Thursday, November 29, 2007

Miscellaneous: The November Stuff-I-Didn’t-Get-To Post

... will be fairly thin this month. I’ve got projects stacked up like jets over O’Hare, so naturally the ol’ internet homestead is going to suffer. And letting the site lie fallow for a few days always prompts those “you must go on, I cannot go on, I’ll go on” thoughts, even after almost eight hundred – Mother of God! – posts.

Then there’s content. It helps to have stuff to write about, and lately I’ve come up short in that department. In the past six weeks I’ve read a slew of recent crime novels and found most of them disappointing. No names; as I’ve said many times before, if VKDC is about anything, it’s about love. Several of these books have been nominated for awards or were written by authors whose previous work I’ve enjoyed, so maybe it’s me being cranky.

Or maybe it’s not. I read a review by John Williams late last year and haven’t forgotten this line about contemporary crime writers:

“These are writers happy to work within the crime field, extremely genre-literate in a post-Tarantino kind of way, but there’s a sense that for the most part they’re knowingly catering to a minority audience of crime buffs.”

I’m in that minority audience, and the last few well-regarded crime novels I read felt insular, airless, uninteresting. As if they were written for people who would appreciate all the in-jokes and cleverboots references. People like ... well, me.

Pop culture has become so specialized that at times I feel inundated by like-minded voices. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed. New York Times columnist David Brooks wonders why popular music isn’t, you know, popular any more, and turns to Steven Van Zandt for answers. (Please tell me there’s an audio file of the bookish conservative that even liberals can pretend to love talking rock with Silvio Dante. Please.) In a recent review, Variety critic Todd McCarthy noted:

“... ‘Enchanted,’ in the manner of the vast majority of Hollywood films made until the ‘60s, is a film aimed at the entire population – niches be damned. It simply aims to please, without pandering, without vulgarity, without sops to pop-culture fads, and to pull this off today is no small feat.”

I suppose what I ultimately want is to be seen as more than the sum of my niches. I want a return to the days of the generalist. Think I’ll start by going to see Enchanted.

Not that the month was a total loss. I did enjoy Park Avenue Tramp, a 1958 novel by Fletcher Flora recently republished in Stark House’s A Trio of Gold Medals. It’s a strange book, paced like an opium nightmare. Not a whole lot happens, and what does is obvious from the outset. But Flora’s rich psychological descriptions and his compassion for his doomed characters keeps you reading. It’s a novel that’s haunting for its failures as much as its successes.

And then there are the brilliant posts I just don’t have time to write. This month I watched The Deal, the incisive 2003 film from the writing/directing/acting team behind The Queen that examines the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they were both plotting to restore the Labor party to Downing Street. I also saw Johnnie To’s dazzling Election (2005), about the brutal campaign between gangsters to take control of a Hong Kong triad. And it occurred to me that both films make potent parallel arguments about the sacrifices needed to acquire power and the greater ones required to maintain it.

But I’ve got to go back to work. So you’ll have to check out the movies for yourself.