Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Chimpanzee Playing a Violin

We own a television but use it only for watching videos and DVDs, and giving the cat a warm perch for napping. We’ve designated Friday as Family Movie Night, and the boys watch Pokemon or a Bill Nye the Science Guy tape – no television shows, which are as addictive as crack or Marlboros but less healthy. Over the weekend, once the kids were asleep, we watched The Sentinel, which had been criminally mislabeled a thriller. Call me old-fashioned, but it takes more than cynicism, improbability and vertigo-inducing graphics to make a movie. Later this week, my wife will attend a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., and I plan to indulge in a couple of reliable favorites -- The Big Sleep and The Wild Bunch – assuming I can remember how to work the DVD player.

A lot of writers have weighed in on television, and here are two of the best. First, Raymond Chandler, in an Oct. 16, 1950, letter to Bernice Baumgarten, an editor and the wife of James Gould Cozzens:

“According to Mr. Maugham (Somerset Maugham) the American public has ceased to read and now spends its time looking at television. Well, I’ve spent a little time lately looking at television for the first time, and my opinion is that people who look at television for any length of time and with any regularity have not ceased to read. They never began. It’s a great deal like the chimpanzee who played the violin. He didn’t play it in tune; he didn’t play anything recognizable as a melody; he didn’t hold the bow right; he didn’t finger correctly. But, Jesus, wasn’t it wonderful that he could play the violin at all?”

And here is Flannery O’Connor, in a letter written Nov. 23, 1963, the day after President’s Kennedy’s murder, to Sally and Robert Fitzgerald:

“The President’s death has cut the country up pretty bad. All commercial television is stopped until after the funeral and even the football games called off, which is about the extremest sign of grief possible.”

1 comment:

David said...

I cannot recommend Veronica Mars -- whose 3rd-season premiere is tonight on the new CW network -- highly enough.

I'll admit it might be a little bit hard for a newcomer to get into it: it is rather like plunging into a serialized Dickens novel halfway through. No: check that: it's *exactly* like plunging into a serialized Dickens novel halfway through. But in terms of plot, character development, depth of character, dialogue, and cinematic technique, it's like watching Shakespeare plus Dickens plus Daschiel Hammett put together, examining in real-time the socioeconomic, racial, political, and interpersonal dilemmas of our age: all using young adults.

I hope they don't fall down in this new season; the first two are real masterpieces.