"AS A matter of fact, the public, the public hates to 'recognize' what is familiar. It hates to be disturbed. It is shocked by surprises. The worst that can happen to a work of art is to have no fault found in it, so that its author is not obliged to take up an attitude of opposition."
That was playwright, designer, artist, filmmaker Jean Cocteau, in 1923. I found this remark, and dozens of others, in the fabulous new book Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair. I'll tell more about this collection of essays later in the week.
•BUT as to Cocteau's assertion, I was reminded of it over the weekend when our consistently "artistic" friend, Madonna found herself embroiled in yet another controversy.
The cover of her upcoming album, Rebel Heart, which was hacked and released in demo form -- forcing Madonna to put out six of the completed songs months in advance -- shows The Big M with twine binding her face, emphasizing her view of herself as a "rebel" who has been constricted and disparaged. (She achieved this point more compellingly in her famous "Human Nature" video, some years ago.)
•FANS of the lady then made up their own "rebel art" sending her photos of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela with ropes across their faces. Madonna put these efforts online and immediately found herself accused of being "racist" and, of course, an egomaniac, daring to compare herself to King and Mandela.
Madonna is many things, but a racist she is most assuredly not. She has had African American and Latino lovers as well as adopting two African children from Malawi, David and Mercy. Children, by the way, whom she does not parade like "accessories" as her critics insisted she would do at the time of these adoptions.
Egomaniac? Let's say she has a healthy dose of ego, mixed with a sense of victimization. This makes her exactly like all big stars. (She is also surprisingly vulnerable -- but you'd have to know her, to know that.) And in this world of not thinking before one goes to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, Madonna is no more cautious than hundreds of other public persons and millions of just plain folks. Madonna has now had to address the fake outrage of critics, apologize for any offense, refute charges of being a racist and deny she compares herself in any way to King or Mandela.
Others whom Madonna has wrapped in twine include Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley and Jesus, all of whom, in Madonna's view, fought the good fight, against the odds.
•SOME Madonna fans wish she'd confine her artistic expressions to the recording studio. Silly! Why should she "confine" herself to anything? The six songs she felt forced to release, in the wake of the hack on her material, went straight to number one on itunes in 40 countries. She managed to make lemonade out of lemons. As to the songs themselves, three of them are truly beautiful and much reminiscent of the romantic Madonna of the 1980's and 90s. ("Ghost Town" is particularly affecting.) The other three are dancy and techo-infused. Not my taste. There are six more tracks to come, in March.
I do wish Madonna would get over this business of self-reverential, self-referencing songs. One of the new ones is titled, "Bitch, I'm Madonna!" Honey, we know you're Madonna. Nobody is likely to forget, ever. Relax.
•SPEAKING OF victimization, social media and la publicite, you've got to hand it Sarah Palin. There's nothing dumb or clueless about this woman, no matter what her carefully cultivated image suggests or what her foes insist. Do you think she didn't know exactly what she was doing when she recorded her son Trig using the family dog as a footstool at home, then put the moment on her site? PETA fell right into the trap, slamming her. And Sarah, quicker than you can say Republicans-will-rule-in-2016, slammed back, with a wild, and I have to admit, very funny rant, totally demolishing her foes and thrilling her millions of fans.
I bet that post was written, re-written and burnished to a high gloss well before Palin figured out how much pressure the dog could take.
Thank you again, Senator John McCain.
•CASTING NOTE? We received many complimentary e-mails on our column about Kitt Shapiro and her mother, the late great Eartha Kitt. One fan suggested that "only Rihanna" could play Eartha. And another wrote that if Kitt, as an adult is included in any film of Eartha's life, Lisa Kudrow is the woman to play her!
•THE CURRENT remake of the 1974 James Caan film, The Gambler, which stars Mark Wahlberg as the literary professor with a serious, dangerous gambling addiction, is perhaps not as compelling as the original. But I give it an A for effort. Particularly the effort of Mr.Wahlberg. He is hardly typecast as a teacher -- certainly not an English lit professor. But he does remarkably well, considering his lack of experience in this sort of role. (Not that this professor cares much about his courses or his students.)
My one complaint was the unnecessary, drastic weight loss Mark underwent. I can see how he might have felt his usual pumped up self might have been distracting and out of character, but the actor dieted himself down to a shadow of himself. He looks less like a worried man with gambling debts, and more like a meth addict in the final throws. This is even more distracting than if he'd been his usual muscular self. The performance, however, is excellent.
Jessica Lange appears briefly as Mark's mother. She is splendid, as usual.
•ENDQUOTE: "Oh, you just don't like Seth Rogen!" That's an e-mail (and one of the nicer ones) I received during the imbroglio concerning the cancellation of Sony Pictures The Interview, after threats were made against theatergoers who might attend the film. Well, "freedom rang" and The Interview was released in theaters and online and will probably make a tidy profit. Never mind that cyber experts have serious doubts about North Korea's involvement in the hacking of Sony or in the threats.
As to Rogen -- wrong! I don't "dislike" him. I found him extremely appealing in The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand. And I thought Barbra the best she'd been in years in that comedy.
Rogen made a stupid movie that caused a lot of trouble. But, I'm sure he would likely take refuge in the Jean Cocteau quote that opened this column. So there!