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January 14, 2004 11:17 PM   Subscribe

In the evening, gunfire emanates with the relentlessness of frog "ribbits'' around a summer pond, sometimes sporadic and at other times overwhelming. But in the daytime, it's intermittent at most -- a few pops here and there. Five times a day, the Islamic call to prayer is broadcast through loudspeakers from each mosque in the city. The chant echoes and ricochets through Baghdad's declining alleys and architecture. One experiences a palpably hypnotic engagement with Middle Eastern spiritual life, like living in a movie with this chant as its score. Sean Penn returns to Iraq... and writes about it.
posted by squirrel (30 comments total)
 
I'm sorry, but I'm not going to bother with reading something written by anybody who writes 'palpably hypnotic' without trying to be funny.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:11 AM on January 15, 2004


"[...] gunfire emanates [...]"

Penn visited Iraq before the capture of Saddam - but it doesn't look like that sort of thing has stopped since.
posted by spazzm at 12:46 AM on January 15, 2004


He's a great actor and I applaud his efforts, but his writing leaves something--actually, many things--to be desired. At least he's mastered the overwrought simile and, as Stav pointed out, the unintentional humour of what is either an extreme case of illogic or a very, very, very (!!) overdramatic bit of imagery--if you want to call the corporealization of something incorporeal imagery, that is. Plus, "the relentlessness of frog 'ribbits'"? Not only is that an awkward and ugly turn of phrase, but it evokes in me a real sense of tranquility, not exactly something I'd associate with random bursts of gunfire.
posted by The God Complex at 1:21 AM on January 15, 2004


If you aren't going to bother to read something, you probably shouldn't bother to comment on it.

I think the criticism of his style is pretty dead on, long on imagery. It seems to me though that his pieces on Iraq indicate the possibility of a subtle shift in his recognition of the value of the war, which raises the stakes on the value of his writing.
posted by ewkpates at 5:34 AM on January 15, 2004


I am so sick of Sean Penn trying to save the universe through the sheer power of his ego. Maybe him and Hanoi Jane Fonda can get together and compare notes.
posted by jonmc at 7:52 AM on January 15, 2004


See, I know it's funny even without reading it because he also makes movies and has opinions about stuff.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:28 AM on January 15, 2004


XQUZYPHYR, he has an opinion. Big deal, so does my mailman, landlady, mother-in-law's manicurist, and the homeless guy who was standing on his head exposing his ass in the subway the other day. I'm supposed to give Sean Penn's more weight why exactly? Cos he's made a couple of good movies?
posted by jonmc at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2004


Maybe him and Hanoi Jane Fonda can get together and compare notes.

heh, the Hanoi Jane thing got old, like, 30 years ago.
not to mention marrying Ted Turner kind of destroys one's Pinko street cred
it would be also interesting to "compare notes" on another more interesting topic -- who's the Hollywood celebrity who did America the most damage?

Fonda?

Heston?

Reagan?

or Penn?

I reported, you decide.


Cos he's made a couple of good movies?


not to nitpick, but he made a fuckload of them -- two great movies only this year, check out both Mystic River and the amazing 21 Grams. if you consider acting an art (and most people do) Penn is a great artist, and a central figure in American Acting. no matter what his politics may be.


and anyway, as wise old Jeff Tweedy said,

There will be no failure
And I won't be the last
Prima donna
Stuck in a trailer
Blasting Fonda on the news



posted by matteo at 9:16 AM on January 15, 2004


They're used to war; they're used to gunshots. What's new is this tiny seed and taste of freedom. It is a compelling experience to have been in Baghdad just one year ago, where not a single Iraqi expressed to me opinions outside Baathist party lines, and just one year later, when so many express their opinions and so many opinions compete for attention.

I wouldn't compare Penn's prose to Faulkner's, true. And I expected the neocon usual suspects to jump on this post without reading it simply because Penn has spoken out against the war. Fine, whatever. We went there, and with an open mind, which I think counts for something. Should he have hired a ghost writer, for Pete's sake?

The chief merit of this travelogue is the balance of political perspective he brings to it. As an outspoken critic of the invasion, Penn's recognition that the effort has improved the lives of some people is very compelling to me. It takes guts to present a thoughtful and even-handed perspective on an increasingly polarized issue.
posted by squirrel at 9:46 AM on January 15, 2004


Bad writing, agreed-- but I love to hear first-person accounts from Iraq, be it from soldiers, journalists, or actors or activists. Interesting report.
posted by cell divide at 10:03 AM on January 15, 2004


"the relentlessness of frog 'ribbits'" ... evokes in me a real sense of tranquility

You have apparently not spent any great amount of time near a swamp. Those ribbits are real cute for the first five minutes. After three hours of trying to fall asleep while the little fuckers are peeping, though, you pray for a plague of snakes to put them out of your misery.

I also think "palpably hypnotic" is a great phrase. If you've ever been immersed in a culture that is entirely unlike your own, you recognize the sense of that statement. Your in that culture, but not of it, and you enter this sort of twilight zone of feeling you're dreaming it.

In short, I quite liked his writing. It was far more evocative of mood and mind than anything I've read in the regular media.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 AM on January 15, 2004


matteo, I'm not gonna get into arguing about the relative merits of various assholes, since it's counterproductive and goes nowhere. Plus the passage of time dosen't make what Fonda did any less offensive.

And I haven't seen any movies in a theatre or rented any videos in over 5 years, so I'm the wrong guy to ask about acting. But I do recall a quote from some writer asking the question, "What does it mean when you sit through all of Dead Man Walking and you still want the guy to die?"

In the case of Mr. Heston, while I'm not a fan of the man, I've had personal experience that makes me fully understand his desire to arm himself.
posted by jonmc at 10:24 AM on January 15, 2004


Squirrel has a good take on it. I would add to that, he wrote this on the road, in Iraq. Not from his living room in California. Kind of a put up or shut up kind of an act. And, it is not a piece of fiction created from an imaginative mind.

The chief merit of this travelogue is the balance of political perspective he brings to it.

I found that interesting as well.
posted by a3matrix at 10:28 AM on January 15, 2004


jonmc: And I haven't seen any movies in a theatre or rented any videos in over 5 years,

What a cop-out! According to your blog, you have HBO.
posted by milovoo at 10:45 AM on January 15, 2004


What're you my shadow?

I also have QVC, that dosen't mean I watch it.
posted by jonmc at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2004


Maybe I'm writing an article on spurious logic.

>dosen't mean I watch it.

...and obviously a google search for "TV" would seem to contradict that.
I don't care what you do, I'm just saying you should at least be consistent.
posted by milovoo at 10:59 AM on January 15, 2004


OK, Mr. Flyshit picker. I don't watch it on a regular basis.

I don't care what you do,

Then why are you investigating it so deeply?

Now, go play in traffic already.
posted by jonmc at 11:13 AM on January 15, 2004


OK, Mr. Flyshit picker. I don't watch it on a regular basis.

this is fun

But I do recall a quote from some writer asking the question, "What does it mean when you sit through all of Dead Man Walking and you still want the guy to die?"


I don't know. Penn's character is guilty, so if you support the death penalty for murderers, it's OK to want him to die.

as I said, Penn's been consistently acting in many of the more interesting American (and Mexican, thanks to 21 Grams) movies of these last few years. and he's so talented that Americans should be very proud of him, no matter his political ideas. you want a tough-talking governor? Get Arnold. But if you're into cinema, choose Penn every day of the week. he is a great American actor.
posted by matteo at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2004


OK, Mr. Flyshit picker. I don't watch it on a regular basis.

this is fun


Don't worry matteo. That wasn't directed at you (whom I've come to see as a worthy adversary [plus your a paisan] rather than an enemy), but at milovoo, who seems to have developed a bizarre attachment to me.

As far as Penn goes, I liked him in Bad Boys, which should show you out of it I am when it comes to current cinema.
posted by jonmc at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2004


Or ARE you? ;^)
posted by squirrel at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2004


seems to have developed a bizarre attachment to me

Believe me, it was short lived.

You're just sore cause I caught you lyin'.
posted by milovoo at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2004


I thought most people have kind of moved toward Fonda's view of U.S. action in Vietnam. Comparing Penn to her is not necessarily derogatory.

Also, I'm with Five Fresh Fish on the frog thing. There's a Coqi infestation in my state now. I've heard of people who think they sound melodious and peaceful, but at night, I often find myself fantasizing about taking a flamethrower to the backyard. Not that that has anything to do with Penn's writing ability . . . just . . .
Damn frogs.
posted by MetalDog at 1:14 PM on January 15, 2004


Not from his living room in California.
Add it was talked/promoted several months before he went. So he has had some time to formulate his writing/topics.

I was expecting this to be blogged & in several past posts made comments about these writing to be.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:19 PM on January 15, 2004


You're just sore cause I caught you lyin'.

Yes, I misspoke about how often I watch HBO. Release the hounds.

I thought most people have kind of moved toward Fonda's view of U.S. action in Vietnam.

It's one thing to consider the Vietnam War wrong (I do myself), it's quite another to consort convivially with those who torture POW's and pose playfully on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American planes. I'd never deny her right to say what she thinks, but conversely I have the right to be disgusted with her statements and to say so.
posted by jonmc at 1:30 PM on January 15, 2004


Okay, so you compare Fonda's wartime behavior to Penn's how again?
posted by squirrel at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2004


If you aren't going to bother to read something, you probably shouldn't bother to comment on it.

I read the quote, and I commented on that. To read more, it seems abundantly clear, would be both redundant and painful.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:13 PM on January 15, 2004


That sounds both arrogant and close-minded, starvos, which surprises me coming from you. Really.
posted by squirrel at 3:42 PM on January 15, 2004


"Yes, I misspoke"


it's OK then. Tim Russert will be all ready to shamelessly kiss your ass!
;)
posted by matteo at 3:51 PM on January 15, 2004


That sounds both arrogant and close-minded, starvos

No, it's pedantic and impatient with poor writing. Maybe arrogant too, but I'm nothin' if not arrogant. *shrugs*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:37 PM on January 15, 2004


Fine and good, but the restroom is for paying customers only, bub. If you wanna piss here, you got to read the link. That's the hairbreadth between MeFi and usenet.
posted by squirrel at 6:22 PM on January 18, 2004


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