Archive for the 'film' Category

Writing for Guernica


In Praise: Tom Brosseau at Astor Place Hair

My phenomenal friend Ben and his friends Hope and David shot a video of Tom Brosseau singing the traditional folk song “Darling Corey” (aka “Darling Cora”) in Astor Place Hair Salon. The Astor Place video and this one of Brosseau singing “Amory” on St. Mark’s Place are affiliated with Blogotheque’s Take Away Shows.

Both videos are brilliant, but the Astor Place video is especially so. I’m going to sound like a reviewer of the sort that annoys me, but I love so much about what Ben and his buddies have captured: the indifference — or only mild curiosity — of the barbers, hairdressers, and patrons; the venue, the bare presence of folk music at Astor Hair; Brosseau’s voice and the way he sets down his guitar mid-song and simply roams the salon, singing “Darling Corey”; the man caught touching the deserted guitar. The show makes my skin tingle.

Ben sent along the lyrics to “Darling Corey.” There seem to be a few different versions. Here’s the version Brosseau sings:


Oh, the last time I saw Darling Corey,
she was sitting on a bank on a field
with a 44 around her
and a banjo on her knee.

Wake up, wake up, my darling.
How can you sleep so sound?
Highway robbers are coming
to tear the old fieldhouse down.

Oh, go dig a hole in the meadow.
Oh, go dig a hole in the ground.
Dig a hole in the meadow.
Let me lay pretty Corey down.

Go away, go away, my darling
and bring to me my gun.
I got no mind for trouble
but trouble just now begun.

Oh, the last time I saw Darling Corey
she had my 45 in her hand,
saying I’ll kill them highway robbers,
if they leave here with my bed.

Oh, go dig a hole in the meadow.
Go dig a hole in the ground.
Dig a hole in the meadow.
Let me lay pretty Corey down.

Go away, go away, my darling.
Quit your hanging around my bed.
Whiskey has killed my body.
Pretty women will kill me stone dead.

Take off, take off in the ocean.
Take off in the deep blue sea.
Go and bring to me my Corey,
wherever she may be.

Oh, go dig a hole in the meadow.
Go dig a hole in the ground
Dig a hole in the meadow.
Let me lay pretty Corey down.

Wake up, wake up, my Darling.
Go and do the best you can.
I got me another woman.
You can find you another man.

Oh yes, oh yes, my darling.
I’ll do the best I can.
But I’ll never give my pleasure
to another gambling man.

Oh, go dig a hole in the meadow.
Oh, go dig a hole in the ground.
Dig a hole in the meadow.
Let me lay pretty Corey down.
Let me lay pretty Corey down.

I almost forgot: speaking of Astor Place, the salon also plays a role in The Survival of the Wildebeest, an upcoming film about another gem of a friend and artist, Stu.

The Earrings of Madame de…

After having all but half an inch of my previously long hair cut off today (had to squeeze that in somewhere — it’s on my mind), I went to see Max Ophuls’ 1953 The Earrings of Madame de… . I sat in the second row and did not have to worry about my hair blocking the view of those who sat behind me because my hair is really, really short — I look a little like a schoolboy and now feel I should make a point to wear flowing, delicately printed t-shirts; flats that show toe cleavage; subtle jewelry; and dark lipstick. And earrings — yes, earrings.

I went to see The Earrings for no good reason other than the rhapsodic reviews Anthony Lane, Andrew Sarris, and a few others (I hestitate to call any of these guys critics — they just write reviews, really) have written about the film. I’m a sucker for so many things, but especially for glowing reviews from wannabe highfalutin reviewers. Unless you’re looking for entertainment a la 300, it’s hard to resist praise like this:

When people have asked me to name the greatest film of all time — in my humble opinion, of course — my instant answer has been unvarying for the past 30 years or so: Madame de…

– Andrew Sarris

Should the day ever come when movies are granted the same respect as other arts, The Earrings of Madame de… will instantly be recognized as one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.

– Dave Kehr

So much instantaneity associated with this film.

So I saw it, short hair and all, and thought it was lovely — especially the costumes and the earrings. There are some fantastic aphoristic lines about love, unhappiness, coincidence (I noticed that most of these are spoken by Charles Boyer’s character). And the actors — especially the one who plays the Italian baron — are really good with the littlest gestures: I’m thinking of a moment when the baron is angry and isn’t in a position to express his anger; he fidgets and softly hits a table with his fist. It’s a peripheral gesture — perfect for the moment.

But I said lovely, not orgasmic. Why do reviewers have to talk about films like this one the overblown way they do? What cinematic values are they trying to uphold? Who are they trying to make feel small, special, coarse? What good does it do to tell an audience a film is “quintessential” (Hoberman at the Village Voice)? Quintessential to whom? If you like what?

I’m not trying to write a film review — or, gulp, film criticism — here. I’m just wondering what got me into the theatre in the first place and why reviewers approach their work so reductively and why I take even some of them at their word.

I don’t care if I sound like a snob (I can sound only so much like a snob having just suggested that the greatest film of all time according to cinephiles isn’t the greatest film of all time according to me): sometimes I wish there only critics, critics who drew my attention — and focused their own attention — on one little aspect of a film. No sweeping praise, no yeas or nays (okay, maybe nays). Just draw my attention to one little thing. And meditate on that thing, in writing, for as many paragraphs as you can. Free associate, I don’t care. Just parse the film and pick an element and make me interested first in that element as it exists anywhere and then, almost by association, in the film and then go away.

There’s a Cynthia Ozick essay in the April issue of Harper’s that calls for book criticism (as opposed to book reviews) of the sort I’d like to see with regard to film. Her sense of book criticism is a little limited, but she makes a few good points and a much-needed call to arms — or pens or keyboards.