March 9, 2008

"Wordplay."

I finally got around to watching the movie "Wordplay," the one about crossword puzzles, especially the New York Times crossword puzzle, especially the annual tournament where crossword puzzlers convene in a Marriott hotel in Connecticut so they can hug each other and compete to see who can do the puzzles the fastest. Almost all the big critics loved this movie, and it's okay, but as a documentary it's way low on my list of favorites. (My list has "Crumb," "Grey Gardens," "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," and "Grizzly Man" at the top.)

My main problem is that I'm interested in crosswords — for many years, I had to do (and did) the NYT crossword every day — but I don't care about rushing through it trying to get it done as quickly as possible. To me, it ruins the pleasure to become so concerned about time rather than words and the structure of the grid. So I wasn't fascinated by the guys in the movie who were obsessing about their speed. I loved the scene where Merl Reagle constructs a crossword before our eyes. Constructing a puzzle — now there is a mystery to unfold! Solving puzzles — well, almost anyone can solve a NYT puzzle (especially if it's Monday).

But the tournament hands the filmmaker — Patrick Creadon — something to photograph, something with a built-in narrative arc. And so — in an open confession of lack of creativity and artistic vision — that's where Creadon went with this.

The movie is padded with sequences showing celebrities doing the NYT puzzle. It's fun enough to see Bill Clinton and — not in the same room — Jon Stewart doing crosswords on camera and talking as they go. But how much do you want to see of the crossword puzzlings of former NYT public editor David Okrent? Enough with the Indigo Girls! And who gives a rat's ass about Ken Burns? Oh, you love his documentaries? Then you shouldn't take my reviews of documentaries too seriously, but really, even if you love Ken Burns's documentaries, surely, you're not fascinated by Ken Burns, the man. Are you? Because that would be very sad. Not sad enough to be the subject of a film as profound as "Grey Gardens" or "Crumb." Just routine sad. Get-a-life sad.

15 comments:

Middle Class Guy said...

I only do one puzzle now, the daily patternless crossword puzzle in the Chicago Sun Times. It gets progressively harder as the week goes by, until Saturday. That puzzle could take days to complete.

Meade said...

How about if I'm just obsessed with the Ken Burns effect and not the entire life of Ken Burns?

Plain sad, I know, but get-a-life sad?

rhhardin said...

Imus, in 1993 : ``What four letter word beginning and ending in D describes Will Weng?''

Meade said...

Deceased? Wait -- too many letters. Hmm...

sixty-five said...

This year's tournament was held just last weekend in your own (temporary) back yard - the Brookyn Bridge Marriott. It outgrew the Stamford venue. Did you wonder who all those nerdy people were, wandering the streets?

Ann Althouse said...

65, I didn't know that. It's funny, the movie makes it seem like Stamford is a necessary place of pilgrimage. I guess it was enough that it was Marriott.

john said...

Ann,

Did you ever write about (or have a comment on) Spellbound? That's our family's all time favorite documentary.

Ann Althouse said...

John, I saw "Spellbound," the documentary, before I started the blog, but I briefly state my opinion of it here, when noting the Oscar nominations in 2004:

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2004/01/ah-best-supporting-actress-nomination.html

"I saw "Spellbound," which didn't get a nomination, even though lots of people loved it, even though it was not as good as the annual ESPN live and lengthy coverage of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee."

That's my view of the movie. I don't think it's particularly artfully done, and I'd much rather watch the live coverage of the bee in any given year.

john said...

I agree, Spellbound was not artful but it was engaging and heartwarming. I was really pissed when they instead gave the Oscar to that fat ass.

peter hoh said...

The male half of my household ranked "King of Kong" as the best documentary we saw last year.

Ann Althouse said...

I just remembered... I was wrong about "Spellbound" not getting a nomination. It had been nominated in the previous year.

Elliott A said...

The NYT puzzle should only be done in ink. Our daily competition in high school was the only thing that got some of us through the tedious days. In a way though, it is just like a scrabble tourney. A bunch of people with photo memories spilling out words.

My favorite, 2 letter word: S.A. three toed sloth

peter hoh said...

Okay, Elliott, I'm stumped. What's that 2 letter word?

Skyler said...

Fascinating. I thought I was the only one that didn't like Ken Burns. He's fawned over by seemingly everyone.

His Civil War documentary was good, though very biased towards the north, but everything since has been an attempt at capturing past glory.

I tried really hard to watch his WWII documentary , but it was so boring and slow. I can't imagine how anyone can make a documentary about one of the times in world history with so much death and violence be so boring.

Elliott A said...

Sorry to be so late. two letter word is ai. South American three toed sloth.