1. From the website of fictional politician Charles H. P. Smith, apparently on last year’s Mark Foley scandal:
It seems to me that, at issue here is not the morality of the Legislators, but that of the pages: can we not fill these positions with young folks who can just say “no”?
We might note that Illegal immigrants, are, as the term implies, first and foremost, immigrants, which is to say, that they forfeited any claim on our compassion even before they broke the law.
Charles H. P. Smith is the creation of Pinteresque playwright David Mamet, author of confrontational plays like Glengarry Glen Ross, Sexual Promiscuity in Chicago and Speed-The-Plow and films like Wag the Dog, and will be played by Nathan Lane in a Broadway play called November (it’s now in preview at the Barrymore Theatre). The blog, written in Smith’s character, appears to be Mamet’s own handiwork.
2. This was unexpected: a film called G, directed by Christopher Scott Cherot, transposes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to the modern-day Hamptons, where a P. Diddy-like hip-hop mogul named Summer G. Jones (Jay Gatsby) pines for an old girlfriend named Sky Hightower (Daisy Buchanan) who is married to a high-rolling cad named Chip Underwood (Tom Buchanan).
The film captures some of the book’s details well. We see the tawdry love story unwind through the eyes of a semi-involved narrator like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway (here he’s a smooth Toure-like hip-hop journalist named Tre), and this device provides the same wry distance here as in the book. The crowded love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy and Tom remains at the core of the story, and the actors play the roles with some conviction. There are a few attractive harbor shots of boats beating ceaselessly against the current.
But then the film unconsciably changes the ending, so that the wrong major character gets shot and dies. This is a bizarre choice and a major violation of the story’s integrity, especially since it cheats the story of the great final sequence: the arrival of the downtrodden father, the discovery of Jay Gatz’s notebooks, the desolate funeral. A fatal mistake, I say, but you still may want to check this film out. Here’s another review of the film.
3. I caught a documentary tribute to the great ethnomusicologist Harry Smith, The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music on late-night TV. This documentary combines a collage-form summary of the eclectic cultural anthropologist’s life as well as a series of stirring performances of folk songs by the likes of David Johansen, Nick Cave, Philip Glass and Lou Reed. This film is directed by Rani Singh, who worked with Harry Smith (and is also an old friend of mine, though I haven’t seen her in years). She does great work with this fascinating material.
And, speaking of folk music, you also won’t go wrong with The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, featuring performances from 1963 to 1965 in crisp picture and sound. The much-discussed electric coming-out in 1965 is an anti-climax; the many acoustic performances before it are a revelation. Anybody who still thinks Bob Dylan has an inferior voice, rather than one of the most expressive voices in popular music, needs to listen to this version of Only A Pawn In Their Game.
4. On public television this month: Today’s Man, a brave, funny, upsetting and raw cinema verite look at a modern upper-class New York City family that revolves around an adult with severe Asperger’s Syndrome. Nicky Gottlieb is brilliant, joyful and strangely as self-aware as any New York City adult (which may not be saying much) … but he can’t commune with the outside world without breaking every unwritten rule the rest of us naturally understand. As his sister Lizzie Gottlieb’s cameras roll, Nicky tries to get a job (that doesn’t work out well at all), tries to convince his Mom that watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is still good for him (she gives in), and sings Gilbert and Sullivan. It all adds up to an enlightening look at a growing psychological phenomenon of our time, and a highly meaningful phenomenon for anybody interested in examining how an individual reacts to society.
There’s also a big literary tie-in here: Nicky Gottlieb’s father, who appears quietly throughout the film, is Robert Gottlieb, one of the most influential book editors of the 20th Century (and, for a short time, the editor of the New Yorker).
5. Good news for Burroughsians: a filmmaker named Jonathan Leyser is moving towards completion of a major documentary on the life of William S. Burroughs. I met Leyser and got a good feeling about this project. There are successful documentaries of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac out there, and I think a film that explains WSB to curious viewers will similarly fill a real need.