Book Review: Recessional by David Mamet

The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch

David Mamet is a good writer. That is not to say that he is a brilliant writer. I think not. Although, his plays might be considered so. Who can doubt the brilliance of Glengarry Glen Ross or The Verdict or Wag the Dog. However, these little essays of three or four pages each fall flat. And they are loaded with misinformation, lies, and incorrect conclusions. He sometimes gets his facts right but draws the wrong conclusions. I could disagree with him more on some of these points but I don’t see how. Mr. Mamet seems to have lost his way if not his mind.

There are a few things in the book that do I agree with, and one or two things that I actually identify with. But for the most part it is poppycock.

Here is what I like and agree with:

He says, and I quote: “…works that I have found helpful writing drama: Aristotle’s Poetics. Campbell’s, Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

I have both of these books in my library and have always wanted to read them. I will now be putting them on my TBR list.

“Each characterization of the hero…that does not jibe with our self image takes us out of the story. An invaluable understanding for the story teller.”

And an invaluable lesson for the writer as well.

“The script exists to describe to the cameraman what to shoot and to tell the actors what to say. Everything else is besides the point…The nature of a script is a recipe.”

Very sensible.

“We human beings are a bad lot. Unchecked, we divide into predators and food.”

“Great paintings and music can inspire, suggest, soothe, thrill, but they cannot teach, Neither can literature. The arts exit, as does religion, to touch those portions of the human soul beyond the corruption of consciousness.”

OK, you had me all the way up to that last sentence. What exactly is the “corruption of consciousness?”
“Most plays are no damned good. The only way to write a play is to write a lot of plays…To write a good play requires talent. There is not a lot of it around.”

“…The journey of the writer and that of the hero are one and the same. Both are forced to make difficult choices.”

“I was raised in the horror of the Chicago public schools…I didn’t learn a goddamn thing. It might have helped my grades if not my education if I ever opened a school book, but I was bored to catatonia…but outside of school hours, I read voraciously and was certainly better read than the teachers.”
Now, this I can relate to. I had the same experience going to public schools. But I went to 14 schools in 12 years. My father was a Navy man and I transferred schools quite frequently as we moved around the country whenever my dad got new orders. I did however manage to get a pretty good education, even thought I was bored out of my mind much of the time.

“Samuel Beckett was the greatest dramatist since Shakespeare.”

No argument here. I would add perhaps Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.

“What is art for? It has no use. No more than a sunset…Art has no purpose, but it has a use (direct contradiction, but I know what he means). The oyster cannot use the pearl (cue Steinbeck). Observers may admire its beauty, but that does not allow them to understand the pearl, beauty, or the oyster.”

Now, for what I don’t like:

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war. The offer of Freedom (American constitutional democracy) is at issue, and the tyranny of the left displays the carrot and the stick to a legitimately disturbed populace.”
I think the tyranny is on the right and not on the left. And there is ample evidence to support this contention. But I won’t use up valuable space here to refute it. Suffice it to say, I beg to differ. Domestic terror attacks emanate from the right far more than they do from the left.

There is another place in the book at the beginning where Mr. Mamet makes the argument that the left tried to steal the election. This is patently untrue and is rather the other way around. Has he forgotten about the January 6th insurrection when the members of the right-wing stormed the capitol in a failed to overthrow the government? Bill Maher called him out on this on his show and Mamet just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Skip that page.” Unfortunately, he makes similar statements and arguments throughout the book. We should perhaps skip the entire book.

House of Games (1987)

Movie Blurb

House of Games (1987)

Written and directed by David Mamet, starring Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna. This movie was pretty much universally praised when it came out in 1987. It is currently rated 7.3 on IMBD. Roger Ebert, no less, rated it four stars out of four and gave it a glowing review. I’m going to give it a six out of ten.

While I liked the film, and had a favorable impression of it when I first saw it in 1987, I don’t feel like it stands the test of time. It is well crafted, but so is a finely made piece of furniture. I can see the seams and joints and that seems to take away from my overall impression. I want to get lost in the action of the picture and not see the woof and worf.

House of Games is about a den of con artists. And while it is fascinating to see the cons work their magic, I couldn’t help but notice seeing them coming. And it is hard to imagine the central character being so gullible, after having participating in a con herself, not seeing the con being played on her. But I guess that is the beauty of the con, it’s human nature to want to believe it.

Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna in House of Games

I loved how the film looked. Very noirish. Seattle at night with neon lights reflected in puddles of water and steam rising from man hole covers. Nice atmosphere!

Lots of Mamet’s patented rapid-fire dialogue, which can sound a little stilted and stagy at times.  If only Mamet had succeeded in conning me into believing what he was selling. He already conned me out of my money for the price of a ticket.

House of Games is part of the Criterion Collection and is available on Amazon.