June 13, 2005


Aimee and I stayed in this Wednesday evening to toast Anne Bancroft's life with a viewing of the '70s ballet/catfight fantasia The Turning Point...but rather than write about that I'm arbitrarily going to leap back a few weeks to talk about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I first saw with Rico on its opening weekend and then again three days later with Aimee and Popop at the Grand Lake. While growing up my brother and I had devoured Douglas Adams's books, listened to the radio show on tape, watched the BBC adaptation, and played the Infocom computer game, so I suffering a deeply geekly nervousness about this latest version. Ten seconds into the opening dolphin song and dance number I was grinning from ear to ear and all worry was cast to the winds. I sympathize with Adams first-timers who might be soundly confused by the plot, but I think the film is well worth a return viewing, if only to pick up more clever details in the sets. I loved the entire cast, but Mos Def in particular was brilliant with his laconic portrayal of Ford Prefect, inter-planetary hitchhiker extraordinaire. Sam Rockwell also gets special mention for laying the Texas accent on thick while playing idiotic president of the galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox. Now if only they'd included the explanation of how a hitchhiker's trusty towel can protect him or her from the ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.

In Hitchhiker's our protagonists find themselves doing anything they can to escape a Vogon poetry reading, while by contrast Thursday night I found myself going to extreme measures to get into a David Sedaris reading at the Booksmith. I got there two hours early to grab the last unreserved seat in the house, and then buried myself in a book while the room grew ever more hostile as fans packed ear-to-ear jostled each other for a better view. My own sightline to the podium disappeared shortly before Sedaris started reading, but I just pretended I was listening to him on NPR and was quite satisfied to laugh at the two new stories he read (one of them quite filthy). He is ostensibly touring to promote the paperback edition of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, but he also plugged a short story anthology he just edited called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules, proceeds from which go to support the New York branch of our own 826 Valenica, 826NYC.

Sedaris is perhaps most well-known for his droll essays that keenly observe American life, and in that way I link him to Joel and Ethan Coen and the darkly humorous eye they cast on this country in movies like The Hudsucker Proxy and Fargo. Saturday evening I watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? for the first time, and I was quickly drawn into the Coens' quirky vision of the Deep South in the 1930s. I was delighted by the nod to Sullivan's Travels, the loose references to Homer, a cameo by Gillian Welch, and the bluegrass that went in my ear and rushed directly toward my soul. George Clooney's Everett Ulysses has the gift of gab I would expect from a character based on Odysseus, and the dialogue fairly crackles amongst escaped convicts Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson, not to mention the many unusual individuals they encounter on their quest to stay one step ahead of the law. And even though I recognized the blind oracle, the Lotus Eaters, the Sirens, the Cyclops, and Penelope, my having studied The Odyssey in the original Greek didn't actually add a whole lot to the story. It stands up just fine on its own.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Booksmith
David Sedaris
O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack

Posted by nightfall at June 13, 2005 09:37 PM