Criticism
The Self, As Ensemble, The Prose, Like Jazz: On Albert Murray's "South to a Very Old Place" Print E-mail

Amazon South AM(Metapsychosis: A Journal of Consciousness, Literature, and Art June 1, 2022)

Thanks to Greg Thomas. Warning: Explicit Content

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Albert Murray’s South to a Very Old Place appeared in 1971. The book’s inventive mix of memoir, journalism, and criticism by a largely unknown Black American intellectual prompted many appraisals in major newspapers—among the most compelling, one by the Times' book critic Anatole Broyard and another by Toni Morrison. Broyard, a brilliantly incisive reviewer, was a “one-drop” Black man who passed for White; Morrison would become, her “race” aside, the finest American novelist of the twentieth century’s second half. (Yes, I know: Oates, Roth, Bellow, Updike, Baldwin, Cormac McCarthy are all in the run for the roses. But, in my Derby, Toni wins.)

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Film Review: Procession (Netflix 2021) Print E-mail

Procession film(The Truth Seeker January-April 2022)

Director Robert Greene took three years to make the Netflix documentary Procession, which premiered in late 2021. However, the lives of the six grown men the film charts, raped as adolescents by priests in the Kansas City Catholic diocese, have been shattered for decades. The violence and disregard done to them includes the agony of the abuse itself and the humiliation they endured after the scandal broke in 2011. By my count, the six were attacked and injured three times: by a priest known to their families, by the church and its coverup, and by the lack of prosecution, which, as a third crime, aids and abets the first two. Indeed, either by death or a financial settlement, a couple dozen pedophiles dodged justice; that also goes for their Catholic overlords who declined to be interviewed for the film. With epic ambition, Procession documents the psychological toll on six middle-aged men as well as adopts an experimental form to render the abuse’s stark effects. It dares to present their stories in conflictual terms: an artistic primal scream of a feature film amid the therapeutic reenactments of the men’s irreversible shame.

The rest of the review is available here for purchase: www.thetruthseeker.net

 
Review: Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine's Humor and Legacy Print E-mail

713ov6iagDL(Another Chicago Magazine October 26, 2021)

In 1966, I was a junior at St. Louis’s Kirkwood High. After the teachers let us monkeys out at 2:50, I lazed about, often trekking to a friend’s home to talk antiwar politics or Salinger stories. I was a serious kid, some days lying on one of the twin beds in Ken Klotz’s room (his unlucky brother off in Vietnam) where we were hypnotized by Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the literary dazzle of “Visions of Johanna”: “The ghost of electricity howls from the bones of her face.” But then some days I needed a break.

I got one hanging out with Clay Benton. Clay, a wunderkind with a reel-to-reel tape machine, recorded parodies of Superman—the Caped Crusader of comic book, radio drama, TV show. His sendup was Space-O-Ace Man, a half-doofus, half-hippie hero who also flew in to fight crime but whose dorky moves ruined everything. After he and I roughed up a script, we’d record a show with daffy voices and sound effects. We mimicked a big-bosomed girl Clay and I salivated over in class, who needed rescuing. We shielded her from Ming the Merciless with our own bodies in response to her cries of Help!

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The Amish Atheist Print E-mail

kenneth copp amish atheist(The Truth Seeker October 1, 2021)

In the long history of free thought and the millions who’ve come into the light of reason, there are a few examples of men and women who have retained the best parts of their religious past and their secular present. One such is Kenneth Copp, the “star” of the new film short, Amish Atheist, an affecting portrait of a cultural Christian reborn in a freethinker’s body. Copp, a Maine woodworker, was raised in a Pentecostal church; under his parents’ tutelage, he practiced the carnival sideshow of “speaking in tongues.”

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I'm Going to Build a Heaven of My Own: The Harry Smith B-Sides Print E-mail

HS b sides(Los Angeles Review of Books April 18, 2021)

American folk music evolves as a shared expression, primarily among musicians: the repertoire passes among — and is altered by — performers in a sort of musical communion. Chronicling the multifarious history of folk music are a few iconic books and records: Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag (1927), which features transcriptions of the nation’s best-loved tunes; Ruth Crawford Seeger’s smart arrangements in the John and Alan Lomax volume Our Singing Country (1941); and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952 by Folkways Records.

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A Plurality of Traditions: Anthony Davis and the Social Justice Opera Print E-mail

central park five(Los Angeles Review of Books October 17, 2020)

Anthony Davis, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera The Central Park Five, is a composer with a great future behind him. Five is his eighth opera, and during those labors, spanning four decades, he’s found the time and talent to write orchestral pieces and music for plays, to record solo piano albums, to gig widely, and to make records with his group, Episteme. Under the microscope, Davis, who is 68 and a professor at the University of California at San Diego, reveals a rare strain of the American composer’s DNA, a synthesis of the diasporic music of African descendants and the uncompromising voice of contemporary opera.

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Review: Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec Print E-mail

Czerwiec cover(River Teeth Blog August 2, 2019)

Shapes Shifted, Senses Altered, Values Freely Wheeled

There may be no more startling way to bait readers into an essay than this: “Is there a word for the unsettling sensation of sitting down on an unexpectedly warm toilet seat, because someone used it just before you and sat there for a good long while? Maybe something in German?” The author titles it: “FREUDENSCHANDE: PRIV(AC)Y,” translated as “joyful-shame.” Using more of these “made-up” German compounds as section titles, she goes on to compare the “bowel mover” in the “public privy” to the commodious confessions of the personal nonfictionist, the emotional “shitshow” so many memoirists and essayists insist readers have to sit with. All this “warmth sharing” breaks “the illusion of privacy” and invites us into the shape-shifting, sense-altering, fearlessly original prose of Heidi Czerwiec.

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