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March 07, 1989 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-03-07

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Tuesday, March 7, 1989

The Michigan Daily

Page 7


The Sheep from the Goats
By John Simon
Weidenfeld & Nicolson/$24.95
John Simon's collection of literary essays, The
Sheep from the Goats, may seem tame to anyone who
has read his acerbic theater criticism in New York
magazine. This is the man, after all, who chops
performers to mincemeat almost weekly - who called
Liza Minnelli "a beagle"; who said of an actor playing
Desdemona that "she is entitled to have her entire
tuition refunded"; who, describing a hefty cabaret singer
descending from the stage toward his table, wrote, "I
knew what it felt like to run before the bulls at
The essays in The Sheep from the Goats are
written in a different vein. Spanning the last 25 years,
they seem more thoughtful, less ephemeral than his
weekly theater reviews. This collection is clearly meant
for posterity. But that doesn't mean this is a kindler,
gentler Simon.
Born in Yugoslavia and holding a Ph.D. from
Harvard in comparative literature, Simon reads several
languages, including French, German and Spanish. But
apart from being polyglot (a word he loves), he has the
essential critical ability to separate an author's intent
from execution. If he occasionally throws out a word,
like "preconize" or "hypallage," that can only be found
in a dictionary big enough to bench-press, he makes up
for it with his virtues - passion, consistency and an
amazing breadth of knowledge.
One of the great surprises in these essays, which
deal with poetry, fiction and drama from many nations,
is how many writers Simon actually likes. On John
Updike: "One impressive aspect of Updike's crit-
icism... is the generosity of spirit with which he tries
- and often manages - to make likable writers quite
unlike himself." On Randall Jarrell's criticism: "In-
sights and judgment expressed with supreme limpidity
and wit..." On Arthur Schnitzler: "He was the novelist,
short-story writer, and playwright who accomplished
the extraordinary wedding of naturalism and poetry,
i.e., the couching of trivial, tantalizing, or grimy
truths in language fraught with a lyricism usually re-
served for the summits of ecstasy and tragedy."
He dissects the works of his favorites carefully,
showing what makes them good, where they falter,
where they have been misjudged. But those he doesn't
like - well, they might have preferred running before
the bulls in Pamplona. One such unfortunate is the late

poet Robert Lowell, whose translation of the German
poet Rilke Simon he takes apart almost line by line
until one is left with the impression that Lowell
couldn't explain "Jawohl" if his life had depended on it.
An even choicer misfortune befalls Lillian Hellman,
whose literary reputation seems now to rest less on her
plays (The Children's hour, The Little Foxes) and
more on the one line she spoke at the House Un-
American Activities Committee hearings: "I cannot and
will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion."
Simon begins his review of Pentimento slyly; first he
thanks her for teaching him a new word. (The title
refers to paint on canvas becoming transparent over
time, until one can see earlier sketchings underneath,
the versions which the painter "repented.") Carefully
acknowledging her strengths, Simon then calmly
enumerates her many more failures. On the famous
"Julia" section of Pentimento, for instance, he writes,
"however great and tragic Julia may have been, the acts
of bravery and devotion that we actually read about are
Miss Hellman's." His coup de grace is a response to
Hellman's statement, "I... didn't care as much about
money as the people around me"; he happens to have a
personal anecdote up his sleeve that makes her look
like a money-grubbing cheat..
The final essay, "Shakespeare and the Critic," is
surely the most controversial. To anyone familiar with
his persistent attacks on Joseph Papp's Shakespearean
productions, Simon's antagonism toward mixed-race
casting will come as no surprise. He has been accused
of racism often, and minorities are irate when he argues
that Black and Hispanic actors cannot handle the verse.
(A close reading of Simon's reviews over the years will
reveal that white actors get the same criticism, notably
Al Pacino.) The real issue is Simon's objection to
mixed casting because it is visually jarring. Since
theater depends so much on illusion and the suspension
of disbelief, one can't argue with his opinion, only
Simon is equally opposed to directors who want to
"update" Shakespeare, "to make him accessible," or to
"bring him to the masses." Simon admits his views are
unpopular and elitist, but he scorns "uncalled-for ex-
perimentation" and directors who trample the texts to
make names for themselves. He sums up his defense
tellingly in one line: "If there were no guards at the
Louvre," Simon says, "it is on the Venus de Milo that
imbeciles would prefer to scrawl their names."
-Edward Karam

There's trouble in paradise. Nick
Nolte has become king of a nation
of headhunters in Borneo and has
imported American weapons to fight
Japanese soldiers turned cannibals.
That wouldn't be trouble if Farewell
To The King were an epic master-
piece and Nolte had established him-
self as one of the finest actors of the
era. But it isn't and he hasn't.
Farewell is based on the award-
winning novel L'Adieu Au Roi by
Pierre Schoendoerffer and tells the
story of American Navy deserter
Learoyd (Nolte), who has escaped to
the remote interior of tropical Bor-
neo to become king of a headhunter
nation. The British send a botanist
named Botanist (Nigel Havers) to
incite the natives to rebel against the
Japanese in the waning days of
World War II.
Aside from some nice on-location
photography, the entire project is
unmistakably dreadful. This is quite
a surprise when one considers the
talent of the production staff in-
volved here. Director John Milius
(Conan The Barbarian) is best
known for his screenplay of the
brilliant Apocalypse Now, which
garnered him an Oscar nomination.
Producer Albert S. Ruddy was the
driving force behind the Godfather
films of the early '70s.
The link between Milius and
Ruddy is director Francis Ford Cop-
pola, and the two are obviously try-
ing to recreate some Coppola magic
in Farewell to the King, but all
they accomplish is revealing them-
selves as Coppola-copycats in their
lame engineering of a lame picture.
The script, also by Milius, further
adds to the misery here. Intended
dramatic moments come off as
unbelievable and laughable.
Farewell is most confusing to
watch because events within the film
are not explained. A Japanese air at-
tack on the nati ve village occurs
without reason. The friendship be-
tween Learoyd and Botanist is com-
pletely unfounded and fake. No char-
acters are developed at all. All of this
occurring in two hours plus is
enough to try anyone's patience.
The main conflict of the picture
involves King Nick wrestling with
the decision of whether or not to
fight the Japanese. Milius and Ruddy
do not exactly handle this important
aspect of the film with tact. Instead,
the innocent and timid natives are
turned into blood-thirsty killers in
the span of six or seven minutes as

American Navy deserter Learoyd (Nick Nolte) mingles with some
innocent and timid natives in Farewell to the King.
Coppola copycats
bi~d reali~ty Farewell

The Queen of the
By Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf/$18.95
Sleep all day. Play all night.
Never get old. Never die. Sounds
great, doesn't it? It certainly does to
Daniel Molloy. One day in the past,
Daniel met a vampire, something he
had never believed existed. This
creature, Louis, knew that Daniel
was a writer and had Daniel write his
story, a book called Interview with
the Vampire. People began to take
more notice of vampires; this cul-
minated when Louis' former friend
Lestat got up on stage with a black
cape and a Stratocaster, declaring
himself to be the incarnation of evil
that he was. Everyone loved it; The
Vampire Lestat was Glitter Rock all
over again.
But other vampires were horrified.
Thousands of years of secrecy and
tradition were being exposed for the
first time to the hordes of mortals
they thought of as food. When the
MTV videos came out that told what
Lestat knew about the origins of
vampires, it was time to take action,
and vampires from all over the world
converged on Lestat's first concert in
order to kill this already dead upstart.
In the meantime, Daniel was for-
gotten by the public. He was found,
however, by Armand, a 500-year-old,
fabulously wealthy vampire hedonist
who was once an artist in Renais-
sance Italy. Armand was entranced
by Daniel's beauty and his under-
standing of the nature of vampires
and took him in first as a compan-
ion, then a lover. Daniel's life was
wonderful, even though he rarely
saw the sun, until one day he real-
ized that he was beginning to change
and age while Armand remained as
beautiful and young as he always
So begins The Queen of the
Damned, Anne Rice's conclusion to
theVampire Chronicles. Unlike its
predecessors, this book does not deal
so much with the individual vam-
pires but rather with the burning
question of their origin, which was
explored inThe Vampire Lestat. Each
of the previous two books has traced
the origin of vampires further into
the past until finally ancient Egypt

way to stop Akasha without killing
her. By pooling their knowledge,
each telling his or her story in turn,
the picture of the origin of vampires
becomes clear both to them and the
Rice is an excellent writer; not
only does she coalesce the hundreds
of vampire legends into a consistent
and believable description of vam-
pirism, but she makes these vam-
pires real. They aren't evil monsters,
athough Lestat would like to be-
lieve he is, nor are they noble and
kind. They're simply people who
happen to be immortal and inhu-
manly strong and who feed on other
people. This, coupled with the real-
ism which Rice breathes into
historical periods, is what makesThe
Queen of the Damned and her other
books arguably the best stories
about vampires in existence.
The Queen of the Damned, how-
ever, is the conclusion to a trilogy.
It is possible to read it without hav-
ing read either of the other two
books, but this detracts from the
plot and characters of this novel.
You will be able to understand
Rice's description of vampirism, but
the plot will seem too murky; the
hundred or so pages that take place
in ancient Egypt won't make nearly
as much sense as they would if you
read The Vampire Lestat, which can
be read without having read Inter-
view with the Vampire first. The
Queen of the Damned goes into too
much depth, and mysticism, to be
enjoyed by itself. Both of the first
two books are available in paperback
and are excellent.
If on its own The Queen of the
Damned is somewhat incomprehen-
sible, as the last of three books it is
masterful. Think The Lost Boys
were hip, crude, and evil? Try the

adventures of Baby Jenks and the
Fang Gang near the beginning of the
book. Another excellent subplot is
Daniel's continual attempt to con-
vince Armand to let him become a
vampire - and what happens when
he gets his wish.
If you ever stayed up all night
watching a vampire movie, or
wanted to live forever, go out and
get a copy of The Vampire Lestat.
Reading that will convince you to
read The Queen of the Damned more
than this review ever could.
-Ian Campbell

the wonderful white Europeans in-
struct them in the ways of death, de-
struction, and senselessness.
Besides all of that folly, the act-
ing is deplorable. Nolte is both
bland and overzealous, never subtle
or believable. He must have studied
MarlonbBrando's role in Apocalypse
Now because his attempt to copy
Brando comes off like Milius at-
tempting to be Coppola. Nigel
Havers is also quite poor. He gives
his character no substance or depth
and turns in a paper performance as a
result. The other characters, the na-
tives, are good showpieces, but are
unable to save this sinking, stinking

What is left to bash? Not much.
Farewell To The King opens itself
to ridicule without any trouble. The
film is filled with gaping vacuums
of pointless dramatic ignorance as
the main participants in the project
concentrate more on copying an es-
tablished talent than on creating a
new one. Farewell is a cross be-
tween a bad Mosquito Coast and a
bad Apocalypse Now. If this is what
paradise is like, Ann Arbor is look-
ing pretty good.
showing at Showcase Cinemas in
Ann Arbor.


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