Film

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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The more I learned from CD and worked with the company and learned of the theater’s past, the more I wanted the company to be my future. The more I believed in the company principles, the safer I felt with them wrapped around me and the less I wanted to spend time at anything else. The mere fact of my graduation would make no difference in the centering of my life. I wanted the company to take even more of my time after graduation than it had been taking. I wanted the company to move from its university setting to a being of its own and to grow in recognition.

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She was twenty-five and I was fourteen. She was a virgin and I was not. She was my high-school teacher of chemistry, the one teacher in any school who ever gave me a failing grade. Her name was Eleanor Brophy, and she had a touch of Irish accent and a lot of Irish softness. The only time I saw her angry was when one of the boys in the class mocked something I said at the blackboard, where I was fumbling an answer, and she turned on him. My work got worse and worse through the year. I had taken chemistry because I was still obeying a willed ambition to be a doctor.

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In 1945 I thought I was a novelist. For ten years, until 1941, I had thought I was a theater man, a member of a repertory company for life, working as one contributor to the production of great plays. That had collapsed. Then for a couple of years I had worked at various magazine jobs to support myself while I wrote novels. Luck with my second novel had allowed me to quit magazine work and to concentrate on writing--novels, mostly. I was hoping to make a long circle back to the theater in some way.

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