Film

Law and Disorder

American Gangster UniversalBefore the Devil Knows You're DeadThinkFilmIn its way, American Gangster pulls its audience up on to the screen along with its characters. This violent picture would never have been made unless the makers thought the audience wanted to be in it. Audiences have always been thrilled by vicarious lives of crime for a couple of hours--those swaggering thugs done by James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson!--but we had an escape hatch for our errant morality: the gangster always crashed at the end, and we could slide back into our orderly, lawnmowing lives.

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Law and Disorder

American Gangster Universal Before the Devil Knows You're Dead ThinkFilmIn its way, American Gangster pulls its audience up on to the screen along with its characters. This violent picture would never have been made unless the makers thought the audience wanted to be in it. Audiences have always been thrilled by vicarious lives of crime for a couple of hours--those swaggering thugs done by James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson!--but we had an escape hatch for our errant morality: the gangster always crashed at the end, and we could slide back into our orderly, lawnmowing lives.

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Experts

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037PlowRenditionNew LineIn 1874, Gerhard von Breuning, a Viennese, published a book called Memories of Beethoven, whom he had known fifty years earlier.

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Kinds of Success

What we hear first is a man's voice ranting, telling a nightmarish story that very quickly makes no sense. What we see is the camera traveling through a long suite of slick offices, all of them empty. The voice vaults and leaps in florid phrases. The offices are cool, angular, affectless. Then the voice fades as the camera slides into a large, brightly lit room crammed with people working hectically.

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Geniuses: Some Notes

They might have smiled. Averse as they were to plot mechanics in their work, they might have been amused at the blatant coincidence of their deaths on the same day. Or they might have been amused at those who believe it was planned by a cosmic trickster. In any case, July 30, 2007 is now a signal date in film history. Michelangelo Antonioni was ninety-four, Ingmar Bergman was eighty-nine.Their work now moves into a different light. Almost all the art that is valuable to us is encased in history: it comes to us from the past, recent or remote.

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AWAY FROM HERLionsgate FRACTURENew Line WHAT A TREAT it is to watch Sarah Polley’s career flourish. First, her acting. A few months ago she was in The Secret Life of Words,where she created a young woman stilled by gross experience. Now, after directing several shorts, Polley has directed her first feature, Away From Her (in which she does not appear).

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Matters of Fate

In the otherwise brilliant opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, dramatizing the American landings in France on D-day, Steven Spielberg made one small slip. He completely engulfs the viewer in the American assault; but when we are thus immersed, he inserts a brief clip of German machine-gunners firing at the Americans. This complete switch in view cracks our involvement. It takes a few seconds to become American-absorbed again. Knowingly or not, Clint Eastwood has converted the Spielberg slip into a triumph.

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I had the blood lust of a boy. On Christmas vacation, when I was up visiting the farm, I asked to be the one to stick the knife in the hog’s throat when they were butchering it. They agreed because they needed me. There were two men on the farm, Walt and Orrie, and two neighbors. It took four men to catch the hog, to turn it on its back and hold it there, each man hanging on to a leg. Then I took a knife, slimmed to a stiletto by years of sharpening, and as Walt directed, I felt along the underthroat for the hard spot, then for the soft spot just below it. I slit the skin gently.

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I’ve known three women who attempted suicide, two of whom were eventually successful. All of them were beautiful. Nan Talbot worked in a publishing house, an editor before I became an editor there. She was incompetent. It was a firm of paperbound reprinters, and she had been engaged some months before I arrived to select and handle books for women. Apparently the bosses had thought that her womanliness would compensate for her lack of editorial experience. They may even have thought that her average taste would be useful in the job. Her appearance was not average. She looked queenly.

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In little ways she tried to make me whole. After I finished college, I worked at home in a room where I kept the door locked, whether I was there or not, to separate that small space from everything else. She helped me to be separate, although she didn’t entirely understand why I wanted it. She sorted out my mail in the morning and left it in front of the door of my room with a knick. She fixed meals for me at different times from the others. We rarely talked about my various likes and dislikes in the house, there was no point.

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