In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
  2. Checking In
  3. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  4. Rock is ... Forever?
  5. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  6. Form Following (Commercial) Function
  7. Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
  8. Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
  9. What Might Representational Painters Paint?
  10. In The Times ...

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« Classic Prose | Main | My Antipodes »

February 02, 2004

Anthony Lane

Dear Friedrich --

Did he just have an off week, or has The New Yorker's Anthony Lane become a terrible writer?

I was as amazed as anyone when Lane first arrived at The New Yorker. His writing may have been nothing but pinwheels, fireworks and fairy dust, but his columns had a performer's charge of their own. What a brilliant, breezily-confident, full-of-mischief prodigy. You didn't read him to find out about movies -- Lane has always been useless as a film critic. But he had something like Kenneth Tynan's semi-camp verbal facility mixed in with something like Andrew Dice Clay's lewd pleasure in self-display. You read Lane to see what wild joke he was going to crack that week.

But it's been a few years since I followed The New Yorker regularly. This week, I picked up a copy of the magazine and turned to Lane's review of the screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' memoir "Hollywood Animal," hoping for something richly entertaining. How wrong I was. What an unfunny and unwitty piece of work. It was as though, while his typing fingers were busy turning Anthony Lane cartwheels, his brain was engaged elsewhere.

Lane describes the loud, crude, long book he's reviewing as "shy and blushing." (How archly amusing ... I suppose.) Eszterhas writes at length about his childhood in Cleveland, "and so much of the autobiography is devoted to the rough joys of the city that the title 'Hollywood Animal' comes to sound unjust, although I guess the marketing department at Knopf might have balked at a book called 'Cleveland Human Being'." A lot of engine-revving for a joke that never takes off, no? "It may be that some brave young editor at Knopf took the liberty of suggesting a gentle rewrite; if so, whoever you are, it's safe to come out from under the desk now. The storm has passed, and the book is in the shop." I don't hear anything but the clatter of word-processing keys in that passage.

I read this review feeling like I ought to be making the kind of indulgent chuckling sounds you make when an ancient aunt who's on the decline but hasn't realized it yet ventures a witticism. Lane writes about how Eszterhas, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer spent time in Toronto researching exotic dancing while preparing "Flashdance," and follows those sentences with this payoff: "We don't learn whether the costs of this scholarly trip were written off against taxes." Anthony Lane: dotty old thing.

Humor's a very personal matter, which is why I'm curious about how you respond to the above. Does any of it strike you as dazzling? Does it even strike you as amusing? Me, I find it about as funny as late-period Bob Hope; all I sense is spent comic reflexes and mannerisms. But Lane is still in his 40s, I believe. Can someone that young already be written-out?

But I wouldn't have bothered taking much note if I hadn't finished the review feeling a little miffed by Lane's tone. I'm not sure whether it comes across in the above quotes. But there's a gentle-chuckles-for-we-who-know-better something in his manner that makes me want to scrawl graffiti on the magazine's pages. I'm as fond as anyone of gasping in horror at the carryings-on of the showbiz crowd, but in this review it's as though Lane is trying to persuade us that spinning his wheels and failing to engage with his subject matter has its lovable charms. It's as though he wants us to feel that all this handkerchief-waving and exhausted prancing-about makes him (and us) superior human beings.

Maybe Lane was having an off week, and maybe someone someday will figure out how to make me enjoy effete, fussy self-bemusement. But what this Lane review made me feel instead was nostalgic for some of the shrewd, pushy vulgarity of Eszterhas' work in "Jagged Edge" and "Basic Instinct." Whatever the flaws in those scripts, the one thing they don't lack is gut-level commitment.

Do you read Lane regularly-enough to have an opinion about whether he's lost the magic entirely?

Hey, I see that The New Yorker has put Lane's piece online. It can be read here. Robert Birnbaum interviews Lane here.



posted by Michael at February 2, 2004


I'm not surprised that Mr. Lane's jokes turned a bit flat. He seems to have written an amazing amount on film (and on literature and other stuff as well) without really having any very unique point-of-view on it, at least that I could identify from either my reading of him, or your posting or from the interview you link to. Question: are there any reviewers coming at reviewing from a sort of coherent theoretical point of view about what makes for better and worse movies? I mean, I wouldn't even mind if their ideas were fairly idiotic; just the attempt would garner some points in my book. (I mean, what's the deal with all this post-modern theory in film school; can't anybody actually apply it meaningfully to actual movie-making?)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 4, 2004 11:33 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?