Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tis The Season

to be jolly,or depressed, depending on how things have been going,and what prospects there are of their going anywhere else. But tis also the time when the studios glut the writers with movie invitations, so they can get in there in time for nominations. Thus it is that I have been to almost everything, and will herewith give my reviews. Good Night and Good Luck is my top pick, not because George Clooney is not just another pretty face, and is trying really hard to lift the level out there, and maybe even make an important political point, but because it is riveting, smokily on target, and my darling friends Shirley and Joe Wershba, who worked with Murrow and are portrayed in the film by Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Carlson, which has given them a new lease on life, especially Shirley, who has probably always wanted to be a blonde. The movie is as intense as that period we lived through as concerned baby girls, which, when contrasted with the present horrors in government seems kind of like a bicycle ride.
Next, I would recommend King Kong, with someone next to you to hide your eyes on, as the violence is excessive--after the dinosaur stampede and fa;lling through chasms there's a cave full of worm things that eat off people's heads while they can still be heard screaming inside the worm,something I could devoutly have done without and children everywhere will be nightmared by. But Naomi Watts is lovely, Peter Jackson is clearly brilliant,though someone should have said 'Enough,' and the guy who played the ape, who was present at the Q&A, and honored by all, especially Naomi who had to do everything against a blue screen but could see his eyes, which gave her ballast, according to her testimonial. Jack Black, too, is surprisingly good, having made the transition from clown to a man of greed quite niftily. Having gone alone,so having no one to be terrified with, I bonded with the SAG member next to me, a black actress named Pat Dixon, so we will be going together to the Sarah Bernhardt exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the exchange being I have to go to the Slavery exhibition at the NY Historical Museum which will probably be wrenching.
Syriana is so intense that even if you watch every single frame as if you were an editor you will still be confused. But an interesting effort. Avert your eyes during the torture scene.
Friday night I'm invited to a big fund raiser for Memoirs of a Geisha, which is both a nice and a very sad thing, as that is the same time as the WGAE party at the Friars, where I wish I could go, but my arrested spiritual development precludes my being in two places at once. Those are the only two invitations I have for the holidays, which makes me feel very sorry for myself, especially when played against a minus 2 centigrade day. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing in New York. I was looking forward to entertaining a friend I made on the Nation cruise, but he opted for a political lecture when I was impelled to go to the screening of Brokeback Mountain. I had to go to that because afterwards there was to be a Q & A with Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize winning author I have always admired and wanted to meet.
Some years ago, when I was still a hit, I got a fan letter from a woman saying that her favorite authors were Larry McMurtry and me, so I wanted to say hello and tell him that. But as I introduced myself and started to explain who I was, he stopped me and said he knew who I was, that Ken Kesey had given him the novel I wrote about him. This came as an incredible shock for two reasons: first, I hate that book, Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah, since it is, among all my work the one I would erase,and second because Kesey was so angry when I wrote it that he threatened to sue me.
Back story:Kesey and I were at Stanford in the Creative Writing Program together. He was adorable, funny and wrestler stocky, with tightly curled kinky yellow hair, young Paul Newmanish. He was obviously gifted and boisterous, and lived on Perry Lane, peopled with bright and rebellious cohorts, whom he had organized into what fell just short of being an official association of wife-swappers. He assured me that his wife would welcome me into the club, but I saw the sad look in her eyes when he went off with someone else. Besides I was very young and a bit of a prig. So I resisted his obvious charms until the night he taught me to smoke dope,an event that took place at my house. I had lost my Standard Oil charge card and reported the loss.After Ken and I had done the naughty, both of us stoned, there was a banging on my front door. When I asked who it was,a resonant, deep voice said "Sergeant Riley." I remember the comic spectacle of Kesey bolting out my patio door, bobbing like a jackrabbit over neighborhood fences, burying the stash in someone's brick barbecue. I could barely speak as I opened the front door, steadying myself by leaning against the wall, shaking, the scent of our mischief still hanging in the air. Besides that grass made you paranoid to begin with, I was sure that I was being punished, busted for my first official stray off the straight and narrow. "I just wanted to check," Sergeant Riley said,"if you found your charge card." Exhale.
Then, while I was waiting for my professor to read the first draft of The Motherland (a really good book,) I dashed off a little comic novel about wife-swapping in the suburbs, once more ahead of her time. The book sold at once. Doubleday, who was to be the publisher, received a letter from Kesey. I still have it. "We are the wife-swappers," it said. "If you publish this book you will have a liable(sic) suit, in fact several liable suits. My wife is seven months pregnate(sic) It will jeepardize(sic) our position in the community, and I am a graduate student in the English department at Stanford University." That, in spite of the spelling, was a crystal truth. Kesey told me once that if it hadn't been for the Honor system, he never would have gotten through graduate school(we had to sign our bluebooks that we hadn't cheated.) Anyway,Doubleday bought the letter and cancelled the book,publishing it reluctantly after I'd bowdlerized it completely, changing the locale from Northern California to Long Island, making the nearby Veteran's hospital(the one that Ken and worked at that was the inspiration for Cuckoo's Nest, where I'd volunteered, too, but didn't partake of the mind-altering drugs,-- missed it again!) into a spa. What was funny in it was lost, but what really pissed him off, I think,was that I opined that the character, for all his apparent sexuality, hadn't been that good in bed. I mean, nothing to write home about, unless it was a novel.
So over the years he continued being mad at me, making me a character in the first printing of Cuckoo ("A Red CrossLady named Gwendolyn... taking notes on the pain and hell around her, plans to write a funny novel about it later on")-- out of the rest of the printings thanks to Obnoxious Mel, a lawyer who was courting me and spoke to Viking. I wanted many times to make it all right with Ken, to heal it, but when I finally saw him in the collapsed flesh, I was too sad at what he had become to go up and speak to him. And then he died.
My question,doctor: If it made him so mad,why did he give a copy to Larry McMurtry? Interesting, yes? Why would you give a book in which you insisted you'd been libeled to another writer you admired. Could it be he was actually pleased I wrote about him? No way to know now. Oh,well.
No review of Brokeback Mountain here. Beautiful picture, beautiful men. But I was strangely unmoved. Maybe I identified too much with the women. See the Tab Hunter biography, re Tony Perkins.
Happy Holidays.

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