Scott Heller

Scott Heller writes about books, film and culture for various publications.

Recent Articles

There's Something About Shaft

J ust as you're getting ready to crack the latest beach paperback, The New York Times comes along with another idea about what makes for good summer reading. "How Race Is Lived in America" is what the newspaper called the month-long series that ran in June. "Race relations are being defined less by political action than by daily experience, in schools, in sports arenas, in pop culture and at worship, and especially in the workplace," the editors asserted. The opening piece, about a Pentecostal church's struggles with integration, was a marvel of evenhandedness and empathy. Yet a subsequent article, detailing the creative clashes that went on behind the scenes of The Corner , an HBO miniseries, felt as cramped and inconclusive as its highly paid, hamstrung protagonists. When it comes to race, the article despaired, Hollywood is still a house divided. We don't look to summer movies for big statements about race. Scored to the sound of...

Playing Soldier

Young Hollywood actors like to boast of the hellish basic training they go through to star in war movies like Saving Private Ryan or U-571 . Their stories are always similar. The message is always the same: Playing soldier will make a man of you. The extraordinary French director Claire Denis hired a choreographer, not a retired Marine, to get the cast ready for Beau Travail , her eighth feature film. As enlistees in today's French Foreign Legion, the film's strapping corps of young men--scarred, shaved, and shirtless--are built for action. Yet in these postcolonial times, there's not much action to be found on the African coast of Djibouti, where the story is set. The camera pans across the legionnaires as they carefully iron perfect creases into their dress whites. Their training exercises begin as calisthenics, morph into martial arts, and become a vigorous form of modern dance. Meanwhile, a hulking tank sits nearby, empty and forlorn. The director's sensuous style and...

Long Island Dreamin'

E very weekend of my childhood, it seemed, my parents would pack my sisters and me into the family Montego, and we'd head to Long Island, looking for houses. We children didn't dread the routine, the highway drive from Brooklyn and the perpetually deferred decisions. Instead, we reveled in the fantasy. First we chose which room would be ours; there would be no sharing here. Then we would sweat the details--the relative merits of a cathedral ceiling versus a sunken living room, the pivotal differences between a split-level and a splanch. We never moved. And as time went on, I was glad that Long Island remained always just out of reach. Being from Brooklyn came with its own set of associations, but nothing could be worse than coming from there . Sitcoms and stand-up comedians underlined the message in number two pen-cil: Everybody knows this is nowhere. And many of the most acclaimed films of recent years have kept up the assault. The results were intermittently trenchant, in the case...

What Old Women Remember

T he forbidden love affair between Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim was made for the movies. The setting: World War II Berlin. Lilly, the wife of a German army officer and the mother of four children, met Felice, an aspiring journalist and a Jew. While bombs rained down on Berlin and Lilly's husband was away at the front, the women set up house. At first, Wust, a Nazi sympathizer, didn't know that her lover was Jewish. When she found out, she helped Schragenheim keep up her pretense and shielded several other Jewish women as well. The efforts were for naught; Felice was eventually deported to Theresienstadt and likely died during a forced death march. After the war, Lilly waited in vain for her return. Almost 50 years after her lover was declared dead, Wust revealed the story of their affair and shared their voluminous correspondence with Erica Fischer, a German writer. Her 1994 book Aimée & Jaguar was an immediate best-seller in Germany and has since been translated into 11...

Boogie Nice

F or up-and-coming Hollywood directors, it's a regular stop on the pay-your-respects express: a visit with Billy Wilder, the man generally considered to be the greatest living American film maker, the sardonic impresario who gave the world Some Like It Hot , Sunset Boulevard , and The Apartment . Cameron Crowe made the pilgrimage in 1995. He was there to touch Wilder's hem, of course, and to ask the scrappy 89-year-old, who hadn't directed a film in 14 years, to take a small part in the movie Crowe was about to shoot. Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr., were committed to the cast. The film was Jerry Maguire . And in no uncertain terms, Wilder said no. Later, after the movie had opened to critical wows and a big box office, and was speeding to multiple Oscar nominations, Crowe published an account of this bittersweet meeting in Rolling Stone . The choice was no accident since Rolling Stone is where Crowe made his name. In 1973, when he was only 16 years old, Crowe joined the magazine's...

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