- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Tattered pages

“However good the party, the morning after is always depressing. … Seen in the unforgiving light of the hangover dawn, even the memories soon start to spoil. … And so it is that studying Playboy’s 50th anniversary issue … left me, well, a little bit sad. …

“Don’t get me wrong. For a while, a good long while, old [Hugh] Hefner’s wicked carnival looked a lot like fun. … In a new age of mass affluence, cheerfully promiscuous sex, or at least the goal of cheerfully promiscuous sex, had become another consumer good, succulently packaged in (or out of) that oddly fetishistic bunny costume, up there with the Cadillac and the color TV, all part of that gorgeous, greedy American dream. …

“[T]he Playboy spectacle has frayed a little around the edges. The trademark pinups remain a delight for the Onan set … but the rest of its shtick seems just stale.”

Andrew Stuttaford, writing on “Played Out?” Monday in National Review Online at www.nationalreview.com

Cold Oscar

“‘Cold Mountain’ might be the movie to beat during the upcoming Oscar race — not because it’s the year’s best movie; but because it isn’t. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella and based on the acclaimed novel by Charles Frazier, this Civil War epic has every element Academy voters require for a stamp of approval.

“For starters, it’s directed by a previous Oscar winner who happens to be intelligent, well-read and exquisitely sensitive and beloved both by collaborators and by his patrons at Miramax. … Better yet, it’s based on a well-regarded novel, which is based in turn on one of the key works of world literature, Homer’s ‘The Odyssey.’ …

“And if that’s not enough, the movie is about war, and an American war at that — which means it’s bound to resonate in contemporary ways, even if the movie itself is no great shakes.”

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing on “Oscar Fish,” last Wednesday in New York Press

St. Johnny

“In the world of popular music, one generally becomes a ‘legend’ only in death — as if death accomplishes for a musician all that he was unable to do for himself in life. Legends are often made in the manner of their death — in a helicopter crash, say, or collapsed on the bathroom floor. But Johnny Cash’s death at 71 on Sept. 12 was decidedly un-legend-like: silent, slow, and unspectacular. Yet ‘legend’ seems, if anything, not big enough a word to describe Johnny Cash.

“We all knew the end was coming, particularly after June Carter, to everyone’s shock, beat him to it. But the impact of the news was not thereby diminished. On that Friday, we lost possibly America’s most singular individual. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that in Johnny’s death a little bit of what is best about America died, too. …

“Everything about him was as big and black and broad as the Arkansas delta, from his physical stature and persona to that voice.

“Yet his life cannot be reduced to a metaphor. … In life, Johnny Cash struggled for and against the God, whose grip on him was so frustratingly and thankfully relentless that it was able to absorb all that fierce rage and all those addictions. Johnny could sing about murder and God in the same song and with the same voice because to do otherwise would have been dishonest.”

Peter M. Candler Jr., writing on “Johnny of the Cross,” in this month’s issue of First Things

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