Monday, February 23, 2009

Hollywood's Academy Awards, and More: Appreciations and Repudiations, Part Three

The film industry Academy Awards program, televised last night on ABC, has found a way of making each actor-nominee in the most prominent categories feel like a winner, by personally addressing and describing her (his) performance before the official winner is announced: it was very nice to see past winners in the best actor and actress and best supporting actor and actress categories introduce the nominees. I thought most of the program was entertaining, and I didn’t turn away from the show with the empty feeling I sometimes have after watching an awards program (I still thought the show was too long by about two hours). Hugh Jackman was an entertaining host; and it was good to witness the wins in the major categories, specifically that of Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet, Sean Penn, and Heath Ledger, and I liked seeing Beyonce, Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman, Alicia Keys, Will Smith, Robert DeNiro, and Meryl Streep. The lovely Penelope Cruz, in an elegant vintage dress, gave a charmingly sentimental acceptance speech. Heath Ledger's family was dignified and (spiritually) healthy with its comments upon his posthumous award. Kate Winslet, who with age is becoming more handsome than beautiful (there is such strength and intelligence in her face), was obviously gratified to win, and Sean Penn seemed well-intentioned and was both sharply political, affirming equal rights, and sometimes obscure.

The New York Art Resources Consortium is providing material online from the libraries of three museums, The Frick, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, at an online site called Arcade. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is showing federally-funded New Deal paintings, according to

No Line on the Horizon: the music group U2 is making its new album available for listening on its MySpace page; and the band is planning a stadium tour for the summer.

Last Friday night, I saw Sarah McLachlan and Duffy on PBS’s “Austin City Limits,” and I thought Sarah McLachlan’s presence very strong—emotional, musical, sensual; and her voice was particularly impressive, as she played guitar and piano. I had listened to Duffy’s music in New York, liking some of it and not sure about the rest (was she too imitative of past music?), but I was disappointed watching her on Friday: I didn’t like the way she sounded, looked, or moved, finding her intonation and pitch frequently uncertain or unpleasant; and her gestures were busy, excessively choreographed.

The four-day, annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs was held recently in Chicago, February 11 through 14, 2009. There’s a Festival of New French Writing at Manhattan’s New York University, February 26 through 28, with the participation of E.L. Doctorow, Philip Gourevitch, Francine Prose, Bernard-Henry Levy, Emmanuel Carrere, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint.

“It’s not that Americans aren’t interested in the world at all. It’s just that we seem to want someone else to do the ­heavy ­lifting required to make a cultural connection. As the ­Peruvian-­born writ­er Daniel Alarc√≥n ob­serves, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English,” notes writer Aviya Kushner in the article “McCulture,” from Winter 2009 The Wilson Quarterly, available online.

There’s a new philosophy blog called Matters of Substance, focused on metaphysics, at (look for “substantial matters”); and, though not yet well-known, if it is as good as it promises to be, it will provide interesting reading.

Criticism can describe and evaluate the form and content of a work, theory, or experience, and criticism may be an art but is not a popular art; and criticism, which reveals the mind of the critic as much as the object of contemplation, is done both well and badly these days and sometimes it is hard to know the difference. As everyone is aware, there’s a lot of mutual masturbation involved within the communications media, both online and print, so that work that might not be distinguished still gets supported. For instance, media sites that are well-funded such as Slate and Salon received respect before they had done anything to deserve it; and, consequently, habits good and bad continued, without significant critique. One can read some of the self-important, unnecessary political musings of Joan Walsh at Salon, and clueless attempts to identify the cultural zeitgeist by Jody Rosen at Slate, and wonder if they have editors or even attentive readers.

Everyone is concerned about the American economy; and one notices that some journalists seem afraid to be optimistic despite the daily attempts by the new presidential administration to take decisive actions (journalists seem to both want something to be effective and to disbelieve in anything being effective). Now, Henry Blodget argues for the nationalization of American banks, at the Huffington Post.

President Barack Hussein Obama continues to make overtures to the Republic party, while its members play politics-as-usual. Obama and his administration attempt to address the important economic matters feeding the current crisis involving jobs, banks, housing, and health care; and the president has a small summit of leaders gathered today at the White House to discuss the economy and fiscal responsibility; and, among other things, one of his goals is to discuss how to cut the federal budget deficit.