[Picture by Cecil Beaton]
More on Charles Portis. Here’s Charles McGrath, writing in the New York Times:
“True Grit,” Mr. Portis’s second novel, which was serialized by The Saturday Evening Post and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for 22 weeks, is actually a divisive matter among Portis admirers. There are some, like the novelist Donna Tartt, who consider it his masterpiece, a work comparable to “Huckleberry Finn.” Others, like Mr. Rosenbaum, resent “True Grit” a little for detracting attention from Mr. Portis’s lesser-known but arguably funnier books: “Norwood” (1966), “The Dog of the South” (1979), “Masters of Atlantis” (1985) and “Gringos” (1991). The writer Roy Blount Jr., an old friend of Mr. Portis’s, suggested recently that Mr. Portis himself was a little embarrassed by the success of “True Grit.”
…What the other novels have in common with “True Grit” is their deadpan quality. Most comic novels — think of anything by P. G. Wodehouse, say, or Ring Lardner — are fairly transparent: they unabashedly try to be funny and let the reader in on the joke. The trick of Mr. Portis’s books, especially the ones told in the first person, is that they pretend to be serious.
…Mr. Portis evokes an eccentric, absurd world with a completely straight face. As a result there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments or explosive set pieces here. Instead of shooting off fireworks the books shimmer with a continuous comic glow.
Man, is there anything harder than writing funny? Look at sports writing, for example. How many humorists do we have? Hell, forget humorists, how many funny writers are there? Charles Pierce has a sense of humor and so does Pat Jordan. Richard Hoffer has a sly and subtle wit but he’s not around much these days. Closer to home, Emma has the rare gift of being funny without seeming to strain to get a laugh. Jay Jaffe and Steve Goldman can come up with some choice zingers, ditto for Repoz over at the Think Factory. Not easy, though.
Hot news for us Buster Keaton fans.
A new, double-disc edition (also available as a single Blu-ray disc) of Keaton’s 1928 “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” presents both the familiar, public domain print that has been a staple of film societies and television screenings for decades, and an alternate version, newly discovered in the Keaton estate archive, that uses different takes or different angles for many shots and is cleaner and sharper than the standard print. (It was common in the silent era to produce two different negatives, one for domestic and one for export use; in this case, it isn’t clear which is which.)
…After “The General” (1926) and “College” (1927), “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” was Keaton’s third costly failure in a row, and would prove to be the last film he would make for his own independent production company. Audiences had turned their back on him (In The New York Times the reviewer Mordaunt Hall described “Steamboat Bill” as “a sorry affair”), just as Keaton had turned his back on them, quite literally, at times, given his penchant for shooting himself from behind. Keaton invited neither the audience’s identification, as Lloyd did, nor its sympathy, as Chaplin did. He presented a closed-off, self-sufficient figure, his emotions, if any, hidden behind his famous stone face.
Here is the most famous shot from the movie (no such thing a tough guy actor these days when you see this):
I can’t wait to get this new DVD…
The projector is broken, so no show today. We’ll be back on Monday for Stanley Kubrick Week. The plan is to do a theme week in this space, if not every week, then every other week. So if you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to let us know and we’ll do our best to soup it up. It doesn’t have to only be for an actor or a director. It could be for a cinematographer or just a theme–Worst Date Movies, Laugh-Out-Loud Movies, Best Late Night Movies–you name it.
Whadda ya hear, whadda ya say?
There’s no shortage of good boxing movies. We’ve talked about that in the past. But what about laughs? Welp, dig these two funny boxing scenes from the masters: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Watching them again, they are a decent example of how different Chaplin and Keaton were stylistically.
First, from City Lights:
And from one of Keaton’s lesser features, The Battling Butler:
This was the game I thought the Yanks were going to have on Monday. A night where nothing goes right. Instead it happened tonight. For every sloppy play the Yankees made the Rays countered with a slick one. Moving to his right, Carl Crawford closed quickly on a line drive robbing Alex Rodriguez of an RBI base hit. Later, BJ Upton glided back and nabbed a shot hit by Jorge Posada. (They are a wonderful contrast in styles–Crawford, powerful and aggresive but not graceful; Upton, smooth like butta.) Jason Bartlett also made a couple of nifty plays at short.
Meanwhile, Derek Jeter and Rodriguez had throwing errors (Rodriguez’s mistake led to a run), Mark Teixeira mistimed a jump on a line drive allowing another run to come in, and Nick Swisher had two adventurous plays that he’d soon like to forget (the first one included an ill-advised and unnecessary dive). Hideki Matsui drove in the Yankees’ first run and then got picked off after misreading the throw from right fielder Gabe Gross.
Nobody helped CC Sabathia, who was far from terrific anyhow–he gave up some shot to Evan Longoria. Scott Kazmir, on the other hand, was excllent, allowing one run over 7.1 innings as the Rays cruised, 6-2.
And so the Yanks went kerplunk. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Just ask Buster.*