An impressive appreciation of cinema’s highs and lows, but you’ll still wish Biskind could simply go back to writing about...

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GODS AND MONSTERS

THIRTY YEARS OF WRITING ON FILM AND CULTURE FROM ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST INCISIVE WRITERS

The probably inevitable rarities and B-sides compilation from the ex-editor of Premiere.

Previously, Biskind (Down and Dirty Pictures, 2004; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 1998) made a niche for himself as the slightly left-of-mainstream scold of the American cinematic scene in whose eyes the sellouts are many and the artists of vision rare. Here are three decades’ worth of Biskind’s past writings that show, besides his undisputable eye for critiquing the form, the evolution of a writer from starchy ideologue to celebrity profiler. What’s most striking in the pieces from the ’70s and ’80s is the uncompromising nature of their political conviction. A Film Quarterly story about On the Waterfront becomes a decent encapsulated history of American liberalism and labor in the postwar era. Biskind’s cant has a tendency toward old lefty revisionism, as when he thrashes the PBS documentary Vietnam and The Deer Hunter for daring to suggest that the North Vietnamese may not have been populist angels, and castigates the NBC miniseries Holocaust for not critiquing Zionism. As he slouches into the ’90s and his problematic editorship of Premiere—where, it must be said, for years Biskind fought the good fight for the idea that you could have a smart but popular film magazine—his writing comes to consist more of profiles of filmmakers, both the creatives and the suits, and the spark goes out. His piece on Clint Eastwood is fraught with uncharacteristic pandering, and one on Robert Redford and Sundance is heavily laden with Vanity Fair Hollywood powerbroker gossip. That said, his 1998 story on the lengthy gestation of The Thin Red Line and the perverse mania of director Terrence Malick is out-and-out masterful.

An impressive appreciation of cinema’s highs and lows, but you’ll still wish Biskind could simply go back to writing about movies again instead of indulging in all this glossy gossip.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-56025-545-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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