Monthly Archives: December 2008

“THEM: Brrrr! Us: Ahhh”

It has pride, information, and, for a touch of spice, shameful joy at the suffering of people from out of town. A perfect headline for a local paper.


“Pinter’s poetry got under the skin”

That’s meant as praise. See also from the same author: “Chinese torturers’ bamboo shoots got under the nails.”

Un bon goncourt

As he notes the sales shooting from 20,000 pre-prize to 300,000 post-prize, Pierre Assouline declares Atiq Rahimi’s Syngué sabour “a good Goncourt.” If a prize spurs a big leap in sales, then it is doing a big part of its job. But not all of it. Alone, it would make DBC Pierre a good Booker. Which it isn’t. Prizes also reward work that a philistine culture doesn’t appreciate. The problem with the DBC Pierre pick is that it conferred snob status on a junk artifact. This was a bon Goncourt both because the book is bon and for the French elite conferring snob status on an explicitly ethnic work. Don’t forget this is a nation where snob status is as powerful as celebrity status in the U.K. and U.S. A new hot word in French publishing circles: “bibliodiversité.”

Comedy fades: Billy Merson

As the images of them get older, they turn the geniuses of the vaudeville and silent film from comedians into highly talented ballet dancers, or else poets. But the jokes are hard to find. Where are they here?

A comparison between this, Britain’s first talkie, and “The Jazz Singer” shows just how far the British Empire has fallen and the American one has risen. The glamour of Jolson’s Hollywood hasn’t faded. Merson’s jokes have, into  5-year-old-ish remarks that baffle the aunts and uncles. Similarly, Jolson’s blackface gives a jolt, for all the wrong reasons, while Merson’s classical references seem as old and distant as Demosthenes. But this is pretty funny:

Merson eventually went bust after he tried to get a credit from Al Jolson who plagiarised his song ‘The Spaniard that Blighted My Life.’

As is this still and this title. I dread to think how the cyberkids of 2070 might react to Woody Allen. “Our grandparents must have found sex, jews and glasses very funny.”

See also: Paul Schrader on omitting Alexander Nevsky from his film canon.