Kulchur for the Masses


Kulchur for the Masses Bringing Down the House By Richard P Brickner Scubners 246 pp $6 95 Reviewed by Eugenie Bolger New Yorkers may sometimes suspect that lite has become one long Culture...

...Kulchur for the Masses Bringing Down the House By Richard P Brickner Scubners 246 pp $6 95 Reviewed by Eugenie Bolger New Yorkers may sometimes suspect that lite has become one long Culture Klatsch The city's museums and concert halls are packed tins of humanity, its downtown area is a buffet of theaters and galleries, every new avant-garde morsel is swallowed whole by at least part ot the public, fads are passed around like trays of cakes at a morning coffee And now Richaid P Bnckner has projected this metropolitan madness on the entire nation, with uproarious results Bunging Down the House pictures the traditionally quiet American hinterland—where the major cultural institution has been the local bar —as suddenly teeming with amateur aitists and keyboard clubs (associations of novelists, not musicians) The deKooning has replaced the Rolls Royce as the ultimate in automotive luxury, and James Joyce's Porn ait of the Artist as a Young Man is sold at supermarkets along with vocal scores of Moses and Aaion Only a tew holdouts, clinging tightly to their comic books, wage a furtive guerrilla war against the prevailing culturemama In "the Heartland of Artland" (Butte County, South Dakota), God-dard Moss, an elderly, muse-ndden millionaire, is building a huge monument to the arts named Culture City A Lincoln Center run amok, it has theaters, concert halls, an opera house, museums, hotels, restaurants, boutiques, its own transportation system, paintings on the sidewalks, and a vast covered amphitheater with a root strong enough to seal out a sonic boom It also has one of the world's least appealhng artistic ad-ministi ators Alastair Hughes, a former critic turned executive, whose character finds visual expression in his flabby physique Together, Hughes and Moss gather the talent and plan the piograms that will raise Culture City full-grown from the Midwestern plains Amid a snarl ot bureaucratic problems (Who gets first call on tickets9 How does one arrange the seating for the opening banquet when both the President of the United States and the Pope are attending9) and a storm of temperaments, Culture City's artists pass in review Ira Woo, an underground filmmaker whose movies demonstrate that man is "the Lowest of the Animals," is chosen to head the art cinema Tristram Tate, a former football coach turned theatrical director, wears his helmet to rehearsals "as protection in a pileup, it the company mutinies " Herb Low Dog, a militant Indian architect, designs a theater in the shape of a tomahawk, and an activist black actor, Jonah Barrymore, demands equal representation for Negroes in the repertory company, as well as money to fund a "Great Black Way " Then there is Olympia Swayze, whose choreography strives tor acmes of immobility, ecstasies ot stillness," and the painter Nevsky, who invents a new school ot art almost daily Rounding out the cast is the beautiful nymphomaniac actress Ivy Lapp, with her collection of pornographic furniture and games that would raise an eyebrow even on 42nd Street But the central figure is playwright Gregory Lubin, a desperate warrior in the battle against mass culture Commissioned to do the inaugural work for Culture City's repertory company, he conceives Confusion's Masteipiece, a play that will demolish every premise the city is founded on How he writes it, why he writes it, and what happens at its first performance shape the plot Around this, Brickner arranges the incidental characters and events that contribute the novel's zamest moments There is so much in these pages to delight and satisfy, it seems ungrateful to ask for more Yet satire, like fencing, is a stringent form In addition to an exaggerated posture, it demands extraordinarily fine control and rapier-shaip phrasing Unfortunately, Bnckner's approach is more often energetic than elegant, he has a tendency to go in swinging and let the words fall where they may And when so much depends upon delivering a quick thrust, unnecessary verbiage is costly Bringing Down the House also suffers from an inconsistency of tone Halfway through the book, while the farce is rolling merrily along, Lubin falls in love with a stewardess Despite her lack of education, she displays all the "openness, sympathy, wit, and humor" literature (and the arts) are supposed to bestow Her honesty is meant to contrast favorably with the general foolishness, and the romantic interlude represents what ought to be, as opposed to what is The lovers, however, are far less convincing than the aberrant artists and dilettantes who surround them It is a relief when we are returned to the melee of Culture City's opening night In the final third of the novel, written allegro funoso, one senses an inventive glee propelling the author on to ever more outrageous and hilarious devices Words are spared and incidents run not, climaxing m a Cecil B DeMille extravaganza, as spectacular as Samson and Dehlah with Victor Mature bringing down the temple, and a thousand times funnier Indeed, the whole book is crammed with the kinds of scenes that cry out for movie treatment I hope someone does make a film of it, I'm sure it would bring down the house...

Vol. 55 • May 1972 • No. 9

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