Lee Siegel is God

September 3, 2006

Profound Things I Noticed After Watching Vivid Vixens 13

Filed under: Our Evil Culture — sprezzatura @ 1:02 pm

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.





  1. Yes, I want to go to Poland too on a spiritual quest.
    Only kidding.

    Comment by Hattie — September 3, 2006 @ 1:46 pm

  2. That’s spiritual.
    It’s because I was up all night with my cat.

    Comment by Hattie — September 3, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  3. Damn. Oh well.

    Comment by Hattie — September 3, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  4. Many, if not most, of my films have not received the artistic acclaim that is their due either. Sure it hurts, particularly in the case of Out for Justice and my masterwork, Fire Down below. Only my status as a reincarnated Buddha makes me refrain from breaking some people’s faces over this.

    Comment by steven segal — September 3, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

  5. Bravo for the timely review! I, too, regret having missed the end of that particular neglected classic. The only way future generations can emerge from such an obtuse wasteland as today to appreciate such masterworks would be for the collected film criticism of Lee Siegel to be permanently enshrined in large, leather-bound volumes by some worthy firm like The Franklin Mint, or even Flynt Publications as long as we’re at the letter F. As a publisher of such expensive editions myself, I could bring my own firm into national prominence by setting upon such a project, but we have unfortunately committed all our resources at present to David Brooks’ new translation of The Illiad (no previous adaptation has ever revealed that you couldn’t purchase lunch for over $20 anywhere in Troy). Oh well, our tragic loss will undoubtedly be the gain of any lesser company with the foresight to seize this opportunity before next month’s rent comes due.

    Comment by See Legal — September 3, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

  6. Blow ’em away, Steve. I think it’s that pony tail that gets me hot.

    Comment by Hattie — September 4, 2006 @ 2:16 am

  7. sprezzatura’s non-sprezzatura, you are a genius.

    Comment by jhschwartz — September 4, 2006 @ 12:45 pm

  8. Jocko Seigel:

    They tell us that
    We lost our blog.
    Evolving up
    To major cog.
    I say it’s all
    Just man on dog.
    Are we not men?
    We are blggers!
    Are we not men?
    We are bloggers!
    Are we not pins?
    We are bloggers!

    & so on, & so on!

    Comment by Pope Bandar bin Turtle — September 4, 2006 @ 2:12 pm

  9. I for one welcome our Lee Siegel overlords.

    Comment by JackGoff — September 4, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

  10. Are we not women?
    We are bloggers!!!

    Comment by Hattie — September 4, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  11. I noted this at Ezra’s blog, but how strange that
    “sprezzatura” is an anagram of “Ezra’s a putz,” with
    an extra “r” left over for “revenge” (or “rage”).

    Brilliant, Siegel.

    Comment by Bystander — September 4, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

  12. Bystander—

    I agree about Ezra being a putz, but what, pray tell, is an anagram?

    Comment by Gills? Eeee! — September 5, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  13. Cats turning into women? That sounds impossible.

    Comment by MarkC — September 9, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  14. Aw, it’s dead already? Shoot. Oh well, off to the rave to peddle my wares.

    Comment by Gee, I sell E — September 9, 2006 @ 8:54 pm

  15. did you know that Eric Alterman linked to you at his MSNBC blog on Friday? If you have a hidden counter with a referrer log I imagine you already do. I’ll bet you didn’t know about Lori Jo Witherspoon and what’s his name, though.
    Are you Eric Alterman? If so, it’s exceedingly kind of you to feed the cat.

    Comment by TallyHo77 — September 10, 2006 @ 3:27 pm

  16. We need fresh posts.

    Please, Lee, don’t leave us now!

    Comment by SteveAudio — September 12, 2006 @ 1:56 am

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  18. Rebel XTi (aka 400D) and Canon 35mm f/2.0 lens. Be sure to save me a copy of those Chez Panisse raw files for me. thx. Click http://s.intmainreturn0.com/oopf09160

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