Lustmord

David Edelstein and Nell Minow

Lustmord

David Edelstein and Nell Minow

Lustmord
An email conversation about the news of the day.
July 27 1998 5:19 PM

David Edelstein and Nell Minow

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In between posts I saw my therapist, who blew my mind when I raised Friday's Capitol shooting topic with a screed about the liberals at the (prestigious) hospital where she works--people who think the compassionate thing to do is move schizophrenics back into the community as fast as possible. (I'd always assumed she was a liberal--what's this going to do to my transference??) The trouble is, those liberals (with whom I'm sympathetic) don't seem to realize that outpatient programs don't exist in anywhere near adequate numbers--so wingnuts like Weston end up with nothing to do except sit around and stew over the signals coming in through their fillings and their neighbors' satellite dishes. These people are not that difficult to spot--their symptoms are pretty consistent. (I have this amazing book called Lustmord, a compilation of the writings of serial killers, most of them paranoid schizophrenics; very juicy bedtime reading.) The other problem, of course, is that private insurance generally won't cover institutional care for longer than a week or two and Medicaid/Medicare for longer than six months, so the pressure to get 'em out comes from the market, too.

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I guess we agree about parents not bringing home R-rated movies for their kids. I won't let my four-month-old daughter read, say, Lustmord, or any of the other sick tomes that currently line my bookshelves. But as Stephen King pithily put it (in I think the only recorded instance of Stephen King being pithy), you gotta "feed the alligators of the mind." Perhaps I have more alligators than most people, but a big part of growing up involves meeting them snout to snout. Last year, Rachel edited a memoir by Ptolemy Tompkins called Paradise Fever, which has an amazing section about how seeing Night of the Living Dead at, like, 12, reorganized his universe along the lines of those who eat flesh and those whose flesh gets eaten. Did it screw him up? Sure. But he got a great book out of it!

I'm glad you came out in favor of morality in art so I can clarify my own position--just as soon as I figure out what it is. I guess I think that art transcends simple issues of right and wrong, and that the only obligation of a creative work is to Tell The Truth. The problem is that, for so many people, it's immoral to tell the truth if the truth is an ugly one. Edgar Bronfman, Seagram's pillar of rectitude and the new owner of Universal, recently directed his "independent" subsidiary, October Films, to drop Todd Solondz's movie Happiness, an absolutely brilliant black comedy about twisted obsession that features a complicated portrait of a pedophile. (Let me clarify my interest: I co-wrote a soon-to-be-published book with Happiness's producer, Christine Vachon, so I suppose I could be said very indirectly to have a stake in the film's success. But I promise--really--I'd love the movie even if Vachon were my worst enemy.) I guess when I hear people talk about "morality" in art I think of double standards like those of Bronfman, who can peddle booze on one hand and on the other worry about his image on Capitol Hill being tarnished by the release of a small, challenging film that features a pedophile.

Glad you enjoy reading about Toys in Babeland; I hope it still exists after Mayor Rudy gets through with driving sex shops out of New York City. (Let's keep it on the Internet, where it belongs!) And regarding your wry reading of the Wall Street Journal story of ATT's merger with TCI, my kneejerk response to these things is: mergers baaad, break-up of conglomerates gooood. Simplistic?

Check out the book review in the Wall Street Journal, which reports that the movie Shine is a lie from start to finish. The book, by pianist David Helfgott's sister, asserts that the film is an anti-Semitic potboiler cooked up by Helfgott's Christian wife (portrayed in the film as his savior) and the film's director--the upshot of which was to slander their dead father, make the filmmakers rich, and thrust poor Helfgott into the public eye, where his poor musicianship has been on emphatic display. Having heard his CD, I agree that Helfgott makes a tic-ridden hash of nearly everything he touches--but I still found the movie remarkably expressive in its simpleminded, overthrow- the-castrating-patriarch way.

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Finally, we'll have to take up the Clinton subpoena tomorrow. I have a lot of thoughts about William Safire's "optimistic" Times column, in which he all but spells out that Congress will indict the president for obstruction of justice. ("Assume for unconventional argument's sake that a distinct pattern can be shown... Assume that dots can be connected... And assume that Independent Counsel has a witness tying a cover-up...") Can we assume that Safire's "pure speculation" is neither pure nor speculative?

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. Nell Minow's reviews of movies and videos appear on her Movie Mom Web page. Her book The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies is forthcoming.