ENTERTAINERS AND THE ENTERTAINED: Essays on Theater, Film and Television by John Houseman

ENTERTAINERS AND THE ENTERTAINED: Essays on Theater, Film and Television

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This collection of essays, book reviews, forewords, newspaper columns and other short, previously published pieces is of varying quality. The clean, thoughtful writing shown in Houseman's earlier works--most recently Final Dress--is dissipated by the format. The producer, director and Academy Award-winning actor has led an intriguing career, from his early work with the Negro Unit of the Federal Theatre of the WPA and the Mercury Theatre with Orson Wells up to his TV series, The Paper Chase. He recounts anecdotes with entertaining flair. Among the best pieces are an essay on the filming of Julius Caesar, a great story of Raymond Chandler's screenwriting of The Blue Dahlia, and an interesting early essay on American tough-guy movies. His disdain for much of modern popular entertainment fuels his dry wit at the expense of fellows like the TV exec who hired him to produce a new series called The Seven Lively Arts because the word was that Houseman was ""ass-deep in culture."" That show eventually won the 1958 Emmy as the past season's best new program, but, by then, had already been cancelled. There are numerous redundancies here, as his critical stances are rephrased and redirected in different situations. Certain subjects--the tyranny of ratings, the distortions of mass culture, and the theater's hit-flop mentality--are first neatly skewered, but also then lambasted. It feels like intellectual running in place, especially in the book reviews, which are so objective and measured as to be sterile. In general, Houseman writes with informed confidence, but without taking chances, broaching provocative questions, but leaving them open. His four pieces on the subject of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater, which, he notes, combine ""the function of an artistic manifesto with those of a publicity release,"" contain too much of the latter's tone, muting his paeans to the classics and to the concept of repertory theater. Genuinely concerned with the defense of art, Houseman distinguishes the supernal from the purely popular, but does not attempt to reconcile or even relate the two. Thus, despite some posturing to the contrary, he takes not a theoretical, but a practical approach to the study of American culture and entertainment.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster