Marc Weidenbaum's Reviews > Death Wish

Death Wish by Christopher Sorrentino
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One of two initial books from a new series of short books on singular subjects from recent pop-cultural history. There's no shortage of point-of-purchase non-fiction, from the 33 1/3 books to slim volumes on architecture to the Rough Guide series on music, just to name a few. This series, Deep Focus, puts writers to work on films -- not the Great Works but the solid ones, what Christopher Sorrentino at the end of his volume refers to as the "Middle Level."

Some brief, semi-concise thoughts on this one:

It's broken into standalone chapters that approach the movie from different angles (politics, city, performance, film) -- which is to say, it's sort of how Sorrentino's first novel, Sound on Sound, was structured.

Not as much is made of Herbie Hancock's score as I would have liked. This isn't because I'm somewhat obsessed with scores to films, though I am. And it isn't because the score makes great listening on its own, which it does. And it's not because being reminded that Herbie Hancock composed the score has, blessedly, diminished in my mind the until recently indelible image of the cover of Jimmy Page's score to the second Death Wish film, which was to the used-record stores of my youth (late 1970s, early 1980s) what Don DeLillo's Libra was to used-book stores of the last decade of the 20th century. No, I just wonder what role Hancock plays in the film's overall impression in terms of the racial makeup of the city.

The New York City character played by Charles Bronson gets his gun in Tucson, Arizona. I read this book shortly after the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, and couldn't get that fact out of my head.

There's some good back'n'forth comparisons between the movie and the book on which it is based (a book I haven't read).

Woody Allen comes off as a minor villain in the book -- not the movie, but this book about the movie, about presentations of New York, and about selective cultural editing. Not that it matters, but I agree with Sorrentino that Allen got off easy. Sure, there's always a voice loud enough to be heard, "The New York in this movie isn't colored like New York," but it's usually the same voice, and nothing really happens.

About halfway through the book, Sorrentino tells us he's a liberal. Until that moment, you might wonder otherwise. I think he does this on purpose. That is, I think he delays affirming his political affiliation until after making the audience wonder.

The informed dissent by Sorrentino from the critical drubbing the film took upon its release is some of the best reading in the book. He is dismissive of the knee-jerk response to violence the critics display, of how that response doesn't align with similar critics' takes on other (more self-consciously artful) films of that era (Dog Day Afternoon, Clockwork Orange, etc.).

He also just plain reads the film more closely than the reviewers did. This may simply be a matter of the film reviewer having a short period of time in which to consider a subject before stating an opinion, but it also feels like the revenge-by-doing of a writer whose own work is regularly reviewed saying, "This is what reading is like." The enthusiasm for the act of diving into something and pondering its inner workings and contradictions is palpable.

The other initial book in this series is Jonathan Lethem's take on They Live, which I'm reading. Then come two more: The Sting by Matthew Specktor (who wrote the novel That Summertime Sound, which Lethem has praised) and Lethal Weapon by Chris Ryan. Neither are movies I have as strong an interest in as I do in the first two in the series, but I may check them out. (I'm also not as familiar with the authors -- whereas I've read just about everything that Sorrentino and Lethem have published.)

Far as I can tell, Ryan isn't a published novelist, and Specktor has published that one novel, with another due out soon-ish. I'm not sure what this does to the "A Novel Approach to Cinema" heading that appears on the top of the covers of at least the first two books in the series. The following is a sentence structured as I might imagine Sorrentino would in regard to this subject: If the author of the book is not a novelist, then it's no longer a meaningful and comfortably not-too-high-bar-setting pun, just a stated promise that's kinda hard to keep.

Hey, and not to knock someone for not being a novelist. I sure haven't finished writing one.
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Started Reading
January 1, 2011 – Finished Reading
January 23, 2011 – Shelved

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John I noticed that Sorrentino and Specktor, who wrote THE STING for Deep Focus, both thanked Lethem in the acknowledgments pages. It wouldn't surprise me if these are buddies of Lethem's whom he helped get these gigs. (This is especially evident when you consider that Sorrentino wrote this book while being on unemployment.)This probably explains why some of the novelists only have one, or no, books under their belts--it's the connections, man. Anyway, I really like this book. The first two chapters are my favorite. CS can take any critic to task. I, too, would have liked CS to go deeper with DEATH WISH, but considering this is supposed to be a short monograph, and that he probably received a mere $500 advance for it, I don't blame him for not spending anymore time on it than he had to. I'm happy with what he did put down.

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