The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bully for the Bully

So, let me just say, I despised David Mamet's writing long before it was cool (if it is yet), and decades before his political turn to the right. No, I despised his writing from my very first exposure to it, in a course on Modern American Drama at Fordham College in 1986. In the class, we read several of his plays, his Pulitzer Prize winning Glengarry Glen Ross to American Buffalo, as well as The Duck Variations and Sexual Perversity in Chicago. I cordially loathed each and every one of them, and was fairly vocal about it in class. I loathed his celebration of bully-boy male braggadocio and casual acceptance of cruelty, and I never believed any one of the critics who swore that Mamet was satirizing these attitudes.

[Let me drop a footnote and state that when working to adapt someone else's work, or work with pre-existing characters, Mamet's talent was often quite impressive; his screenplay for The Verdict transmuted a legal potboiler into something more, and his "A Wasted Weekend" episode of Hill Street Blues was a superb riff on that show's themes and pre-existing characters; I also have a soft spot for The Untouchables. Hannibal sucked, but less remorselessly than the source novel, so Mamet gets a directed verdict of acquittal on that from me.]

His work since the 1980s has, if anything, increased my distaste for Mamet's writing, by adding a generous dollop of misogyny; after seeing and reading Oleanna, it is very difficult to view the self-blaming victims in "Sexual Perversity" as ironic, or merely of the time, or, for that matter, Charlotte Rampling's Laura in The Verdict, who is darker than the character in the book, and much more defined by her sex.

So it's not exactly surprising to read Matt Zoller Seitz on the Mamet written and directed Phil Spector:
It’s an exceedingly strange movie. It genuinely seems to believe its title character, cantankerous, spaced-out record producer Spector (Al Pacino), who’s on trial for blowing a woman's brains out, when he yammers about all of the musical celebrities that lived more sordid lives than he did but were forgiven their transgressions and canonized as pop-culture legends anyway.
Spector is thus transformed into an Ayn Rand hero, the Howard Roark of overdubbing, a genius besieged by parasites; incredibly, the movie doesn’t seem to be kidding. The various women who testified to his misogynist mentality, hot temper, controlling personality, and love of guns during Spector’s first trial are abstracted by being shunted offscreen, the better to let Spector and his defense team (led by Helen Mirren’s Linda Kenny Baden, who represented him in his first murder trial, which ended in a hung jury) tarnish them as gutless nobodies who would never have dared to publicly defame Spector if he weren’t already tarred as a woman-hating killer by the press. (“They came out when it was in their interest to come out!” Spector rails.) And the culture as a whole is depicted as appallingly ungrateful for failing to balance Spector’s personal flaws against his achievements as a record producer and … what? Believe his ridiculous story about the victim, nightclub hostess Lana Clarkson, ending a date with him by sticking a pistol in her mouth and pulling the trigger?
It's also no surprise for me to read that Mamet has trampled the evidence to posit Phil Spector as innocent victim. Mamet always likes to stack the deck in favor of the man over the woman, even, it seems, if she's dead, ad the evidence points squarely at him.


Vinnie Bartilucci said...

David Mamet does have a rather...forceful style; I think if they'd been contemporaries, Brian Donlevy and Broderick Crawford would be in everything he did.

I find his film The Spanish Prisoner to be damn near perfect, possibly because it's so different from his other work. Yes, there's an evil female in it, but she's scarcely the only untrustworthy character.

My review at my blog.

Anglocat said...

Thanks for the tip, Vinnie--an evil woman isn't a deal breaker for me in a movie (Faye Dunaway made the Four Musketeers, after all)--just when said evil woman is emblematic of women everywhere.

Still, I trust your judgment, and will try the film.

(Yeah, Crawford would definitely have been a regular.)