Sunday, June 12, 2011

Terrible, terrible

"No foundation, all the way down the line." What is that from? I'm too depressed to look it up, but I'd guess Saroyan, whom I haven't read since high school. We're all brought up to believe in certain things, and gradually they disappoint us, disillusion us, or otherwise let us down. I don't expect much from the government, the medical industry, academia or the New York Mets, but I always thought I could rely on The New Yorker, whose fact checkers are -- or were -- the stuff of legend.

So I'm leafing through the June 6, 2011, issue, and under "Now Playing" there's a one-paragraph description of Vertigo, running for a week at Brooklyn Academy of Music. I don't require that everyone agree that this is Hitchcock's masterpiece. I only ask that it be summarized accurately. And I read: "...about an acrophobic detective (James Stewart) whose care at the hands of a clothing designer (Barbara Bel Geddes)" Hold it right there, Mr. Richard Brody. Midge is not a clothing designer. She is an artist who supports herself by drawing newspaper ads. She makes it clear that the bra she is drawing was designed by an engineer, lending a nice comic tone to the scene. "Sort of a hobby," remarks Scottie, who is at loose ends since his enforced retirement. But that's nothing compared to this: "[Hitchcock's] happy ending, of health restored and crime punished, resembles an aridly monastic renunciation."

What the hell?

I have read of such an ending, of Midge and Scottie listening to the radio as news comes of Gavin Elster's arrest in Europe, filmed and wisely scrapped by Hitchcock in favor of the most heart-stopping ending of any of his films, much more haunting than Psycho, which opened the door to a line of cheesy sequels after Hitch was dead. Surely this other ending, this unholy thing, does not survive even on a bells-and-whistles deluxe DVD ("featuring the first interview with Bernard Herrmann's piano tuner!")? Mr. Brody, I am shocked and saddened. Shocked and saddened. You, too, David Remnick.

Yeah, yeah, spoiler alert. Go watch Vertigo, and put not your trust in movie critics.


Dick moves

Some years ago the Brazilian Department of Health produced a public service announcement urging men to use condoms and practice safe sex. The PSA featured an animated talking penis named Gaetan. The day after it aired, the department was flooded with calls from men named Gaetan who pronounced themselves humiliated and enraged that their government appeared to be calling them a bunch of pricks.

I remember thinking that this could not happen in the Anglophone world, where virtually every male name is synonymous with the penis. It's called Dick, Willie, John Thomas, Jimmy, Peter, occasionally Lance and Woody, not forgetting the verbs Roger and Jack. It even has a last name: Johnson. I didn't know about that one until Earvin "Magic" Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive, possibly as a consequence of having unsafe sex with hundreds of women. Before his press conference, I thought his nickname had something to do with basketball. Afterward, I was forced to re-examine my assumptions about Randy Johnson ("The Big Unit"), Walter Johnson ("The Big Train"), and even Lyndon Johnson, who allegedly took out his favorite body part at a White House meeting and proclaimed, "I bet Ho Chi Minh don't have one that big!" Size notwithstanding, Ho eventually prevailed against both Johnson and "Dick" Nixon. But I digress.

This unappetizing subject has been inescapable for two weeks, owing to the inexcusable though relatively harmless activities of a New York congressman. For years, politicians, athletes, and for all I know clergymen, have been sending pictures of their genitals into the ether. Every man has a phone in his pocket, every phone has a camera, and the proximity is just too tempting. And once you have a digital snap of what Robin Williams used to call "Mr. Happy," and internet access, it seems only logical to share it with the world. Don't blame the phones -- that's like blaming Gutenberg for the novels of Dan Brown. Technology is morally neutral. Blame men and their eternal childishness.

Why is this more than a two-day story in the silly season? Because the congressman in question is named Weiner. That's right, he must have heard all the jokes since the age of five, and now he's at the center of them. The name is irresistible to the mental five-year-olds who populate late night television; they're not letting it go. Now Anthony Weiner knows why John Boehner keeps saying "It's pronounced BAY-ner." (Sure, John, maybe in Germany.) Weiner doesn't need therapy, and he doesn't need a risible "ethics" investigation run by the party that turns a blind eye to its Ensigns and Vitters. What he needs is a new name. Anything but Johnson.