Monthly Archives: October 2010

October 29, 2010

As I Lay Dying (1930)

William Faulkner (1897–1962)
As I Lay Dying (1930)

[Boy, this has been sitting here forever! I read this book something like a year ago, and I wrote most of this six months ago. But it has very much needed editing so I have delayed posting it. And now you’re about to find out just how badly it’s needed editing, because I’m finally fed up and am posting it after all, more or less as it’s been.]

After hot-dog-eating-contest-ing my way through Chernyshevsky, reading Faulkner was like sipping tea. (That was an attempt to use “hot-dog-eating-contest” as a verb. Your cooperation is appreciated.) I know Faulkner isn’t supposed to be like sipping tea; he’s supposed to be a heavy duty guy, one of the classic “difficult” writers. But people tend to overemphasize the challenge posed by “difficult” writing, and underemphasize the challenge posed by old writing, or bad writing. Compared to the messy, many-dimensional problems posed by the passage of centuries and huge shifts in cultural standards, difficulties in figuring out which character is talking (or whatever) are just like slight clouds in your tea. As I Lay Dying was pie — pie, I say — compared to a trudge like What is to be Done, because it was a book by a more-or-less modern American writer for more-or-less modern American readers like myself. He’s at home and I’m at home; neither of us is squinting at a phrasebook.

Which is more difficult: doing the crossword puzzle in today’s paper, or understanding any part of a paper from 1780?

Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating; this book was harder than cloudy tea. In fact, halfway through, feeling quite confused, I thought perhaps I’d better delete the above, which was jotted down in my early post-Chernyshevsky enthusiasm. But having reached the end and reflected on my experience, I’m comfortable letting it stand. The book might have been a three-star crossword puzzle, but it was still just a crossword puzzle.

And, puzzle-lover though I may be, I’m not sure that’s to its credit.

This being my first Faulkner novel — a momentous occasion, after all these years of hype! — I felt it prudent to ask around and see what a few Faulkner-lovers of my acquaintance had to say about As I Lay Dying. The average response was, I daresay, rather cool. Some admiration was tentatively expressed, but no actual affection. Generally they wanted to tell me which other Faulkner novel they actually recommended (The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom, Light in August). The most enthusiastic comment about As I Lay Dying that I was able to get out of any of the approximately three people to whom I spoke was: “it’s astonishing, isn’t it?” Which under the circumstances sounds a tad evasive. A snake eating a mouse is astonishing.

When these Faulknerians asked me what I had thought of it, I said the same thing to each of them, and now I say it to you, the infinite readership: I know what experience it gave, but I don’t know why that experience was on offer.

Just now I was watching the original ballet of Appalachian Spring — another stylized, modernist crunch on the spiritual concept of “America.” The ballet’s image of twitchy, angular purity and grace has an obvious appeal and an obvious purpose. It delivers something that feels useful to the soul, something worth carrying around. Something for the heart to take into account when choosing the palette for its own, inward American landscape. As I Lay Dying seemed to want to deliver something similar but for me it did not. What sort of inward use could its particular vision possibly serve? Wherefore this gnarled, driftwood gargoyle?

It wasn’t false enough to relish like a haunted house — it was nobody’s nightmare — but neither was it true enough to appreciate as a slice of any real world. It was an “expressionist” skew on the rural south, but I was never sufficiently convinced that it had been skewed in a good faith effort to express anything felt, rather than just as a device to superficially art-ify. Where, in this world he was describing, were Mr. Faulkner’s sympathies?, I wanted to know. With his own skill, seemed rather obviously to be the answer. But that was an unproductive answer, so I made great effort to set it aside and wait for another one to present itself. And others did, eventually, but in retrospect none half as convincing as that first one.

Does passion for technique and dispassion for characters necessarily mean that an artist is a jerk, or that he has his priorities wrong? I say “definitely not” — it annoys me when people level this complaint against, say, the Coen Brothers. But that’s because in Coen Brothers movies I always have a clear sense that the dispassionate storytelling has an emotional objective. Being at a dispassionate distance is itself a real and rather melancholy human experience; generally I think they’re interested in that melancholy, rather than disinterested in their characters. It is with the camera’s own godlike externality that we are meant to identify.

The text of As I Lay Dying, on the other hand, is entirely in the mouths and brains of its characters — the device is that it jumps from character to character at each new chapter. Scattered thus among its various characters, the book averages to having an external point of view, but it’s a point of view we are never actually offered, an unvoiced perspective. So the melancholy of externality cannot be a part of the equation. But that underlying lack of sympathy is there nonetheless, and we smell it, and we know it’s Faulkner behind it. He’s a lurker in his own book, and as such he feels insufficiently committed. So when he veers toward the grotesque, it seems divorced from any emotional impulse — modernist stylings for their own sake.

While we’re on the subject: is American Gothic making fun of those two people, or what? I tend to think that one’s more Coen brothers style; our sympathies are meant to be with the frame. I think Grant Wood is probably asking his audience “you know how sometimes you see something that’s not supposed to be strange, but it’s actually very strange, both unsettling and comical?” Faulkner showed me similar stuff but he never winked and never asked me anything.

Let me make clear that I did understand what I was reading! The “point” of the book, to some degree, is that all life and all meaning is subjective. Thus the idiosyncratic form. And thus also Faulkner’s refusal to declare any boundary between deadpan and sincere, grotesque and noble. I can see that he probably wanted each first-person narrative to strike an untippable balance between foreign otherness and some kind of essential truth-for-that-person, the glowing inner reality that is the ultimate object of sympathy because we all share it: the mystery of being existent. I feel like the strangeness came off, but the glowing innerness didn’t, because it’s dependent on the poetry, and, ultimately — and this is really the bottom line of my response — I wasn’t convinced by the poetry. It all comes down to the text.

Faulkner’s prose style here is highly conspicuous, constructed, idiosyncratic, fanciful, thorny. To these one might add affected, ostentatious, pretentious, self-indulgent and so on. One might add these words. Then again one might rather add poetic, rich, evocative, spectacular, virtuoso and the like. While reading, I spent a lot of mental energy on steering toward the latter sort of thing. Fighting against rather strong currents, I’m afraid.

I see that the work was an effort to transcend, but my experience wasn’t of transcendence, so I was left with the solid part only, which made the book feel unkind, false. And I’m not so sure that what he was attempting is even possible. Ulysses achieves exactly this kind of “sympathy-beyond-mere-sympathy” for Bloom, but that’s because Joyce, for all his artificing, realizes that poetry is the least of it; the real thing is to show that Bloom is more than merely fodder for Joyce’s pen. It’s in his very ordinariness that Bloom is allowed to transcend Joyce. Faulkner’s people are too busy being American Gothic hieroglyphs to possibly transcend Faulkner himself, so there’s nothing there to believe in.

In fact, the more I talk about it, the more embarrassingly overreaching the whole project seems. And the effort to leaven it by actually putting philosophical windings into the brains of each character is also embarrassing, for its shamelessness. (Though those were the most interesting passages to read, because they were the most communicative of the author’s actual intentions. If only he’d been able to write a book about those things instead of just “about” them… )

The book, I think, is one of those “great works of art” that is admired for what it indicates its intention to be, rather than for what it is.

And yes, the difficulty. I suppose his formal technique is archetypically modernist, in that it intends to reduce the materials to a scientific array, scatter the particles of the narrative, stack and arrange the sentences like blocks, like some kind of Gertrude Stein objects. In such works the “point of view” is that of the God of science, which is to say no God (unlike the film camera, mentioned earlier, which is a real and omnipotent god). But when Joyce has that chapter at the end of Ulysses all in questions and answers, he uses it to revel in the infinite possibilities of raw information, the endless glories of truth. The truth goes into a desk drawer, under the table, out into distant space, down to a microscopic detail, back and forth through time, into the mind, the body — everything. That chapter is a joyous, whimsical celebration of the modern potential to explode a moment, a story, art. Faulkner’s book, on the other hand, is “exploded” and yet its worldview remains provincial; it seems to be explosion as obfuscation rather than illumination.

As-yet-unrevealed things were referred to obliquely in earlier chapters only to be retroactively explained in later chapters. In Ulysses this device also occurs, but there it’s in keeping with the concept of the city as four-dimensional microcosm; that the book contains more stories than just the one that reads from front to back is part of the aesthetic point. Here it just felt like puzzles and confusion thrown in the reader’s path for complexity’s sake.

I guess I’ve worked my way around to my problem with much of post-WWI art — the techniques of modernism are so easily misunderstood, and were, and were converted into mere fashions rather than ideas. This was like secondhand cubism.

I felt like his descriptive language was perpetually dense and rich simply because he had resolved to keep his descriptive language dense and rich, rather than because some greater vision necessitated it. He would give me a heavily-worked morsel of prose-poetry about the ripples on a river, and I would think, “I see that you obviously strove to pour the full force of your art into this phrase… but why are you telling me about these ripples at all? They really don’t have anything to do with the substance of the scene, so the phrase doesn’t belong here, no matter how original and chewy.”

(Ding ding, train of thought is about to switch tracks, ding ding. Keep arms and legs inside.)

During the time I was reading this book, I happened also to be thinking about how my baseline experience of perceiving the world has changed over the years; how the flavor of it fluctuates and transforms over time. Things seem to me sometimes to be duller or more distant than they once were; or rather the sense that things are dull or distant settles over me more frequently and with greater inertia. My sense of the present, in space and time, has become less acute, softened by habit — the habit of being. I don’t know whether this is the nature of aging or a kind of depression, but it is of course something I would like to resist and improve; perceiving the world is pretty much my raison d’etre as a conscious being, after all, so it seems like a pretty high priority.

Earlier today on the street in Manhattan, I saw a very little boy in a stroller and could see in his eyes that his attention to the sidewalk passing under him was full and intense. I felt shamed by it. What do I think I know about sidewalks already, that I needn’t look? Why is my attention so withered and weak? You must change your life.

Once last year when I was in the shower, I happened to look at the wall tiles from only inches away, and saw them in their voluminous detail, and felt suddenly aware of the acute reality of the present, and was overjoyed. Of course the sensation was unreproducible, and here I am talking about it a year later because it has become so rare. For that boy in the stroller — and for me too once, I think — it was the only way of being.

The point of this extremely personal digression is this: perhaps an abundance of detail needs no justification to a reader whose mind perceives the abundance of the world. Detail is a first principle, not a stylistic choice. Why describe the ripples on the water? The question would not even occur to someone for whom the ripples were already and necessarily present; they would ask, “what is art but to describe ripples?”

Perhaps the better I understand art — the more I see the layers of its createdness, its intentionality, its personness — the further I fall from being able to see reality, the unpeopled truth. Sometimes I have the distressing feeling that I am surrounded by art in the world, swallowed up by the wills and minds of men rather than things as they are.

Medieval monks believed that reality was correspondences and symbols, that there was mind and message burning in everything, a world aflame. We tend to think of them as being the victims of chronological misfortune, doomed to live before the era of real knowledge and real comfort, doomed to make everything up from scratch while rats gnawed them in their beds. We imply that they saw art in place of reality as a way to alleviate their suffering, like the end of Brazil.

But I think that’s presumptuous. We need no such excuse to be seduced into believing that meaning is the underlying principle in the world; the impulse to see meaning is inborn.

Perhaps my problem is that I see the poetry so much more clearly than I see the ripples. The ripples, I think numbly, can take care of themselves; I just need to concern myself with the book. It seems likely to me that I read the book in this worthless, sterile spirit. Perhaps it was full of life and heart that I missed.

Ah well. Maybe some day I’ll pass this way again, but not right now.

Honestly, I prefer to write them this way. What really was I going to say about William Faulkner when there are so many Faulkner scholars, Faulkner journals, Faulkner societies and Faulkner conferences, all hard at work at the expansive task of finally getting Faulkner’s work good and responded to? Even as I read, I felt distressingly aware that not only had millions trampled this ground before me, but that they might be quite nearby still — that if I dared do an internet search to read up on the book, I would be thrust into a world with its own traditions and expectations and protocol, where all the good picnic spots had been claimed bright and early by the locals.

(The very concept of the “newbie” is a rather hateful one, isn’t it?)

Anyway, with this thoroughly kvetchy, self-pitying posting I’ve certainly shown them, haven’t I! Take that, Faulkner establishment. And take that, literary establishment at large that fairly unanimously considers this one of the great works of the 20th century.

And take that, people who read my site. And take that, me.

Next time I promise I will try to post quickly, before they fester, as this one so obviously has.

[A recap of the above:

First I say that the book was easy. Then I say that it actually was hard. Then I say that I don’t know why he wrote it because it seemed pointless to me. Then I say that the author must have been full of himself to write such a fancy-boy type book. Then I swear that I totally understood it, but that it just was a failure. Then out of nowhere I start making a big stink about how ooh, I’ve read Ulysses, ooh, look at me. Then I randomly start saying that I’m sad and lost in life or some shit like that, and then say that maybe that’s why, okay fine, maybe I didn’t understand the book, but that I don’t care. Then basically I say that people who like this guy’s books are stuck-up snobs. Then I immediately kind of disclaim the whole essay. And then this, which goes and pisses all over the whole thing.

All in all, not a proud performance.]

But, you know, the show must go on.

Oh, oops! I’m supposed to include a passage for you to sample and consider. Here you go.

In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.

Pretty in its way, and artful in its way, and somewhere near to the profound, in its way… and yet at the same time, irritatingly contrived, and transparent, and condescending, and pretentious, no? Well, that’s my take.

October 10, 2010

Disney Canon #31: Aladdin (1992)


BETH Where to start?

BROOM You should start, because your reaction is the freshest.

BETH It seemed very of its time. They had no shame about making very timely cultural references.

ADAM You groaned at Jack Nicholson; that was what killed it for you.

BETH But right before that he was doing somebody else.

BROOM I’ll bet Arsenio Hall is what got you. When he went “woop woop woop.”

ADAM I didn’t even get that.

BETH There was a Schwarzenegger reference, too. There were so many. And they were also very self-referential — Disney-referential — all over the place. I felt like they were trying to stick in as many references as they could. They had the crab from The Little Mermaid briefly. And he was wearing the Goofy hat at the end. There are so many that I can’t even remember specific examples.

ADAM Well, did you enjoy that, or did you resent it?

BROOM How relevant is this all to what you thought of the movie?

BETH The movie was not boring, and kept me interested the entire time. And I thought those jokes were amusing, but in a long-term way, unsuccessful. Although, well…it reminded me of Looney Tunes, how they would always reference things of the era, and now it seems charming. So maybe in twenty years… But it has been twenty years, right?

BROOM Fifteen or so.

ADAM Eighteen.

BETH So I guess it’s charming. But I know those references; kids of the 2040s aren’t going to get any of those weird jokes.

BROOM There are still some that I don’t know. Who is he doing when he says that there are a few quid pro quos? [ed.: William F. Buckley]

BETH When he was being the Macy’s parade float commentators, who were they supposed to be?

BROOM I don’t know if they were specific people.

ADAM When he says “aren’t they lovely, June?”

BETH And “Harry.” [ed.: apparently nobody in particular]

ADAM Some of them were already gone, you’re right. But those jokes in Looney Tunes were actually much of what I enjoyed as a kid. The old vaudeville stuff that I didn’t get. I enjoyed the sense that there was a joke that I didn’t get, and some day I’d get it.

BROOM When someone would look like Mae West for a second?

ADAM You mean, like, Bugs Bunny? Yes, right. I’d strain to get jokes that were over my head, which made me feel included in something really funny.

BETH So maybe it works. Maybe it was fine.

BROOM Well, you watched it now; what did you think?

BETH I thought I was going to be annoyed by Robin Williams, but he was at his Robin-Williamsy best.

ADAM It’s kind of an understated Robin Williams. For Robin Williams.

BETH He was doing the full thing that he does, but not in an over-the-top way.

BROOM Because the directors chose where to use it. Carefully.

ADAM There’s not that much shtick — there’s probably only seven solid minutes of shtick.

BROOM But they’re so fast-paced.

BETH Very. The songs were shitty.

ADAM And yet so magical.

BETH The first song was, I thought, so bad.

BROOM “One Jump Ahead of the bad guys,” or whatever that’s called?


ADAM “Street rat!”

BROOM “Still I think he’s rather tasty!”

BETH He can’t sing!

BROOM He sounds real gay.

BETH But also just nasally and annoying.

BROOM “Gotta eat to live, gotta live to eat! Otherwise we’d get alooong!”


ADAM All right, but “A Whole New World,” I can attest, is a song all my friends know.

BETH I didn’t realize that it was that until the refrain. Then I was like, “Oh, this is the movie where ‘A Whole New World’ comes from!” Even though you had been singing it.

ADAM There’s at least one other song that I think is pretty good. I think “Prince Ali” is a pretty funny song.

BROOM No. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

BETH I don’t even remember it.

ADAM “Prince Ali, mighty is he, Ali Ababwa.”

BROOM I don’t mind “Friend Like Me” and I don’t mind “Whole New World.” The other two are nothin’.

ADAM I like the “Arabian Nights” song at the beginning.

BETH My favorite part was the most Dumbo-y part.

BROOM “Friend Like Me.”

BETH Yeah. That was cool.

ADAM The parade in Prince Ali is funny.

BROOM So as a whole… you said it was interesting the whole time…

BETH It kept my attention. I was getting very tired, but it had nothing to do with the movie, and I didn’t fall asleep.

ADAM I think the Robin Williams sort of cuts the Broadway schmaltz. They have both themes, and they’re both oppressive in and of themselves, but together they’re sort of…

BETH Bearable.

BROOM Well, I thought the whole attitude — not just the Robin Williams but the whole thing — was of very shticky business.

ADAM I mean, Gilbert Gottfried is your parrot?

BETH I thought he was writing his own lines. He was just being Gilbert Gottfried.

ADAM So was Robin Williams. Right.

BROOM But I felt like the use of shtick was all in the same spirit as the Robin Williams. I didn’t think it was like Broadway. Well, I guess it was like “Spamalot.” But I didn’t think there was a treacly Broadway quality. I feel like there’s hardly any emotion in it whatsoever. How did you feel about the story?

ADAM Did you like either of them? Did you root for their love interest?

BETH I didn’t care about the characters.

ADAM He’s so handsome.

BROOM I think the character design is fine, but his eyes and nose wobble around inconsistently.

ADAM No, the way his eyes bulge out — he’s so handsome.

BETH Her eyes drove me nuts. I thought her eyes were the biggest ever that any Disney character has ever had. They were like anime eyes. There was white all the way around her pupils.

ADAM Yes! Right! Because her eyes were so bulgy! His were the same way. I find that extremely endearing.

BROOM I felt like their character animation, their acting, was lacking — they were just shtick figures.

ADAM Here’s a serious question: do you think the Orpheus-slash-Lot’s wife plot device of “don’t touch don’t touch don’t touch — oh, you touched it!” is effective? Ever? Is it ever effective? Because every time it happens in a movie, my heart stops. Did you see … it’s set in Spain during the civil war, and she’s a little girl…

BROOM Pan’s Labyrinth; I didn’t see it.

ADAM There’s the same thing.

BETH But it works on you.

ADAM It always works on me.

BROOM It works as a bit, it works fine. When someone pulls a book out of a bookcase and it spins around, that works for me too. I don’t care. But the actual story of this movie… So Aladdin was “the diamond in the rough” — he was the only person in the world who could enter that cave? Why? Because of what?

BETH Yeah. They cut out the part that explains why.

ADAM Because he’s a good guy!

BROOM It was his destiny.

BETH Because he’s clever.

ADAM Does this actually bother you?

BROOM Does it bother you that the guy who started telling us the story never reappears? That bothered me even when I was a kid.


BETH I didn’t even notice that.

ADAM It’s Robin Williams again, so it doesn’t matter! But no, it never bothered me that, like — why is Frodo the one? It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

BROOM I mean, I understand. The plot is just to keep each scene going; it’s just there to get this show on the road.

ADAM I think her dad was effectively a buffoon.

BETH I liked the dad.

ADAM He had more than one personality trait, and he was funny.

BETH That actor — who is that guy? He plays the bumbly old man in other things.

BROOM Oh, really? I don’t know who it is. [ed. Douglas Seale (?)]

ADAM Although Jafar is offensively gay, even moreso than Ursula…

BROOM But then at the end he’s supposed to be lusting for Jasmine; he has no other motivation than that he actually has the hots for her.

ADAM I understand that.

BETH It doesn’t matter. He’s super-gay.

ADAM It doesn’t matter; he’s the gayest… well, until Uncle Scar.

BROOM That’s right. This was like, “if only we could have had Jeremy Irons!” Then they get him. But he’s good — I like watching Jafar. He certainly has the most interesting designs. He and the genie have cool features.

BETH Is Robin Williams gay?

BROOM I don’t believe so. I believe he’s been married for a long time. [ed.: was until divorce in 2008]

ADAM I think that’s cocaine that you’re thinking of.

BROOM I think that’s chest hair that you’re thinking of.

BETH I mean, he slips into that persona sometimes.

ADAM I saw Mrs. Doubtfire!

BROOM I saw Bicentennial Man! Anyway, at the end — just to finish my plot questions — when he’s like, “you’re free! you’re free!” And then he’s sad because now he can’t marry her, because of that law, and the stupid deus ex machina turns out to be that the sultan could have changed the law at any time. But aren’t you also at that moment thinking, “well, now that the genie is free, he can do favors, right?” He can do whatever he wants for anyone he wants!

BETH I was thinking maybe he’d say, “you get twenty-hundred wishes now.”

ADAM But the genie doesn’t operate by normal human rules.

BROOM He’s not bound by any rules at the end.

BETH I thought maybe he wouldn’t be a genie after he was freed.

ADAM You thought he was going to turn into, like, The Beast.

BETH I thought he would just be a blue man.

BROOM It’s true. He shouldn’t really have those powers. They’re dangerous powers to have.

ADAM And certainly if Jafar is ever set free…

BROOM Ten thousand years in the future — but that could be soon, now!

ADAM Right.

BROOM And also: you’re not allowed to wish for more wishes, but you’re allowed to wish to be a sorcerer capable of doing anything that you want?

BETH Right, that’s not fair. And also, why can’t you wish for more wishes?

ADAM The sorcerer can’t do everything.

BROOM I know they say that, but what could the sorcerer not do that the genie could do?

ADAM Make her fall in love with him?

BROOM The genie couldn’t do that.

ADAM The genie could probably do that, he just won’t do that.

BETH When he was a sorcerer he couldn’t do that.

ADAM The sorcerer can just do conjuring, and sending people places, but he couldn’t transform things.

BROOM He turned himself into a giant snake!

ADAM Yeah, that’s conjuring.

BROOM He encased her in a giant hourglass. All right: I like about this movie that it is visually stylish in a way that hearkens back to the old ones and is also totally garish in a new, 90s way, and is just exuberant about its garishness.

ADAM I love the gardens of the palace.

BETH I do too! That was one of my favorite set pieces.

BROOM I thought this movie had the best backgrounds in years.

BETH It did have really good backgrounds.

ADAM And I like when they’re sitting on the roof of the Forbidden Palace. And I like… … different things.

BETH It seemed kind of stupid, but I enjoyed it.

BROOM It was right on the line for me. Because when I first saw it, I loved it, and now part of me was thinking, “this is so cheesy.”

BETH You know what’s good about it? It’s not preachy, like most of the Disney movies have been.

BROOM It’s just like pixy stix.

ADAM Well, there is a moral, but the moral is, like, “free yourself!”

BETH Yeah, it’s like “be yourself! and free yourself!” but…

BROOM The moral is the least important thing in the script. They don’t care.

ADAM But it is a perfect message for the 90s. It’s this vapid sort of “do whatever you want!” There’s no actual content to it. I suppose he has a sense of duty in that he frees the genie, but afterward he gets everything he wants, basically.

BROOM It is vapid, and that is what was troubling to me about it now. It was flashy in a really obnoxious way, to sell vapidity. I was thinking about that thing that John Kricfalusi said about ‘tude — this is the movie he shows, because every expression Aladdin makes is like [face-scrunch with smirk].

ADAM That’s why he’s so cute!

BETH So he’s your favorite?

ADAM Tarzan is my favorite. But he’s pretty cute. He has those big neotenous eyes that make you just wanna hug him.

BETH But he’s not manly at all. He’s like a boy. He looks like your brother, kind of.

ADAM Oh no!

BROOM Way to poison the well!

ADAM You don’t think [my boyfriend] looks anything like that? With the wide eyes and the mischievous expression?

BETH I see sort of a puppy dog thing going on with both people, but no.

ADAM I mean, he doesn’t have a thieving monkey, but…

BROOM Or does he? It’s funny you say Aladdin is like a boy, because I was going to say, this movie had less of an element of “what am I going to be when I grow up” than almost any other before it.

BETH Okay, but he’s like a seventeen-year-old.

ADAM It has a strong element of that — he wants to be rich. He wants to be consequential.

BETH He wants to be comfortable.

BROOM He wants not to be running from the law all the time, but that’s just wanting to change his life, it’s not wanting to grow up into something new.

BETH There was no mention of growing up.

ADAM Did Belle really want to grow up?

BROOM Yeah, she wanted to leave that town.

ADAM She wanted to go to cool parties. She wanted to go to NYU.

BROOM Yes, exactly, which I think is a metaphor we brought up before. She wanted to go away into her future.

BETH Aladdin wanted to go away to the palace.

ADAM Just because it meant he’d be rich.

BROOM Jasmine’s situation is more the traditional situation.

ADAM And she does leave, she climbs over the wall. I like that she slips back into “but I’m the princess!” as soon as it’s convenient. She actually does mature a little bit over the course of the movie, and so does he. Convincingly so. I believe their character arcs.

BROOM Yeah, it works. Their minor character arcs. But just like we were saying about Home Alone a minute ago — they are very rich. They have everything they want. And all the diversions of the movie take place within the narrow realm of utter luxury.

ADAM He doesn’t, necessarily.

BROOM Yes. He is very poor. She is very rich. Okay, wait, another plot point: his first wish is to be a prince. Then later it turns out he might need another wish to be a real prince. He needs to wish to actually be a prince.

BETH I don’t understand that one.

BROOM If his first wish were to look like a prince, then that would be different.

ADAM I think he got turned into a prince but then the sorcerer turned him back into a street rat, so then he needs to toggle back into “prince.”


BETH Why, once he got hold of the lamp, didn’t it go back?

ADAM Like it should reset?

BETH Yeah, it should reset.

ADAM But then you could just hand it back and forth between you and your friend, forever.

BROOM It’s per person.

BETH Yeah, and why couldn’t he just give it to, like, her?

BROOM Because he promised he would let the genie free. He promised to be the last person to get the benefit of the lamp. Okay, now the greater cultural thing. So we said that the vapidity suited the 90s… Don’t you feel a little bit like you’re looking at….

ADAM The story of Bill and Hillary Clinton?

BETH The economic climate of the day?

BROOM The cultural climate of now. When I first saw it, I remember thinking that “Friend Like Me” was painfully fast. I didn’t understand what half the things I was seeing were.

BETH But now, didn’t you feel like you got them all?

BROOM I’ve seen it enough times. But you, for the first time, you understood everything he was saying and every visual that went with it?

BETH Yeah. But that’s part of being my age. If I were eleven or whatever, I wouldn’t have gotten it all.

BROOM I just felt like it was overloaded and in-your-face in a way that was a little bit beyond reasonable. Even at the beginning, when the shopkeeper is talking, it was already very fast; every half-line has its own visual shtick.

ADAM You just hadn’t seen enough rap music at that point.

BROOM It felt like…

BETH An onslaught.

BROOM Like an overstuffed way of thinking about movie time. At the expense of content.

BETH It’s vaudevillian.

BROOM Well, they think it’s vaudevillian, but it’s such a rat-a-tat machine gun kind of vaudeville. And then Hercules is that, times a few. It’s the same thing cranked even further up.

ADAM Really, this is like Shrek.

BROOM I know a lot of people hate Shrek, but I actually thought it had a sense of pacing.

ADAM I like Shrek, and I like this.

BROOM I enjoyed this, but I feel like this is like enjoying something somewhat distasteful. I feel like if you had showed this to the 1945 audience, or whenever, they would have thought, “that was offensive! and abrasive!”

BETH I think you’re right. It is abrasive.

ADAM But you probably think Christina Aguilera is abrasive. Actually I should really say: you probably think Katy Perry is abrasive.

[digression on this subject ensues]

ADAM I mean, it’s candy-colored and, you know…

BROOM And Jasmine’s waist is tiny, and there’s absolutely no reason to do that other than reflexive sexualizing of everything.

ADAM She’s pretty, and he’s super-hot. And it’s hot to imagine them together. It’s like it’s hot to imagine Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake making out. It’s hot.

BROOM Doesn’t it make you feel that something is distasteful when the culture asks, “what should we show our eight-year-olds? How about Bratz?” Maybe not! So maybe not this either.

BETH I don’t think it was necessary for her proportions to be that extreme. She was also wearing a bikini and had gigantic breasts. Not gigantic, but.

BROOM Not by cartoon standards.

BETH By my standards, those were very large breasts.

BROOM They were just modest 34Ds. Standard cartoon size.

BETH And then her off-the-shoulder whatever.

BROOM That’s how things are in ye olden times. I like that she’s wearing basically a nakedness suit the whole time, and then at the end when he’s slutted up the place, she’s wearing a red suit that is exactly as revealing. Which means “oh, he dirtied her innocence.”

BETH I think somehow the high ponytail equals “slut.”

BROOM She was lugging around a lot of hair.

ADAM I liked that at the end, Aladdin does not get to have a prince hat, but he has a stripey hat that’s sort of rich-colored in its own way. I don’t know where he got it.

BROOM How, when Jafar disguises himself as an old man…

BETH … does he do the teeth??

BROOM Yes! Impossible!!

ADAM It doesn’t matter! He’s a vizier!

BROOM I know, he has all kinds of powers even before he has powers. Bits that I thought were cool, then, and I still like: when he stands inside the window, like a Buster Keaton thing, when the tower is rolling over him.

ADAM I love that. And I love the design of the cave mouth.

BROOM Good use of CGI! You said “oh, CGI-tastic,” but I thought it was well-used throughout. Like, the magic carpet is a good use of CGI.

BETH I really liked the magic carpet a lot. I thought that was well done.

ADAM Albeit, animated exactly like the rug in Beauty and the Beast.

BROOM What rug?

ADAM The rug that turns into the dog.

BROOM That’s a footstool.

ADAM Oh, it is a footstool, but it has similar tassels.

BROOM But they did more interesting things here. Like when he walked away dejected, folded over. I thought all the CGI had aged well because it had been used with taste, with an eye for its otherworldliness. The lion head, and the tower, all that stuff was smart. But yes, the movie is just bit after bit after bit. The Star Wars part when he flies out of the collapsing cave? Okay, sure, we’ll take some of that for two seconds. Now what?

BETH I felt like the people who made this were challenging themselves to do that, to see how much they could pile on. It didn’t have the soul of The Little Mermaid or even Beauty and the Beast. Which is fine.

ADAM Fine guys, go watch The Sorrow and the Pity.

BETH What year is this? 93? Totally Clinton. It feels like it’s of that time.

BROOM Say more about what the characteristic of that time is.

ADAM Vapid. Ahistorical.

BETH Yes, ahistorical.

BROOM That’s my favorite way for things to be!

ADAM Well, it turns out it’s a lot nicer.

BROOM “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

BETH This is the movie that is made during a time of general well-being.

BROOM Yeah, not like Home on the Range.

BETH We’ll see.

[the New York Times review is read as always]