- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Narrow windows

“The [Christmas] rush is worse for critics than for viewers, since at least half the movies ‘released’ in November and December won’t trickle out to non-Manhattan multiplexes until January. (Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino,’ which national publications had to review around its official December 12 release date, probably reached a theater near you some thirty-odd days later.)

“But I suspect that even filmgoers in Peoria partake of the overwhelm-ment that settles over cinephiles sometime around Christmas - a time when critics who’ve devoted dozens of column inches to ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’ during the movie industry’s fallow months find themselves tackling what are supposed to be the year’s best films at capsule length, and when serious moviegoers wander cineplexes in a daze, rambling about whether Mickey Rourke should win Best Actor for ‘The Curious Reader of Revolutionary Doubt.’

“It’s bad for the moviegoers, and it’s bad for the movies. Studio executives are a risk-averse lot in the best of times and, faced with the cruel Darwinism of the holiday season, they seem to have decided that the best way to hedge their bets is to green-light films within an ever-narrower range. How else to explain this house-of-mirrors movie season: two Clint Eastwood movies released within 40 days of each other; a pair of Oscar-caliber Kate Winslet performances playing against each other in the local art house; and not one or two, but five films about the Holocaust and Nazis playing between mid-October and the New Year.”

Ross Douthat, writing on “Sameness and Slumdog” in the Jan. 26 issue of National Review

Male accessories

“The Playboy centerfold was a world away from the European ideal of a sexually sophisticated temptress. [Hugh] Hefner’s girls were always girls, first of all, or bunnies - not women. There was no knowing gleam in a centerfold’s eye.

“By packaging the photos with cosmopolitan content (stories, interviews), Hefner hoped that sex and culture would seep into each other by dint of their page-to-page proximity. A taste for babes, he claimed, was just as fine a taste to cultivate as one for Scotch, fast cars or sharp suits (all of which Playboy advertised).

“The magazine lavished its readers with aspirational rhetoric. In 1955 Playboy described its typical reader as being ‘in the midst of the biggest buying spree of his life. Cars, cameras, and hi-fi cabinets. Clothes, cognac, and cigarettes.’ When these items appeared as props in the centerfold layouts, their connection to a stupendous sex life was visually underscored. Of all the lifestyle accessories Playboy celebrated, a bunny was the easiest to enjoy vicariously.”

Molly Young, writing on “Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story,” on Jan. 13 at the N+1 Book Review site


“There is another aspect of reading not captured in these studies, but just as crucial to our long-term cultural health. For centuries, print literacy has been one of the building blocks in the formation of the modern sense of self.

“By contrast, screen reading, a historically recent arrival, encourages a different kind of self-conception, one based on interaction and dependent on the feedback of others. It rewards participation and performance, not contemplation. It is, to borrow a characterization from sociologist David Riesman, a kind of literacy more comfortable for the ‘outer-directed’ personality who takes his cues from others and constantly reinvents himself than for the ‘inner-directed’ personality whose values are less flexible but also less susceptible to outside pressures.

“How does a culture of digitally literate, outer-directed personalities ‘read’?

Christine Rosen, writing on “People of the Screen” in the fall issue of the New Atlantis

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