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 Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Friday, April 6, 2018

April 2, 2018 Issue


For me, the most sheerly pleasurable writing in this week’s issue is the opening paragraph of Anthony Lane’s “Unusual Suspects,” a review of Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane and Aaron Katz’s Gemini. Lane writes,

There is a lovely photograph of James Mason and Eva Marie Saint on the set of “North by Northwest” (1959). They are clad for the auction scene; he wears a pale-gray suit, and her dress is rich in roses. He holds her lightly by the arm, smiling, as she stands behind the camera on which the sequence will be filmed. And what a formidable beast that camera is: as big as a motorbike but far less streamlined, bearing on its broad flank the legend “VistaVision”—the wide-screen format in which Hitchcock also shot “To Catch a Thief” (1955), “The Man who Knew Too Much” (1956), and “Vertigo” (1958). James Wong Howe, a king among cinematographers, used VistaVision on “The Rose Tattoo” (1955), and there’s a portrait of him with a similar camera, which towers above him on its wheeled crane, and which he holds by a cable, as if leading a velociraptor through Jurassic Park. Howe, like Hitchcock, knew that the cumbersome effort was worthwhile, for the result would be a rolling expanse of fine-grained images, filling the audience’s gaze. Such beauty could be summoned by the beast.

That “and there’s a portrait of him with a similar camera, which towers above him on its wheeled crane, and which he holds by a cable, as if leading a velociraptor through Jurassic Park” is brilliant. The whole passage is superb, an ingeniously contrastive way to highlight a distinctive aspect of Soderbergh’s Unsane – his use of an iPhone 7 Plus to film it.

Lane isn’t impressed with Unsane’s iPhone cinematography. He says, “I found it as coarse as canvas, though you have to admire Soderbergh for adding a new vista to his vision.”

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