Wendy Lesser

Wendy Lesser is the founding editor of The Threepenny Review and writes regularly on film
for the Prospect. She is the author of The Amateur and several other books of non-fiction.

Recent Articles

Biographia Literaria: Just a Story

S ometime in the early 1980s, when I was still a graduate student in English at UC-Berkeley, I received an invitation from a member of my dissertation committee. He and his wife were having a dinner party for a visiting writer, a much-lionized British novelist who was spending a week or two on the Berkeley campus as a Regents' Lecturer. Was I familiar with the novels, and would I like to come to dinner? Yes, indeed, to both questions. And could I, I asked, please bring my -- well, whatever word we were using in those days for the man you lived with but hadn't yet married. (I think the current phrase was some acronym derived from census-taking jargon, but I couldn't swear to it. All I know is that we were past "boyfriend," past "significant other," but not yet into "partner.") There was a slight hesitation at the other end of the phone line -- Did they lack adequate seating? Did they fear that a sociologist wouldn't know how to converse with literary types? What, exactly, was that...

Insufficient Evidence

I don't understand why everybody is making such a fuss over In the Bedroom , Todd Field's first feature-length movie. The film has a few surprisingly good moments, but these are vastly outweighed by its creakinesses, its unlikelihoods, and its forced, false emotions. It deals with a subject--the murder of a beloved only child--that is almost destined to fail if it does not rise uncannily above itself, and given this choice, In the Bedroom opts repeatedly for failure. That it should do so is comprehensible and perhaps even honorable (as ambitious failures are often honorable), but it does not make for a coherent, aesthetically satisfying, emotionally rewarding artistic experience. In the Bedroom is actually three movies bundled into one, and like its youthful hero, each of the three gets cut off in its prime. First there is the Maine-local-color movie, a portrait of the seaside town of Camden, with undertones of harshness and potential violence shimmering through the wealth of natural...

Tradecraft

T he quality of most American movies released lately has been so low that Spy Game stands out as a significant pleasure. This Robert Redford-Brad Pitt vehicle is not a film for the ages--I may well have forgotten all about it by next year--but it does its self-assigned job very well. It is an example of good craftsmanship that is also about good craftsmanship, and that confluence of medium and message affords its own special kind of satisfaction. The craft that Spy Game takes as its subject is spying, and at the heart of the film are the sections devoted to the details of "tradecraft" (to borrow John Le Carré's term). If you do not find such details scintillating, you will probably be bored or mildly confused by the movie. But if you care about the precise methods of deception and coordination and evasion and rescue practiced by a century of fictional spies, from John Buchan's to Eric Ambler's to Le Carré's, you will feast on the training and action sequences director Tony Scott...

The Shallows

The Deep End is nowhere near as good as all the other critics said it was. It is not a bad movie, as late-summer offerings go, but it is a highly implausible one. And though implausibility is not enough to ruin a movie, not even a thriller ( Vertigo, which is practically all implausibility, triumphs precisely for that reason), you know that something is wrong when you find yourself picking apart the unlikelihoods. As I watched Tilda Swinton haul the dead man's body into the family motorboat and then dump it on the shallow edge of Lake Tahoe--a glacial lake so deep that anything sunk in its center would never be recovered--I wondered how she could possibly have missed the useful instruction contained in the title of her own movie. I can see what David Siegel and Scott McGehee--who co-directed and co-wrote the film--were trying to do with The Deep End; why they cast Swinton in the mother's role, why they chose to make the child at risk a homosexual son, and why they selected the...

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