The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument

Jan. 5 2001 11:30 PM

The Daily Digest of Arts and Argument


"Why exactly are the Beatles cool again," asks Sarah Lyall, "so cool that they've outsold the other big sellers of the moment here [in London], in a famously fickle industry where even last week's band can be considered embarrassingly passé?" In the New York Review of Books Geoffrey O'Brien recalls the impact that the Liverpudlian band had on post-Kennedy-assassination America. "It was all moving too fast even for the so-called professionals. The Beatles were such a fresh product that those looking for ways to exploit it—from Ed Sullivan to the aging news photographers and press agents who seemed holdovers from the Walter Winchell era—stood revealed as anachronisms as they flanked a group who moved and thought too fast for them." To read Slate's "Book Club" on the Beatles, click here.


Yesterday, the owners of George, Hachette Filipacchi, a subsidiary of a vast European munitions and media company named Groupe Lagadère, announced they would cease publication of the political monthly founded by John F. Kennedy Jr. Sad news for many, including myself, as I worked at George for a number of years. The announcement was broken by—click here to read their report. For a Howard Kurtz article on the subject, click here; for Alex Kuczyniski's, click here.


Alan Brinkley, the Columbia history professor, writes about the second volume of David Levering Lewis's biography of W.E.B. Du Bois in the New Republic. In Brinkley's opinion, "Had Du Bois done nothing besides publish his remarkable works of history, sociology, and moral commentary, he would still be a titanic figure in our national memory; but he did a great deal more than that. Many of his greatest published works were, in fact, a product of his temporary frustrations with, and departures from, the world that almost always most attracted him: the world of politics and organization and action."


WEB ART The film director Tim Burton is also the author of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Keen to see some of the characters from the book appear on the Web and in animated form, he turned to Flinch Studio for help. According to Animation World Magazine, "it was a natural fit. Burton came to the studio with watercolor designs of his characters, and [Will] Amato remembers: 'He was really concerned with it not looking like your standard Web cartoon. He emphatically did not want that. He really liked the idea of it being, as Tim put it, 'No big deal.' Meaning—a few artists could do it, on a few computers; … there would be no budgetary committees, no big overhead producer. It would be almost like we were staying up all night making a funny comic book together. He liked that do-it-yourself scale.' " To view the result, called "Stainboy," click here (you'll need a Flash Plug-In).


UNHAPPY READING As Lynn Barber points out, rarely has a book been so cruelly mistitled as Gerald Clarke's biography of Judy Garland, Get Happy. Nor is reading Clarke's book much of a mood lifter. As Barber writes: "[Garland] married her fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans, in London in 1969; a columnist described their empty wedding reception at Quaglino's as 'the saddest and most pathetic party I have ever attended.' A few months later she was dead of barbiturate poisoning, aged 47. Her story is tragic but exhausting …"


LEVANTINE CONSTRUCTION Now that Beirut has ceased to be a war zone, Lebanese officials are considering how the city should be rebuilt. As Victor A. Khoueiry explains in Architecture Week, there's little consensus among the planners: "Should Beirut replace its old fabric with a new one? Should it conserve some old elements? And if so, which ones? Should rebuilding be true to the original, or would such 'non-transformation' of buildings risk a transformation of social relationships?" To prevent unruly real estate companies from destroying what remains of the ravaged city, politicians created the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District, which is based, as Khoueiry writes, on a law that regulates [such] companies … in accordance with an officially approved master plan."

In a letter to his readers, Paul Tough explains why he's closing Open "None of us who work on Open Letters entered into the project hoping to get rich. We did, however, have some hopes of not getting too poor. Some of those hopes were based on the pie-in-the-sky Internet economics of the spring of 2000, in which it seemed that money would follow good content—or lousy content, for that matter—wherever it wanted to go. Some of them were based on Tibor Kalman's belief that there are 'a very few lunatic entrepreneurs who will understand that culture and design are not about fatter wallets, but about creating a future.' And, really, it just seemed like a worthwhile and exciting thing to do, even if its destiny was to be short-lived." At the time of writing, Tough's disclosure had not yet reached the offices of, the self-described " dead pool."


OPEN AUTHORS—DEAD OR ALIVE If many Internet sites are failing, others appear to be thriving, for example, sites belonging to writers and journalists. Malcolm Gladwell and Rebecca Mead, two New Yorker journalists, now post their articles on their respective Web sites. To visit the site of Robert Wright (Slate's "Earthling" correspondent), click here. The Web site of Oliver Sacks, the doctor and author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, and other books about neurological conditions, is an impressive assembly of biographical detail, select writings, and lots of links to neurology sites. Fans of two dead authors, Anthony Powell and Patrick O'Brien, can click here and here.

The New York Times editorial writers weigh in on the Hillary Clinton book deal. Generally, they chastise the first lady for accepting an advance rather than royalties, i.e., money up front rather than a share of future book sales. The editorial writers are concerned that such a large payment—$8 million—will compromise Clinton, though it's unclear why they believe this should be so. Do they think that Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, the company that owns publisher Simon & Schuster, will edit the Clinton memoir himself? I don't think so. Do they believe the Clinton advance is a favor? That in return for a down payment, Clinton will treat Viacom favorably in Senate hearings on copyright and communication law? Hmmm … that would be smart, though surely we can (and should) depend on the Times' indefatigable congressional correspondents to inform us if this happened. The serious point, which the Times ignores, is why Hillary Clinton has chosen to write a memoir at all. Surely, the new senator from New York should be known as the author of legislation rather than the "author" of a book we all know will be written by well-paid ghosts—hence the need for a hefty advance. For's report on the auction of the book, click here.


Raymond Chandler was one of the best crime writers of the 20th century—some would say the best. To visit a well-informed Chandler appreciation site, click here. He was also a writer of bilious letters, as Will Cohu explains. "Describing himself as 'by tradition and long study a complete snob,' Chandler was not, by his own admission, much good at telling a raw story, and when it came to writers who were, his instinct was to lash out. 'Everything he touches smells like a billygoat,' he wrote of James M Cain. 'He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls.' He was similarly acerbic about Hemingway: 'I suppose the man's epitaph, if he had the choosing of it, would be: Here Lies a Man Who Was Bloody Good In Bed: Too Bad He's Alone Here.' "


FRIENDS AND ENEMIES The first volume of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s memoirs, A Life in the Twentieth Century, appeared last month. In an interview conducted by Alexander Star —an article that accompanied a peculiarly chippy review by Max Frankel in the New York Times Book Review—Schlesinger talked about President Clinton. "He's not a fighter. He lacks self-discipline. He is sometimes too clever by half, and he dislikes making enemies. F.D.R. said, 'Judge me by the enemies I have.' Bill Clinton, for all his intellectual and magnetic qualities, hates making enemies." Schlesinger has always been good at making friends and enemies. As Sean Wilentz writes, he "knows too much of his century's miserable history not to understand, and to admire, the tempestuous careers of some of its intellectuals. And yet there is a foundation in reality also for his impatience with his era of intellectual lurchings. Here is a man who teaches by example that foolish in consistency, too, is a hobgoblin of the mind."

Richard Sennett, formerly a professor at New York University and now a professor at the London School of Economics, has written about city life for years. Recently, he returned to New York to visit old friends—most of whom lamented the soaring price of property in Manhattan but took gleeful pleasure in the recent downturn of the Nasdaq. "They took this as a good sign. Bertelsmann might return to Germany, Nomura to Japan. The prices of flats would therefore fall. Young people would return to the center. Restaurants without a 'theme' would return to Times Square. Politicians would run on family-friendly rather than Gucci-friendly policies; government would return to its old welfare-state ways. The end of the boom would signal a rebirth of the city. It was a cheering thought." Is Sennett so sure a depression would bring about such wonderfully good times? The last time I looked, there where lots of young people in the center, but if I'm wrong and there are too few, then obviously a city ordinance should be passed—hundreds of thousands of old people should be packed off to teach at the LSE. Housing crisis solved.


Movie editor Anne Coates began her career working on Michael Powell's Red Shoes 48 years ago. Her most recent film was Stephen Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich. In between, Coates has edited 46 other movies, including The Horse's Mouth, The Elephant Man, Ragtime, and Lawrence of Arabia—for which she was awarded an Oscar. In an interview with Editor's Net, a Web magazine for moviemakers, Coates says, "When I first came into the industry in England, there were quite a lot of women editors. And then slowly they fell by the wayside. They didn't seem to have the ambition, which I always thought was strange. When I left in 1986, I think there was only one other woman doing big features in England. There were quite a few doing television and commercials and things, but I can't put my finger on why that was. But I have a … theory about the beginning [of women in the cutting room]. As you rightly say, most of the editors were women, and they started by cutting negative. And I think that women were considered more patient and careful and all those sorts of things."


Meantime, Steven Soderbergh has a new movie out, Traffic, which is about the drug trade. In a talk with Stephen Lemons, Soderbergh expresses his pessimism about any sensible reform of the nation's drug laws. "Legalization's not going to happen—not in our lifetime—for a whole variety of practical reasons. It would be a violation of every international trade agreement that we have. The U.S. would turn into an enormous drug lab. There'd be people pouring in from all over the world to buy drugs here to take to their countries to sell illegally, so we'd be ostracized by every other country in the world. That's not going to work. You might say, 'What if everyone in the world legalized all at once?' But what are the chances of that happening?"


The mark of a successful magazine these days has less to do with what appears in its pages than with who does. Harold Ross, founding editor of The New Yorker, would be revolted by this convention, as Alistair Cooke's portrait of Ross reveals. First published in the early 1950s and reprinted by the Idler, the article shows that Ross was indifferent to the power of a name. "For Ross," Cooke writes, "there was no such thing as an 'established' writer. Whether you were famous or a first contributor, your piece was subjected to the same disinterested, ruthless scrutiny, and every piece was accepted or rejected on what Ross alone decided were its merits, a procedure that in the later years outraged some authors presumed by the rest of the world to be the most treasured of The New Yorker's writers. John O'Hara and even James Thurber frequently went into apoplexy at this brutal treatment. Such was Ross's writhing perfectionism that none of the permanent staff could remember a time when he ever wrote the comment 'good' or 'what we want.' The best he was ever known to concede was 'in the direction of what we want.' 'Comes the revolution,' said Dorothy Parker, 'and it will be everybody against Ross.' "


Michael Holroyd has been writing about the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw for more than 30 years. In a seasonal piece for the Guardian, he recalls Shaw's hatred for Christmas. "[He] represent[ed] himself as an admirer of Scrooge and the enemy of Santa Claus. The running battle between Shaw and Christmas lasted some 60 years, GBS having declared war on this 'orgy' and 'nuisance' in the 1880s. 'Christmas is best spent in some heathen country where the festival is unknown,' he wrote. He urged people to forget it, and when asked by a newspaper how he liked to spend it, replied that he preferred not to spend it at all, since it was 'only something unpleasant that happens once a year.' "

CNN casts some rather dim light on the longstanding relationship between humans and dogs. Stephen Budiansky tells the network: "We think a dog is smart when it does what we want it to—when you see the dog do something that we characterize as smart from our point of view. But things they do that are smart for them are not credited." Meantime, the DailyTelegraph reports on the death of Anastasia Noble a champion breeder of Scottish deerhounds, the judge of many a dog show around the world, and the sort of person lampooned in Christopher Guest's movie Best in Show. As the obituary writer explains: "Tessa, her first champion … was the winner of 20 club championships. Forty years later she produced Ardkinglas Val, the first winner of the Top Show Dog in Scotland award, and Ardkinglas Azalea, the reserve in the Hounds Group at Crufts in 1990. Of her hounds she sold 150 for export. Besides being a breeder, Anastasia was renowned as a judge, and was asked to shows in Australia, North America and Scandinavia."


ALL TOO REAL The movie director Robert Altman is 75. He made his first movies in his 40s, and now he has been awarded an honor that's usually bestowed on the dead. Slow to start, slow to fade, you could say. In an interview with the Guardian, Altman spoke, briefly, about the presidential election. "[Altman] talks about how television has become an alternative reality or an alternative to reality. Perhaps the US election would have made a good Altman movie. 'No, no, no, no,' he says. 'It doesn't mean enough, in terms of human relationships, it's too complicated, too big a thing for me to handle.' "

Carl Hiaasen
, writer of crime fiction and columnist for the Miami Herald, marvels at how Florida didn't succumb to its infamous bad habits during the election. "For avid Florida-watchers, what was missing in all the legal wrangling was that one half-cocked, lunatic judge who would have commanded Al Gore and George W. Bush to appear personally in his courtroom to hand-count every last dangling chad themselves."

It is sometimes said that you can make a distinction between mercenary spies, such as CIA officer Aldrich Ames, and spies who act out of conscience, such as the art historian and curator Anthony Blunt, a British double agent who worked for the Soviet Union. According to this argument, ideological espionage, though equally traitorous, is less evil than spying for personal gain. But did Blunt always act from conscience? The National Post   reports that in the 1950s Blunt drew a $1,000 a year stipend from the Canadian National Gallery in exchange for advice on which pictures the gallery should acquire. Nothing wrong with that, but archivists at the gallery now believe that some of the works acquired by Blunt were stolen from Spain during the country's civil war—by fellow spies.


Notting Hill was made famous in the novels of Martin Amis, especially Money and London Fields. Many scenes in these books take place on or close to the once sordid Portobello Road. That President Clinton chose to do some Christmas shopping on Portobello is symbolic of just how far this part of London has changed. When it came to settling his check at a local pub, however, the president couldn't pay. The owner told the BBC: "The total bill has yet to be tallied because a power cut struck the area just before the visit and the electronic till was not working. They bloody well did not pay. I do not know what the total bill is because the computer went down and the electricity was off. But I have got an address of someone in America I can send the bill to."