LATINOS & BLACKS IN THE CITIES Policies for the 1990s The plight of blacks and Hispanics in our nation’s inner cities and the effect of urban poverty and crime on society at large are the focus of this new book from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the LBJ Library. Among the policyrnakers and policy analysts who contributed ideas and recommendations are former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, New York Mayor David Dinkins, and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Edited by Harriett D. Romo. $10.00 plus tax and postage/handling. Order from: Office of Publications, LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas e’11:;’ ,..:::%ahlta Una Puhlk 14 4,6:semitt s44 491tt i tC el t i I then fights them for a cut; and Harry Black, corrupt union steward and closet homosexual who is padding his strike accounts in order to finance his liaisons with transvestites. All told, an ingratiating crew. Those quick sketches reflect succinctly Selby’s portrait of ordinary humanity, and his narrative is as unforgiving. At the mercy of Vinnie’s relentless sexual humiliation, Georgette drifts into a drug-induced reverie, a jazz-backed and heroin-laced attempt to deny the undeniably foul taste of Vinnie’s cock. Tralala progresses from free-lance hooking for short-time soldier-boys to the bottom of a bottle, hustling for drinks until, utterly degraded, she offers herself for a gang-bang and is fucked, beaten, and mutilated to death. Harry Black, left destitute by the end of the strike that was his source of cash for sex, tries to pick up a boy in front of the neighborhood bar, with predictable results Vinnie and crew swarm out to beat him to a bloody and contemptible pulp. Undeniably powerful in the rendering, particularly in its use of internal narration for effects never contemplated by Joyce, Exit now seems more a highly personal jeremiad against the author’s old neighborhood than a truth-telling portrait thereof. With the possible exception of the sentimentalized by absurd Georgette, its characters are unrelievedly loathsome, and fully deserve every blow they receive from life and their neighbors. Selby’s caustic moral outrage is that of a precocious adolescent who has just discovered that the world is a terrible place, full of hypocrites, liars, and people who smell bad. He so despises his own creations for their venality and hypocrisy, beating them over the head with Ecclesiastes and Job, that one begins to feel sorry for them, despite their creator’s relentless effort to make us hate them, too. He has locked them up in an overdetermined cage of his own making, and then seems shocked that they behave like beasts. And these self-made moral lepers are for Selby bodily lepers as well; he is revolted at their stink, their scabs and pimples, their physical beings. Not a one but picks her nose but Selby is after her, howling in revulsion and horror, and his disgust at their couplings \(particularly the heterosexual ones, as he is says more about the author than his creatures. The tales of Georgette, Tralala, and Harry are the grim core of Exit, and it’s no surprise that a film version took 25 years to appear, and then only from a European company. In the interim, Selby’s original impact has dimmed, and his vision has faded enough to seem almost antiquated, like his white working-class urban nightmare the cities have since gone dark, literally and figuratively, and his presumptive dismissal of the underclass is now the stuff of op-ed pages. In his defense, it should be said that at least he had been there. \(It is just as well that the filmmakers make no attempt to include Selby’s few black characters they are embarrassingly racist caricatures, and ds such they cast doubt backward on the veracity of writer Desmond Nakano have been visually painstaking in their recreation of the ’50s Brooklyn waterfront, and the screenplay recovers a remarkable amount of the book’s action. Yet their crucial and possibly unavoidable changes in the narrative have resulted in a tepid and sentimentalized revision of the novel’s unrelenting cynicism, its atmospheric reason for being. The film, far from being the wholehearted Inferno envisioned by Selby, is a romanticized elegy to the underclass. It betrays the novel by embracing it. The filmmakers have intelligently structured the film as a coherent narrative, with the strike against the local factory forming the background for the tales of the three main characters, although in the novel the strike is only important to Harry’s story. The change requires certain structural adjustments which are mostly unimportant; the telling revisions are in the new “conclusions” given to each main figure. Georgette, reduced to a stupefied bathos in the novel, is here sacrificially retired by a speeding car. Harry Black, whose brutal comeuppance is seen by Selby as rough and inevitable justice for a wife heater and a phony macho man, is hallowed by the filmmakers into a grotesque and gratuitously literal crucifixion. And the death of Tralala, which in the novel stands as the ultimate evidence of the self-damnation of the whole hellish community is almost comically turned by the filmmakers into a macabre and unbelievable rebirth, into the arms of a weeping and innocent child. \(In the book, the neighborhood kids wait impatiently in line for a chance to mutilate and defile The overall effect is of a comforting and utterly romanticized homage to the novel, that succeeds, after a fashion, only by turning the book on its head. Selby was a consultant to the film, and even has a bit part; presumably he did not object to this honorific travesty, or was simply taken in by its genuflection before presumed literary greatness. Visually quite convincing, the film is shameless in its contradiction of the book’s sensibility at every crucial emotional moment. Rather than the self-destructive brutes Selby created, the film’s major figures are all the uncomprehending victims of tragic social fates, amidst a noble working class oppressed by its capitalist masters and betrayed by its union brethren. \(To Selby, the factory workers are no more than ignorant cartoons who strike out of lassitude and boredom, for whom a strike fund is a slightly more respectable form of welfare. As attentive as he is to the sores and boils on his people, he is wholly without interest in the physical details of factory work, or for that matter in the larger life scuro footage of nighttime strike battles and burning trucks, and a triumphant climax as the victorious strikers return to work at the same moment that a man in the crowd is celebrating the birth of a new son. This final moment may be the film’s sharpest hypocrisy Selby’s male Brooklynites, without exception, brutalize their women and despise their children. The film’s rose-colored translation was perhaps inevitable a straightforward version would never have seen the light of day, and even his sanitized conception is unlikely to find a large audience. It does have two stunning performances, in Stephen Lang’s Harry Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Tralala. \(Leigh is an actress of remarkable range, though she is finally too vivacious to be utterly convincing as the broken-down whore whose only distinguishing characteristics are her enormous tits. Leigh does the film has been created in fealty to a novel that it does not fully understand: one man’s horrifying re-imagination of the interior life of his childhood world, where the men and women seemed gargantuan monsters, smelling of blood and decay. 20 JULY 27, 1990 r. -^,s910!.Aw.mesi ,y.r!t f 64,1_
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