Monday, February 26, 2007

Literary Oddities: Derrida and the vampire, Wystan's cabbies

1. Derrida and the vampire, in Orange County yet
So...the controversy whereby the family of deceased deconstructionist Jacques Derrida is trying to keep the balance of his papers away from U.C. Irvine, to which he'd agreed to leave them, involves a....vampire?

Maybe not, but the story (detailed in yesterday's Los Angeles Times) is just as strange as that sounds. Derrida was part-time at Irvine for many years. In 1990, he signed an agreement to leave the university his papers, until in 2004, as he was dying of pancreatic cancer, he heard that a Russian Studies professor and Serbian native was under fire for seducing a grad student (with "Transylvanian wine," the Times notes). Although neither student nor prof got UCI's backing, the prof was demoted. The student sued and settled.

In the meantime, Derrida used the case as an excuse to withdraw his papers from UCI. After his death, the family pursued the suit. Looks like UCI will have to share with an institution in France.

Although one of the commenters on this mess asked why a deconstructionist would ever honor an agreement, that elides the point. In the moment that Derrida made the commitment, he believed it. Many millions of moments later, he changed his mind. Oops. For bad or ill, the law tends to value commitments over arbitrary units of meaning.

2. Wystan Hugh Auden and the cabdrivers*
Buried in an article in the Guardian Unlimited about Auden's centenary is the Fun Fact that cabbies in York, England, Auden's birthplace, are memorizing his poetry so that they may entertain tourists to the city. (No doubt most of them are sweatsuit-wearing poetry fans, that rowdy lot.)

York is a lovely city, a refuge of sorts for me while I was at grad school in Leeds. Imagine if you will, however, hopping into a cab at the train station, only to hear "Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm" before you can tell the driver where you want to go.

*Yes, there's a joke of the general "hello sailor" sort there somewhere, but you can do that for yourself.

The Oscars: Not much to blog about

The most entertaining moment was possibly in the ABC red carpet coverage, when Sally Kirkland (look here), a winner in the batshit insane sweepstakes if ever there was one, literally swooped in, saying that her sheer-dress-with-attached-cape was the meeting of "a reverend and a rabbi," and had been designed by her Kabbalah advisor. Let's just leave the Kabballah free and clear of this -- I think Miss Sally ought to take responsibility for her costume, which indeed it was, all by herself.

Unforgettable: The outsize Andre Leon Talley, on the 5 p.m. preshow, taking Jennifer Hudson by the hand and ushering her around Oscar de la Renta's studio. Why Oscar? Jennifer's dress was OK, but the beam-me-aboard jacketlet on top was not.

What else? The main surprise re: the awards was Eddie Murphy NOT winning. Did the recent premiere of Norbit, Murphy's latest forced comedy in latex, hurt his chances? Al Gore looked about as excited as Al Gore can look. Ooh, now he can move to L.A., and maybe Tipper can get a job in the music industry. (Just kidding.)

When Richard Roeper, on the red carpet and Ebertless, asked Catherine Deneuve what the hell was going on with her dress (it had a rose and a sword on the front), she said simply, "Jean-Paul Gaultier." Sometimes it helps to be able to pretend you are not fluent in English.

On E's red carpet special, the interviewer pointed out to Meryl Streep that she had 14 Oscar nominations. Streep said, "and I'm a size 14, so it all fits, doesn't it?" Great non sequitur (and does she really wear a 14?) Miss Size 12 Jennifer Hudson wants to know! (And p.s., that kinda frumpy outfit Streep wore was indeed Prada. I'm beginning to think she has a subtle yet wacky sense of humor.)

And I'd like to note that the introduction "Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ben Affleck" made me giggle endlessly, 'though indeed the phrase is true. Overall the ceremony was as boring as usual. Ellen DeGeneres was okay, although the constant in-audience shtick was a pain in the arse, and the long filmed tributes, except for the obligatory "here's who died this year," were snooze-making, although by and large well done. Much as I love Pilobolus, the dancers were extraneous, but the one musical number that wasn't a nominated song -- featuring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Jack Black -- was actually funny. Who knew Will Ferrell could kind of sing?

Let me not forget to mention that Michael Musto's nomination predictions were all on target. No fool he -- he'd have to be smart to survive at The Village Voice -- Musto did NOT predict the winners.

Extra added bonus: Get yourself to Go Fug Yourself for hours of merriment on Oscar outfits!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Let's have a beer: The Village Idiot

I hope shortly to review the food at The Village Idiot, the new gastropub in the thick of it on Melrose, but wanted to post briefly about the bar. C and I embarked on a loooong walk on Sunday afternoon. About halfway through our big loop, we found ourselves in need of refreshment...and what is more refreshing than a cold one on a warm afternoon? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Beers on tap include Pilsner Urquell, Guinness, an IPA I don't recall, and something tasty-sounding from Pasadena's Craftsman Brewing....we went for the Pilsner, which (sorry for the cliche) hit the spot. The bloody marys looked good, and so did the food. When the bartendrix asked the guy next to us if he enjoyed his burger, he said it was the best burger he'd ever had. (Which reminded me of the years-ago New York Post in which Marla Maples announced that Donald Trump was the "best sex I ever had," but that's just the convoluted way memory works.)

But that burger comment, Trump or no, will bring me back for a taste test. Fish 'n' chips looked good, too. All indications are good: high ceilings, great raised booths along the open windows on Melrose, attentive service. The Village Idiot is at 7383 Melrose Avenue, at Martel; (323) 655-3331.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Breaking and Entering: Jude Law wants (yet) another chance

What is most interesting about Breaking and Entering, written and directed by Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Truly Madly Deeply) is its setting and the social construct in which the film takes place. The architect Will Francis, played by Jude Law, and his partner are working on an immense plan to redevelop the area around London's Kings Cross station, previously a "marginal" area of warehouses and cheap housing. Francis and co. have recently moved offices to a redeveloped warehouse, with an unfortunate glass roof that leaves them prey to casual thieves -- hence the title -- who twice steal the firm's new Apple computers. The geographical upheaval is echoed by social and class upheaval (the thieves are teenaged Bosnian refugees) and personal upheaval, as Will's half-Swedish longtime girlfriend Liv and her troubled gymnast daughter Bea are both unhappy with Will's lack of presence in their lives.

All could have made for a great film. Unfortunately, centering the film on Jude Law's character Will Francis weighs it down. Will is unhappy with Liv; he is inconstant and can't be trusted with the fragile Bea, who suffers an accident when left in his care. He meets the mother of one of the young thieves and contrives to start an affair with her; the fact that she's played by Juliette Binoche makes their coming together, in the tired logic of this film, inevitable. So what happens? Will eventually does the right thing in a number of ways, but doesn't seem to have changed. He's still a boy who won't or can't grow up. Minghella doesn't give us any evidence that Will wants to change or even recognizes what he's lacking, other than a trite, "I almost lost the love of my life" speech at the end. And Robin Wright Penn's Liv, although strong with her daughter and on her own, takes him back after one final outburst of rage against him. We don't get a sense that he's changed, really, other than he's had some experiences that caused him to 'fess up perhaps for the first time.

There's some annoyingly heavy symbolism. A few scenes after she gives a speech about how she's the one holding the family together, Penn tries to reassemble a broken dinner plate on the kitchen table. In another scene, Penn and Law lean against opposite ends of a mirrored door; we can see half their faces, and half their reflections. Ooh, arty. Also, there's the matter of their names: Liv, with her naturalistic response to life, and Will, who's all infantile urges. Binoche's character is called Amira, which leaves her out of this naming mess altogether. Ironically (that's one heavy iron), Binoche's son is remarkably well adjusted, although he's a thief; Penn's daughter is given to exercising 24 hours a day and doesn't sleep, and she has all the upper middle class advantages. Doesn't that just go to show you.

Jude Law's performance is, well, another Jude Law performance; he acts the right shit, then boyishly tries to make up for it. Robin Wright Penn is an interesting actress to watch, mercurial and tricky. Juliette Binoche doesn't have much to do, other than look bereaved or joyful, but she is a high point. Vera Farmiga is over the top, in a good way, as a car-pinching streetwalker who thinks that the English all talk too much. Juliet Stevenson is terrific in a small role as a child psychiatrist who sees through Law's baloney in two seconds.

One regrets that Penn's character didn't do the same. By the end of the film I was daydreaming about Penn and Binoche getting together over a bottle of vino and having a good laugh about what a silly boy Law is. He's so insubstantial that you believe more willingly in the women he attracts, but you can't really believe in them, because they're hung up on him.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Grammys: Postblogging

Here in L.A., I can't liveblog the Grammys. By the time we see the show, it's over, even though it took place this year just a few miles away downtown.
  1. Police reunion: Stewart Copeland, the drummer, is hot, although we've all seen Sting's muscley bod enough times not to be impressed by it any more.
  2. Stevie Wonder towers over Tony Bennett. Who knew? Guess I took that "Little Stevie Wonder" thing literally.
  3. Beyonce, doing "Listen," from Dreamgirls, gets the love that Oscar didn't show her. Good performance, forgettable song.
  4. Quick quiz: What singer's sister was married to Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. and the MGs, here getting a Lifetime Achievement Award? That's right, Rita Coolidge's sister Priscilla.
  5. The idea of putting Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend, and John Mayer together in a medley may have been a good idea on paper, and I like the first two artists a lot, but in reality this number sent me to the kitchen looking for snacks. Dullsville.
  6. Shakira, showing us her bellydancing chops while Wyclef toasts (and does backflips) is awesome. Unlike Beyonce, she does not give the impression that she is always thinking about how great she looks.
  7. Another mismatched pair: Seal towers over Burt Bacharach, who seems minute. In self-defense, Bacharach asks Seal to write a song with him.
  8. In case we can't figure out how they feel about the Bush administration and/or the Country Music Association, Grammy voters let us know by awarding Song of the Year to the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice."
  9. Some tots from a TV sitcom announce that the Grateful Dead have won a Lifetime Achievement Award; Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman are in the audience. Where's Phil? I still miss Jerry.
  10. Gnarls Barkley does "Crazy" as a dirge, complete with choir, but Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse rock in airline pilots' uniforms.
  11. "You Don't Know Me: Songs of Cindy Walker" by Willie Nelson does not win for best country album, but you should definitely download the title song if you have not done so already.
  12. Bob Wills gets a Lifetime Achievement Award; Carrie Underwood, backed by fine musicians, barely makes it through "San Antone."
  13. Ornette Coleman! Cooler than anyone there, and wearing an embroidered black satin suit as he gets a Lifetime Achievement Award from Natalie Cole (how many of these do they give out?)
  14. In a tribute to James Brown, Christina Aguilera belts "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" so convincingly that Jamie Foxx sits up and takes notice.
  15. The memorial segment wraps up with early footage of James Brown doing his moves. As the film fades, one of the members of his band (I didn't know who it was) brought the Godfather of Soul's red glitter cape upstage, held it out for all to see, and draped it on the microphone stand.
  16. James Blunt, who allegedly threw a snit fit when told he'd have to make his long song snappy, dedicates the interminable-at-any-length "You're Beautiful" to Ahmet Ertegun, who minutes earlier was seen on film talking about the primacy of black music -- which this, er, is not.
  17. It's 10:50, here's Jennifer Hudson to announce the talent contest winner, and Beyonce is no longer in the building.
  18. Talent contest winner Robyn Troupe sings "Ain't No Sunshine" with Justin Timberlake. Fun Fact: the original Bill Withers version of this song was produced by Booker T. Jones.
  19. A highly caffeinated, at the least, Quentin Tarantino announces Record of the Year with Tony Bennett, who indeed is compact. Or is QT tall?
  20. Props to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who did their melodic and athletic thing in front of a clearly improvised sign that read "LOVE TO ORNETTE COLEMAN." At least someone else realized he was the coolest dude in the room.
  21. Finally....Al Gore presents with Queen Latifah. They are the same size and shape. I'm not sure which of them this bodes ill for.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

To the moon, Adam Gopnik, to the moon

This week's must-read is Vanity Fair crankypants James Wolcott's review of Adam Gopnik's most recent book, Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York, published in The New Republic and available on its website (registration required but no obligations are entailed; the piece was posted February 2). Those who are skeptical of the way Gopnik filters the entire world (as he did earlier in Paris to the Moon) through his upper-middle-class colored preciousness will find much to amuse them as Wolcott swipes his paw at just about everything about the book.

Is Wolcott a charter snark, old-school division? Yes, he is. Is much of what he says on the mark and worth considering? Oh my, yes. Plus Wolcott gets megapoints from me for his reference to the Gilbert Sorrentino novel (actually, it's a roman a clef) Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things and its finely-honed portrait of writers and their sensitivities. Don't waste any time, oh ye writers among my readers, at least skim Wolcott's piece for a giggle.