November 30, 2018

"Well, now, there’s Buster Keaton. I thought he was visually thrilling, and very sophisticated: more about women than about men. He lets you read a lot into things."

"You’re left with so much to decide. And then there was a woman in Santa Ana, an incredible woman, an artist. She was mysterious. She loved a lot of things that weren’t yet open to me. And then, gosh, a woman I met once when I was looking for an apartment who claimed that her husband had invented the tea bag. . . Well. And then my family. We’re very close to each other. My sister Dorrie looks like an Eskimo. And then Woody, of course."

So said Diane Keaton, in 1978, when The New Yorker's Penelope Gilliatt asked her to name 3 people who have influenced her the most in life.

Why am I reading that this morning? I was having a conversation about an old episode of "Friends" ("The One Where Monica and Richard Are Friends") and — because there's a scene in a video store — I got to thinking about a scene in a bookstore in "Annie Hall":



A scene in a bookstore (or a video store, if the show is set in the fleeting video-store era) can take advantage of the books (or movies) at hand to develop the characters. Looking for that bookstore scene, I was googling for "Annie Hall" and "cats" (because I remembered that Allen's character disapproves of her interest in a book about cats and insists on buying her the first of many books he would buy her with the word "death" in the title).

The old New Yorker article happened to contain the word "cats" (because Gilliatt describes Keaton's NYC apartment, replete with cats). Not what I was looking for, but I got interested in reading Gilliatt, whose articles I loved reading in the 70s. Imagine encountering a paragraph like this today:
She seems like some New World Romantic who actually promises us habitation in quite another world from the dishwasher-spirited world of modern acquisitive fact. Her imaginative world, though it is totally modern, seems grounded in the farsightedness of centuries of European thought, which she has gathered partly through reading and partly by temperament. She said she was going to a department store, and would I come? For once, shopping took on the mood of a spree. Exchanging a coffee strainer: though she apparently lives in a realm of undefended confusion, she actually deals with it very efficiently. Diane Keaton, for all the “You know?”s and “Well”s, is no foolish bird. Born thirty-two years ago, she seems to be a distillation of the troubles and the acquaintance with pre-natal world history which are the inheritance of her generation. She has lived, in her thought, just as much through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War as through the time of Vietnam. This girl from California, geographically so far removed from Europe, has a sense of non-isolationism which is alert. It seems to reinforce her deep friendship with the Jewish, Brooklyn-born Woody Allen. She speaks very sensibly about “success” and about the job of acting, which in general attracts a great deal of Western Seaboard nonsense from sophisticates warning of the dangers of fame-chasing in the midst of chasing it themselves. “If you’re an actor,” she said, “you have to make your effort in front of other people. Then you have to say to yourself, because there’s such pressure, ‘Jesus, I’m never going to be allowed to do anything else wrong, ever. I’m just supposed to do it right again and again.’ And then you have to say, Nuts. ‘You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on,’ like the man in Beckett.”

35 comments:

Wince said...

"Whaaat?"

gilbar said...

I'm going to buy you these books, 'cause i think you should read them...

WOW! that's as good a reason to walk away as there is.
Not, I'm going to buy you these books, 'cause i think you might like them...
Not, I'm going to buy you these books, 'cause i'd love to hear your opinion on them...
'cause i think you should read them

The sort of person that would/could say something like that Out Loud, is the sort of scum that would probably end up marrying your adopted daughter. YUCK!

Saint Croix said...

For those new to Buster, the movie to start with is The Navigator. That was the most popular one in his day, and still the best.

Darkisland said...

I second the saint.

Even better is this 8 minute video called "The Art of the Gag" which explains how Keaton made his gags work. Very interesting and perhaps watching it first will help one to understand The Navigator structure.

I never saw the appeal of Chaplain but Buster Keaton can really make me laugh.

When I was 16 and Woody Allen was still doing standup and was a comedian rather than an artiste I thought him funny. I liked him on the tonight show when it was Steve Allen and on other TV venues.

I never found any of his movies watchable. Seeing it now, I attribute my likeing his standup to being young, innocent and ignorant.

John Henry

PM said...

Wonder how many wives have claimed their husband invented the tea bag.

Kay said...

Would have loved for her to elaborate what she means about Buster Keaton and his sophisticated insight into women. I have my own idea, but I’d like to hear more about what she thought.

gspencer said...

Diane Keaton, owner of undeserved fame. Nothing unusual however; Hollywood is loaded with oodles of her type.

SF said...

Tea bags are a 20th century invention

Robert Cook said...

I suspect this bookstore to be one of the several big stores that once were within blocks of each other on 5th Avenue below 57th Street: B. Dalton's, Doubleday, or Brentano's. (All, sadly, now gone.) It could even be another one I have forgotten. It's definitely not Rizzoli's, which moved from 5th Avenue to 57th Street just west of 5th Avenue, and now is on Broadway and 26th Street. (I thought it had closed and just now discovered it still lives! I'll have to hie myself to this new location and check it out!)

Fernandinande said...

Tea bags are a 20th century invention

It's also interesting that Tang was invented in 8th century China.

Openidname said...

Plus there's a good documentary out by Peter Bogdanovich, called "The Great Buster." Fun as an intro, but also fun even if you already know Keaton. See if it's playing in your city.

Ken B said...

Best thing for tea: bottom draining teapot. Add tea, water. When steeped put on cup, and tea comes out the bottom. 20 bucks on Amazon.

Darkisland said...

Blogger Fernandistein said...

It's also interesting that Tang was invented in 8th century China.

I prefer Ting, myself.

(A carbonated grapefruit flavor soda found in some Caribbean Islands)

John Henry

CJinPA said...

I just read a 1993 New Yorker profile of Ricky Jay, the sleight-of-hand card genius and actor who died this past week. It was a great piece. The New Yorker isn't generally written with people like me in mind, but it was a great read.

William said...

I looked up Penelope Gilliat on Wiki. She used to be the alternate movie critic with Pauline Kael at the New Yorker. I guess Pauline was Howard Cossell and she was Dandy Dan. I had a vague memory that there was some kind of scandal attached to her name. There was. She plagiarized part of an article she wrote about Graham Greene. Not much of a scandal. I think we've grown more tolerant of plagiarism over the years, but she got fired for it......She died in her early sixties. The wiki article flatly says that she died of alcoholism.

William said...

Shame that Woody Allen is now kaput. He used to write good roles for women, especially older women. There aren't that many writers who write great roles for women. The feminists have now foreclosed the chance for older women to have great roles. Ironic, huh.

CJinPA said...

When I was 16 and Woody Allen was still doing standup and was a comedian rather than an artiste I thought him funny. I liked him on the tonight show when it was Steve Allen and on other TV venues.

He had a TV special in 1969 in which he interviewed Billy Graham. Pretty interesting:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BEa_DqbEYE

tcrosse said...

I just read a 1993 New Yorker profile of Ricky Jay.

David Mamet wrote a nice piece about him in the NYT
An Appreciation of Ricky Jay

rcocean said...

Penelope Gilliat published a book of film criticism and after I read it, I couldn't remember one thing she said.

I wonder why Shawn gave her the gig. Maybe she was better at reviewing art/foreign films. Kael was bad at those.

rcocean said...

Annie Hall is a nice movie, that set the template for 20 other Woody Allen movies. But he never got another co-star equal to Keaton.

I liked Keaton better in Manhattan, where she's a snobby, pushy type.

Bill Peschel said...

That paragraph needed to be split up. Not only difficult to read, but it jumped subject three times.

CJinPA said...

tcrosse said...

Thanks

Ann Althouse said...

"That paragraph needed to be split up. Not only difficult to read, but it jumped subject three times."

The web has really changed our idea of the need to see a paragraph break. Most news articles (it seems to me) put a paragraph break after every sentence.

What is the theory of paragraph breaks anyway? I remember learning something about that in school. Remember the "topic sentence"? Hmm. Nowadays, it's just about visual layout, not meaning.

mandrewa said...

I don't think I've seen any of Woody Allen's later movies, but I did see his early ones and I liked them. But watching a Woody Allen movie has always been a bit jarring to me. There's usually that sadness underneath. Though I don't think it was there in this scene. This was just fun. He clearly liked Diane Keaton so much.

The guy in the background staring at Woody Allen is a brilliant touch.

I like the quoted text from Penelope Gilliat. It's refreshing and honest and innocent. It's innocent because she clearly has a bad case of hero worship. It's innocent because her understanding and knowledge of Europe is naïve. And it's honest because she so frankly and forthrightly makes her state-of-mind clear.

rcocean said...

Since we're examining the writing:

This girl from California, geographically so far removed from Europe, has a sense of non-isolationism which is alert.

I have no idea what the hell this means. What is "Non-isolationism" ? And how can it be "alert"?

rcocean said...

IRC, PG was primarily a novelist and a drunk.

Which probably accounts for the "poetic" and nonsensical non-fiction prose.

rhhardin said...

There was a caption for Aristotle Onasis looking to buy Keaton's house, "Aristotle contemplates the home of Buster."

Robert Cook said...

"What is the theory of paragraph breaks anyway?"

Each paragraph discusses or introduces a new point.

Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard has been known to write entire novels consisting of one unbroken paragraph.

Rick.T. said...

Ting?
Tang?
Walla Walla Bing Bang?

Ann Althouse said...

@Robert Cook. The store in "Annie Hall" is Doubleday

tcrosse said...

I liked Woody Allen's early, funny ones, but after that they became heteronormative, verging on dystopian.

Churchy LaFemme: said...

Buster Keaton's best film is The Cameraman available in full at the link.

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rhhardin said...

Flights of starlings do not use paragraph breaks.

Robert Cook said...

"@Robert Cook. The store in "Annie Hall" is Doubleday."

Aha! Thank you. I would probably have picked Doubleday if I were forced to guess. Brentano's had a very distinctive interior, and this didn't match it. B. Dalton's had a smallish ground level interior, especially compared to their basement level, which was huge. From the scene shown here, I couldn't quite see it as matching B. Dalton's interior layout.