Thursday, February 01, 2007

ever so slightly spleenier than usual

Feb 5 issue. The little things. Denby, Collins, Friend and Schjeldahl.

Lauren Collins strikes a nice balance in her "Tables for Two." Seriously. Of course this column as a column is tiresome and annoying and of course I read it. But she's more descriptive of the food itself than other reviewers have been and I've got a weak spot for restaurant reviews that try to like the food but can't. Sometimes "Tables" seems like fluffy verbal acrobatics of the worst kind. Not here. Good spleen.

Just opposite, Schjeldahl's sophisticated stab at Aitken's "Sleepwalkers" is also lovely. As in "very public and undoubtably art, but it knits the terms only notionally." Say it to yourself aloud. As in "frenetic didos." As in "How melancholy is it to be gainfully employed and goregeous in the city?" Very good spleen.

Finally, there is Friend on Sarah Silverman. Now, everything I know about Sarah Silverman comes via The New Yorker. I've never seen or heard from her elsewhere. But if she really, truly manages this - Sarah’s crowd punishes sexual indeterminacy: when she suddenly decides that she’s a lesbian, everyone scoffs. "As a lesbian, I resent your laughter,” Sarah says. “And all laughter.” Is the joke about identity politics? Lesbians? Or is it on us: So you think lesbians are humorless? - then she falls, however briefly, in the brilliant category. I love this move, though it's pretty common among the brilliant. The brilliant, bitter and repressed.

Denby on the Nadar documentary threw me for a loop, though. "The filmmakers give equal time to critics of Nadar [...] who deride him as a deluded egoist eager to take votes away from Al Gore and John Kerry, and to Nadar's supporters, who present him as [...] utterly consistent in doing what's best for the country. We are free to make up our own minds. So be it." OK, if you say so, Denby. But then this statement is followed by, "The long interview with Nadar that is dispersed throughout the film suggests that he became, in later years, a thoughtless man who believes only in himself." I feel like we're missing an "however" at the beginning of the sentence or a "to this viewer" (ugly but necessary) after the suggests or maybe this sentence need only come before the statement, "We are free" etc? If the interview footage makes a persuasive argument then the preceding claims for the film's neutrality become meaningless.

But it's not just a little odd, I think Denby misses the opportunity to really address one of my favorite issues in contemporary documentary, the exhibitionist/celeb documentary and how it's a very common strategy to use a long, dispersed interview to let the subject shoot themselves in the foot and thus make up the minds of the audience for them, but act like you're not. In a sophisticated and politically complex documentary filmmaker kind of way, of course.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Sarah Silverman is brilliant in a dozen ways. It doesn't hurt that no one else around is remotely like her.

I might write something about the Jewishness of the Sarah-Larry David-Sacha Baron Cohen comedic avant-garde. The simplistic thing to say would be that an outsider identity facilitates a certain comic take on social proprieties, but that seems like too easy and familiar a point. Anyhow, there seems to be some common ground among these folks.

Also, I am coming to terms with my positive feelings about Tad Friend. I think he's a good TV critic. I look forward to his pieces and expect to like them.

9:26 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

I totally break with Emdashes on Friend. I'd so much rather he wrote about ANYTHING rather than himself. And TV especially.

There seems to me (unsolicited advice to follow) absolutely no way you could talk about the Jewishness of current non-network TV comedy without a real historical discussion; maybe the outsider thing is a familiar point, but how is it historically determined now? As opposed to other times, places, entertainment industries? The "move" I loved in the Silverman example is familiar from where, really? For me, its Stein and Hemingway and the "offensive" things they say - I once sat there in a class trying to explain that they were some kind of unstable identity shock-comedy team and everyone, professor included, stared at me totally unconvinced.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh this sounds like an excellent project. I'll need a reading list though. I haven't read non-contemporary fiction in ages.

2:05 PM  
Blogger High Power Rocketry said...

: )

10:28 AM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

isn't it better to have anyone writing about tv than nancy franklin? she was abominable.

my feelings are mixed about sarah silverman. i have a hard time with gender humor, because i think a truly funny thing will be funny no matter who says it, and i don't think that's true of a lot of her jokes. many of them are "funny" because they're disconcerting statements delivered in a flat, serious manner, and they're disconcerting because she's a woman. some people, i guess, are relieved that someone is lightening the pc load--i've heard praise along the lines of, "it's about time someone made fun of this or that"--but is it really all right for anyone to joke about rape? really?

on the other hand, though, she does have a gift for highlighting the self-righteous absurdity of a lot of public "issues" (e.g., "i'm a member of a group, therefore anything that offends me is discriminatory against that group"). but it would be tough to pin it on her "outsiderness," because she takes equally measured swings at things she is directly related to and things she is not. but again, she wouldn't get away with most of it if she were a man.

none of this is stopping me from loving her show--yet. that bit where she tore through the weather map made me laugh almost until i dry heaved.

10:44 AM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

I think my convoluted writing style may have been at fault, juniper. I meant to say that I'd rather have Friend write about television than about himself. And I like to have him write about television, regardless.

I actually think the whole "outsider" Jewish humor thing is historically impossible right now. I'd argue that Silverman is inhabiting an unstable identity and making fun of people who still believe in them (ie, people that think that "Lesbians" "are" anything - see Janet Malcolm on Stein this past November). All this based on that one little thing in TNY.

As for her being (looking like?) a woman . . . ? I'd add to the historical survey Lenny Bruce, obviously. Put that on your list, mzn. Or anyone who wants to pursue this . . .

1:05 PM  

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