Cultural commodities

Culture | Legendary director remembered, New York Times reporter goes global, and other cultural buzz

Issue: "Is McCain able?," Aug. 21, 1999

Hitchcock centennial
Alfred Hitchcock's 100th birthday is this month, and his place of honor with movie buffs has never been greater. Hitchcock, who died in 1980, remains the great master of suspense, and his portly silhouette still testifies to his legend. His centennial is being celebrated everywhere from to AMC to the Museum of Modern Art. To this day directors look back fondly on Hitchcock's scenes of Jimmy Stewart with binoculars or Cary Grant running through a cornfield or the chance meeting of two Strangers on a Train. The tributes range from Mel Brooks's affectionate 1977 spoof High Anxiety to Gus Van Sant's recent unsuccessful remake of Psycho. Hitchcock's ideas pop up everywhere because he took the premodern aspects of gothic storytelling and turned cinema on its ear, throwing normal people into death-defying situations. The French cooked up the auteur school around him, interpreting movies as personal statements by directors. "Hitchcock is like a grammar book," Brian De Palma said of him, "and it's all there to be learned." Born August 13, 1899, in London, Hitchcock grew up on a steady diet of silent movies and detective fiction. He was especially fascinated by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He once said in an interview that he wanted to take the style of "The Raven" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and translate them to the screen. In his words, he wanted to create "a completely unbelievable story told to the readers with such spellbinding logic that you get the impression that the same thing could happen to you tomorrow." Hitchcock's career stretched from The Pleasure Garden in 1925 through Family Plot in 1976. The worldviews in his movies go beyond gothic, mixing in psychoanalysis, apocalypticism (The Birds was his vision of Judgment Day), and a sense of irony that was two generations ahead of his time. O'Rourke minus punchlines
Thomas Friedman travels around the world reporting about various global hot spots for The New York Times. Now he's dumped his notes into a book called The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar Strauss Giroux) that tries to explain the global economy. Mr. Friedman cooked up an imaginative collection of phrases to tell the tale. To keep up with the changes, the Pulitzer Prize winner claims that nations are being forced into the "Golden Straitjacket" where free-market capitalism dominates and the old cronyism and communism must go away. Often they suffer from "Microchip Immune Deficiency" (not enough computers) and need "DOScapital" (cash) to move forward. He argues that the old Eastern Establishment that used to run things has been replaced by what he calls the "Electronic Herd": people behind computer screens and cell phones who can move billions from Stockholm to St. Louis with a few keystrokes. Thus massive global changes have all hit like a tidal wave. "It is not a historical accident that East Germany, the Soviet Union, Asian capitalism, Brazilian state-owned industries, Chinese communism, General Motors, and IBM all either collapsed or were forced to radically restructure at the same time," Mr. Friedman writes. Yet various cultures adjust to globalization in often bizarre ways, as the author relates. People in bad neighborhoods in Teheran sell tickets to watch Baywatch off someone's illegal satellite dish. Somewhere in India is a meatless McDonald's that sells vegetarian McNuggets. NBA basketball airs in China. Globalization has an American face, but its features are those of the theme park, KFC, and Taco Bell. Meanwhile, much of the world is still fighting what Mr. Friedman calls "kleptocracy": the tendency to be heavy-laden with gangsters, fatheads, and bureaucrats who suck money and must be bribed heavily just to get simple tasks performed. Parts of his book read like P.J. O'Rourke's travelogue Eat The Rich, minus the punchlines. Mr. Friedman assumes that globalization is making the corrupt nations more like America, but misses how America is actually becoming more like them (Chinese/Clinton scandals are probably just a start). He doesn't have good answers to the challenges presented by the new economy, but he knows the issues. Music as therapy
Is classical music an art form or an over-the-counter medication? Ethnomusicologist, feng shui guru, and L.A. radio host Elizabeth Miles leans toward the latter with Tune Your Brain, a book and line of CDs (issued by the usually sedate Deutsche Grammophon) that claim Mozart, Bach, and Chopin can be used as energy sources to empower you through your day. "The latest research in neurology, medicine, and psychology helps you bring ancient wisdom into the scientific present for better health and performance in seven states of mind, body, and mood," she explains in a post to Think of it as "Classics For Relaxation" gone bonkers. The discs (which have been flowing since 1997) all use carefully selected cuts to set moods fitting CD subtitles like "Uplift," "Focus," "Heal," and "Relax." Debussy is the subject of the next volume, intended to help you "Create." The selections are all perfectly normal, except Ms. Miles intends them not for enjoyment, but as a narcotic. "Use speakers to send Energizing vibrations (sic) into your body, headphones to zap electricity directly into your mind," read the liner notes, which are full of strange comments about "biorhythmic dips" and "sonic strategy." You'd think this was a practical joke. But when the world's biggest classical music label proclaims on its website that Ms. Miles's methods can "make you smarter, feel better and maximize your potential," things are getting way out of hand. Thanks to the CD player, classical music recordings are now cheaper, easily available, and more vibrant than ever. There's nothing wrong with listening to them, of course, or even playing mood music for the right moment. Some WORLD writers listen as they type. The problem is overselling: Beethoven must not only enrich and beautify life; he must provide therapy as well. Instead of enjoying, studying, and savoring classical music, Ms. Miles turns it into something to reach for when the new cigarette taxes make another pack of Chesterfield Kings too pricey.

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