“How to Be a Critic” by Richard Brody, The New Yorker — This essay was written in response to a New York Times article I shared last week. Brody seeks to provide balance, accepting the importance of criticism while placing it beneath the greater importance of art itself. In so doing, he points out passages from the Dwight Garner editorial that hadn’t stuck out for me. Maybe this represents Brody picking out and picking on passages with which he disagreed, but maybe it’s an example of how a reader — me — can read in such a way that the writing says what he wants to hear. Brody’s desire is for us all to take a step back and think before launching verbal grenades at people.
“The Skuriels Countdown: #15 (tie) Pulp Fiction” by Jason Overbeck & Jason Alley — All right, so I’ve talked plenty about the Sight & Sound Greatest Films Poll, and you were just starting to think we’d be done with that stuff for about ten years. Well, here’s another list, this time a top twenty, compiled by a group of online critics. Read about the other nineteen films or ignore them; I only wanted to mention one in particular, because it’s still my favorite film. Two critics tell briefly about their experience with Pulp Fiction. Capsule reviews filled with ecstatic praise are the kind of thing I just gobble up. From now on I will describe the film as a “quasi-surreal, philosophical pop-culture underworld epic.”
“Verdant Vertigo: Dreaming in Technicolor” by Jim Emerson, Scanners (blog) — If I keep finding them, I might just share something about Vertigo every week for a while. This essay on the film, focusing on its use of color, is fantastic, and it also features a bunch of gorgeous stills from the film. Color is so taken for granted today that some might be surprised by how purposefully it’s employed in Vertigo. Much of the symbolism makes perfect sense and can even hit us on a subconscious level, so a person can enjoy the film without studying up. But as with all good film writing, Emerson’s work can help us see things in a new way.
“Mystery and Message, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Art” by Jeffrey Overstreet, Looking Closer (Patheos blog) — The bulk of this post is actually an essay by Overstreet’s former teacher, Michael Demkowicz. The essay is all about approaching art as an exploration of “mystery.” This is an idea that I’ve been bumping into lately (for example, here, here and here). The concept of a work of art containing more than even the artist is aware of at first, or that art can raise more questions than it answers, even “[challenging] us to ask the questions” — to some extent, the way I’ve been brought up to think about art or entertainment resists these ideas. But as I begin to look more and more outside my own experience, essays like this really speak to me. Art is not a thesis; it can’t be reduced to a political or religious argument, no matter how hard people try. Art is something to ponder over time.
“The God of Independent Minds” by Yoram Hazony, The Wall Street Journal — Hazony, an Orthodox Jew, presents a wonderful corrective to the misconception that religion is, by definition, the enemy of reason. The Hebrew Scriptures, as he points out, are filled with people who question authority, both human and divine. God doesn’t stamp these people out or make mindless slaves of them. Instead, the people who boldly debate God have become heroes of the faith. The article is very well-structured. Every time a reader may think, “But what about…” Hazony covers the objection. I especially appreciate this article for how it highlights praiseworthy elements in what, to my knowledge, is a widely misunderstood set of books, the Old Testament.
“We May Not Like What Rihanna Says About Chris Brown, But We’d Better Listen” by Dodai Stewart, Jezebel — I was too young to know much about the O.J. Simpson murder trial while it was happening. But a few years ago, after Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna, I remember reading somewhere that Brown seemed to share characteristics with Simpson, that Brown and Rihanna could possibly get back together eventually, and that it very likely wouldn’t end well. This was in some magazine, so I don’t know how much weight to give it, but needless to say, I’ve been a little worried about Rihanna ever since. Her attempts to reconcile with Brown recently haven’t helped my worries, but I appreciated this article for putting them in perspective. If the feelings she’s expressing really are common to assault victims, then we do need to pay attention.
“An Open Letter to Rep. Akin from a Woman Who Got Pregnant from Rape” by Shauna Prewitt, xoJane — In the world of politics, they’ve been discussing Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about rape and pregnancy since he made them last Sunday. Amid all the blows and counterblows, the wrangling over statistics, and Akin’s seeming belief that all he did was use the wrong words, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that rape is something that happens to real people. It’s not just an “issue,” to be wielded by either party for a political agenda. Prewitt shares her story, and it’s amazing to read for its honesty, deep sorrow and resilience. This is the kind of thing that elevates our discourse about such a complex and painful subject.
“Umpire Jim Joyce saves woman’s life, then works home plate” by Chuck Schilken, Los Angeles Times — The big news of the week leaned toward the sad and/or infuriating: Todd Akin, Lance Armstrong, the suicide of Tony Scott, the Empire State Building shooting. It was a no-brainer to highlight this wonderful story that took place the same week. Umpires, like all referees, are frequently maligned for bad calls, but come on! That it was Jim Joyce, the only umpire’s name I recognize (previously for a pretty lame reason), just takes the story to another level. The L.A. Times headline says it all, but the article, of course, fills in the details.