Thursday, February 03, 2005

Alessandra Stanley, Patrick Goldstein Grace The NYT and LAT

The New York Times television critic, Alessandra Stanley, and Los Angeles Times cultural writer Patrick Goldstein have emerged as both important and independent at their respective newspapers. Unlike many others in the NYT Arts and LAT Calendar sections, their articles are not always predictable.

Stanley has done many things in her career, even having written abroad. Her article Feb. 2 on what she called Johnny Carson's "Long Late-Night Shadow," pointed out effectively how Carson retired more than a decade ago, but still it seems everyone in late night television seems bound to keep doing what he did.

There is usually just a small touch of the sardonic in Stanley, but it's more charming than a sneer. Here, she writes, "Mr. Carson, whose death on Jan. 23 was treated in newscasts with the same consequence as a major space launch or a presidential address, was a little like John F. Kennedy or Toscanini, a matchless exemplar who spawned legions of irritating imitations."

Stanley like the NYT's outstanding chief book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, avoids the stereotyped liberalism that seems to mark Frank Rich's writing. In short, she is more credible than the happily retired Howard Rosenberg ever was as a television critic. More power to her.

Patrick Goldstein too is not ideologically hidebound. His article Feb. 1, "Eastwood Goes The Distance," is another example of his pleasing, provocative writing. Whenever I see him, I always know it is going to be worth reading.

This examination of Clint Eastwood's originality, his stamina, how he is at the top of his game while well into his 70s. is a joy to read, and also, I think, quite a significant subject.

Goldstein picks his topics well and they seem natural to him. Unlike David Shaw, who could have become a fulltime restaurant, food and wine critic a long time ago, Goldstein always seems to know just what he should be writing about and he has the range to be a constant delight. (A later addendum: Shaw's column on Sunday, Feb. 6, in Calendar on the Fullerton high school newspaper editor relieved by small minded school administrators for writing an article about two bisexual students and a homosexual student was truly excellent. He can be very good on his traditional journalistic subjects and was Sunday).

To get back to Goldstein, he sets up his Eastwood analysis well by referring to John Ford, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder as exemplars of this sentence: "With age comes wisdom, but not always the strength to execute it." Eastwood, in his 70s, both has the wisdom and, as the tremendous film, "Million Dollar Baby" shows, the stamina to execute it.

Of course, Eastwood also knows how to pick women that will complement his talents. Is there any more glamorous woman in the movies today than Hilary Swank? She is a tremendous match for Eastwood, and his actions toward her are clearly an act of love and sexy as hell. (My friend, producer David Wolper, also had this talent: he never chose a woman to appear who wasn't wonderful to look at).

Goldstein, like Eastwood, has the courage to be himself. He knows what not to write about, so he wisely skipped this silly controversy over whether Eastwood was politically incorrect in his attitudes in Million-Dollar Baby..

I know that certain writers, like Stanley and Goldstein, are good at what they do, but might not be good in everything. Still, I can't resist the thought that both would make better editorial page editors at the LAT than Michael Kinsley. I got a comment on the last blog from a Midwestern journalist who wondered how the intelligent and able John Carroll as editor of the LAT, ever came to pick Kinsley. Maybe, Carroll ought to give Goldstein an editorial page tryout.


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