Tuesday, July 25, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Tuesday’s Toss-Up

Watercolor by Cassandra Austen of her sister Jane, c. 1804
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Jane Austen ... Ken Burns ... Andrew Garfield ... Kevin Spacey as Gore Vidal ... saving poetry ... and the new “Dimpleplasty.”

“WHERE SHALL I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?” wrote Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra.

I came across this quote in Amy Bloom’s New York Times book review of  “Jane Austen at Home” by Lucy Worsley.

This was the July 16th edition of the Times book review section which — on the 200th anniversary of her death — was heavily devoted to Ms. Austen, her works and enduring legend. 

I read every Austen-related review and puzzle.  Now I feel I must reacquaint myself with — at the very least — “Pride and Prejudice.” (She only wrote six novels in her short life, so it’s not like I have to dig into the complete works of, you know — James Patterson!)

Jane’s remark to her sister stuck with me, however — “important nothings.”  Perfect for an “entertainment” column.  Particularly these days, when we generally don’t feel terribly entertained or entertaining.  No matter how we try to avoid cable news, the internet and those subjects some of our readers forbid us to mention.  

Just the other day, a lady who, a while back had sent us a highly complimentary email, fired off another one, slugged “I retract!” She decried any mention we make of politics.  She was done with us.  We had a civilized back and forth, and we expressed sorrow at losing her as a reader.  Que sera ...

We do our best here to keep it light, but honestly, sometimes — to paraphrase Robert Mitchum in “Secret Ceremony” — one has to choose between entertainment and being a human being. 

(In the film, Mitchum says, “Sometimes one has to choose between good taste and being a human being.”  As this line was spoken to Elizabeth Taylor, got up in huge hair, a wildly-colored mini-dress and white go-go boots, interpretation was up for grabs.)

SAVE the date. On September 17th, on PBS, the new Ken Burns ten-part documentary “The Vietnam War” debuts. I was reminded of this by David Kamp’s excellent Vanity Fair article on the series, as well as re-watching, over the weekend, Burns’ documentary about the preservation and founding of our nation’s parks.  I think Burns and his team are geniuses and national treasures. Ken Burns could make a film about the history of the hotdog and leave me in a puddle of tears at the end. 
... I AM late coming to the subject of Andrew Garfield’s remark about preparing for his role onstage in “Angels in America” in London.  He said “I am a gay man right now, just without the physical act — that’s all.”  Everybody got their Duluth Trading undies in a twist.  I thought it was very Method-actory.  It made sense.  What I questioned was his claim that he has watched all nine seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Is that humanly possible?  Then I thought of all the people who watch the Kardashians, the Housewives, Kendra, etc.  Just lurid, mindless diversion. Nothing to do with relating to humanity. Just as RuPaul’s show has nothing to do with being gay — at least not in the context of preparing for something as real, important and devastating as “Angels in America.”
Andrew Garfield and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. Photo: Helen Maybanks.
... IF at my advanced age, I decide I ever want to put dimples into these cheeks of mine, I now know it is not a hopeless pursuit.  A nice girl named Tori Sichta got in touch to let me know that among millennials, “Dimpleplasty” is the latest trend.  Blame it on Harry Styles, Gabrielle Union and Miranda Kerr.  It takes only thirty minutes. Allure magazine has touted the procedure, which one Dr. Wright Jones has supposedly perfected. 

Instant dimples. Dear Jane Austen — if that’s not an “important nothing” what is?!
I HEARD from my old friend Lauren Lawrence, the dreams columnist of the New York Daily News. A lot of dreams (and nightmares!) have passed under the analytical bridge since she mused there.

In 2011, her TV show “Celebrity Nightmares Decoded” premiered on HBO.  She’s written a poetry book since then — “Side Effects,” out right now — and had a reading at the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and café in Manhattan.  (The book itself is a Shakespeare & Co. imprint.) 
Lauren's Sunday dreams column in the New York Daily News.
She says: “My friend Gore Vidal always loved poetry and it was he who encouraged me.  As you probably know, poetry is an endangered species. So it’s great that I won a terrific audience with my reading. My book is on Amazon. And good luck to all of us who are trying to save poetry!” 
Lauren holding her poetry book SIDE EFFECTS, available on Amazon (where else?!)
SPEAKING of Gore Vidal, what fun news that Kevin Spacey will portray Gore in a coming film for Netflix. It will shoot mostly on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where Gore famously kept a cliffside mansion in Ravello. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t miss Vidal for many things, but his observations on the current political scene would have been priceless.  That erudite, scathing intelligence would be so welcome. Anybody’s erudite scathing intelligence is welcome, at this point. Please, someone step up.
Gore Vidal and Kevin Spacey in 2009's SHRINK.
AND SPEAKING of Netflix, I am usually quite entertained by the variety of programming available there, even when I have to admit  I’m giving in a bit, to — for example — all those oh-so-similar British/Australian/Scandinavian detective series. (You can be sure of one thing, the lead detective, male or female, is forever teetering on the edge of insanity, but almost always keeps his or her job.)

However for some reason — all right I read a lot of positive reviews — I decided to watch “13 Reasons Why.”
Dylan Minnette in "13 Reasons Why."
I knew the limited series dealt with adolescent suicide and bullying, and was aimed at teens, more or less. But, why not?  I found out why not. Perhaps it is indeed simply not something an adult can understand, but I found myself astounded and angered by the apparent trivialization/glamorization of the subject. Bad writing, and performances that could not rise above that bad writing. As well as  a main character with whom one is supposed to sympathize, but whose motivations and affect on her foes — or those she perceives as foes — is messy, vindictive and unfocused. Even after some horrible things actually do happen to her, we struggle to make sense of her revenge.

I think young people — especially those suffering from the emotional savagery of bullying — who tuned to “13 Reasons Why,” were done a disservice.
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