Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Ides of March and Pauline Kael

Today I finally caught up with The Ides of March, the movie starring George Clooney and featuring Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Terrific picture, and all my D.C. political types tell me it couldn't be closer to the truth. Good entertainment and yet, you leave the theater with a better feeling for having seen it and received a good dose of reality as the political campaign heats up for us.

The Sunday Times had a front-page review by Frank Rich of a biography and collected writings of Pauline Kael.  Many will remember her as the very outspoken movie critic of The New Yorker back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  She had lots of faults--too cozy relationships with some movie industry types for one--but she also had an enthusiasm that is lacking in too many critics today. It turned out that her famous piece, "Raising Kane," about how Herman J. Manckiewicz deserved at least equal credit with Orson Welles for the writing of Citizen Kane, was actually filled with errors, some unintended but others either careless or worse.  Yet it did focus our attention on Joe Manckiewicz's oft-forgotten brother.  Movie critics now are sort of blah--they have little sense of the history of the medium and perhaps reflect what Kael just missed having to deal with: that movies too are largely aimed at teenagers. Kael really loved movies and in the end, that and a decent critical sense made her memorable.

The Ides of March was fun largely because it was a picture for grown-ups. We need many more like that.

The Greatest Game

Was it really the greatest game ever, the 6th game in St. Louis Thursday night? I recall watching the famed 1975 Game 6 when I was on a road trip in Jackson, MS--haven't been back there since. Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk. It did remind me of the game, I think involving the Angels some years ago, when Bob Boone got a hit when his club was also down to its last strike and it turned everything around.

It did show that baseball is in a class by itself when things like this happen. As it was, the game was not all that well played. Errors and mishaps made it seem like it was being played on Hallowe'en. But tension, excitement, hitters responding to the challenge, these all made it great. Forget about the bum performance of the managers, one overmanaging--not noticing he had used up his roster by the 9th, and the other sort of oblivious to the roof falling in on his club.

It was sort of wonderful that Pujols's performance in the earlier game where he tied Babe Ruth's homer record for a single Series game made such an impression that they continued to pitch around him and pitch to Berkman who was far more consistent. I know that good pitching always beats good hitting so it was good that there wasn't an overwhelming amount of great pitching--good pitching, yes.  I liked it when Freese reminded everyone that the best hitter fails seven out of ten times.

Baseball remains a fantastic game in spite of those who run it.  Here this wild crowd is packing the park in one of the great baseball towns and everyone, especially the players, are bundled up like Nanook of the North. And yes, they play these games so that an extra-inning extravaganza like Thursday's runs until almost 1 A.M. in the East.  Yes, it's nostalgia but I love remembering the days when the local luncheonette would fill in the line score after each half-inning in the front window of the store in the afternoons when the Series was on.

Not that I ever expected to be rooting for the Cardinals, the proverbial "other team" for any National League fan. You didn't have to be a Dodger fan--I wasn't--also to recall how the Redbirds and their fans gave Jackie Robinson the worst welcome. It was emblematic of those days when they were clearly the Southern team of baseball. But we won't go into who used to own the Rangers--and I don't mean Bob Short, whose name lives on in the book of  infamy reserved for franchise-movers like Lou Perini, Walter O'Malley, Horace Stoneham, Calvin Griffith, and Bob Irsay.  I don't include Bill Veeck, mostly because he was getting clobbered as the Browns owner and baseball wouldn't let the club move until he sold it.

But back to this year. What a great wrap-up to a good post-season! Lots of surprises, lots of unheralded operatives who rose to the occasion. And you even had the NL playoff between the two beer capitals of America. I was in Busch Stadium a number of years ago when Anheuser-Busch still owned the club and yes, this was the night that more people showed up than they had expected and yes, the night that Busch Stadium ran out of beer! They did respond to the need, however, rolling kegs across the floor to replenish the stands. Now that's focusing on priorities.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Had just enough time in New York City last Saturday on my way to New Jersey--true--to stop by the Museum of Modern Art to take in the massive Willem DeKooning show. If you bothered to know about art in the last half of the 20th century, you definitely heard about DeKooning. But until I saw this retrospective--the man lived from 1904 to 1997, and was seriously working from around 1940 until 1990--I merely had seen a few of his most famous canvases or pictures of them, such as one of the 'Woman' series of paintings.

It seems to me that he was both lucky and good.  The major works--the several series of 'Woman' pictures and a few others--stand the test of time.  They are still fascinating.  The luck part is that there were major critics who appreciated his style; in addition, the charges of misogyny, largely emanating from those same 'Woman' pictures, since they are mightily unflattering, on the surface at least, arose at a time when charges like that didn't carry the weight they seem to today.
He also had no fear about changing his style, sometimes abruptly.  He learned from different sources--some of his work drew on exposure to Japanese art and in his late years, he lurched toward minimalism with his canvases left largely white or painted white, with a few lines drawn on them. It's also helpful to his image that he painted a large backdrop for a friend's ballet production, based on one of his best works, and then got only the $50 from her which was all she could afford to pay him for the backdrop.

We often think about him as exemplifying the so-called "New York school" of abstract expressionism, whatever that may be. This show allows us to see him as an individual painter, moving quite bravely from style to style until he found one or more within which he felt comfortable. Yes, there are some of his paintings that are nearly totally abstract but many more that are not. So, for better or worse, he's not in the same place as Jackson Pollock, who is fascinating in his own, quite different way.

It happened that DeKooning had several solo shows at private New York galleries in the 1950s mainly, and they were wildly successful. It makes all the sense in the world that the Museum of Modern Art has mounted this great show that presents his whole career, which ran for a good 40-plus years.  He did move out of the city to the East End of Long Island--much as Pollock did--but fortunately for him and for us, he did not get run down on a highway before he could show us how many different artistic lives he would have.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


It was encouraging to see the spread across the nation of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Although I know that when it gets down to it, I will find myself ticked off at the left -- mostly for its legendary ability for self-destruction through internecine battling and its tendency to get totally stuck on non-critical issues, often of form rather than substance -- it's about time that we had some activity to counter the extreme rightward turn in the public space of the U.S., if not in the actual feelings of citizens.

Only Congresspeople who are bought -- as most of them are, dependent as they are on campaign funding, yet another right-wing value brought to you by our current Supreme Court majority -- could defend tax cuts for the very rich.  We know that trickle-down economics doesn't work, that giving rich people tax breaks doesn't create jobs in the U.S., and that while free trade is in theory a good thing, Democrats like Clinton and Obama negotiate trade agreements that give away the U.S. market, fail to protect labor -- the refusal of the Colombian government to act with respect to the murders of labor leaders and organizers is the most egregious violation that our free-traders wish us to overlook -- and merely encourage U.S. business to locate its production facilities anywhere but in the U.S.

I see working people taken in by the right-wing nonsense that tax cuts will create work.  Anyone who inveighs against Obama as a socialist has never met a socialist.  We have known since the 1930s that unregulated capitalism will fail us just as much as communism.  Now we are seeing the consequences. The very rich have the resources to use public relations and the media they own to con the suckers.
Even more laughable -- except for the fact that he is taken seriously -- is David Brooks' latest piece telling Obama he had better calm down.  The President acts far too cerebrally for his own good already. Brooks is just the same as any other Republican offering bad advice. Fight for craziness and you get taken seriously--the Tea Party. Fight for the 99% who don't get special preference in our society--the business-owned media stomp on you.

But it's still good to see some rising spirit from the protesters. Many of them are real people, not just people out to raise hell. My cousin's husband, Bill Davis, took some incredible pics of the crowd in Zuccotti Park. Maybe this is the beginning of something new, where we try to change the dire diagnosis of Yeats, totally on target until now that the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. After all, he was a bit of a Fascist himself and somewhat pro-German, forgivable perhaps in even an Anglo-Irishman.