Scribbling Again

Month: July, 2014

“he is a figure of sour mirth”

Will anyone read this story? (It has too many words and not enough pictures.) Does anyone read this magazine? (Every article in it wants to be a meal, not a McNugget.) Is anyone reading film criticism? (It lacks the punch, the clips, the thumbs.) Can anyone still read? (These days, it’s more fun and less work just to watch.)

My mother saves movie ads in which my name appears and magnetizes them to the door of her refrigerator. She judges my success as a Time film critic by the size and frequency of the blurbs publicists choose to promote their wares. Mom always taught me that if you can’t say something nice about a picture, don’t say anything at all. So if a month or two passes and I’m not quoted, she gets to fretting. “That Jeffrey Lyons;’ she purrs, scanning the ads, “he must be a very nice man. He seems to like everything.” I have an image of Jeffrey Lyons’ mother’s refrigerator, festooned with rave quotes. It must be the size of a freezer at Hormel’s main plant.

Jeffrey Lyons isn’t a film critic, but he plays one on TV. The resident movie sage on PBS’s Sneak Previews and superstation WPIX, Lyons has no thoughts, no wit, no perspective worth sharing with his audience. To anyone knowledgeable about pictures , he is a figure of sour mirth. But the other week he stumbled upon a truth about film reviewing at the end of this enervating decade. Appraising the movie Internal Affairs, Lyons said, “Sometimes, as an old showbiz adage goes, less can be more.” No matter that the phrase was Robert Browning’s (popularized by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) and not Sam Goldwyn’s. In today’s movie criticism, less is more. Shorter is sweeter. Today’s busy consumers want just the clips, ma’am. And an opinion that can be codified in numbers, letters, or thumbs.


–Richard Corliss in Film Comment’s April/March 1990 issue. 

Read the whole thing on their website and read Roger Ebert’s response there as well.


A Riff on Barbara Guest’s Poem Piazzas

I really like Barbara Guest’s Piazzas. It reminds me of Brugel the elder’s The Triumph of Death or any of those medieval paintings with so many episodes that you might only remember one or two. Read the poem in page of 5 of her collected poetry published by Wesleyan.
Yes, I’ve shamelessly stolen this riff format from the fine folks at Biblioklept.
1. I like the phrase “risky autumn” and how it foreshadows the risks all our characters make here. Their risks make them great even if they deal damage back to the one committing the action.
2. Stanzas 3-4 are awesome. “Thin wings attacking a real substance” and “there is always a heaviness of wings” are my favorite. Both of those descriptions combine into this fragile and mature vision of the difficulties in starting love and the persistence required to continue it. These are basic images that a lot of Romantics used but Guest makes them shine.
3. Stanzas 6 and 7 incredibly intertwine while having the first line of each function as headings. 6 entirely talks about imagined comparisons of emotions and thoughts while 7 has a youth fighting inside himself with the “murders real or divined” which spring out of one of the poem’s couple. I can’t tell if it’s the guy or girl speaking. My gut says guy but my gut also tells me to flirt with girls and that never works.
4. “felt/the alphabet turning over” Woah now
5. I’m not sure what to make of stanza 6’s last 3 lines about the late Empresses’ letters and how they might describe the couple’s relationship. If we understand the last two stanzas to suggest that the relationship has died then the “impeccable script followed by murders/real or divined” probably describes the physical ending of that relationship and the questioning of identity in our speaker. So after that ray of light I wrote myself into (really, I didn’t understand this before now), we can tie the youth throwing stones to whichever member of the relationship is our speaker.
5.1. The youth’s self-blame in stanza 6 where he reads his “effigy” in a ricocheting rock is the perfect false emotion after a relationship. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t help feeling like you did something wrong. At the very least you feel worthless even if you know it’s not true. Are we just indulging in self-pity? I don’t think so. Even if we’re over dramatizing it a little bit. The poem understands this entirely in the last two lines of the stanza, “that stone becomes golden as a tomb/beware the risky imagination.” The following stanza adds onto that in a terrifying way with the mirrors for Pinturicchio
6. After writing that last bit it strikes me that the poem mentions the “mirroring air” in stanza 2 and stanza 1 mentions “shadows.” These suggest to me that some amount of the relationship was imagined or the poem wants to present it to us as such (yes, I write about the text as though it were alive). This is not to say that the poem adds up to the death of love or how we are all alone, but that the good and bad bits of love are losing oneself in one another. Only without a partner could Pinturicchio see well enough to “draw his face”, right? Maybe not. Maybe she could be your mirror but what if she’s wrong? What if you can’t even penetrate the self?
7. I feel like I just made a bunch of basic observations and asked some high school level questions, but I’ll hope it’s more than that.