Sunday, July 20, 2008
(1:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Passion of Manohla DargisI have long enjoyed A. O. Scott's reviews in the New York Times, which for me are equalled only by those of The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. So it is with some disappointment that I must say that the Times' newer reviewer, Manohla Dargis, is terrible. She mixes overwriting with cliche in a way that is unprecedented in the history of prose.
Take, for instance, her review of The Dark Knight. She approves of the casting in the new franchise that began with Batman Begins: director Christopher Nolan "brought a gravitas to the superhero that wiped away the camp and kitsch that had shrouded Batman in cobwebs. It helped that Christian Bale, a reluctant smiler whose sharply planed face looks as if it had been carved with a chisel, slid into Bruce Wayne’s insouciance as easily as he did Batman’s suit." Shrouded in cobwebs? Insouciance?
Here's another highlight: "In and out of his black carapace and on the restless move, Batman remains, perhaps not surprisingly then, a recessive, almost elusive figure" (my emphasis). On the restless move: I don't even know how to respond to this. Tinkering with a cliche I can see, but "on the move" seems to be closer to an idiomatic expression than a cliche properly so called -- and so the interruption of an adjective is jarring, in an unproductive way. One begins parsing out the intended meaning: is Batman's "move," on which he is, what is restless, as opposed to Batman himself? What is gained through this locution that "restlessly on the move" would not have achieved? I will admit that "and on the restless move" has a certain iambic quality that arguably communicates movement -- but the movement on the level of rhythm is arrested by the oddity of the expression, an oddity that has no apparent function other than to fit into the very rhythm it disrupts. Do we really need our movie reviewers writing experimental prose, especially when the experiment fails so badly?
Also, "carapace"? Thesaurus addiction destroys lives.
Even worse was the opening paragraph of her review of The Bourne Ultimatum, the review that first brought her to my attention and that I vividly remember over a year later:
Jaw clenched, brow knotted, body tight as a secret, Matt Damon hurtles through “The Bourne Ultimatum” like a missile. He’s a man on a mission, our Matt, and so too is his character, Jason Bourne, the near-mystically enhanced superspy who, after losing his memory and all sense of self, has come to realize that he has also lost part of his soul. For Bourne, who rises and rises again in this fantastically kinetic, propulsive film, resurrection is the name of the game, just as it is for franchises. This is the passion of Jason Bourne, with a bullet.My favorite part: "our Matt."
One also reads with horror the opening paragraph of Dargis's review of Sex and the City, a trainwreck of alliteration that is unprintable on a family blog such as this one.