If you turn the letter Q around, squint at it closely, and then put two little ^’s above it, it looks somewhat like a cat. And this reminds me that last night, Lee Siegel’s cat, Maya, turned into a woman, and we engaged in a number of lewd acts which, for professional reasons, I will not go into at this time.
It was fortunate that the sex came when it did, as The New Republic has now turned off the free cable package that they heretofore were paying for, and right in the middle of A Stranger Among Us, too.
A Stranger Among Us is one of the most moving, playful, and complex movies I have ever seen. I love the way Sidney Lumet expresses the film’s deep themes of social and psychological doubleness by having the title not really refer to anything, as the movie is told through the eyes of a tough, no-nonsense cop played (as if she was born to play it) by Melanie Griffith. A lesser director would have gone with the title I Among the Strangers, but not Lumet. The touching tale of this cop going undercover in a community of Hasidic Jews, set in New York City, a city that I happen to love, is touching and lovely, and not at all a cruddy rip-off of Witness.
And yet people did not like this movie. Some wags even took to calling it Witless. How can that possibly be?
I believe the startling truth is that not one person in the entire world–save for Lee Siegel–made any attempt to understand the movie on its own artistic merits. Instead, the critics savaged its “wooden acting” and “tedious plot” and “craptacular script.” And I realized that something that had been stirring around in the depths of our sick and twisted culture had risen, like swamp gas, to the surface. After years of vindictive, leveling memoirs of artistic figures which served to make them appear actually human, instead of as the demigods they were; after countless novels, plays, films, paintings, and installations constructed to address one social issue or another, instead of leaving things well enough alone; after dozens of books have been published proclaiming the importance of the “great books” and “humanist ideas” to such a point of inflation that the effect was to blunt the specificity of great books and of original ideas, when they should have just left those books to erudite Upper-West-Siders–after the storm of all this self-indulgence had passed, a new cultural reality had taken shape. Our official arbiters of culture have lost the gift of being able to comprehend a work of art that does not reflect their immediate experience; they have become afraid of genuine art. Thank God there are people like me and Lee Siegel to show them all where they have gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Genuine art makes you stake your credulity on the patently counterfeit. It takes you by surprise. And for art to take you by surprise, you have to put yourself in the power of another world–the work of art–and in the power of another person–the artist. Then, you have to ignore everything you know about entertainment, culture, plot, storytelling, and craftsmanship, and simply accept every piece of art on its own terms. Then you have to tell yourself that despite the fact that your very gut tells you something is a piece of crap, that it is in fact a lovely, perfect rose. Then, you have to drink some absinthe.
At a time when we are surrounded by movies about killing, and movies about murdering, and movies about slaughtering; by cheap caricatured reflections of human life; by dishonest and money-driven and career-driven drivel at every turn; by columnists who create sock-puppet versions of themselves; by people who think they, and not I, are able to decide for themselves what they should like–at a time like this, you’d think someone would have given a genuine work of honest art its due. Oh, how I wish I were in Poland.