'Head Butler,' Serving the Public Taste Jesse Kornbluth has fashioned a role as cultural concierge, offering visitors to the Web site HeadButler.com advice on books, films and music. Kornbluth gives Debbie Elliott a sampling of cultural picks.
NPR logo

'Head Butler,' Serving the Public Taste

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6131514/6131515" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Head Butler,' Serving the Public Taste

'Head Butler,' Serving the Public Taste

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6131514/6131515" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You know, I for one could really use a cultural advisor, someone who would wade through all the new movies, books and music that are out there and then go through all the old movies and books and music that I've missed, and simply tell me what's worth my time. Because these days I don't have enough of it. That's why I was intrigued when I heard about HeadButler.com.

Mr. JESSE KORNBLUTH (HeadButler.com): Everyone needs a butler, someone to anticipate your every need. And that is the function of HeadButler.com. I wade through all this stuff and I pick the stuff that I like and that I think you'll like, without regard to how commercially successful it was, without regard to when it was released.

So like this week I wrote about Arsene Lupin, a French detective from 1906. And I ended the week writing about a new sex book by a couples therapist who tells you that the last thing you need is to talk through your problems and become more intimate with your spouse. You need distance. So you know, a century in a week.

ELLIOTT: The Head Butler is Jesse Kornbluth. He's been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, a screenwriter, and the editorial manager for AOL. He writes on occasion for The New Yorker and The New York Times. And he is in our New York Studio today to come to my rescue. Thanks so much for helping us out, Jesse.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, thanks so much for taking me from my maid's room, because the wonderful thing about doing something on the Internet is, you know, there are people but they're so virtual.

ELLIOTT: Now, we asked you to come today ready to help me out with three suggestions for this weekend. What should I read, what should I rent to watch, and what should I listen to? Not necessarily in that order?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Okay, Debbie, spin the dial. Which would you like first, a book, a movie or a CD?

ELLIOTT: Why don't we start with a movie?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Ah, a movie. You know, there is no justice there for William Wyler. This is the greatest American director, and you know, now no one knows who - what a William Wyler is. But the fact is, in his heyday William Wyler was nominated for an Oscar as Best Director five times in a six-year period. That's never happened. He had twelve nominations. He's won three, the second most. His film that I'm going to talk about today, Dodsworth, was name by Time one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years.

It is the book that Sinclair Lewis wrote the year before he won the Nobel Prize for literature, and yet I will bet that very, very few people in this audience have seen Dodsworth, which was made in 1936. And the shame of it is, it's a completely modern movie. It's more modern than a modern movie, because it's about a woman who falls in love with people outside her marriage and doesn't get punished for it. You know, in a modern movie, you know, she'd be boiled in water or, you know, thrown into a tub and stabbed.

But the fact is, Fran Dodsworth, the 41-year-old wife of Sam Dodsworth, who's 50, they're going off to Europe. He's just sold his car company. He wants to see a bit of the world and she has another idea. Because she's 41 going on 35, and her daughter has just gotten married and her daughter has just gotten pregnant and the last thing she wants to do is to come back to Zenith and be a housewife. And so...

ELLIOTT: Or grandmother.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Or a grandmother. And on the boat over she starts it, falling in love, you know, with the young David Niven and then another guy in London and another guy in Paris. You know, every count of no account. Now, the thing about Wyler is, he liked very long takes. He loved real conversations. And so as a result you actually get to know the characters. And you got to know them in another way because Wyler was a totally crazy director. He was known as Forty Take Wyler because he made actors do it again and again. And his theory was that by the 40th take they would be so angry with him that they would just stop acting and be the character. And you want to hear some of this?

ELLIOTT: I'd love to.

(Soundbite of movie "Dodsworth")

Mr. WALTER HUSTON (Actor): (As Sam Dodsworth) Have things got this bad, Fran?

Ms. RUTH CHATTERTON (Actor): (As Fran Dodsworth) I can't talk tonight. I'm too tired to talk tonight.

Mr. HUSTON: (As Sam) If things have got this bad, they've got to stop all together. Now, I'm willing to do anything I can to make you happy. I love you, you know that. But if we're going on together as you said to me back in Paris, I'm saying it now, if we are going on together we've got to beat it right back home where we belong.

Mr. CHATTERTON: (As Fran) Is that your idea of making me happy?

Mr. HUSTON: (As Sam) (As character) I'm not taking anymore chances on another Arnold Iceland. Oh, I know this friendship for Kurt is harmless enough, but you might get fascinated.

Mr. CHATTERTON: (As Fran) You think I might? You really think I might? Well, I love Kurt and Kurt loves me. I'm going to marry him. He asked me tonight. I decided it just now, this minute, when I found you were here hiding behind doors. The great Dodsworth, great prowling elephant.

Mr. HUSTON: (As Sam) Fran.

Mr. CHATTERTON: (As Fran) I wish Kurt had stayed here to punch your head for spying on us.

Mr. HUSTON: (As Sam) I wasn't spying. I didn't hear anything.

Ms. CHATTERTON: (As Fran) You can't play the injured innocent with me. You've never known me. You've never known anything about me. Not what I had on or what I thought or the sacrifices I've made.

Mr. HUSTON: (As Sam) About now.

Ms. CHATTERTON: (As Fran) I'll be happy with Kurt. I'm fighting for life. You can't drag me back.

ELLIOTT: Now, this sounds like the kind of juicy Saturday night movie I would enjoy.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Yes. And it's got really dishy stuff.

ELLIOTT: Great. Like the movie. What about the book?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: The book is a recent book by Peter Temple called Identity Theory. Peter Temple is almost unknown in this country and that is, again, a great wrongness. He's a South African who now lives in Australia. He's written a series of thriller detective novels about a character named Jack Irish, a lawyer who doesn't practice but gets in a lot of trouble. Identity Theory is his break with Jack Irish. And why it is so exciting for me is - I mean I loathe thrillers. They're written by these hearty, beefy guys who are basically mouth breathers. They don't like women and the women are just vessels for the occasional sexual adventure. They are violent. You know they'll never get killed. They don't have many feelings, but boy, you know, can they do stuff.

Peter Temple's characters are enormously complex. I mean they're characters first and they're in a thriller second. The other thing is, this particular book is extremely political, because it's about information. I mean it starts with violence but very quickly we're into computers and how information is gathered and sold in the coldest possible way. And into this chilly world people are fighting for control of certain pieces of information, one of which can bring down a government. It's just riveting. And I...

ELLIOTT: And rather timely, giving the corporate spying environment we're in these days.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Peter Temple has the knack of being around the next corner before you thought you wanted to go there. It's a very contemporary book. You've got it just right.

ELLIOTT: Okay. So now I've got my movie. I've got my book. What should I listen to this weekend?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, I am mad for a guy named C.C. Adcock, who the world does not know. He records on Yep Roc, which a company in North Carolina. He's from Lafayette, Louisiana. He wears sharkskin suits and alligator boots. And it sounds like, you know, he's just some southern hillbilly and he is so not. This is an artist who every ten years puts out one CD, barely tours, and works with producers like Denny Cordell and Jack Nietzsche, who worked with the Rolling Stones, and uses things like electronic drum loops, Egyptian violins. And the genius part of it is, it sounds raw and crude, but the way he gets there is enormously sophisticated. If we listen to just a bit of it now, listen for that drum loop. See if you can hear the violin.

(Soundbite of song "Y'All'D Think She'd Be Good 2 Me")

Mr. C.C. ADCOCK (Musician): I said hey, I, I, I think she'd be good to me. I said hey I, I, I, I, you'd think you'd be, you think she'd be good to me. Yeah, I give her a Cadillac car, I made her wash her drawl, look at the car but if she can't touch. You think it'd be okay with C. C., you'd think she'd be good to me.

ELLIOTT: How does a guy in Lafayette, Louisiana trade the accordion, let's say, for an Egyptian violin?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, because he was a kid who got a guitar and by the time he was 14 he was playing with Bo Diddley. He is very connected to his roots but he's also, you know, listened to a lot of stuff. And I think there's something about C.C. Adcock, I mean just listen to this guy talk.

On any given night you can start out in the country with some food, drop into a Cajun dancehall and watch the old folks gliding around the floor. Then put the top down and jump back into town and rock around to the new sounds of some up and coming cats. Then you can cross the tracks and bump at a Zydeco disco, have a few Crown and 7's, and at the end of the night head south to another parish where they stay open all night and you can boogie till daybreak in front of a classic swamp box jukebox and still make it home in time for mass. And that's not even a fairy tale night.

This particular record is called Lafayette Marquis, which he certainly is. The song is called Y'All'D Think She'd be Good 2 Me, spelled in a ridiculous way. And you know, the thing I like about HeadButler.com is, you know, occasionally I will find something for you that if you get it, you won't be a nerd. You'll be the total cool guy. And I, you know, as a person who's a bit of a nerd himself, there's nothing better than, you know, having something that, you know, the other kids just didn't get to yet.

ELLIOTT: Well, Jesse Kornbluth I'm glad you're going to help me be cool.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: I have a suspicion you may already be, Debbie, but I'll meet you at the jukebox and we'll have the second to last dance.

ELLIOTT: Great. Jesse Kornbluth is the HeadButler, joining us from our studio in New York.

(Soundbite of song "Y'All'D Think She'd Be Good 2 Me")

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News I'm Debbie Elliott.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.