Nobody's Perfect

Anthony Lane

Read November 2005

When Anthony Lane says ``Nobody's Perfect'', he means, of course, with the exception of himself. He doesn't actually say so, but that's because he doesn't need to. It helps to be blessed with such comic sense, such control of language, indeed such damnable confidence, that a few sentences into his writing, his line of thought is amply clear. (This is a line of reasoning that dismisses mere effort: ``the best intentions have a nasty habit of breeding the worst art'' (pg. 394).) Anthony Lane is what happens when Stanely Kaufmann meets the 1990s: cynicism becomes a substitute for learning. Many people will hate this kind of alpha-male writing, for Lane is frequently intolerable and rarely tolerant, but will hopefully still pause to admire its execution.

Whether or not one likes Lane may have something to do with one's taste in the arts. I've always been a Wodehouse-and-Prufrock sort of person, and so, clearly, is Lane, whom he frequently cites (and like whom he is a transplanted Brit with no great love for the Old Country). I've always tended to let my mind wander a little in western art museums, wondering why the people in the pictures look nothing like people around today, despite the obvious genetic influences. So, perhaps, have you. But when Lane describes Julie Delpy (pg. 103) by ``her pallid, thin-armed Cranach looks'', you immediately realize that Lane has cut through five centuries of genetic, sartorial and cosmetic growth and mutation; tell me in all honesty that that phrase does not, instantaneously and searingly, call to mind Cranach's Eve.

Lane fancies himself a bit of a critic, too, a man broadly about town. He pulls this off with some conviction, though in the disaffected tone (and some of the ambit) of a Gatsby. Of cookbooks he says ``the great cookbooks are more like novels than like home-improvement manuals'' (pg. 416), and how can this not immediately remind you of its mirror image, John Lanchester's The Debt To Pleasure? To say Lane probably adores Lanchester is probably false on two levels: first, Lane lives in a post-adoration society, and second, Lane probably is Lanchester, their styles are so alike.

But never mind the bollocks: Lane is a movie critic and, if you like reading about movies more than watching them (as I do), this is a book for you. Having watched (I lapse, sometimes) The Talented Mr. Ripley something kept tearing away at me, and Lane's review nailed it: he felt the Jude Law and Matt Damon characters should have swapped actors. Beneath the verbal jousting, then, Lane is a great critic: he identified a problem I didn't even know existed, and proposed the perfect solution. His review of The Prince of Egypt is a hit-and-run job by someone who knows the rules well enough to know precisely when and how to break them. And just to prove how bloody unpredictable he can be, he refrains from panning Titanic. That's how ornery he is.