A family holiday with David Mamet

David Mamet’s reputation seems to have taken a bit of a nosedive in recent years. His “coming out” as an unapologetic free market conservative may have something to do with this. I have always had somewhat mixed feelings about what I have seen of Mamet – which in my case is exclusively cinematic, specifically Glengarry Glen Ross (of course) and State & Main. While both are interesting (no more damning phrase!), and Glengarry Glen Ross is highly powerful in its depiction of a certain kind of desperate male brutality, I must admit to finding both a little too mannered and stylised.

 

However, one of the things I like about Mamet is the sudden, rather unexpected touches. Indeed, his recent public political conservative leanings mark him out quite starkly from his peers. Aside from this, there always has seemed a strain rather counter to what we expect from “Mamet” the public figure, as opposed to Mamet the actual person.

From a 1994 New York Times profile of David Mamet:

YOU may not think of David Mamet, the prolific author of angrified and angrifying plays and films, as an insecure fellow. But there was a day not so long ago, he says, that in an agonizing fit of self-doubt, he sought out his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, an actress and singer, and in a sort of desperate way, proclaimed his consuming love for her. What, he asked, could have persuaded her to marry him, save him from himself, miserable wretch that he obviously was?

“She looked at me,” Mr. Mamet says, shifting his mimicry from his own earnest pleading to his wife’s deadpan. “And she said, ‘Well, I don’t know, you seemed like a nice guy.’ ”

It’s a funny story for Mr. Mamet to tell on himself, a twinkly-eyed acknowledgment of his reputation as difficult, thorny and impatient. But then, you might not think of Mr. Mamet, a native Chicagoan, as a homebody either, or as a lover of quietude, isolation and coziness. And that’s what comes across here. The center of his universe is a lonely hilltop farmhouse that he shares with Ms. Pidgeon, his wife of three years, and their tiny daughter, Clara, who was born on Sept. 29.

 

Mamet’s prose is clear and limpid and one cannot accuse him of obfuscation. Recently I came across a Picador anthology, Worst Journeys from 1991. Edited by Keith Fraser, it has a Canadian tilt. It’s quite a mixed bag, but I enjoyed Mamet’s piece on a family holiday. And like the above NYT profile, it has passages that seem quite un-Mametlike, if all you know of Mamet is Glengarry Glen Ross:

I thought: we are an Urban people, and the Urban solution to most any problem is to do more: to find something new to eat in order to lose weight; to add a sound in order to relax, to upgrade your living arrangements in order to be comfortable, to buy more, to eat more, to do more business. Here, on the island, we had nothing to do. Everything had been taken away but the purely natural.

We got tired as the sun went down, and active when it rose; we were treated to the rhythm of the surf all day; the heat and salt renewed our bodies.

We found that rather than achieving peace by the addition of a new idea (quality time, marital togetherness, responsibility), we naturally removed the noise and distractions of a too-busy life, and so had no need of a new idea. We found that a more basic idea sufficed: the unity of the family.

 

It seems a little churlish to point out that family whose unity Mamet is extolling is in fact a prior one to the NY Times profile above – and in any case the point about the modern drive to do more and more, even turning doing less into doing more, still stands.

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