Entries Tagged 'on writing lit — and unlit' ↓

Glengarry Glen Paladin

Fifty-five years ago this month, at about half-past-nine on a Saturday night over the CBS Television Network, a man pulled a pistol out of a fancy holster and pointed it at the audience:

PALADIN: I’d like you to take a look at this gun. The balance is excellent. This trigger responds to a pressure of one ounce. This gun was hand-crafted to my specifications and I rarely draw it unless I intend to use it.


Feel free to imagine the voice of Richard Boone (1917-1981) speaking these lines. The show was Have Gun Will Travel. It would last five seasons and its formula of a black suited cowboy-knight-errant was so durable and popular that no one ever wondered how a man wearing dark clothes while riding in a hot desert sun stays so imperturbably cool.

It has lately come to our corner store’s attention that David Mamet is expressing some interest in reviving Have Gun Will Travel complete with a new Paladin.

This made us wonder: How would one of America’s foremost playwrights handle this prelude? What would he bring to this classic introduction?

With our deepest apologies to Mr. Mamet (and our urgent warnings to the reader that the following filigree carries an “mature” label), we think…it would go…Something…Like…This:

PALADIN: You see this gun? You see this fucking gun I’m pointin’ at you? Nice, isn’t it? I mean, “nice”…Just a word, right? Doesn’t even do the work, that word. Like it’s too fucking lazy to try harder, right? “Nice!” Forget I even said the fuckwad word… Your sister’s “nice”! Your grandmother’s probably “nice”, too, right?…Shaddap! You don’t talk. I talk…
You have any idea what it’s like holding this gun? Are you even capable of imagining what I’m feeling when I hold this fucking gun? It’s like holding… My! DICK!…That’s exactly it!…Imagine how your joint would feel if you could let it roll around in your fucking hands as you hold it out like that! Like it’s not attached, but it still does whatever you fucking want, even if it’s ripped off your body. Ex-ACT-ly Like That!
Now…do you know how I came to own this gun? You know how such a perfectly balanced piece of machinery found its way into my right hand, pointed at both your fucking chins? Can your mouse-shit brain grasp what I had to go through to get this balanced to the point where if I whisper diRECtly at the FUCKING hammer, it FUCKING goes off? Do you know? Can you imagine?
Don’t bother answering because I already know the answer, you prairie scumbag! This gun is worth your whole fucking ranch and all your rat-sucking livestock five times over. Don’t even ask me what it costs! You know what it cost? EAT SHIT AND DIE! That’s how much it cost. You don’t deserve to know what it costs. You don’t deserve to imagine how it feels to hold your fucking dolphin detached from your fat, worthless pelvis with six chambers locked and loaded…

And do you know why you don’t deserve to know these things? Let me spell it out for you.
BECAUSE…YOU ARE A PIECE…OF SHIT! THAT’S WHY! A PIECE…OF SHIT…The bullets in these chambers cost more than your stupid cattle could fetch in the stockyards, you self-deluded prick! This gun…This…fucking gun can drive your goddam herd to Kansas Fucking City and New Fucking Jersey and back! By itself!! This fucking gun can read your whole goddam library of fake fucking books and give you a fucking test tomorrow…This…Where are you going? Where the FUCK do you think you’re going? I’m not through belittling you, you fat fuck! You wait till I’m done talking, you cheap bastard! You moronic douche-bag! You simple shit…

And that’s just the prelude. If Mamet gets his hands on this franchise, his episodes could go on for a while longer than the original’s half-hour run. If this works out, we could be around for a while, too.

Bye Bye Hoberman

Among the questions I used to get asked a lot on the back-nine of my newspaper days, “Who’s the best film critic working today?” didn’t pop up as frequently as, say, “What’s the best way to get into jazz?” or “What’s your all-time favorite movie?” or “What’s that on your shirt?” Nevertheless, I was always prepared with an answer – and very careful of whom I gave it to. After all, I was colleague to all these critics and friendly with most of them and if their egos were anything like mine, they would bruise like ripe peaches. And, no, I never answered with my name – as I remain certain that none of my aforementioned colleagues did either.

But throughout the time I worked as a full-time film reviewer, the answer I gave most often to that question was J. Hoberman of the Village Voice. I say “most often,” because on some occasions I would say Stuart Klawans of The Nation. Pinned to the mat, I might say that Jim — for that is what the “J” stands for — was number one and Stuart was one-A. It was that close. You will have a long wait for numbers two-through-fifteen. I’m still good friends with a lot of those people – though I’d be surprised if any of them would disagree with my numbers one and one-A, even if they didn’t always agree with their opinions. I didn’t either. But I always learned something from their reviews I hadn’t before, saw things differently enough to, if not change my mind, at least broaden my field of vision for the next movie. If I gave a slight edge to Jim, it may have been only because the Voice ran his reviews every week while The Nation runs Stuart’s less regularly.

Note the tense shift in that last sentence. Because, at least for the time being, only one of those guys is still in business.

The Village Voice announced yesterday it was laying Jim Hoberman off after almost 20 years as a staff writer. The once-proud weekly has already lost such longtime distinctive voices as Gary Giddins, Robert Christgau, Dennis Lim, Wayne Barrett, Deborah Jowett and Nat Hentoff (though he still contributes as a non-staffer) and I always thought it was a miracle that Jim lasted as long as he did after the corporation formerly known as New Times (now Village Voice Media) became the paper’s owners five years ago.

Jim said he was “shocked, but not surprised” by the decision and that pretty much sums up everyone else’s reaction, except mine. Nothing about this avaricious, crabbed, chronically short-sighted period in corporate publishing surprises OR shocks me anymore. As noted, I’m more surprised when someone like Hoberman survives in the prevailing atmosphere of perpetual cutbacks in both personnel and writing space. I’m even more surprised when people persist in seeing such upheaval and uncertainty as a relatively recent phenomenon. Wiser, larger heads than mine date the decline from the mid-1970s, when journalism was supposedly basking in post-Watergate glory. Someday, when we’ve touched the ocean floor on this era, we’ll be better able to look up and see precisely when we started tumbling.

I’m not too worried about Hoberman. His reputation should carry him to better places than the one he’s leaving, though I should hope it’s someplace where I could read him regularly. Maybe I shouldn’t hope. There aren’t many venues around where someone who thinks as deeply about movies as Jim will be given a platform. Nor am I optimistic that the exquisite sense of history with which Jim frames everything he writes will be seen as anything other than excess baggage in a media world, on- and off-line, where snark and knee-jerk contrarianism are better situated to grab the peanut galleries illegally downloading the latest 3D Hollywood product. When people wonder if I miss (or don’t) professional movie-going, I can now at least bring up this latest egregious insult to whatever’s left of said profession, though I admit it’s still amazing that these same people even bother to ask whether I miss it.

And I still don’t have a clear answer yet. Soon. Maybe.







Who Gene Is, More or Less

I was born & raised in Hartford, Connecticut, attended local schools, graduated in 1974 from the University of Connecticut. Should have set off on my own, but lollygagged around until I drifted into a copyediting job at the Hartford Courant on Jan. 17, 1977 which, if memory serves, was also the first night of ABC’s “Roots” mini-series. [UPDATE: It was actually the second.] Begged for a “field” job & reported in eastern Connecticut towns before finally getting the urge for going, in 1981, to Philadelphia and the last progressive populist tabloid in America, its Daily News. (Though 28 at the time, I no longer contradict people so readily when they assume that I “grew up” in Philly.) I did rewrite on the city desk, traveled to every neighborhood for reporting duties, begged for a feature writing job and finally got one in 1987.

Within a year, I was writing TV reviews four times a week, which led to a short, unhappy stint at the then-fledgling Entertainment Weekly, which in turn led to a longer, happier one at Newsday, where I wrote mostly about jazz and the movies. Sometime after 1999, I was doing film reviews full-time and this split off into such pleasant experiences as my one-and-only trip to Cannes, a year-and-a-half doing weekly TV reviews on WPIX, six annual trips to Toronto and a few good movies. Not-so-pleasant experiences: My one-and-only trip to Sundance, chairmanship of the New York Film Critics Circle (the awards ceremony was fine, everything before wasn’t), many mediocre movies. Took a buyout from Newsday in March, 2008.

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