How to Commune with a Filmmaker, and Other News


On the Shelf

Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, 1983.


  • Let’s get this straight: many books are good. Movies? Also good. Is the best movie inherently less valuable than the best book, just because it’s a motion picture forcing its images down your gullet? No. Film has been around for a century now, but its loftiest critics still sometimes regard it as literature’s kid brother: a nascent medium doing its best to shrug off the demotic appeal that marked it as, you know, dumb. Martin Scorsese thought that Adam Mars-Jones’s review of his new film, Silence, made a few undue assumptions about the nature of movies compared to literature—the hoarier and oftentimes more boring art form, and thus the more important one. So Scorsese has mounted a defense of filmmaking: “I’ve grown used to seeing the cinema dismissed as an art form for a whole range of reasons: it’s tainted by commercial considerations; it can’t possibly be an art because there are too many people involved in its creation; it’s inferior to other art forms because it ‘leaves nothing to the imagination’ and simply casts a temporary spell over the viewer (the same is never said of theatre or dance or opera, each of which require the viewer to experience the work within a given span of time). Oddly enough, I’ve found myself in many situations where these beliefs are taken for granted, and where it’s assumed that even I, in my heart of hearts, must agree … The greatest filmmakers, like the greatest novelists and poets, are trying to create a sense of communion with the viewer. They’re not trying to seduce them or overtake them, but, I think, to engage with them on as intimate a level as possible. The viewer also ‘collaborates’ with the filmmaker, or the painter.”
  • Anthony Burgess once tried to write a book of slang—he proceeded alphabetically and only through the letter before he decided it was a waste of time. Now, Dalya Alberge reports, his abortive efforts have been discovered: “Entries include abdabs (‘fit of nerves, attack of delirium tremens, or other uncontrollable emotional crisis’) and abortion (‘anything ugly, ill-shapen, or generally detestable’) … The [Burgess] Foundation is working with the slang lexicographer Jonathon Green, who said even in its limited state, Burgess’s dictionary is ‘fascinating both for his many fans and for specialist lexicographers … Slang is a very slippery customer … I get the feeling that Burgess thought it was much easier than it actually is … Smart as he was, with an understanding of linguistics and language, I don’t think he could have allowed himself to do a second-rate [dictionary]. If he didn’t stop everything else, that’s what he would have turned out with … Terms like writer’s block are not slang. Proper names like the Beatles are not slang. Meanwhile, one cannot, as in arse, begin a definition with the statement I need not define. Nor throw in personal assessments (“Arse is a noble word; ass is a vulgarism”).’ ”

  • Have you been spending too much time admiring Greek vases and not enough time laughing at the jokes on them? The answer, Daniel Larkin says, is yes—these vases are full of gags: “Many of the scenes depicted functioned like Saturday Night Live skits, offering comic relief to onlookers as they indulged. For example, Zeus … lusts after Ganymede … in one object on view. It’s not just funny because it’s gay, it’s funny because it’s Zeus. Imagine if the leader of the gods was a sex addict and, like Bill Clinton, he always got away with it. How reassuring Zeus must have been to carousing men in symposia scheming to get away with cheating, too. But there is also a formal, visual joke at play on the Ganymede vase itself. Zeus is on one side, not pictured, while Ganymede is on the other … Zeus, like so many of us, wants what he doesn’t have, or, in his exceptional case, what he doesn’t have yet. He’s Zeus and he gets whatever he wants, eventually.”
  • Hamilton Nolan has seen the future, and it’s Vegas. He slipped into the Bellagio, where the SALT (“Skybridge Alternatives”) Conference was in full swing: a welter of privileged hedge-fund managers hobnobbing and playing the part of global elitists to the hilt: “If you have ever wondered whether there really is a cabal of elites plotting in private to rule the world, wonder no more. Here they are … The price of investment glory is grinding boredom. ‘Closed end funds … leverage … dividend yields … ETFs … cap ex … M&A deals … beta … tranches … residential mortgage credit … legacy markets … embedded options … defensive in the CLO space … compensated for risk … cohorts of capital … capital … capital …. CAPITAL.’ These phrases echoed everywhere, from the stage to the vast meeting room where younger hedge-fund worker ants were assigned to sit at coffee tables and pitch their ideas to potential investors, like an awful version of speed dating in which the only thing you could discuss is ‘structured credit.’ All of the younger men looked like Jared Kushner, and all the younger women looked like how Ivanka Trump might look if she had to work fourteen-hour days. Their lives stretched out in front of them, down the Bellagio’s gaudy, carpeted halls.”