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Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs Kindle Edition
|Length: 514 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
|Page Flip: Enabled||
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Critical Mass also provides the older generation--who you talking about, sonny?--the opportunity to re-encounter movies, comedians, music, TV shows, and books, in the form of dazzlingly witty and telling analyses. Other have noted how well Wolcott writes, so I won't go on and on about it. (No more than I already have.) Many readers of the New Yorker will be fascinated to read about its "elusive, yet "legendary" thirty-five year editor William Shawn, who besides publishing "some of the most far-reaching and deep-rippling journalistic prose of the post war era," persuaded Harold Ross, the editor-in-chief before him, "to devote an entire issue to John Hershey's Hiroshima." He had an interesting sex life as well.
"You concupiscent browser!"
Dramatic encounters between talented people with big egos occur throughout the book, amusing, sad, or shocking, as the case may be. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, for example, "blew their fuses" while live on TV. "When Vidal called Buckley a `crypto-Nazi' (he meant to say crypto-fascist but words for once failed him), Buckley responded: `Now, listen, you queer! Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.'" Steve McQueen tries to hit Sam Peckinpah with a bottle of champagne; Charlton Heston tries to "shish-kebab" Peckinpah with a saber; and of course, Norman Mailer was always getting into scrapes, verbal and physical.
"My dear sir, this is voyeurism, isn't it?"
Although I enjoyed discussions of familiar artists more than of the unfamiliar, each of the seventy-five essays kept my interest. They were not only well written--oops, I said it again--they were (forgive me) educational. Wolcott places the art or artists in their times: Film noir grew out of German expressionism (low-key black and white films) and hardboiled-detective novels. The chaste Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies lost their glitter with the onset of the sexual revolution. The lone anti-hero vigilante movies (Billy Jack, Dirty Harry, Walking Tall) proliferated during the seventies, a period Wolcott characterizes as "riddled with lost illusions", "seeped" in a sense of lawlessness, urban neighborhoods decaying.
At random, here are some of Wolcott's subjects: Bob Dylan, Johnny Carson, Breakfast at Tiffany's, the Kennedy assassination, Guy Lombardo, Colette Blonigan, Kingsley Amis, Ellen Barkin, The Sex Pistols, Vanessa Redgrave, movie directors, oodles of authors (duh), In Cold Blood, Camile Paglia, late night TV comedy shows, The Rat Pack, The X-Files, Twilight Zone--ok, maybe not totally at random--Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Jimmy Stewart, and from his own list of critics now deceased: Pauline Kael, Dwight McDonald, Mary McCarthy, Seymore Krim, Marvin Mudrick, Susan Sontag . . . . And, as I've said, more movies, books, music, TV shows, and their artists and creators than you can Twitter your tweets at.
Critical Mass is so tightly packed with intelligent and thoughtful (and entertaining!) criticism, that this reviewer is inadequate to the task, but you need be no highfalutin intellectual--dad-gummit--to get a big kick out of it what Wolcott hath wrought.
All right, from my perspective, there is one thing wrong with the book. I would have liked to see an index. It still gets a 5.
original and insightful. Other pieces, especially regarding TV and rock music, seemed to express well-considered judgments, but did not open any windows or let in much light. From my perspective, better editing and whittling could have produced a smaller but higher-quality body of work.
I read a lot, mostly good books.
This one is among the very best.
How do I know this? Because after I read each of the essays, I go back and read it again – and again.
In the best sense of the word, I will never get to the end.
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