Daily Archives: March 9, 1990

Pynchon’s Prayer

From the Chicago Reader (March 9, 1990). — J.R.

The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. . . . The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. –Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1845-46)

A good many newspapers and magazines have accompanied their reviews of Vineland, Thomas Pynchon’s fourth novel, with the same 37-year-old photograph of the author grinning goofily from his high school yearbook. Given Pynchon’s refusal to be photographed or interviewed, there are touches of both desperation and petty vindictiveness in this compulsion to objectify and visualize, however inadequately, a novelist who chooses to be identified only through his writing.… Read more »

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Frank Capra’s very atypical drama about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) being taken prisoner by a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) is not only his masterpiece, but one of the great love stories to come out of Hollywood in the 30s–subtle, delicate, moody, mystical, and passionate. Joseph Walker shot it through filters and with textured shadows that suggest Sternberg; Edward Paramore wrote the script, adapted from a story by Grace Zaring Stone. Oddly enough, this perverse and beautiful film was chosen to open Radio City Music Hall in 1933; it was not one of Capra’s commercial successes, but it beats the rest of his oeuvre by miles. With Walter Connolly and Lucien Littlefield; Stanwyck and Asther, both extraordinary, have perhaps never been better. A newly struck 35-millimeter print will be shown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11, 4:15, 443-3737) … Read more »

Joe Versus the Volcano

Scriptwriter John Patrick Shanley (Five Corners, Moonstruck) makes his directorial debut in a whimsical, contemporary fairy tale with romance and adventure that doesn’t quite come off, but it’s sufficiently fresh, charming, and unpredictable to deserve special marks for trying. Tom Hanks plays a former fireman now stuck in a depressing job who is told by his doctor (Robert Stack) that he has only a short time to live. A wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) appears, offering him red-carpet treatment and a bunch of credit cards if Hanks will sail to a remote Pacific island (where the businessman wants to gain mineral rights) and dive into a volcano in order to appease the natives. Meg Ryan plays all three leading ladies in the plot–a secretary and both of the businessman’s daughters–and Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis are around for other offbeat parts. In the course of borrowing liberally from Delmer Daves’s Bird of Paradise, Shanley manages to achieve some striking (if fanciful) pictorial effects and a few goofy gags and plot turns; he also tries for some uplift that may be less convincing but is easy enough to take. There’s nothing profound going on here, but the results are imaginative and fun.… Read more »