Tennessee Williams at 100

Tennessee Williams is aging beautifully, now that he’s gone. When he died in 1983, his career had all but ground to a halt. More than two decades had passed since his last Broadway success. Stars had ceased clamoring for his roles the way they had in the glory days of Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. The circumstances of his death were undignified—he choked to death on a bottle cap in a drug-fueled haze—and the subsequent New York Times obituary poured salt in the wound, recounting how the great playwright had “lost his look of boyish innocence and became somewhat portly and seedy.”

Party at the OK Corral

Allan Metcalf’s new book claims that the word “OK” is America’s greatest invention. This offers a pair of provocations. How can “OK” be an invention? On a certain day, a certain guy just dreamed up the expression that has become the most frequently spoken word on the planet? And even if it is an invention, can one little word really be greater than jazz, baseball, and the telephone? Is it better than The Simpsons?

James Baldwin: Still Angry After All These Years

When I play reverse time travel and imagine historical figures turning up today (what would Ben Franklin say about the iPad? Or Jane Austen about Jersey Shore?, etc.), James Baldwin’s name comes to mind. The essayist and novelist spent four decades picking at the scab of American race relations.

Kevin Kline: The Essential Man

After Kline’s more than three decades on stage and screen, it’s no surprise when he turns in a fine performance. He glides from heavy drama (“The Ice Storm”) to really heavy drama (“Sophie’s Choice”) to silly comedy (“The Pirates of Penzance”) to really silly comedy (“A Fish Called Wanda”), to say nothing of all that he’s done onstage. Through all these roles, a distinctive Kline-esque style has emerged.

Movies: The Nuclear Option

Lucy Walker has made a horror film about the slaughter and wreckage of a nuclear attack. “Countdown to Zero” has all the essential flourishes of the genre: explosions, screaming crowds, buildings falling to ash. That the film is a documentary—an awfully persuasive one, at that—makes it all the creepier.

Popcorn Movies With Brains

Every summer, the question grows more pertinent: what’s so special about special effects? The more potent that Hollywood’s CGI tools get, the less exciting and surprising they seem. This is the reason—well, one of the reasons—why Avatar proved so boring. After years of Pixar and Spielberg and ill-conceived (but visually stupendous) Star Wars prequels, James Cameron’s 3-D didn’t add much punch. But since Americans have a constitutional right to be dazzled in new ways, every Memorial Day kicks off a fresh season of shock and awe just the same.

How Cable TV Pundits Stepped On Obama's Oil Speech

“This is not theater,” declared President Obama on the Today show last week. He was defending his response to the BP oil spill, which he insisted was designed to get actual results, not to put on a show. But there he was on TV again last night to deliver an Oval Office address, which is—if any commander in chief’s action is—a piece of theater. Here is where our presidents seem most presidential, talking directly and sincerely to the American people: where Carter described the national malaise and Bush tried to calm a nation rattled by the 9/11 attacks. That’s the idea, anyway.

Why Obama's Tough Talk About BP Won't Help

From the no-nonsense tone to the rolled-up sleeves, Obama looked and sounded the part of the engaged chief executive, so the pundits who all but ordered him to the gulf should be satisfied. But his implied threat of punitive action is beginning to have a familiar ring—too familiar.

New York in World War II

Seventy years after it sweated and struggled to funnel troops to the front line, New York City has become the front line. Lower Manhattan still bears the scars of the 9/11 attacks, and if the Times Square bomber hadn't been so feckless, midtown would have its own crater and makeshift shrine.

Patriot of the Moment: Walt Whitman

If I were to count up the things I love best about America, this tableau would be high on the list: Walt Whitman, on a street in Washington, exchanging a respectful bow with Abraham Lincoln as the president’s carriage rolled by. That the United States managed to produce either of these gentlemen, the self-taught frontier president and the great poet of democracy, reflects well on our way of life. That a lucky pedestrian could watch the two of them pass close enough to acknowledge one another—such original minds, such extraordinary beards—nearly makes the notion of a special dispensation for America ring true.