Books and Arts
Elena I Wish Naturalism lives. If Zola were a Russian in Russia today, he might have written Elena. Zola being absent, the director Andrei Zvyagintsev has written this screenplay with Oleg Negin, looking at lives with that combination of candor and regret that marks the best naturalist work. This approach in itself is a novelty in Russian films. Another is the milieu. The history of naturalism is closely woven with suffering, with the impulse to inform the disregarding world of social or economic oppression.
Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life By Lev Loseff Translated by Jane Ann Miller (Yale University Press, 333 pp., $22) Joseph Brodsky caught the attention of the outside world for the first time in 1964, when he was tried in Leningrad for the crime of writing poetry. That is not how the indictment read, of course: his “crime” was that he did not have a regular job, and was therefore a “parasite.” But a scurrilous article attacking Brodsky in the Evening Leningrad newspaper not long before his trial gave the game away.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of MarketsBy Michael J. Sandel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 244 pp., $27) For over thirty years, Harvard undergraduates have packed Sanders Theater for Michael Sandel’s course on justice. PBS has broadcast the lectures and more than three and a half million people have clicked to watch them on YouTube.
From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965 By John Connelly (Harvard University Press, 376 pp., $35) Across the violent years of the twentieth century, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a trial of conscience that ultimately brought about a radical transformation in its official doctrine regarding the Jews. Church tradition had long held that the Jewish people were abandoned by God and condemned to wander the Earth, their religion nullified by the new covenant with Christ.
The only reason to see Dark Shadows is to discover how dire and pointless—how flat-out dreadful—a movie can be even when it has Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter attached to its flimsy pretext. This is one more vampiric concoction, the total budget for which (apparently $105 million) might have sustained 100 worthwhile, independent projects by new directors.
The vice president was not at Rufus Wainwright’s house, I know. Yet the sweet little scene that Joe Biden described on Meet the Press, of infectious warmth in a family with same-sex parents, sounded almost as if it had been taken from the lyrics of the latest Wainwright album, Out of the Game.
The great popular artists have an instinctive relationship with the audience. That was true of Maurice Sendak, who died on Tuesday at the age of 83. He followed his gut. He kowtowed to no one. He knew that when pop culture really matters, it’s grounded in personal experience—in something the artist feels so strongly that other people cannot help but feel it too. Sendak had been involved with more than 50 children’s books by the time he became a national sensation in 1963 with Where the Wild Things Are.
Like many other enduring contributors to children’s literature (Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, James M. Barrie, and Margaret Wise Brown), Maurice Sendak was childless.
Where would art be without the never-ending argument between imagination and reality? All art necessitates a leap of the imagination. All art, whether naturalistic or not, makes its own reality. And rarely has this argument between imagination and reality been pursued with more intricacy and subtlety than in the later paintings of Édouard Vuillard, which fill a room near the end of a small retrospective that has just opened at the Jewish Museum in New York.
From time to time these days, one meets young people—film students even—who can’t quite place Gary Cooper. Come May 13, he will have been dead for 51 years; and on May 7—the day I’m writing—he was born in 1901, up in Montana.