Uncategorized / 69 posts found

A Rich Semi-Reality: Eleanor Grace Miller’s Still Life Paintings

by Tom Watson
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If Eleanor Grace Miller’s oil-on-board still life paintings of fabric and solid objects were photographs, the camera would have to be suspended in perpendicular alignment from the ceiling – and the lens would have to stay open for a long, long time. So dark and rich are Miller’s colors, that an almost surreal sense of depth infuses each carefully-arranged scene. Miller’s work was lately on view at the wonderful Garrison Art Center, which backs up to the icy Hudson River in Putnam County just across from West Point; the show, with Hudson Valley painter Donald Alter, closed today. Although realistic […]

The Twisted Head: Chaos and Comedy in the North Bronx

by Tom Watson
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The action films of the 1970s shot in and around New York embrace a curb-level realism – an obsession with gritty locations – that no studio or backlot can possibly reproduce. The storefronts, dented cars, barren parks and filigreed subway els dress movies like The Seven-Ups, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, and the French Connection, racing along with the action in glimpses and high contrast light and murky shadow. But there was life in those shops and apartments and row houses, life in a city that no longer exists, a life that was both tougher and less material than the […]

A Book for the Times: World Made by Hand

by Tom Watson
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For many years now, curmudgeon-blogger-painter-author James Howard Kunstler has been predicting the downfall of America’s vast consumer society in stark terms, in his non-fiction books (like his 2006 The Long Emergency) and on his iconic blog, Clusterfuck Nation. Read Kunstler for a couple of weeks, and he will piss you off. Read him for a few months, and you’ll question the financial underpinnings of the western world – some of the verities slowly begin to fray. Two months ago, for example, Kunstler posted a typical essay called “The Coming Re-Becoming” that factored the assumptions we Americans make for our strength […]

Paying the Piper

by Tom Watson
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We’ve just closed a fantastic five-part film series hosted by Lance Mannion here at newcritics, some of the best live-blogging we’ve had since our launch 18 months ago – but it was also interrupted by a hacker-induced breakdown of the site’s infrastructure. And that reminded me that we needed to improve or perish, so we did. And now I’m asking for all good newcritics to come aid of our group blog with a small contribution against the costs of keeping the doors open. I won’t wear you out, but we occasionally need to fix the plumbing and we’ve moved to […]

And We’re Back…

by Tom Watson
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After an attack by “malware” hackers last week, newcritics looked more like Bonnie & Clyde’s bullet-sliced sedan than the functioning cultural colossus that it is has been over the past year and half. Well, the site’s back up, folks, and it seems like most of the data is intact. Finger crossed, of course. A huge note of thanks to a (thus far) silent newcritics supporter, WordPress expert Larry Aronson – a great man indeed who helped us with the scarred and riddled chassis, and got this thing running again (with an assist from Howard Greenstein). Let’s all thank Larry. And […]

Earle Hagen, 1919-2008

by Tom Watson
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If it had only been the whistle, Earle Hagen would have qualified for major send-off from TV Land. That’s his own windy pursed lips at the beginning of The Andy Griffith Show as Andy and Opie head to the fishing hole, and it’s his tune as well. But Hagen, who died this week at 88, was a prolific television themesman. He also wrote the opening riffs to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Gomer Pyle USMC, That Girl, I Spy, Eight Is Enough, and The Mod Squad. Quite the line-up. His Mayberry theme and Dick Van Dyke […]

Shine a Light – Any Light

by Tom Watson
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James Wolcott’s right: “it’s wealth that’s required, not scrappy resilience.” So we won’t be reviewing Shine a Light here, because I haven’t yet seen it. In lieu of the requisite Scorcese-mauling, how about a brief Tattoo YouTube for a Friday night, a shambling mess of videos that just percolated up from the series of tubes.


Classic 1974 Keith Richards interview.

The Adams Chronicles

by Tom Watson
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John AdamsWhat to make of John Adams, the highly-promoted mini-series now unwinding through the late 18th century on HBO? The formula of the weekly episode is well-set and sadly telegraphed: Adams unsure and agitated as portrayed by a bewigged Paul Giamatti, some heinous medical procedure filmed in gruesome detail, tension in the long-suffering but strong Adams marriage, and lush and gorgeous locations and set design.

The medical tic particularly detracts. Yes, we know all about smallpox and the gory separation of limbs from wounded bodies in naval settings – we learned at the literary knee of Stephen Maturin, after all. What made John Adams a great man, always my favorite Founding Father, wasn’t his exposure to nasty colonial doctoring. His greatness originated in the rare combination of political philosophy with political tactics, wrapped into a sturdy bulldog temperament. Giamatti’s Adams occasionally captures this quality, most memorably during the too-short portrayal of negotiations of the Second Continental Congress. But too often, this Adams looks like a second-tier player, a utility infielder among revolutionaries like Washington, Franklin, and even Jefferson.

In reality, Adams was the indispensable political engine; Washington regarded him as the Revolution’s most able political actor and for good reason. The latest episode portrays virtually his entire European diplomatic forays (there were two in the 1770s, the series conflates them) as personal failures, massive wastes of time. In fact, as David McCullough’s fine biography – upon the which the HBO series is based – conveyed, Adams provided a valuable counterbalance to Franklin’s more easy-going diplomacy. While Franklin undoubtedly knew the French, Adams pushed for the fledgling republic’s immediate needs; without Adams’ urgency, Franklin’s success was hardly guaranteed.

William Buckley: A Television Persona Passes

by Tom Watson
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William F. Buckley may be twisting painfully in the eternal hellfires right about now, condemned for rejecting civil rights in a cynical wager against his own views of liberty, but his passing does recall a type of conservative who would gladly make a public argument on the relative merits – and not try to merely shout the opposition down with bully talk and cheap sloganeering.

His death also removes another one of those classic 60s and 70s television personalities from the talk show set, a singular face and voice and style that those of us who can feel those years mourn the dearth of these days. From his half recline, one arm thrown back over a corner of the chair, a pen clutched in the other, Buckley unpacked slow-moving questions on Firing Line – big slow righty curves compared to today’s ‘roid-raged speedballers – and he inhabited a public world of curling cigarette smoke in black and white, talking world that included names like Mailer, and Vidal and Capote.

The Yearling

by Tom Watson
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Tonight, some of us will gather at the Paley Center for Media to celebrate the first year of this little cultural experiment we call newcritics. It’s going to be a great night, thanks to our host Ellen….er…the fabulous Ms. Peel! You know, on some level this blog feels like a gathering of superheroes in the League of Justice hall – sure some of us use our real names, but the pen names are better. Lance Mannion and Tony Alva – they could be 70s crime shows starring James Garner and Mike Connors. Blue Girl and the Self-Styled Siren are like characters out of a Dashiell Hammett novel. We’ve also got The Shamus, Viscount LaCarte, Neddie Jingo, Trickster and Gotham Gal – what powers go along with those virtual superhero constumes?

I love the names, and I love this community. It began very simply and a year later, it remains so.

You know, newcritics is non-influential. It is non-profitable. Indeed, by any standards of the day it is non-successful.

And yet a year on, we gather to revel (some in person, some virtually) in the minor media glory – but the sweet karmic profit – of this little blog.