Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tim Parks - Editorial Gripes

In two recent articles in the New York Review of Books, “Learning to Speak American” and "In Praise of the Language Police,” Tim Parks, eminent translator of books from Italian into English,  raises all sorts of interesting issues about editing,  translation, and regional differences in word usage. One example among many: he notes that the individual editing his forthcoming book about trains suggests he change the word “carriage” to “coach”—ninety-eight times!

A reader responds that in the U.S. a coach is something pulled by a horse; the appropriate word substitution would be “car.” And so it goes.  

In some cases the editor appears to be right. There’s no harm in swapping kilometers for miles. Failure to do so would interrupt the flow of Parks’s book time and again, as the reader pauses to consider, Now let me see, 14 kilometers times .61 would be …

My favorite among Parks’s quibbles is this.

Does the position of “also” really need to be moved in front of the verb ‘to be’ in sentences like ‘Trains also were useful during the 1908 earthquake in Catania,’ when to me it looked much better after it?”

I have edited more than a few books myself—not on the vaunted plane across which Parks moves, perhaps—and am repeatedly amazed to come upon the “also” before the verb. Nobody talks like that; I’m wondering how that usage came to be considered mandatory in written prose.

Though Parks doesn’t mention it, I number the excessive use of “as well” among my own pet peeves. It sometimes seems that a sentence has been awkwardly rearranged for no other reason but to facilitate the inclusion of that unctuous expression. Perhaps we should come down off our high horses and give in to an occasional “too”?

But that’s a long-standing quibble. My recent gripe is against the excessive use of “multiple,” when it would have been easier and better to say “many.”  I visited that theater multiple times!?  Bad. Bad. Bad.

The readers' comments to these two pieces are a seminar in themselves, bringing out nuances of language and reading tastes that Parks himself hardly considers or doesn’t seem to know about. 

For example, many readers are agreed that one of the pleasures in reading books from foreign countries derives from the oddity of the regional expressions involved. Why remove them?  

Others suggest that such culture-translation is the price the foreign author pays to tap into the lucrative American market.

 Here is one of the more comprehensive reader comments:
Personally, as a writer, I despise editors and accuse them variously of:
1. having no true feeling for prose or the importance of an author's voice,
2. merely substituting their preferences for mine (mine are doubtless better informed and result in superior writing),
3. being corporate flunkies willing to obey any order from above to keep their jobs or further their careers, and
4. being envious, wannabe writers.
As an editor, however, I despise writers because:
1. they think some higher talent or mission excuses them from studying grammar and usage, 
2. they fail to recognize my ability to spot difficulties they have overlooked, because they fail to recognize that while they know what they have in mind, readers don't, 
3. they view themselves as artists but think of me as a low-level technician serving corporate interests, and
4. they are envious of anyone who has a real job and a regular paycheck.
The list is funny and touches on some good points, though I have no sympathy for the animosity involved—perhaps it’s being delivered tongue in cheek. Parks, I think, would agree. Well along in his first essay, he writes, “On sending in my observations on the proofs, my commissioning editor turns out to be more than ready to negotiate.” Well, that’s how it ought to be. 

By the way, Parks’s translation of Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony is among my all-time favorite books, and I also enjoyed his early memoir An Italian Education. On the other hand,  A Season in Verona, in which he joins his twin loves of soccer and regional slang, is perhaps too much of a good thing?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Well-Digger’s Daughter – A Perfect Film

Among those films that are shown once or twice at the Twin Cities Film Festival and return for a week or two in the fall, The Well Digger’s Daughter deserves a special note. Set on the eve of World War I and shot amid the glorious countryside of the Alpille Mountains, just east of Arles, France, it tells the story of a simple well-digger, his assistant, and his five daughters.

It’s fun to see Daniel Auteuil reprise the role that introduced him to the world many years ago, of the wily carnation farmer in Jean de Florette. In The Well-Digger’s Daughter Auteuil plays a no less crusty, but simpler and more honorable character, and the film itself is a simpler production, too, devoid of knavery or revenge. But the characters are sketched with such sincerity and nuance that we’re entranced by, if not riveted to, what’s taking place on the screen.

 Astrid Berges-Frisbey, who plays the well-digger’s eldest daughter, deserves a special note. Her ability to project a moody, saintly intensity without saying much adds immeasurably to the strength of the plot.

The film is a fairy tale of sorts, on the order of Drew Barrymore’s Ever After, though there’s nothing magical about the plot. Then again, there is something a bit magical about the Provençal countryside. 

The film opens with a shot of a poppy field; I believe it’s a field Hilary and I hiked out to on May 1, 1978, just past the Abbaye de Montjamour but before you reach Daudet’s windmill. I looked at that field many times as we showed our slides to friends later—I’d recognize the outline of those hills anywhere.

As it happens, we watched The Well-Digger’s Daughter within the cozy confines of my “office,” streaming it from Netflix. I was drinking a glass of Côtes du Rhône at the time. The previous day I’d dug an old Time-Life book, The Cooking of Provincial France by M.F.K. Fischer, out of the basement in a fit of nostalgia. We were hosting a friend’s 60th birthday party and Hilary had the idea of reviving an old favorite, Tarte a la Tomate. 

Glancing at the text alongside the recipe, I read:
Soup is mainly for supper, for both young and old, in provincial France: in fact, soup is supper. Country people simply eat a big bowl of it, often made with potatoes or bread, and go to bed.
There’s something quaint about these old cookbooks. (This one came out in 1968.) The world has changed. Then again, what often appeals to us is the world before it changed On the other hand, nowadays we can sit at home, drinking wine and watching films on demand about country folk a century and half a world away, eating soup, digging wells, attending air shows where the planes have open cockpits, getting pregnant, and sundry other stuff.   

The tart turned out well, by the way. Well, how could it not, with half a pound of Gruyere cheese on top?


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Les Mis

We caught a matinee of  Les Misérables (the musical version) today. I had a feeling I wouldn’t like it, but it seemed like a good opportunity to familiarize myself with a slice of popular culture. Besides, the wind chill outside was -7.

I’m a big opera fan, so I have no trouble watching people sing. Having seen fifty or a hundred operas, I can say with some degree of authority that the folks in Les Misérables don’t sing very well. It’s a different style, you say. That’s for sure.

Nor do absurd and convoluted plots trouble me much. (Have you ever seen Rigoletto, or better yet, Simon Boccanegra?) In fact, there are several very good film versions of Les Misérables out there already. The Liam Neeson version (1998) which also stars Geoffrey Rush, Clare Danes, and Uma Thurman, is underrated. And the Claude Lelouch version (1995), with WWII “flashbacks” and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the starring role, is also quite good. In the 1935 version, Charles Laughton set a standard of sorts in the role of Inspector Javert, and the black-and-white format of that film lent added good-and-evil punch to the production. Due to that film, the gleaming candlesticks that Jean Valjean “forgot” have been etched into my visual databank forever. (Or was it only that I saw the film on a black-and-white TV?)

Without further hemming and hawing, let me report to anyone who’s on the fence regarding this film that it passed the time well enough. I enjoyed it. I even teared up on several occasions. And it’s always nice to revisit Paris from time to time, even if it’s from the seat of a darkened theater.

There were a few aspects of the film that I didn’t like. I find mad-cap, stylized depictions of abuse, thievery, brutality, and  prostitution unpleasant to watch—the zany energy in the costumes and behavior runs counter to the misery being depicted, and also to the film’s message of love and forgiveness. As a result, I hated every scene in which Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen appears. I also had trouble getting excited about the music itself, which struck me as light-weight, sing-songy pop (if not downright schlock), for the most part.

On the other hand, the entire cast did a marvelous job of breathing sincerity and emotion into even the most ho-hum tunes. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe engage in a solid cat-and-mouse game throughout the film, and they both acquit themselves well enough in the singing department. Crowe’s performance has been described as “strained,” but I didn’t think so. I took it to be a reflection of the moral perturbations he was feeling in spite of himself. If we’d learned a little more about his early life (at the expense of all the pickpocket foolishness, perhaps) it would have added even further to the drama.

Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway could not have done a better job of rendering the heartbreak of Fantine.

Yet as I watched the film, I caught myself time and again thinking about other films. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) was really quite good. And what about Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers (1973)? Jessica Lange’s fine performance in Cousin Bette even flashed through my mind a few times, don’t ask me why.
I also found myself wondering whether it would be a good idea to make a spicy Provencal stew out of the stub of a pork roast that was thawing in the refrigerator, or to coat the pork chunks with cayenne, cumin, and paprika and broil them in the oven to make pincho moruno.

When the lights came up on Les Mis, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This was largely because the nobility and self-sacrifice of Jean Valjean is a moving sight to see.

We stopped at Lunds on the way home to pick up some leeks for the stew. We put Gounod’s Faust on the stereo while we were cooking, and we felt we were seeing Les Misérables all over again…but this time the music was in French, and it was much better.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pike Island Wildlife

One good place to catch some sun when the day heats up in mid-January—Pike Island.

We headed north down the trail from the parking lot at Fort Snelling State Park at eleven, following the bluff under the historic fort for a hundred yards before veering toward the Mississippi. A red-tailed hawk was moving through the woods ahead of us. After pausing for a minute on a grassy, sunny hilltop, we walked down through an inch of packed snow to the frozen pebbles on the beach.

The hum of traffic crossing the Mendota Bridge was incessant—so much so that we hardly heard it except when an arriving 767 added to the roar. No, it was peaceful on the river. We wandered desultorily, examining chunks of sandstone as if they contained the secrets of Devonian life and scouring the wooded bank above us from time to time in case a forest creature might show its head.

The river, perhaps fifty yards across, is half-frozen; out near the middle you can see it gurgling past. There are very few tracks out there. No human has ventured out recently. We watched an eagle soar across, and at one point along the way I noticed a glass Christmas tree ornament sitting on the ice near shore. I have no idea how that got there.

We eventually returned to the woods and followed a sunny path east toward the Mississippi’s confluence with the Minnesota River. No humans had come this way since the recent dusting of snow but there were other tracks all over the place—squirrel, deer, crow, coyote, and those tiny mousy tracks, not much bigger than grains of rice, that could be any number of little rodent species.

At one point we came upon some very fresh coyote scat. As we approached the confluence we noticed a flock of flickers that had decided to stay the winter. When a pileated woodpecker landed in the tree nearby it brought our woodpecker species count up to five.

It was sunnier of the south side of the island. Condos of every vintage hugged the edge of the bluffs across the river. One part of the trail was dusted with wind-blown feathers though neither of us spotted a kill-site anywhere nearby. White-breasted nuthatches were beeping, and a kingfisher was chattering in a distant slough, well out of sight.

 Then we came upon the biggest crow prints I’d ever seen. Turns out they belonged to a couple of turkeys we spotted foraging in the woods.

We’d built up an appetite during our four-mile perambulation—though we weren’t walking very fast. 

On the way home we stopped at the recently-opened Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park. The food was pretty good…but I felt like I was sitting in my aunt’s suburban condo. 

I kept looking over at a painting of a Northern California coastal landscape that was hanging on the wall—all smooth orange slopes with clumps of miniature oak trees—and hatching plans to return once again to the Pacific. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Films: Little Things and Big Things

The year has seen films—very fine films, so I’m told—about hunting down a terrorist, or deftly orchestrating the rescue of foreign service personnel, or surviving the aftermath of a tsunami, or being stranded in a rowboat with a tiger. I want to see them all. But these are films about little things.

Well, most films are about little things. The purpose of art is to acquaint us with the things history leaves out.

Then we have Lincoln, which is not a film about slavery or war, so much as it’s about the character of a man. That’s the great triumph of Spielberg’s creation—it successfully limns the character of a very deep and troubled and likeable and moral man. It’s a rich and entertaining and inspiring rendition of a little thing—a man’s character—that had a profound impact on the course of history.

But if all these things are little things (you may ask) what, then, are the big things?

It seems to me the big things command center stage in the recent Danish film—short-listed for the Academy Award this year—A Royal Affair.

The title would suggest a back-stairs romance at a decadent court, with harpsichords and wigs and candles and carriages. There’s some of that, though the Danish court in the late eighteenth century didn’t have much bling.

Further interest might be drawn from the fact that the young Danish monarch in those days, Christian VII,  wasn’t playing with a full deck.

But the film—though it has a royal affair and a slightly mad king—is really about the Enlightenment. It’s about that group of progressive individuals, many of them men, who felt that torture was wrong, that censorship was wrong, that the financial perks enjoyed by the nobility at the expense of common workers and peasants was wildly out of synch with the value of their contributions to the greater good of the community.
In France they had a revolution. In Denmark, a few years earlier, a physician of enlightened convictions (played by Mads Mikkelsen, whom you may recall as the bad guy from Casino Royale or the good guy from After the Wedding) got the ear of the king, due largely to the fact that he was good at reciting Shakespeare. The king loved the theatre.  

Lest you imagine that A Royal Affair is some sort of didactic civics lesson in enlightened values, let me assure you that the romance between Mikkelsen and the young queen (played by the lovely Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) develops a good deal of back-stairs heat. Whether this is because of Mikkelsen’s personal charms or his collection of contraband volumes by Rousseau and Diderot I’ll leave it to you to decide.

By the same token, King Christian VII’s madness plays a prominent role in the course of affairs. It’s worth noting that Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, who played the part, won the Best Male Actor award at the 2012 Berlinale. He doesn’t seem to be totally nuts—just a bit weak and hysterical and waywardly libidinous. Mikkelsen may well “understand” him, and he certainly befriends him, though along the way he’s also charting a course toward personal power. That quest for power may well be inspired by pursuit of “the good.” Needless to say, it’s unlikely to come to a good end.

Wrap these elements together and you’ve got a film with far more grip and pull than Ridicule, The Madness of King George, Marie AntoinetteStart the Revolution Without Me, or La Nuit de Vanennes, engaging though those films, one and all, might be. 

And did I mention the story is true?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Evan S Connell: R.I.P.

The American novelist and poet Evan S. Connell died the other day.

From the beginning, Connell viewed the dolorous aspects of modern life with a mordant glee that’s more European than American in temper. Yet his touch was usually humane—more Chekovian that Kafkaesque. For example, his depiction of the bourgeois milieu of post-war Kansas City in Mrs. Bridge is pitiless, but also affectionate; and his Pulitzer Prize winning study of Custer, Son of the Morning Star, maintains a literary standard we seldom meet up with in books about the West. 

I'm not sure about his novel Diary of a Rapist, which I haven't read, but Connell’s early essays, recently reprinted in the volume The Aztec Treasure House, exhibit a boyish fascination with the arcana of lost cultures, death-defying exploration, and other slightly Gee-Whiz! subjects. Meanwhile, his book-length poem Points for a Compass Rose, (which appeared during the Vietnam War) makes use of similar material to weave a subtle critique of the vanity and fruitlessness of imperialist braggadoggio. 

Connell had a few misfires (The Alchymist’s Journal), but the quality of his work was almost invariably high, and because he attended not only to the content, but also to the cadence of his sentences, the musicality of his prose kept readers moving ahead during those patches when the references were truly obscure.

The works mentioned above would provide any reader with a few months of engaging reading. Also noteworthy among Connell’s early work is short novel The Connoisseur, which describes in the simplest terms how a casual interest in Mexican antiquities can become a sanity-threatening obsession. 

In the recent short biography Francisco Goya (2005), Connell once again chose a subject well-suited to his mordant worldview. We might take a closer look at it, as a means of teasing out his style and temperament.

Of peasant stock and vaguely liberal ideals, Goya rose within the ranks of painters, and eventually distinguished himself to a degree that brought him to the attention of the Spanish court. By early middle age, Goya was the most famous painter in Spain, receiving generous commissions from wealthy patrons and ecclesiastics while also serving the King’s family. Yet Goya depicted the superstition and violence of the times no less effectively than the fragile beauty of its gilded upper crust—often within the scope of a single canvas. His renderings of the irrationality and fanaticism of the masses have never been surpassed. His shaky position in the art pantheon—a few critics of every age have found his technique shoddy and his subject-matter disgusting—further enhances his appeal as an object of the kind of extended meditation at which Connell was adept. 

Yet Connell’s brief biography isn’t a book for everyone. In the first place, it lacks illustrations. Readers without an appropriate coffee-table book near at hand may, at times, find Connell’s descriptions of the paintings and lithographs more frustrating than insightful. Then again, the economy of Connell’s prose, and the obvious pleasure he takes in unanswered questions, may leave some readers with the unpleasant sense that he’s failed to bring the “real” Goya fully to life. To those who are familiar with his style, on the other hand, the book offers all the pleasures we’ve come to expect from the master story-teller and literary high-priest of history’s curiosities and conundrums.

Connell begins with characteristic obliqueness, introducing us on the first page to the vastly wealthy and irresistibly beautiful Duchess of Alba, whom Goya not only painted several times, but lived with for seven months. Connell doesn’t describe the duchess, however, so much as he relates what others have said about her, and we’ve read no more than a page before we come upon the following passage:
As good students of female nature may have guessed by now, the Duchess was cruel, an essential trait of mankillers rich or poor. Certain biographers assert the opposite, that she was kindness itself. No doubt this could be just as true; after all, a woman isn’t a bolt of cloth, identical in texture from thread to thread.
Connell relishes such evident contradictions, and he’s clearly fascinated by this woman who possesses them. In the space of a few pages he passes that interest on to us, establishing an emotional anchor for the unconventional story that follows.

In the course of tracing the trajectory of Goya’s own life, Connell examines the man’s paintings, discusses his friends and court appointments, speculates on the sources and significance of his imagery, and analyses his correspondence. He also sifts through the comments of other biographers and art-historians, weighing opinion against opinion, while only occasionally offering one himself. “One critic thinks the composition stilted, satirical, family members anemic...Another critic thinks it an affectionate family portrait.” What does Connell think? He doesn’t say.

Connell recognizes that in order to provide an effective portrait of the artist who executed The Caprichos, The Disasters of War, the famously equivocal portrait of King Charles and his family, and "The Third of May," he’ll have to make the historical background comprehensible to those of us who know little of Spanish history. It’s not an easy task. The protagonists in that story are mediocre and the moral valences are anything but clear. Napoleon, his brother Joseph, the Duke of Wellington, and various other foreigners offer striking personalities, and they’re all liberal in one way or another…but they’re intruders. Meanwhile Charles III, Charles IV, Godoy, and Queen Maria Teresa are distinguished largely by their venality, lack of vision, superstitious religiosity, and vice. Connell’s story-telling skills come fully into play here, and his rendering of the times is vivid. In fact, Goya drops from sight repeatedly as we follow one or another thread of the Peninsular campaigns, only to reappear a few pages later, moving in lofty social circles or in service to the king.

Although Connell has steeped himself in his subject, his tone remains light rather than scholarly throughout, and he doesn’t hesitate to get personal from time to time. He compares Goya’s wife, who seemed to care about nothing but frilly clothes, to the housekeeper Connell’s family had when he was a child; and in his efforts to explain why many Spaniards seem so sympathetic to authoritarian institutions, he offers an affectionate portrait of some members of the Guardia Civil with whom he travelled on a train during his student days, their machine-guns stacked casually on the seats beside them.

In his analysis of the return of repression to Spain following the downfall of the Napoleonic regime, Connell relates matter-of-factly:
I remember one afternoon in a Barcelona cafe talking to a Canadian who said that on a narrow street of the Gothic quarter he had been robbed. He reported this to the police and the next day he got his wallet back. Secret police were everywhere and just about everywhere you looked there stood the Guardia Civil with those guns. Barcelona during the early 1950s was not contaminated by error, law and order prevailed; from which you may conclude that a fascism government is best. Some people think so. It’s a matter of opinion. It depends on your values. You might conclude that Ferdinand acted on behalf of Spain in the name of national security when he restored the Inquisition. The garotte, he quite rightly thought, was an effect way to stifle dissent. He announced that every heretic would have his tongue bored through with a red hot iron.
“Some people think so...It depends on your values.”  Well, it’s pretty obvious Connell doesn’t. All the same, he’s intrigued by the fanaticism of those dark times, and he admires Goya’s ability to enter into it and convey its force. Yet he’s chosen Goya as a subject because Goya’s depiction of that fanaticism is also a rejection of its cruelty and blindness. In the pages of this marvelous book Connell too has summoned such forces and given them their due. He’s given us the opportunity to look squarely at the irrationality and violence—a grim reality of those times, and of our own—while also convincing us that from the midst of such a mire, both then and now, works of great beauty and significance do occasionally emerge.

I met Connell once. I ran into him in the plaza in Santa Fe one morning at dawn, and though he was polite, he seemed very eager to be off. At the time he was hard at work on a book about the Crusades, or so he told me. This would be Deus Lo Volt!, which stares down on me to this day from the top shelf of the bookcase. I’ve never read it.

I was hoping Connell would invite us over for coffee that morning. Clearly, he had better things to do. He did agree to sign a postcard I’d bought a few minutes earlier in the lobby of La Fonda, and when I went back to buy another one, I said, “Hey! I just ran into Evan S. Connell in the plaza!”

The elderly lady behind the counter replied, in a purring voice, “He comes in here quite often. Isn’t he a nice man.”

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Silver Linings, Romance, and Destruction

It was a weekend of romance and destruction—cinematic, operatic, theatrical.

Silver Linings Playbook is a vigorous, in-your-face story that’s billed as a comedy though the first half is filled with shouting, madcap jogging, generational conflict, and the abrupt rearrangement of office furniture. Bradley Cooper has “anger issues” stemming from his recent divorce, and eight months in a mental institute don’t seem to have helped him much. He’s trying to readjust to the outside world without meds, with the help of his mother. He’s earnest and likable  but has difficulty with restraining orders, always says the first thing that comes into his head, and we just wish he’d calm down.

He father (Robert DeNiro) doesn’t help much, always simmering with recriminations and disappointment. Having lost his job and pension, he’s become a bookie; he considers Bradley to be a good luck charm, and wants him to sit calmly nearby and watch the Philadelphia Eagles games so he can make some money. Father-and-son time, he calls it.

The plot thickens when Bradley meets his best friend’s wife’s sister, played with ferocious intensity by Jennifer Lawrence. Her husband, a cop, has died recently and she’s got a few screws loose herself. Her perchance for tactlessness and verbal abuse is, if anything, greater than Bradley’s. Sparks begin to fly as the two banter back and forth about the various anti-depressants they no longer take. The tale is full of unexpected turns and unsettling revelations, but we warm to it eventually, as the characters warm to each other. Long before the end, we’re caught in the grip of genuine emotion in the best Hollywood tradition. Howard Hawks would have approved.

By way of contrast, Anna Karenina is a lavish and highly stylized production. A good part of it takes place within the confines of a theater, a sort of Tolstoy meets Brecht effect. Some viewers have been disappointed by the approach, but it seems to me the director, Joe Wright,  has removed many of the boring parts of the interminable novel and thereby focused our attention full-square on its psycho-dynamics. Kiera Knightley is a smashing Anna, simultaneously naïve and confused and devilish and empassioned, and Jude Law gives us an icy, high-minded Karenin that we can sympathize with to some slight degree. It’s the kind of acting that seldom wins prizes but can sometimes hold a plot together. On the other hand, Vronsky (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), struck me slightly foppish and ridiculous--what a horrible mustache! 

Wright has wisely divided our attention between Anna’s story and that of her brother, a shallow, good-natured philanderer, and a family friend named Kitty, (played by the stunningly wholesome Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) who suffers heartbreak when Vronsky throws her over for Anna. The effect of this approach is to distance us slightly from Anna’s tormented relationships—everyone knows how they turn out anyway—to create a vision where tragedy takes a back seat to cosmic balance.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Film Contrasts: Beasts and Moonlight

I haven’t seen many of the year-end film releases. Well, it’s only January 3rd. But looking at the Top Ten lists that are starting to appear, I note a few points of contrast, the most glaring being, perhaps, between Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonlight Kingdom.

Both films draw us in to a stylized world of their own making. Both are films about childhood, in one way or another, set in watery locales where storms are likely to erupt, and do. Beasts is a pretty good film. Moonlight isn’t.

I say this, not because chaos and violence have more aesthetic merit than stasis and cliché. Well, come to think of it, maybe that’s it, after all. Everything in Beasts is more or less unexpected, powerful, disturbing, and also somehow “right.” Half way into the film, we’re still not sure where it’s going, or who to like. On the other hand, everything in Moonlight is one-dimensional, unfunny, and unilluminating.

People will say, “That’s the point.” They’ll say, “Either you like Wes Anderson (who directed Moonlight) or you don’t.”   But that isn’t true. I liked Darjeeling Limited quite a bit. Most of Anderson’s others are duds.

Both films establish parameters of imagery and stick to them. That’s good. Beasts of the Southern Wild, set on a god-forsaken island in the Mississippi Delta south of New Orleans, seems like a vivid nightmare of childhood trauma transformed into courage and love. It’s a world of poverty and squalor and imagination. Houses catch on fire, floods obliterate communities, booze is ever-present, and giant, pre-historic pigs appear from time to time.

The world of Moonlight is one of wealth and tradition and sentiment. It  takes place at a Boy Scout camp, and it seems like a long Boy Scout skit with a very big budget. (Yes, I was a Boy Scout; I made Star, if you know what that means, but was never elected Order of the Arrow.) Like moonlight itself, the film is pale, the characters are stereotyped and entirely predictable; it’s a pleasant film, but it fades from the memory almost instantly.

If you’re looking for some agreeable Saturday night entertainment along these lines, let me recommend a film that was on no one's Top Ten list: We Bought a Zoo.