Published on: March 23, 2012
I have a wonderful book to suggest to you this weekend. Jeff Greenfield, the longtime political analyst and writer, is out with a book entitled “Then Everything Changed,” which carries the descriptive subtitled, “Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics.” And that’s what I would call truth in advertising.
Greenfield starts with the premise that events often hinge on small decisions, and that with just a minor variation in thought or behavior, the history of the nation might be completely different. Case in point: After John F. Kennedy was elected president, a crazy person went to Palm Beach, Florida, to kill him. He parked in front of the house where Kennedy was staying one Sunday morning - security was a lot more lax then - and was planning to blow him up when Kennedy left for church...and only hesitated when Jacqueline kennedy came to the door with daughter Caroline to say goodbye to him. This guy did not want to kill Kennedy in front of his wife and child, and so he decided to wait - and then was apprehended several days later before he could assassinate the president-elect.
This, apparently, is all true. But Greenfield constructs a narrative around an alternative series of events - Jackie Kennedy does not come to the door, the assassination takes place, and suddenly the country is thrown into constitutional turmoil, Lyndon B. Johnson becomes president, and the early Sixties take on a very different character. It is fascinating stuff.
In addition, Greenfield poses two other tantalizing possibilities:
• What if Bobby Kennedy had not been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan?
• What would have happened if Gerald Ford had recovered from a flub he made during a debate with Jimmy Carter and had won the 1976 presidential election?
In each case, Greenfield spins fascinating and intricate yarns, steeped in a comprehensive knowledge of American politics and politicians, as well as a ton of personal experience. (Greenfield worked for RFK during the sixties.)
It is a terrific book, and I found it riveting.
I was less thrilled by a movie I saw last weekend - Friends With Kids
. I really wanted to like it - it has been weeks since there had been a movie out that I’d wanted to see, and I was in the mood for a comedy.
But Friends With Kids
ultimately disappointed. The actors are an attractive and talented bunch - especially Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm and Ed Burns. It also featured a reunion of actors (Kristen Wiig, Chris O’Dowd, Hamm) who were in Bridesmaids
, which I loved last year. I like and have some familiarity with the subject matter. And I’m always happy to see films directed by women (Westfeldt wrote and directed it).
In the end - and maybe I am showing my age on this - I found that whatever charms the movie had were subverted with potty mouth dialogue that was distracting and dismaying. It could have been so much better with crackling, sophisticated dialogue, but instead the filmmakers went for the profane - and they lost me. That’s a shame, because Friends With Kids
could have been a first-rate romantic comedy.
I do have a lost movie gem to recommend, however - albeit one that you can only see by using Netflix’s streaming service (it is not available on DVD). Check out 1978’s The Big Fix
, based on the Roger L. Simon novel about a former Berkeley radical turned seventies private eye named Moses Wine. It is a clever and well-acted update on the old Raymond Chandler oeuvre, with a terrific performance (one of his best) by Richard Dreyfuss as Wine. There’s great supporting turns by Susan Anspach, Bonnie Bedelia, John Lithgow, Fritz Weaver, F. Murray Abraham and, in a tiny little role that you’ll miss if you blink, a very young Mandy Patinkin. Great score by Bill Conti, fast-paced direction by Jeremy Kagan - I cannot say enough good things about The Big Fix
. It was not a great success when it came out, but it should have been ... and it should have led to a series of Moses Wine films. As it is, we have to settle for just the one...but it is a terrific one.
My wine of the week: the 2010 Concertum Albarino, an intense and aromatic white wine that is wonderfully tasty. It is, BTW, one of this month’s offerings from the MNB Wine of the Month Club, powered by Nicholas Roberts Ltd. and available if you click here
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...and I’ll see you Monday.