It’s very good to have a selection of J. Hoberman’s film criticism finally available in French translation, so Emmanuel Burdeau should be commended for bringing out a French edition of Hoberman’s most recent (2003) collection, moderately priced at 14 Euros and translated by Marie Mathilde Burdeau, in his film book series published by Capricci (which has also published the wonderful Les Aventures de Harry Dickson —one of the first things I wrote about on this website). The only thing that gives me pause is that only 16 of Hoberman’s articles have been included in the French edition, leaving roughly 50 other pieces in the same book untranslated and unacknowledged in any way. (More precisely, this French edition includes only 14 of the 66 separate items in the original, though it adds two others.) This must be a reflection of the ongoing recession on both sides of the Atlantic—even if Hoberman’s given name has been upgraded in French from J. to Jim. [3/31/09]
The photo is mine, provided years ago to Alabama Public Television when they were shooting “Rosenbaum House in Alabama” and to Debbie Wilson, who runs the Florence tourism promotion office. PBS picked it up when they did their FLLW series in 1999. The photo (yes, it is chez Rosenbaum) has been on the web in reverse since October 13, 1999. As in this instance, you can sometimes check the provenance of a website through the Wayback Machine ( http://web.archive.org). I never bothered to write to correct the error of the left to right reversal.
P.S. A much better item on the PBS website is FLW’s rendering of the house. Find it at http://web.archive.org/web/20041229231416/www.pbs.org/flw/buildings/usonia/usonia.html
Cruising on the Internet, I just accessed on the PBS website a photograph that purports to be an exterior view of the Usonian house that I grew up in, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Florence, Alabama. I got there by following a link on the Wikipedia entry for “Stanley Rosenbaum Residence”—an entry that incidentally includes an accurate view of the exterior, reproduced directly below:
I know my memory isn’t playing tricks on me—not only because I know the house by heart, after living there for the first 16 years of my life, but also because I visited it quite recently, earlier this month. The first photograph is clearly the exterior of another, albeit quite similar, Wright house, and I’m sorry that I’m not enough of a Wright expert (as my brother Alvin is) to be able to identify it precisely. If you look closely at the row of glass doors on the left in the second photograph, you can barely see the thin line of a stone terrace just underneath them that is remarkably similar to the one seen much more clearly in the top photograph that juts to the right in a diagonal line and then ends, with three steps just below it. There are also steps just below the terrace in the Rosenbaum house, but they’re not visible in the second photograph. Moreover, the two sets of four glass doors on the right—which used to be the doors to my own room and my parents’ room, respectively—belong to a separate wing that has no counterpart in the top photograph. (Complicating matters somewhat further is the fact that this is what most people would call the “back” exterior of both houses, but something Wright, with his fetishizing of privacy, would have called the “front” exterior.)
The strange part of this is that the first photograph registers to me like the kind of “realistic” distortion one might experience in a dream, almost (but not quite) as if the photograph were printed in reverse. I’m not sure how this other house found its way into the archives of the Florence Board of Tourism, which keeps the house open for public tours (and has done so ever since it was restored by the city several years ago), but the similarity to the Rosenbaum house is uncanny—almost as uncanny to me as the differences.
P.S. For a better and closer view of the terrace of the Rosenbaum house, see the photograph on page 18 of Alvin’s excellent book, Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America (1993). [3/24/09]
FLANNERY: A LIFE OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR by Brad Gooch (New York/Boston/London: Little, Brown and Company), 2009, 449 pp.
So far, I’ve basically been reading in and around this book rather than reading it, so I can’t with a clear conscience make it “recommended reading”, at least not yet (something I can do for Wendy Lesser’s astute and very thoughtful review of it in a recent Bookforum). I can, however, pick a bone with what I consider a couple of significant omissions: neither the names “Nathanael West” nor “Stanley Edgar Hyman” appears in the Index. The latter, who wrote a superb monograph on O’Connor that was published in 1966 (no. 54 in the University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers), argues rather persuasively (on p. 43) that the “writer who most influenced [O’Connor], at least in her first books, is Nathanael West. Wise Blood is clearly modeled on Miss Lonelyhearts (as no reviewer noticed at the time),” and then goes on to cite four examples of her prose that amply bear this out: “Hazel Motes has a nose `like a shrike’s bill’; after he goes to bed with Leora Watts, Haze feels ‘like something washed ashore on her’; Sabbath Lily’s correspondence with a newspaper advice-columnist is purest West; and all the rocks in Wise Blood recall the rock Miss Lonelyhearts first contains in his gut and then becomes, the rock on which the new Peter will found the new Church.” (For further corroboration, there’s a favorable comment by O’Connor about West’s The Day of the Locust in a 1949 letter she wrote to a close college friend.) Significantly, Joyce Carol Oates’ mainly disappointingly routine review of the Gooch biography in the New York Review of Books briefly sparks some interest in its last three paragraphs when she deals with O’Connor as a “caricaturist” whose writing resembles “cartoon art”—a trait that clearly links O’Connor to West (although Oates doesn’t mention him).
Hyman also cites Mark Twain as a major influence and adds that the European writer she “most profoundly resembles (in method, not in scale) is Dostoevski”—neither of whom incidentally can be found in the index of Gooch’s biography either. [3/20/09]
This is 11th one-page bimonthly column that I’ve published in Cahiers du Cinéma España. which runs in alternation with a column by the Australian critic Adrian Martin; it appeared in their March 2009 issue. — J.R.
Tomorrow I start teaching the final semester of a course and film series I’ve been offering at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute devoted to world cinema of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. To provide a segue between the Depression of the 30s and the 40s, I’ll be starting with a double feature devoted to economic desperation, Preston Sturges’s Christmas in July (1940) and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945).
Two of the most popular films I showed last fall were Lubitsch’s The Man I Killed (1932) and McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). I selected them before last year’s economic recession started, and the congruence and relevance of certain themes — remorse about warfare and spurious patriotism, crowded family apartments and neglect of the elderly — probably added to their appeal. But the contemporary impact of films is always difficult to predict. I’m convinced that a significant part of what inspired Clint Eastwood to make Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima was the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but this relevance wasn’t discussed in the press. In most such cases, a denial of contemporary relevance seems almost obligatory. To cite an extreme example, when Elaine May’s Ishtar (1987) satirized American stupidity in the Middle East, the U.S. media’s almost universal and scornful rejection of this comedy as “terrible” refused to grant the film any political dimension at all.
This isn’t the case with Eastwood’s latest feature, Gran Torino — which I’m happy to say has already, seven weeks into its run, grossed almost a hundred million dollars. But it’s worth noting that the website Rotten Tomatoes describes the critical “consensus” as follows: “Though a minor entry in Eastwood’s body of work, Gran Torino is nevertheless a humorous, touching, and intriguing old-school parable.” Why in fact an outspoken and highly critical (and even Fulleresque) treatment of American racism should be deemed “minor” alongside Eastwood’s previous film, Changeling – which deals with such burning contemporary issues as the corruption of the Los Angeles police force in the late 20s — is a sociological question of some interest, but not one I could presume to answer.
At least the American reviews have been right in connecting Eastwood’s hero, Walt Kowalski — an embittered and racist retired auto worker, widower, and Korean war veteran in a Detroit suburb — to his “Dirty” Harry Callahan 37 years ago. Indeed, it’s interesting to reflect that while Don Siegel, the liberal director of Dirty Harry, expressed only pride with the huge commercial success of that rightwing thriller, Eastwood himself, a conservative, has been devoting much of his career in recent years to critiquing his own conservatism from within, with particular attention given to Dirty Harry and all that he has come to represent.
Of course it’s the capacity and privilege of some of the greatest stars to examine the dark side of their own personas (think of the parallel cases of Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux and Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), and it should be added that Eastwood has been explicitly critiquing his own macho bluster as an actor for some time — perhaps most impressively in the underrated White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), where he complicates matters by offering what might be called a Brechtian impersonation of John Huston (that is, a performance in which we’re constantly aware of Eastwood as Huston) that also becomes a parody of American imperialism, liberalism, and Hollywood entitlement as well as macho posturing. But even though there are gaps in his portrait of Walt Kowalski — we understand practically nothing about his former marriage, for example — the portrayal of his attitudes towards a family belonging to an Asian minority, the Hmong, who move next door to him (and who aren’t in the least bit romanticized) couldn’t be more scathing.