Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LOL? Yeah.

I open my New Yorker today, and methodically I check the table of contents. I note that Anthony Lane has a review of the "Da Vinci Code," and I begin to smile because it is reasonable -- it is probable; it is a matter subject to prediction and thus I predict -- that I will somewhere in the course of the review

Laugh Out Loud.

I am not disappointed. At once Lane writes of the movie's opening scene that:

A dead Frenchman is found laid out on the floor of the Louvre. His final act was to carve a number of bloody markings into his own flesh, indicating, to the expert eye, that he was preparing to roll in fresh herbs and sear himself in olive oil for three minutes on each side.

I do not think that Anthony Lane is a superior movie critic. I am not sure that he is a good movie critic. Perhaps, he is not even a movie critic. He is an essayist who writes about movies, among other things.

He is superbly funny, I write, falling back on the adverb.

Lane does not use many adverbs, which is a clue right there, and a lesson, too.

Reading him reminds me I have no clear idea of what a good movie critic is, no more than I have a clear idea of what a "great newspaper" is. (More about that later.) I suppose a good movie critic knows a lot about the bottom of the iceberg of movie making, the 90 percent of the thing that you can't see. He knows about editing, narrative flow, the peripheral image, all the technique and the history of technique, all kinds of things the critic can call out to my attention that I would not otherwise have noticed.

Over time, I learn from such a critic.

Or I think I do. Or I think I might.

Lane, humorist that he is, sees the crevice in which he can wedge the joke, which means he misses a lot or at least ignores a lot. As must be, he is better with movies he dislikes than with those he admires, but that is pretty much true of most kinds of criticism other than the esoteric, that is, the kind of criticism you get when you know a lot and I know a lot, and aren't we special?
No no no. He is simply a fine comic writer and anyway I probably wouldn't know a good movie critic if I read one. (Obscurity fools me every time.)

Back to what makes a great newspaper, where my thoughts wandered as I geared up for this blog entry.

My whole professional life I have tried to talk knowledgeably about what makes a great newspaper. Generally, what I mean when I talk about it is that it's a newspaper that has more rather than less international news. It has some good feature writers, who can manage a good description and create a scene. Its copy editors don't allow that many egregious errors, particularly in grammar, to slip through.

Now and again its writers use words like egregious.

Hmm. I just glanced over the first page of Lane's review, and I did not spot a word as Latinate, as pompous, as tinny as egregious.

Memo to self in future prose: Walk. Carry a stick. People can tell if it's done softly. People will notice if the stick is big.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I hear talk about great newspapers I reach for my sap. If that doesn't work, the revolver comes out.