Thursday, May 28, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

WC: The Weirdness of Writing Reviews

I've been enjoying reviewing plays over at Show Showdown, but I find myself frustrated by the customs of criticism. Reviews are supposed to be written without much reference to one's self, but, to me, the lack of the "I" makes it sound as though I am pontificating from on high. And who am I to pontificate? I'm just one person, and I'm often in the minority (eg, I disliked the generally adored new production of Our Town and was impressed by The Singing Forest, which my three co-audience members fled at the first intermission). Yet when I succumbed to writing in the "honest I," as in my reviews of Everyday Rapture and Mary Stuart, the reviews seemed unprofessional and less well-written. When I went back to the "omniscient know-it-all," as in Our Town and The Singing Forest, the reviews came across as, well, real reviews.

It's odd, really. Reviewers and critics can, and should, give reasons for their opinions, and certainly a knowledgeable writer can bring a particular insight to the table. But, ultimately, isn't it all just "I liked it" or "I didn't like it"? Is there any real difference between Ben Brantley and many other audience members other than he's in the Times and we're not? Yet his opinions, his preferences, can seriously affect the future of a show and will remain accessible for decades in the archives of "the paper of record." In our culture, we appoint people as experts--or they appoint themselves--but too often rather than being genuine experts, they're just well-located and/or well-connected.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WC: All The President's Men

Just saw All the President's Men for the first time. (I missed many movies in the '70s. First I was in college, then I was doing theatre, and then I was--finally!--getting laid.) It's a fascinating movie, well made, but it relies on the viewer bringing a certain amount of knowledge to the table, which makes me wonder how long people will actually be watching it. But even without knowledge of Watergate, the viewer would still get to see many interesting things, such as these two:
  • How much work everything was pre-Internet. To try to find someone, Woodward goes through phone book after phone book. Every article is painstakingly typed and then painstakingly input into, what?, a linotype machine maybe? No interviews are recorded--notes are taken by hand. The lack of cell phones slows down communication immensely.
  • How much work is involved in investigating reporting. Yes, there's less grunt work now, but it's still a labor-intensive 24/7 project requiring imagination, communication skills, a willingness to manipulate, the ability to figure out a puzzle without having all the pieces, and incredible stamina. I hope it doesn't become a lost art.
The film features a wonderful array of actors in supporting and bit parts. I caught, for example, Steven Collins, Lindsay Crouse, Nicolas Coster, and Meredith Baxter but failed to identify Polly Holiday and Penny Fuller. (Victoria Clark and Alice Ripley were not in it, but I'm mentioning them so that my sister and my best bud will get Google alerts on this review. Hi Holly. Hi Susan.)

I thought Robert Redford was wonderful (I'm not usually a fan), as was Dustin Hoffman (I am usually a fan). Jason Robards, who I always think of as relying on his gravelly voice too much, and also mumbling too much, relies on his gravelly voice too much and mumbles too much. At one point, I put on the closed captions to see what he was saying, but they hadn't understood him either, and the screen remained blank while he spoke.

On a serious level, the big take-away for me is the reminder that the current despicable dishonesty of the Republican Party is nothing new. Sometimes I wonder how low they can possibly go, but this movie reminds me how low they have already gone. As David Byrne and Brian Eno wrote, "Same as it ever was, same as it ever was."