The central and irreducible insight of James Poniewozik’s brilliant book — making it for me the only account I’ve read of Donald Trump that makes his poisonous career both legible and explicable — is to view that trajectory as part of the tainted history of television, and to see Trump as a hapless victim of that history as well as a sinister perpetrator.
This is an insight that I’ve already had glimmers of whenever I’ve blanched at how much ungodly fun Rachel Maddow has been deriving from the cornucopia of Trumpian horrors, and how creepily her nightly boasts about what a “big” show she has in store for us replicates the weekly promises of Ed Sullivan on his variety show between 1948 and 1971. But the fact that I’ve never watched “reality TV” means that I need someone like a New York Times TV critic to show me how dutifully and consistently Trump has replicated its gestures, assumptions, and attitudes as President, and how doggedly both Fox TV and MSNBC have remained in sync with and in thrall to its very fibers.
This is also part of the persuasive thrust of Matt Taibbi’s recent Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another, which claims to be inspired by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.… Read more »
From the January 17, 2008 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY JOHN SAYLES
It may seem like dirty pool to begin a discussion of one of my favorite John Sayles movies by zeroing in on its weak points. But writing about Honeydripper recently in the New Yorker, David Denby noted that “moviemaking seems to have become almost magically easy for this independent writer-director,” and that’s absurd, since Sayles himself wrote in the introduction to his story collection Dillinger in Hollywood that “getting a movie made resembles the passage of a bill through Congress.”
Denby concedes that Sayles’s virtuosity as a writer-director “is rhetorical rather than visual.” And Sayles himself says that when he gets a story idea that “seems best expressed in fiction, I feel it in words, not pictures.”
The brief flashback in the middle of Honeydripper’s climactic sequence is a good indication of how labored Sayles’s treatment of images continues to be. The flashback — it comes when Tyrone “Pine Top” Purvis (Danny Glover) is about to break up a fight between a couple of angry customers in his Honeydripper Lounge — isn’t just clunky as visual storytelling and phony in its florid, bloody action and garish setting, it’s seriously underimagined.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1993). — J.R.
The second feature in Sergei Eisenstein’s controversial, unfinished trilogy, also known as The Boyar’s Plot, with a Prokofiev score and a histrionic, campy (albeit compositionally very controlled) performance in the title role by Nikolai Cherkassov (1946). The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to one of the most courageous acts of defiance in film history (Joan Neuberger and Yuri Tsivian) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made (my own estimation). The second part climaxes in a dazzling, drunken dance sequence that features Eisenstein’s only foray into color. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin’s paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinema — freakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre. (JR)
… Read more »