie as much as the white establishment. Go read about it.

Stanley Crouch is another black man who can piss off the whole wide world in print. Here’s a long interview with the maddening, brilliant asshole at Jerry Jazz Musician. A sample:

I think a lot of people today are afraid of being called “old timers,” because when they were young, the “old timers” were the people who defended segregation, sexism, racism, McCarthyism, and a lot of negative elements that, in retrospect, were conventional forty or so years ago. Now that these people are in positions of power, many of them are absolutely terrified of being considered out-of-date or being seen as an “old-fogey” for supporting something that may be “old hat.” An example of the kind of result you get from this is that a song like “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”—which essentially sympathizes with a pimp—wins the Academy Award for best song. I find it impossible to see how being a pimp is a virtue, but in this distorted time, a pimp is seen as a rugged individual, as somebody who makes it on his own by not playing by the rules and who fits conveniently into this obsession we presently have with rule-breakers.

Finally, to ratchet up the level of contention even further in this edition of “Out and about,” I encourage you to wrestle with Diane McWhorter’s firebreather at Slate.

We have become such “good Americans” that we no longer have the moral imagination to picture what it might be like to be in a bureaucratic category that voids our human rights, be it “enemy combatant” or “illegal immigrant.” Thus, in the week before the election, hardly a ripple answered the latest decree from the Bush administration: Detainees held in CIA prisons were forbidden from telling their lawyers what methods of interrogation were used on them, presumably so they wouldn’t give away any of the top-secret torture methods that we don’t use. Cautiously, I look back on that as the crystallizing moment of Bushworld: tautological as a Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, absurd as a Marx Brothers movie, and scary as a Kafka novel.

UPDATE: Oh, okay, one more thing. Meghan O’Rourke has a great interview with David Simon, creator of The Wire, in which he talks about the process of developing the show’s aesthetics, themes, and overall structure.

That is all.

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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