Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Friday, March 16, 2007


I have finished Regards: The Selected Nonfiction of John Gregory Dunne.

It is a fascinating book on numerous levels. In one sense it is foil to Didion's work. The two wrote screenplays together, and her acid observations about the workings of Hollywood are corroborated in his essays. Both were absorbed in the mechanics of dealmaking, the people and places and false fronts. Being writers, nay, married writers, they were like x-rays, seeing through to the bones and reporting, most often witheringly. But where Didion made her name in the definitive if slightly obsfucating sentence, Dunne tells it straight. On Pauline Kael, he writes:

"Reading her is like reading Lysenko on genetics--fascinating, unless you know something about genetics." (253)

Further: "It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmaking that prevails in all of Kael's books." (255) The monstrous Julia Phillips, producer-cokehead-author of You'll never eat lunch in this town again, exhibited "... a pointlessly agressive verbal style, compounded by a voice that could cut metal." (268)

For those of us endlessly interested in the lives of Didion Dunne, there is much material, here from John's viewpoint. Rare is the opportunity to read one gifted writer's version of domestic events, only to find the spouse's equally deft response. For Joan's famous "In Bed," the primer on migraine, Dunne counters with "Dealing," the story of their ill-starred interaction with director George Hill. Didion and Dunne were called in to write the screenplay of John Le Carre's Little Drummer Girl. Negotiations broke down largely over Hill's notorious parsimony. When the Didion Dunnes refused to budge over what was by then a ridiculous moot point, Hill displayed his admiration of their grit by mailing them a case of wine totaling $756.

Alas, Dunne writes:

"The sad thing is that neither my wife nor I will ever be able to drink a single drop ... We both have migraines, and red wine is a migraine trigger." (64) He later mentions Julia Phillips' raid on their medicine chest. Phillips gleefully thought herself in the company of fellow junkies. Dunne made no attempt to dissuade her; instead ruefully noting the crammed medicine chest is populated with failed headache remedies.


Covering the Chavez Grape strike in Delano, California, Dunne wrote:

"The insatitable appetites of instant communication have necessitated a whole new set of media ground rules, predicated not only on the recording of fact but also on the projection of glamour and image and promise. The result of this cultural nymphomania is that we have become a nation of ten-minute celebrities. People, issues, and causes hit the charts like rock groups, and with approximately as much staying power." (97)

Incredibly, he wrote this in 1971. He lived long enough to see the internet, the explosion of telecommunications and cell telephones; he wrote of giving way to the laptop. Yet he remained a classically educated man, one of "the silent generation," born between wars one and two, too young to be affected by WWII but too old to catch the youthful fire of the sixites. In a way, he was one of the last of his kind, a writer who noted everything lest the material present itself later, a man of wide curiousity who wrote as engagingly about baseball as he did a trip to the Los Angeles Morgue. The ability to comment intelligently on such a breadth of material is increasingly rare; the writers of his generation are dying off, only to be replaced by niche purveyors.

Whether this is a commentary on education, the nature of media then and now, or the kinds of people we are interested in reading I leave to you.


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