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Patti Smith And Robert Mapplethorpe: Kindred Spirits
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
(Soundbite of song, "Hey Joe")
Ms. PATTI SMITH (Musician): (Singing) Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in
BIANCULLI: That's Patti Smith's first studio recording, a single she made in
1974, in Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady studio. Before Patti Smith earned the
name the godmother of punk, she was - well, that's the subject of her memoir,
"Just Kids," which is a National Book Award Finalist and is out next week in
paperback. It's her story about growing up in New Jersey, moving to New York in
1967 and slowly evolving into a poet, songwriter and performer.
The book revolves around her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she
met just after she got to New York. They became soul mates, both aspiring to be
artists. She became famous first. The album that made her famous, "Horses," had
an iconic photo of her taken by Mapplethorpe. He later became known for his
erotic and sadomasochistic photos of gay men. He died of AIDS in 1989. Terry
spoke with Patti Smith earlier this year.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Patti Smith, welcome back to FRESH AIR. At the beginning of your memoir, we get
a glimpse of how different your life might have been. In 1966, when you were
about 20, and you were going to Glassboro State College, which is now Rowan
University, you were studying to be a teacher, you got pregnant by a boy who
was 17, a boy you describe as even more callow than you were.
So you were pregnant, and you decided to have the baby and give it up for
adoption. When you were trying to figure out what to do, what did you think
your life would have been like at that time if you'd decided to keep the baby?
Ms. SMITH: Well, I was a lower-middle-class kid. My family had no money. There
was no room in our small house, where there were already four kids, including
myself, living. I would have had to get a job in a factory, ask my mother to
help me, and she was already overworked. She was a waitress.
It would've been difficult for everyone, I think, and the child would have had
no father. I felt that I just wasn't ready as a human being, I wasn't prepared
and that although I knew that I would be responsible and loving that I just was
not equipped to embark on that path.
GROSS: I think that this pregnancy was a turning point in your life and
contributed to your decision to leave college, give up on the idea of being a
teacher and go to New York. It's in New York that you met Robert Mapplethorpe,
and you know, you changed the course of each other's lives. Would you tell the
story of how you met Robert Mapplethorpe?
Ms. SMITH: Well, our - my first meeting was very simple. I had some friends at
Pratt Institute, people that went to my high school that had the means to go to
art school, and I was looking for them, hoping for a little shelter since I had
nowhere to sleep that night.
But when I went to visit them, they had moved, and the boy that answered the
door didn't know where my friends had moved and said, well, go in there and
maybe my roommate will know where they are.
And I went in a room, and there was a boy sleeping, lying on a little iron bed
and just with a mass of dark curls. And as soon as I walked in, he awoke and
looked at me and smiled. And then I talked, and he knew where my friends had
But the thing that I remember, the very first impression I have of Robert is
waking up and smiling.
GROSS: Then he helped bail you out of a possibly difficult situation.
Ms. SMITH: Yes, he was my rescuer because, I mean, it might seem contradictory
that, you know, a girl has the experience that I had would still be extremely
inexperienced in a dating situation, but I was. I had very little experience
and I had never dated an older man. He was probably, like, under 30, but he
seemed like a grownup to me.
And I was so hungry. I hadn't eaten in a few days, and my boss was friendly
with him. He was a science fiction writer, and he asked me to go to dinner
after work at Brentano's.
And we walked all the way to Tompkins Square Park and sat on a bench, and I
kept wishing it would just end, and then he asked me to come up to his
apartment, which was nearby, and have a cocktail. And I thought, oh man, this
is it, I'm - you know, I was just imagining, you know, what's going to happen.
I'm not going to be able to get away. You know, he's going to try to get me
drunk. I'm going to get raped.
I mean, this poor guy. I mean, I'm sure he wasn't so horrible, but I was just
in a - well, I was afraid, and I was thinking about what, should I do. Should I
And then I looked, and as if in answer to a prayer, here comes walking down the
path this boy who I had just briefly met now twice and walking alone, you know,
in full - you know, just dressed like 1967 in a sheepskin vest and a lot of
love beads with long, curly hair, looked a bit like Tim Buckley.
And I just impulsively ran up to him and said, do you remember me? And he said
yes, and I said, will you just pretend you're my boyfriend? And he said sure.
And I dragged him over to the science fiction guy, and I said, uh, this is my
boyfriend, he's really mad, and I have to go home now. And the guy looked at me
like I was crazy, and I said to Robert: run. And he grabbed my hand, and we ran
And he did, he rescued me. In my mind, he rescued me, and he was my knight ever
GROSS: At some point you realized that Mapplethorpe was gay. At some point he
realized that he was gay. And you found out in 1968, and he said to you that he
was going to San Francisco and that if you didn't come with him, he'd turn
homosexual. It sounds like he didn't want to be gay at that moment, that he was
hoping you'd help save him from that.
Ms. SMITH: Well, I don't think it was that he wanted me to save him. I just -
he just didn't want our relationship to end. I mean, I think that it was scary
territory for Robert, but obviously he felt this in his nature.
I had no inkling that Robert was suffering this conflict. I knew something was
wrong and something was bothering him and that he had become increasingly
moodier, and there was something that he couldn't communicate with me, and this
frustrated me because we were so open with one another. But it was just too
painful for him to tell me.
And also, one had to consider a factor that he came from a very intense
Catholic military family, and it wasn't easy for him to lay out his inner world
GROSS: How did it affect his relationship with you when he came to terms with
being gay and had lovers and eventually had a long-time lover? Were you able to
stay as close, even though the relationship had changed?
Ms. SMITH: Oh, Robert and I always were just as close. I mean, we had to work
out, obviously, the physical aspect of our relationship, and it was really me
who, in the end, severed the physical aspect of our relationship because -
well, for various reasons, because I just tend to be monogamous, and there was
always the concern about social disease.
I mean, we had - I had gotten gonorrhea from him, and I - it wasn't even the
social disease that horrified me as much as the needle regimen that you had to
receive to get rid of it, and I had a terrible fear and phobia of things like
And you know, in the end, we worked that out, I mean, because we were so close,
and our love for each other was so deep that the absence of - and we were still
physical with one another. He was always very affectionate. Until the day he
died, we were still affectionate towards one another.
GROSS: In your book, you write about how Mapplethorpe's work started to change
and become more sadomasochistic in its imagery, which he became quite famous
for, and you write that that imagery was bewildering and frightening to you.
You write: He couldn't share things with me because it was so outside our
realm, and that you couldn't comprehend the brutality of his images of self-
inflicted pain. It was hard for you to match it with the boy you had met.
Can you talk a little bit about - a little bit more about your reaction to his
images and what you found disturbing and incomprehensible about it?
Ms. SMITH: Well, they're disturbing images. I'm just...
GROSS: They're meant to be disturbing. Right.
Ms. SMITH: I mean, Robert - I mean, a lot of my reaction was out of, first of
all, naitivity(ph). I didn't know anything about that world. I still know very
little about that world, and my protective instincts for Robert - they
I worried that he would be hurt, or something bad would happen to him, but he
was - always assured me that all of these situations were controlled,
The imagery was brutal, and I had never seen anything like these images, but I
have to say, as always, after I felt that Robert was safe, I stepped back and
looked at them as work, and they were brilliant images. I mean, some of them,
there was so much blood and disorder, they had an abstract expressionist look.
I mean, there were a few of these images that I thought were actually
brilliant, and so we were able, after I processed the subject matter, to talk
about these images as art, but I was never really curious to talk about them in
any other way, and he respected that.
BIANCULLI: Patti Smith, speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year with
singer, songwriter and now author Patti Smith. Her memoir, "Just Kids," comes
out next week in paperback.
GROSS: Now, I found it really interesting that before you started, like,
singing on stage, you acted in a few plays. You collaborated with Sam Shepard,
who you were very close with. You acted on stage in that, acted on stage in
something else, and you finally realized that you were yourself on stage. It
was hard for you to become somebody else. How did that realization lead to
becoming a performer?
Ms. SMITH: Well, I know from an early age that I like - well, I'm very
comfortable in front of people. When I was a young girl, I'd love giving book
reports. I remember...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: That's great.
Ms. SMITH: I remember once I was - one of my teachers was talking about "Moby
Dick," and she was so boring. And you know, most of the kids in my classroom
were semi-illiterate, you know, and they're, like, spitting spitballs, and I
was extremely restless. And she got fed up with me, and she said Patti Lee, if
you think you can teach this better, you get up here and teach it. And I said
I was really happy. I went up there, and I laid out "Moby Dick" for those kids
in a way that, like, they comprehended "Moby Dick," you know? And I enjoyed
that, and that's sort of what made me think I could be a good teacher because I
really didn't know practically how to make money in the world, and I thought,
well, I could have a job as a teacher because I like talking in front of
And I had no - I did plays in college. I played Phaedra. I was in musical
comedy, and I did very well, but the memorization killed me. I'm not good at
memorizing, and it gave me a lot of anxiety. I hated the makeup. I hated all
that pancake makeup. I didn't really like dressing for parts.
So I liked being on stage. I just didn't like the theatrical aspect of being in
front of people.
GROSS: You say that until a friend suggested that you be in a rock 'n' roll
band, it had never occurred to you. It was just like not part of your world.
Ms. SMITH: No. Why would it? You know, I'm not a musician. You know, I don't
play any - I didn't play any instrument. I didn't have any specific talents. I
mean I came from the South Jersey, Philadelphia area, and in the early '60s,
everybody sang. They sang on street corners, three-part harmonies, a cappella.
I knew - most of my friends were better singers than me.
There was nothing in what I did that would give a sense that I should be in a
rock 'n' roll band. Also, girls weren't in rock 'n' roll bands. I mean, they
sang, but, you know, the closest thing to a rock singer - a real rock singer
that we had was Grace Slick, and I certainly didn't have Grace Slick's voice.
GROSS: You know, you didn't think of yourself as a singer per se, that your
friends had better voices than you did. But you created this new style really
that was a combination of poetry and music. It wasn't about having, like, a
perfect singer's voice.
It was the style that you performed in, the personality that you put into it,
the kind of defiance that you had in some songs, the energy. Would you talk
about what you felt you were doing early on that was different from what you'd
seen other people do?
Ms. SMITH: I think my perception of myself was really as a performer and a
communicator. You know, my - I had a mission when we recorded "Horses." My
GROSS: That's your first album.
Ms. SMITH: My first album "Horses," my mission and the collective band mission
was really on one level to merge poetry and rock 'n' roll, but more
humanistically, to reach out to other disenfranchised people.
You know, we, in 1975, the, you know, young homosexual kids were, you know,
being disowned by their families. The kids were - you know, kids like me, who
were a little weird or a little different, were often persecuted in their small
And it wasn't just, you know, because of sexual persuasion. It was for any
reason: for being an artist, for being different, for having political views,
for just wanting to be free. And I really recorded the record to connect with
these people, you know.
And also in terms of our place in rock 'n' roll, just to create some bridge
between our great artists that we had just lost, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison
among them, and to create space for what I felt would be the new guard, which I
didn't really include myself. I was really anticipating people or bands like
the Clash and the Ramones.
I was anticipating in my mind that a new breed would come - Television. A new
breed would come and they would be less materialistic, more bonded with the
people and not so glamorous.
That's - I didn't - I wasn't thinking so much of music. I wasn't thinking so
much of perfection or stardom or any of that stuff. I was thinking I had this
mission and I thought I would do this record and then go back to my writing and
my drawing and, you know, return to my, you know, my somewhat abnormal normal
life. But "Horses" took me on a whole different path.
GROSS: Is there a track from "Horses" that particularly illustrates what you
were describing as what your mission was?
Ms. SMITH: "Birdland."
Ms. SMITH: I think "Birdland" because - for various reasons. "Birdland" was an
improvisation - built on an improvisation. It very, it so much exemplifies the
communication of my band, especially between Richard, Lenny and I.
And it speaks of this new breed, you know, the new generations who will be
dreaming in animation, you know, the new generations that will race across the
fields no longer presidents but prophets. That was my - it was like my telegram
to the new breed.
GROSS: Oh, let's hear it. This is "Birdland" from Patti Smith's first album,
(Soundbite of song "Birdland")
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) I am helium raven, and this movie is mine. So he cried out
as he stretched the sky, pushing it all out like latex cartoon. Am I all alone
in this generation?
We'll just be dreaming of animation night and day and won't let up, won't let
up, and I see them coming in.
BIANCULLI: Patti Smith spoke with Terry Gross earlier this year. Her memoir,
"Just Kids," is a finalist for the National Book Award and comes out in
paperback next week. We'll have more of their conversation in the second half
of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back with
more of Terry's interview from earlier this year with singer, songwriter and
now author, Patti Smith. Her memoir, "Just Kids," is a National Book Award
finalist and comes out in paperback next week. It's about her formative years
when she was becoming a poet, songwriter and performer. Her soul mate was
fellow artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who later became known for his photographs,
including the cover photo of the 1975 album which made Patti Smith famous.
GROSS: Robert Mapplethorpe did the very iconic photograph for the cover of
"Horses." Would you briefly describe the photo?
Ms. SMITH: Well, it's very classic photograph by Robert, very simple. I'm
standing against a white wall with a triangular shadow and dressed in the
clothes typical of myself then in just an old white shirt - a clean, old white
shirt. Sort of a black ribbon that symbolizes a tie or a cravat; black pants;
jacket slung over my shoulder, looking directly at Robert. It has a little bit
of Baudelaire, little bit of Catholic boy, a little bit of Frank Sinatra and a
lot of Robert.
GROSS: What impact do you think that photo had on how people perceived you?
Ms. SMITH: Well, I, you know, I don't know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SMITH: I know people really liked it. I know the record company didn't.
GROSS: They didn't? That's such a great photo. Why didn't the record company
Ms. SMITH: Because my hair was messy. Because, you know, it just it was a
little incomprehensible to them at the time. But I fought for it and they did
try to airbrush my hair, but I...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SMITH: ...made sure that was fixed. People were very upset, constantly,
about my appearance when I was young. I don't know what it was. You know, they
just, it was very hard for them to factor. But I've always had that problem.
Even as a child, you know, I used to go the beach when I was a little kid and
just want to wear my dungarees and my flannel shirt and the whole time people
would be, why are you wearing that? Why don't you get a bathing suit? You know,
why, it's like leave me alone.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SMITH: It's just like, I'm not bothering you. Why are you worried about,
you know, what I look like? You know, it's just I'm not trying to bother
anybody. But people loved the photograph. The people on the streets loved the
photograph, and it gave Robert some instant attention. I think it was his, you
know, the - where he - it really helped, you know, launch his work into the
public consciousness. And so we were both very happy about that. And the
funniest thing, and sort of the sweetest thing, was when I started performing
after the record came out, I would go to clubs anywhere - it could be Denmark,
it could be in Youngstown, Ohio - and I would come on stage and at least half
of the kids had white shirts and black ties on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SMITH: It was kind of cool. We all had suddenly turned Catholic.
GROSS: My guest is Patti Smith and her new memoir "Just Kids" is about her
relationship with the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Robert Mapplethorpe was
diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and you say this was at the same time you found out
you were pregnant with your second child. You were married to the musician Fred
"Sonic" Smith then; you'd moved to Detroit, where you were living. And
Mapplethorpe's lover, his longtime companion Sam, died before he did. And you
say that to comfort him, you wrote the lyrics; Fred - Fred "Sonic" Smith wrote
the music for the song, "Paths That Cross," - paths that cross will cross
again. It's a great song. And I'd like to just - I'd like to play it, and I'd
like you to talk a little bit about writing it for Mapplethorpe.
Ms. SMITH: Well, it's a - that - well, the night that Sam died, I couldn't
sleep because I knew that - I was in Detroit, Robert was in New York, and I
could just imagine his suffering. I could feel him just - not just the pain of
losing Sam, but, you know, the shadow that it also cast upon himself, because
he was counting on Sam to pull through, because Sam was always the sturdier
He was, like, physically like a god, you know, even though he was over 20 years
older than both of us. He was never sick. He was virile, in perfect health, and
I think that I could feel all of these things that Robert was feeling and
thinking. And so I sat up all night and wrote this little song, and I tried to
write an optimistic song. It is an optimistic song, I think.
Ms. SMITH: And write it in a sort of Sufi style, which - Sam loved the Sufi
ideology. And it's interesting, I wrote this song for Robert to be comforted. I
knew when I was writing it that one day I would be listening to it thinking of
Robert. But this song had a long, long life after that. Many people who lost
loved ones from AIDS played this at their funerals, their wakes. People have
sent me pictures of their headstones of their loved ones with the words carved
on the headstone.
It really became, within a certain community, a song of comfort for a lot of
people who lost their loved ones, specifically through AIDS. And, you know, so
I - you know, truthfully, when I wrote it, I knew that I would listen to it
thinking of Robert, but I never anticipated that I would also someday listen to
it thinking of my late husband and my brother and Richard Sohl, who played so
beautifully on it, on "Dream Of Life." So the song is - it's seen a lot of loss
in its wake.
GROSS: Let's hear that song, "Paths That Cross." This is Patti Smith, as
recorded on her 1998 album "Dream Of Life."
(Soundbite of song "Paths That Cross")
Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Speak to me, speak to me, heart. I feel a needing to
bridge the clouds, softly go, a way I wish to know, to know, a way I wish to
know, to know. Oh, you'll ride, surely dance, in a ring, backwards and
forwards. Those who seek feel the glow, a glow we all will know, will know. A
glow we all will know, will know. On that day filled with grace, on the way to
hearts communion, steps we take, steps we trace, all the way to heart's
reunion. Paths that cross will cross again. Paths that cross will cross again.
BIANCULLI: That's Patti Smith from her 1998 album "Dream Of Life." That song
was written to comfort Robert Mapplethorpe, who is the subject of her memoir,
We'll conclude her conversation with Terry after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR.
Let's get back to Terry's conversation from earlier this year with singer,
songwriter and now author, Patti Smith. Her memoir "Just Kids" is a National
Book Award finalist and comes out in paperback next week.
GROSS: You write that, you know, when Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in March of
'89, the morning that he died - you describe your feelings and you say that you
were shuddering, overwhelmed by a sense of excitement, acceleration as if
because of the closeness that you experienced with Robert, you were to be privy
to his new adventure, the miracle of his death. You say this wild sensation
stayed with you for some days.
Could you describe that? Did you know he was dying, when you - did - had you
gotten the phone call when you felt this, or were you just feeling that, you
know, without even...
Ms. SMITH: No, I felt that after he died.
GROSS: After he died.
Ms. SMITH: I had already received the call that he had died. I mean, we knew
that he was dying. We knew that he was dying. The last couple of weeks of his
life, I talked to him - I talked to Robert in the last hour that he could still
speak. And I listened to his breathing before I went to sleep. His brother
called me and let me listen to his breathing, and he died that morning. So that
sensation that I felt was his, you know, acceleration into his next place after
death. I could really feel that.
I've experienced a lot of death since Robert. I sat with Allen Ginsberg when he
died. I was with my husband when he died, my parents. But Robert, the
acceleration and energy I felt after Robert's death was unique. And it did stay
with me for quite a while. And I think that each of us - you know, our energy
leaves in a different way according to the person, you know, according to the
energy of the person, the way the spirit manifests. Each of us die differently.
And we have - you know, I believe that. I believe we all have a unique journey,
whether it's a journey of pure energy, if there's any intelligence within the
journey. But I think each of us have our own way of dissipating or entering a
GROSS: You say that one of the people who you were with when he died was Allen
Ginsberg. And in your memoir, you mention some advice that Ginsberg had given
you after your husband died. He said, let go of the spirit of the departed and
continue your life's celebration. Having experienced as much death as you have,
is that good advice, do you think?
Ms. SMITH: Yes. I mean, I think that, you know, there - the idea that time
heals all wounds is not really true. Our wounds aren't really ever healed. We
just learn to walk with them. We learn that some days we're going to feel
intense pain all over again and we just have to say, okay, I know you. If - you
can come along with me today, in the same way that sometimes we start laughing
out - in the middle of nowhere remembering something that happened with someone
And, you know, life is the best thing that we have. We each have a life. We
each have to negotiate it and navigate it. And I think it's very important that
we enjoy our life, that we get everything we can out of it. And it doesn't take
away from our love of the departed. I mean, I take Fred along with me in the
things that I do, or Robert or my father or my mother, you know, whoever wants
to come along, they can be with me. And, you know, and if I want them, I can
You know, we have our own life, but we can still walk with the people that we
miss or that we lose. And I think it's very important to not be afraid to
experience joy in the middle of sorrow. When my brother died, my sister and I
sat with his body - our beloved brother - and we wept. And then I don't know
what happened, one of us triggered laughter in the other. My brother and sister
and I used to laugh so much that we would get sick. And my sister and I started
laughing, sitting with my brother, as if he had infected us.
And we laughed so hard that we were scolded by the funeral director. And which
- you know, my brother, who was so mischievous, I'm sure caused all of this.
But it's all right. You know, we knew the depth of our sorrow. So it was all
right for us to also, you know, experience some joy in his presence because,
you know, that's what our life is - you know, it's the fearful symmetry of
Blake, you know, joy and sorrow. You don't want to just feel one of them.
They're both valuable to the spirit.
GROSS: Patti Smith, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. SMITH: Oh, you're welcome. Nice to talk to you, too.
BIANCULLI: Patti Smith, speaking with Terry Gross earlier this year. Patti
Smith's memoir, "Just Kids," is a National Book Award finalist. It comes out in
paperback next week.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
'Hornet's Nest': The Girl With The Dragging Plot
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
The Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson was barely 50 years old when he
died in 2004, before the publication of his three violent mystery thrillers
known as the "Millennium Trilogy." The books became hugely popular worldwide
and quickly were made into Swedish movies. The third of those, "The Girl Who
Kicked the Hornet's Nest" opens today in the U.S.
Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: As "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" confirms, Stieg
Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is even more draggy on the screen than in print.
Yet even in this medium, it exerts a peculiar pull: Larsson was that rare mass
market novelist whose paranoia wasn't even a little bit driven by commercial
opportunism. His career as an investigative journalist convinced him that
conspiracies weren't the stuff of theories, but the bedrock of a malevolent
And women - when they weren't jumping into bed with his alter ego, the
indefatigable Larsson-like journalist Blomkvist - were especially vulnerable.
In three books - every kind of predator except vampires turns up to menace the
damaged, bisexual, heavily pierced cyber-girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisbeth
Salander; sadistic pedophiles perverts; neo-Nazi serial sex murderers; ex-KGB,
burn-scarred, insanely vindictive patriarchs; and my personal favorite, a mute,
Teutonic albino giant, genetically impervious to pain.
In "Hornet's Nest," the conspiracy to silence Lisbeth Salander reaches to the
highest levels of the Swedish government. But the bad guys mostly go after her
through bureaucratic channels, and it takes an inordinately long time to get
where we already know we're going.
Larsson is renowned for his attention to marginal detail, which gives his prose
a rambling, one-thing-after-another pace that many readers find oddly soothing.
The director of films two and three, Daniel Alfredson, captured this
distinctive lack of acceleration at the climax of "The Girl Who Played with
Fire." As Salander, played by Noomi Rapace, sneaks onto a rural estate to kill
the father trying to kill her; Blomkvist, played by Michael Nykvist, speeds out
of Stockholm to save her - and gets caught in traffic. Salander pokes
perilously around the property while Blomkvist takes the highway exit at the
posted 25 miles an hour. Salander gets jumped by the albino; Blomkvist stops to
check his map. The villain aims his gun at Salander, and Blomkvist turns into a
McDonald's drive-through. Not really, but he might as well. And after all that,
the bad guys don't even die.
So here we are at part three, the "Hornet's Nest," and as in the last movie,
Blomkvist and Salander barely share a scene. Having been beaten and shot,
Salander spends most of the film's 148 minutes in a hospital bed, glaring in
mute outrage. I don't blame her. She took an ax to the father who'd shot her
and whose albino henchman is on the lam and killing cops, and she's being
prosecuted? For attempted murder?
The bad guys, see, want her in an asylum under the care of her old fascist
pedophile shrink. Blomkvist muses that it's like a classic Greek tragedy -
which strikes me as delusions of grandeur. It's not even clear what Salander
knows that makes the hapless cabal of really old men want to silence her. A
sympathetic doctor says she's not well enough to talk to prosecutors, so weeks
go by while they sit on their hands outside Salander's hospital room and she
writes a memoir of her abuse. Oprah could get to her faster than the villains.
The first film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," directed by Niels Arden
Oplev, at least hit its marks: Salander's cyber-hacking complemented
Blomkvist's shoe-leather reporting, and vice versa. And the two outcasts'
growing bond - and revenge on multiple foes - was fun to watch. But the next
films are like interminable footnotes. The only thing of interest in "The Girl
Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is Noomi Rapace, and only in the last half hour,
when she hauls herself out of her hospital bed.
Rapace has a striking face to begin with, all sharp angles and flat planes. And
now, she wears a towering Mohawk and a nose ring. She's pierced all over, her
eyes and lips rimmed in black, looking like a cross between Grace Jones and
Edward Scissorhands. In the context of these pale Swedes, she leaps out of the
screen without 3-D glasses.
But talk about all dressed up with nowhere to go. It's like Halloween night on
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
Coming up, I switch to TV critic mode and review the new AMC zombie series "The
This is FRESH AIR.
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From AMC, A Braaainy Zombie Drama
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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
I'm David Bianculli TV critic for FRESH AIR.
I remember when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" premiered on The WB, and I had to
almost beg people not to dismiss it out of hand. The more I described it, the
less worthwhile it sounded. There's this cute high-school girl, see, and she
learns her destiny is to save the world from vampires and other evil demons.
It's a vampire show, but not just a vampire show.
So here I am again - this time, not with vampires, but with zombies.
"The Walking Dead," which premieres Halloween night, is the newest series from
the AMC network, which so far has given us "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and
"Rubicon." And it comes with its own high pedigree. The premiere is written,
directed and executive produced by Frank Darabont, of "The Shawshank
Redemption." Another executive producer is Gale Anne Hurd, whose production
credits include "The Terminator" and "Aliens." So she knows a lot about
presenting tense, action-packed stories about relentless, seemingly unstoppable
killers. And "The Walking Dead" is based on a long-running series of popular
comics by Robert Kirkman. But now that I've said zombies and comics, I realize
I'm digging my own grave here.
Except in a zombie drama, there are no graves, just dead bodies - ones with
bullets in their heads, or no heads at all; and undead ones - staggering around
in search of human brains and flesh; and the few remaining living people, who
have to avoid the walking dead and eventually destroy them.
With sexy vampires all over TV and the movies, zombies are a harder sell. This
new television series makes it work by heightening the realism. There's no
creepy horror music upping the emotional ante here. For the most part, there's
no music at all, just a quiet, eerie, frightening silence, as we follow one of
the few remaining humans as he literally awakens to this scary new world.
Andrew Lincoln stars as Rick Grimes, a deputy sheriff from Kentucky who's shot
in the line of duty. He falls into a coma, and when he wakes up in the hospital
weeks later - his body emaciated and with a noticeable growth of beard - things
aren't at all how they should be. There are no nurses to answer his calls for
help. The clock in the room has stopped. The hospital is deserted, the hallways
messy. He comes across a body, much of its flesh ripped off like a side of
beef. And then he sees the padlocked doors with the spray-painted warning:
Don't open. Dead inside.
As we keep following Rick, he makes his way through the hospital, outside, and
back to his home - where his wife and child apparently have packed some things
and fled. It's at that point, still very early in this 90-minute pilot, that
Rick encounters the first other human survivors - a man and his son who have
taken to hiding in a nearby house. Once they ascertain that Rick is human, they
bring him inside, and the father fills him in. Andrew Lincoln plays Rick, the
deputy sheriff. Lennie James plays Morgan, the father.
(Soundbite of AMC's "The Walking Dead")
Mr. LENNIE JAMES (Actor): (as Morgan) Hey Mister, do you even know what's going
Mr. ANDREW LINCOLN (Actor): (as Rick) I woke up today in the hospital. Came
home. That's all I know.
Mr. JAMES: (as Morgan) But you know about the dead people, right?
Mr. LINCOLN: (as Rick) Yeah, I saw a lot of that - out on the loading docks,
Mr. JAMES: (as Morgan) No. Not the ones they put down, the ones they didn't,
the walkers. Like the one I shot today because he would have ripped into you,
tried to eat you, taken some flesh at least. I guess if this is the first
youâre hearing of it, I know how it must sound.
Mr. LINCOLN: (as Rick) They're out there now in the street?
Mr. JAMES: (as Morgan) Yeah. They get more active after dark sometimes. Maybe
it's the cool air or, you know, maybe it's just me firing that gun today. But
we'll be fine, long as we stay quiet. Probably wander off by morning. Well,
listen, one thing I do know, don't you get bit. I saw your bandage and that's
what we were afraid of. Bites kill you. The fever burns you out. But then after
a while, you come back.
BIANCULLI: A lot of what makes "The Walking Dead" so striking a series is how
visual it is. It's beautiful and foreboding all at once, with lots of scares
too potent to spoil. And whether finding terror in the open daylight of a
family farm or the familiar settings of a city street, this TV show finds lots
of ways to give you the creeps.
The special effects are convincing. The violence, rather than being
cartoonishly overdone as in the "Spartacus" series, is powerful, credible, and
often shockingly forceful. This is not a series for young children.
But because the characters are invested with such emotion, and the story
unspools so empathetically, "The Walking Dead" is much, much better, and more
truly dramatic, than you might expect. You watch this, and there are times when
you think, what would I do in his place if this were happening to me?
My answer, way too often, is: I'd die. Your results may vary.
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BIANCULLI: You can download Podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.
For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(Soundbite of music)
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