ROXANNE (1987) is, of course, Steve Martin’s variation on Cyrano de Bergerac (one of a string of romances he did during this period, including All of Me, Lonely Guy and L.A. Story) here reinvented as a witty, literary but very large-nosed firefighter in a small Colorado town who falls for astronomer Darryl Hannah only to discover she’s fallen for handsome dumb lug Rick Rossovitch, which results in the two men joining forces to win her. Charming, with a strong supporting cast including Fred Willard, Damon Wayans, Michael Pollard, Shelly Duvall and John Kapelos (later of Forever Knight). “It must be so nice to wake up and smell the coffee—in Brazil!”
TITUS GROAN was the first installment in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, set in an unimaginably vast council overwhelmed by the ancient rituals and routines that shape its activities. This follows the first year in the life of Titus, the heir to Gormenghast, but the focus is on the conniving Steerpike, an ambitious kitchen boy who aspires to rise through the castle hierarchy by fair means or foul. Filled with a fascinating array of grotesques, this is a great read.
THE F WORD, edited by Jesse Sheidlower, is an exhaustive look at the origins of the word (neither based on an acronym for For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge or from the Anglo-Saxon, it seems to have Dutch or German roots) and its use throughout the ages, emphasizing usages that seem reasonably well established rather than obscure one-offs (which will make it useful if I have to work on heavy cussing in historical eras). Interesting, including the introduction’s discussion of changing patterns in swear words (“One teacher told me her class wouldn’t blink if she used the f-word, but they’d be horrified at the n-word.”)
FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM by Umberto Eco makes Da Vinci Code look terrific—and I hated Da Vinci Code! While Eco’s knowledge certainly surpasses Dan Brown’s, Brown did at least have a plot; after three hundred pages of nothing but clever people talking loudly in restaurants (as Monty Python once put it), I really didn’t care how much Eco knows about Templars, Rosicrucians and voodoo practices. NOT recommended.
CAHIERS DU CINEMA: The 1950s—Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave is a collection of essays culled by editor Jim Hillier from the legendary film journal, which contains observations ranging from interesting (“Unemployment in Italian neo-realism serves the role of fate or destiny.”) to familiar (“France ruins directors by throwing money at them—they’d be better off making films on a shoestring budget.”) to laughable (did you know Howard Hawks’ slapstick comedy Monkey Business is a meditation on the shallow veneer of civilization?) as Truffaut, Goddard and Brazin debate everything from genre to Cinemascope. Hillier does a very good job putting the works in perspective, pointing out that Cahiers never claimed all directors were auteurs (though they never came up with any standard beyond knowing it when they saw it, and that their complaints “French film has nothing to say” were less about lack of substance than disliking the substance (“French film is unrelentingly negative—American film has an upbeat quality we’ve lost.”). Hillier also points out that while the directors’ views on American film are what’s most remembered, they devoted at least as much to Italian neo-realism (“There was nothing in Freance comparable to the American studio system—Truffaut, Goddard and the others saw Italian cinema as something they could actually learn from.”).