Patti Hartigan: March 2008 Archives
It was only a matter of time before someone brought Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" to the stage. Well, "Gone with the Wind: The Musical" (even the title sounds like a parody) opens next month in the
But after reading about the production in "The Independent," I have to wonder if the British think all Americans are antebellum fanatics. According the Independent piece, "It's estimated that 90 percent of Americans have seen the movie.'' Ninety percent? By whose estimate? The Margaret Mitchell estate? The piece doesn't cite a source for that true fact, and it could very well have come from a press release. But a quick Google search traces it to this Encarta entry, which claims, "By the 1970s, an estimated 90 percent of the American public had seen the film in a theater or on television." No source there, either. I hate to be a stickler for accuracy, but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2006 show that about 13 percent of Americans are under the age of 10 and about 20 percent of all Americans are under the age of 14. So even if every single American above the age of 14 has seen the film -- a proposition that borders on the preposterous -- that would only account for 80 percent. I just have to wonder how anyone could regurgitate this sort of nonsense without a hint of disbelief. Is this just sloppy or are Americans viewed as harboring a romance for the Old South? Fiddle dee dee, indeed.
I'm still ruminating over last week's opening of Conor
This isn't really the stuff of laughter, but there was one
moment in the theater that still resonates. In Scene Three, John falteringly
confesses his inept attempt to get some action at a house of ill repute. He is
so ashamed he can barely even spit out the words. "Brothel,'' he finally says,
regurgitating the word as if it bears the bitter aftertaste of his own vomit.
And from the audience? Snickers. Guffaws. A scattering of full-throated
laughter. The word alone evoked thoughts of that other real-life drama, the
tale of Client 9 and the call girl Kristen, also known as the downfall of Gov.
Eliot Spitzer. In this case, the collective consciousness of the audience could
have stopped the actors cold, but Judd didn't flinch, and the play went on.
Awkward and slightly inappropriate, yes, but it was one of those moments that
can only happen in a theater, and it reminded me of why we do what we do. Life
imitates art, and vice versa.
One more thing: This being St. Patrick's Day (or Evacuation
Day, here in the provinces), I have to say that I am gratified that I haven't
come across much of the old Celtic Twilight verbiage in reviews of this
McPherson play, which is a thoroughly modern psychological exploration of
transference and countertransference. A
A copy of "Love and Consequences" sold on ebay tonight for
$48.99, just about twice the retail price of $24.95. Not bad for a pack of lies. Right
now, there are 21 copies of the book for sale on the auction site (and one
"uncorrected proof" - now that's an understatement), but there doesn't seem to
be a wave of rampant speculation in manufactured memoirs. The bidding, thankfully, is modest
and scarce. Meanwhile, nobody seems to be auctioning a copy of Misha Defonseca's
debunked tale. And as for James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces,'' you can pick
a used copy for less than a buck.
No need for a caveat emptor, either. The folks selling the Margaret Jones/Seltzer's bogus book are banking on the notoriety: Get the book everyone is talking about! Rare! Sure to be a collector's item! One seller guarantees "perfect condition," which would be true, no doubt, if the whole thing weren't completely false.
I don't know about you, but I've trained my eyes to ignore
the "personal" recommendations offered on sites like Netflix or Amazon. They
just leave me feeling so, so... misunderstood. My friends at Amazon still insist that
I buy the latest military history, because I once, in a fit of gift guilt, sent
a tome about
Anyway, the current Wired has an intriguing piece about the mechanics of recommendation software. It seems Netflix is sponsoring a contest that will award $1 million to the person or team that invents a better movie-trap. The Million Dollar Question is this: How do you write an algorithm that defines taste? The usual suspects -- data miners from prominent universities and tech companies -- have lined up to meet the challenge. This has been going on for more than a year, with infinitesimal improvements in performance and plenty of amiable cooperation among the competing teams.
Enter a contestant known simply as "Just a Guy in a
Garage,'' a worthy competitor who came out of nowhere and got terrific results.
Wired's intrepid reporter, Jordan Ellenberg, tracked "Just a Guy" down, and it
turns out he's an unemployed psychologist in
Here's one possible solution. "Just a Guy" needs to figure out a way to match the customer data to a database of critics' opinions. Think about it. Don't we all have our favorite critics, those writers who almost always nail our exact thoughts about a given film, play, or other performance? If the technical wizards can write a formula to match the user to the critic, they then have a surefire way to improve the accuracy of their predictions. I'd much rather have my movie suggestions tied to the taste of say, Anthony Lane, than to a string of ones and zeros that are as emotionally remote as the solution to the Towers of Hanoi. Algorithms can't think, breathe, or spend a lifetime sitting in dark theaters. That's why we'll always need critics. Now if only I could do the math, I'd be able to retire.