Blount tickles with review of Kael's look back at 40 years of movie watching

MAGAZINES

November 27, 1994|By Mark Feeney | Mark Feeney,Boston Globe

It figures that Roy Blount Jr. and Pauline Kael would be friends. Even if they weren't neighbors out in Western Massachusetts, the (arguably) funniest man in America and the (indisputably) greatest of all movie critics simply ought to be pals: Everything that rises does converge. What doesn't figure is that Mr. Blount would write a terrifically readable -- which is not to say reflexively favorable -- review of Ms. Kael's new book.

Friendship is no friend to book reviewing, but you wouldn't know that from Mr. Blount's assessment in the Atlantic Monthly (December) of "For Keeps," an omnibus collection from Ms. Kael's 40 years of seeing the movies more memorably than anyone else.

Mr. Blount reveals that the teen-age Ms. Kael once went up against a teen-age Carol Channing in a high school debate. "Who would win, Captain Marvel or King Kong? Mother Courage or Auntie Mame?" he wonders. He recalls being in Ms. Kael's company when an oafish salesman gave her a chauvinistically hard time and in response she deployed a sentence that contained (not necessarily in this order) the second-person singular, the name "Charlie" and the Anglo-Saxon word for having an extremely good time.

Reading about this will make you laugh out loud. So, too, might Mr. Blount's recollection of how Ms. Kael observed "during a very brief biblical discussion in my car one afternoon that the New Testament was 'a bit sticky.' "

A few pages before Mr. Blount's review, William Matthews has a poem called "Cheap Seats, the Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959." You don't have to know who Jack Twyman was to cherish its conclusion: "This was loneliness/with noise, unlike the kind I had at home/with no clock running down, and mirrors."

Ever so distantly, those words chime with Mr. Blount's: Mr. Matthews could just as well be writing about the movies. Loneliness with noise takes many forms.

Interviewing editors

The Paris Review (Fall) had the excellent idea of extending its famous series of literary interviews to include editing. They begin with Robert Gottlieb, who first at Simon & Schuster, then at Knopf, made his reputation as the foremost American book editor of this half-century. (He also did more than OK as editor of the New Yorker for five years -- but that's a different story.)

Mr. Gottlieb makes it sound easy: "Editing is simply the application of the common sense of any good reader." A few sentences later, though, he suggests just how uncommon that sense is. "I was about forty years old when I had an amazing revelation (this will sound dumb): it suddenly came to me that not every person in the world assumed, without thinking about it, that reading was the most important thing in life. I hadn't known that. I hadn't even known that I had thought it, it was so basic to me."

Along with Mr. Gottlieb's own remarks, we get the comments of several of his most famous authors: Toni Morrison, Cynthia Ozick, John le Carre, et al. For anyone who has ever tried to improve a piece of writing -- whether his own or someone else's -- this is mandatory reading.

Does not compute

Rolling Stone (Dec. 1) has a special section on computers. Wenner's Wired, as one might call it, has nothing on the original. What it's got is pretty passe: the Internet, ecology-conscious components (what software does Al Gore use?), the digitization of music, consumer tips and a profile of Jimi Hendrix-worshiping info-mogul Paul Allen, who founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. The writer of the profile is named Kit Boss. Great byline -- unfortunately, also the best thing in the issue . . .

RS isn't the only mainstream mag logging on. People announces its first CD-ROM, "People: 20 Years of Pop Culture." The highlight is the "Di-O-rama," which tells you all you need to know -- actually, rather a good deal more -- about People's favorite princess, right down to some audio from the notorious Squidgy tape. The same issue that carries the announcement (Nov. 28) reminds us of what a harsh mistress fame can be with 60 pages of where-are-they-nows. Most belong to the superfluous-post-pixel category (Emmanuel Lewis, Louise Lasser, Charlene Tilton), but Mike and Kitty Dukakis pop up, as does ex-Red Sox first baseman, Bill Buckner.

Conservative viewpoint

In the fall a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of circulation figures -- this being the time of year when magazines run those "Statement of Ownership" boxes deep in back. The one for Policy Review (Fall) lists 46,410 copies as its latest total. Will the figure hit six figures by this time next year? The Heritage Foundation, the leading conservative think tank in Washington, publishes Policy Review, and these are heady days for conservatives -- thinking, tanked and otherwise. So, too, are they heady on the nation's airwaves, where so many talk-show Tocquevilles rule the political roost.

What better lead story for the current issue, then, than Rush Limbaugh on "Why Liberals Fear Me." It's a dittohead's delight.

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