Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Pekar's Latest: He's On Charlie Rose Tonight

The Harvey Pekar "American Splendor" publicity tour rolls on. With the film having opened last week in many places (including Cleveland), the avalanche of favorable coverage and reviews have been no less than staggering. In the perhaps three dozen reviews/features I've come across in print and online, I can't remember one that's been less than warmly favorable.

But tonight the Splendorous One hits a new personal high: having appeared seven times on Letterman, where his cranky everyman persona served as an easy foil for the King of Irony, he's due to appear tonight on the Charlie Rose PBS show, which is a very different environment, marked by a clubby calm and the host's often grating attempts to prove his own intellectual weight by constantly cutting off his subjects. In short, let's hope that Rose allows Harv to get a word in occasionally, since he'll also be appearing with the actor who portrays him and both of the filmakers.

If I had to choose the most interesting review of Splendor, it might be the one that appeared last week in the Times, written by the dreadlocked stylist Elvis Mitchell, who will soon begin lecturing about film at Harvard, at the invitation of Renaissance Man Professor Henry Louis "Chip" Gates, once-embattled director of the university's Afro-American studies program. (Gates has an interesting Cleveland tie: for several years, he has served as chairman of the annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Ceremony, housed at the Cleveland Foundation and quietly, anonymously nurtured for years by my friend Diana Tittle, co-founder of Northern Ohio Live and much-decorated author extraordinaire (I won't attempt to do her justice here--her bio, alas, awaits a future posting). This year's ceremony and reception, open to all, is at the Cleveland Play House's Drury Theatre, on Sept. 18th at 8 p.m. Don't miss it, it's annually one of the best cultural gatherings in Cleveland. Go here to RSVP online).

Anyway, back to Elvis's review. Among other virtues, he puts his finger on what has, or at least had, always bothered me about Pekar: "As played by Paul Giamatti, Harvey is a gray wad of anger that spends his time in his cavelike apartment, with shelves sagging under the weight of his collection of record albums and jazz 78's, sputtering to his equally powerless pals about a world that he refuses to understand. (emphasis is mine)" That's the nub of my problem with him, I now realize: I always found him not merely misanthropic, but a misanthrope who didn't want to try to understand the world or its complexities. In truth, though, the body of his work over the decades constitutes a formidable struggle to work through to some kind of understanding, however peculiar it is to him (and however universal it has since become for many).

Even more interesting, though, was this Mitchellian observation about Cleveland's weather, which I've always maintained is a key but oft-overlooked source of many of our municipal ills, especially our inferiority complex. and no doubt a source of much borderline depression in many. You have to have lived elsewhere to appreciate how infrequently the sun comes out here. As Mitchell writes: "The movie takes place under the sunless skies of Cleveland, a land where bright daylight disappears from about early fall to late spring. The production design achieves the drab pallor through use of dusty brick reds, autumnal browns and oranges and dirty ballpark-mustard yellows: it's a Rust Belt palette." Wow--that's not only some great, vivid writing, coining a splendid new phrase (Rust Belt palette), but old Elvis appears to have some special inside knowledge of the city.

You Know Me: Always Ending on a High Note. Anyway, if the Cleveland weather gets you down, take a break by checking out this site. I checked the footnotes on how these imaginative guys (at least one an MIT grad) arrive at the number, and I think it's probably a pretty accurate running tab on what the Iraq quagmire is costing us. But apart from the simple financial cost, crushing as that is, check out this prophetic warning about the aftermath of an Iraqi war by the incomparable James Fallows, who has a magisterial take in the current issue on media regulation and the Age of Rupert Murdoch. Almost a year ago, long before the battle began, he was warning in the November Atlantic (which means he staked out the argument in about August or September of last year) about the complicated aftermaths of what could easily become the 51st American state. Too bad the former Jimmy Carter speechwriter never made it into the Bush II West Wing.


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