Totally, Tenderly, Tragically

Phillip Lopate, Author Anchor Books $16.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-49250-8
Best known as a personal essayist par excellence, Lopate (Portrait of My Body) is an inveterate film buff who, by his count, has spent more than 50,000 hours watching movies--and, it would seem, many more writing about them. This mixed collection is a cross section of that writing, from a dead-earnest review of the first New York Film Festival in 1963, written for the Columbia Daily Spectator when Lopate was an undergraduate, to a savvy appraisal of the 32nd, which marked the New York debut of such films as Pulp Fiction and Hoop Dreams. So occasional are these essays-- which range from film reviews to polemical essays, reflections on the medium to interviews with directors--that, like films, there are hits and misses. Among the highlights are Lopate's account of his days as an impoverished student at Columbia, locus of his cinematic coming of age, where a monastic fixation with the flickering screen eventually led to a suicide attempt; a bracing look at the dumbing down of contemporary American cinema that champions ""rural idiocy"" and asks audiences to ""groove on the mysterious, ineffable, surreal charm of the premental""; and searching appraisals of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris. Lopate's early musings on Jerry Lewis and Antonioni might have been left on the cutting-room floor. Though Lopate gravitates toward obscure work by famous directors and international pictures that never crack the American market, his curiosity about even the most mainstream Hollywood fare shines through the collection, even as he reserves particular scorn for phony sentiments, recycled plots and movies like Krzsztof Kieslowski's Red that he deems exercises des styles without intellectual substance. Lopate's writing, by contrast, has considerable style and substance. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/19/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
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