A trio of very Czech-looking men debate the meaning of life as they swim in a river. The images are sepia-toned and gauzy, and the light plot has the charm of a fable, proceeding in a serial fashion: each of the male protagonists, a priest, a colonel, and a bathhouse-keeper, has a shot at wooing the young blonde assistant of a travelling magician—and yet, as in a fairy tale, some mysterious force frustrates their amours. The magician’s high-wire act is one of the loveliest cinematic reveries you’ll ever see. It’s completely relaxing, precisely because, like the best of summers, it never claims to mean anything.
The FAQ of Bratfree, an online refuge for vehement anti-natalists, has a long list of hypothetical “snappy comebacks” to skeptics. Example: “But children are our future!” Comeback: “Death is our future.” It includes a lexical guide to words like MOO (“mindless, bovine mother”), and a warning to outsiders: “We do not seek any parent posters head pats…We will not be test subjects or lab rats…to meet big media’s pro family agenda.” The forums are hotbeds of imagined arguments, at times so nasty the members seem to be working something else out entirely.
Shot beautifully by Nixon’s Chief of Staff, who was clearly much better at cinematography than obstructing justice, these tapes (not those tapes) offer the allure of intimacy. Come into the inner circle, they say, if you can bear to be implicated. Whispered jokes with Henry Kissinger. A cabinet member attempting to pet a deer that clearly does not want to be pet. The private nervousness before a televised call to the moon. The official broadcasts have plenty to offer—Merle Haggard serenading Pat the day after her birthday, for example, and reminding everyone that “leather boots are still in style for manly footwear.” But only in Haldeman’s home videos can you watch, from high in the stands of a Soviet circus, bears ride motorcycles and know that sitting beside you is Richard Milhous Nixon.
“Next to eating good dinners, a healthy [wo]man with a benevolent turn of mind must like, I think to read about them,” wrote William Thackeray. Satisfy your cravings for maskless restaurants—or, failing that, restaurant reviews—with this riotous 1899 collection from Britain’s first professional restaurant critic, Nathaniel Newnham-Davis. Chortle as the epicure struggles with dish-pushing waiters, tactless champagne guzzlers, and patriots who refuse to eat “à la’s.”
For some reason, the coronavirus era is a boom time for Air Mail, with new missives appearing almost daily. Graydon, as much as I appreciate the urgent updates on the Chateau Marmont, “controversial rosé,” and “a very rare purebred bison,” stop reminding me that I shell out $15 quarterly to get a newsletter written by your friends and Cazzie David.
The exiled revolutionary Bauer begins to retch and stumbles from the dinner table. While he continues off-camera, Bauer’s wife Francesca urges his new secretary Tomas to eat. Bauer’s plate is replaced; he returns, fills it vigorously, and eats loudly, with gusto. Could his indigestion arise from politics? Saying so would be dangerously close to interpretation.
Released way back in 1926, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel follows the eponymous spinster as she moves to the countryside and decides pretty casually to become a witch. You could call it a feminist classic, even though the latent suggestion is that a woman who doesn’t want to marry basically has two options (spinster or witch). But the book’s message is really more complicated than that. Even after her conversion, Lolly’s uncomfortable with the associations of her new role, finding peace only when she comes to terms with the “satisfied but profoundly indifferent ownership” of the devil. Heterosexuality, in a nutshell.
For $12/month, YouTube Premium gives you the YouTube experience of your youth (no ads). Chill out and fall down the hole without interference. See where the algorithm takes you—Japanese citypop, Zizek, the secrets of the Scottish Rite. What else can I say, I think it’s worth it not to see ads on YouTube.
If you’re trying to live out a culinary fantasy in which you have to survive off of canned foods—creativity thrives on constraint!—try out some of the gourmand narrator’s recipes. Wine for lunch, accompanied by such delicacies as anchovy paste, prunes, frozen kipper fillets, lentils, fried tinned new potatoes, and the baffling “eggs poached in scrambled eggs.”
Much like a David Foster Wallace novel, it’s all about the footnotes, baby. That’s where we get such salient details as: “A number of the Harvard faculty members we interviewed also acknowledged that they visited Epstein at his homes in New York, Florida, New Mexico or the Virgin Islands, visited him in jail or on work release, or traveled on one of his planes. Faculty members told us that they undertook these off-campus activities primarily in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of Harvard.” Help, I can’t stop talking about this.
The Black Forest atmospherics and occultish symbolism in this German time-travel show are worth the price of admission alone (thank whoever gave you their Netflix password). But the real MVP is casting director Simone Baer, who conjures up seemingly endless sets of variously-aged German actors that look exactly like one another.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay good money to scoff at David Frum.
The perfect quarantine flick: cultural decadence, a web of contact among strangers and acquaintances, meditations on the radical contingency of human existence, plus an Exodus-worthy plague. In sad news, the real-life analog to William H. Macy’s “quiz kid” died last month, likely of Covid-19.
I recently found an infographic on Reddit outlining the etymologies of infectious diseases. It includes the coronavirus—named for its spikes which “resemble the sun’s corona.” But it also glosses ailments like mumps (from an archaic word meaning “grimace”), and herpes (from the Ancient Greek herpein, meaning “creep.”) The illustrations of the various pathogens are tiny and alien-looking, like toxic plants from a video game. But the language is sillier and more emotional; more human. Rabies traces to Latin’s arbere, related to the word “rage.” Hantavirus came from the Hantan River, which translates to “lament.” Papilloma, the “P” in HPV, evolved from the Latin papilla, or “nipple.”
When Woolf called this Bronte’s best novel, she was simply giving credit where credit is due. Bronte finds words that let her heroine—an obvious proxy for herself—describe mental illness before there was any official vocabulary for it. Still, this is a Victorian Novel, with enough gothic up-nods, father-figure/lovers, and damned good plotting to satisfy the most ardent PBS viewer. Jane who?
Vaguely conscious of the duty-shirking inherent in making a movie whose sole thrust is proving how cool its subject was, the filmmakers go ahead and do it anyway. Apparently coolness just means being a bit of an asshole.
This book is about global crisis, addiction, ghosts and a maybe somewhat better-looking Bernie Madoff. But as much as it’s about the lives of its characters, it’s also about their “counterlives,” or the could-have-beens that are always lurking beneath what actually is. It’s a strange novel to read at a time when typical everyday existence has turned into a sort of counterlife of its own—when what’s hypothetical now is what was normal once. The lines between the could-have-been and the actually-is look blurrier than ever; everything is counter to something else and this reality just happens to be where we’re living.
While it’s a far cry from the sunshine ditties of the The Beach Boys’ teenage heyday or the psychedelic white-man melancholia of the Pet Sounds/Smile era, a case can be made that this oft-overlooked 1970 masterwork is, in fact, the finest thing the Beach Boys ever produced. With primary songwriter Brian Wilson battling hallucinations and drug addiction, the rest of the Boys pitched in equally to the creative process for the first time, making Sunflower an especially varied collection of luscious art-pop. Pay special attention to the proto-indie rock jangle of “All I Wanna Do,” the edgy cop-show rocker “It’s About Time,” and the tender ballad “Forever,” a rare vocal showcase for drummer (and friend of Charles Manson) Dennis Wilson.
One thing about Bill Maher, the late night pundit obsessed with saying the N-word, is that while 560,000 accounts follow him on Instagram, he only follows six. Those accounts are: Isabelle Mathers, an Australian model; CJ Franco, an American model; Svetlana Bilyalova, a Russian model; Alexis Ren, an exercise model; Emily Ratajkowski, the model who got famous for having big naturals in the Blurred Lines music video; and Jardín, a “Premium Cannabis Dispensary” in Las Vegas. Some might mock the horny aspirations of a 64-year-old fellow who looks like Jeff Bridges’ wax figure melted. But the man knows what he likes and it’s five models and one regional weed store. “To a coward,” a wise Maher once said, “courage always looks like stupidity.”
Pleased to see that Dunham is still thriving, i.e. writing about a thinly veiled version of herself. In twenty chapters, published twice a week on Vogue.com, Ally struggles through bad dates (“Could lips sweat? His sure felt like they could”) that bring to mind rosy memories of her last long-term relationship (“furious arguments about Dr Seuss’s intentions as an artist and makeup sex about that”). Who says the novel is dead?
Most people agree Dylan’s late-sixties/early-seventies flirtation with country crooning was a bad idea, so it’s nice to have worse versions of some of the songs you’re already pretty ambivalent about. There are interesting discoveries, to be sure; “Lay, Lady, Lay” without its quivering steel guitar turns out to be a lonelier lay entirely, sadder than the spoony string of requests you’re used to, and Dylan’s version of Cash’s “Wanted Man” feels beautifully old-fashioned, a callback to the stripped-down folksiness of his earliest demo tapes. But then Dylan hits you with his bluesy, slued “Ring of Fire” and you realize that, even if ceaseless reinterpretation is central to the folk tradition, some reimaginings are always going to be a bad idea.
I don’t have any complaints except that it crinkles envelopes a little bit.
Marguerite Duras’s autobiographical novel, set in colonial Saigon. By night, a white schoolgirl slips out of her dorm to her wealthy adult lover; by day, he feeds her family, and she ignores him because he is Chinese. Questions of race, class, consent, and empire fall away in the face of the narrator’s insistence on her own power and pleasure. Duras’ heady, ornate prose enchant the reader away from starker language that she might not have had: rape, coercion, pedophilia.
Escapism is dead.
David Henry Hwang’s fall production at The Public rehashes the 2016 U.S. Presidential election from the perspective of a theater producer in Shanghai. There’s singing and dancing and Trump-bashing by white and Asian people (no Black characters, conveniently). Hillary Clinton is the hero. In the emotional climax, she sings a bluesy show-stopper about her unerring belief in democracy. The message: Dems, get out there and vote harder this year! A neolib fairytale. It was a Pulitzer finalist.
In this epistolary album, less Abelard and Heloise and more Poor Folk, Swedish cult-hero Jens Lekman transitions from singing about women to singing with them. The results are mixed. As they take turns sending songs back and forth, Lekman and Annika Norlin tackle some contemporary political situations with grace and sensitivity (“Not Because It’s Easy, but Because It’s Hard”; “Revenge of the Nerds”) and others with mawkishness (“Who Really Needs Who”; “Cosmetic Store”.) “2018 seemed like a good year to do [this],” Norlin said of her album. “Will Trump blow something up? Will a comet hit the earth? Will either of us go on a fun cruise?” No big questions are answered, but the protagonists do scroll through Facebook, send holiday cards, and shower in public.
Revenge fantasy for awkward girls spurned by popular boys in high school, with an embarrassingly thin intellectual veneer: conversation topics include de-platforming and collegiate bullshitters who haven’t done the reading. All the reviews talk about sex.
The funniest part of the Jargon File, a list of hacker slang that zipped around computer communities from the fifties until 1983, when it was published as The Hacker’s Dictionary, is its insistence on a distinction that few remember or recognize anymore. The word “hackers,” the file maintained, referred only to consummate programmers. “Intelligent. Scruffy. Intense. Abstracted,” their description reads. “Surprisingly for a sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat…Tans are rare.” These stand-up guys had been defamed by “sensationalist journalism,” which had confused them with criminal coders in the mold of Kevins Mitnick or Poulsen, who didn’t share hackers’ “strong revulsion against theft and vandalism.” They called these guys “crackers.”
These rubbery, bright yellow slivers of tapioca don’t come close to tasting like real cheese. What they do resemble is that golden, ungodly but somehow also heavenly liquid that they pour on corn chips at the movie theater to create “nachos.” Add a few—but only a few!—on top of your Impossible Foods® vegan taco crumble taco; definitely don’t use on a sandwich. But maybe melt them on a Beyond Burger®? If you’re more of a strict three-meals-a-day vegan, you may want to just stick to nutritional yeast.
Not the one from the year she won Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love, but the year after. In the accompanying video, we learn that Paltrow chose it because the late ‘90s are back in style. Thoughtful. This hand-beaded “piece of Oscars history” sold for $26,250.
Stephen King’s having a moment: two It movies, a terrible Shining sequel movie, new shows on Hulu and HBO, a Netflix Original Movie. It’s almost enough to make you forget that he writes books, and that some of them are really good. One of them, It, is more than that—it attempts nothing less than to say something comprehensive and definitive about Americans and American life. It’s about solidarity and collective memory, and the relationship between the structural violence of American history and the micro-trauma of individual lives. Yes, this is the one about the clown.
Alejandro Landes’s shoots began at 4AM every day, and food on set was rationed. Base camp lacked electricity, refrigeration, and running water. Like its clear antecedent Apocalypse Now, Monos is a war movie whose creation is more interesting, and gruesome, than the end product.
Crew Dragon Demo-2, SpaceX and NASA’s joint mission to the International Space Station, launched just one day after “Space Force,” Netflix’s generally low-reviewed satire of the Trump administration’s space ambitions. Coincidence? “Space Force”—the show—has been criticized for not being sharp enough in its satire or even funny at all. So has this administration.
It only comes in two flavors, and it needs to sit for like ten minutes before a spoon can pass through it. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as normal ice cream and its “healthiness” is dubious. Cheers!
Almost every year of the 2010s has included a Beatles album’s 50th birthday, and each of the last few years has also brought a sleek, many-many-disc deluxe box set (a.k.a. another reason to blow a hundred bucks on the band that you don’t listen to anymore). The Abbey Road set is inessential for everybody: the album’s still great, but the included outtakes and rehearsal cuts are just inferior versions of the real deal. Meanwhile, the Sgt. Pepper set will have audio nerds salivating; its stereo remix (!) brings a new level of clarity to each tuba note and guitar solo. Only the White Album set is truly valuable for a casual fan, with an extra disc of home demos that are, in the Lennon ones especially, quite poignant.
Forget Animal Crossing. The best quarantine discovery is that Neopets is way easier to play as an adult, especially when you’re armed with cheat codes from fansites like JellyNeo and DailyNeopets. Feed your Zafara some omelette, play Tombola, spin the Wheel of Excitement, and squeeze in a quick game of Meerca Chase. 2020 could be the year you finally paint your Usul with a Royal Paintbrush at the Rainbow Pool.
Genre-film made in the circumpolar region just feels different. Icy, but open. Given two winter months in some of the coldest climates in the world, filmmakers shoot an unforgiving, otherworldly and quite frankly arrestingly beautiful cold that we access through the screen. These adventures in the high North usually screen every February in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Thanks to the pandemic, Vimeo holds all of this year’s entries alongside the best of years past.