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Archive for February, 2012

Enter Dave Barry….

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

This isn’t going to be very serious. After all, it involves Dave Barry, one of my all-time favorite comic writers, so there’s nothing to provoke a frown in the paragraphs ahead. Nor is there anywhere through Barry’s new novel, “Lunatics,” written with yet another comedy writer, Alan Zweibel. I have no idea how two people go about writing one novel, but given the loose-limbed, anything-goes, over-the-top form of this one, I’m willing to guess that alcohol had something to do with it.

 Barry, of course, is the long-time Miami newspaper columnist whose humor has always resonated with me. That is, he writes lines so funny I have found myself spitting out the Coke I was drinking. Zweibel was one of the original Saturday Night Live writers and has won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. A funny guy, too.

“Lunatics,” which I read over a weekend — it is not a challenging read — is an outrageous spoof of contemporary politics and diplomacy cleverly disguised as a picaresque adventure of two bumbling men. Philip Horkman is the genteel, happy owner of a pet store called “The Wine Shop,” and you may immediately sense some of the lunacy at work in these pages. Jeffrey Peckerman is a pompous jerk, a forensic plumber no less, whose path is fated to cross that of Horkman on a ten-year-old girls’ soccer field. 

From such an innocent beginning, we are treated to a round-the-world odyssey of alleged terrorism that keeps getting more and more unbelievable — and unbelievably funny (if sometimes a tad vulgar and sophomoric). Everyone and everything gets parodied, from nuns and Jews to Arab terrorists, Fidel Castro, the continent of Africa and everyone in the People’s Republic of China. I’m not giving away anything to tell you that the books’s finale includes surprise appearances by Horkman and Peckerman at the nominating conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. And yes, Donald Trump figures in it as well. 

Any rational person would of course be asking at this point, “How can that possibly be?” And the answer is that no rational person would ever get that far into this novel. Only the slightly wiggy, I suspect, will follow Horkman and Peckerman to the end. But they — like me, I hope — will have found the journey a much-needed break from the partisan, demeaning, half-true conversations that pass for political party discourse in the real world these days.

Watching Alfred Hitchcock

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

I’ve been meaning for a long time to look more closely into the early films directed by one of my favorites, Alfred Hitchcock. Most of us are familiar with his later classics: “North by Northwest,” ‘The Birds,” “Psycho,” and “Vertigo” surely among them. But Hitchcock didn’t get to America until 1940, when he directed “Rebecca;” he had learned his craft directing more than 20 films in Great Britain before that time, going all the way back to the era of the silent cinema.

Most of those early films are in general circulation and can be fairly easily (and cheaply) viewed. They are fascinating, especially the silent movies, showing Hitchcock as a very young man — he was born in England in 1899 — who already possesses a singular vision behind the camera. His earliest films have been lost, but his third film and first thriller, “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,” made in 1926 survives. As one critic writes, in spite of certain conventions, it is visually clever and “is virtually a textbook for Hitchcock’s later work” with its theme focused on an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime.

“The Ring” from 1927, another silent film, also sparkles with inventive direction including the director’s good use of close-ups of his actors. His last complete silent film, “The Manxman” (1929), apparently has met with little critical praise, but its admittedly melodramatic tale of love and guilt — magnificently photographed on the Isle of Man — nonetheless is sustained by some compelling moments from Hitchcock.

Moving into the early talkies, Hitchcock oversaw several notable films with his growing craft and confidence, digging into a theme of deception, particularly among those of law and order who prove false in “Blackmail” (1929) and later in the unusual “Rich and Strange” (1932) exploring the extremes of life and death. For those accustomed only thinking of Hitchcock only in a master of suspense, some of these films will come as quite a surprise. Several are light comedies, and as mentioned earlier, a melodrama, and yet few are boring or unviewable for most modern audiences.

Several collections of these early films may be found in circulation, and libraries will be a good source to find many. Online are several multi-CD sets, reasonably priced and rewarding for those who would like to sample a part of the Hichcock canon they don’t know. It’s fun to see the director’s recurring techniques, from the swooping overhead camera shots to the blurring of sound between a woman’s scream and a train’s whistle to the presence of birds (always a sign of chaos). And you can also spot Hitchcock himself in many of the films with the cameo appearances that many viewers came to expect in each later movie.

There are several books about Hitchcock’s films and several biographies which provide good overviews of his life and work. Among them are Donald Spoto’s “The Dark Side of Genius,” “Hitchcock Piece By Piece” by Laurent Bouzereau and Patricia Hitchcock, “Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light” by Patrick McGilligan and “Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews.”