Internet, Book, Video, Music

Art Crimes, Susan Welch, Amiri Baraka, Edward Humes, Garry Wills, The Wife, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Sweet Nothing, Boz Scaggs, dEUS

Edward Humes

No Matter How Loud I Shout Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

The jacket copy on Humes's just-published account of a year in a Los Angeles courthouse promises that the book shows there's hope for fixing California's Byzantine juvenile justice system. This fat paperback does a compelling job of chronicling the hopeless situations the court faces every day, but it's hard to find passages that signal progress. Humes follows several cases as they grind their way through the system: We get to know kids whose descent into violence is a foregone conclusion, as well as several who mess up for no apparent reason.

As their cases unfold, the Thurgood Marshall Juvenile Courthouse in Inglewood emerges as a place that, far from meting out justice, actually seems to contribute to juvenile violence. Humes's court is populated by cut-throat prosecutors, judges, and public defenders, each armed with a separate ideological mission to reform a system that's clearly broken. Interspersed among the stories of the kids whose fates are at stake are straightforward accounts of the adults' competing agendas. The author's public defenders use legal loopholes to win their cases, thwarting overburdened but caring prosecutors at every turn; this alone suggests that Humes may have gained his extraordinary access via the prosecutor's office. Indeed, he chooses the head juvenile DA as one main vehicle through which to tell the story. The same kids show up before the same judges again and again--often because of the ineptitude of probation officers or foster-care workers--with the degree of attendant horror escalating with each crime.

We follow "Ronald," for example, as he plots to rob and murder the elderly couple who own the Baskin-Robbins where he works. He shoots the pair in the backs of their heads as they drive him home one night, steals some of the day's receipts, and leaves the rest of the cash after he realizes what he has done and loses his mettle. The next day, "Ronald" brags about the crime to classmates. Upon his arrest he confesses, shows no remorse, and yet insists he loved his employers. His trial concentrates on the admissibility of his confession. Unasked and unanswered, meanwhile, are the reasons behind his crime. In the end, No Matter How Loud I Shout is a worthwhile read which no doubt will leave readers with the impression that the focus within these halls of justice is anywhere but on the kids who haunt them. (Beth Hawkins)

Garry Wills

John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity

Simon & Schuster

In a recent New Yorker article, essayist Louis Menand postulated the three-year rule, which stipulates no celebrity sustains their peak stardom for more than three years. Menand obviously forgot about John Wayne, who, almost 20 years after his death, was voted Most Popular Movie Star by a random sampling of 1,000 American movie fans in 1995.

Why Wayne has become such a durable icon, and how has his legacy influenced America's vision of itself, are the questions cultural historian Garry Wills grapples with in his latest book. Less a conventional biography than the history of a myth, Wills's book dissects Wayne's on-screen persona: the studiously contrived, hyper-masculine, self-reliant warrior that helped spawn everything from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to Rambo and the cult of right-wing militia nativists. As our idealized western hero, he embodies the frontier myth even more powerfully than real-life figures like Kit Carson and Davey Crockett. As Wills writes: "Wayne is the avatar of the hero in (the western) that best combines all these mythic ideas about American exceptionalism, contact with nature, distrust of government, dignity achieved by performance, skepticism towards the claims of experts."

Wills's stance towards his subject is ambiguous; while he finds the man's virulent conservatism odious, he takes pains to prop up Wayne's reputation as an actor. Too much space is wasted on deconstructing Wayne's emblematic mannerisms at the expense of social analysis, while chapters devoted to the films Red River and The Searchers get bogged down in specifics, often reading like second-hand film-studies theses. But the author shines when discussing the working relationships of Wayne, directors John Ford and Raoul Walsh, and character actor Harry Carey. Their tenuous fraternal bonds and warped notions of manhood found their way into their films, and in turn, our collective consciousness. (Marc Weingarten)


The Wife

Fox Lorber Home Video

Of violence in the movies, much has been written, most of it mind-numbingly banal. Just a quick observation, then: Our taste for egregious bloodbath seems to have spoiled our appetite for less spectacular forms of evil. When was the last time a movie portrayed a thoroughly rotten character who wasn't trying to kill somebody (or everybody)? I can think of only two recent exceptions to this grisly norm, and both of them are films by actor/director/screenwriter/composer(!) Tom Noonan. His first feature, What Happened Was..., initially impersonates a heartwarming comedy about two lonely people on an awkward first date. Within an hour, however, we learn that both characters--especially Noonan's--are sick enough to warrant immediate euthanasia.

And now Noonan gives us The Wife, which is, if anything, even more appalling. Jack (Noonan) and Rita (Julie Hagerty) are a husband-and-wife team of psychotherapists. On a winter's evening, a patient, Cosmo (Wallace Shawn), appears unannounced at their remote farmhouse, bearing his nightmarish wife, Arlie (Karen Young). The visitors stay for supper, a drinking binge, and a little Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Arlie is an ex-stripper with no sense of boundaries. Cosmo is a querulous, impotent loser. Rita eats Quaaludes like candy corn. But the most twisted of all is Jack, who manipulates the others for his own cruel delectation. Quite a niche Noonan is carving out--making himself look as loathsome as possible on screen. Somebody should introduce him to Barbara Streisand. (Steve Schroer)

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