Friday, April 14, 2006

One of the producers of the rather horrid "Kettle of Fish" was Michael Mailer; his brother Stephen Mailer has a small part in the movie. Both are progeny of Norman Mailer. (See? Things always tie together, if you can find a link.) Stayed up last night and saw the credits for "Count Your Blessings", a lousy and strenuous "comedy" from the late 1950s; it's one of those movies where Deborah Kerr tries too hard. (Yet she's utterly charming and funny in "The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp" and "Vacation from Marriage" which were shown just before on TCM.) But what freaked me out was that the credits state that the movie is based on Nancy Mitford's "The Blessing"! I didn't realize that: though the bare bones of the plot are the same, the movie clumps so much that the bare bones of the novel got utterly trampled. But then, i saw the movie so long ago (i actually remember going to see it in a theater!) and i read the novel later, so there was no connection between the two.

Found the novel (a paperback edition, Popular Library did these editions where the Mitford novels were paired; "The Blessing" came with "Don't Tell Alfred"), and it reminds me that there are some paperbacks that have simply vanished. I have no idea where they went and they didn't show up when we packed/unpacked in the move. I don't know where Dorothy Richardson's "Pilgrimage" series is; that's something i'd like to look at again. My two favorite Iris Murdoch novels, "Under the Net" and "The Flight from the Enchanter", have also gone. (This reminds me that one problem i have is that i tend to read a writer from start to... wherever i wind up. When i read Iris Murdoch, she had written about 12 novels at that point, it was in the mid-1960s, by that point, the last novel she had written was "Bruno's Dream", and so i read "A Severed Head" and "The Bell Jar" and "The Red and the Green" and "The Italian Girl" and... well, "The Nice and the Good" is another big favorite. But that means that books like "The Sea, The Sea" or "The Green Knight" or anything she wrote after 1967 (where i went through two months where i read her novels), i have no idea... and i get this pang, like maybe i should take the time and read her post-1967 novels. But once i finish with a writer.... i love immersing myself in her or his sensibility, i love going from start to "finish" but it's hard (after that) to pick up the thread. (That's what's happened to Anita Brookner, and Ann Tyler... but in the case of Ann Tyler, after her first six novels, which i read in just about one sitting, i have picked up a few of her novels... "Back When We Were Grownups" was one.) That's such a bad habit...

But one thing is that one problem with "romantic comedies" is that there actually is material out there, but people in Hollywood don't seem to know it. Alicia Silverstone, for example, can be an absolutely charming comedienne, as she proved in "Clueless" and she's the right age (now) and she'd be perfect as the heroine (the blonde Jewish philosophy grad student) of Rebecca Goldstein's "The Mind Body Problem".

Ah... Jewish writers. Reminds me that two weeks ago, i read "Ravelstein". Yes, Saul Bellow is another writer that i did my usual: i stopped with "Mr. Sammler's Planet". And i didn't read anything he wrote after that. (Actually, i have to admit that Saul Bellow was a writer that i didn't even bother going all the way through: there were gaps. I never read "The Adventures of Augie March" until this summer!) But reading "Ravelstein", it reminded me of something Mary McCarthy wrote about the death of the novel, and how writers (Dickens, say, or Tolstoy) were engaged in writing about life, and a certain reportage was part of the novelist's craft. But the social conditions of the writer's life have contracted: writers basically know other writers, they study writing, etc.

And this can be seen in Saul Bellow: "The Adventures of Augie March is one of those "teeming with life" books ("Dickensian" is one of those adjectives that always gets bandied about); it's filled with amazing descriptive passages that depict the people and the places that Augie sees. But "Ravelstein" is a much thinner book, and i'm not just talking about size. I mean in terms of the texture: the life of academics just doesn't have the excitement for Bellow that the life of the tenements had. Bellow can't make "ideas" come alive, that's not his forte. He can't dramatize ideas in a way that make them vibrate.

Actually, i enjoyed "Ravelstein" a lot, but it just doesn't have the "weight" of his earlier books. But it also points to the way that writers develop in our society: if they become successful, their social standing shifts, and the social interactions constrict. Bellow was a renowned author and he taught at the University of Chicago, and his social circle became other writers, students and other teachers, etc.

This brings me to another point: when i was sending off my work to the bigger regional/nonprofit theaters, i got, not the standard rejection letters, but these horrendous two and three page letters, denouncing me! The reason: these people had contacted me, expecting an "ethnic" writer, and, instead, i was an avantgarde writer, and my subject was my life. And since i was 10, my "life" consisted of reading and going to movies and art in New York City. And by the time i was 15, that became my professional life. And i would have had to have been as retarded as most of the people running most of the nonprofit theaters in the US, to have continued to write about "Chinatown" (which, really, ended for me by the time i was about 5). I don't know what's happening in Chinatown now.

But i thought Nancy Mitford's novels were charming... even though i was so depressed about the fact that the Mitford sisters were neo-Nazis (with the exception of Jessica).

But i guess what i'm saying is that, if Saul Bellow can write about University of Chicago academics in "Ravelstein" because, by the 1960s, his life had become that, why is it so unusual for me to write about avantgarde filmmakers and performance artists and critics and curators?


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