27 March 2008

Funny Games (US)

After three viewings of the film I’ve decided one thing for certain: I will never play “Name that Tune” with Opera—clearly it is just tempting fate. Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) play the game and even their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) seems to enjoy it. In the ten years between the Austrian and American versions of Funny Games it seems Range Rover interiors have become even more deluxe. So the handsome threesome arrive at their summer place with (the good) Gigli playing in the background.

Much has been made of the central figure in the American version being much better looking and much more scantily-clad than the actor in the Austrian version. Here I must strenuously object. Arno Frisch is definitely hotter than Dreamers moon-face/Tommy Gnossis Michael Pitt, whose “Paul” wears long sleeves for the length of the film.

Another key difference is Haneke’s choice to kill off a golden retriever instead of a German shepherd in the U.S. edition—I assume this is just so the most iconic respective national canine can bite it in each version. Naomi Watts does have a little more tan booty and a little more mucus than I remember from Susanne Lothar too.

But in the end we are dealing with the same terrible conflict: two torturers killing off your family one by one over the course of a night. While Peter and Paul (the non-Dawson’s Creek alum is played by the jellyrolled Brady Corbett) maintain a constant and empty “The Killers”-style banter, the family tries to survive. It is fascinating to watch Ann and George try to communicate silently some plan of action. I believe they largely fail at this. While most discussion of the film has focused on the brutal second and third acts I go back to the first and see a couple relationship that has its problems. As Peter’s request for eggs begins its slow boil, we see Ann getting first testy, then angry, with him before there is any real cause—she is extremely egg-protective. And George, when told confront the men, freely admits that Ann might be overreacting (as she has in the past, we presume). So in the crucial moments where George might have imposed his will on the two interlopers, he is temporarily held back by politeness, the need to make up for his wife’s probable overreaction. As Peter and Paul (or Beavis and Butthead) say repeatedly in the film, it was all Ann’s fault for being bitchy about the eggs.

The gloved ones, who say they suffer from eczema (among other things), also point to George’s initial slap as another “reason” for all the funny games. Haneke makes a clear choice to present the violent acts of Ann and George onscreen: we his slap and her shotgun blast. We don’t see George (or Lucky the golden retriever) get hit by the golf club, nor do we see George or Georgie get shot (during the latter I was concerned that the sandwich Peter was making did not use any of the lovely romaine lettuce Ann washes early in the film). My two favorite film critics, A.O. Scott and Anthony Lane, both had knickers a-twist about this Funny Games, largely because they felt Haneke was somehow rubbing the audience’s collective nose in our voyeuristic love of violence. I think this ignores what is a well-acted, surprisingly nuanced film. After the initial leg-whacking, we see in each shot of Ann, George and Georgie a pure malevolence, the perfectly legitimate desire to kill Peter and Paul for what they’re doing. I’ve seen one version or another of Funny Games repeatedly and I still am moved by the pain and anger of the family. It is not just a dry exercise. As The Wire has taught us, even a rigged game is still worth watching.

This is not to say there aren’t certain moments when Haneke isn’t grinning at us, laughing his Santa Claus laugh (his DVD interviews are all must-watches). When Ann is forced to play the hot-cold game in search of (un)Lucky, Peter turns to directly address the camera but, crucially, still knows where Ann is, telling her “colder” even when his back is to her. He is established as omnipotent. Similarly, as he chases after the escaped Georgie, he lopes up ghost-like on the lawn, certain as Death in white shorts and Chuck Taylors around his trim ankles. He is, perhaps, even God himself as he forces Ann to say the short prayer (“with feeling!”) “I pray to God with all my might / that I may live all through the night.” She her fervent, sobbing, uncontrolled recitation is the most powerful thing I’ve seen from her since the career-making audition scene in Mulholland Dr. So, even if Haneke is grinning, he captains a series of great performances.

What I also find beautifully accurate about this film is the physical toll the events take on Ann and George. Each time his broken leg is touched, I see and hear the pain George is in. Even more so with Ann I feel how tired her legs get over the course of the night. The effort of standing and hopping while bound hand and foot is immense. So it makes sense when we see her later in the street, hardly able to stand any longer, her legs like jelly, picking the wrong rescue vehicle. When she arrives back at the house, bound again, we see he scrapes on her knuckles where she has fought. Even on the sailboat in the lake the morning she will die (the prayer come cruelly true), she tries to cut her bonds with a knife left on the boat. Paul calls her performance “Olympian,” then tosses her off the side.

He says, for all of us voyeurs, “fiction is just as real as reality.”

24 March 2008

In the Morning

The other morning (of the poem!) I went back into my FSG-on-the-cheap copy of James Schuyler’s Collected Poems. It's not nearly as attractive as this cover:

Three years ago I got the book and read Freely Espousing to little effect. But a Weird Deer told me to read “The Morning of the Poem” some morning and I, a fan of lounging in bed, decided to try Schuyler again. You can tell that Collected Poems is a New York School book because it features an ugly watercolor portrait of a New York School writer on the cover. This one is James Schuyler, reading, quite possibly on a morning!

I like that the poem starts off with Schuyler questioning the date (“July 8 or July 9, surely the eighth, certainly / 1976 that I know”). I like this because it presents a nice uncertainty to matters immediately but also because it helps characterize a poem pulls backward and forward across many mornings. Between descriptions of the morning out the window and various beverages consumed indoors, Schuyler has flashbacks like this one: “Green eyes in the / Medicine-chest mirror. You said, ‘I’m sorry: / everything just got too / Fucked up. Thank you for the book.’ That’s / what I get. Was it worth it? / On the whole, I think it was.”

These lines really speak to the tone throughout the poem: clear-eyed humorous and a gently wistful. The man’s eyes in the mirror seem to me incredibly bright as he gives the brush off any writer would fear, a variation on “goodbye but thanks for the good reading material.” Schuyler is never overwrought though—he decides the relationship was worthwhile on the whole.

Though it is a fifty-page piece, “The Morning of the Poem” feels like a simple, pleasant exercise. I think of it as a poet deciding to capture each thought, story and image that floats through one’s brain on a (particularly lucid) morning. This way we get descriptions of winter (“the kids are gloved and / Bundled up and it’s snowball-fighting time”) as well as descriptions of the July day that’s actually unfolding outside (“violet laced with orange and / White fritters: kimono colors”). It’s satisfying, the My Life-style fullness to the whole enterprise. And near the end, as Schuyler discusses Fairfield Porter painting on an island, there is some confusion over whether a rowboat or a canoe bobs in water of that landscape. The poet admits, parenthetically, “I can’t remember everything.” But still, a whole hell of a lot.

this is not
your poem, your poem I may
Never write, too much, though it is there and
needs only to be written down
And one day will and if it isn’t it doesn’t matter

19 March 2008

Meets the Eye

[Even on the small screen, I still liked Transformers the second time, still worth the price of admission twice, for Megan Fox under the racing-striped hood and for the other two hours.]

Ah to be home again, in Michael Bay’s America, where top presidential aids read USA Today on Air Force One while seated above boom boxes that morph into humorous, yet deadly, robots.

If shit goes wrong I can just roll in Strike Package Bravo who will “make it rain” (in a non-strip club setting).

If a guy points a gun at me and says “I’m gonna count to five,” I whip out my better looking weapon and say, “I’m gonna count to three!”

If all else fails, I will send an Anaconda-spry Jon Voight on a steady jog to fetch me a shotgun.

The thing is, this movie holds together better than Armageddon or Pearl Harbor. It features God Loves the Beef (Shia LaBeouf) performing competently as an actor (a competent God Loves the Beef equals an overwhelmingly fabulous Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). Also enjoyable is the kid from Elephant briefly playing an androgynous tree-climber. And I like Megan Fox’s torso enough that I’m willing to forgive her for having this guy’s named tattooed on her body:

And I now like Michael Bay enough that I’m willing to forgive him for making Megan wear the same outfit (with three layers!) the entire second and third acts…like really, she couldn’t have been inexorably sucked into the Deceptacon death games in this outfit?

But really, Michael is now directing post-Bay films—we must giggle at the fatso with the handheld video camera running around yelling, “this is like a hundred times better than Armageddon!” Which is 100% accurate. Later a child mimics the audience reaction to battling transformers crashing through freeway off ramps: “Cool!” The imagery here is clearer than the evening news and more realistic.

The f/x in Transformers are so good I saw what might have been acne scars on Megan Fox’s face. But she pulls it together, her ponytail has a little more perk and she tows broken Bumblebee with the command, “I’ll drive, you shoot.” Hell, I too would risk my life for him, his incredibly evocative robot blue eyes.

(Sadly there is no "sad Bumblebee" image widely available on the interweb.)

Any robot that can transform into a Chevy Camaro with ironic taste in music warms Midwestern heart. Though evil Megatron is surprisingly sexy, calling God Loves the Beef “fleshling” and saying, in his low metallic purr, “give me the All Spark and you can live to be my pet.” God Loves the Beef certainly could have used some more Mega-pointers in his largely thwarted quest to acquire Fox’s “All Spark,” ifyouknowwhatimean.

Finally, I approve of Transformers because in the end Megan Fox is wearing the only appropriate attire: WHITE TANK TOP.

(Please note: WHITE TANK TOP did not create the image above. Despite my admiration for its subtle humor, misspellings are unacceptable.)

16 March 2008


Quite a nice re-viewing of Persona recently. I like the archetypal nature of the characters quite a bit, so I will refer to Liv Ullman's character as the Actress and Bibi Andersson's as the Nurse.

Among the things I blocked from my first view of this film: the whiteout to erect cock opening sequence. The vein in the eye close up I could hardly watch thinking there was going to be some Buñuel-style slicing open. The disturbingly egg-like boy from The Silence abandoned again by his beautiful mother (this time, Liv Ullman’s actress, again later with Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata). I forgot also the way Bibi Andersson’s Nurse constantly had to push the hair off her forehead.

One thing I did not forget: the Nurse monologue where she describes her nude encounter with two young men at the beach (it seems all the earlier shots of the rocks surrounding the ladies at the shoreline were just to confirm no boys lurking). If Scarlett Johansson in The Girl with a Pearl Earring putting her lip inside her mouth to lick it is a shatter-the-glass-in-the-palm-of-your-hand moment, then the Nurse in Persona recounting how the boy’s sperm exploded everywhere and how she came “again and again” on the beach is a shatter-the-glass-in-the-palm-of-your-hand-then-pick-up-another-glass-and-shatter-that-one-in-the-palm-of-your-other-hand sequence. Not enough time for a glass shatter refractory period. I do want to note that I would have promptly cleaned up the broken glass, and not left it underfoot for my patient/lust object to step into. That’s just fucked up.

I admire the way Bergman is able to convey the suffocating pall of illness and despair in Persona, but in a less obtrusive way than in, say, The Seventh Seal (Persona being set in the present and not involving any characters named “Death”…it also less chess). We have first the hospital scenes where the rooms are just a tad stark, even considering that Scandinavian minimalism we all admire. There we see the appeal of immolation, people praying at the monks conflagrated in black and white (body and blame). We have the warm mushroom picking scene, the two women pondering their A-bomb shapes under their mushroom cloud straw hats. Then gorgeous, recurring moving pictures of their white faces in all black against the raw pine interiors of the beach house. Sometimes just dark faces with light off cheekbones and noses. These images are Bergman to me.

Aside from the rattling good beach talk, I wonder if this might not have worked as a silent film. Long tracking shot would have been better silent—we know what had to be said—particularly with subtitles the words took away from the elegant cinematography. The Nurse’s climactic, bitter evisceration of the motives behind the Actress’ silence is done twice so you see the pain and then receive the pain yourself. I loved the progression of deeper and deeper close-ups so we are reminded of the intensity in a film like The Passion of Joan of Arc. It seemed clear why the Actress stopped talking, it’s the same reason I would do so that one might stop lying, desist with the lies we have to tell each other every day. Take the great last words of the film: “Say it after me. Nothing.”

Addendum: the laughably slight interview extras are notable only because Bibi expresses her initial reservations about Ullman because she was Norwegian. Love that Scandi-rivalry! Just for the record: both actresses are lovely in advanced age: their eyes still glowing almost as bright blue as Bumblebee’s in Transformers.

12 March 2008

Grizzly Man/Viscera

This film is not about grizzly bears. And despite all the other amazing things in Grizzly Man, I am most fascinated by what Herzog must have thought when he first got his mitts on this footage. The first time he ran through a bizarre fox-petting shot with 15 takes. I imagine the slick German accent inside his head: “Wow. This is perfect.”

Just teed up for him. It is anti-civilization. I could see this when he gave old Klaus a shout with “I have seen men go mad on camera.” Had to eat up the obvious mental illness, the deranged friends, the surprisingly artful footage. Right back into his Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo wheelhouse.

There was a moment (dare I say “touching”?) when Herzog defended Treadwell as an artist even if the man was tremendously flawed. Loved the windblown moment when Timothy sets up a shot on a narrow path, the small, whipped trees obscuring the way, unintentionally filming the metaphor of his whole life. Herzog deserves all the credit in the world for highlighting it.

Loved the unguarded, lengthy, completely fucked up Treadwell take on his sexuality, his sensitivity, the stuff he knows he’s ”good at” in bend, how easy gay guys have it, etc. Loved the lisping fucking baby talk with the half-ton animals (Herzog so right on how Treadwell was wrong here: this world—like any—is ruled by chaos and death, not peace and justice). Loved the fact you never saw his girlfriend’s face because Tim had to be “alone” in nature. Loved that his differently-surnamed father pointed out Treadwell was a “family name”—the strange connective pride that parents still maintain. Loved the most rational people interviewed all said Tim was a misguided nutjob—“you aren’t a bear,” “people and bears are separate.” Loved Treadwell’s “best friend” at the beach telling the incredibly important story of how Tim’s bangs covered his receding hairline even whilst body-boarding. Loved the psychotic Kodiak, Alaska coroner with his descriptions of the pitches of screams and the pictures of bags of viscera.

And you absolutely cannot beat the fact that Treadwell’s life hinged on his second place finish for the role of Woody on Cheers (certainly Harrelson would play Treadwell in the biopic—he owes him so much!).

I only wish Grizzly Man would have pushed further towards the idea of man becoming a bear. There is reference to the many shots of Treadwell on all fours acting the beast but we didn’t see enough actual image (Frank Bidart would remind us that the best within can drink till it is sick but it cannot drink till is satisfied). I had to console myself with the two shots of Treadwell worshipping warm bear shit.

I’m so bitter I didn’t know more this about the film when it came out (perhaps I hadn’t seen enough Herzog to really “get it” at that point though). I might have seen it thinking it was just a nature documentary maker lost, March of the Penguins with a sad ending. But it’s the second coming of Grey Gardens, if not more.

09 March 2008

How 'Bout a Top 100 List?

My Top 100 Best Movies of All Time that I Can Remember. These are only films I have seen and remember—thus many qualified candidates are probably out. I think the most important shared quality of films on this list is JOY (in the filmmaking, not the narrative, which will quickly become clear).

#1 Contempt
#2 The Godfather Epic

#3 The Thin Red Line

#4 The Philadelphia Story

#5 La Jetée

#6 Out of the Past

#7 The Rules of the Game

#8 2046

#9 Raging Bull

#10 L’Avventura

#11 Vertigo

#12 Breathless

#13 Persona

#14 Leaving Las Vegas

#15 The Night of the Hunter

#16 His Girl Friday

#17 Battle of Algiers

#18 Funny Games (Original)

#19 Casablanca

#20 Chinatown

#21 Five Easy Pieces

#22 The Passion of Joan of Arc

#23 The Conversation

#24 Talk to Her

La Notte


The Bicycle Thieves

Bob le Flambeur


Chungking Express

Cries and Whispers

Dancer in the Dark

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Elevator to the Gallows

Hiroshima Mon Amour

In the Mood for Love

Le Samourai


The Piano Teacher

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Pierrot le Fou


A Special Day

Time Out

That Obscure Object of Desire

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Wages of Fear

Y Tu Mamá También


The Age of Innocence

All that Heaven Allows

All the Real Girls

Annie Hall

Apocalypse Now Redux

Bonnie and Clyde


Bringing Up Baby


Citizen Kane

Days of Heaven

The Deer Hunter
Do the Right Thing

Double Indemnity

Far from Heaven


Glengarry Glen Ross

Hannah and Her Sisters


High Noon

Hoop Dreams

The Ice Storm

In the Bedroom

The King

L.A. Confidential

Lost in Translation

Malcolm X

Mulholland Dr.


No Country for Old Men

North by Northwest


Out of Sight

The Passenger

Rear Window

Red River

The Royal Tenenbaums



Sunset Blvd.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

To Have and Have Not


Usual Suspects

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wild Bunch

You Can Count of Me


Miami Vice
(fuck the haters!)


Not quites:

All About Eve, All the Pretty Horses (my personally imagined 4 hour cut), The Anniversary Party, As Good as It Gets, Best of Youth, Best in Show, Best Years of Our Lives, Big Night, The Big Sleep, Boogie Nights, Breaking Away, Brief Encounter, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Conformist, Crossfire, The Country Girl, Day for Night, Devil in a Blue Dress, Eat Drink Man Woman, Election, The English Patient, The Fountain, From Here to Eternity, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, George Washington, The Getaway, Gladiator, Ghost World, Goldfinger, Gone with the Wind, The Great Escape, Grey Gardens, Grizzly Man, Groundhog Day, House of Games, The Hustler, Indiscreet, Klute, The Kid Stays in the Picture, The King of New York, Knocked Up, Lamerica, Le Cercle Rouge, Léon: the Professional, The Limey, M, Ma Mère, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Manhattan, My Best Friend’s Wedding, My Life to Live, The New World, Once, Ossessione, Patton, Pickpocket, Point Blank, Primer, The Proposition, Rebecca, Requiem for a Dream, Rififi, A River Runs through It, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time, Rocco and His Brothers, Roman Holiday, Rosemary’s Baby, Run Lola Run, Sexy Beast, Shakespeare in Love, Shane, She’s the One, Shoot the Piano Player, Some Like It Hot, Spellbound, The Squid and the Whale, Straw Dogs, Suddenly, Last Summer, Suspicion, Swingers, Three Women, To Be and To Have, To Catch a Thief, Trainspotting, Truman Show, Umberto D, The Virgin Suicides, Wonder Boys.


Don’t cut it: Tarantino. P.T. Anderson. Most of Buñuel. Truffaut (though Shoot the Piano Player and Day for Night sniffed the top 100). Clint Eastwood. Stanley Kubrick. John Cassavetes. The films of James Dean (How long does the guy have to be dead before we can admit his movies blow? Why oh why can’t he just be canonically replaced by Montgomery Clift?).

Haven’t seen enough: Tarkovsky (I’m 0-2 on staying awake for the duration of his films). Eisenstein. Bergman (despite two films on the list). Japanese directors not named Kurosawa (I'm 0-1 on staying awake through Ozu). All the silent film masters.

Admitted blind eye: Musicals. Children’s films (Disney, Star Wars/Star Trek, Tim Burton). Amateur films (Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore).

04 March 2008

Scarlett or ScoJo?

There were no breasts whatsoever in the last post and I imagine everyone felt the loss. To rectify this I went to the movies. I saw in print that Scarlett Johansson might now be termed ScoJo and, fascinated by the distinction between the names, I had to investigate. There are two types of film I generally must see in theaters, those with (probable) overwhelming artistic value and those with Scarlett Johansson. As I stepped up to the box office for The Other Boleyn Girl, I should have just said, “I’ll take one for Scarlett Johansson in a shaky English accent please.”

It’s Natalie who’s the Other One, just so we’re clear. And no, idiot film reviewer for Seattle's The Stranger, Natalie (Anne Boleyn) and Scarlett (Mary Boleyn) do not look particularly like sisters. We should round up all these film sibling truthers, ship them to an island (not The Island) and make them watch the three generations of Douglases in It Runs in the Family. Just so they can talk about how “correct” they look together onscreen. Many reviewers are justified, though, in their assertions that the film is quite modern—the title font is Futura, there are lens flares on the camera and there are even a couple of wavering handheld moments. The scene where Anne and Mary go for a walk in their pajamas followed by a line of geese is so lushly saturated that it looked like CGI for a moment. Not to mention Anne’s small pearls that resembled my young cousin’s puka shell necklace, and the gold script “B” pendant that combines the charms of a middle school Brianna wearing her name around her neck and rappers repping brass knuckles on their chains. The loveliest moments for me were the shots of horses and banners running up through the warped glass of the Boleyn estate. And Scarlett wears an absolutely fabulous black, white and red patterned ensemble to her sister’s public execution. But by then the film had grown less vital, colder with each of King Henry’s progressively more obscene doublets. There was sex, but no one had a sexy time (the only garment ripped was not a bodice). But that’s what happens when you make a Henry VIII film without Geneviève Bujold.

The larger question for me is this: has my beloved Scarlett become ScoJo? To state the obvious, this potential nickname puts me in the mind of J.Lo (a titan of my younger and more vulnerable years gone sadly astray). Jennifer Lopez had an arc between ’96 and ’98 that included extremely well filled out polyester in Selena, sweaty high desert adventures in U-Turn, and electric chemistry with George Clooney in Out of Sight. She was great and going to be great. I need not list the last 8 years worth of films and CDs to show how that greatness is fleeting. There is, however, always this:

So just seeing the word ScoJo filled me with the alarming connotations (the Tom Waits album!). I mean, five years from now Scarlett (or ScoJo) better not be having any twins by an unattractive dude who can’t sing—unless they’re my babies, obviously. As I (loudly) lamented the lack of Oscar Night Scarlett recently, a female coworker termed her “plump to the point of bursting” and said she had “already had her moment” (as a 17-year-old in Lost in Translation, I presume). Thoughts rushed through my head. Is Scarlett already at Dolly Parton status? Has she become just the red carpet red dress “chest that launched a thousand GIFs”?

But but but. Her assurance in Ghost World and Lost in Translation is permanent, undeniable. In the latter film she is the ideal Millennial woman: gorgeous, educated, drifting. As she wears a pink wing and sings The Pretenders in Tokyo, she defines contemporary America. But what’s happened to that 17-year-old Yale graduate who knew that Evelyn Waugh was a man?

Whither the old country, light-eyebrowed woman I adored in The Girl with a Pearl Earring? As Henry VIII found out in The Other Boleyn Girl, there is usually more powerful energy without sex—I had a shatter-the-glass-in-the-palm-of-your-hand moment when Vermeer told Griet to lick her lips and she put her lower lip inside her mouth to accomplish the task.

Aside from her reasonable work in the English Period Woody Allen I have already discussed on WHITE TANK TOP, Scarlett has had her best ever hair color for In Good Company, provided nice scenery in The Prestige, looked sexy as fuck doing android shots in the shockingly watchable The Island and been nicely pantsed in The Nanny Diaries. But otherwise she’s gone terrible places—part of the horrifying A Good Woman (note for mainstream film critics: Helen Hunt did not look like her mother) and the uber-horrifying Black Dahlia, luckily not onscreen much with Josh Harnett, as he pushed hard for the worst acting performance of the 00’s award (there’s still more Travolta and Willis films to be made but Hartnett is your leader in the clubhouse).

But it’s okay. I’m okay! Perfectly comfortable putting my entire life’s happiness on the line for the forthcoming Vicky Christina Barcelona lesbian sex scene. Gratuitously:

01 March 2008


I am late to the wake for Alain Robbe-Grillet but some thoughts in any case. I’ve read three of the four early novels that made his noveau roman name and wanted to speak to Jealousy (as The Erasers and In the Labyrinth seem less successful iterations of the same idea—Labyrinth in particular seems just a less inventive version of Jealousy).

Obsession dictates form in Jealousy. Robbe-Grillet total reliance on surface detail showed me how little emotional background is required to brilliantly portray a depth in characters. The protagonist is a husband that never identifies himself in the course of the novel but gives mathematically exact description of his wife’s actions with Franck, a neighbor from the next banana plantation. The narrator’s unspoken suspicion is that Franck is having an affair with “A…,” his wife. The simple statement, “He [Franck] has probably been delayed, as is not infrequently the case, by some incident occurring on his plantation, since he would not have put off this lunch [with A...] for any possible ailment of his wife or child,” becomes an accusation, both dark and hilarious. The precise circumstances of the affair are opaque; the narrator runs through the facts he knows elliptically, jerking back in forth in time. About a recurring supper he states “the table is set for one,” and then, a paragraph later, says, “the table is set for three.” After piecing together a timeline it is clear that the narrator is referring to two separate days, while remaining constantly in the present tense, as his particular fixation overtakes every thought. While the narrator describes no human violence directly, he refers to an many-legged insect Franck squashes approximately 30 times (we see the question mark of its mangled body from every angle) and in the last few pages he describes a “dark liquid” spreading across the flag stones of the house.

The repetitious detail in Jealousy is more captivating even than that in Duras’ Blue Eyes, Black Hair (and I’m a big fan of that book) because Robbe-Grillet changes the angle in his lens constantly, which demands my total focus. Even the infamous sequence where the narrator counts the rows banana trees for several pages is interesting because the author has the confidence to put such an unexpected section near the beginning of an already dense book. Vision is obviously the most vital sense for Robbe-Grillet; in the instances where the narrator uses his ears instead of his eyes he gets confused. The narrator is eavesdropping on Franck and says, “His sentence ends in ‘take apart’ or ‘take a part’ or ‘break apart,’ ‘break a heart,’ ‘heart of darkness,’ or something of the kind.” Here the mind is allowed to free-float into the similarly oppressive Heart of Darkness—a book famous for, among other things, Conrad’s complicated circular layerings. But it’s as if Jealousy is written by taking the grooved plate-shape of Darkness, smashing it, then recomposing the whole piece as a mosaic. Reading the book made me believe that Robbe-Grillet really was writing a new novel.

In an undergrad workshop one day we had to write as Robbe-Grillet would: just on the surface of things, no metaphor, no inherent narrative. We made a pile of belongings on a table in the center on the room and began to sketch away. I remember hating my piece, feeling others were successful only in short bursts. But just try trying to describe each snowflake as a storm floats by. I seem to have less time for these things than Robbe-Grillet. The final part of my fantasy is that young French students are forced to read Jealousy and that they fall into the same ditches of imitation that young American writers do with Hemingway. Just look at this dashing white beard:

As with many things on WHITE TANK TOP, part of my Robbe-Grillet affection comes from his location somewhere “just obscure enough that only in-the-know people have read and enjoyed him.” I once sent a conservative teacher, whose name cannot ever be mentioned in blogs, a copy of Jealousy in the French. I did not hear back from him. Ever.

Another old fool, John Updike, said Robbe-Grillet’s prose “is not so much written as scripted,” with its “splicing, blurring, stop-action, enlargement, panning, and fade-out.” Wait, is that supposed to be a bad thing, those filmic movements? Because I think they are awesome. Let me close with Barthes, who knows things: “Robbe-Grillet is important because he has attacked the last bastion of the traditional art of writing: the organization of literary space.” The novelist was trying to destroy, “the adjective itself,” he adds. “The realm of qualification, for him, can be only spatial or situational.” Boom.