Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Monday, October 26, 2009

Richard Schickel Slams Robert Altman's Oeuvre

Richard Schickel slams Altman's films and Mitchell Zuckoff's oral biography of the director in his book review in the Los Angeles Times.

His films do not transcend their times; even the best of them remain trapped within those times.

This book provides massive evidence that people had lots of fun making them, but none whatsoever that they will survive as anything more than historical curiosities.

Well, it's about time, too. I never understood why Altman was such a critic's darling. I remember seeing "MASH" with my parents and sister when I was 13 years old, and I recall enjoying it, probably because its mildly transgressive language, sexual content and anti-authoritarian humor amused me. I also liked "Brewster McCloud," for the same reasons, and for the plausible-looking human ornithopter apparatus Bud Cort uses to fly at the film's end. I later discovered Altman's "Countdown," which is his most conventional film and also his best. I saw quite a few of Altman's subsequent films, including his putative masterpieces, "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Nashville," and just didn't find them entertaining. The unending praise of Altman as an American artist remains inexplicable to me.

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Celebrity Books

How many times do we have to read the same hand-wringing screed about how celebrity books are destroying good literature and perverting the nobler instincts of publishers?

I must confess that when I heard, in 2007, that Katie Price’s debut novel had sold more copies that the entire Booker shortlist that year, I did smile. Publishers have to make a profit, and novels by celebrities sell. Indeed, they might shift around 100,000 in hardback, compared with less than 1,000 for the average hardback literary novel. And, in theory, for every celebrity book that makes money, the publisher is given the chance to take a risk on a dozen literary novels which deserve publication, but which may well make a loss.

In some ways, I felt sorry for the assembled publishers having to sit through Lynda La Plante’s tirade. Most of them are highly educated with a passion for literature, and they became publishers in the hope of finding the next Vladimir Nabokov, not the next Martine McCutcheon. They must find this trend pretty dispiriting, too. Last Christmas, the entire top 10 for non-fiction was taken up with celebrity autobiographies, all written by ghostwriters. This year, it looks like the entire fiction list will be taken up with celebrity novels, again all written by ghostwriters.

Publishers will put anything between covers that they think will sell. I'm surprised that their lists contain any books that aren't by celebrities or the latest self-help or diet bullcon. Publishers are not interested in finding and nurturing the latest great writer and they aren't dispirited by publishing celebrity books, otherwise they wouldn't do it. It's that simple.

People buy "lowbrow" celebrity novels because they like easily-digested, plot-driven novels, the same kind which are written by most popular authors writing under their own names.

Most of the books that are sold are purchased by casual readers who are attracted by the latest hyped diet, self-help, scandal, demagogic political screed by some radio or TV blowhard or whatever Oprah recommends. Everything else is marginal. Literary novels and serious nonfiction books have low sales because the erudite, discriminating reader is a statistical freak, if not actually a ghost. Ezra Pound was once asked why there wasn't more great poetry. Because, Pound said, there aren't more great audiences.

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Were Parents Who Purchased Baby Einstein Videos Merely Naive?

Chez Pazienza mocks the Federal Trade Commission's decision to force Disney to issue refunds to purchasers of its Baby Einstein videos and derides parents who he concludes shouldn't have been so naive as to think these videos would transform their little tykes into nascent geniuses. The latter argument is simply a straw man. The packaging and marketing strongly suggest that the videos are educational, which is a much more modest and superficially plausible claim than that they will turn your child into a genius.

The videos have no educational value, so are falsely advertised. The FTC's action is perfectly justified.

People should always exercise skepticism in purchasing products, but since it is possible for a video to have some educational value, parents who purchased them relying on that assumption, which was created by Disney, weren't necessarily being gullible.

It's a shame that the FTC, since Reagan, has been underfunded and politically hobbled. There are many other companies that are deserving of similar action.

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