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]
One of my favorite writers since childhood has been the prolific Fredric Brown (1906-1972), both for his mysteries and his science fiction. The former is much more plentiful than the latter—so much so that it’s been possible in recent years to publish practically all his science fiction in two thick hardcover volumes, From These Ashes (the short stories, 690 pages) and Martians and Madness (the novels, 633 pages). (The “madness” in the latter title partially relates to What Mad Universe, Brown’s best SF novel, as well as one of his very best SF stories, “Come and Go Mad”, although it also qualifies as an ongoing Brown theme in some of the mystery plots as well.)
On the other hand, it might take an AIG bonus to pay for all of Brown’s out-of-print mystery, crime, and detective fiction; some of the 19 or so limited-run paperback collections devoted to the stories that were published in the 80s and 90s now sell on the Internet for close to a thousand bucks apiece, and a few of the novels are comparably pricey.
Probably the two best known Hollywood features derived from Brown mysteries are Screaming Mimi (Gerd Oswald, 1958) and Crack-Up (Irving Reis, 1946)—the latter derived from a 1943 Brown novella called “Madman’s Holiday” that’s now available only in one of those limited-run paperbacks that currently sells for $995 and $950 on Amazon, hideous jacket (see below) and all.
Last night I saw Crack-Up for the first time, whose credits say it was only “suggested” by the Brown story, and I can report that a couple of very well shot, directed, and edited sequences, both set on a suburban train, convey the hallucinatory power of Brown at his paranoid best and creepiest. It’s too bad that the remainder of the film, though often serviceable or better, never quite comes up to the same level. The casting is certainly offbeat—Pat O’Brien as the art critic hero who has the hallucinatory experience on the train, Herbert Marshall in a part that defies easy description, Ray Collins as a wealthy doctor and art patron, and Collins’ former fellow Mercury players Erskine Sanford and Harry Shannon in other parts. [3/22/09]
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]