Liz Smith: Angela Bassett Shines in “The Mountaintop”

And more from our Gossip Girl: Former ad man Peter Rogers, then and now … David Cronenberg’s new Carl Jung biopic (was E.L. Doctorow’s right?)

“AS A matter of racial pride, we want to be called blacks. Which has replaced the term African-American. Which replaced Negroes. Which replaced colored people. Which replaced darkies. Which replaced blacks.”

This was used by cartoonist Jules Feiffer in one of his perspicacious drawings. I thought of it on the opening night last week of “The Mountaintop,” a play about Dr. Martin Luther King on the eve before his assassination. More on this play further on.

* * *

Peter Rogers

Recently, I was writing here about Janet Jackson in the new “What becomes a legend most?” ads for Blackgama mink.

I noted that the creator of the original advertising slogan, one Peter Rogers, now lives in New Orleans and has a new career as a portrait painter. He disapproves of the new ads and is not an enthusiast when it comes to Janet Jackson.

Lo and behold, this very morning, sorting through my papers, I discover an interesting photograph of my good friend Peter, so I thought you might like to see it. Here he is, posing with a painting of the late socialite and fashion icon Nan Kempner.

* * *

I SEE that there is a new movie coming about the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (to be played by Michael Fassbender) and his “father figure,” Sigmund Freud (to be played by Viggo Mortensen.)

The film is David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.” Critic Graham Fuller in Vanity Fair magazine describes it all as “coolly perverse” and calls it a “new seductive psychodrama.”

I just wondered if the movie will offer up even a fraction of the facts about Jung? These, according to the brilliant writer E. L. Doctorow, explain what a braggart and sexual conquest person Jung became as he fell out with Freud. And I wonder if any of the film deals with Jung’s embrace of spiritualism and pagan mystery cults. There is also his rampant anti-Semitism. (He believed Aryans were heroic and Jews weren’t). Then he embraced Adolf Hitler and later said he was only defending psychoanalysis, yet he is on the record saying, “Hitler is Germany’s only chance!”) Doctorow also tells us that in the end, Jung inherited a fortune, traveled, lectured and died at 86 “revered around the world as modern man’s great guide to self-knowledge.”

You could read all about this in artist Edward Sorel’s celebrated little book with Doctorow, titled “Literary Lives,” from Bloomsbury Publishing in 2006. Herein, these two geniuses examine Leo Tolstoy, Ayn Rand, Marcel Proust, W.B. Yeats, Lillian Hellman, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, George Eliot, Bertold Brecht and Norman Mailer.

None of these writers really come off well in this collector’s item, which caused Doctorow to write:  “Even as I laugh I am made uneasy by Sorel’s wicked send-ups of my fellow tradesmen. I’m of course aware of his cunning in having enlisted me to cover his flank. I must remember to ask what it is about writers that so disappoints him.”

Nevertheless, I don’t want to remember Jung in any good way. And I have, ever since reading Doctorow and observing Sorel’s cartoons, attempted to get my own shrink’s mad-about-Jung crap out of my psyche and mind.

* * *

Well, friends, when the Tony Awards arrive on Broadway, we will surely see actress Angela Bassett coming up onstage to accept for her bravura performance as a waitress who brings the aforesaid Dr. King a cup of coffee in his down-at-the-heels crummy hotel room.

Without giving away its “plot,” one cannot really give the details of this dramatic play written by young Katori Hall. (It already won the Olivier Award in London as a best new work!) And one can never quarrel with Dr. King’s place in the firmament of moving America forward with inspiration. The opening night audience was hysterical with joy and recognition.

But I will just say that having simply adored Angela Bassett when she played the great Tina Turner onscreen, I was severely disappointed in her overwrought difficult-to-understand performance. And I didn’t think she was believable as a low level waitress, myth, angel, or appealing young woman. But if you want to be blown out of your seat, go see her. Most of the audience will always find her “histrionics” of a piece with the important messages of the play.

Samuel Jackson is one of Hollywood’s greats and also one of the most attractive men I’ve ever met. He stands out as the all-too-human Dr. King. He seems born for the stage.

I do think the playwright and maybe the director, Kenny Leon, could have cut the hysterical film-plus-harangue at play’s end, but it sent the audience into screaming approval. (And some of the critics as well.)

This is definitely something to see, pro and con!

One Response so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    The Jungians are good at “dancing around the facts” and my maxim, one given me by a guru who didn’t consider himself a guru, is to avoid the gods and gurus. Particularly the Jungian ones. Reality is Jung was anti-Semitic as were most people of the time in Europe as well as here in America and his anti-Semitism was only worsened by his denial of it.  In his case it was both societal and personal and the personal obviously rooted in his feelings towards Freud. In itself an interesting study in interpersonal psychodynamics. Then there is his misogyny which is denied by Jungians but quite evident nonetheless in his attitudes towards women.  Something he shared with Freud.  Which in both cases again went beyond the societal.  The last time I went to a psychiatrist which was the last time I ever will go to a psychiatrist I spent $10,000 to discover that the person stalking me was not a nice person. I already knew that. I wanted to know what it was about me that attracted someone who would stalk me.  The psychiatirst didn’t know. I could have spent the $10,000 on something else. Like Godiva. I would later discover that “kindred spirits” are good for the wounded soul. But so is Godiva.  As for the “what and why” I realized “what and why”
    when I remembered something my grandmother told me once. About good seeds and bad seeds. Good seeds attract bad seeds.  Part of life. My grandmother did not believe in psychiatry. But did believe in chocolate.  Wise woman.

    As for his concepts another reality is that most were “borrowed” from the African tribes he spent time with Africa. I suspect something got lost in the translation.