Tag Archives: David Denby

The New Yorker: May 13, 2013

16 May

I’m proud to introduce a new feature here at TPY: The weekly New Yorker review. When I started writing this here blog, one thing I wanted to do was pick a TV show and write weekly recaps, which seems de rigueur among bloggers. I didn’t want to be left out. That proved difficult since I don’t have cable or a DVR and as a result I don’t watch any TV shows on a regular weekly schedule, especially not on their original airdates. That makes recapping them sort of pointless. But I just had a great idea. Instead of a weekly TV recap, I’ll do a weekly magazine recap. As far as I know, I am the inventor of this idea. The very first person to do this ever in the history of blogs. As far as I know. The only magazine I subscribe to is The New Yorker. I read it cover to cover every week and I love it. So every Thursday or maybe Wednesday night I will write my thoughts about the preceding week’s issue. I don’t know how I’ll do it exactly. Maybe it’ll be different every week. This will require me to finish every issue in a week. I hope I can manage that. I also hope New Yorker subscribers from around the world will find my recaps and read them. My expectation is that they’ll only be read by people who google “David Denby sucks” or something. That’s fine too. At the very least this will allow me to share my very droll caption contest entries with the world.

The New Yorker: May 13, 2013

A little on the nose for me. I don’t like the current events covers, and I don’t like the straightforward cartoony illustration style. Last week’s was much better.

Talk of the Town
I enjoyed Ian Parker’s thing about Victor Navasky and The Nation. The highlight was the anecdote about a Henry Kissinger cartoon. One of the drawbacks of reading a hard copy of the magazine is that you can’t look at the cartoon in question as you’re reading. I present it here as a public service.



The Ethan Hawke/Before Midnight piece caught my attention. This will be the third installment of the series, and there was mention of a possibility to continue revisiting the two main characters every decade or so going forward. I wrote about that very idea vis à vis John Updike and Rabbit Angstrom a while back. I wholeheartedly encourage that idea and I hope they do it.

Shouts & Murmurs is always so hit-or-miss. It’s such a standard template at this point that sometimes it can run together week to week, but every now and then there’s something really good. This week was a satire something about Gwyneth Paltrow. Meh. Her public persona is polarizing apparently. I don’t have very strong feelings. My main thought about her is that when she first started out she was almost impossibly pretty. Seven/Talented Mr. Ripley era. I should see Shakespeare in Love. I wonder if it’s good.

A profile of a professional backgammon hustler named Falafel? Yes please. This is the kind of thing I love about magazine writing. It wasn’t particularly long or notable for its style or format, but it would be hard to write a bad article about the world of underground backgammon hustlers (two of Falafel’s compatriots are the Bone and the Croc). Backgammon’s apparently a lot more complex than I would have thought. I wish there had been more about the technical side of things–computers and probabilities and what have you. The picture of Falafel was great. A little sad but not too sad.

Most of my Middle East knowledge comes from reporting in The New Yorker. They’ve really gone all-in there in the last couple years. Sometimes I feel like it’s overkill. It makes me feel like a bad person for not caring that much about the whole situation. Reading these things mostly just makes me feel hopeless about it all.

Page 54-55 features the two best cartoons of the week. I don’t think there’s a formula for good New Yorker cartoons. Sometimes they grab me and sometimes they don’t. Maybe in the future I’ll rank all the cartoons. That seems like a lot of work.

I enjoyed the fiction this week. Sometimes it can seem like a chore, but kudos to Fiona McFarlane. Amazon.com calls her a “major new writer”. Her first novel comes out this fall. I put it on my list.

David Denby’s Great Gatsby review totally missed the mark. Missing the mark is sort of Mr. Denby’s trademark. I don’t even want to get into this one. He comes off as stuffy and elitist and just yuck. Obviously he isn’t in Baz Luhrmann’s target demographic, but you think he would realize that and be able to see the movie from a wider perspective. I thought it was unnecessary and cruel and not even really true to note that Carey Mulligan is “not elegantly beautiful”. What a dick.

Caption contest entry
“I just like giraffes, OK?”

Failures in film criticism

28 Dec

Things are getting serious today at TPY. I don’t claim to be a great writer, and I’m not that confident in my ability to get my point across in this post. But who cares, I’m trying. This is the point of my blog. Try not to be mad at me if I say something dumb.

David Denby is a film critic for The New Yorker. Before The New Yorker, he was a film critic for New York magazine. I don’t think he’s a very good critic. I frequently disagree with his opinions and sometimes I think he doesn’t understand the point of movies in general. I wish The New Yorker would fire him and turn the film beat over full-time to Anthony Lane, who is terrific, insightful, and often hilarious in his pans of bad movies.

Mr. Denby recently reviewed The Central Park Five. This movie is a documentary that centers around the rape of a jogger in Central Park in April 1989. Five innocent black teenagers were soon arrested and they were all convicted the next year. They spent twelve years in jail before a confession by the actual culprit and corresponding DNA evidence got their convictions overturned. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t have an opinion on Mr. Denby’s opinion of it. What struck me about the review was that it’s impossible to read it without thinking of another review of his. I’m referring of course to his famous, or maybe infamous, review of Do the Right Thing, published two months after the Central Park rape occurred, in the time between the arrests and the trial.

Do the Right Thing is a great movie that everyone should see. Mr. Denby’s review of it is probably the best-known thing he’s ever written. It’s embarrassingly bad. He totally missed the entire point of the movie.* His main concern seemed to be that black teenagers would see it and take to the streets to attack white people. His secondary concern seemed to be that Spike Lee hated white people and made a movie glorifying violence against them. He doesn’t have anything positive to say about any of the movie’s black characters. He not only thinks that they all misguided, stupid, or worse; he seems to be under the impression that Mr. Lee intended to portray them as such. Mr. Denby is effusive in his praise of Danny Aiello, and describes his character Sal as someone “who doesn’t panic easily.” He must have forgotten the part where Sal smashed Radio Raheem’s boombox with a baseball bat. I could go on. The takeaway is that reading the review today makes Mr. Denby seem like a clueless and careless racist. To me anyway.

*For a reviewer who did get the point of the movie, read Roger Ebert’s review or his essay for the Criterion Collection.

My understanding of The Central Park Five is that it does a very good job of portraying the racial tension and fear that was prevalent in New York in 1989. Mr. Denby’s review describes it thusly:

In the late eighties, crime rates were high in New York; a rancid atmosphere of fear and recrimination had taken hold, abetted by frenzied tabloids and an often abrasive mayor, Ed Koch.

Mr. Denby is very complimentary of the movie, and seems eager to follow in its condemnation of the kind of public fearmongering that was such a large part of the case against the five teenagers. It is fairly mindboggling to me that Mr. Denby was willing to ascribe to 1989 New York “a rancid atmosphere of fear and recrimination” while pretending that he wasn’t a highly visible figure contributing to that atmosphere. It was hard for me to respect Mr. Denby or take him seriously before his Central Park Five review. It’s even harder now.