The critical buzz on YouTube, Richard Ford, and Laura Kipnis.

The critical buzz on YouTube, Richard Ford, and Laura Kipnis.

The critical buzz on YouTube, Richard Ford, and Laura Kipnis.

Highlights from the week in criticism.
Nov. 1 2006 1:57 PM

Copyright Crackdowns

The critical buzz on YouTube, Richard Ford, and Laura Kipnis.

YouTube and myspace.

YouTube and MySpace Get Tough. This week, YouTube started taking down Comedy Central video clips, and MySpace began yanking copyrighted music from users' profiles using an automated program called Gracenote. But YouTube and Comedy Central were quick to come to a compromise, and YouTube has since reposted some of the clips. This has led to grumbling that it was all a negotiating tactic by Comedy Central parent Viacom. At information-technology blog TechDirt, poster Mike reflects, "Similar to the companies that hinted at future lawsuits just as they were negotiating with YouTube, Viacom is likely using this to put pressure on Google/YouTube to cough up a better deal for them." On BoingBoing, reader Aaron Newton notes, "It's moves like this, which aren't necessary due to the way the DMCA [Digital Music Copyright Act] works, that makes sites like this less socially relevant. MySpace is a haven for bands because it gives them these tools and doesn't make them really work hard to get their stuff online."

Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land (Knopf).

Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land (Knopf). The third installment in Ford's series of books about New Jerseyite Frank Bascombe sees our hero firmly planted in middle age and facing treatment for cancer. Many critics—who have been following Bascombe since Ford's first book about him, 1986's The Sportswriter—have developed an almost familial attachment to Ford's protagonist. "It can feel, writing about these books, that you are not evaluating a literary artifact so much as passing judgment on a person," muses A.O. Scott in the New York Times Book Review, and in the Guardian, Tim Adams cautions, "It is tempting to see Frank as a kind of American Everyman, but Ford knows him so well that he is never anything less than distinctly individual and real."Slate's Blake Bailey, however, finds Bascombe a "hard fellow to figure out, as he seems to adopt and discard personae on almost every other page." Indeed, some of Bascombe's extended ruminations on life have rubbed critics the wrong way. Entertainment Weekly's Gregory Kirschling jabs, "We like Frank even if he sometimes turns into a bit of a windbag," and the Los Angeles Times' David L. Ulin yawns, "The book meanders, taking pages to describe the simplest interactions, with an eye to detail that can be overwhelming, numbing, far too full." (Buy The Lay of the Land.)

Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing (Pantheon).
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Laura Kipnis, The Female Thing (Pantheon). The four chapters—dirt, sex, envy, and vulnerability—of Slate contributor Kipnis' follow-up to her 2003 pro-adultery polemic Against Love have sparked a bit of a critical contretemps—mostly among women. (Sections of this book appeared in different form in Slate.) What to make of this academic (Kipnis teaches at Northwestern) who, as Salon's Laura Miller puts it, "is like the intelligent woman's version of whatever Carrie Bradshaw was supposed to be on Sex and the City"? Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Alexandra Jacobs sneers, "It's as if Kipnis has eagerly Hoovered up every piece of media lint about white upper-middle-class 'chicks,' to use her saucy non-professorial parlance, and is now emptying the vacuum bag in our presence." Toni Bentley, reviewing for Bookforum, discloses that Kipnis criticized The Surrender, Bentley's paean to anal sex, as being "infused with the ecstasy of self-exposure" and takes the occasion to observe that Kipnis "offers no answers but does a Derrida on the female situation and leaves us to sort out the awful mess." But the New York Observer's Sheelah Kolhatkar takes the bird's-eye view (no pun intended) to note, "Both the television and print worlds are crowded with self-important boys fighting amongst themselves, but there's no Simone, Susan Sontag or even a kooky new Camille Paglia on the horizon"—and thus, she implies, Kipnis' "self-consciously irreverent voice" is a welcome one. (Buy The Female Thing.)

Shut Up & Sing (The Weinstein Company).

Shut Up & Sing (The Weinstein Company). Positive reviews and a little controversy never hurt anyone, as the new documentary about the Dixie Chicks ably demonstrates. "Life in Bush America gets a blunt, honest telling in this documentary that makes you want to stand up and cheer without ever begging for tears or glib sympathy," trills Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines "is a bull in a china shop with the voice of an angel, and you can't help but cheer her fuck-you to a kow-towing music industry, and to all the bullies who picketed her concerts, wanting her dead," raves LA Weekly's Ella Taylor. And the New York Post's Lou Lumenick straight-shoots that it's simply "sharper and far more entertaining than most political documentaries." (Buy tickets to Shut Up & Sing.)

Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in Babel
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in Babel 

Babel (Paramount Classics). Oh, how Alejandro González Iñárritu loves a complicated story line. His third collaboration with screenwriter Gabriel Arriaga features no fewer than four interconnected plots, and Slate's Dana Stevens notes, "Babel handles all of its story lines equally well." But The New Yorker's David Denby seems like he's had it up to here with González Iñárritu's overly coincidental moviemaking. Though González Iñárritu "creates savagely beautiful and heartbreaking images," Denby takes him to task: "He abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous." A.O. Scott, writing in the New York Times, decides to split the difference, sighing, "In the end Babel, like that tower in the book of Genesis, is a grand wreck, an incomplete monument to its own limitless ambition … It's a folly, and also, perversely, a wonder." Or, throw caution to the wind and take Rolling Stone's Peter Travers at his word when he calls Babel"the year's richest, most complex and ultimately most heartbreaking film." (Buy tickets to Babel.)

Death of a President
Death of a President

Death of a President (Newmarket Films). Critics give the technical aspects of British director Gabriel Range's faux documentary about an imagined assassination of President Bush grudging respect but are less enamored with the film itself. In the Village Voice, J. Hoberman calls it "dramatically inert but a minor techno-miracle," while in the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday asks, "Is it politically provocative agitprop or merely a cynical, exploitative stunt? Probably the latter, but one that has been performed with unusual dexterity." Whether agitprop or a stunt, several theater chains have banned the film, and some television stations are also refusing to show ads for it. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir knocks those making a fuss over the film's pseudo-realism: "Most of it is made-up controversy, fomented by possibly well-intentioned people (but also by boobs and morons) who haven't seen the film and who ascribe powers to mass-culture products that they don't actually possess. Nobody's going to kill Bush because it happens in a movie." (Buy tickets to Death of a President.)

R.I.P. Tower Records
Tower Records

Tower Records. The liquidation of Tower Records has begun, as have the requisite elegies for the venerable chain of music stores. The Los Angeles Times' Mark Swed writes, sadly, "Tower did take seriously its mission to be the world's most important record outlet." In the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini laments the demise of the location near Manhattan's Lincoln Center, because of its role in the classical music community: "For many people, tracking down a CD online, with only various critiques by unknown purchasers to guide them, is not the same as mingling with other opera buffs in front of the Verdi shelves." At the blog Serenade in Green, Stephen V. Funk notes that he doesn't own an iPod and wonders whether the growth in digital music led to Tower's rapid downfall: "I've been mourning the loss of Tower Records lately … I can't help but notice that there's never anyone younger than me shopping at Tower or any other record store these days." R.I.P., Tower.