Out and about (Autumn edition)

The first fall snap of the season arrived last night. I was chilly enough on the balcony that the cat’s leap into my lap was welcome warmth. The colors haven’t started turning, in part because Mississippi isn’t a place that customarily gets the rich reds, golds, and oranges of northern areas. (Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to Frank King’s annual autumn Gasoline Alley strips—I’m longing for what I’ve never quite experienced.) If you’re north or west of me, perhaps you too are heading inside to the fireplace or the comfy, battered chair. Here’s some reading material to take with you.

The Onion’s A.V. Club completes its official Wes Anderson week with a too-brief but detailed interview with the filmmaker. Earlier, the site posted columns on “16 Movies Without Which Wes Anderson Couldn’t Have Happened” and “10 Movies That Couldn’t Have Happened Without Wes Anderson.” I know it’s du jour to denounce the director of Rushmore and the new Darjeeling Limited, but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon. (The primary meme is that he’s too hip for his own good, but the hippest, easiest, most reflexive act going now in film criticism is to, alas, denounce Anderson for being hip. And ’round and ’round we go.) Besides, like me, he’s a Texas boy from way back, and the closest thing to an American auteur we’ve got from the under-40 set. Anyway, a taste:

People seem to think that my movies are so carefully coordinated and arranged—and in a lot of ways, they are—but every single time I make a movie, I feel that every director makes these choices. You make choices about your script, you make choices about your actors, and how you’re going to stage it, and how you’re going to shoot it, and what the costumes are going to be like, and in every single detail, you make that decision. And for me, what ends up happening is, I wind up surprised at the combination of all these ingredients. It never is anything like what I expected. That was certainly the case with this movie. In the end, it doesn’t resemble anything like what I had in my mind. And yet, piece by piece, they were all things we chose together along the way.

One of Anderson’s fascinations is with old-school rock and roll. Using the Rolling Stones as his primary example, Jon Zobenica takes the piss out of people who romanticize rock ideals, and the idea of rock as purely revolutionary force, and other stuff along with it. Passages like this are worth considering, and arguing with:

To be fair, however, the Rolling Stones, a few clever lyrics aside, never put much stock in revolution, the youth movement, or the counterculture in general. They never hoped to die before they got old, never argued that all you needed was love, never warned against trusting the over-30 set. Pressured to make some declaration of solidarity with the growing protest movement, Jagger would simply say, “We admire your involvement, but we’re primarily, um, musicians.” A drug-addled Keith Richards, the seeming poster boy for anti-establishment living, echoed the sentiment in a 1971 Rolling Stone magazine interview (reproduced in The Rolling Stone Interviews: 1967–1980): “So ridiculous, cats asking what to do about the Vietnam War. ‘What are you asking me? You’ve got your people to get that one together.’” And yet fans insisted that any group of libertines who flouted authority with such aplomb, who sang songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,” who courted mayhem at their concerts, had to be revolutionaries at heart, if only sly ones. Hence the acute dismay over the corporate-sponsored antiques road show the group has become.

Speaking of puncturing sacred cows, this review actually makes me want to read a book of pop sociology, and that’s a very hard thing to do. Deborah Cameron’s The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages? sounds fascinating:

For Cameron, [the idea that women talk more about relationships and feelings, and men talk more in terms of facts and things] is simplistic eyewash, best countered with a few well-aimed stats. She cites the meta-analysis of Janet Hyde, a psychologist who has collated masses of research findings on male-female communications. Hyde’s number-crunching suggests that the difference in language use between men and women is statistically negligible. Women don’t interrupt more than men, nor are they more talkative or empathetic in conversation, less prone to assertive conversation, or any better or worse at verbal reasoning. The headline for Hyde’s discovery could read “Men and Women pretty similar, research finds.” And yet, Cameron muses, this isn’t a story any of us, male or female, much care to talk about.

To prove her point, she cites the slew of news reports last year claiming that women on average utter 20,000 words a day, while men on average manage only 7,000. This “fact,” from a popular science book called The Female Brain, turned out to be based not on research, but on a self-help book, which itself cited other self-help books, each featuring wildly varying figures. As Cameron concludes, “All the numbers were plucked from thin air. The claims were so variable because they were guesswork.” The invented figures were quietly deleted from reprints of the book—without headlines.

Back in early August, I went to New Orleans. On my first afternoon, I watched a scene being taped in front of St. Louis Cathedral that, upon asking other onlookers, I discovered was for Fox’s new TV drama K-Ville. The locals already had their misgivings. So far, only Sarah Hepola’s looooong interview with an actual, active New Orleans police officer has explored the discrepancies between reality and the show’s “reality” with any degree of depth. It’s an engaging, complicated look at how television messes with real life, both for good and ill. (And the cop gives a plug—a couple, actually—to The Wire for its accuracy and dramatic vision, so yay for him.)

Tingle Alley (sorry, she’ll never be just CAAF to me) spent last weekend bawling over Amy Bloom’s Away, a novel about which I’ve heard nothing about wonderful things. She asks what books have moved you to tears. The last time I cried while reading a book, it was for Vikram Seth’s gargantuan, brilliant A Suitable Boy, which it’s high time I started again. I’m coming close, though, the book I’m reading: Lawrence Weschler’s A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, which is just as harrowing as it sounds, and all true to boot. What about you?

The House Next Door is currently hosting a Close-Up Blog-a-thon. Go, read.

It’s not just me, kiddos: Lots of folks have been posting their thoughts about the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. Girish, Where the Stress Falls, Long Pauses, J. Robert, and others have all been essential reading about this year’s exciting and involving crop of festival movies. Scroll down through each blog’s most recent entries, and you’ll find oodles of worthwhile, quality writing. Girish’s entries, in particular, have generated lively discussion in the comments section.

Christopher Hitchens and I disagree about our occupation of Iraq—not that he cares what I think—but at least the man’s willing to look its consequences in the face. This lovely, heartbreaking piece concerns a man who went to fight in Iraq, in part because of columns Hitch wrote, and died. It’s one of the best magazine pieces I’ve read this year.

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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2 Responses to Out and about (Autumn edition)

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Halloo!
    1. I don’t intend to stop loving Wes Anderson, repeated/repetitive father-issues and all. Do you remember when we saw Bottle Rocket together, many a year behind us? It’s good stuff.
    2. Ah! I, too, shed a tear at Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. (I also cried at one or more of the Harry Potter endings, but that’s mainstream.)
    I suspect I may cry as I finish Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. I’m halfway through as of now.
    3. I just got home from seeing a Blue Lapis Light dance production, staged in an old power plant in downtown Austin. Words aren’t really workin’ for me maintenant, but it was on the whole quite pretty.

  2. Walter says:

    Armond White, in audio interview, shows a surprisingly generous–though still prickly–side. Here, he shows how much he loves Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, defending it against the critic who talks to him.

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