Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Ben McGrath is not like a piece by Jill Lepore, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Goodyear, or Filkins for Khatchadourian, or Bilger for Paumgarten. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Moneyball: Denby v. Brody













Yes, there’s a dramatic homerun in Moneyball. But most of the movie’s action takes place off-field in offices and conference rooms. Phones and computers play more of a role in it than player heroics. David Denby, in his “Playing The Numbers” (The New Yorker, October 3, 2011), says that Moneyball “could be used as a training manual at business school.” I know what he means. But I found all that behind-the-scenes managerial stuff - meetings with scouts, arguments with the manager, player trades, contract negotiations, etc. – fascinating. I couldn’t get enough of it. Denby appears to relish it, too. He says, “Swapping players with other general managers on the telephone, Pitt [playing Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane] is almost as quick as Cary Grant’s manic newspaper editor in 'His Girl Friday.'” But later in his piece he seems less impressed. Regarding the movie’s focus on Beane’s executive prowess, he says, “Some of this is enjoyable, but of minor interest.” I disagree. I think that Richard Brody, in his “‘Moneyball’ In Play” (“The Front Row,” newyorker.com, September 29, 2011), gets it right when he says: “I think that the depiction of Beane’s executive skill—or, rather, how Beane learns to become a better executive—is the core of the movie and its greatest strength.” Denby, in his review, gets another matter wrong, too. He says Pitt’s performance in Tree of Life “deserves an Academy Award.” In my opinion, Pitt is deserving of an Academy Award, not for Tree of Life, but for Moneyball. Tree of Life is one of the worst excuses for a movie I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t even call it a movie. It’s more like a video installation. Moneyball, on the other hand, is a real movie - tough, unsentimental, grounded, like Pitt’s Billy Beane, in life’s hard, cold, quotidian reality.

Credit: The above artwork is by Martin Ansin; it appears in The New Yorker (October 31, 2011) as an illustration for David Denby's "Playing The Numbers."

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