Wednesday, July 28, 2004

High Brow Talking Points....Complete With Backhanded Compliments!
After Ron Reagan Junior gave his speech on Stem Cell Research at the Democratic National Convention, FoxNews Anchor Brit Hume noted that the Bush Campaign was already sending out e-mail missives to counter the points in Reagan's speech. It couldn't have been a few minutes after Reagan had stepped away from the podium when Mr. Hume said, "Already E-mail boxes are being inundated with the word that Federal Research Money for Stem Cells has increased from 10 Million to 20 Million under Bush."

Anybody who follows politics as either a serious endeavour or as a sport knows the idea of talking points. They are the things that need to be emphasised during a certain time period in order bolster a cause, or to defend an especially successful strike by the other side.

The High-Brow critics seem to be eerily on the same wavelength regarding the passing of the actor Marlon Brando. The retrospectives from two critics known to us would almost appear to have come out of the same strategy meeting.

I first read Bill Marx's column about Brando here. and just kind of shrugged it off as typical Hitchen's like contrarianism. (Read Hitchen's recent blasting of Ronald Reagan, Sr. while the corpse was still warm. Ick.)

Marx compares Brando to Eleanor Duse and though he begrudgingly acknowledges Brando's acting turns, he feels the need to stomp on the dead man's grave using a boot made from the life of a dead woman who has hardly given him permission. It is a weird analysis straight out of the "good-ole'-days-when-work-was-hard-and-death-was-harder," playbook.

The recent reporting on Brando's career have all included discussions of his shoddy work ethic and the fact that he never returned to the stage. However, Mr. Marx wants to blame Marlon Brando for the economic realities of life for the American actor. Perhaps if actors on the stage were paid enough to afford a decent living in the city, then a life of suffering through high-brow critical bashings of every work written after Shaw's passing, would be easier to take. While her childhood was spent fighting poverty, Eleanora Duse was eventually a celebrity who partied with the A-List set, had affairs, tried to burn down a house, (a la Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes of TLC,) and left a husband and daughter in pursuit of her "art." (How’s that for contrarian?) Marx would have done better to come up with an example of somebody who suffered through extreme poverty to their last gasp in order to worship the works of the masters.

Ms. Duse was reported to have said something to the effect that she could not understand how American actors could play the same part night after night and how that must be deadening to the artistic inspiration. I agree with the deadening part, but I am at odds with her lack of understanding.
Besides the point of the weird comparison and his throwaway line about Brando's acting turns in On The Waterfront and Streetcar being "dated," Marx’s main thesis is contradicted by the recent influx of movie/theatre actors such as Liev Schreiber, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, and Sigourney Weaver (From Aliens to an A.R. Gurney play to say the least.) Not to mention Anne Heche. Nathan Lane tried his hand at an offbeat Simon Gray play at the Huntington Theatre Company.

Like I said, I was prepared to let it go until I saw the recent post-mortem written by Robert Brustein:

Apparently the guardians of our culture have a meeting of the minds on this one. It is not enough to lament the the way that Marlon Brando personally squandered his talent, (you’ll get no argument from me,) but Brustein accuses Brando of "neglecting a crucial obligation of the actor, which is to preserve the great roles of the classical and modern repertory." He also names a bunch of actors such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, etc., as evidence that Brando ruined the acting gene pool in this country.

I am surprised at both Marx and Brustein, since they are both usually so good at wrestling with financial and governmental policies with regard to the Arts. (Marx's recent column on how corporate sponsorship of the arts might not be the blessing it would appear to be was dead on.) Shame on both of them for taking advantage of the passing of Brando to pin on him the death of American acting. Having attended more than one of the poor productions at the ART over the past decade I might make the judgement that Mr. Brustein let the inmates run the asylum far too many times. This resulting in such sloppy and disconnected acting that one could almost believe they were in the midst of a playschool imagination hour. Yet his theatre marketing proclaims...World Class Theatre!   

In a few weeks we will watch the Republican Convention and more talking points will fly from both sides.  Brustein's and Marx's attacks on Brando represent Art criticism as ideology. They are the George Wills to their cause, much as Dale Peck is the Michael Savage to their cause.

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