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Renata Adler

  • Nothing defines the quality of life in a community more clearly than people who regard themselves, or whom the consensus chooses to regard, as mentally unwell.

  • The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress.

  • The motion picture is like journalism in that, more than any of the other arts, it confers celebrity. Not just on people — on acts, and objects, and places, and ways of life. The camera brings a kind of stardom to them all. I therefore doubt that film can ever argue effectively against its own material: that a genuine antiwar film, say, can be made on the basis of even the ugliest battle scenes ... No matter what filmmakers intend, film always argues yes.

  • People have been modeling their lives after films for years, but the medium is somehow unsuited to moral lessons, cautionary tales, or polemics of any kind.

  • One of the frightening things about our time is the number of people who think it is a form of intellectual audacity to be stupid. A whole generation seems to be taking on an easy distrust of thought.

  • Most movies are not very good. Most people know it and like to see them anyway.

  • ... the time for prizes and competitions at art festivals is over. Competition is too closely tied to values that are alien to the arts.

  • Though films become more daring sexually, they are probably less sexy than they ever were. There haven't been any convincing love scenes or romances in the movies in a while. (Nobody even seems to neck in theaters any more.) ... when the mechanics and sadism quotients go up, the movie love interest goes dead, and the film just lies there, giving a certain amount of offense.

  • Writing about writing is a bit like talking about a conversation you are having; it tends to obscure desperation about where the next word is coming from.

  • It [scene in The Killing of Sister George] is the longest, most unerotic, cash-conscious scene between a person and a breast there has ever been, on screen and outside a surgeon's office.

  • Intelligent people, caught at anything, denied it. Faced with evidence of having denied it falsely, people said they had not done it and had not lied about it, and didn't remember it, but if they had done it, or lied about it, they would have done it and misspoken themselves about it in an interest so much higher as to alter the nature of doing and lying altogether.

  • Sanity ... is the most profound moral option of our time.

  • Lyda was an exuberant, even a dramatic gardener. ... she was always holding up a lettuce or a bunch of radishes, with an air of resolute courage, as though she had shot them herself.

  • A favorite strategy was the paragraph-terminating: Right? Followed immediately by Wrong. This linear invitation to a mugging was considered a strategy of wit.

  • There is a difference, of course, between real sentiment and the trash of shared experience.

  • In almost every thriller, a point is reached when someone, usually calling from a phone booth, telephones with a vital piece of information, which he cannot divulge by phone. By the time the hero arrives at the place where they had arranged to meet, the caller is dead, or too near death to tell. There is never an explanation for the reluctance of the caller to impart his message in the first place.

  • My grandmother refused to concede that any member of the family died of natural causes. An uncle's cancer in middle age occurred because all the suitcases fell off the luggage rack onto him when he was in his teens, and so forth. Death was an acquired characteristic.

  • I asked how long it [his book] was. 'Eight hundred and ninety-seven pages,' he said. Then he added, earnestly, 'You don't suppose they'll think I wrote it in a fit of pique.'

  • ... bored people, unless they sleep a lot, are cruel.

  • Fear ... is forward. No one is afraid of yesterday.

  • ... in the strange heat all litigation brings to bear on things, the very process of litigation fosters the most profound misunderstandings in the world.

Renata Adler, Italian-born U.S. writer, film critic, philosopher

(1938)