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May 23-30, 2007

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Summer Lit Issue:
'Requiem for an Assassin' | 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' | 'Lime Kiln Legacies' | 'Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl' | 'After Dark' | Literary shorts | 'The Other End' | Harry Potter | 'Red Eye, Black Eye' and 'Gangster Film Reader'


'Sit Down and Shut Up'

New and Notable Books


Red Eye, Black Eye
Laid off, evicted and dropped by his girlfriend, the cartoonist goes on a trip around America. The results: this sour and depressing graphic-novel account of a 60-day Greyhound Ameripass. If basically nothing happens on such a 10,000-mile quest, it's less because of too many hours on too many interstates than it is because the narrator had his eyes closed. Since Jensen has a fan base in many of the cities on his travels, he almost never gets up against the wall like a real hobo; he's treated like a celebrity in one town after another. Graphically, Red Eye, Black Eye is monotonous, too. It's drawn in the strict minicomics style--head and shoulders above all other comics, since essentially all you see are the heads and the shoulders of the characters. The harder Jensen's road gets--in Vegas, for instance, where he's broke and homeless--the more interesting the story. But he's on a tight schedule for the most part, and there's never really any serendipity or detours on this trip. Jensen's apparent lack of interest in anything besides creature comforts wears on the reader. (By K. Thor Jensen; Alternative Comics; 304 pages; $19.95 paperback)

Richard von Busack

Gangster Film Reader
The critics excerpted in Gangster Film Reader note that the genre basically began with just three early-1930s sensations--Scarface, Public Enemy and Little Caesar. The Production Code quickly dampened down the raw violence of these murderfests and shifted the emphasis from lawbreakers to lawmen. Eventually, the genre resurfaced in transformed fashion in the larger dark pool of film noir but did not return in full flower until The Godfather, leading to the late, almost ironical florescence of GoodFellas and The Sopranos. This wide-ranging selection from the 1940s to the present, chosen by noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini, begins with Robert Warshow's influential 1948 essay, "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," which sets the genre within the matrix of mass culture. Essays by Robin Wood, John Baxter, Andrew Sarris and Stuart M. Kaminsky study the various facets of the 1930s examples, among them fear of immigrants, Depression-era antiauthoritarianism and psychosexual undercurrents (Tony's lust for his sister in Scarface). Colin McArthur does the scut work of genre studies, identifying the "recurrent patterns of imagery" that help define gangster films. Tony Williams' survey of British gangster films opens up a whole new world, although, sadly, most of the films he mentions don't seem to be out on DVD. Several essays wrestle with just how critical of capitalism The Godfather saga really is, while Tricia Welsch offers a welcome woman's perspective on Prizzi's Honor, but Ronald Bogue's analysis of De Palma's Scarface traffics in academic nonsense: "De Palma, in sum, is an oppositional postmodern artist commenting on Baudrillardian postmodern culture from a theoretical position that is, like Lyotard's and Deleuze-Guattari's, decidedly postmodern." Who knew? But even the couch potato will find lots of films to add to a Netflix queue. (Edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini; Limelight Editions; 410 pages; $20 paper)

Michael S. Gant


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