When, oh when, will Zadie Smith publish a book of her literary criticism? Along with being a ferociously talented novelist, she’s quickly becoming one of the most astute critics of her age. Here she is on George Eliot’s Middlemarch, perhaps the greatest of all English-language novels. Another Smith volume that needs to be out in the open is novel #4. In the New Yorker, she’s teased us with two great stories—“Hanwell in Hell” and “Hanwell Senior”—which makes me think she’s hard at work.
Speaking of tributes, Craig Fischer at Thought Balloonists pays his respects to cartoonist Will Elder, with a detailed, illustrated analysis of Elder’s “chicken fat” aesthetic.
Yet another tribute: Roger Ebert celebrates the life of Studs Terkel on the historian/raconteur’s 96th birthday. Terkel’s introduced me to labor history, oral history, humane leftist politics, and the pleasures of a daily martini, so I consider him a hero and a shaper of my soul. It pleases me to no end to know that Terkel’s still alive and productive at his age.
Enough with the tributes. With all the essays about the “crisis” in contemporary film criticism, it’s good to have a long view on what criticism is, does, and can do in the online climate. David Bordwell provides a terrific examination, essentially giving his philosophy and ideal practice of film criticism. Anyone interested in the subject should read his essay.
To be more particular, Wesley Morris uses his critical podium to wonder about the African American presence in cinema:
A few weeks ago I got to see Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose play Brick and Maggie “the Cat” in Debbie Allen’s Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I went home depressed. Not because the show was bad, although, in its clanging way, it is. I was depressed because for all its shortcomings, the show was a big entertainment event that doesn’t happen much in the movies: It had premium melodrama and black stars being starry. As a moviegoer, I hurt for that kind of glamour.
I felt the same hangover leaving an exhilarating concert by Erykah Badu and the Roots earlier this month, and watching both The Wire, which just said goodbye to us and HBO, and the staggering acting in that production of A Raisin in the Sun ABC aired in February: Why isn’t black life this interesting, vibrant, or complex at the movies? How is it that Terrence Howard can play a legendary character on the New York stage but is stuck as the sidekick who’s jealous of Robert Downey Jr.’s hardware in Iron Man?
When it comes to black America, the movies are stagnating. Well, when it comes to any nonwhite male subject matter at the movies, the pickings are slim. But there’s such a wealth of black stars, producers, and directors that the scarcity of movies—big-ticket or small, serious or light—focused on the lives of black people is surreal. There’s a gaping entertainment void. It’s not just the lack of quantity. It’s the lack of variety.
Finally, I think I’ve found a hobby I’d like to pursue: light graffiti. See some pictures here.
That is all.