Readers of The Spectator—the London one, not its American cousin—will remember the fracas that erupted last fall when William Cash published “Kings of the Deal,” a story about Jewish influence in Hollywood. Indignant charges of anti-Semitism were immediately lodged not only against Mr. Cash but also against The Spectator and its editor, Dominic Lawson. Never mind that Mr. Lawson is himself Jewish, or that he wrote a penetrating essay on the virus of political correctness with special reference to this controversy (see “The Gagging of America” in The Spectator for November 19, 1994).

We do not wish at this late date to comment on the controversy itself—though we shall long treasure the ridiculous missive signed jointly by a number of Hollywood stars, including Barbra Streisand, Kevin Costner, and Tom Cruise. We do, however, think that our readers will be pleased to know that Leon Wieseltier, the inveterately sophomoric literary editor of The New Republic, contributed the following minatory effusion to The Spectator:

Sir: William Cash worries about “inevitable shrieks of ‘anti-Semitism’” as a consequence of his anti-Semitism. Not to worry. People as powerful as us have no need to shriek. We will bide our time and silently see justice done. Maybe before Passover. You run a filthy magazine.

Gee. We thought we had a low opinion of Mr. Wieseltier, but clearly it was not low enough. It was with some amusement, then, that we read Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s review of the third edition of A Biographical Dictionary of Film in The New Republic for January 23. Here is how it begins:

The other evening at Le Bistro, in South Kensington, supping with an Italian film director, all of a sudden and apropos of nothing he praised Robert Aldrich. “What a director!” he exclaimed with garlic-scented vowels. “Just imagine, Kiss Me Deadly was his first film!” For a moment I heard him say Kiss Me Daddy. Then I retorted (I always retort), “But that was not Aldrich’s first movie.” “Yes it was,” affirmed the regista. “It wasn’t,” I insisted. “He made Apache and Vera Cruz first.” Obviously he didn’t believe me. To redirect him, I said: “See Katz.” He said, “But Cats is an English musical!” I should have laughed, but when it comes to the movies I am always serious.

Film directors shouldn’t argue with me about movies. I can kiss them deadly. I explained what Katz was, The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz, and suggested to the Italian that he buy a copy, since he could afford it. (Not many people can.) When I came home and consulted my Katz, I found out that I was wrong, too. Aldrich had made The Big Leaguer and World for Ransom earlier. That’s why Katz has nine lives. David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film (both books have just been reissued) has even more lives than Katz, but unlike Katz, Thomson is a killer with a deus ex machinegun.

To appreciate the cause of our amusement, one must have read the review by G. Cabrera Infante of the third edition of A Biographical Dictionary of Film (and of the book by Katz mentioned above) that appeared in the December 31 issue of The Spectator. Here is how it begins:
The other evening at Le Bistro, South Kensington, an Italian film director with whom I was supping all of a sudden, and à propos of nothing, praised Robert Aldrich. “What a director!” he exclaimed, with garlic-scented vowels. “Just imagine, Kiss Me Deadly was his first film!” For a moment I heard him say Kiss Me Daddy but then I retorted (I always retort): “But that was not …”

Yes, yes, it goes on and on: Katz, Cats, and their nine-plus lives. Mr. Wieseltier might think The Spectator “a filthy magazine,” but he clearly finds things to admire about its taste in book reviews.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 13 Number 6, on page 4
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