Mentions | Spring 2023 ​



The Climb |


In the first-ever reality-TV rock-climbing show, a group of amateur climbers leave their jobs, travel the world, and compete in rock-adjacent challenges to win $100,000 and enough support to become the most hard-bodied of unicorns: a sponsored climber. The show’s fatal flaws include: saccharine confessionals; reductive, cliché-heavy narration that repels the target demographic (other climbers); and its cohost, former Baywatch star and dilettante climber Jason Momoa, whose main credentials seem to be that he is famous and ripped. The shirtless, man-bunned actor stands near a cliff yelling generic bro encouragements like “That was epic” and “I’ve never seen anything like that.” Unfortunately, the latter is abundantly clear.


Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs |


“I should have left it to discerning editors to publish all my pieces of writing as essays,” Australian novelist Gerald Murnane writes in the author’s note for this 2005 collection. Much of Murnane’s work has a conspicuous hybridity, eluding easy classification. “Stream System,” which appears here as an essay, was first delivered as a lecture at La Trobe University in 1988, and later collected as a short story in Velvet Waters (1990), before assuming the status of title story in Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Stream System: The Collected Short Fiction of Gerald Murnane (2018). The 84-year-old seems ambivalent about these categorical distinctions. Revisiting Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs in another collection, Last Letter to a Reader, Murnane asks: “Does any of this matter greatly? If a prestigious publishing house is prepared to publish as fiction what was previously called an essay, has the Order of Things been violated?”


Babylon |


Though they paused their joint directing career a few years ago, Joel and Ethan Coen remain ubiquitous in contemporary entertainment. Damien Chazelle’s retread of the brothers’ 2016 Hollywood satire Hail, Caesar! is only the latest in a slew of tonal imitations, including Amsterdam, Inherent Vice, The Counselor, and Logan Lucky. Indie filmmakers of tomorrow, take heart: you needn’t pursue the franchise path to make yourself a brand. Create a style at once enigmatic and imitable and your work will endure — with or without you.


Shapes: My First Pop-Up! |


Like hypertext fiction, 3D movies, or those Cineplexes that deploy steam and scents, the children’s book with tag-pull or pop-up elements at first seems to be a logical innovation. The mechanics of origami artistry can mildly charm adults and astonish their offspring; thus, the joys of in-your-face geometry in the aptly named Shapes. But it only takes three or four readings before the target audience rips off the pop-ups — which, for all the cutting-edge construction, are still made from paper. Then it’s just a picture book that doesn’t make sense.


A Few Personal Messages |


Artists’ prison memoirs tend to include far fewer reflections on art and its making than one would expect. This is partly because patterns of brutality and dehumanization tend to take priority, and because incarceration itself requires “a mundane imagination” mostly focused on getting out, per Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died: Prison Notes. Yet for French actor Pierre Clémenti, who, in the early seventies, spent almost two years in Italian prisons awaiting trial for a bogus drug charge, imprisonment becomes an occasion to consider film’s capacity for imagining alternative forms of social life. He had initially moved to Rome to work with Visconti and stayed out of a love for Italian filmmakers like Fellini, Pasolini, and Bertolucci, all of whom had “a sense for beauty and finesse,” Clémenti says in his memoir (first published in 1973 and now translated into English by Claire Foster); but these directors were not “cut off from the people.” While cut off himself, Clémenti finds that incarceration feels a lot like acting: “The trial, the court, the ruling of justice — it’s always a work of theatre.”


Tracy Zooms In |


Late one Friday night in February, Turner Classic Movies aired an unpublicized, one-off transmission in which Warren Beatty reprised his role as Dick Tracy — the no-nonsense comic-strip detective he first played in a self-directed 1990 adaptation — and was interviewed via Zoom, first by TCM hosts and then via split screen by Beatty as himself. It’s a stunt Beatty has pulled before. He released a similarly skeletal, 30-minute TV special in 2009, and both programs only make sense when you realize they’re copyright dumps — quasi-infomercials designed to renew Beatty’s legal claim to the Tracy character’s likeness for the future projects in which the star is evidently still interested. Beatty has always liked to play Tinseltown avatars, from Bugsy Siegel to Howard Hughes, and, to some degree, his legal affair with Tracy amounts to another metafictive turn of the screw. With present-day Hollywood in its own desperate double bind of self-mythologizing and I.P. speculation, this portrait of the artist as contract negotiation is right on time.


The East Village Eye |


The print archive of this monthly compendium of East Village happenings from 1979 to 1987 has now settled in the New York Public Library, where it can be accessed by future generations of punks, hipsters, scenemakers, youthquakers, the queer, the quirky, the hangers-on, the also-rans, and, as F. Scott Fitzgerald called them in the ’20s, “the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” Edited and published by the late Leonard Abrams for little or no money, the Eye contains one of the first-ever interviews with David Lynch, Richard Hell’s “Slum Journal,” Cookie Mueller’s advice column (only slightly more avant-garde than Ann Landers), and much too much information about John Sex’s overstuffed G-string.


Porn: An Oral History |


Far less salacious than its title suggests, this new release compiles a series of lukewarm conversations between essayist Polly Barton and various acquaintances about their personal histories with porn. Despite differences in race, gender, and sexuality, her interlocutors fall back on the same topics: violence, taboo, and the internet. Porn may still feel off-limits and edgy — but it isn’t, really. The absurd number of undergraduates writing erotica should tell us so. Without significant research or any novel insight, Barton guides us through a seedy underworld which is not very seedy, nor in the end much of an underworld at all.


The Super 8 Years |


Think of this hour-long documentary as Annie Ernaux’s Planet Earth: the writer’s younger self and two children are seen in their natural habitat — silent, ’70s-era footage shot by Ernaux’s ex-husband — as she explains familial errands through an omnipresent voice-over. One critic dubbed the format “a narrated slideshow,” but Ernaux’s blunt, aloof descriptions lend gravitas to the mundane, to occasionally self-parodic effect. (In one scene, Ernaux brings her children home from school and shyly poses in the foyer; she calls this “an extraordinary moment,” with the emotional power of a theatrical “happening.”) If you’ve ever imagined David Attenborough narrating your daily activities, Ernaux provides a plausible script, at least for anyone plotting to one day “assemble all the events of my life in a novel.” Watching a family vacation, she muses that there is a “certain sweetness to revisiting London,” where as a teenage au pair she had “been very unhappy, become bulimic, and shoplifted.” As Attenborough might say, the human animal is the strangest of all.


The Roofball World Championships |


There is perhaps no better distillation of the American culture of athleticism than this professionally produced video series documenting the annual championships of a little-known game, held in a single suburban driveway in Beaverton, Oregon. Roofball, its attendant jargon (a “ping” is worth five points), and its series of collectible cards were invented some 25 years ago by an ESPN production assistant and his sister’s friends. But it may as well be the Kentucky Derby for how fired up the neighbors get watching these athletes — some retired jocks, others definitely not — heave a football onto a roof, aiming at different chimneys, then catch it. Traditionally, players had to run around, or on top of, the inventor’s sister’s Volvo, parked nearby. But every game evolves with the times; when the 2023 tournament went online in March, a fan commented, “No car in the driveway?!?! Travesty.”


Fauda |


If you binge-watched all 48 episodes of this Israeli-produced suspense thriller on Netflix, you might think that you understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You’d be wrong, of course, but not for the series’s lack of trying. Superb production value, clever plotting, and engaging actors combine to tilt the scale towards the sexier, smarter, and technologically superior Israelis, whose “counter-terrorist unit” displays the same flavor of over-the-top comradery as its counterparts on American police procedurals. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, comprises self-interested appeasers, whose leaders here get murdered by their own men and whose constituents, however innocent at first, always reveal themselves to be co-conspirators. There is virtually no reference to the right-wing fanaticism in the settlements — or mention of the settlements at all, for that matter. The Israelis hold all the correct views about abortion and homosexuality, while the Palestinians cling to mindless, archaic religious views and bloodlust. The show leaves little room for questions, but one lingers: what is the Hebrew word that the subtitles so often translate to “bro”? 


“The Langley Files” |


There is a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman at the headquarters of the CIA. “She exemplifies how we need a diverse cadre of officers to do our mission here at CIA,” one CIA employee tells three other CIA employees on the CIA’s new podcast. Words like “black site,” “Contras,” and “coup d’état” remain unuttered, but Jack Ryan jokes abound as mononymous hosts Walter and Dee and their in-house guests strain to convince listeners that the CIA is a normal workplace staffed by normal Americans. Walter binges TV shows; Director Bill Burns drives a Subaru Outback. A “big misconception about covert action is that it’s fundamentally undemocratic,” the chief historian muses in one episode. “That is a totally erroneous statement.” Sure, the “assassination plots — Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, a few other places” were “arguably undemocratic,” but by his count, “roughly seven out of eight” covert actions are pro-democracy. That’s “the good news story here.” In another, a recruiter poses a spooky rhetorical: “We’re human, just like the next person, right?”


The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window |


Lorraine Hansberry once wrote an unfinished commentary called “Simone De Beauvoir and The Second Sex.” One of her lesser-known plays, which recently moved from BAM to Broadway and stars Oscar Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan as a bickering couple in the Greenwich Village of the 1960s, is A Doll’s House by way of Sartre: for Brosnahan’s unhappily married Iris, there is no exit.


MILF Manor |


TLC’s latest reality series takes the genre’s humiliation logic to a radical extreme: eight horned up divorcées, armed with subtextless catchphrases (“Hi, I’m Soyoung, and I am so wet”), vie for love with the unlikeliest partners: each other’s sons. In one telling moment, twenty-year-old Joey observes of his mother’s perky pair of tits that “the headlights are always on.” She quips back: “It didn’t bother you when you were a baby sucking on them.” Freud believed that, for well-adjusted children, the Oedipal phase eventually comes to an end, “just as the milk-teeth fall out when the permanent ones begin to grow.” On MILF Manor, let’s just say the milk-teeth remain in place.


The Lincoln Highway |


“The American road is an ouroboros,” Noah Caldwell-Gervais says in this YouTube documentary. “All roads in America simply lead to more America.” More America is certainly what one finds over the course of his 7.5-hour epic across the first transcontinental motor road, from San Francisco to New York, in a ’78 Ford Thunderbird. Gervais got his start recording multi-hour video-game reviews; travelogues were originally a side project. Here, though, he’s produced the defining record of the road which “Tom Sawyer[ed] the nation into painting the landscape with concrete and asphalt and brick.” Dashcam highlights include the desolate 1913 route from Nevada into Ibapah, Utah (far lonelier than the tourist-trap “Loneliest Road in America,” U.S.-50); a “Mormon pleasure palace” resort once billed as the West’s sin-free Coney Island which, after several fires, gained new life as an EDM festival venue; and “BibleWalk,” the largest Creationist wax museum (slogan: “Ohio’s Only Wax Museum”). Gervais’s journey concludes where the so-called “Main Street Across America” now ends: the Times Square H&M.


Cruella |


With its girlboss narrative and queer side character, Disney’s latest coming-of-evil story — about 101 Dalmatians’s fashion-obsessed villain — attempts a nod to liberal politics, but it’s ultimately a tool for the religious right. The message is cautionary: women who want abortions are cruel, career-driven, self-obsessed egomaniacs who can’t possibly love other people and also belong in jail. Finally, a modern Disney movie that reflects the company’s Floridian political donations.


Courtney Love on “WTF” |


“I went on a date with Salman Rushdie to the Moth Festival,” Love says at one point during a breathless hour hosted by Marc Maron. She never goes on dates, she says; she was “just trying to stalk Jonathan Franzen, to find my grandmother” (Desperate Characters author and Franzen pal Paula Fox). She then adopts an apologetic baritone, admitting she’s “never read The Corrections to this day. I don’t read modern fiction.” (Love says she has left the “overculture” — her preferred term for the mainstream, which she learned from Lana Del Rey.) Later, she tells us of the time she saw Miloš Forman, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Václav Havel smoking a cigar. At the end of the hour, she frets that she hasn’t been sufficiently funny or interesting. Of celebrities, Love says, “I didn’t know we were supposed to be likable.” At least she remembers they’re supposed to be cool.


Alternate-side parking |


On the one hand, any annoyance that disincentivizes car use and pushes people towards mass transit is environmentally good. On the other hand, how many murders are contemplated while circling block after gentrified NYC block, looking for a spot that essentially does not exist, what with the growth in car ownership during the pandemic and the willingness among the populace to play the double-park game from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.? At least our parking spot warfare is good practice for the climate apocalypse, when we’ll also be brazenly battling our neighbors over once-plentiful resources. 


The Human Voice |


Tilda Swinton stars in this 2020 short — Pedro Almodóvar’s first English-language movie, loosely adapted from Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play — as a woman abandoned, alone, and falling to pieces. Swinton spends most of her screen time ostensibly on the phone with an erstwhile lover, but her eyes are curiously blank, her movements automatic, and she speaks disjointedly; we wonder whether we are witnessing dialogue or monologue. When she eventually lights her own home on fire, the viewer can’t help but exult.


Undercurrent: The Disappearance of Kim Wall |


This two-part HBO miniseries about the horrific murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall by inventor and so-called “Danish Elon Musk” Peter Madsen aboard his self-made submarine is more like a therapy session than a documentary. Most of those interviewed for the series had never met Wall; they investigated and mourned her death, pursuing this documentary as a way to telegraph their empathy. Among them: a Navy commander who shows us her missing fingers from an accident years ago, a writer who grapples with the fact that he wrote Madsen’s biography months prior, and the leader of the naval fleet that found her remains. What is the series trying to say? We spin in circles trying to understand why or how this crime happened, listening to the voices of police officers and detectives, while only a few seconds are dedicated to her words. Skip this and read Wall’s reporting.


The Beam |


This new California landmark is a skyward-pointing beacon of purple light activated when the Sacramento Kings win. But on Yelp, it is listed as a church. The Beam purports to be the world’s brightest full-color laser — six, technically — visible for miles, and in December, it became “bigger,  brighter, and more purple” at the urging of Kings fans, whose team pride was turbocharged by a winning streak and the now-realized possibility of ending the longest playoff drought in NBA history. Sacramento has never been known for sporting prowess, religiosity, or, really, anything aside from its proximity to San Francisco, but The Beam has brought Sacramentans back into some kind of faith. In the words of one Yelp reviewer: “AMEN.”


Corsage |


“A lion does not lose sleep over the opinions of sheep,” says Empress Elisabeth of Austria, played by Vicky Krieps, at one point in Marie Kreutzer’s period piece set in nineteenth-century Austria. Krieps can hold a scene, and her presence partially redeems this rote, insipid tale of a woman on the brink — yet another affluent female convalescent who talks out of turn, holds her breath in the bathtub, and faints to escape obligations, only this time accompanied with a twee synth-pop ballad. You could be forgiven for calling Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette to mind, and others have, but Kreutzer is not a fan, as she told The Upcoming last year: “I don’t like that film; I don’t want people to think of that film.” Well, sounds like this lion could use a nap.


Songs of Surrender |


The fact that Bono is one of the most annoying guys the entertainment industry has ever invented obscures the reality that U2 was once a legitimately great band. Often misunderstood as cringy, wimpy post-punk pastiche, the four perfect studio albums U2 released between 1983 and 1991 — War, The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby — are in fact the greatest accomplishments of the most unfairly maligned genre in pop: Contemporary Christian Music. They make you want to believe — if not necessarily in God then in justice, grace, and the idea that someone who calls himself “The Edge” can be cool. Songs of Surrender, the quartet’s new compilation of 40 re-recorded tracks from the back catalog, is not great. It is not even merely terrible. It is so uninspired, so listless and inertial, that it threatens to forever occlude the real virtues of the original songs. If hell is the absence of God, this album suggests that Bono’s many sins have, at last, been duly punished.


@MatthewTHealy |


This short-lived, then recently revived Twitter account ostensibly belonged to The 1975’s frontman, an enfant terrible who has lately made a habit of smooching fans onstage. Last fall, it had no profile picture, no banner, no links in its bio, and a mere 189 tweets since August. A quick perusal revealed a following of 152,000 and a wide variety of content, from viral tweets (“i don’t know what 0% APR means”) to mirror selfies that obscure the identity of the photographer. Was it really Matty? In the end, the most conspicuous clue was the bio: “deleted once I’m verified.” Even once blue checks went up for sale, there was the lingering question — if it’s not verified, is it real? We’ll never know now; the account disappeared sometime in December. It popped back up in early February from a seemingly new user identifying themself as a “fake matty protector.” The “username is in safe hands until he’s back,” read one tweet. “I couldn’t let someone pretend to be him and cause chaos.” 


Skinamarink |


Shot for around the cost of a couple maxed-out credit cards and popularized via an accidentally leaked screener, Kyle Edward Ball’s horror debut is a meditation on the fact that being a child is an exercise in perpetual, often invisible terror. A brother and sister can’t sleep, and their house may be slowly devouring them. (This isn’t a movie that traffics in certainty.) The sleepless siblings speak so softly they need subtitles. Flannery O’Connor once wrote that “anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” But first, Ball reminds us, you actually have to survive it.


Mentions | Issue Nine ​



Straight Line Crazy |


It’s not an indictment of New York City, necessarily, that Robert Moses built everything from the FDR Drive to the Central Park Zoo with both Herculean corruption and total disregard for the welfare of working-class people. Nor is the fact that Hudson Yards, the corporate mall complex where people literally go to kill themselves, was built in the heart of Manhattan. The fact that this play — a 150-minute Moses caricature complete with barely disguised British accents, a script that reads like an A.P. U.S. History extra credit assignment, and Jane Jacobs breaking the fourth wall to say, “I’m Jane Jacobs” — was put on at Hudson Yards, and that some people are paying $2,000 to see it? Now that’s an indictment of New York City. 

E.S.B., K.V., & R.P.

Laila Gohar’s tableware universe |


Perhaps thanks to social media, where the way that something photographs is more important than how it tastes, Laila Gohar became an in-demand caterer for people who don’t eat. She assembles dopey mounds of loose marshmallows and startlingly queasy shellfish topiaries, mostly for high-end brand activations, and has received slavering acclaim from a credulous fashion press corps desperate for levity. There’s a light flavor in her work of Les Dîners de Gala, Salvador Dalí’s bonkers 1973 cookbook (crayfish topiaries figure prominently), except the surrealist didn’t prescribe life-sized butter ears. Depending on your tolerance for whimsy, Gohar’s installations either amplify the artful pleasures of nature’s endless bounty or tease out a compelling argument for a wealth tax. When the pandemic forced the luxury sector to momentarily stop throwing parties for itself, Gohar cannily conceived an alternate revenue stream in “Gohar World,” a “tableware universe” — read: online shop — where you too can avail yourself of cotton napkins with dangling pearls shaped like chicken feet and trompe l’oeil candles resembling sweaty wedges of Gruyère (essentially, handsome gags). But in a way, convincing our most image-anxious industries to pay you to arrange boiled potatoes for dinner parties is the best joke of all. 


Gorbachev. Heaven |


In the first scene of Vitaly Mansky’s 2020 documentary, an 88-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev watches clips on his computer of his younger self — standing with Ronald Reagan at the Reykjavík summit, listening to Shimon Peres call him “a man who has changed history forever” — until he falls asleep at the keys. Mansky, a long-time acquaintance of his subject, renders a domestic portrait of the man once loved and hated by millions, now never without the walking frame on which he leans unsteadily and wide-eyed. There is, thankfully, no newsreel footage; the film does not try to teach us anything. It is, rather, a portrait of aging: the last General Secretary of the Communist Party tells rambling stories and bursts into songs his mother taught him. Towards the end, he watches Putin on television speak sternly of selflessness and generosity in a New Year’s address. Gorbachev seems tired and unmoved. When his hearing aid falls out, he is in no hurry to put it back in.


Whereabouts |


Although Jhumpa Lahiri’s protagonist is a writer, we never see her write — until she starts walking her friends’ dog. “Our walks together thrust me forward, and though he pulls me, I’m the one holding the leash,” she says. Shortly thereafter, she pushes herself to accept a writing grant. Animal-as-muse is a familiar trope: Sylvia Plath’s “rare, random descent” of inspiration came as a black rook; Lahiri finds it in the pull of a dog in need of a pee.


Titanique |


No joke is too stupid, too crude, or too deranged for this musical adaptation of Titanic, which employs a campy Celine Dion, played by Marla Mindelle, to narrate (and sing!) Jack and Rose’s tragic love story in the Chelsea basement of a former Gristedes. It’s pointless to try to make sense of why this bizarre pop-culture medley — featuring a botched Dion-style Quebecois accent, Jack’s ambiguous sexuality, and reality-T.V. personality Frankie Grande (half-brother of Ariana) as both the captain of the ship and Luigi from Mario Kart — works. The only way to stay afloat is to heed the wisdom sung by Dion herself: “That’s the way it is.”


Prima Facie |


English actress Jodie Comer opens playwright Suzie Miller’s one-woman show with the élan of a frat boy describing his last Oxford-style debate: “I fire four questions like bullets… Face, shock. Utter annihilation. And the look I get. Dawning. You fucking idiot. You thought you had this.” To Comer’s Tessa, a young criminal barrister, law is a story one tells with the cadence of slam poetry. Judge and jury may as well lift scoring placards and award wigged MVPs at trial’s end. After some opening character development, the play turns didactic when Tessa is raped by a colleague. Comer describes how “the system I believed would protect me” has failed. Absent in the play is any notion that legal rot goes deeper than procedure, or that it regularly and more acutely disenfranchises those without law degrees. Comer’s final speech evinces just how little Miller has to say: “All I know is that somewhere. Sometime. Somehow. Something has to change.” 


r/LinkedInLunatics |


“While Russia is taking over Ukraine,” one screenshotted user writes, “we’re taking over the Amazon event industry.” Another posts an opening for a “junior wife,” with three years of cooking experience required. As this subreddit makes clear, the professional networking site is rife with delusional posts, dubious workplace parables, absurd virtue signaling, inane inspo babble, hackneyed stabs at “disruption,” distended vanity titles, and even, paradoxically, the #nsfw. We’re witnessing a renaissance of careerist cringe — it seems personal brands, and their skeptics, have finally found a job.


Leopoldstadt |


If you’re looking to see someone who once called himself “Jew-ish” do public penance, this Tom Stoppard apologia — about a more culturally sophisticated version of the 85-year-old playwright’s own family, much of which was murdered in the Holocaust while he escaped to the U.K. as a child, and about his own youthful attempts to downplay his past and appear fully British — is for you. If you’d like to see good writing and acting on stage, post-Covid Broadway is probably not the place to go. 

R.P. |


The weirdest cinematic treasures of Czech surrealism, Bulgarian folk drama, and Polish sci-fi aren’t available on HBO Max, Paramount+, or even the Criterion Channel, but would-be consumers can sate their hunger on this site that sounds like spam but isn’t. The owners — whoever they are — are as secretive as dissidents behind the Iron Curtain; what they have produced is a delectable combination of thrilling discovery and confounding subtitles (“Separate Tierra del Fuego… the subtle of the brut… slowly, with great art!”). In a streaming landscape devoid of mysteries, a lifetime membership to a quasi-legal hotbed of rare films supplied by the determinedly anonymous re-enchants spectatorship. Most importantly, it’s the only place to watch I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen.


Spoorloos (The Vanishing) |


George Sluizer’s 1988 thriller, which Stanley Kubrick supposedly called the scariest film he had seen, is, in spite of its premise, a relatable movie. Forgive me for being glib about such a plot: it follows Rex, a Dutchman who spends years searching for his girlfriend, Saskia, after she is kidnapped at a rest stop. What’s terrifying is not so much the fact of Saskia’s murder but the absurd banality of her disappearance. The story is a violent transposition of the agony of abandonment; this kind of passion can follow a death, of course, but can also accompany a breakup, a betrayal, even a casual rejection whose meaning “is precisely to be meaningless,” as Annie Ernaux has written. Kubrick himself once said that the “most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent.” I wonder how many times he was ghosted.


@julesthelawyer |


In her tongue-in-cheek vlogs, lawyer and self-described “famous person” Julia Romano asks brands to put her face on their billboards and her fiancé to “pay for the sins of men everywhere.” There is a devoted following for her dry, satirical monologues about her Starbucks addiction, student debt, and dream house manifestation, plus cameos from her hairless Sphynx cats. How unfortunate that her brother, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jordan Romano, has to live in her shadow. 


The Tracy Anderson Method |


For fitness enthusiasts weary of SoulCycle’s pseudo-spiritual gibberish, Western yoga’s cringe appropriations, and Peloton instructors’ inane monologues about how much they love music, consider the Tracy Anderson Method. It has its faults: the cult following and celebrity clientele, the glamor shots of the company’s founder that accost you with each click on its website, the $4,000-6,000 price tags for luxury equipment, which include such delights as a “toxin-free supportive landing pad” and access to a “universe of original, nature-inspired choreography.” But the greatest asset of her online classes, which goes unremarked upon in Instagram ads, is that absolutely no one speaks. Tracy assumes that you can watch and copy her movements in companionable silence; only a friendly beep signals when it’s time for a new move. With Tracy, the exerciser is spared the search for deeper meaning and the pretense of wanting anything besides a nicer butt.


Coway Airmega AP-1512HH Mighty |


This $229.99 air purifier, which looks like a cross between an iPod Shuffle and a toaster, has been a top pick at Wirecutter for seven years running. Since 2010, Coway has sold over fifteen million air purifiers in 60-plus countries and made more than one online reviewer “emotional.” The company claims that its product can remove 99 percent of “volatile organic compounds” and wrap every room in a “blanket of 24/7 clean air,” but what you’re really getting is the privilege of paying for the only free thing in your house (air).


Funny Girl |


Depending how you look at it, the moral of this puzzling 1964 melodrama is either: (1) don’t let a (con)man bring you down, or (2) don’t be so successful that you drive your (con)man away. The moral of the current revival — starring the questionably literate and unquestionably annoying Lea Michele, who’s been announcing her intention to play the role of Fanny Brice, both personally and as her character on the unwatchable T.V. show Glee, her entire career — is: (1) if you declare your ambitions publicly and repeatedly, everyone will root for you to fail, and (2) if everyone’s rooting for you to fail, you have to be so constantly and fanatically flawless, so energetic, so show-stoppingly good, that no one can find anything to criticize. She is.


Wall Street Oasis |


In 2022, a mere three percent of Harvard’s MBA class went into investment banking, many opting instead for the greener pastures of Silicon Valley, where the land is fat and weekends are reserved for unwinding, as long as you’re responsive on Slack. Yet persistent Wall Street  aspirants seek refuge at Wall Street Oasis, a forum for bankers (“monkeys,” in WSO parlance) to discuss deal sleds, decry diversity quotas, and bemoan the death of white-shoe business culture. A recent post asking “Can we fucking celebrate our accomplishments here for once?” received 51 bananas.


Bill de Blasio’s retirement |


It has been a bumpy adjustment to civilian life for former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. There were the brief, go-nowhere looks at runs for governor and Congress, then the frantic acquisition of academic gigs at NYU and, this fall, Harvard, where he shared a panel with the former mayor of Wrocław, Poland. He may have dyed his hair. He has not landed a job at MSNBC. He is now in the stage of political afterlife at which a disgruntled former aide feels safe calling him “childish, intellectually lazy, overconfident in his own abilities, and annoyingly condescending” in a tell-some about working with politicians. Yet a glimmer of senior-citizen hope lies on the horizon, as the honeymoon ends for de Blasio’s crypto-boosting successor, Eric Adams, whose mayoral administration has been light on policy achievements, heavy on Zero Bond appearances. Does the old progressive giraffe look better in retrospect? Brother, in this country you can be a senator at 95.


Glenn Gould’s humming |


Forty years after his death, the Canadian composer and pianist remains one of classical music’s most recognizable names and one of the most technically exacting instrumentalists, period. Yet his recordings have a glaring, infamous flaw: his humming, which was guttural, atonal, and often impossible to excise, to the frustration of his audio engineers. Or was it a flaw? The critic James Wood compared Gould to The Who drummer Keith Moon, an unlikely peer not least due to the latter’s tendency to blow up toilets. The chief connection is their disruptive vocalizations, a reminder that there is a human behind the instrument.


The Blue Notebooks |


British composer Max Richter has said that his second album, composed in the early weeks of 2003, was intended as “a protest album about Iraq” and “the utter futility of so much armed conflict.” Ironically, its most famous track, “On the Nature of Daylight,” has become the backdrop for dozens of fictional conflicts. It’s appeared on the soundtracks of at least ten T.V. shows and as many movies, adding an overused aura of melancholy to spaceships (Arrival), an insane asylum (Shutter Island), and Michelin-grade toro (Jiro Dreams of Sushi). Less useful to Hollywood, evidently, are the album’s stranger highlights, such as the tracks on which Tilda Swinton, accompanied by a percussive typewriter and video-game-like echo, reads aloud from Czesław Miłosz and Franz Kafka.


Young Frankenstein bloopers |


The blooper reel is a dying art. Unlike the Avengers-style end-credit scenes served to today’s audiences, bloopers aren’t a sales pitch for the next tent-pole letdown. They are simply the cherry on top. The pinnacle of the form is from this 1974 Mel Brooks classic. Gene Wilder, playing the titular scientist, breaks easiest; his costar Cloris Leachman later said that Wilder’s episodes of hysterical laughter forced them to reshoot takes up to fifteen times. Which is even funnier when you remember that Wilder cowrote the screenplay: he’s howling at his own jokes. 


“Little Amal” in New York City |


This twelve-foot-tall Syrian refugee child puppet arrived in mid-September for a breakneck nineteen-day, 42-event tour across all five boroughs. New Yorkers came out in droves to see her, but more importantly, to be seen seeing her: a work of photogenic humanitarian art paraded through the city. One afternoon in Brooklyn, Park Slope families stumbled over themselves to angle for Instagram. “Wait! Stop right there,” one mother shouted at her child. “Let me get a photo!” An unwitting reflection of the circus-like state of affairs for New York’s human asylum seekers. 


The New York City Marathon |


The slogan of the New York City Marathon is “It will move you.” What is “it”? Daylight Savings Time moved the clocks back; Google Maps moved masses onto the 4 train at 4 a.m., despite the fact that it was out of service; the Staten Island Ferry, crown jewel of the NYC transit system, moved more people than it typically does on a Sunday at 5:30 a.m. “Don’t pay attention to red lights,” the coordinator instructed the driver of the school bus to Athlete Village, which moved riders to latch their seat belts. But what’s truly moving about the marathon is the full-body experience of being buoyed along all five boroughs by a solid wall of applause from those so moved to come watch. Monday is even more sacred: no runners shall move.


Selections from Australia’s Western Desert: From the Collection of Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield |


In 2015, Steve Martin found out that Aboriginal people in Australia’s Western Desert make good art. He read about them in The New York Times. Now he and his wife own 50-odd pieces, mixing Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri with Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. Sometimes they let other people look, too: the couple showed a selection of pieces at Gagosian in 2019, then six more at New York’s National Arts Club last autumn. Though the club is private, the exhibit was open to the public. Most visitors were tourists hoping to meet Martin, a receptionist said, though some did look at the art. Wall text explained that the paintings contain “both contemporary truths and secrets of the oldest living culture in the world,” though those truths did not seem to involve colonialism. While Aboriginal people exist (suspended in time, out in the desert), settlers apparently do not. But no matter: the paintings come cheap. Real contemporary art runs into the billions, but you can get a Bill Whiskey for some hundred thousand. Maybe an Emily Kame Kngwarreye for less than a mil’.


Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair |


Debut novel by June Gervais; The Alchemist for LIRR riders.


Turn Every Page |


It seemed like Robert Moses was everywhere in 2022 — not just in New York’s urban landscape, but also on stage at The Shed, in a Hopper exhibit at the Whitney, and most recently, in filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb’s latest project. The movie is ostensibly about two other Roberts — biographer Caro and his longtime editor Gottlieb (also Lizzie’s father) — but those Bobs spend a huge amount of time discussing the first. We see in Moses’s rapacious power-brokering a parallel to the wordsmiths’ literary ambitions. His obsessive attention to detail was channeled into megalomaniacal construction projects; theirs into the placement of semicolons throughout the five books they’ve collaborated on. They may not have razed any neighborhoods as part of their process, but at the very least, they share Moses’s air of secrecy. When is the sixth tome coming out? The Bobs (both around 90) say we aren’t allowed to ask.


Euphoria |


Julian Rosefeldt’s giant film installation at the Park Avenue Armory billed itself as an “absurdist reflection on the history of human greed,” but it was more like an anarchic game of exquisite corpse. The show consisted of a series of short, stylized clips in which actors read unattributed quotes from such luminaries as Sophocles, Audre Lorde, Ayn Rand, Snoop Dogg, and Michel Houellebecq. Life-size projections of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus ringed the stage. In one segment, employees at a bank broke out into spontaneous acrobatics while counting money, making it disappear, and setting it aflame. In another, Cate Blanchett voiced a tiger that roamed an empty supermarket, reciting Marx, Adorno, and Terry Pratchett. Any heavy-handed consumer critique was undercut by Rosefeldt’s silliness: at the end, the creature licked some tomato sauce, laughed, and began to sing an aria.


This Beautiful Future |


In this production of Rita Kalnejais’s 2017 play, a seventeen-year-old girl quarrels with, fawns over, and eventually bangs a young Nazi. The set, a pink, womblike bunker in occupied France, was one of the few understated elements of its autumn run at Cherry Lane Theatre — which indulged in several daydream sequences, a pillow fight, and fever-pitched debates over Hitler’s impending surrender. Meanwhile, the couple’s older selves watch the action unfold from a glass karaoke booth upstage, occasionally jumping in to perform anachronistic pop ballads. Among them: Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which inexplicably turns into an audience sing-along. It’s unclear whether the play is a metaphorical plea for bipartisanship or an ill-advised attempt to humanize Nazis, but either way, it succeeds about as well as an auditorium of theater-goers trying to harmonize to early-aughts pop songs. 


Brian G. Hughes |


This turn-of-the-century businessman made his fortune as a cardboard-box manufacturer, but was better known as an “author of humorous hoaxes.” His practical jokes drew on the absurdity of the commodity fetish: burying “gold” — brass filings — at the beach and watching the boardwalk collapse in the resulting scrum; proudly donating a plot of land in Brooklyn for a public park, later revealed to be sixteen square feet; entering a “tramp cat” into a Madison Square Garden cat show under the name “Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan, by Sweeper, by Brush,” valued at more than $1,000 but not for sale. Kept in a gilded cage and fed ice cream and chicken, Nicodemus won a prize. The frequency with which Hughes made headlines suggests that, then as now, the public enjoyed when those at the top admit they’re scammers. But unlike with our modern jokester-barons, Hughes’s hoaxes outshone his other enterprises. When apoplexy took him at 75, his obit read, “BRIAN G. HUGHES, FAMOUS JOKER, DIES.”


Listening to Kenny G |


Penny Lane seeks to unpack the thorny career of the world’s most famous elevator musician, interviewing talking-head critics and musicologists who squirm as they attempt to parse the popularity of Kenny’s syrupy sax tones. But the film’s most perversely compelling aspect is the extensive time spent with the G-man himself at his palatial Seattle compound. Lane lets the affable, slightly dead-eyed megastar speak for himself — showing off his daily three-hour practice regimen, his collection of golf trophies, and his private plane, while using record-sales stats to ward off critics. Behind the all-American ambition, there’s an almost loveable guilelessness to the man. Note the awkward way he admits that white privilege might have contributed a smidgen to his success. Or the fact that he kicks off an early scene with this confession: “I don’t know if I love music that much.”


Bigtop Burger |


Animator Ian Worthington’s very short web series, which debuted in June 2020, is one of the pandemic era’s few non-corny paeans to the beleaguered American worker. Its nine episodes follow a clown-themed burger truck, whose motto (“Hot Tires… Hot Burgers!”) is roughly as explicable as the staff’s job requirements — from wrestling “jacked” elk for meat to dueling roadside with their non-clown-themed rival, Zomburger. Coworkers Penny, Tim, and Billie nonchalantly accept the antics of their boss, an actual clown or possible extraterrestrial named Steve who yearns to be “back on Broadway, yet again” as Old Deuteronomy in Cats. “Everything is fine,” Steve often says. “Don’t phone the fire department.” 


The Eternal Daughter |


In The Souvenir (2019) and The Souvenir Part II (2021), Joanna Hogg cast Tilda Swinton’s real-life daughter as Hogg’s younger self and Swinton as her mom (with Alice McMillan playing a young Swinton, Hogg’s actress friend). When Hogg announced her intention to make a movie about her relationship with her mother, in which the Hogg character is roughly the age of the mother in the Souvenir movies, Swinton asked if, this time, she could play both parts. The result is pure horror — in the best way possible.


Jeon Jungkook, Princess of Wales |


During BTS’s musical hiatus, brought on by mandatory military service, the band’s aptly named stans (the “ARMY”) have developed an ironic but thoroughly researched and passionately defended theory that the group’s youngest member, Jeon Jungkook, is the reincarnation of Diana Spencer. The pop star was born a day after Di passed away in 1997. Like the late princess, Jungkook grew to 5’10” and is something of a daredevil, and his Diana-esque smile resembles that of a mischievous cartoon rabbit. Perhaps Jungkook fears microwaves because Diana once “nearly set the kitchen on fire” while cooking at Kensington Palace. Perhaps his drowsy appearance on a September 8 livestream was Di’s soul taking over so she could “finally witness the death of Queen Elizabeth.” Jury’s still out on whether Jungkook has read Spare. 


The Chinese surveillance balloon |


Since 1783, when spectators on the grounds of Versailles watched as a sheep, a duck, and a rooster ascended in a wicker basket, balloons have been instruments of Dadaist disruption, and this one, shot down last weekend off the coast of South Carolina, was no exception. Traveling at nearly twice the altitude of a commercial jet, the balloon carried winglike solar panels and a cabin packed with surveillance equipment. It was described in news reports as “the size of three school buses.” Tracked across the internet in real time, it also triggered a series of profound questions, though none about its echoes of Donald Barthelme’s 1966 New Yorker short story in which a gigantic balloon short-circuits ordinary life in the city, replacing it with the language of aesthetic contemplation, anxiety, and wonder. In the end, Barthelme’s balloon turns out to be a kind of love letter meant to capture the attention of the beloved, a “spontaneous autobiographical disclosure.” It does its job, then gets deflated and stored for hypothetical future use — “awaiting,” the final line reads, “some other time of unhappiness, some time, perhaps, when we are angry with one another.”


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