Review: Adaptation, a Film by Spike Jonze Print E-mail

adaptation_ver3(The Redwood Coast Review Spring 2003)

Get Me Rewrite!

Spike Jonze’s film Adaptation has as its main theme the writer’s struggle to create work of integrity and originality in a world ruled by the corporate demands of sameness and success. This struggle manifests itself in the quirky screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who, on the heels of his previous kooky success, Being John Malkovich, is hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, a book about the fascination a few people (Orlean included) have with this plant. Producers want Kaufman’s weirdness but they also want a hit, at least, enough of their investment returned to finance the next venture. A hit, in Kaufman’s over-reactive mind, is the most obviously awful story he could write—a fast-paced thriller with young male-female leads who learn redemptive lessons about love in a violence-obsessed and paranoid world—apparently, what most Americans want and what producers produce. So Kaufman’s drama becomes one of trying not to write such a film. But he ends up writing it anyway in the guise of writing a movie about the actual peril of not writing the particular movie he is writing.

Review: The Martyrs of Columbine by Justin Watson Print E-mail

martyrs_of_columbine(Written February 2003)

Ever since that lunch-hour horror on April 21, 1999, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 13 people, then killed themselves, at Columbine High School, there’s been controversy—not so much about the culture of violence that spawned the attack but the "new faith" that has risen in its wake. At issue in Watson’s short book is the "martyred" girls, Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott, the two of the thirteen who were Christians. Their brethren, mostly evangelicals, maintain that the pair, separately, replied when asked by the gunmen whether they believed in God—both, supposedly, said yes, and then were shot, supposedly, for believing. Justin Watson’s fact-obsessed book about their martyrdom presents near-conclusive evidence that these statements were not true and that the evangelicals, among them Darnell Scott, the father of Rachel, have propagated the untruth ceaselessly. Taking this story to frightened young people in school assemblies, they insist that Christianity be put back into public schools and that violence in America is the result of godlessness or, better, Christlessness.

Review: The Art of Donal Hord Print E-mail

donal_hord(Written June 1999)

Romancing the Stone and the Wood

It is one of the more curious inclinations of artists: Why is it that some choose media to work in which is antithetical to their natures? Take Donal Hord. San Diego’s most famous sculptor was stricken with rheumatic fever as a boy and brought by his mother to semi-arid Southern California to recuperate. Here he survived, studying sculpture with Anna Valentien, but lived a subdued life, unable to go to school, his heart forever weakened. With the aid of Homer Dana, Hord’s lifelong assistant, the sculptor chose to contend with nature’s hardest materials—rosewood, diorite, the hardest form of granite and obsidian, or volcanic glass. Hord won, and easily it seems, creating human figures, at times, delicate and fanciful, at other times, massive and obdurate. How curious indeed that his frailty as a man lives on unechoed in his vigor as an artist.

Review: Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace by James J. O'Donnell Print E-mail

foreedge(Georgia Review Spring 1999 Volume 53, Number 1)

It is tempting to think as scholar James O’Donnell has that the glacial shift from hand-copying manuscripts to the printing press must prefigure the present era’s change from book to computer. In this view St. Jerome, the Latin monk who translated, copied and preserved Christian texts, is a man for all seasons. Almost single-handedly, he disseminated Christianity to the Mediterranean world by mastering the technology of the word. In our age online scholars and libraries may be doing likewise by bringing the whole of our culture to every Internet browser on earth.

Review: Richard Diebenkorn and the Art of Crossing Borders Print E-mail

rdiebenkorn(Art Revue Magazine December, 1998)

Richard Diebenkorn has in the five years since his death at 70 risen like a phoenix to become arguably one of America’s and certainly the West Coast’s premiere 20th century painter, both abstract and figurative. That one painter has mastered these seeming oppositions and done so unselfconsciously is remarkable and rare. (The other great border-crossing artist who comes to mind is Kandinsky.) Diebenkorn’s full-career retrospective, first shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997 and now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, confirms what this Californian said he himself wanted to achieve—to paint with "a feeling of strength in reserve—tension beneath calm" no matter what subject matter he embraced.

Review: The History of Light by Alvaro Cardona-Hine Print E-mail

light(Bloomsbury Review July/August 1998 Volume 18, Issue 4)

A Micro-Memoir

In an age of the overblown life story—the thousand-page literary biography, the five-hundred-page family saga, the three-hundred-page celebrity confession—at last we have something manageable: Alvaro Cardona-Hine’s micro-memoir, The History of Light. In fifty-six half-page or less prose vignettes, he gives us the story of his childhood’s first love, precious in its brevity, precocious in its romance.

Costa Rican-born and raised, Cardona-Hine recalls his infatuation for a blond German girl whom he knew briefly before the Second World War. The unnamed she is everything to his blooming heart—sensitivity trainer, blushing accomplice, wild enticer. Most of all she is muse, the source on which he projects his metaphoric awakening. This German girl, an exotic in the Latin/African mix of Caribbean Costa Rica, beguiles him constantly.

Review: When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography by Jill Ker Conway Print E-mail

when_memory_speaks(San Diego Union-Tribune March 22, 1998)

A Mostly Male Form

Jill Ker Conway, feminist historian of memoir, knows the form firsthand. Her best-selling The Road From Coorain (1989) captured her indomitable family and hard-knocks girlhood in the Australian outback as well as her self-sufficiency when that family was plagued by loss.

True North (1994) showed her immigrating to the United States to study history at Harvard and later to teach at the University of Toronto, where she specialized in women's issues. Now, with When Memory Speaks, Conway charts the slow, at times ossified, growth of memoir over the last 200 years.

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