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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Profane Poet - David Mamet - Reviewed by JEREMY McCARTER

The apotheosis of David Mamet comes near the start of the movie version of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Alec Baldwin — hair slicked back, pocket square peaking just so — unleashes a furious, seven-minute tirade against some underperforming real estate salesmen. “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado,” he says of a sadistic new contest to increase business. “Second prize is a set of steak knives. ... Third prize is you’re fired.” After insulting his listeners’ manhood, competence and just about every other attribute that can be impugned with a well-aimed profanity, Baldwin caps the presentation by extracting from his briefcase and brandishing a pair of huge brass balls.

Thomas Victor

David Mamet in 1978.


A Life in the Theatre.

By Ira Nadel.

278 pp. Palgrave Macmillan. $26.95.

Terse lyricism, vicious comedy, masculinity that’s at once aggressive and pathetic, lots and lots of swear words: virtually every facet of the Mamet persona gets a note or two in this aria of testosterone. It says a great deal for this speech and others like it in his fierce early works (“American Buffalo,” “Edmond,” “Speed-the-Plow”) that his public profile even now remains that of a swaggering, foul-mouthed Chicagoan, despite a couple of decades’ worth of work that tells a more complicated story.

Although it’s long been the privilege of major American playwrights to wander off the reservation, Mamet has done so more aggressively than most. What was once a side business in Hollywood has become something closer to a full-time occupation. In addition to writing some two dozen screenplays, he has directed 10 films, including “The Winslow Boy,” about the kind of proper English folk that his earlier characters would have mugged, and “Spartan,” a political thriller about agents for a lethal secret government agency that gave him the idea for the television series “The Unit,” which he continues to produce. He has written 11 nonfiction books ventilating on everything from the movie business (“Bambi vs. Godzilla”) to anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred (“The Wicked Son”). He’s written three novels and directed commercials for Ford. He also draws cartoons. [for more click on the heading]


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