Home / General / “Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating.”

“Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating.”


I will say this for Hitch; when he gets something in his wheelhouse, he can still nail it. The most salient thing about profiles of Mamet’s “courageous” conversion to wingnuttery is that combined they have yet to identify a single interesting thing this (very great) playwright has ever said about politics from any ideological orientation. What’s offensive about Mamet’s turn to political writing isn’t its conservatism but its utter banality. Fundamentally, you should never open your mouth unless you know what the shot is…

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  • Mamet’s always been a better inadvertent social commentor than overt political one.

    • Scott Lemieux


  • My favorite line from that review was “It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic.”

    • fledermaus

      It’s telling of his level of political thought that his strawmen are so absurd. It’s like he thinks he’s the first person to discover how to use strawmen. He sits there bravely and boldly taking down those who would argue that “everything is wrong” or “palestinians are right to want the destruction of Isreal”

      His politial thinking is so fatuous that his strawmen are about to only arguments he can knock down.

  • c u n d gulag

    Is he a great playwright?

    But he’s also been a ‘say one thing and do another’ kind of writer.

    As an actor, I read his books on the art of acting. And he knows his shit, talking about a naturalistic, Stanislovskian, style, intead of some stylized, ritualized method.
    But, when you watch the movies he’s directed, the actors look stylized and mechanical, almost robotic – just take a gander at “House of Games,” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”

    On politics, somehow, somewhere along the line, his support for Israel, and railing against Anti-Semitism, morphed him into a free-market believing, talking point speweing, Conservative nitwit, who’s got nothing new to say.

    I think it’s an “American Lobotomy” – self-induced.

    • John

      But, when you watch the movies he’s directed, the actors look stylized and mechanical, almost robotic – just take a gander at “House of Games,” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”

      Comparing the acting in Mamet-directed movies to the acting in movies he wrote but did not direct, like Glengarry Glen Ross or The Verdict, is instructive in this regard. The acting in the former is just unbelievably mannered by comparison.

      • c u n d gulag

        Yup, when you read his acting books, what he describes is in the movies he DIDN’T direct.

        I didn’t see the movies that he directed until years after I’d read the books.
        After watching them, I reread his books, thinking I’d lost my mind, because what I was seeing was anything BUT what he’d written about.
        I hadn’t lost my mind, though – he was directing actors contrary to everything he said he believed in.

        PS: Baldwin’s beginning monologue was not in the original “Glengarry Glen Ross” play. But what a great addition it was!

        That is such a great movie. Good thing he didn’t direct it. Actually, Jack Lemmon, one of the all time greats, would have either quit, or killed Mamet.

        • richard

          I love House of Games and don’t consider the acting to be robotic at all . I think there was a conscious decision to have the actors act in a stylized manner (especially Lindsay Crouse) but that is one of the strengths of the movie. I remember watching it the first time and finding one of the scenes so suspensful that it was uncomfortable to watch. And great cinematography.

          Unfortunately none of the movies he has directed since have been in that caliber and the MMA drama he directed was laughable.

          • c u n d gulag

            And I also thought it was a real good movie.
            But, to me, as an actor, the acting looked stilted.

            Oh well, ‘eye of the beholder,’ I guess… :-)

          • Hogan

            In a movie about confidence games, role playing and deception, it makes sense to shade the acting in the direction of stylization.

            • c u n d gulag

              See, and I would think the exact opposite – or else you’re showing your hand.

              I would thing that a good grifter would have to act like a regular Joe/Jane – just one who’s ‘more in the know.’

              Palin and Newt would be horrible grifters if they didn’t have the MSM helping them out by showing their faces all the time.
              He looks like a fat villain, and she sounds like someone for whom English is a 4th language – from a planet that uses a completely different method of structuring thoughts verbally.

              Hogan, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I just see it a little differently. Maybe I need to see the movie again. It’s been a real long time since I’ve seen it, or “The Spanish Prisoner.”

              And, as I said before, ‘different strokes…’

              • richard

                I would agree with you about Spanish Prisoner. Not terrible, in fact pretty good but dissapointing after House of Games and considering that it starred Steve Martin. And there I did find the acting unnecessarily stilted.

                • Kurzleg

                  I tend to agree with Gulag re: House of Games. The mannered performance of the two principles make them seem almost non-human and therefore hard to identify with. These peformances – especially that of Crouse – give the film an eary quality that doesn’t seem to help the film and its subject matter.

              • Hogan

                I would thing that a good grifter would have to act like a regular Joe/Jane – just one who’s ‘more in the know.’

                That’s how you play rubes who aren’t expecting to be played. Running a con on someone like Lindsey Crouse, when she knows you’re a con man, is a different proposition.

          • Ed

            House of Games is a great little picture and the stylization of the acting is intentional and highly effective. He’s never touched that level since, though. He also did a nice job directing someone else’s material with Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, except for using his wife as a replacement for Margaret Leighton. If he’d directed Glengarry he might have gotten Lemmon to dial it back a bit, which would only have helped.

            American playwrights tend not to be highly intellectual and Mamet is no different in this regard. I don’t know about the “very great” but he’s written several plays of lasting value which is more than most can say.

          • Captain Splendid

            In fairness to Redbelt, Chiwetel Ejiofor works his ass off to carry that film.

            It’s also got a nice comes-outta-nowhere ending, which I always appreciate.

    • Warren Terra

      I saw the “Boston Marriage” written and directed by him (and premiering) at the ACT in Cambridge (which has, or had, an awesomely cheap student ticket package). Extremely stilted; it was possible to enjoy the writing because it was all enunciated so well, but not the acting, which was wooden. A bit like an especially earnest Oscar Wilde production.

      Although, at least part of the problem was that the lead actress was his wife, and she was by far the worst part of the play. I don’t know anything about her talents or her achievements in other productions, but as directed by her husband she was dreadful.

    • Ironic, then, that the premier actor of the Mamet school, William H. Macy, is, um, so formulaic. At least in his more memorable roles.

      That said, when Macy is in the right role at the right time, he’s impressive. For me, the true mark of a naturalistic actor is when he or she disappears into a role, making you forget who you’re watching. Macy’s capable of this (“The Cooler” springs to mind) but too often I watch and think “Hm, there’s WH being WH again.”

    • Ed Marshall

      I think Charles Krauthammer is the original model for that conversion(Someone said something I don’t like about Israel so now I don’t believe in climate science). I’m actually surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.

  • “All train compartments smell vaguely of shit. It gets so you don’t mind it. That’s the worst thing that I can confess. You know how long it took me to get there? A long time. When you die you’re going to regret the things you don’t do. You think you’re queer? I’m going to tell you something: we’re all queer. You think you’re a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Get shut of it. Shut it out. You cheat on your wife? You did it, live with it. You fuck little girls, so be it. There’s an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, go ahead, be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don’t think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won’t live in it. That’s me.”

    – David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge

    • Kurzleg

      My take on GGGR, and this dialogue in particular, has always been that it’s an attempt to highlight dramatically the amoralism that it encourages. It never occurred to me that Mamet actually might have been endorsing it instead.

      Also, it’s hard to read this without hearing Al Pacino’s voice and phrasing.

      • Ed

        To give Joe Mantegna his due credit, he was Mamet’s muse, not Pacino, and he created the role of Ricky Roma in the theater.

  • CJColucci

    There are people I didn’t pay attention to when they were right; why should I pay any more attention to them when they are wrong?

  • John

    Mamet seems to be firmly in the camp of “I used to be a liberal, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.”

    More broadly, beware of converts and apostates.

    • Hogan

      “I used to write both acts of Oleanna, but now I only write Act II.”

  • wengler

    If those Hitchens’ quotes are an accurate representation of Mamet, then he sounds like some sort of crazy person.

    Of course if Hitchens wanted to write about the subject of right turns and contrarian bullshit he need only look in the mirror.

    • Warren Terra

      Bad idea. Last time Hitchens looked in a mirror, he was there all day. And was still writing love letters to himself a week later.

  • rea

    Rather odd, though, for Hitchins to be so scathing about Mamet for doing . . . pretty much what Hitchens does.

  • The only thing Christopher HItchens is good for is bitching about other people.

    But, my God, is he a master of the form. “This has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic.”

  • Beauzeaux

    As a friend pointed out to me long ago: People are only smart about what they’re smart about. Someone being a great singer or scientist or architect does not mean they know ANYTHING about anything else. Perhaps they do but it doesn’t automatically translate.

    • ajay

      But too many people don’t understand this, which is how you get the weird phenomenon of the Public Intellectual: “you’re a linguist, you must know about Indochinese politics; you’re a historian of 19th century banking, you must know about US defence strategy” and so on.

  • CJR

    Shorter Mamet: “Get off my lawn.”

    Seriously, taking potshots at MoveOn activists and people with Free Tibet bumper stickers? It’s like Archie Bunker updated but not quite all the way to the present day.

  • Jim in Missoula

    I don’t know Mamet except by his work, but this sort of whole-hog Damascene conversion is very strange. I can see adopting new views on a set of issues, but to decide that the Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the avatars of truth seems indicative of some sort of cerebral event worthy of a chapter by Oliver Sacks.

    • I wish Mamet had the sense of humor to title his book, “Glenn Reynolds, Glenn Beck”.

      • Greg


  • bobbyp


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