Friday, August 17, 2007

Use your reviews

Whenever people (like me) go on at length about the noble art of reviewing – its necessary function, its role as Dionysus's Artistotle, Laurel's Hardy, the Chipmunks' Alvin, etc. – few admit that one of the most useful thing about well-written reviews are their ability to warn us off things we were harbouring doubts about, anyway. In that way, reviewers are like hipper, smarter, older friends who, with a slight pursing of the lips and shaking of the head, gently take our elbows as we're about to walk into Spiderman 3 and guide us across the street to a bar for a drink. "Money better spent," the reviews tell us, and we thank them for it.

It sounds crude, ignorant, intellectually lazy, and ant-art, and it can easily lead to unearned smugness (which should really be the subtitle of this blog), but it's a fact. There's only so many hours in a day, years in a life – we often need reviews for no more than a friendly heads-up or a thumbs-down.

They can do more than this, too: they can also confirm our suspicions about things we were never going to bother with in the first place.

Take for example, James Wolcott's assessment of that Californication show starring David Duchovny.
The sex romps are setups for Hank's kissoff lines and parting shots, some of which are so nasty they're like being spat upon. "Consider yourself defiled," he says to one babe as he brings their session to a premature close, and he tells the wife of a producer he's just laid (who had the nerve to insult him that the movie adaptation of Hank's novel was better than the novel itself), "Not only are you a cadaverous lay, you have shitty taste in movies."

"Have you ever heard someone refer to a lover as a 'cadaverous lay'? I doubt it," beams Doug Elfman in the Chicago Sun Times. "That's a mark of clever, original writing."

No, it's not, it's the hoofprint of misogyny, the same half-quip, half-sneer of hip misogyny knocking around in so many Hollywood comedies about manchildren with low metabolisms. I feel sorry for the actresses cast in Californication, who not only perform nude scenes--something many actresses are wary about, knowing those clips will be pasted forever on the internet--but then have their characters dispatched with a crude insult that adds a special spicy dash of indignity for the drive home. Yes, they knew what they were getting into, but even so--Shampoo didn't rubbish its actresses that way. That Hank gets his comeuppance now and then doesn't dispel the smog of contempt that permeates the pores of nearly everybody on this show for the crime of not living up to the ideals Hank supposedly possessed before the sin of selling out turned him into a husk of a writer attached to a roving penis. This is a show that takes cracks at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, another sign of slumming and catering to hip disdain. As an actor, Duchovny has become all attitude, which makes him the perfect protagonist for Californication, which is nothing but attitude in need of an oil change.

"Good," the mind says, "one more check-mark on my Not-To-Do List."

On a slightly higher intellectual level, it's always good to see someone pointing out the adolescent narcissism, snickering misogyny, and lack of human empathy that lurks behind - nay, animates - most supposedly "grown-up" comedy.

I've been very slowly making my way through the three seasons of The Royle Family (a show I can't believe I haven't watched before now), and the difference is instructive: for a show that depicts a human hell of farts, nose-picking, bad food, put-downs, and general shabbiness, it's astonishing just how deeply adult and empathic the thing is, right down to its core.


Ognir Rrats said...

Have you watched Saxondale?

nathan said...

Yes - just recently, and loved it more than I was expecting to, and more than anyone seems to have.

Rob In Victoria said...

Hmm... Can't say as I agree with Wolcott's assessment - sure, some of the comedy is insulting, but then, so is most comedy. What his evaluation lacks -- at least the passages quoted here -- is any sense of the context of the remarks.

Take the "Consider yourself defiled", for example. Yup, it's a cutting line. In context, though, much less so.

To set the stage, early in the episode there's a scene (seemingly random) about Hank getting pissed off with (and taking action against) someone taking a cellphone call during a movie (Hank's snuck in to see the adaptation of his book). The scene is funny in and of itself, but doesn't seem overly connected to the main narrative, until Hank is having drunken sex with a young woman and his cellphone rings, immediately after she requests of him "Defile me". Hank takes the call, and leaves the scene moments later with the parting shot (an action which doesn't glamourize him in any way, for the record).

Does that make the line less misogynistic? I'm not sure -- it certainly doesn't come out of the blue, the way Wolcott seems to suggest. The scene as a whole, though, is certainly a lot more interesting and rounded than Wolcott gives it credit for.

But the hell do I know. I'm just a juvenile, misogynistic, narcissistic pseudo-intellectual...


Ognir Rrats said...

I think Saxondale is genius, but being myself something of a decrepit middle-aged white guy who is not above wallowing in nostalgia for Jethro Tull, I'm biased. I can understand why some people wouldn't like it. It's not exactly Friends, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

So what was she expecting when she requested to be defiled- Just never heard the expression in Aust