A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004 :::
You know, my late uncle, Allen Drury, started out as a reviewer for the Stanford paper and decided almost right then that reviews were for the birds. He told a friend of his that in so many words when she interviewed him toward the end of his life. He moved on to editorial writing his senior year, and so far as sorting through about 2000 papers that sit on my desk (and the thousands of other kept at Hoover) can tell me, he never committed a review again, except to praise one or two books he thought were worth noting.

And I myself sat in wonder through the acres of reviews of Titanic and waited for one of them to catch the most glaring error. I have always been fascinated by the story, and I thought the movie was a masterpiece, if you cut out the love story. As Mr. Cameron put great stock in the historical accuracy of his re-enactment, criticizing him was fair game. The lake that Jack supposedly almost drowned in as a child, for instance, was created 5 years after the Titanic went down. Hmmm. However, not one single reviewer noted that the French name for the blue gem at the center of the film--Le Coeur de La Mer--is properly translated "The Heart of the Sea," and not "ocean," as they do in the movie itself. The friend sitting next to me when I saw it in the theater spoke Spanish and he caught that. Not one reviewer that I ever saw did. (Looking up the spelling of "coeur" revealed that it is masculine, and I do believe the movie as it as feminine. Have to listen next time I put it in late at night.)

This comes up because I have been catching the reviews of The Passion of the Christ as they have been popping up on the old computer screen, and I must say reviewers have not gotten more careful. Some are pure nastiness--saying that the only people identified as Jews are the villains, when many other people have said otherwise, including more than one Rabbi who has seen it--and some are ill-informed, such as stating that Vatican II "cleared" the Jews of something that the Church had in fact never accused them of, though enough of Her children, lamentably, had. Another says that it was Gibson who started the furor over the film, when it was in fact a group of what appeared to me to be academic hacks who did that. Not that Mel ol' buddy wasn't quite adept at riding the wave, but he didn't start it. So too are there other details that imply that the reviewers are simply peering over the shoulders of other writers and repeating things that have been said, or that they have decided were true. My uncle, the most successful political reporter of his day before he hit it big with Advise and Consent, hated reporters who did that, and felt that most did. Apparently old journalistic traditions die hard.

I have found most Post reporters not to be that way, by the way. They are the most likely to write back to you and say, "Can you give me a source for that?"

However, I must say that reading a review one agrees with is a really, really boring passtime, and I will keep the criticisms in mind as I try and pry my way into a showing through the crowds.

By the way, one of the funniest examples to me of how bureaucracies work is the non-story over whether or not the Pope said what he clearly did say after he saw a DVD of The Passion a little while ago. "It is as it was," was the quote in the initial reports. And then, after about a month, suddenly people in the Vatican started saying that it wasn't true. I suspect that Mr. Gibson's rather broad way of expressing himself publicly may have caused some bureaucrats to want to trim his sails (and his sales) a little, or someone may have sent them all a copy of Mr. Gibson's excellent Conspiracy Theory, where his nutty cab driver includes in his list of sewers "the Vatican--don't even get me started on that place" or words to that effect. In any case, far too many people were on the record as saying that the Pope had in fact said that, or were in a position to deny it and didn't. Anyone who has lived in Washington knows that bureaucracies work in their own weird way, and, alas, with the Pope being so ill, it is highly unlikely that anyone has told him about all these denials that suddenly cropped up. Peggy Noonan had an amusing and infuriating run-down on the silliness. Sadly, whoever had it in for Gibson did a good enough job that that quote has now disappeared from public consciousness.

A note on those Drury papers: the result of 8 weeks of culling and zeroxing have now been sorted by decade. The 1970's are done, with everything in chronological order and in sheet protectors. The worst decade--the 1960's--is almost done. Worst, in the sense that those years must account for 25% of the documents. There are two problems. Stuffing things in sheet protectors is mindnumbingly boring, first, and second, my uncle was incapable of writing a boring letter. I don't have authorization to quote from them yet; that will come from when the book gets written. But the temptation to read and read again some insightful or really obnoxious comment from the nation's premier political novelist,and one of my best friends, is nearly irresistible. Of course, I am supposed to know what's in all of them, and the only way to do that is read and reread them countless times. And they are in folders, by decade, and getting done. (A couple of people have come in to work on the computer and moved things, and I nearly died.)But dear me, filing is just not my forte.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 3:21 PM



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