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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Critiques & Reviews
Extra-Literary Entertainment
by Hariette Surovell
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My celebrity bio reading habit, which began in Spring, 2000, has emerged into an all-consuming obsession, one that is growing increasingly obscure, arcane and occasionally just plain silly. Upon discovering that Vivien Leigh, a certified homicidal maniac, attempted to strangle her lover Peter Finch's infant daughter with a pillow and that Peter NONETHELESS CONTINUED FUCKING HER!, could even a court order have prevented me from learning just exactly how tweaked was the actor I so admired in "Far From the Madding Crowd"? Could anyone, under these circumstances, resist ordering a used copy of "Finch, Bloody Finch" over the Internet? In Dorothy Parker's bio, her intriguiging remark that her dear friend Oscar Levant "was resented by people because he made lots of money by saying mean things about his friends" naturally led me to devour "A Talent for Genius". Although I didn't discover how I could purchase a co-op crib on Fifth Avenue by dissing my pals, I felt an affinity with Oscar, who chose to remain, p.j.-clad, in bed for the last 20 years of his life. Frankly, I wouldn't mind living in a five-star hotel, with five-star room service (including frozen fruit daquiris), a mini-bar, a sauna, on-call masseuses and a computer so that I could order used celebrity bios online. I never maintained that I am anything other than totally decadent and, frankly, as lazy as my druthers and my bank account will allow me to be. Oscar's candour did, however, perplex me. If I felt hostile towards my homies, I just wouldn't hang out with them anymore.
     Other Corpse contributors can write about books, I explore extra-literary entertainment. I would rather read "The Globe" than "The New York Review of Books" any week, well, make that every week. Nor am I interested in reading novels about professors, professors of writing, any variety of academicians, writers, writers with writing block, journalists, reporters, etc..
     I actually found a book review somewhere about a novel concerning "a retired Columbia University Graduate School Admissions Coordinator." What would Kurt Vonnegut, my first-ever college writing professor, say about that one? "You've got an imagination so use it or get the hell out of here goddamnit!" he barked at us from the luxury of his luxurious home. "Write about being a goddamned Native American. Anyone who ever writes about being a writer can just leave right now." Which were, even then, my sentiments exactly. How I worshipped His Crankitude for his anti-social personality, and because he made no effort to hide the controlled constances in his personal medicine cabinet.
     I would rather fill my brain with thoughts of Mariah Carey's incoherent website rantings; Paula Poundstone's "lewd and drunken advances" towards her foster daughter; and can we shout a collective, "Party On, Girlfriends" for the Bush Twins? Who could not admire Lara Flynn Boyle for constantly exchanging boyfriend Jack Nicholson's gifts of designer dresses for cold cash? Nonetheless, the latest trend in celebrity parenthood is plain obnoxious, and even formerly juicy tabs disappoint. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, David Duchovny, Jodie Foster, et al, extolling the joys of parenthood, going to charity events and worshipping their numerous scrungy-ass dogs is just bad public relations. Annette Bening (who completely lost her edge since "The Grifters" and "Bugsy"-- she was such a good bad girl back then) recently exhorted a group of gals, "Women! Have babies! Have children! Have babies!" (If you can afford nannies, nannies, nannies!) This is not leading to another parental narcissism Rant a la Meredith Berkman, but does Annette really think anyone would want to buy a bio about her wholesome nuclear family rather than accounts of booze-filled orgies at Pickfair? Mommy Earnest is not earning herself a place in posterity.
     Celebs today "think" that just admitting that they have a substance abuse/alcohol problem and going into rehab is sleazy enough for those of us with Enquiring Minds. This rote exercise has become a smarmy foray into self-congratulation. The only "recovered" drug-addicted celeb who remotely interests me is Melanie Griffith, who "shared" her spiritual experiences with her website readers when she checked into Promises, then escaped after eight days to keep an eye on that hot studmuffin Antonio Banderas, who bought her a gold charm of a giant Vicodin tablet in gratitude for her (according to the experts) prematurely-brief rehab stint. Melanie Griffith is maybe the only celeb consistently worth watching, because in her Michael Jackson-esque efforts to secure the sexual interest of Antonio (who should also just shut up already about his desire to have a son before he totally alienates his female fans--even those of us who still love him from all those kinky roles in his Pedro Almodovar movies), she has taken a pretty face and turned it into a Halloween mask. Nonetheless, every week, Melanie dominates the Tabs, proclaiming to the world in that inimitable baby voice (imagine a conversation between Melanie and Goldie Hawn--still the "Giggle Girl" in her 50's!) that she must get more nips and tucks, collagen lip implants, etc., due to her phobia of losing Antonio to younger, sexier actresses (who can, presumably, "give him sons.")
     I may start a new website, The-Melanie-Griffith-and-Antonio-Banderas-Divorce-Countdown.com
     Today's celebrities are as generic as the margarinesque movies they perform in. (I will be reviewing new film regularly again on my website, www.matahariette.com.) Thus far, it hasn't been a "New Millenium" for film.
     In 2000, I liked "Boiler Room" because it was hip, edgy, twisty and cool. I don't kow why everyone hated "The Beach". True, it was not Leo di Caprio's most inspired performance (that would be "Gilbert Grape"), but Tilda Swinton as a crazed, dictatorial leader of a secret cult group was Swinton-esque. By the way, Tilda fanatics can see her in the new Fox flick, "The Deep End", which is an idiotic movie, and not her best performance, but I'll see her in anything and everything she's attached to, having been a Tilda fanatic since "Orlando". Also in 2000, I enjoyed "High Fidelity" for about a day, then I pretty much forgot it. "Wonder Boys" was funny, despite the plot being about a blocked writing-professor at a small East Coast college, and his misadventures in academia teaching Creative Writing. It explored every concept I loathe, but it was a relief to see Michael Douglas playing a pothead, wearing a pink woman's bathrobe, and acting befuddled rather than super-slick and controlled. I dunno. Let's ask Kurt! "Tigerland" was mesmerizing, gritty and enigmatic. My final pick would be "The Contender", because Gary Oldman is a genius, and also for the star-making turn of Kathryn Morris as Special Agent Wilominna.
     These movies will soon be at a theatre near you or on video/DVD:
     Pandaemonium (USA): Wordsworth vs. Coleridge. Who knew that the literary world in the 1790's was so cut-throat and competitive, filled with plagiarism, intrigue and machinations. On second thought, why should that night have been different than any other night?
     Together (IFC Films): A seventies commune in Stockholm. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes lame. The stand-out actors here are the children, possibly some of the best-directed children in cinema history (after the French classic, "Forbidden Games").
     Ghost World (MGM/UA): Worth every over-priced dollar just for Illeanna Douglas' clueless p.c. art teacher alone, who praises a student's sculpure of a "tampon in a teacup" and completely overlooks Thora Birch's ingenious and skillful drawings.
     Baby Boy (Columbia/Sony): John Singleton returns to the hood, serving up classic lines of hood-ly dialogue like, "Let me smell your dick." Plus, Snoop is in the cast, and he long ago earned my eternal admiration simply for titling his CD, "Doggy-Style".
     Sexy Beast (Fox): I guarantee that you will forget Ben Kingsley as Gandhi telling his upper-caste wife, "You must cover and rake the latrine" when you check out his Oscar-calibre performance as a psycho Cockney career-criminal.
     The Score (Paramount): I retract any previous dissing of Ed Norton on my website. Yes, he rules. I am also befuddled as to why director Frank Oz wouldn't let Marlon Brando play his character as His Mountain-ness envisioned him, as a screaming queen. Would you interfere with any of Marlon Brando's creative impulses? Like his suggestion to promote "The Island of Dr. Moreau" by playing the bongo drums as Don Rickles narrated dialogue?
     Given the standards of the cineplex, it appears that the suits at Paramount Home Entertainment are the true creative visionaries of our time. As long ago as last year, they began re-releasing classics on VHS and DVD, everything from "Chinatown" to "The Warriors" to "The Longest Yard", with the primo picks being two from Coppola: 1974's "The Conversation" (possibly even more relevant today as we commence The Cold War, Part Two) and October's upcoming "Godfather Three Trilogy" on DVD, with numerous special features, including an interview with Coppola. These films particularly haunt me, since they both feature the performances of the late, great John Cazale, one of the most versatile and talented actors of all time.
     Dark, intense, mournful, brooding, sensitive-looking Cazale, who acted in the five greatest films of the 1970's: "The Godfather I and II," "The Conversation," "Dog Day Afternoon," and "The Deerhunter," before dying of cancer in his 40s', is probably best-known as Fredo in "The Godfather" series, as well he should be. He was at once nebbishy, gracious, clueless, conflicted, sweet, amoral, good-hearted, gullible, ferrety, Hedonistic, guilt-ridden, kind, embarrassing, exasperating, dim-witted and shrewd. Always misinterpreting everything, consistently a prominent and sloppy screw-up when compared to Michael (Al Pacino's rigid perfectionist) Cazale as Fredo flawlessly, heart-breakingly plumbed infinite depths of a single character. Fredo is the single most important character in "The Godfather" after Michael. The movie is about the metamorphosis of Michael Corleone from earnest college-kid turned war hero to remorseless mass-murderer…all of his murders committed for the sake of "the family". Yet no murder can equal that of Fredo's. When Michael kills his own brother, he betrays all the tenets of family loyalty he espouses.
     When you're not reading your novels about "retired Columbia University Graduate School Admissions Coordinators", or checking out flicks and vids, there is always television, the gold standard for all things surreal. I recently contemplated changing careers and becoming a famous actress for the express purpose of going on Bravo's "The Actor's Studio" with James Lipton, whose lizard-like visage is more frightening than any "X-Files" alien, just so I can yell at him, "You are absolutely wrong in every possible way. Fire your fact-checkers--they're incompetent! These moronic questions insult my intelligence!" (As opposed to, every single actor's "surprised" exclamations of, "However did you figure that out? How do you do your research?")
     There is plenty to watch on The Altar of Worship, I mean the television--like Larry Ziegler, I mean "Larry King, Live." Sir Paul McCartney gave an inspired impression of Mike Meyers imitating Sir Paul McCartney, when Larry asked him, "How have you dealt with the horrendous, painful, prolonged death from cancer of your beloved wife?" and Sir Paul answered, "Just a minute there, Mate. Look, I've just taken your photo on me new digital watch. Hey, everybody, it's Larry King Live! Now, what was your question?" If I were Larry Ziegler, I would have taken that golden opportunity to ask Sir Paul the only question everyone really wants to know: "Well, since that subject can't sustain your A.D.D.-level attention-span, let's cut to the chase: What were you not thinking by letting Linda McCartney sing with Wings?" Even more cringe-inducing was Ziegler's interview with the mentally and physically fidgety Angelina Jolie. Anyone who has to prove THAT hard how unconventional she is can only be the most conventional person who ever lived, and I don't care how many beavers she and Billy Bob adopt. Did Larry offically lose his edge when he ignored this candid revelation? There sat the woman, widely-regarded as one of the world's hottest sex-symbols, and when asked about her lovers (of both sexes), she replied, "I haven't had that many. Actually, I really don't like to be touched."
     You, um, don't like to be touched???
     The obvious response would have been, "Are you saying that you have never had an orgasm, Angelina? How does it feel to pretend to be a sex goddess when you can't even come?"
     But then, I don't have my own cable show…yet.
     As for my other obsessions, "Wiseguy" with Ken Wahl--is still airing weekends on Court-TV, and it shares most of it's castmembers with the clever, quirky "Crime Story", which is now airing Monday nights on A&E.
     For any intellectual snob who thinks of television as a lowly art-form well, I dare you to find me a contemporary novel as poetic as Joan Chen's solliloquoy on Wiseguy's "Rag Trade" arc, also starring Jerry Lewis, Ron Silver, Stanley Tucci and "Crime Story's" ultra-cool villain, the hypnotic Anthony Denison (Ray Luca):
     "My mother was a poet. When she read me her poems at night, the wind shivered. My father was an economist, making plans for the New China. One day, during the Cultural Revolution, a group of boys came after him. They beat him with rakes and hoes while I hid. My father went insane. He died talking to animals. My mother died talking to his ghost."
     I haven't read the book, but I would nonetheless bet that Joan Chen's poetic take on her poet mother is more eloquent than, "Joan Schwartz, a retired Columbia University Graduate School Admissions Coordinator was possessed by a enormous sense of ennui when she no longer had forms to evaluate!"

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