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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tax appointment (that 'old advertisement' paneling in the bathroom -- you know, cigars, foot powder, corsets, just like the tables in Wendy's when I was nine), haircut (probably too short but I don't want to have to think about it), eyeglass adjustment (they were looking crooked on my face, not the impression I want to give my students right off). 'My accountant' (a family friend) is in Upland, so I've been in the Empire all day. Some things change: The who-goes-there? 'ladies' shop' near the barber, full of cat sweatshirts (and, strangely, a Warhol poster I unsuccessfully tried to get the crazy owner to part with five years ago) is now empty. But some things don't: The moment I walk into the used bookstore, "Chick" Goldsmid is rambling some poor Pomona freshman who's just bought a Borges collection about Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes, ex-Pomona English profs who translated a good deal of JLB's poetry and then turned out not to have the rights after all. "Robert is coming back to live in Claremont next year -- you must look him up, don't be shy, use my name...." He neglected to mention the pompous-ass/last-poet-I-liked-was-Thomas-Hardy part. (Dick Barnes, a locally beloved figure, passed a few years ago; he taught the only creative-writing I only took, and all I really recall was him getting on someone's ass for claiming in a story that there were no seasons in So. Cal.) Picked up a Herbert Read pb with the notion it might give me a couple of extra clues about what to say about a certain kind of position on art and education when I lecture on The Republic in a couple of weeks. (Sasha, I'll be back to you on that Thrasymachus query soon.) Ran into a couple of other people, nothing to go into here.

I'll get to Pretty Poison in a day or two -- for now, just some scatter on:

Play It As It Lays (1972). I believe I've read the novel twice, but it's been maybe 6 years -- this adaptation seems faithful in most respects, but I don't remember the Beckett-in-Malibu quality being quite so pronounced. (For the record, I quite like Didion; I respond to the cheapness of the paranoia.) Some very heavy-handed existentialist moments, esp. a shot of Tuesday Weld's hand scrawling 'NOTHING APPLIES' across a psychological questionnaire, and the closing bit -- her voiceover says "...but I keep playing." Anthony Perkins' voice-from-the-grave: "Why?" TW: "Why not?" This is salvaged a little by the running joke about the word itself: "Existentially, I'm getting a hamburger."

The only other film I've seen by David Perry is The Swimmer, a Cheever adaptation/expansion that is again much less subtle than the original, but actually somewhat harrowing, thanks to a just-starting-to-age Burt Lancaster. But it's a horrible mess stylistically -- water on the lens, light sources going out of focus, the montage scene of Lancaster cavorting with the neighbors' daughter that he mistakenly things he is still stallion enough to conquer. Straight TV movie, I don't care if it's ironized -- something about that movie puts me in mind of Smithson ripping on color-field painters, and not just the word 'wet' either. (Never been a fan of 'New Hollywood,' really; possibly just a kind of directing that's lost on me.)

The point being, Play is considerably crisper -- much fast or before-the-beat cutting, even between longer shots. It's all toward the usual what-it's-like-inside-a-mind-coming-unhinged purposes, but watchable. Many fragments of traffic signs; one reads "Do Not Drive Into Smoke" -- I've never seen that one anywhere in L.A.. Truly ugly shot of the whole freeway sprawl; just awful, and this is 32 years ago, which explains my commute.

Weld variable -- I guess this is her great lost performance, but I couldn't connect. It may not be her fault. The film (maybe the book as well) has a huge dramatic problem, I think: We're supposed to go down this road from innocence to 'nothing matters' (she lets Anthony Perkins commit suicide on her lap) with her as though it's the spiritual crisis of the age, but it doesn't seem to occur to her that maybe part of her problem is that the particular people she's surrounded herself with are utter moral cretins. The brilliant-director/oh-you'll-have-the-abortion husband, especially, is beyond belief -- we'd like to see how he got that way.

That said, Perkins completely great, not doing the nervous thing at all, just a terrific reader of lines. And some appreciated, though fleeting, support from two musical-theater oddballs: Ruth Ford, ingenue of several '30s (maybe even late '20s) Rodgers & Hart shows -- I think she introduced "Here In My Arms." And Tammy Grimes, her scratched purr instantly recognizable. Grimes had almost no film career -- the old Merman/Stritch curse, a face slightly too odd for Hollywood. Her big Broadway hit was The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Debbie Reynolds in the movie), but I'm very fond of three late-'50s cabaret records, one with the classic two-cocktail-piano backing; the album I learned to love "Let's Take A Walk Around The Block" from. Irrelevant, I know -- the point here is that she does gossipy bitch here to a fine turn, and even gets to scream a little at the end.

Had to stop by Aron's at the screening to look for a Tyde record to check a lyric/title I'd quoted in a recent live review. Turns out the song I wanted was on a CD-EP who's non-album track is called: "Play It As It Lays." (Hey, a band this self-consciously Californian have every claim to the title, and it's good too -- not specially connected to the book, but another trials-of-the-non-star-rocker saga, which probably sounds awful but earns my empathy b/c I know them. And for a band that's supposed to have exclusively '60s influences, this sounds remarkably like better-than-average late Grant McClennan.) This song, "Milkshake," and a chirpy Johnnie Ray/Doris Day duet called "Let's Walk Thisaway" are this week's in-car heatseekers.

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