‘The palm at the end of the mind…’

When I was still a Catholic, the sense of anticipation ofPalm Sunday rendered mute and useless the jockeying for space in the pews for once-a-year worshipers fighting over the consecrated fronds. For Wallace Stevens, the palm stood for the mystery of the fictive muse, as his last published poem “Of Mere Being” shows. The palmContinue reading “‘The palm at the end of the mind…’”

March reading

Underrated for so long that he has safely crossed over into overrated, Harry Truman deserves a fresh biography that reestablishes his ordinariness. Jeffrey Frank, like his subject, wastes no time on subtlety. Check out the title. The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953 begins at the moment theContinue reading “March reading”

‘Time is the fire in which we burn’

A product of the Eliot-damaged poetic generation, Delmore Schwartz was a seminal post-war literary figure who succumbed to the American infections of masculinity, alcoholism, and general contempt for the arts. His poetry is uniquely his, and uniquely overwrought: Hart Crane as a pickup routine. As a critic and reviewer, though, Schwartz wrote well about Hardy,Continue reading “‘Time is the fire in which we burn’”

On the aestheticized pulp of ‘Nightmare Alley’

Bradley Cooper must rue the day his god made him cute. No matter what cosmetics distort that jawline of wonder, how much dirt gets ground into his rudely lustrous blond hair, and how bruised those aqua peepers, Coop still has the kind of looks which would’ve stopped the hearts of boys at an early 20thContinue reading “On the aestheticized pulp of ‘Nightmare Alley’”

February reading

More biographies should look like Robert Gottlieb’s on Garbo. Not Greta Garbo. Garbo. Apotheosizing herself into a mononym after the global success of her third film Flesh and the Devil (1927), the Swedish actress shaped a generation’s ideals of gender and screen sensuality. Simply put, she exploited the most tensile and intimate of media toContinue reading “February reading”

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ scrubs the dirt out of Shakespeare

“When you do that play it has a really oppressive effect on everybody,” Orson Welles remarked to the late Peter Bogdanovich in the early 1970s about Shakespeare’s shortest, bloodiest tragedy. “Really, it’s terrifying — stays with you all day. The atmosphere it generates is so horrendous and awful that it’s easy to see how theContinue reading “‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ scrubs the dirt out of Shakespeare”

Screenings #55

Amiable but nobody’s fool, Jimmy Cliff moves like a star through The Harder They Come, the crime film whose soundtrack I knew before finally sitting down with the thing a couple Sunday mornings ago. Perry Henzell knows what he’s got in Cliff; the rest of his movie struggles to generate suspense, though, like The LateContinue reading “Screenings #55”

Set’em up, Charlie: Ben Affleck survives ‘The Tender Bar’

Chasing Amy established the persona: Ben Affleck as a bro of mild intelligence, able to read the paper and discuss the news drawing connections to this or that, hiding confusion about women with sardonicism, terrified about the adulthood he reached years ago. Affleck shows all these traits in The Tender Trap; approaching fifty, he’s moreContinue reading “Set’em up, Charlie: Ben Affleck survives ‘The Tender Bar’”

January reading

Flipping through the Christopher Ricks-edited The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, a paperback bought long ago because it was the only place to find Swinburne and George Meredith without checking out a ponderous tome from the library, I read a maudlin lyric by Charlotte Brontë, whose Jane Eyre broke me on reading it theContinue reading “January reading”