Liz Smith: Viewing and Reading Suggestions for These Cold Winter Nights: “Red Tails” … Agent 6 … Child 44
“Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
This is the great movie maker George Lucas, who is sick and tired of “Star Wars” fans criticizing him and popcorn movies in general. He is quoted in The New York Times magazine saying he will retire from big-budget movies in favor of smaller, experimental projects.
You can read all about the latest movie hit from Lucas: the thrilling “Red Tails,” a heroic depiction of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. It’s an aviation epic in the old style.
I personally met some of the last of the Tuskegee veterans when I was at a party not too many years ago with the great Lena Horne, who was their idol. These daring black airmen were held up to reverential acclaim by another pilot, the late “Tex” McCrary.
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JUDGING FROM the bestselling books of fiction listed this week, more Americans than ever are reading thrillers: books about detectives and sleuths of all stripes, an abundance of serial killers, and horrid murderers. These current hit novels abound with adventures, problems to be solved and all the basics of pass-the-time “literature.” And, as I am the guiltiest of all these readers, I do want to recommend a writer who has “upped” the genre.
Tom Rob Smith has written a new book called Agent 6, which, amazingly, is partially set in New York City. But its basic timeline and genre is of ordinary people in the Soviet Russian nightmare of our recent years — just before and after the death of Stalin and post-Chernobyl. In them, the KGB is still torturing and controlling and most of the Russian people survive in crowded, horrible living situations, spying and lying about their neighbors to survive.
Those of us who visited Russia when it was under Communist Soviet rule know this was an era ripe with absolutism, the fear of everyday citizens, absurd propaganda and desperate despotism. The writer, Mr. Smith already wrote about all this in Child 44. He seems to know the time well.
Agent 6 — the new book — is a kind of P.S. follow up. Its anti-hero is a Kafkaesque type, a functionary practicing Soviet police methods. All this has been compared to Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I find it much more realistic and mesmerizing in its plot. It’s not the U.S. and the British counterintelligence versus the U.S.S.R., but Russia against itself.
Amazon has made the titles Best Book of the Month picks, and I have seen excellent reviews from Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, the Dallas Morning News and Publisher’s Weekly.
I don’t want to leak anything else about Mr. Smith’s talent, so suggest you read Child 44 first and follow it, quickly, with Agent 6. (If you know any history, you will recognize the character in this part of the story as being based on the great American singer, Paul Robeson.)
After reading these two authentic novels, you can go back, if you insist, to what I call the ultimate non-rewarding types of thrillers about vampires. Although, I’ll be damned if I know what these so-called creatures have done that’s new since Bram Stoker’s original Dracula. I haven’t figured out why the supernatural is more popular than recent outrageous history.
I have never forgotten my longtime friend Elaine Stritch’s verdict on Dracula, because before I met her, she was all over the U.S. with Bela Lugosi in person, starring as the ingenue in the play after the original black and white movie hit.
In those days, actors learned their roles by studying half pages of paper called “sides.” I asked Elaine, “What was it like?”
Elaine quipped. “Liz, I had six sides of screams!”
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I GUESS you’ve had it with me nattering on about political situations, but I do suggest you read Time magazine’s new article (Jan. 30th issue) by Simon Shuster asking “Can This Man Save Russia?” Alexei Navalyn might be in jail as you read this, but he is the blogmeister who has set Russia aflame against Vladimir Putin.