Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History By Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton, 354 pp., $26.95) Even in our fading half-life of cultural memory, the notion may endure that 1925 was a good moment for American literature. In that year, we were given Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Hemingway was writing The Sun Also Rises.
I have just had a sensational night at the movies, and the picture was only 83 years old. At the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco, the Castro Theater was packed for a showing of a “complete” Metropolis. Moreover, the screening was graced by the presence of the two Argentineans—scholar Fernando Pena and archivist Paula Felix-Didier—who discovered the previously lost footage in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago. I honor their work, and their amusing commentary on the discovery—they were a couple once, then separated, then back together with the excitement of the find.
There are plenty of moments in its 150 minutes when Inception is flying in mid-air, uncertain whether there is a safety net or a parachute of coherent plot to explain its entire exhilarating enterprise. Don’t ask to have its theory of dreaming spelled out in foolproof detail, just know that the age-old love affair between dreaming and the movies has been reasserted. Above all, treasure the film’s serene lack of exhausting violence or ingenious cruelty.
I had known Elliott Kastner a little over the years, by way of phone calls. He had tracked me down once and called, and I had wondered why, and it was just to say he had enjoyed some things I had written. Without any strain, I told him I was very fond of some of his pictures. So we agreed we should meet some time, but nothing ever developed until a couple of years ago. He was coming to San Francisco, where I live—let’s have dinner. He had a plan. That’s where he broke it to me, at Post Trio. He was a character, he said, but he was not in the best of health.
There was a time when Dennis Hopper exulted in the reputation of being the first kid who knew what was wrong with Hollywood. What he said, more or less, was that the movies have gone dead, man, that it’s just old-timers doing it all on automatic pilot, that there’s no truth, anymore, man, and they won’t put me in lead parts. There was some truth in what he said, and it was certainly the case that a number of veteran directors found Hopper an intolerable smart-ass who said he had known Jimmy--Jimmy Dean--and that what he was saying now was only what Dean would have said.
As Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless comes up for reissue (50 years after its debut), all too many film writers lapse into nostalgia for their own fondness. In The Huffington Post, Patty Zohn offers an enjoyable essay about how she went to Paris (in 1970) and found the film still playing, and how she saw herself in Jean Seberg’s Patricia—the student soaking up the New Wave and the old Paris. Well, I’ve met Ms.
Are some families more dramatic than others? Is this something covered by Tolstoy’s famous law about families—that the happy ones are all alike, while the unhappy ones are unhappy in their own way—or was he hopelessly isolated on the far side of that moment when modern media began?
Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America By Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $30) Warren Beatty has not done a lot for us lately. Town and Country, his last movie, was nine years ago. The absence is such that some of his old associates have concluded that he may be happy at last. But I doubt that such a hope lingered more than a few seconds: Beatty’s entire act has been the epitome of dissatisfaction.