Out and about (November 2008)

I’ve neglected this column for the last three months. So, there’s no fuss—let’s go, folks.

Lance Mannion writes as good a character assessment of Barack Obama as I’ve ever read on the man. Mannion doesn’t know the man personally but, based on what we’ve seen of the president-elect (and hot damn, I love writing that), it feels absolutely right.

But it seems to me that with Barack Obama we have a President-elect who is a reluctant public figure.  He strikes me as a brilliant, active, but scholarly man, introspective, even introverted, who’s been granted gifts for public speaking, moral persuasion, and leadership that he is temperamentally not inclined to enjoy.  In fact, of all the past Presidents I admire, the one he most reminds me of is Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant political thinker, a canny political strategist, a charismatic leader motivated by a strong sense of public duty, who on the whole would rather have been left alone to tinker in his study.

Armond White showers love on the 1980s comedy flop Soul Man (a movie I thought only I had seen—who knew?), and is sure to generate some hot conversation:

In 1986, pundits laughed at—not with—the race comedy Soul Man, about a white college students who performs a Black Like Me charade to get into Harvard Law School. The film’s emphasis on spotlighting, then upending, racial stereotypes was widely misread as improbable, unnecessary, and “racist.” Yet two years later, in 1988, Barack Obama entered Harvard Law School, and the rest is hisotry. Saying the rest is history should include confirmation that Soul Man, despite its naysayers, was right. This comedy of racial errors—written by TV pro Carol Black, directed by Steve Miner, and starring ’80s Hollywood star C. Thomas Howell—foretold a change in America’s thinking on a number of issues: race perception, black potential, class advancement, the Harvard institution. All these topics come together in the astounding leap of Barack Obama’s biography: He’s the first African American to be elected President of the United States. Awesome. But it’s not far-fetched for a movie lover to think that Obama’s rise was prepared—if not predicted—by Soul Man.

Honestly, it’s a relatively restrained piece by White’s standards but there’s still plenty to fight over.

Jonathan Rosenbaum thinks Parade, Jacques Tati’s final feature film, is worth fighting for as well:

I don’t wish to argue that Parade is a work of undiscovered depths, any more than Tati’s other half dozen features are. The paradoxical thing about all of his films is that what you see (and hear) is what you get; like Poe’s purloined letter, it’s all there, right on the surface––if we are alert enough to observe what is happening right in front of us. But thanks to a lifetime of bad training in watching movies and TV, we often can’t be that alert. Parade is devoted to showing us how we could be.

Final film note: The new issue of Rouge—the Australian film journal edited by Adrian Martin, Helen Bandis, and Grant McDonald—is out. Academic but accessible, international in scope but grounded to the particular, the magazine is essential—even if, like me, you haven’t seen 75% of the movies discussed. Issue #12 focuses on the concept of archives, and includes several tributes to late critic Manny Farber.

More new issues: The latest New Leader is up.

Finally, just as a pick-me-up, let’s celebrate the Funky 16 Corners on its fourth anniversary. That’s an eternity in blogging years, and something to be commended with—what else?—another great podcast of steaming soul, funk, and R&B. This time around, the theme is “finger-lickin’ good,” so you know it’s outta sight.

That is all.

UPDATE (10 November 2008): No, apparently, that’s not all. I forgot to mention that Lawrence Weschler is back on the case, with two long, new profiles of artists that he’s been following—off and on—for more than two decades: Robert Irwin and David Hockney.  Also, The Believer's got a shorter Weschler piece about the ongoing feud between Irwin and Hockney. Go, go, go.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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3 Responses to Out and about (November 2008)

  1. Thanks for the ROUGE shout-out, Out and About! By the way, ROUGE is not ‘my’ thing, it’s edited by three people and has always been so since Day 1 in 2003: Helen Bandis, Grant McDonald and myself. All Australian-made!
    And Armond White, for once, is right: there would be no Presdient Obama without SOUL MAN !!! I gave that film a rave review myself back in 1986 (who can forget Lou Reed, singing in that duet, ‘I’ll be your funky boyfriend'”? Indeed.) I even saw it twice!
    PARADE is great, too. Perhaps even a notch above SOUL MAN.

  2. Adrian, it’s good to hear from you. I’ve corrected the Rouge listing to mention Bandis and McDonald. Is the Rouge Press still an ongoing function? (i.e., Will you be publishing more edited anthologies on filmmakers and/or monographs?)

  3. goethe girl says:

    Regarding the comments on Barack Obama: more evidence of people’s desire to project their own fantasies on a man we really know very little about.

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