Dr. Seuss' Debauchery 

Dr. Seuss' Debauchery 

Dr. Seuss' Debauchery 

Highlights from the week in criticism.
March 1 2000 3:30 AM

Dr. Seuss' Debauchery 

Book

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Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing—The Marketing of Culture, by John Seabrook (Knopf). Marketing and buzz have replaced taste as the arbiter of what's worth paying attention to, writes Seabrook. Since he's a New Yorker writer, you'd expect a screed on the conflation of high and low culture, but instead Seabrook catalogs the "hierarchy of hotness" with bemused interest and tries to figure out what makes it tick. Critics respond by giving him, well, buzz: He "manages to be simultaneously gossipy and insightful" and to make "smart points about … how advertising functions by validating social identity and how cultural hierarchies hinge more on power than on taste" (Publishers Weekly). Some gripes arise: The book feels like he's "stitched together a bunch of his articles from The New Yorker … and sometimes the seams show" (Belinda Luscombe, Time). (Click here to read the first chapter.)

Theater

The Wild Party (The Manhattan Theatre Club; the Joseph Papp Public Theater). Two separate composers have seized upon Joseph Moncure March's 1928 Jazz Age poem (both saw the 1994 edition illustrated by Art Spiegelman) and decided to make the cult favorite into a musical—and both are being staged within weeks of each other. March's book-length poem describes a debauched all-night party in rhyming couplets—"it's Dr. Seuss on the sauce, if you will" (Charles Isherwood, Variety). But the reviews for Andrew Lippa's production, which just opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club, are not so wild. (The second version, by director George C. Wolfe and composer Michael John LaChiusa, opens in April.) Most say Lippa's production tries too hard to please: "[I]ts attempt to wring emotional sincerity from March's arched eyebrow of a poem" is a terrible misstep (Ben Brantley, the New York Times), and the music, while "very accessible," is "accessible because you feel you've heard it all before" (Isherwood). It's "an ambitious but disappointing show" (Richard Zoglin, Time). A few praise the production, calling it "an explosion of youthful talent that captures the work's libidinous lyricism, like F. Scott Fitzgerald on Spanish fly" (Jack Kroll, Newsweek). (Click here to buy the book that inspired the musicals.) 

Movies

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Reindeer Games (Miramax Films). The most notable part of John Frankenheimer's (The Manchurian Candidate) Christmas-themed bloodbath is the horrendous miscasting of Ben Affleck as a blue-collar criminal: "He's such a facetious preppie lug that I laughed out loud at the sight of him mixing it up with the homies in maximum security" (David Edelstein, Slate). Aside from that, the film is alternately described as "profoundly awful … mysteriously awful (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal) and—in a suspiciously backhanded compliment—"the guiltiest pleasure since The 13th Warrior" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Click here to read the rest of David Edelstein's review in Slate.)

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Wonder Boys (Paramount Pictures). Responses to L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson's adaptation of Michael Chabon's novel cover the full spectrum from rave to ho-hum to profound irritation. Michael Douglas plays a creative-writing teacher whose life begins to unravel one weekend, after his mistress (Frances McDormand) announces she's pregnant and his unstable protégé (Tobey Maguire) steals a jacket that may have belonged to Marilyn Monroe. The fans praise it as "the most accurate movie about campus life that I can remember. …[An] unsprung screwball comedy, slowed down to real-life speed" (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times). The pans call it "feeble," complain that "almost nothing happens," and then trash it as "a sentimentalized encomium to the disheveled, childish life it ascribes to writers" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Slate's David Edelstein falls squarely in the middle, finding it "pleasant." Click here to read his review.)

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Judy Berlin (The Shooting Gallery). Eric Mendelsohn's debut feature about life on Long Island arrives in theaters awash in buzz. The film won Best Director at Sundance last year, won Best Picture at the Hamptons Film Festival, and was given the opening night slot at the MoMA's New Directors/New Films Festival. Plus, star Edie Falco is now well known from her work on television's hottest show, The Sopranos. So with all this prerelease hype, is the film due for a backlash? Not really. The nastiest bit comes from USA Today's Mike Clark, who thinks "Mendelsohn probably has done a better job launching his career than making a movie that average ticket-buyers will want to see." The typical review is much gushier: "small, exquisite … Mendelsohn's pictorial sense … is elegant, almost classical, rather than showy and pushy" (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post); "the rare movie in which the pauses, silences and things that remain unsaid by the characters are as eloquent as anything that comes out of their mouths" (Stephen Holden, the New York Times). (Eric's sister Jennifer writes Slate's "Keeping Tabs" feature. Click here to read the most recent column.)  

Eliza Truitt, a former editor at Slate, now works as a wedding photographer in Seattle.