newcritics

The Newcritics Year in Review

by Tom Watson
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In this quirky, personality-driven, iconoclastic corner of the media universe, any kind of year-end list-building runs up hard against two competing factors that tear at any kind of universality: as middle-brow armchair critics, our tastes are rather catholic, but our production is – in the kindest sense – distinctly idiosyncratic. We write about what we want to write about in these precincts, with neither fame nor money at stake (I’ll resist the obvious jibe about the market-driven and Internet-enabled trajectory of all critical journalism these days). Nonetheless, newcritics.com faces its second anniversary much as it did the first: committed (very […]

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 […]

Trapped in a Rat Pack Suit on a Soundstage, Looking for Grit

by Tom Watson
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Among true fans of Mad Men, Jon Hamm’s loss at the Emmys was something of a body blow. Hamm’s portrayal of the surly two-faced creative director Don Draper on the early 60s period drama was the favorite going in, a buttoned-up Madison Avenue heir to Tony Soprano – the new leading leading man. But as good as Hamm is physically – and he does seem literally cut from the paper doll outline of Matthew Weiner’s storyboards – his character slips and slides, particularly in this second season as the rest of the Sterling Cooper ensemble cast rises so surely. At […]

Race, Drugs and Murder: A Brooklyn Tale

by Tom Watson
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The best book ever written about the scourge of drugs and the racial chasm in the deep interior of Brooklyn was Greg Donaldson’s gritty 1994 true life new journalism book, The Ville. It covered the lives of two men – one a Housing cop and the other a gang member – along with a vast cast of extras in a two-square mile area encompassing parts of the Brownsville and East New York. In The Ville, justice was elusive and escape from “the life” almost impossible. But it was the portrayal of race and an endless cycle of urban failure that […]

In Honor of Sarah Palin

by Tom Watson
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I believe we must treat our political foes with respect in the arena of public opinion. And so I will dedicate this post to the Governor of Alaska. This is Banned Books Week, and it’s always appropriate to look at what drives literary censorship in this country. According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were: 1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier 3. Olive‚Äôs Ocean by Kevin Henkes 4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman 5. 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 […]

The World According to Bert Cooper

by Tom Watson
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As I mentioned in our last outing, the life in the edges in Mad Men is often more entertaining than the faux suburban turmoil that makes up the lives of Don and Betty Draper. The world of Sterling Cooper is really coming into its own in season two, even as the cardboard angst of Ossining (a bizarre choice to begin with) begins to fade. One of the great characters from those edges is the firm’s founder and senior partner, Bert Cooper, played with (sound)stage presence by the veteran Robert Morse. Almost all of the Morse scenes are good ones, and […]

Languor in the Land of Plenty

by Tom Watson
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Is boredom of interest? The affliction troubling the two main characters of AMC’s wildly popular Mad Men seems to be some type of low-grade non-fever, the after effects of a suburban existentialist bomb that exploded far off camera leaving viewers wandering the frozen landscape of Draperville without the pleasure of fire. Don and Betty Draper are the ice-cold post-apocalyptic center of what is actually a nifty office drama whirling around them, but they move in the slow motion zombie dance of dead-eyed survivors – oh, so weary with life on Madison Avenue and Ossining and the country club. Maybe they’ll […]

He is uncouth but has a wonderful range of mind

by Tom Watson
in Art
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With a crowd of family in tow in a sea of bustling fine art tourism, I took in the astounding Joseph Mallord William Turner retrospective at the Met last week, jostling through the headphone-wearers to gaze at a few of the finer works at some small length. Turner was an artist of empire, a prolific careerist who grew up as the son of a barber and wigmaker in London and set his sites on becoming the acknowledged heir to Europe’s great classicists. Yet his toil over a very long career spanned the tail end of the enlightenment, ignited as war […]

February, 1962

by Tom Watson
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It is particularly tempting for me to relish the details of style and fact embedded in the non-drama that unfolds Sunday evenings as Mad Men, particularly in this new second season launch tonight. The ad boys return on Valentine’s Day, 1962 – exactly a week before my arrival in the New York suburbs of that period. Details are worthy. Stylish costumes and sets can hold the eye for a bit. But I do think this series – so praised by critics and prize committees – needs to introduce a narrative that goes beyond middle class self-loathing, drinking, philandering, and bad […]