Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's A Drive-In Saturday

So I'm not going to pretend that the howling absence of responses to my last hundred posts hasn't, slightly, discouraged me.  It has.  It has discouraged me.  But, on I go.  Unbowed.  Unbroken and dauntless.  Or, at least only slightly broken.

It may be that only posting about books is a recipe for crickets?  So, ok.  Fine.  You peasants…. I'll post about sports.  Will that make you happy?  SPORTS.  AND KIM KARDASHIAN.  AND AMERICAN IDOL.

Sports.  I am following the run-up to the NFL draft with my customary guilt-ridden obsession.  Last night I made my patient wife watch the Jon Gruden "QB Camp" on Marcus Mariotta and Jameis Winston.

To both of our benefits, I believe.

Let's start with Mariotta.  Prior to last night, I'd generally been positively disposed towards Mariotta.  Good kid, Hawaiian, never been accused of sexual assault…. Ok, I'm on board.  Yes, he plays a running-style offense.  Yes, Oregon quarterbacks have had a pretty poor history of transitioning to the NFL.  But, you know... I can see how San Diego might trade Rivers and move up to draft him.

I can see that no longer.  I'm totally unqualified to evaluate his physical attributes, so I'll put that to one side.  His personality, though, is… I mean, watching him do an interview, it was like watching a ferret go to sleep.  It was like watching a teenage boy, at a dance, think about going up to ask a girl to dance, and then deciding he doesn't want to, and he goes to huddle in the corner, and looks at old baseball cards or something.

The guy is a total dud.  It's not just that he's quiet or reserved, he's just utterly devoid of personality.  Trying to imagine how he could possibly command a locker room, or get a bunch of veterans to believe in HIM as a leader…impossible.  He's just a big nothing.  Add that to his proclivities to run before pass, his unfamiliarity with an NFL-style offense, and I say: no no no.   He's another Akili Smith in the making.

Winston, on the other hand…. I was predisposed to loathe Winston.  And I still kind of loathe him.  But, I don't know.  Seeing him interviewed, I have to say: I would not be at all surprised if he turns out to be a very good NFL quarterback.  He's a real leader, first of all, and I can absolutely imagine him taking over a team as a rookie, and getting veterans to buy in.  I think he's got the physical skills (though, again, I'm massively unqualified to make that judgement) but more than that, he seems like he has…the will to win.  He lives and breathes football, and he's got charisma (score of 17).  Will he be in court in a year, on another sexual assault charge?  Maybe.  But, if he's not, I bet he'll be a great QB.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's Flay the Dead Entrails?

So maybe I should adumbrate the failures of Birdman?  Which are legion….

The characters exist as nothing more than types.  Once you've named their station and status in life, you've said everything there is to say about them.  So, M Keaton is "successful Hollywood actor who wants to be taken seriously as an artist."  His daughter (Emma Stone) is "neglected LA child who's been in rehab."  Edward Norton (still, to my mind, the most overrated actor of his generation--what has he been good in?) is "tortured genius actor."

And it's fine and true enough to say: yes, those types do exist in the world.  They're not unrepresentative.  But the role of a good--or even decent--writer is to make those types more than types.  To give the washed-up, popular Hollywood actor some kind of dimensionality.  Of distinction.  To make him more than just a type--to make him a person.  An individual.  Maybe, for example, he's a washed-up Hollywood star who loves racing motorcycles.  Or is obsessed with the book of Job.  Or is flirting with becoming a Jehovah's Witness.  Or has a foot fetish.  Or…just…something!  Something that makes him an actual person, and not just a lazily-conceived, hastily sketched, poorly-imagined type.  Because types do not excite interest.  Types do not compel imagination.  They don't make us care.   They reflect, merely, the laziness, and imaginative paucity of their creators.  And so, you watch this movie, and because Keaton's character is so faintly sketched, and has so few attributes about him that remind us of what it is to exist, of what it is to be human, his failures as a father and husband and actor, they mean nothing.  We don't care, at all, that his play is about to bomb.  In fact, more than that, we actually root for him to fail.  Because, why not?  He seems like, in balance, a fairly horrible person.  Let his stupid reductionist take on Raymond Carver disappear into nothingness.  Why does it matter?

And, also, the whole conceit that this theater critic (who perches every night at the same bar, laboring, with demonic concentration, over her all-important reviews) can, with a single review, utterly destroy his play offends credulity.  I mean, come on.  Maybe in, like, 1940, a single critic with The Times actually could torpedo a play.  But in 2014?  Give me a break.  Every exchange between the critic and Keaton is embarrassing.  Beyond embarrassing--shameful.

* * *

I've been reading…well…quite a lot.  But let's start with H Is For Hawk.  My wife said, tonight, that everytime she asks me about this book I say something diametrically opposed to what I said about it last time.  Is that true?  It might be.

It's got, at minimum, three strands running through it.  One involves the details of what's involved in training a hawk.  That strand is fascinating.  Hawks, it turns out, are far more difficult to handle than falcons.  Falcons are birds for the rich, the elite.  They need large expanses of land--which, in the UK, generally means, the land of the gentry.  Hawks, on the other hand, tend to hunt in more constrained parcels.  So, their connotations are more to do with the un-landeded.

And that's good and interesting.  So, too, is her discussions--which occupy at least a third of the book--of T.H. White.  We all know White as the author of The Once And Future King but he wrote and lived a million lives before and after that one book, and one of those lives saw him live alone in a cottage with a wild hawk about whom he also wrote a book (Goshawk).  And White was, essentially, insane.  The details of his life are too complex and intricate to go into here, but, suffice it to say, that anyone saying anything about his biography is bound to say something interesting.

But, then, the third strand of her book (we're back to MacDonald) involves the death of her father.  And her grieving over it.  And so…I'm not sure why I didn't really like this bit, but I sure didn't.  I felt the language was overwrought and that it strained, unsuccessfully, most of the time, for effects it couldn't establish.  And, in general, I found her prose to be tautened beyond what it would bear.  And that it had a labored "written" quality which deeply bothered me.

But, on the other hand, she was writing about a deeply moving thing--the death of a parent.  Which is a subject I find difficult to approach. So maybe the flaw and fault and failing was with me?  Very possibly.

A bit of minor trivia: someone who handles hawks (as opposed to falcons) is an austringer.  

Or is that something everybody knows?  It's always hard to know, isn't it?

I have been reading, also, some Charles Baxter stories, some M Robinson criticism, a scholarly work about image reception theory in the history of art, Gravity's Rainbow (trying to get through it to the end, this time) and Turgenev's Sportman's Sketches.