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Have you heard the one about David Mamet?
March 3, 2005 3:49 PM   Subscribe

"You people can't order a cheese sandwich without mentioning the Holocaust," the Defense Attorney says. The Defendant complains: "I hired a goy lawyer. It's like going to a straight hairdresser."
In his new play "Romance", David Mamet takes on the possibility to finally bring peace to the Middle East by realigning Israeli and Palestinian spines, and discusses the alleged homosexuality of Wiiliam Shakespeare. Some critics didn't like Mamet's "take-no-prisoners", politically incorrect approach -- nor his use of ethnic and sexual stereotypes. As Mamet has said in the past, "I didn't realise it was my job to be politically acceptable".
posted by matteo (31 comments total)

 
Very much looking forward to Romance. Mamet still possesses the ability to substantively polarize. Thanks for the links.
posted by gramschmidt at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2005


(To Brantley)These are the new plays. These are the Mamet plays. To you, these are gold; you do not get these. Because to give them to you would be throwing them away.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2005


His shtick is very tired. Ideas don't need to be couched in anger and insult to be effectively and dramatically conveyed--see Miller, and tons of other great playwrights.
posted by amberglow at 5:55 PM on March 3, 2005


Wait! I get amberglow's point! See, since they don't need to be couched in anger and insult, that means it's automatically bad to couch them that way!

I have to say, I find myself feeling similarly about Oscar Wilde. Ideas don't need to be couched in humor and insight to be effectively and humorously conveyed. See Williams and tons of other great playwrights. Wilde's schtick is very tired.

So is Tennesee Williams' schtick, on the other hand. Ideas don't have to be couched in melancholy and social commentary to be effectively and dramatically conveyed. See Wilde and tons of other great playwrights.
posted by shmegegge at 6:10 PM on March 3, 2005


shmegegge
Er, there's no need to be so vicious. He was just stating his opinion, which did not seem to me to mean, " it's automatically bad to couch them that way!", but rather so in this case.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:16 PM on March 3, 2005


Ideas don't need to be couched in anger and insult to be effectively and dramatically conveyed--see Miller, and tons of other great playwrights.

If it were a political debate, I'd agree with you. But it's a play. Anger and insults are inherently dramatic and entertaining.
posted by jonmc at 6:17 PM on March 3, 2005


This is a great post.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2005


Mamet uses button-pushing, knowingly offensive language, with the result that people talk about that more than the ideas he's trying to convey in his plays. If that's what he wants, why write plays? he'd be better off on talk radio.
posted by amberglow at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2005


If you want plays free of potentially offensive material couched in mutual understanding and blissfull harmony, well, here ya go...
posted by jonmc at 6:20 PM on March 3, 2005


Mamet is a good playwright and screenwriter, but really, something of a weiner. He wrote in his self-important filmmaking guide On Directing Film that directors should avoid what he called the inflected shot, which I took to mean any shot whose composition runs the risk of overwhelming its narrative content and disrupting the diegesis. But to Mamet, it seems, every shot that isn't duller than a weekend at EuroDisney is an inflected shot. And if you look at the films he's written and directed -- snoozefests Oleanna and The Winslow Boy come to mind -- they can't compare to a film like Glengarry Glen Ross, which he wrote but didn't direct. James Foley directed that film, loading it to the brim with inflected shots, and it's easily one of the best (and, I think, most beloved) Mamet interpretations out there.

Yeah, I used "diegesis." Whatever.
posted by hifiparasol at 6:24 PM on March 3, 2005


If that's what he wants, why write plays? he'd be better off on talk radio.

Right on, amberglow. But given the FCC's current prudish mindset, I think he'd have to go with satellite radio...
posted by hifiparasol at 6:25 PM on March 3, 2005


If you want plays free of potentially offensive material couched in mutual understanding and blissfull harmony, well, here ya go...
I'm not saying that tho--it's a question of form overwhelming content, at least for me.
posted by amberglow at 6:27 PM on March 3, 2005


Maybe, we'll have to agree to disagree on this. But everything I've seen of Mamet's (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna) I've loved, precisely because he dosen't pussyfoot around and because he spares no one. When artists start worrying about who they'll offend, then we're done as far as I'm concerned.
posted by jonmc at 6:30 PM on March 3, 2005


Or to put it another way: pushing buttons is good. picking scabs is good. It's war on complacency and self-satisfaction, which is something I love to see. The duty of an artist is not to tell us what we want to hear.
posted by jonmc at 6:34 PM on March 3, 2005


What he calls a "true" depiction (see matteo's last link re: Oleanna) is not at all that--it's simply his slant instead of another.

He can sling whatever he wants. And it sells tickets whether people come away from his works with anything more than they walked in with or not. It's a genius marketing strategy, if not a genius work of drama.

I'd tell you to go see Sam Shepherd, jon--you'll get pushing buttons, a war on complacency, and things you won't want to hear too--many many playwrights give that, without this pre-show game of leaking "Oh, how shocking Mamet is being now! Look what he said!." It's manufactured, and i think shouldn't be necessary--let the work stand or fall on its own.
posted by amberglow at 6:40 PM on March 3, 2005


If one read Shakespeare's Sonnets, the 'gay' conclusion is not at all unnatural. In the early ones, its hard to not come away thinking that old Wil was at least bi. Sure, he has a wife and kids (who seem to have played no role in his life), and a "dark lady" later in life, and a mistress his friend/boyfriend steals from him. But man, many of those sonnets on love (that are often used for Valentine's type sentiments) are quite passionate and certainly written to a man. There are a lot of elaborate justifications for why this doesn't mean Shakespeare was gay -- but they are strained to me. Maybe he is talking about platonic love, but I don't get that feeling.

I don't know much about this guy Mamet, but that strikes me as patently uncontroversial, assuming Shakespeare was gay. Is it the use of taboo words? Or are people that unaware of Shakespeare's canon that the idea seems outlandish to them?
posted by teece at 7:07 PM on March 3, 2005


I enjoy Mamet's work a lot, but i gatherhifiparasol is right -- he is a bit of a dick. But the, whom among us...?

BTW, he rankles at the "pc" reaction to his plays as sexist, but is happy to throw around charges of anti-semitism.
posted by Cassford at 7:34 PM on March 3, 2005


I know almost nothing about Mamet, except that I love House Of Games, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner, and The Water Engine (a teleplay he did for the TNT network... it may have played on stage before that). I love the way he uses language, and I like the stories he tells. House Of Games is probably one of my favorite movies, ever. "Bad" language is just words; that doesn't bother me.

The fact that he's tight with Wm. H Macy is another reason I like him.

This new play sounds fascinating, even though I'll never get to see it.. I hope it becomes a movie or gets filmed or something, because I'd really like to see it.
posted by BoringPostcards at 8:27 PM on March 3, 2005


There are a lot of elaborate justifications for why this doesn't mean Shakespeare was gay -- but they are strained to me.

Devil's advocate: but is the "I" of the poems William Shakespeare? William Wordsworth, after all, wrote quite convincing lyrics about experiences that he didn't have. And it's certainly possible for a straight man to write convincing gay characters in the first person (vide Michael Chabon).

That being said, the "gay" (or early modern equivalent) interpretation has been around for about as long as the poems have been available in print--in fact, they were best known in "straightened out" versions, for lack of a better phrase, until Edmond Malone produced his famous scholarly edition of Shakespeare's works. Stephen Orgel offers a helpful and detailed overview.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:31 PM on March 3, 2005


Er, there's no need to be so vicious. He was just stating his opinion, which did not seem to me to mean, " it's automatically bad to couch them that way!", but rather so in this case.

That's funny. I thought I was just disagreeing. Tongue-in-cheek? Certainly. Vicious? Not to my mind. apologies if it seemed that way.

I don't apologise for my point, though. I find amberglow's first comment (not necessarily the rest of them, but I haven't finished reading as of yet) to be the kind of lazy cynical non-reasoning that drives me crazy about most criticism. What he said is basically an ad lib for hipster-lethargy directed at mamet. utter nonsense. The kind of thing a pabst blue ribbon drinker says at a party and no one listens to.

That's not to say there aren't reasonable complaints to be lodged against Mamet. I reject the idea that angry insults are themselves a flaw in writing, though. Whether that was what amberglow meant or not I can't say, but that's certainly what the comment said.

That's all. nothing vicious.
posted by shmegegge at 8:59 PM on March 3, 2005


I certainly agree that manufacturing hype around controversy before the show is shameful.

I think what I disagree with most in the arguments against Mamet is the idea that using anger and harsh language is a kind of gimmick. They've been lumped into the category of "form" as opposed to "content." I don't think that's a fair categorization.

I think anger is content. Insults are content. The framing of racial and social hatred, the context within which people hate/get violent/cheat, these are all matters of content, not form. Especially for Mamet.

Now, to say that he keeps retreating into already-successful territory (namely, his reputation for hard language and insults) is totally fair. I personally adore the man's detective plays for their plot more than their language. They're very clever mysteries.

They may not be the greatest plays ever written, but what'll we do, restrict all MeFi theater discussion to Williams, O'Neill, Miller, Shakespeare and Beckett?
posted by shmegegge at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2005


If one read Shakespeare's Sonnets, the 'gay' conclusion is not at all unnatural.

Except if you studied the romantic or amorous related literature of the time you'd know that intense friendships between men were often elevated above the relationships between men and women because of the non-sexual quality of the relationship. Which would make the 'gay' conclusion at a little peculiar because you'd be applying present day attitudes to those of the past.

All matters are up for debate of course. Not that anyone really cares if Shake was gay or bi or hetro. Entirely irrelevant in my books anyway. Love and sleep with whom you adore I always say.
posted by juiceCake at 10:05 PM on March 3, 2005


Except if you studied the romantic or amorous related literature of the time you'd know that intense friendships between men were often elevated above the relationships between men and women because of the non-sexual quality of the relationship. Which would make the 'gay' conclusion at a little peculiar because you'd be applying present day attitudes to those of the past.

Yes, I am well aware of this fact -- hence the platonic love idea I mentioned. It is this idea that I find quite strained. The language has changed, and certainly the attitudes people espouse have changed, but I am not at all convinced that this platonism is actually that -- it may very well have been sexual, too. I don't think I am alone on that one, either.
posted by teece at 10:14 PM on March 3, 2005


From what I was taught, it's actually pretty much accepted by the general literature community that Shakespeare was bi. The sonnets really go beyond the traditional expressions of platonic love at that time or most others. It's pretty straight forward that he's talking about sexual and romantic desire.
posted by shmegegge at 11:49 PM on March 3, 2005


Mamet has written some excellent plays, he's also written some excellent film scripts. He does not believe in the extraneous shot, "disrupting the diegesis", because he deals with film-making much like his writing -- it's frugal

I find some of the comments criticising his capabilities a little perplexing given his great movie about Jewish identity, racism and paranoia: Homicide -- it's no snoozefest. Plus, I recently saw The Verdict and The Untouchables, pretty good scripts make pretty good movies.

I'm not sure if Mamet is a genius but I do think he has some interesting things to say about drama, like his book "Three Uses of the Knife" and "A Whore's Profession." There's some more insight at his irregular Guardian column.
posted by gsb at 3:00 AM on March 4, 2005


"I'd tell you to go see Sam Shepherd, jon"

Can't he see both? Maybe he should take in a Pinter, too. I'm not sure why you'd want to lead someone away from a work by one of our country's best living playwrights (although at least by your recommendation he'd be going to see a work by another of our country's best living playwrights).

Mamet may be a dick, I have no idea (but I could probably see it), but that takes nothing away from the fact that his dialogue is possibly the richest and most natural and fluid an American has ever written. I may be biased by my longstanding love of Pinter.

This is nothing against Shepard (who is an amazing playwright). And I would never recommend someone see a Mamet play rather than Shepard...
posted by Human Stain at 6:05 AM on March 4, 2005


Excellent post matteo.

Here's a Fresh Air interview with William H Macy that I recall talks about the acting method he and Mamet developed and propagate through the Atlantic Theatre School. This brief discussion improved my opinion of Mamet and changed my understanding of how drama functions in general.

Terry Gross interviewed David Mamet himself in 1994, 1996, and 1997.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:13 AM on March 4, 2005


Crap. My previous post is useless. I thought there were Real Audio recordings of those shows at the links I provided. Apparently they're too old. Crap. Crap. Crap. Nothing to see here. Move along.
posted by putzface_dickman at 6:19 AM on March 4, 2005


i didn't say to see Shepherd instead, Human--i just was pointing out that Mamet is just one of many playwrights speaking the truth and dealing with darker subjects and human failings and frailties.

...to be the kind of lazy cynical non-reasoning that drives me crazy about most criticism. What he said is basically an ad lib for hipster-lethargy directed at mamet. utter nonsense. The kind of thing a pabst blue ribbon drinker says at a party and no one listens to.
You listened. And cynical is not a word that applies to critics of Mamet, but to him himself much more exactly. Some playwrights show you the humanity of all their characters, flawed and not--Mamet fails in that for me.
posted by amberglow at 6:21 AM on March 4, 2005


Great post matteo. Interesting discussion gang. All around...Yay!
posted by dejah420 at 12:24 PM on March 4, 2005


You listened. And cynical is not a word that applies to critics of Mamet, but to him himself much more exactly. Some playwrights show you the humanity of all their characters, flawed and not--Mamet fails in that for me.

But see, THAT'S a much better comment than your first one. I maintain that your original comment really was the kind of empty hipsterism that's barely worth the trouble of typing.
posted by shmegegge at 4:35 PM on March 4, 2005


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