• David Mamet is a playwright (Glengarry Glen Ross) who also makes movies of his own (House of Games) and, from time to time, writes them for other people (The Verdict, The Untouchables). This unusual combination of inside knowledge and not-quite-amused detachment makes him the ideal person to write a how-it-really-works book about Hollywood, and Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business (Pantheon, 250 pp., $22) proves, not surprisingly, to be an irresistibly good read.
Mamet’s point of view is at once disillusioned and idealistic, for he is a passionate believer in the artistic potential of film who has nonetheless come to the unhappy conclusion that “films, which began as carnival entertainments merchandising novelty, seem to have come full circle. The day of the dramatic script is ending. In its place we find a premise, upon which the various gags may be hung.” In support of this grim thesis, he casts a chilly eye on the American film industry, salting his jeremiad with outrageous stories about the backstage behavior of the men and women who make the movies: “I have seen a man take a tape measure to his trailer, as he suspected that it was not quite perfectly equal (as per his contract) in length to that of his fellow player.”
One of the strangest features of the contemporary political landscape is the convergence everywhere of the Left with Muslim jihadis and extremists. Those who once protested against the installation of cruise missiles in Western Europe, say, now demonstrate against the war on terror. Those who praised the Soviet Union as peace-loving are now busy signing petitions and publishing articles to the effect that Iran’s nuclear program and nuclear weapons (if it comes to that) are a third-world success and nothing to worry about. Anti-Americanism has made bedfellows of people whose world views and values are ostensibly incompatible.
David Horowitz was early in pointing out what he called this “unholy alliance.” Now an English writer, Nick Cohen, has tackled this subject in a book with the title, What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way. His left-wing credentials are impeccable. His parents were Communists devotedly clinging to the party line, whatever it might be, and they brought him up with a “loathing” of conservatives. The Observer newspaper is the voice of the English Left, aimed at the intelligentsia, and he is its leading political commentator. He knew some Iraqi exiles, including Kanan Makiya, and from them he understood that Saddam Hussein was a fascist, pure and simple. For him, intellectuals—indeed all human beings—have to be against fascism everywhere and at all times, and that too is quite simple.
People already depressed about the low quality of debate in presidential primaries ought to avoid reading the terrific scoop in yesterday’s Boston Globe about the Mitt Romney campaign plan. The Globe has come across a 77-page PowerPoint presentation that outlines the former governor’s plan to “define himself” in the Republican primaries and, ideally, in the national election.
Like all such documents—and every candidate relies on them—it is filled with the grating jargon of modern marketing and the faux science of opinion polling. It addresses such synthetic issues as “Brand Romney” and how to “own the future.” The “blueprint,” as the Globe calls it, states that Romney needs to position himself as a “turnaround CEO governor and strong leader from outside Washington,” a phrase that was no doubt carefully focus-grouped among suburban, female outlet shoppers in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay, “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” published in pamphlet form by the American Jewish Committee, continues to provoke discussion. Articles in the February 23 Forward by Chicago rabbi Ira Youdovin and New York media strategist Dan Fleshler represent responses to Rosenfeld’s essay by Jews who consider themselves politically “progressive” yet also “pro-Israel.” Both fear that Rosenfeld’s essay, even if such was not its purpose, will be used to silence voices like their own, voices that identify with Israel but are critical of many of its policies, especially in regard to the Palestinians.