Up for Review

June 13, 2007 at 2:46 am (Uncategorized)

I’m currently reading a collection of Dorothy Parker’s writing. I picked it up on Saturday at the wonderful Desire second-hand bookstore on Whistler St in Manly. Desire is located just across the road from my new favourite cafe in Manly, too, so the whole thing comes together very nicely as a mid-morning, post-swim, stroll-the-neighbourhood option. The cafe is called Barefoot, and it’s a tiny little hole-in-the-wall joint that makes great coffee and has a very cosy atmosphere. Anyway, back to Dorothy.

Aside from her poems and short stories, which are so acerbic and true to human nature as to be practically indecent, the collection includes her theatre and book reviews (the latter of which I’m yet to read). The theatre pieces are so refreshingly personal. Well, reviews are personal, let’s face it, reviewing anything is such a subjective thing, but I do find most present-day reviewers try to conceal the fact that what they’re ultimately offering the reader is their subjective opinion. Not so DP – she just puts it out there in no uncertain terms. If she says it’s dull, it’s her hand over her mouth stifling her own expansive yawn, rather than the yawn of some all-knowing, all-seeing, all-theatre-going abstract other.

There’s one reviewer I’ve been reading recently who seems similarly unabashed about his personal relationship with the works he views and the subsequent reviews he writes, and that’s John McDonald for Spectrum in The Sydney Morning Herald weekend edition (sorry the link isn’t one of his recent exhibition reviews, but they are not proving easy to find except in print). I really enjoy his visual art reviews, and I was reminded of why as I read a few of Dorothy Parker’s theatre reviews last night. Both are intimately acquainted with their subject. McDonald is more scholarly than Parker, to the extent that the latter’s reviews often display more whimsy and whirl than research-related whiplash, but both are passionate about the field of creative arts on which they respectively opine. In each case, there’s so much passion for the subject that one cannot fail to catch the air of deep regret that lingers in the most scathing review. I think where it’s harsh, and boy, can they be harsh, it’s because both reviewers so desperately want the subject of the review to be better than it regretfully is. They want it to be wonderful. They always want it to be the best it can be. They both know art can be truly transformative, so it’s a great whopping blow when something is sub-par or just plain dreadful.

Neither reviewer is a stranger to controversy, and neither has been spared the rod of their peers, but I wish there were more reviewers like Parker and now McDonald. I wish more reviewers had the guts to tell the plain truth. And part of that truth, I believe, is that you have to go to the play, or the exhibition, or the restaurant, or read the book, expecting to have your life changed or improved or altered in some magical and indefinable way, and as a reviewer, you are absolutely bound to speak up when the experience fails to deliver (as unfortunately it so often will). After all, it’s the true-believers in love who most often find their ever-willing hearts dashed against the rocks.

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