Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Jesus loves a good bashing

Because I didn't think my sins were interesting enough, being anemic , venal transgressions on the more minor points of God's limitless conditions of existence under His grace, I used to make stuff up when I went to confession because I was unclear on what confession was, didn't want to reveal the impure thoughts coursing through my twelve year old, and because I thought the whole idea of going into a black box with a man in a black dress creeped me out.

I was creeped even more hearing him breath through the screen, deep, grating rasps of a man who smoked and drank hard, amber alcohol. I was sorting through my contrived sins , trying to remember how many times I had done each imagined offense and attempting to calculate as well the penance I might receive (there was an element of trying to get a "high score") when I heard the priest mutter under his breath c'mon, hurry it up, c'mon... I told the priest to go fuck himself and ran out of the confessional and out of the church to get on my bike, riding off down Livernoise Avenue with a faint,tired yelling of "hey" behind me.

The next day at school some older boys were leaning against a fence by a parking lot adjoining the Catholic School."You told Father Martin to go fuck himself" said the biggest kid, one of the altar boys who helped the parish priests perform Mass during the week days, " You got yourself a fist full of trouble, punk."

He pushed me off the bike, and after I fell to the asphalt, each of the older boys kicked me something fierce; my books were strewn over the parking lot, my bike was thrown into the middle of the street, my nose was swollen and bloody. "Eat shit, punk" said the biggest kid."Jesus loves you" I wise cracked.

He turned around and kicked me again, right where it counts.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Bruce Smith's Motel Room Art

There are times when deferred meaning and elliptical syntax are just the thing to spark up a reader's imagination so that they best piece together a poet's fractured missive from the muse; it's the kind of interpretive exercise that got me interested in the game to begin with, graduating from the lunch counter surrealism of Bob Dylan's lyrics to the the abstruse, evocative, exotic diffuseness of TS Eliot's suffering clerk sermons.

The fun of it all was finding what lines, half-image, fleeting reference fit together, what small iota of coherence could be made to create a larger significance, metaphysically, than what mere description could provide. One pays for this with all sorts of foolish speculation and willfully errant readings of obvious moods the poet has laid out, but my senses developed over time, as I continued to read poets and their work, expanded my frame of reference, changed my tastes, and became less interested in establishing immutable rules for poets and their poems and instead became fascinated by what made a poem work.

To say the least, the interpretive work I could became a more interesting process,about making connections between a writer's style and technique and how the sensible , tuned-in application of things could make an accounting of ideas and experience a true benefit to a reader's daily life. A benefit, let us clarify, less in the life-changing mode--- the art of poetry ceases to be art when it attempts the philosophical , as poets (when truly writing as poets and not displaced intellectuals) are creatures of intuition, not analytical rigor--and more for the valued addition of gaining some information or an insight that hadn't occurred to the reader before. Poetry and it's contemporary habit of not revealing it's
collectively arranged meanings on the surface, makes speculation a pleasure, and lessens the burden of being a creature for whom introspection is the curse of the species. Joined at the hips, perhaps, but they aren't the same thing; poetry works within the moment, restrained by what is more often than not a personal account of
phenomena, a very subjective terrain, and the good poet, with whatever sort of style or techniques they choose to use , to modify or create out of whole cloth, attempts to write in a language that achieves verisimilitude with that experience. "Poetic", in plainer speech. Philosophy , as a practice, as an art (if you're inclined to apply the term) requires more rigor in it's discussions of experience, the acquisition of knowledge, the forming and transmission of values that would make for a better culture; philosophy concerns itself with the creation of systems of analysis with a specialized language that is not open to the non-specialist. Poets writing with the expressed purpose of giving forth a philosophical lecture will wind up most often writing verse that won't satisfy anyone as poetry save their best friends and their parents.

Harold Bloom, a favorite critique because of his insistence that literature is a valid way to set one's sense of the universe in order for at least a short (and continuous) periods, tells us straight forwardly that poetry helps think about ourselves. The skilled diffusion and deferral meaning by the master poets Eliot and Stevens, the glorious creation of self-metaphor of Whitman, the the condensed , diamond contradiction of Dickinson,
all these results of a poet's concentrated effort to capture some perception in language which would otherwise be lost, is an extension of their process to the reader, who might create their own links, fill spaces with their own biography, and become just a more alive than before.

That is assuming that their diet of poets doesn't consist of poets as lazy as Bruce Smith, whose poem "Contraband" is this week 's selection in Slate,takes the elliptical and the diffuse elements of Eliot, of Stevens, of Pound, of WC Williams, and turns from stylistic devices to
mannerisms, dead, soul-less generic touches. The poem begins interestingly enough, suggesting a problem with an email attachment

That thing you sent didn't open,
didn't change my life as it should, didn't complicate,
or play,- -.

A writer could have a good time making sense (and nonsense) with a whole range of verbal cues and suggestive allusions; things that won't open up, unwrapped packages (of a sort) containing something wholly other than what was described,
expectation and result not linking up as one might have thought. There are several ways this provocative opening line might lead us to a rich stream of legitimately ironic points of arrival and departure; this is something that might have kept on going for several dozen lines. I was thinking of a new Ginsberg, perhaps, full of vision, metaphor and wide breadth, creating a list of paired things , ala Howl, that could have scorched the ground. Smith, though, is cheap in his estimation of the reader's patience and splashes bits of paint in a series of commas, dashes, clauses that hang together like a paper chain one pulls from a desk drawer.

as it should, didn't complicate,
or play, although it made a hate
crime, a love note—both of those—a stolen
thing from the Congo passed through France
then shown to Picasso by Matisse at Stein's apartment
a carving, a mask, a dance—a misrepresented
soul that became the thing—a trance
we lived in while we built the Great Wall,
The Chrysler Building, the Erie Canal—servants
to the civilization, dowsing, digging,
never stopping to drink. God strangled
the details as we smuggled the cargoes
of our gifted lives, our lies, our singing.

I've been a fan of poet David Lehman for years and have defended his method heaping scattered bits and pieces into his lines, and have found his style of disconnection to have the flash and verve of modern jazz ala Monk and Ornette Coleman, and the clipped, broken elan of pop art; Lehman seemed to not go for making of sense, ie, a clearly communicable argument a reader can discern and respond to rationally, as opposed to the creation of a broader, less obvious "sense" of things in his writing.

There is an atmosphere and tone in Lehman's writing I found contagious, musical, and honestly arrived at. I don't know about Smith's personal honesty, and I wouldn't say that he wrote "Contraband" intending to bluff his way through whatever audience he saw reading thSmith is a good poet who has written a fine number of decent poems, like this one:

The air like the street numbers was high and rare and had a low-voltage, low-wattage light and flavor

of something burning still from the extinguished 60's

or something about to be combusted in commodities

and futures remembered now as then. Bread and junk were cut and risen out of the sub-basements

to the street in packages of Wonder and bags of Mrs. Jones. Substance and dust. Through the crossed wires of the telephones

voices from Memphis said Jerusalem was on fire.

All I could do was talk about desire

while I rendered the face of the Sojourner Truth Apartments, like a myopic Monet, in different light. Mostly I was mute.

Upstairs the dancer turned engineer was mostly in tears. The air shaft was a cloud chamber of jilted beds and chairs.

I wanted to translate the stems of red carnations in the gutter and the golden fluids of the Eldorado and the Town Car.

Given a longer line , he gets a rhythm going, a pulse that gives his concrete details and his historical references a sweep that brings you into the midst of a private conversation precisely because there is not the push to construct significance out of an obfuscation of an other wise obvious point. He gets the half-dream state quality perfectly here. It's not over drawn, it's not belabored, there are no short cuts. It's an honest poem that brings a interesting string of associations together. "Contraband" remains as I said it was, not honest, contrived. is piece, but it is a safe bet to say he was in the perennial hurry as most of Pinsky's poets of late seem to be in , evinced by the frantic and slap dash quality of the verse. Even poems that are marked by the elliptical method, the with holding of information, a fracturing of narrative thread, still have associative leaps that are more than private jokes or transcriptions of marginalia from an old anthology. The iconic names--Picasso, Stein, The Great Wall, The Erie Canal, The Chrysler Building--are a self conscious assertion of his own "cultural knowingness"--and are more distracting than evocative of something outside the text; the name dropping is more like washed- out motel room art that vainly attempts to make you think of something other than the fact that room is drab.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Arthur Lee

Arthur Lee, lead singer, guitarist and principle songwriter for the seminal Sixties Los Angeles rock band Love, has passed away at the age of 61, succumbing to acute myeloid leukemia. It's impossible to understate the importance of Lee's work with Love during that critical time; in a time where it was the norm for white bands to adapt black American musical traditions, Lee, an African American, took on the guise of a "black hippie" and embraced English British rock in the guise of the Stones and the Beatles, and he wasn't above blending it with a surreal smattering of MOR vocal stylings.

As a vocalist , he was a unique and brilliantly transperent , alternating between a Mick Jagger glottal, semi-Delta moan and grunt, and the honey-toned tenor of Johnny Mathis. It was genius, intended or otherwise, that he would assimilate the influence of a British singer who made a career emulating black American soul singers, and a popular black singer who crooned with out a trace of racial signifiers other than the "good music" expectations desired by a broad, mostly white audience.

This , combined with a a sensibility that effortlessly fused hard rock, folk, classical and jazz, and sweetly odd and dreamy psychedelic lyrics, and we have a genius that though short lived inspired a generation or two beyond. Forever Changes, Love's third album, is considered by many to being the best American response to the Beatles bar-raising disc Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As is too often the case, Lee's is a case where the great creative period
was short lived; drugs, jail, eccentricity and erratic behavior prevented him from regaining the heights he reached with Forever Changes.There are very, very few rockers, though, who have the bragging rights to being the creator to such a masterpiece. Rock on, Arthur.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Miami Vice: Colin Farrell's Attack Mustache

Director Michael Mann has brought his old TV show Miami Vice to the wide screen, and the results are darker, grittier, nastier. But lets place the emphasis on darker. The original was bright pastel pinks and saturated sunshine up and down the Florida coastline, the movie, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as the undercover Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, is in severe contrast  dark , as if filmed from inside a bottle of Coca Cola. Night sequences are what Mann does brilliantly, evinced by how sexy , alluring and alienated he made downtown Los Angeles appear in his previous film Collateral; this is a world of taciturn masculinity set against black and amber city scapes and empty industrial sites where the gears of inevitable violence are enacted in quick, cryptic spasms of dialogue. The plot itself is hard to follow, as drug-trafficking stories usually are, and it's a vain effort to seek philosophical substance or solace from what any of these characters are saying; Mann's films are about the actions characters take to define themselves and maintain their authenticity, moral or immoral, in a world where poses and equivocation are the norm. To be sure, there is a rousing fire fight between good guys and bad guys at the end.Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett fairs better than you had a right to expect; gravely voice ala Nick Nolte, slicked back hair and handlebar mustache, he takes his terse dialogue and offers up a face that is determined to see his mission to the end even with the knowledge that he and his partner's efforts against the drug trade is a war lost from the outset. Jamie Foxx , in the role of partner Tubbs, is a convincing mass of sleek, muscled anger, a man with deep wounds with the discipline to contain his rage into a drive to undermine the drug dealing bad guys foul enterprise and to make them accountable for the evil they've insinuated into the populations. Miami Vice is short on compelling dialogue or an articulate expansion of the moral ambiguity of selling drugs to a clientele willing to forgo safety and health for a momentary chemical distraction--there are no Bondian villains who suddenly become philosophers expiating about the inevitability of vice and challenges to right-thinking--but it is rich in style and mood. What he lacks as a thinker Michael Mann makes up for in a beautifully mounted  evocations of masculine adventure, sullen, unshaven, muscular, terse, matter of fact, elegant in action, decisive  in results. Hemingway would have liked these movies.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Poets Gag on their Own Gore

I mean no disrespect, but most of the poets who are featured in the Slate each Tuesday sound as though they are waking up from a druggy, dreamless sleep, are bound and gagged with old socks crammed in their mouths and secreted away in a trunk kept in the storage space under the stairs, or have recently been on the receiving end of electroshock therapy. Add your own sour description. But the problem is that the good poet's habit of destroying a good piece of work with an indifferent , retarded, and emotionally stunted performance is hardly isolated; one can nearly drive a truck over the dense layering of constant droning that originates with the flaccid readings the ill-spoken bards hand us. It is as inviting as asphalt rash.

The bottom line is that few poets in that forum sound happy to be doing the reading; it sounds as if they're grumbling that they have to work , for chrissakes, and life is not fair and things are rotten, and for the money they receive, these otherwise honorable scribes hand us the slowest, driest, least-contaminated-by-joy recital they can devise in their vengeful little heads.This does not encourage me to buy their books. It makes me think that poetry is something of a self-serious sham when it's read in these portentous, un-inflected ways.

Let's put some life in these readings, OK. If one lacks the pulse sufficient enough to make these poems sound interesting, they might do themselves and the readership and decline the offer to record their voice. A bad performance embarrasses everyone.

Someone I was talking to in a net forum about this situation recommended that I observe HBO's "Def Poetry Jam", where writing and performance are more obvious than one get elsewhere on pay-TV.I agree that there are some amazing writer/performers on that show, but it often goes too far in the other direction.

Every word has to be absolutely per-formative, every gesture has to be over-sized, large, exaggerated beyond need, every line has to be declaimed as if it were the neutron bomb of punchlines, and just about every voice of every reader has to follow the same rhythmic pitch, the same inexplicable accelerations and slowing downs, the same beat-box repetition's of vowels that destroy an idea rather than reinforce it.

It's a monotony of content and presentation that makes the weekly line up seem nearly as form-fitted as the mainstream, academic, white-bread poets that are very easy to make fun of. It's something of an old joke straight from Lil Abner, where all the kids want to be nonconformists just like everybody else.

I would be very interested if HBO gave Quincy Troupe a deal where he could produce and select the talent, as he has for the last twelve years in La Jolla with his brilliantly arranged series Artists at the Cutting Edge. Troupe knows that quality needs to be matched with quality, and the poets and writers he's brought to San Diego would be an example for the producers of Def Poetry Jam as a means of livening up-their mix: Derek Walcott, Allen Ginsberg, Tony Morrison, Charles Wright, Bei Doa, Jerome Rothenberg, Amiri Baraka, Gary Snyder, David Foster Wallace and scores of others, of many races, creeds, colors and politics , have all read in this series. Most, also, were able performers of their own material, and it is from these writers , scribes who've not only discovered their voice in their work but also a way in which to verbally dramatize it, who are fit and diverse models for those who imagine themselves ready to move beyond the rhythms and clicks that comes through their head sets.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hot Night

I was trying to read Harold Bloom's brief little book The Art of Reading Poetry last night with every window open and two fans blowing in a wan hope of staying cool. All to little use, for as I read onward about Falstaff's rotund grasp of ambiguity and
the how the word "ruin" is derived from the Latin, I stuck to the sheets. Neighbors had the right idea, to sit on their porches, have cocktails , and chatter away on a clouded-over night sky. It was all I could do to finish the last page I was reading before I bent down the corner and set Bloom aside. It was a night when no one felt or sounded smart; the heat makes you stupid and grubby and very vain in the face of
other people's affairs. My mood was to toss an old shoe at the folks next door, but I didn't, I restrained myself, half because I was too lazy with heat to rise and exert effort,half because I am too old to think I could win a fight. Not in this town. Rather than squabble, I plugged in my amp, put my harmonica to the window and blasted a ten minute solo across the shared back yard, blues trills and riffs played in a fantasy of Hendrix flexing his whammy bar on "Voodoo Chile (slight return)". The clouds did not clear, the moon did not show, the heat only lingered.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Paris Pops The Weasel

Slate's pop music writer Jody Rosen makes a case for Paris Hilton potentially amounting to being something more than a smirking Barbie Doll with her foray into pop divahood. You can already feel the incredulity grabbing the back of your neck, right? Paris Hilton's attempt to become a pop diva or to otherwise break into the pop music game is fraught with peril and doomed to failure. Not grand, flaming failure, but ignoble, quickly forgotten failure, like Tim Leary's attempts to become a stand up comic. It's one thing to view Madonna these days, remembering when she was making her name as a musical performer, and view her now as spent, irrelevant, the sort of used up Professional Celebrity who used to populate games shows like Beat the Clock or What's My Line? We can still trace her career back to when she was
doing something innovative and marginally interesting, just as the curious can actually discover a list of films that Kitty Carlyle or Orson Bean had made when they were working actors. There is some dignity in their station as Has Beens. Paris Hilton, though, is a Never Been, foisted upon the world Famous and Useless from the start, a brightly colored box, full of air. She'll try her hand at various show biz niches--movies, reality shows, now music--and there will be core of
pundits who'll hyperventilate with superlatives about her emerging force, but no one will buy it beyond the next commercial. History is a Big Broom, ruthlessly applied to the likes of Paris Hilton. She can sit next to Dagmar when she ascends to Celebrity Heaven.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Madonna: reinvented beyond irrelevance

There's an interesting piece in Salon by a writer who wonders in print whether going to see Madonna in concert, "lithe" at age 47, indicates that she, the writer, is turning into an old fogie in her early thirties. The horror of turning into your parents.

Madonna, lithe or not at 47, was musically forgettable for her entire career, but she is to be admired for the sheer genius of her presentation.At 47, she reinvents herself beyond irrelevance, and is poised at becoming something like her generation's Charo or Joey Heatherton.

Nominally talented as dancer and singer, there is nothing to stop Madonna from being consigned to the feather lined cage for Professional Celebrities; being famous will Madonna's trade, not music, not lyrics, not tacky stage productions or spotty albums. It's been said often enough that she was greatest work of art--nothing new there, just ask David Bowie--but there doesn't seem to be anything to stop her from becoming a well paid Freakish Has Been as she ages further and "the edge" she seeks to keep finally and irrefutable eludes her for good.

Sad to say, but there are tales that she plans another to-do on the forthcoming MTV Music Awards where she'll again kiss a much younger woman singer. At this rate she might as well start kissing babies and run for office. That's where her true talents lie; the ability to be many things to many people and stand, finally, for nothing at all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I was asked this and then I wrote all this before sunrise

Isn't "deconstruction" an attempt to apply scientific principles to the analysis of language and what it implies? There is a lot of science - envy among the critics in the arts and humanities, and they've seemed to latched on to the extrapolated language of anthropology and linguistics in order to keep their jobs: there is an effort, in the mission of literature departments, to continue to prove that there is stuff of quantifiable worth to be extracted from the study of novels and poems, and that they in some way adding to body of knowledge.

Somewhere, so far as the criticism has gone in the last half of the century, the link was made with other discourses, which made much of literary study something of a gawky laughing stock: not historians, not scientists, not psychologists, not philosophers, the gamiest of theory wonks could prate on and onward on fields not his own, keeping the tenuous connection between their specialty, fictional accounts of experience, and real time bathos and tragedy obscured with an ever deepening reservoir of jargonized murk.

The result, of course, is an abandonment of criticism and theory's original mission to seek clarity, comprehension. Among the critics who are incapable of giving serviceable interpretations of books they reputedly teach, too many have produced a feeling that literary is as unapproachable to the non specialist as would a technical article in a medical journal.

The post modern critic too often becomes the things they are nominally opposed to: they become priesthood, the place where power is located! Whether Ginsberg or Ashbery are post modernists skirts this issue, not uncommon here; it's more fruitful to trace post modern poetry's influences. Ginsberg is a romantic, sure, but he was one in the 20th century, confronted with mass-media, A bombs, televised unpopular wars, the whole 60s shot, and his response to these accelerated times had to push the hackneyed envelope.
If he trusted his sensibilities to make sense of the world, apart from the mind of God guiding him (the central conceit of the Romantic Movement and its attendant schisms), Ginsberg had to expand his poetic line, blur crucial distinctions about well-rendered introspection, and essentially clear the field for further innovation.

Ashbery, in turn, developed a secret language, a self-addressing voice that managed not reveal much of the soul of the poet, but did much to reveal the writer's mind engaged with the world, musing in elegiac lines of things, their places in the scheme, their displacements by other things--this is the Supreme Fiction of Wallace Stevens, and it sought to bring harmony to a sphere of unknowable phenomenon.

Both Ginsberg and Ashbery, coming from Romanticism and moving straight ahead into the Modernists' obsession with inventing new forms from old to gain new ideas about a world that won't yield itself to the individual mind, quite cannily opened the territory for the poets who would be called post-modern poets, wh0 would be, I think, anyone from Ron Silliman, Rae Armentrout or Bob Perelman of the Language school, to the Nuyorican poets, the slam movement, rap and hip hop, and even the largely odious New Formalist group.

Post modernism, it appears, comes in as many stripes and hues and apologies as Romanticism, Modernism, or even classicism, and there is no hard rule that states that one cannot be a post modern Romantic. It's a reasonable distinction.

Though a writer can bring all their resources to bear when they write, a certified grounding in philosophy isn't required to write fiction and poetry.

The learning doesn't hurt the work if the writer is possessed of demonstrable inspiration, or genius, if you will, but what is essentially an act of the imagination is not required to furnish it's own critical apparatus. DeLillo, for example, can parse his own imagery and subject them to a cold analytical eye, and creating a haunting poetry about the signifiers fading resonance in a reality that never stops blinking, but his genius is rare. John Barth is very clever, some times brilliant in his deployment of knowing literary conceits in his work, best, I think, in the Floating Opera, End of the Road and The Sot Weed Factor, and it can also be said, though, that despite the "special learning" to attain the rarified information that was needed to construct these novels, Barth wrote the works to operate as novels, as entertainments, first before all, not as formal arguments against prior literary movements.

The process is as instinctual as it is deliberate, I think, as is good criticism, which has an obligation to interpret the books in an activity separate from the novel. Unbelievable to some lit-critters anxious to narrow the range of subject options , not everything that's written, published and which finds an audience it services for either entertainment or instruction can be discussed with the same parsing frameworks.

The artist DOESN'T choose his influences, rather, he finds himself chosen by them.

Too flat an absolute a statement to be useful here: Bloom's refinement of a dialectical model to describe, in sweeping, how influence forms new writing is spectacular, but he over reaches, and over states his case with an insistence that influences choose the writer rather than the other way around. This is a deconstructive reversal that's cuter than it is precise. It's half the tale.

Better to have it half and half: the writer certainly exercises choice so far as who they opt to read through their lifetime, and makes judgments based on their reading as to who matters more than others in the forming of an idiosyncratic aesthetic. The writer, as reader, is not a passive agent here.

A writer "being chosen" by their influences makes more sense, I think, when he place the statement at the moment when the writer is actually writing, when inspiration, imagination, and whatever other resources a writer has at their behest combine, churn, swirl, and combine in ways during the drafting that could result in interesting, original work.

Process is a word that's horribly abused and bled of meaning these days, but here it's appropriate. Creative process is a strange ritual unique to each writer, an idiosyncratic set of habits that are the basis of the discipline needed for a writer to actually stay seated long enough to produce and bring the work through all stages.

It's the mysterious clutch of protocols that unleash the influences into the creative roil, and it's here, during these churning, erupting, fever pitched sessions where a writer looses the ability to control the influences about them, large and small, whether from their personal reading, or from the larger culture: it's here where the writer is literally "chosen" by the influences and styles about them and literally have their style defined and guided. So it seems to me, anyway. For the force of the unconscious in the work, of course: memories emerge, scenarios spontaneously form, and arcs are drafted and written out to link disparate sketches on a narrative spine that rapidly becomes a fleshed-out work.

Of course.

But to get to the point where writing actually commences, I believe, begins with some conscious choices the writer makes in the world that's given to them: deciding what has value among the given--whatever we mean by that-- constitutes choice. What happens beyond that is what becomes problematic, and subject to niggling disagreement. But conscious human agency is not

How could the beliefs be useful if they weren't true? I could have many false beliefs that are coherent, but of what use would they be?
The test of any theory is in how it works, and the gauge for how it works is in whether it's employment is of observable benefit to others, i.e., does it give some one and their community a coherent and workable structure to live life, to promote what would locally be defined as the Greater Good, and likewise provide a means for helping a community absorb change, how however and why ever it happens. The test of whether a theory is useful, if I remember my James, is whether such a methodology leads one to a truth that's germane in situ.

The usefulness of a theory is judged by how it side steps the confounding and conflating "proofs" of what constitutes Truth, with the big "t", and instead enables one to find something that works in mending the immediate situation.
No one seems to want to deal with Lost in the Funhouse, which, casting an eye over this thread, I find ironic.
Speaking for myself, Lost in the Funhouse is nicely written gripe in which Barth, flowing of pen, voices a buried resentment against his own reading habits, a collection that's kind of dull: he voices the complaint against the dreary optimism of modernism, the same dull complaints, in fact, and yet wishes that had been him, rather than Joyce or Faulkner at the key moments of break-through novel writing: a Bloomian moment with his career, with his writing desperately bloated books, his "literature of exhaustion" to demonstrate how much more radical he would have been had he the power to intervene in recent literary history, and also a classic example of the School of Resentment.

Barth, I think, resents his teachers, or at least writes like he does. His work, though important in the postmodern genre, is among the dullest. Manuals for changing light bulbs could exact more excitement. The Floating Opera, though, is a masterpiece: brief, funny, unusual, unselfconscious in it's re-formation of the novel.

Allen Ginsberg, speaking of a conversation he had with his mentor William Carlos Williams, gave a definition of Modernist perception as being that "...the thing itself is its own adequate symbol..." Further, there is the strong suggestion that there is no God in this scheme, that the "thing" being perceived did not require an ideal type, or any other kind of Ideal superstructure in order to exist, to be. Ginsberg, and later poet/critic Jerome Rothenberg, gave a suggestion that this was Western writing's back-door approach toward more open structures, to decidedly unsystematized philosophies, witnessed in the Beat flirtations with Zen. This brings us knocking at the door of an extended Modernist approach--a style in which avant-garde procedure became an ironic protocol to literary writing--that became, in some critical finessing, post modernism.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


It's a little absurd for a man in his mid fifties to be complaining about the mediocrity of a super hero movie, but vanity forces me to speak up; Superman Returns is occasionally fine and well tuned, but it drags in story and it is dragged out in plot. Brandon Routh does a decent Christopher Reeves impersonation as the new Superman/Clark Kent, and Kate Botsworth is generally spiky as a petulant, pissed off Lois Lane, but the love interest between them is as uninteresting as it always has been. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor seems like he's having fun being bemusedly evil and vile, but there is not a good line or monologue to walk away with. The writers were cheap with regards to memorable dialogue. Director Bryan Singer just can't keep this undecided, leaden enterprise afloat. Why does the world need a Superman with an identity crisis? My own are bad enough to live with.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Philip Schultz punches you in the chest

Sometimes the ever quizzical Slate Poetry Editor Robert Pinsky will publish a weekly poem that hits you like, well, a fist in the chest. Read the poem The One Truth and see the aptness of the image.What The One Truth gets across without hesitation or ambiguity is that life for the lot of us is a pulverizing grind of bad luck, heartache, debt and daily tragedy. A much too general view, one might protest, but poet Philip Schultz is one of those few poets who can align the sordid details and give you a jolt, a shock of recognition that is neither sensational nor sentimental.

This is the sort of poem the over rated Charles Bukowski couldn't write precisely because he gloried in his tales of awful jobs, alcoholism and loserhood; poverty and despair were chic badges of honor and proof of some corporate-defined notion of "street cred" where the hero, Bukowski, sticks it to the Man regardless of consequence. There's no honor in Schultz's narration, though. The life he writes of here, one that has ended, reveals that
all the matters the poem outlines hurt, they crush you, they break your heart and that there is nothing ennobling about the pain. These are conditions Hemingway would wither under, and that's the power of the poem, that rare thing Schultz has accomplished; he's moved discreetly beyond the writer's vanity to write about working people and instead shows you what it is, an ongoing tragedy that ceases only when breathing ceases.What works is the clicking, clacking, drumming rat-a-tat-tat of the cadence, each illustration of the biography giving a sharp backward glance at each infamy the poor man has gone through and tried to rise above:

After dreaming of radiant thrones
for sixty years, praying to a god
he never loved for strength, for mercy,
after cocking his thumbs
in the pockets of his immigrant schemes,
while he parked cars during the day
and drove a taxi all night,
after one baby was born dead,
and he carved the living one's name
in windshield snow in the blizzard of 1945,
after scrubbing piss, blood
and vomit off factory floors
from midnight to dawn,
then filling trays with peanuts,
candy and cigarettes
in his vending machines all day,
his breath a wheezing suck
and bellowing gasp
in the fist of his chest,
after washing his face, armpits
and balls in cold back rooms,
hurrying between his hunger
for glory and his fear
of leaving nothing but debt

A man in pursuit of the great promise of being reward for hard work and sacrifice, dreams of glowing golden thrones and the transcendent power they represent being slammed up against one disaster after another, one demeaning job after another, one failing limb and sense after another. This is the immigrant tale that is not often told nor talked about in our collective folk wisdom about American opportunity.

To paraphrase Al Pacino's lawyer/Devil character John Milton in the
under rated film The Devil's Advocate
life on earth is "God's private gag reel", an aspect underscored by Schultz's conclusion,

is this what failure is,
to end where he began,
no one but a deaf dumb God
to welcome him back,

a punched up version of the Higher Power being
neither wise nor all powerful but rather closer to being a big, dumb kid with a stick torturing a harried menagerie of small creatures he's captured in shoe boxes of varying size. Schultz poses an argument with God and challenges an assortment of religious as to our assignations on the planet, about what is we're supposed to do
while we wait for revelation, signs, symbols of some sort of the meaning of our time on earth while we await death and eventual fulfillment.

his fists pounding at the gate,
is this the one truth,
to lie in a black pit
at the bottom of himself,
without enough breath
to say goodbye
or ask for forgiveness?

The final insult, the punchline, the cruelest stroke is that the man is not allowed even a glimpse of the radiant thrones he imagined his entire life, the one notion that empowered him through his pains and gather woe. The lights are out, the gates are locked, the occupants are asleep, dead, or have moved elsewhere, and he expires, spent, too late to make amends or make his peace. One needs to thank Schultz for his restraint in bringing this tragedy to light; the impulse to lard up a subject like this with witless abstraction, dripping self-pitying and metaphors that don't match either mood or subject matter--jazz musicians without sheet music, one could say--was a great temptation to resist. I am very glad he did and stuck to his craft as an effective writer.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett: shine on

Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd and probable acid casualty, died this past week, age 60. Although his tenure with the band was brief, very brief, it's a legacy that cannot be dismissed,nor one that we can afford to forget.

Syd Barrett did one thing very brilliantly in his musical career, which was co-founding Pink Floyd and being the central creative for their debut album, The Piper at the Gate of Dawn. Usually someone who starts off bright star and budding genius who flames out early is consigned to the ain't-it-a-shame file and only recalled in diminishing rounds of generational recollection, but Barrett's name has remained constant in discussions of Pink Floyd's career in the years since his deterioration and departure from the band.

Although Roger Waters, Gilmour et al found their own voice and peculiar sense of combining experimentation with mainstream expectation, Barrett's influence on the unit was never transcended, forgotten or obscured; it's more like the ground breaking work Barrett did in the short time at the band's start was rather refined, expanded, nuanced and tweaked in subtle, often sublimely achieved ways. Although it doubtlessly gores Roger Waters' ego to confront this, but the Barrett imprint on Pink Floyd was never erased. Water's claim to greatness is that he had taken Barrett's diffuse template and personalized it into a cryptic, caustic world view, just as the band maintained the blurred eclecticism and make music that was individually achieved yet contiguous with Barrett's briefly realized genius.

Barrett may have been a one short wonder, but the bullet he fired went far and pierced many layers of armored conservative sensibility with regards to music. His achievement for such a short productive time casts a longer shadow than a few dozen others who've had decades to make music.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Death of the Critic

A point among many is that postmodern writing has been around long enough -- since after WW ll, I believe-- for a useful literary criteria to arise around it. The re-making and the re-re-making of those values are generally extensions, elaborations or, more radically, severe disagreements with standards that formed around a work while in nascent form. Modernism, as an aesthetic movement, among scads of others in history, had it's propagandists in it's early time, critics whose views remain bed rock, the base from which reformations are made. Postmodern criticism went wrong when the discipline mistook itself for philosophers, or linguists, or cultural anthropologists. The result of this detour has been a mess of unreadable prose whose authors aim to disguise the fact that they've nothing to say. I am for postmodern literature, but I am aghast at postmodern literary criticism. Now, I think, is the time to convene a new project, a better way of dealing with the huge body of work by an interesting population of writers. It's time for a re-making, and re-re-making after that. Every man ,or woman, a critic, fine, but critics without a malleable framework are talking only to themselves, finally. The value of criticism is in how it deepens the reading: an ideal criticism, I think, ought to be the sieve through which the variety is taken in and studied.

Line Breaks

There came a question during one of those distracting and always fun bull sessions about matters a particular clatch has a passing knowledge of as to whether contemporary poets are more interested in the eccentricities of the page appearence rather conveying a discernable message. A wide open topic, choice for PBS talk radio shows where a host tosses out one broad thesis after another, letting the dogs sniff it out and tear it apart. Among my group, the wear and tear on the intellect was a minor concern; this wasn't lifting weights. The gentleman who posed the question wasn't a reader of poetry, at least not for pleasure; it was a field he perused so he can gather examples of lexical sin against an enemy he's constructed. Some folks just can't have enough strawmen in their lives. My argument didn't satify his yearning for an admission of elitism on my part, but it did me good to form some thoughts about my general attitude toward poetry. Good writing is what I needed to be engaged, I said at last, but the problem was really in the expansion of what "good writing" is. It's not a template applicable in all circumstances, without change. There are infinite variations on a common ground.

The poets I like have to be good writers, first and foremost, no matter what their work looks like on the page. There are many writers whose works are stunning to look at as a kind of typographical art, but reading them winds up being an insufferable experience, unpleasant not so much because the poems are difficult but more because the writing is just plain awful, being either willfully obscure to disguise a lack of any real feeling toward their experience, or, most typically , for exhibiting an inane, unoriginal and cliche choked sensibility that would never have gotten out of a junior college poetry workshop.

In either case, the visual look of a poem is a distraction from the mediocrity of the piece being read. Good writing always matters, and there are many , many wonderful poets whose works have an originality achieved through a mastery of language that fortunately leads us away from the nagging dread that a tactless and unschooled Avant Gard has completely overtaken the conversation.

All good poets must be concerned with language,I think, since that is the stock and trade of the art. Language made fresh, reinvigorated, reinvented-- I have no arguments with anyone who earnestly attempts to make language convey experience, ideas, emotion, or even the lack of emotion, in ways and with techniques that keeps poetry and poetic language relevant to the contemporary world, the one that's currently lived in, but there is a tendency for a good many young poets , fresh from writing programs, to repeat the least interesting ideas and execution of their professors and to make their work obsess about language itself, as a subject.

The concern, boiled down crudely, is that language is exhausted in its ability to express something fresh from a imperialist/patriarchal/racist/individualist perspective, and the only thing that earnest writers can do is to foreground language as their subject matter and investigate the ways in which proscribed rhetoric has seduced us and made our work only reinforce the machinery that enslaves us.

This kind of stuff appeals to the idealist who hasn't had enough living, not enough bad luck, not enough frustration or joy to really have anything to write about, in large part (an grotesque generalization, I know), and it's easy for someone to eschew the work of absorbing good poetry -- Shakespeare, Stevens, Whitman, Milton, Blake, O'Hara-- or learning something of the craft and instead poise their work in nonsequitors , fragments,

cliches, sparsely buttressed inanities, framed , usually, in typographical eccentricities that are supposed to make us aware of the horrific truth of language's ability to enslave us to perceptions that serve capitalist and like minded pigs.

More often, this sort of meta-poetry, this experimental notion that makes a grinding self-reflexivity the point of the work, reveals laziness and sloth and basic ignorance of the notion of inspiration-- the moment when one's perceptions and one's techniques merge and result in some lines, some honest work that cuts through the static thinking and makes us see the world in way we hadn't before.

I speak, of course, of only a certain kind of Avant Gard, one I endured in college and have since survived when I found my own voice and began to write what I think is an honest poetry. With any luck, some of these writers will stop insisting on trying to be smarter and more sensitive than their readership and begin to write something that comes to resemble a real poetry that's fresh and alluring for its lack of airs. Others might do us a favor and get real jobs. Others, I think, will continue to be professional poets as long as their is grant money to be had, and will continue in their own destruction of forest land .

Monday, July 3, 2006

Dylan's voice finds him

I am , for the moment at least, sated with all things Dylan, and hope that my fellow Dylan obsessives feel likewise gorged. I'm on a strict diet of Bud Powell and cool-period Miles Davis. There is little new information in the Scorsese assembled documentary, but there is plenty of rare footage to feast on, all of which gives us a way of studying the history of Dylan's vocal affectations; one might say that he film is Biography of a Bad Singing Voice. Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Irish laborers, blues groaner, gospel exciter, drugged out whiner. Of themselves, the qualities are slurred and nasal, harsh and authentic, as it were, to the degree of being nearly unlistenable. His rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" from an old TV clip wasn't at all pleasant no matter how I try to approach the sequence.

Yet there are wonderful transformations with that voice, when he began writing his own material, his own lyrics. Vowel and voice met and a sound was made, dramatic, effective, beautiful in a new way. His performance of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" at the Newport Folk Festival was riveting, vocally masterful. Nasal, howling, pinched, but asserted, shaped, honed. This wonderful song couldn't have been performed any more effectively with a so called "better voice". The prettier voice would only decenter a sentiment from whatever anecdotal grit that would have the splintered hint of truth and make into an exotic backdrop for professionally trained
posers for whom emotion is not a gauge of connection with the world but instead a sickness, something to be endured in alluring, self-loathing poses.
I would say that Dylan is an especially bad singer, but I would also insist that he is an absolutely brilliant vocalist. Joan Baez seemed to be more about a pure, high note flirting sound rather than the rattle and cough of voice finding pitch and cadence through scar tissue; this isn't to say that she was insincere, only that she sounded studied. She was more sincere than Dylan was, I'm sure, but Dylan was the better actor, the genius poser, the seamless liar, the creator of a personal mythology you couldn't tear yourself from.

No one could dramatize a lyric like he could.What he does with a lyric is something other than render cozy rhymes against assuring melodies as sweetly as possible.
There is a point in his career, when he eased off topical songs and moved toward more expressive, metaphorical, "poetic" lyrics that his voice became something wholly new in pop music. It's not far off to maintain that what Dylan did vocally between Another Side of Bob Dylan up through John Wesley Harding literally forced us to reconsider what "good" singing was really was. It was Dylan more than anyone else in pop music history who gave license to the singers-of-limited means to take the microphone and create an emotional experience with vocal qualities that are less than perfect. That is fitting for songs that dealt squarely with less than perfect realities, and this an achievement no less profound than any other Dylan has wrought in folk, rock and pop music.

The most inept rendition of a Dylan song was a cover of "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" by the Trade Winds. They had a previous song that did placed briefly on the charts, "New York's A Lonely Town (When Your the Only Surfer Boy Around)" which,in itself, was a wonderful Beach Boys knock off, moderately chunky guitar chords, sweet harmonies, Phil Spector wall-of-sound production. It sounded big, empty, and over stated. Their Dylan cover was likewise overstated, overproduced, but it was merely loud and bludgeoning, not overwhelming like you imagine rock and roll being. The worst part of it all was the lead singer, sweet and melodic on the surfer song, now attempting an angry folk-rock snarl Ala Barry McGuire. It didn't work, 'though I wouldn't have been surprised if it had turned up on Roger Corman soundtrack.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dog Story, Not a True Story

"You need to get some other opinions about your choice of dog" was what Rachel said to me," cuz that
cur you got on the end of that leash is ugly as a serving chipped beef and gravy."

"Don't be ragging on my mutt" I said. I hunched over my desk and typed a few words . The words "goddamned it all to hell" appeared on the spread sheet I was working on. Rachel dropped a file on my desk and looked at what I'd written on the monitor.
She snorted a farting laugh through her nostrils. Syquantcro, a tech seated at desk across the room, was on the phone and had to swallow a burst of laughter when he heard Rachel's nasal rattling noise. The she hit in the back of the head.

"Lose the dog or you get no more Sausage Helper".

I glared at her and typed "Great god in the merciful heavens goddamnit it all to hell."

A lightning bolt powered through the window and struck the Syquantrco, who dropped his phone as he sat upright , starting to fume. He was on the office floor, twitching madly, reaching for his cell phone.

Rachel discovered snakes in her top desk drawer, which made her scream. The scream
seemed to cause the store room door behind her to open, from which a giant squid tentacle reached out and wrapped it's slimed, barnacled
length around her waist and then pulled her back through the door.

Outside the sky had gone dark, there were screams in the street, car horns blared, tires screeched, sirens sounded, planes fell out of the sky, and Godzilla's gilled silhouette walked past our tenth story office windows. Ugly lizard, I thought.

Then my phone rang.

"Jackster here" I said.
"Dude, this is God. How am I doin' in yer regard?"
"Whoa. Who is this?"
"God, bro. Whatcha think of the show? Damning it all to hell, I mean, like you asked."
"It's boss, boss. The city is falling apart like a cheap madras shirt."
"Excelllllllennnnttttt" said God, his voice drifting off into a murmur of bliss. After a second, he said
"Yo, Jackster, open your top drawer."
I interrupted my observance of watching Godzilla
mate with a ninth floor office building window across the street and slid the top drawer open.
In there was a paper plate with what looked like
a two old serving of chipped beef on toast.
"What the holy gazebo is that" I said.
God paused, and then offered "Bro, it's time to get another dog..."

Monday, June 19, 2006

X Men 3

XMen lll was a such an uninspired dud that it makes me ashamed to have ever claimed the status a comic book fan boy. The loss of Brian Singer as the director has taken an obvious toll, and the sympathies we've built up over the competing angst of the good guys versus what is really the race hatred of the evil mutants, led by the
coyly nefarious Magneto, just becomes harsh nastiness. There are cool effects, to be sure, especially Magneto's twister-inspired conversion of the San Francisco Bay Bridge into a walkway for his army to Alcatraz, but one expects a cool scene or two in dud movies. We shall depart here , forgoing further discussion. It is anti-climatic bore.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ted at Fifteen

I still cringe when I remember being a barely hatched fifteen year old trying to write wonderfully complex and baffling rhymes just like Bob Dylan did, not understanding a single word I'd bothered to pass along to paper yet certain, somehow, someway, that that the abstruse (read incoherent) lines of mine had worth , value, and trans formative power. The task, for Ted At Fifteen, was to change the way the people in the world saw the world and help all the lonely people to straighten their perceptions , their own houses and from there create a new, better world based on sharing, caring, hugs, good intentions, and truth.

I was a serious, silly kid, half deaf with a hearing aid in both ears, sullen ,serious, humorless, very naive, obsessed with great issues and girls, and having no idea of how to solve the multiple crisis’s that spoiled the planet, and having no idea of what to do with a girl if one ever fancied hanging around me. Oh, to be fifteen again, Dylan posters, a room reeking of incense, Moody Blues albums blaring (when I was contemplative and scratching my lower lip with a pen \whose tip I turned into a tooth-marked nub), or Mountain , when what remained of my fascination with WW2 movies turned to distorted electric guitar caterwauling. I had yet to develop a middle ground, a sense of practical action. That was something that came , alas, with age, something I lacked. No matter how I scowled or grimaced, everything amounted to a sulking and moping. My expressed cynicism was sarcasm on a bad night, my irony was a mere mocking of adult phrases by repeating them in contorted voices, my art, my poetry, was deep as any indelible ink stain you cared to stare into. Precious, pretentious, naive, that's what I really knew about myself under the subterfuge of hip reference and gesture.

I was a fraud. My harmonica playing gave people the blues, my poetry made other people's fingernails dirty from head scratching. The poems sucked royal, you understand, a deadpan imitation of Dylan and Jack Kerouac's worst habits, the sort of prematurely varicose verse that revealed that the serious lad who hunched over his desk writing these bits in Quixotic longhand had not been tested in unprotected circumstance, which is to say that I had no experience except for feeling awkward and taking a dump (although I don't remember any of that, hence there never being a poem about it in my large and uneven oeuvre.Anyway, I grew out of imitating the uneven efforts of Dylan, Kerouac and finally came up with my own distinct style of uneven work. That much I will say about my work; when I am bad, the results are distinctly mine. No one sounds quite like me, but it is fairly obvious that I had to spend a good number of years imitating a number of influences before my own voice emerged from the mimicking of other writer's cadences. So thank you Dylan, Kerouac, Mailer, Lester Bangs, Hemingway, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, thank you for the inspiration and helping become the confusing morass of uniquity that is my convoluted state. I am one among many who are afflicted with that minor narcissism of lovng to hear myself write.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006


Ann Coulter is not a fan of free speech. the way she obsessively and pathologically typifies any and all who disagree with her as "traitors" , ie, all registered Democrats, makes it clear that her preferred method of resolving debates would be mass arrests, Stalinist show trials, and public executions.    This, I believe, is her deepest, most fervent desire. For a self-proclaimed "Constitutional lawyer", she seems constitutionally incapable of addressing her opponent's arguments rather than their character and motives. The fact that Cindy Sheehan and the 9/11 widows she excoriates in her new book have substantial and powerful arguments besides their moral authority as victims is a matter Coulter doesn't bother with; it's too late to make a case for the righteousness of the Iraqi War, and it's obvious to everyone that the Bush White House has squandered through unrelieved incompetence and arrogance whatever moral pretext they might have had in the fight against terrorism.Poor, poor Coulter has hitched her dingy to this sinking ship, and she is too much of an unblinking sociopath to admit that she made a very bad choice and cut her loses. She has exhausted her arguments and becomes the pundit's version of an old rock band touring with creaky renditions of yesterday's hits; liberals are bad, liberals are evil, liberals are godless. The especially unChristian rantings of Ann Coulter this time out no longer sound provocative, nor create fruitful debate, or force anyone one of us to interrogate our own beliefs, as good debate ought to. Her new book and her latest rounds of distracting ad hominem is much the same as hearing the news that the news that the Rolling Stones are touring and have a new record out; you wonder out loud who among the many you meet in the world still give a rat's ass what kind of noise this band of gnarled geezers makes. Oh hum, okay, fine, what else is on? Ditto for the latest outbreak of Coulter's crone-ish cynicism. That Coulter sticks to Ann sticks to CHENEY/ROVE talking points instead of sussing through the problematic nature of policy and the ambiguities inherent in trying to manage a roster of projects, and her inability to think beyond ideological purity, ala William Buckley or George Will, makes her views into harangues and rants, shrill forms of posturing. She ratchets up the volume as the moral authority of the Bush White House erodes and Republicans are continually mired in corruption and incompetence. Other conservatives have been smart enough, wise enough to distance themselves from the Iraq war rationale, concluding that it was a mistake, a horrible, tragic, moronic mistake. But not Ann; rather than rethink her position as a competent analyst would, she avoids talking about the White elephant in the room and continues to rail against liberals, apropos of nothing, with the same sarcasm and condemnations she was using six years ago. Her flustered, unblinking hissing fit on the Today show against Matt Lauer, who questioned her intentions in the way she addressed the 9/11 widows, shows America the image whose own fingernails are barely keeping their tentative grip on rationality. All these liberals continue to mock her and thwart her plans to make America pure and chaste, and all the effort has caused both her body and her wardrobe to loss heft. Why, those short, short skirts barely cover those bird legs, with their bony knees and those thighs that ripple with the loose flesh of someone who has lost too much weight too quickly. But no faster than the rate her credibility has waned to such substratum levels that only low-rent Machivelles find her appealing. Damn those liberals, damn those mothers who've lost sons and daughters in fruitless combat, damn those who take their right of dissent and redress at face value. Traitors, traitors all!!!

Thursday, June 1, 2006

The DaVinci Snore

There are critics and Catholics plenty enough blogging about the blasphemy and historical errors that glare in Ron Howard's film adaptation of The DaVinci Code, and I won't reiterate them here. The subject of long standing conspiracies concerning a secret Catholic society's efforts to conceal the true nature of Christ on earth has become a bore as well as cottage industry in publishing, and all I can say to that it's not likely to spur an interest in Renaissance Studies or an examination in core Christian virtues. We are in love with our distractions and special effects, and a mass audience such that that author Dan Brown has reached prefers to be lied to in the name of entertainment rather than grasp a more personal truth from the glibly mentioned philosophies and attempt a better, less consumptive life as a result. Entertainment is fine, of course, but we are being crushed by our banality. The disturbing thing about The DaVinci Code isn't the blasphemy, the errant reading of Catholic history, or even the disrespect it shows towards the Church, but simply that it's a bad movie, a dull movie, a ham-fistedly constructed movie. It's not thrilling, scary, provocative, alluring. For all the racing around, the murders, the frantic scurrying about European cities and mountain ranges, the film is static, and very, very talky, with the experts and priests talking very, very fast to outline the convolutions of this knotted plot. Director Ron Howard's usual graces--pacing, narrative construction, tight editing--
are absent here, and can assume from his absence from the talk show circuit to plug the film that he wanted a safe distance between his name and the mess the DaVinci Code movie turned out to be. A New York Times full page ad last week for the film last week featured star Tom Hanks' name in banner print over the title. One would note the lack of critical blurbs. Under the title , in very small print, were the rest of the credits, and last of all, very tiny, almost invisible,
we find the words "Directed by Ron Howard". It's doubtful Howard's lone and diminutive mention in the ad is due to modesty.