Burt Reynolds – RIP

He lived on the sofas of late night talk shows as comfortably as the late John McCain, from which he told jokes on himself and mused on the roles he wished Hollywood would offer him if he didn’t waste time on late night talk show sofas telling jokes on himself. That circular reasoning makes assessing Burt Reynolds’ career difficult. A Cary Grant aspirant, he turned into a punch line that the movie biz turned on itself. For a few years he was the top box office star in America.  Continue reading

‘Perhaps in Iowa. Perhaps in fields of grain.’

Yesterday, Splinter News published Paul Blest, who wrote the best John McCain obit I’ve read to date. This afternoon, Splinter News published Peggy Noonan’s latest slash fiction: a masterpiece of unintended comedy, failed poesy, tolerance for sexism, and self-pity. Classic Noonan, but more. This is, after all, the writer who praised the beauty of Ronald Reagan’s foot. Well, Beaut Foot popped up in again, a resident of the Valhalla to which McCain’s unsullied soul traveled.

John McCain — RIP

The senior senator from Arizona’s career has been a long con game convincing the media that he opposed what they most wanted: a bipartisan don’t-criticize-the-prez foreign policy, indifference to the economic effects of the political class’ policies on the poor and working class, and a conviction that there is no division that you couldn’t settle in a Sunday morning talk show green room. Continue reading

The legacy of Charles Krauthammer

Wrong about Barack Obama. Wrong about “identity politics.” Wrong, most infamously and disgustingly, about Iraq. Men and women are dead because of Charles Krauthammer’s columns. They’re dead because Very Serious People in the Bush II White House read his bellicose columns in the aftermath of 9-11 and felt an ideological kinship. When Iraq was collapsing after the so-called “cakewalk” of the administration’s direst masturbatory fantasies, he offered a moist towel and balm in The Washington Post. Continue reading

Philip Roth — RIP

His most infamous book paid for the adventures of ensuing decades, but it remains the book most recognized by the general public, and why not? Released during the same period as Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge and John Updike’s Couples, Philip Roth’s 1968 Portnoy’s Complaint marked a significant stylistic shift from the poised rhythms of his earlier prose, in part to match the shift in material: Roth replaced Henry James with Lenny Bruce as forebear. In the same way that bits of her Joan Crawford forever marked Faye Dunaway’s other roles, even forced audience to look for traces in earlier performances, traces of Portnoy‘s peepee jokes were never far from Roth’s subsequent fiction. Continue reading

Margot Kidder – RIP

Besides her adult, chain smoking, fully sexualized Lois Lane in the 1978 Superman and even better sequel Superman II – quite different from the male comic writer’s idea of a career woman – the late Margot Kidder gave a couple of other performances for which she should be remembered. I still haven’t watched Black Christmas. Besides the title role in Brian de Palma’s 1973 Sisters, the Canadian played an eccentric young woman who seemed to have walked out of a Deborah Eisenberg story in the long-forgotten 1981 Heartaches. Thanks to a terrific cast (Annie Potts! David Carradine!), Heartaches has a pleasing scrappiness. I don’t think it’s gotten a DVD release; I saw it on crappy VHS in the mid-nineties (the cover was the size of a billboard). Willie & Phil, Paul Mazursky’s neutered 1980 re-imagining of Jules et Jim, needed lovers and tormentors worth of her (to be fair, the original suffers from the same ailment). Much later, after her brief period of Hollywood stardom, she played Alexis Arquette’s mother in Never Met Picasso (1996), once again a welcome sardonic presence in a movie that was one of my first experiences watching homosex.

The last twenty years of her life were not pleasant; the film business is not kind to pros dealing with bipolar disorder. But she became a courageous liberal activist.

Barbara Bush — RIP

As readers know, I came of political age during the Poppy Bush years, and it was bizarre even then to watch handlers, insofar as the president gave a damn about them, try to turn them into Ron ‘n’ Nancy Part II. Her frizzy white hair and penchant for blue dresses suggested an amiable grandma type, albeit a grandma who didn’t mind calling Geraldine Ferraro a bitch and, in the only time she enraged me besides refusing to hide under the bed when her son became president, assuring us that black families housed in Houston’s Astrodome were living in better conditions than they ever enjoyed in Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina. Still, I can’t blame a mother for realizing she’s joined Abigail Adams in a likely unsurpassed historical quirk and feeling damn proud. Mothers indulge sons. Had Dorothy “Doro” Bush Koch run for president, I suspect we’d hear about the ways in which she sullied her father’s legacy. Already the Michael Beschlosses of the world mourn the end of a generation of “political wives” who at best ignored or at worst encouraged their husband’s basest instincts. George Bush submitted to those several times, most grotesquely during the 1988 campaign — the one whose emphasis on the cynical one-upping and the racist attacks prepared us for Donald Trump twenty-eight years later.

But in the end I have nothing terrible to say about Barbara Bush. Like so many GOP wives (Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, her own daughter in law), she was more liberal than her spouse and might’ve made a fascinating senator in her own right. She liked a good one-liner and a drink. She wasn’t Nancy Reagan. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear treated her unfairly (I laughed). The pearls she wore were obviously fake. I would’ve kicked it with her.

Be ready, though: the sentimentality that will congeal around the memory of Poppy Bush when he exhales his last breath will be as awful as the drool over Reagan’s death.