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Posts Tagged ‘“The Swimmer”’

The Cowboys of Europe, and Other News

September 24, 2014 | by

romanian western

From The Sons of Great Bear, a 1966 Romanian Western.

  • The Western is an integral part of the Hollywood canon, but European filmmakers weren’t about to let Americans have all the fun. Germany and France produced scores of Westerns, in part because “once you found a wide-open landscape vaguely redolent of the American West, they were relatively cheap to make.” But it was Italy that arguably perfected the European Western: “The Spaghetti Westerns, with their multiple aliases (Leone’s A Fistful of Dynamite is variously also known as Once Upon a Time ... the Revolution and Duck, You Sucker!), their badly-dubbed voices, their sweaty, sunburned close-ups and their loud, redounding music, were both gothic and grand guignol. They could also be incredibly sophisticated amid all the alarum.”
  • Today in pointless but strangely gratifying thought experiments: What would the longest book in the world look like? (“If there’s a new major character introduced every hundred pages or so, you’d have 100 billion main characters … ”)
  • A second novel is rarely greeted with the exuberance of a first. To help stop “Second Novel Syndrome,” the Whiting Foundation and Slate are compiling a list of under-recognized second novels from the past five years and reminding readers of their joys.
  • The radical linguists of the early twentieth century: “Historically, it was languages that were swept in with strong political, economic, or religious backing—Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, and Chinese in the Eurasian core—that were held to be the oldest, the holiest, and the most perfect in structure, their ‘classical’ status cemented by the received weight of canonical tradition … It was just over a century ago when a group of linguists made an effort to go beyond the language politics of imperialism and nationalism.”
  • Taking a cue from Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” a woman attempts to swim every (public) pool in Manhattan. (Unlike Cheever’s Neddy Merrill, she is not an alcoholic.)

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“The Swimmer” and The Swimmer

May 27, 2014 | by

It’s John Cheever’s birthday, and courtesy of 92Y, you can listen to a recording of the author reading his most famous story, “The Swimmer,” in December 1977. It’s easy to shrug off such a canonical piece of fiction, especially when its hero is named Neddy. But if you, like me, haven’t glanced at it since it appeared on one syllabus or another, “The Swimmer” is worth rereading; though its more surreal elements feel contrived to me, the prose still glitters and the dark humor survives:

It would storm. The stand of cumulus cloud—that city—had risen and darkened, and while he sat there he heard the percussiveness of thunder again. The de Haviland trainer was still circling overhead and it seemed to Ned that he could almost hear the pilot laugh with pleasure in the afternoon; but when there was another peal of thunder he took off for home. A train whistle blew and he wondered what time it had gotten to be. Four? Five? He thought of the provincial station at that hour, where a waiter, his tuxedo concealed by a raincoat, a dwarf with some flowers wrapped in newspaper, and a woman who had been crying would be waiting for the local.

I hadn’t known, though Google suggests it’s common knowledge, that “The Swimmer” was adapted into a feature-length film, released in 1968, starring Burt Lancaster as Neddy. According to a thorough assessment at Turner Classic Movies, The Swimmer succeeds in adapting the unadaptable:

It succeeds brilliantly as a fascinating, enigmatic drama that ponders middle-age disillusionment and failure. It’s one of those lucky accidents that occurred in the sixties when Hollywood was still open to experimentation because most studio executives were completely insecure in predicting commercial hits. After all, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate (both 1967) had blindsided the industry with their unexpected box-office grosses. So maybe audiences were ready for more challenging films like The Swimmer? Unfortunately, the film was a box-office flop, but part of its commercial failure was due to poor marketing by Columbia. 

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Staff Picks: ‘DOC,’ ‘Luminous Airplanes’

September 23, 2011 | by

H. L. “Doc” Humes in Greenwich Village, ca. 1961. Photo: Courtesy of the Humes family.

A gregarious talker, novelist, activist, hippie, druggie, filmmaker, and original hipster, Harold L. “Doc” Humes was the kind of man who inspired followings. (Even Wikipedia can’t help but gush, describing him as “a contemporary Don Quixote.”) He was also, of course, a founding editor of The Paris Review. His daughter’s documentary about his rollicking life, DOC, is screening at the Anthology Film Archives on October 1st and 2nd. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

Paul LaFarge’s strange, experimental, oddly moving Luminous Airplanes is worth reading for its own considerable merits. But for the full, interactive experience, you have to immerse yourself in the Web site, too. And that’s all I’ll say. —Sadie Stein

I have been rereading John Cheever’s stories and am happy and surprised to discover they are all fairy tales—not just the openly magical ones like “The Swimmer” or the European stories, with their nobles and castles, but even a country-club story like “Just Tell Me Who It Was,” in which a jealous husband goes looking for a tell-tale golden slipper. How had I never noticed this before? —Lorin Stein

I recently found a copy of the Huntington Library’s facsimile edition of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, issued together with extended commentary. I’m a sucker for facsimile editions, and this a gorgeous, visionary book—Blake’s diaphanous, pliant figures; wilting, overgrown plant life; organic page designs; and stained coloration. Every Blake fan should have this in his or her library. —Nicole Rudick

Rob Delaney writes in Vice this week about why we need to save St. Mark’s Books. —Natalie Jacoby

Woody Allen would be baffled. But who doesn’t like a tribute to Manhattan? In any case, it got me to rewatch the opening sequence—and I defy any New Yorker not to get goosebumps when the fireworks go off over the river. (Philadelphians, even!) —S. S.

And while we’re talking Woody Allen? This is when Twitter justifies its existence. —S. S.

Riot Grrrl revival! —N.R.

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