Swine in Hollywood, suffering in Siberia, small mercies and vegetables


Swine in Hollywood, suffering in Siberia, small mercies and vegetables

KERNEELS BREYTENBACH ended his year the way it started: with his nose buried in a book.


DAVID Mamet is a difficult guy. He is 76, he still works in Hollywood as a director, screenwriter and producer. He says his political sympathies are to the right of the woke brigades, to the left of Trump. When it comes to his opinions on matters political, one suspects he is either wilful or myopic. But that's his problem.


His book Everywhere an Oink Oink won't make him many friends among the new generation of filmmakers. One need look no further than the subtitle An Embittered, Dyspeptic, and Accurate Report of Forty Years in Hollywood to know he's a complainer.

But he is the creator of one of my favorite films, Heist. I packed away the DVD in velvet and rewatch and enjoy it annually. That's the reason I bought Everywhere an Oink Oink.

Mamet wrote the scripts for various other movies on my list of favourites: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, Were No Angels, Wag the Dog, Hannibal and Things Change. Add to these about 50 plays, including Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna and The Anarchist.

Mamet is no lightweight. It's just that in Everywhere an Oink Oink he picks fights with Hollywood's people, especially those he considers stupid. As a playwright and screenwriter, his premise is that it's not his job to teach people that one shouldn't take anything at face value — your job is to remind them. They already know it.

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The book is loaded with anecdotes and stories that previously only hovered in the sphere of gossip but are now gaining more substance. Mamet is an eyewitness and eavesdropper. (And it's nice to hear, in between everything, that Debra Winger had a blackjack table going during the making of her last big movie, Black Widow, and that Mamet got pretty rich from it one day.)

He knows plays and movies are simultaneously realism and fantasy, and that they charm people because they identify with things in them but never have to experience the shame and pain themselves. The flip side is that the plays and movies are made by people who aren't consumer friendly. Liars, scammers and underlings whose next career move might be to become politicians.

And he has a talent for popping aphorisms. Especially about stupid producers and directors. He recounts a meeting with Scott Rudin (producer) and Mike Nichols (director) about a script Mamet had written and that they wanted to film, except they hated the ending. Mamet abandoned the project but did not berate Nichol and Rudin for their interpretation of his script. Why not? “Because they don't know why it works."

He quotes Nichols elsewhere about why it's cool when a director sleeps with one of the actresses. It's as if Harvey Weinstein didn't register with him. And then another observation arrives that puts everything into perspective. Mamet is witty and he believes in a greater ethic, unlike the pig from Miramax.

(Weinstein crosses paths with Mamet and Mamet doesn't get along with him. Why does Mamet walk away? Because Weinstein doesn't understand how a script works.)

Essentially, Everywhere an Oink Oink is an analysis and homage to the people in the film industry. Mamet understands the hidden gears contained in the concept of “film set" and he has respect for everyone's roles and their ingenuity in keeping the gears turning. It is the people up there — the lenders, investors and diverse egomaniacs on the economic periphery — that he attacks with his stories.

I really enjoyed the book, even though the enjoyment came with the realisation that we won't see much more of him.

Everywhere an Oink Oink by David Mamet was published by Simon & Schuster and costs $25.19 at Amazon.

Siberian friendship

Andreï Makine is a Russian writer who migrated to France on the wings of perestroika, and through French translations of his work, as well as new French publications, established himself as one of the great figures in French and world literature. As one must read Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, also be sure to read and reread Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers (translation published in 1997).

My Armenian Friend is a moving way to get acquainted with an exceptional writer and a world that few people outside the borders of the old Soviet Union would know about. Set in Siberia in the Seventies, it is about a 13-year-old Russian who takes care of an Armenian boy who, due to his otherness and sensitivity, becomes the target of bullies. Through their friendship, the boy, Vardan, frees the narrator in a different way — giving him insight into people and relationships that otherwise would have taken a lifetime to obtain. One of those books that doesn't want to end. In hindsight it gets a place on your special shelf.

My Armenian Friend by Andreï Makine was published by Mountain Leopard and costs R220 at Loot.

Moved and angry

People who have read Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, or seen the film version, will know he's not an adventure writer. He is in many ways a literary writer in the same way as Chris Karsten of Op pad na Moormansgat. For Lehane, it's the fullness of his characters that matters. Quietly, he explores the larger context of criminality and the social structures in poor neighbourhoods. An Irish woman, Mary Pat Fennessy, and a black woman, Dreamy Williamson, both lose their children in one night. The black woman's son is murdered and the white woman's son disappears into the arms of Boston's Irish gangsters. Small Mercies simultaneously moves you and angers you. I bought it in June but didn't read it until after Christmas. It was the most special conclusion possible to my reading year. And Mary Pat is such an enormous character, I can't wait for them to make a film. Starring Frances McDormand, if we're lucky.

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane was published by Little, Brown and costs R365 at Exclusive Books.

Veggies and memories

Two loves are at play here: Hetty Lui McKinnon's love for her father, the late Wai Keung Lui, who worked in Sydney's vegetable market, and her passion for vegetables and fruit. I bought the book for the recipes. The story of her memories with her father is a bonus. If you need an interesting angle for the great pleasures of vegetarian meals, here it is. Start at the back of the book at the Za'atar Zucchini Ramen Noodles. Your mouth lives happily with the taste for hours.

Tenderheart by Hetty Lui McKinnon was published by Random House and costs R899 at Loot.

♦ VWB ♦

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