Monthly Archives: April 2009

So Arlen Specter is, in the words of Jonathan Chait, an “unprincipled hack,” but in that he’s not charmless. Better an unprincipled hack than a senator with actual convictions and such (the South has senators and congressmen with plenty of those). But with news like this, I can’t imagine the modern GOP luring anyone who isn’t like this Principled Person With Convictions. 

The death of Bea Arthur has got me wondering where else to get my fill of her pert bullfrog voice and inflexible smirk besides old “Golden Girls” episodes. Pauline Kael’s review of the Lucille Ball film version of Mame (“Too terrible to be boring; you can get fixated staring at it and wondering what exactly Lucille Ball thinks she’s doing,” Kael writes, delighted. “When that sound comes out — it’s somewhere between a bark, a croak, and a quaver– does she think she’s singing?”) has got me excited.

A CD-R filled with bullfrog croaks would irritate less than Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, his English-language version of his 1997 film, which itself predates the Abu Ghraib photos by several years. Outside the work of auteur Sylvester “Sly” Stallone (Cobra and Rambo particularly) I can’t think of another filmmaker who took such exquisite pleasure in inflicting pain on his characters. “Exquitite” is right: his sets gleam with the unemphatic chic taste of Good Housekeeping. 2002’s The Piano Teacher worked because of the too-perfect casting of Isabelle Huppert, who is to mashocism what Julia Roberts is to dentrifice; beneath the undigested Freudian subtexts and stupid ideas there was Haneke’s perfect composure, the unhurried confidence with which he sustains a mood of dread. But I understand the complaints of those (many) who hated it. Cache (2005) was supposed to make us feel guilty about something, but I’m not sure what — the French treatment of Algerians? Haneke treats lacunae as reverentially as Naomi Watts does her kitchen counters in Funny Games. He’s the asshole who would blame the impulse to ask honest questions about his films on capitalism and Twitter.

It doesn’t help that Funny Games‘ cast performs like Haneke instructed them to stare at a black spot in the corner of the frame. I’ve so tired of Naomi Watts’ open-mouthed Kewpie doll routine; she either needs another comedy like I ::Heart:: Huckabees or a director more sympathetic to her gift for unearthing the hysteria in ordinarily pretty people. Tim Roth’s in this farrago too, I think. As for Michael Pitt, he’s a chubby nothing. From certain angles he looks like Truman Capote wearing an Andy Warhol mask. Shifting his weight from one tennis shoe to the other, he can’t decide what to do with his body, or whether he should be on the set at all. If Pasolini were still alive, he’d cast Pitt as a too-long-for-this-world hustler, which would at least have the virtue of being convincing. In how many movies has Pitt been the object of leers from other boys? He and Haneke are ideal partners — they each have something to pimp.

Thomas swears by the first Wendy and Lisa record — it’s one of his top ten albums, he told me once. The only post-Prince works of theirs I know is their literally unaccountable studio work (Wendy co-writing Madonna’s “Candy Perfume Girl,” fer instance). Anyway, OUT publishes the first interview (I love Barry Walters) in which their relationship is discussed without euphemism, although at this point it’s no surprise. Alex Hahn’s terrific Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince includes an ugly anecdote wherein Prince, frustrated by a session and his own weird relationship with Wendy’s twin sister Susannah, calls them dikes who’ll burn in hell or something. This exchange is telling — the politics between Prince and W&L remains, shall we say, fractious:

OUT: Won’t [Prince] be proud of you too?
Wendy: No. No. No.
Lisa: He’s not very generous like that.

That Prince is no prince won’t shock anyone; it’s the dirt they dish on Trevor Horn (with whom they produced a shelved album years ago) that shocked me:

LISA: I hate to say it, but he wouldn’t even let us eat off of his silverware on Friday because he was Jewish. It turned into this nightmare. He and his wife, oh God, I don’t want to talk disparagingly about anybody, but it made us very uncomfortable.

Yes, the audiophile/scion who produced Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones, and the Pet Shop Boys is a homophobe.

Anyway, if someone recommends the first W&L record — or, better, sends it my way — I’ll appreciate it.

(h/t to Tal)

While Adam Lambert can’t bear the weight that Ann Powers puts on his (lovely) shoulders, she does as good a job as Tom Smucker, Peter Shapiro, and others in defining what happens on the dance floor when the spirit of communal ecstacy give us the freedom to enact roles for which we’d normally be ill-suited. As a character in my own disco drama last Friday, I know something about the pain and release of “Let The Music Play” and “Lost in Music. From the clips I’ve seen of Lambert, he looks more conscious of his potentially outsize weirdness than other “American Idol” contestants, and he’s got an audience far bigger than any his idols got at their peaks, with the weirdness to match (and not in that chemically impacted Clay Aiken way either):

The life-changing pop stars Lambert emulates, from David Bowie to Prince to Madonna to lesser lights like Pete Wentz and Lady GaGa, open up the doors to these alternate universes. Through their example — their music, their style, their way of moving through the world — admirers can dream of a life beyond the confines of their “normal” lives.

Someone hook this boy up with the Scissor Sisters, please.

At the Supreme Court today, justices wrestled with the question of whether a strip search of a thirteen-year-old at a public school for Ibuprofen was constitutional. Stephen Breyer brought the laughs:

“In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.” Breyer hesitated as he realized what he said as the courtrooom erupted in laughter.

He quickly recovered and added: “Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever.”

Yeah, whatever.