Mentions | Issue 9 ​


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.”


Mentions | Issue 8 ​


Pocoyo |


If you have spent any time at all immersed in the world of entertainment for the pre-verbal, you have no doubt experienced the brain-softening that sets in after the first few minutes of garish colors and talking animals. Not so with the strangely compelling Pocoyo, a Spanish children’s cartoon from the mid-aughts that is set in a literal void. Every episode begins the same way: the eponymous Pocoyo is wandering around the blank whiteness when he is apprehended by a benevolent, disembodied voice (Stephen Fry in the English version) that proceeds to instruct the happily receptive Pocoyo and his friends Elly (sassy pink elephant) and Pato (deranged Cubist duck) in the mysteries of the universe (shapes! colors! numbers!). Imparted from on high, the primers on triangles feel less cloying than revelatory — which, for three-year-olds, they probably are.


Ark of Grace |


The MAGA years gave rise to a crew of Pentecostal pastor-prophets who champion Donald Trump as a divinely appointed leader — lost election or no — giving a spiritual drumbeat to the Stop the Steal movement. One Trumpy prophetess (and January 6 attendee) is a former accountant named Amanda Grace whose signature act can be found in her sparsely shot home vlogs — on Facebook, Rumble, and her own app — where, alongside apocalyptic salvos, she proudly shows off her cast of rescue pets, including a pony, parrot, lamb, and piglet. Grace has ably mashed two genres: think The Late Great Planet Earth meets @animalsdoingthings. In one video, a dove interrupts mid-speech, fluttering into the frame to perch on her head. She cracks a big smile and shrugs. “This stuff happens at the house all the time,” she says. The bird coos and pecks affectionately, hops off screen, and Grace’s jeremiad resumes.


Crimes of the Future |


Twitter said people would be puking at this thing. But Cronenberg’s latest — an artsy body horror flick about surgeries that are performed in both senses of the word — is surprisingly sterile. Slit arteries bleed conservatively, organs do not rupture before the eyes, not once does an orifice relieve itself of slick, pulpy matter. There are entrails, but not enough. Instead, the society imagined here lumbers along in weary old age, and most of the blood seems to have coagulated in place. Dystopian hedonism has never looked so banal. 


Pacifiction |


The iconoclastic Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra has so far spent this century adapting a variety of literary works — from Cervantes and Casanova to Catherine Millet and Saint-Simon — into beguiling, provocative, yet strangely enervating cinematic experiences. Pacifiction is his first to step off the page, and the result is spectacular. This meandering, Conradian odyssey of a French diplomat in modern-day Tahiti probes the moral integrity, and really just the practicality, of a globalized economic system being forced on countries still burdened by colonialism. Across its nearly three languorous, uneventful hours, Pacifiction hypnotizes and then strikes like a cobra, subordinating viewers to Serra’s elusive yet totalizing vision of, as Lévi-Strauss put it, the Sad Tropics.


Irma la Douce |


In this 1963 Billy Wilder farce, an escort, Irma, captures the heart of a rookie cop named Nestor in Paris’s red-light district. Hoping to save Irma from a life of tricking, Nestor disguises himself as a wealthy British client and acquires the extra cash by secretly moonlighting as a butcher. One of them sneaks out of bed each night to lead a double life, and the other one earns honest wages through sex work. “Why is it nine out of ten try to reform me?” asks Irma.


How German Is It |


Insofar as the recently deceased Austrian-American experimentalist Walter Abish is talked about at all, it’s usually in the context of this PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel from 1980, in which the two brothers Haargenau — along with the rest of Germany — cope with the news that everyone’s favorite up-and-coming city, Brumholdstein, was built on concentration camp grounds. Abish was a Jewish refugee whose family fled Vienna for Shanghai, Israel, and finally New York; decades later, without ever having set foot in “the new democratic Germany,” he glimpsed it through the films of Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and relied on old Baedeker travelogues to fill in the gaps. At least one German critic has described the book as “the Jew’s revenge,” but Abish’s chilling tone never rises anywhere near the level of hectoring polemic. Rather, his M.O. is to hint at vestiges of Nazi attitudes in 1970s and ’80s Germany and then abruptly change the subject, like an awkward tour guide dodging a penetrating question. How German Is It’s signal achievement is the artfulness with which it avoids rhetoric: it’s not even one-sided enough to agree with itself — and that might be the most Jewish thing about it.


Lanternfly Crusades |


No one can drop new ways to devolve state responsibilities to individual choice like the USA. Vaccines, schools, and now… killing invasive species. The spotted lanternfly — which some of its would-be assassins pointedly call “Chinese lanternflies” — is, on the surface, an absurd target for ordinary citizens, but thanks to an unusually effective media and PSA campaign, this high-jumping bug has nested in our collective consciousness. NYC Parks makes an exception to a citywide protection of wildlife to ask, “Please squish and dispose of this invasive pest”; New Jersey begs citizens to “Help us Stomp it Out!”; Penn State advises anyone who thinks they “killed/caught a spotted lanternfly” to report it to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, whose phones are surely ringing off the hook. I’m no expert, but if spotted lanternflies lay 30 to 50 eggs at a time, they must be leaving local vigilantes in the dust. We should probably take the L on this one — though it is heartening that Americans seem to have some reserves of public spirit yet.


Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch |


Photography is “the most literary of the graphic arts,” Walker Evans once claimed. “Flaubert’s aesthetic is absolutely mine,” he said a few years before his death in 1975. “Spiritually, however, it is Baudelaire who is the influence on me.” As Svetlana Alpers shows, Flaubert’s impersonality and Baudelaire’s irony have much in common with Evans’s spare, sometimes brutal, always beautiful photographs. Inevitably, she accepts Evans’s own self-fashioning as heir to the French greats, but even if you’re not convinced by the big picture, her expert close readings artfully trace Evans’s willful, capacious ambiguity and gesture toward how much has yet to be explored in Evans’s pictures, and within Evans’s America.


Memoria |


In the opening minutes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s forever unstreamable new film, the character played by Tilda Swinton first hears the “bang” that will continue to haunt her. Unsatisfied with a sound engineer’s impressive attempts to help her recreate it, she drives from Bogotá into the Andes in search of the noise. Hours after leaving the theater, still concerned, I learned that she, like the director, has exploding head syndrome, recorded in medical journals since at least 1876, and perhaps experienced two centuries earlier by René Descartes. Despite the terrifying name, it’s considered a benign parasomnia. WebMD-ing on behalf of a fictional character doesn’t have quite the charm of visiting a sound studio, but afterward I did feel a little better about all the driving she’d been doing alongside those cliffs.


Nostalgia |


Mario Martone is distinguished in Europe for his versatility, his grandiloquent literary voice, and his career-length chronicle of life across the Italian class spectrum. Following Troubling Love, a Ferrante adaptation more evocative of the firebrand novelist’s perversion and darkness than any other, and The Scent of Blood, his “every woman loves a fascist” masterpiece of the mid-2000s, Nostalgia arrives as a late-career opus. It follows uberdaddy Pierfrancesco Favino’s irresistible, violet-hour urge to journey back into the dark heart of Naples and confront the violent contradictions of his past.


New York’s Tenth Congressional District |


After Labor Day in certain portions of high-rent New York City, one doesn’t wear white or use a lefty third-party ballot line even in a safe Democratic district. Or at least that latter is what progressive runner-up Yuh-Line Niou decided in mid-September. It was the anticlimactic end to a primary that should have been electric: an open seat chance to represent Wall Street, Ground Zero, Dimes Square, AND Park Slope in Congress for a generation. But the heavy hitters tripped. A former mayor couldn’t reignite the Summer of Bill. A carpetbagging Hudson Valley congressman bungled the reverse Covid commute. Three local political women in the prime of their careers got outspent by the heir to a jeans fortune who dads and moms saw a lot on MSNBC. But the Times editorial board promised that “those who have worked with Mr. Goldman behind the scenes describe him as diligent and prepared and a person of integrity.” His mailers agreed! The Gray Lady also to-be-sured that Goldman might need to court his “lower-income” constituents. Well, there’s been weeks of cloudy, yellow tap water in a housing project on the northern side of the district. The complex is named after Jacob Riis (How the Other Half Lives).


Örlæti |


In this Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) series, Sigtryggur Baldursson, founding member and former drummer of the Sugarcubes, travels the country discussing mysterious Icelandic place names and their histories with locals and experts. He’s also often drumming — in front of a waterfall, next to a creek, in the road, in a field, and on his steering wheel as he drives. For context, Baldursson often consults scholar Emily Lethbridge, who references old maps and manuscripts, as well as artist Rán Flygenring, who shares creative renderings of toponyms and her theories behind them. Consistently faced with competing explanations and etymologies, Baldursson playfully throws up his hands, and at one point he and Lethbridge joke that residents should vote on which onomastic interpretations they prefer; for now, Lethbridge notes, anglophone tourists’ versions of Icelandic place names, such as Diamond Beach, already come up on Google Maps. 


Oudolf Garden Detroit |


If Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf’s medium is flora, his subject is time. His plantings on Manhattan’s High Line made him famous, but Detroit’s Belle Isle is better suited to his trademark swathes of North American perennials and grasses; on the open, three-acre site, flowers, foliage, and seed heads harmonize in various stages of decay and rebirth. Buoyant or gloomy depending on the season, the garden, which opened in 2021, is rich in what Oudolf calls the “emotion of nature,” wherein “you feel more than what you see.” Don’t tell the urban renewal prognosticators, lest the garden become yet another symbol of Detroit’s comeback.


Bellucci’s Pizzeria |


Untitled Pizza Movie (2020) recounts the mercurial life of pizzaiolo Andrew Bellucci — who served time behind ovens from New York to Kuala Lumpur, and behind bars at Otisville Correctional Facility, for embezzlement. In 2020 Bellucci opened Bellucci Pizza in Astoria with his former business partner Leo Dakmak, and this March, after the relationship soured, he opened his own parlor, Bellucci’s Pizzeria, a few blocks down 30th Avenue. When we made it to the true Bellucci’s, settling on a Vegan Dream pie after mistakenly stopping to buy a slice from his lawsuit-filing nemesis, the man himself approached to say, in his mellow cadence, “So you got the vegan.” We missed out on the shop’s most notable offering: the famed clam pies. Not on the menu at the Bellucci-less Bellucci, they require 48-hour notice — shorter than the wait for Untitled Pizza Movie II, which ought to exist. 

L.S.J. & W.A.

Luzifer |


In this Austrian horror flick, the monosyllabic, melancholic Johannes lives out a prelapsarian fantasy with his religious mother on an Alpine mountaintop. The duo engages in a tortured fanaticism involving nature worship, self-harm, and yonic caves. The threat of original sin looms — developers want the land for a new ski resort — but then an exorcism is performed, and we learn, once again, that nothing ruins paradise like a tourist with a drone.


“La Face B” |


Three years of DJ EasyEvil’s metaphysical detours through space-time are free to download off the Swiss national broadcaster. Drawn from a legendary stash of vinyl ferreted out of far-flung corners, the crate-digging Genevois’s mixes wind through decades, languages, and musical cultures: Thai ’90s pop to Turkish ’70s love ballads to ’60s songs of African liberation. This is a trust game: you’re always falling, and you’re always being caught.


Foyle’s War |


Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is a policeman, and his war is a war on crime. As detective chief superintendent of Hastings during the Second World War (that’s not his war, a paradox that endlessly interests this 2000s British crime drama and period piece), he’ll spend a bog-standard episode tracing the source of purloined rations (B-plot) while investigating a British industrialist with close ties to “Jerry” (the Nazis; A-plot). In the end, he’ll forgive a minor crime — like dancing the jitterbug after curfew — and deliver a monologue so dry that the major villain commits suicide. That’s the show’s possessing alchemy: Foyle is strangely powerless. He can’t drive, so he perches in the passenger seat like a prim tween while Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) ferries him about. He can’t contravene the War Office, so the villains’ consciences must do his work for him. This show is the daydream not of police officers but of busybodies. 


Keep This Far Apart |


Conventional wisdom has it that live-streamed plays are inferior to in-person performances. This series of short digital dramas, available on Vimeo, knocks that notion on its head. Written by six different playwrights during the first year of the pandemic, the sequence opens with a scene that could easily be drawn from an Ottessa Moshfegh novel: a young woman takes a call on her laptop while pruning her pubes, bloody evidence visible on-screen. The digital format improbably turns us into hunched, conspiratorial voyeurs of other people pickled in various predicaments: trying to connect with an ex, monetizing their lives on OnlyFans, weathering the banalities of work conversation. Rupert Friend also does an unmissable impression of a cat.


Maxwell Jacob Friedman |


With his signature Burberry scarf and smug grin, professional wrestling’s reigning villain stands out as a first-rate elitist. What especially sets him apart, though, is rare talent on the microphone. In the industry’s most memorable promo in years, Friedman tore down the fourth wall and called out the brass of All Elite Wrestling for undervaluing him and brownnosing washed-up ex-WWE talent. “I’m the only guy who is capable of carrying this company on his back!” he screamed. In seven blistering minutes, Friedman pulled off the unthinkable, something possible perhaps only in wrestling — he made himself irreplaceable by telling his bosses to fuck off.




A South Indian thriller that makes the MCU look like Power Rangers, RRR has been hailed as revolutionary. Unfortunately, throwing snarling tigers at pompous colonizers and beating them in a manly dance-off does not necessarily a revolution make. Director S.S. Rajamouli offers a Brit-bashing anti-colonial epic of unrivaled spectacle, yet his vision stops far short of imagining an India that was not always, or need not always be, as divided as it presently is. Still, it’s not every day we get a three-hour buddy flick about toppling empire.  


Behind the Curve |


The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was created with the noble mission of “driv[ing] chemical safety change through independent investigation,” but, in classic late ’90s style, it does so through recommendations, not laws. In the mid-2000s, CSB was an early adopter of computer animation technology at a time when even DreamWorks didn’t know quite what to do with it. The resulting video recreations of actual accidents under investigation are surreal and often darkly funny, with a devoted following among industry pros and depths-of-YouTube connoisseurs alike. In one 2013 video, three doughy, animated humans are vaporized by a blurry wave of fire seconds before a very human inspector flatly notes that “these additional operators were exposed to a serious risk.” I’d say the tone shift gave me whiplash, but I watched the video about proper safety restraints first.


Dawn Studios |


Since 2020, the Guamanian-American artist Lisa Blas has set her alarm for the particular time, between astronomical and nautical dawn, when the sun ascends from eighteen to twelve degrees below the horizon. At a table near windows facing the Hudson River, she prepares her materials — wood panels, paper, water-based paints, metallic ink, and gouache — and, as darkness lifts, begins to paint. If fog obliterates the sky and river, she still repeats this daily practice. Snowy days, too. You don’t need to get up before urban cockcrow to view her work, which can be seen by appointment until sundown at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Midtown.


Close |


Is there something inherently beautiful about suffering? What if the suffering person is themselves very beautiful? Is it alright to torture a beautiful person if their suffering sends an Important Message? The young Belgian director Lukas Dhont is too caught up in the libidinal riptide of his latest film, Close, to realize he’s swimming in these ethical waters. Built on a foundation of manipulative, made-for-T.V.-movie-like contrivances, yet expunged of their thrilling perversity and necessary messiness, Close chronicles the fallout after one possibly gay, lightly bullied teenager commits suicide. Following Girl, the director’s graphic, sense-deadened 2018 debut about a young, miserable, trans ballerina, Dhont has established an effective formula: all pathos, no real feeling.


Religious News Service Morning Reports |


This daily missive informs its virtual devotees of papal travels, sectarian disputes, and the many niche affinity groups that can be found among people of the faith. These include the Christian Furry Fellowship, a ministry whose members are strongly identified with animal “fursonas,” and a South Texas nudist community that affirms it’s possible to be modest in the buff. (“I think it’s odd, I think it’s strange, but I have no proof it’s sinning,” a local pastor declares.) Perhaps it’s true that, in this Substack-saturated moment, there are too many newsletters and most are passé. But pretty soon we’ll be living in an actual theocracy and all news will be religious news, so this one’s probably worth your time.


Nope |


If the Berlin Biennale is any indication, a significant segment of the elite international art world has decided that artists’ chief political responsibility is now to confront audiences with mimetic representations of atrocity: witness Jean-Jacques Lebel’s installation, a maze formed by Abu Ghraib torture photos blown up to life size. Thank God, then, that Jordan Peele has chosen to remain a mass-culture entertainer. His latest blockbuster, Nope, cleverly allegorizes the political limits of disaster-porn spectacle. (Its title expresses one sentiment that Biennale attendees might be moved to utter after parting the curtain to enter Lebel’s labyrinth.) Nope intertwines two parallel stories of predatory animals who lash out and kill spectators — especially those who make the mistake of looking the creatures directly in the eye. Viewers might hope that their consumption will help them to rectify past injustices, Peele suggests, but they are liable to end up consumed themselves. Atrocity is most helpfully regarded from an oblique angle. 


Biden’s BBL |


The internet was quick to accuse Joe Biden of plastic surgery when he emerged from a second Covid-19 quarantine with what appeared to be a blepharoplasty, but those shouting into the void on Twitter weren’t the first to ask just how much it might cost to look like Joe Biden. Lorry Hill, a diligent YouTube chronicler of celebrity plastic surgery trends, estimates $15,000 in hair transplants, a $15,000 mini facelift, a $30,000 deep plane facelift, $45,000 in crowns and bridges, and $5,000 annually in Botox. But the million-dollar question — “Why didn’t he get a matching neck lift?” — will be up to his presidential biographers to answer. “It’s puzzling,” says Hill. “My only explanation for this is that a neck lift does present with a much longer recovery, and perhaps he was worried about that as he started down the campaign trail.” Of course, plastic surgery isn’t the only possible explanation for Biden’s enviable skin. Where Hill sees higher sideburns and a tighter lower face as evidence of $110,000 in plastic surgery, our friends at QAnon see something else entirely: “IS THAT REALLY JOE BIDEN OR IS IT A CLONE, OR MAYBE A BODY DOUBLE??????” one woman asks on Facebook. But why go to all the trouble of cloning someone? “Maybe the real JB is in gitmo or even better yet, hell?” suggests a circumspect poster on


Desperately Seeking Susan |


Madonna plays the mysterious title character navigating a fluorescent New York; Rosanna Arquette’s Roberta is a housewife tired of monotonous errands and her husband’s humdrum hot tub business. A personal ad brings them together. In the film’s original ending, the duo rides off into the sunset on a desert vacation. This was eventually cut, so as not to promote unrealistic expectations for what Craigslist’s Missed Connections actually lead to. 


Princess Kay of the Milky Way |


On the eve of the Minnesota State Fair, the winner of the dairy princess competition is crowned, awarded a scholarship to support her studies, and given this title. Serving as the “good-will ambassador” for the state dairy industry, Princess Kay will visit classrooms to discuss how dairy is “sustainable” and “innovative” in an attempt to ward off criticism of cattle’s carbon emissions and compete with an ever-growing army of alternative milk products. Her coronation ceremony reflects the insecurities of an industry caught between old-school conventions and a pressure to respond to the world it’s feeding. When asked what she loves about dairy, this year’s winner replied with a rehearsed one-liner before being shepherded away for beloved fair traditions: sitting in a glass-walled refrigerator, posing for a sculpture of her face carved out of butter.


Airfix Model World |


Since its launch in 2010, this model-builders’ monthly has been steadily reinvigorating the hobby. Professional model-makers and military enthusiasts alike fill the pages with reviews, guides, and quippy snippets of war history, but the miniaturized machines — both classic and obscure — are the real heroes: picture World War II-era fighters alongside 1:72 models of the MQ-9A Reaper drone, used to bomb ISIS, and 1:35 reconstructions of NATO’s Leopard 2A6NL tank. There’s a strange disconnect between the models’ painstaking verisimilitude and the imperial realities of the original contraptions. Of a 1:48 build of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet, which bombed Vietnam with impunity in Operation Rolling Thunder, one reviewer concludes that “the lack of bombs” might “be a downside.” 


Kate |


In Kate Berlant’s one-woman show at the Connelly Theater, the comedian plays Kate, a young woman from Santa Monica, California, who has moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming an actor. Everything is absurd in Berlant’s world, including Berlant, and if you’re familiar with her work — which includes the podcast “Poog” with Jacqueline Novak and various sketches and other film and television appearances with John Early, among many other projects — you may already understand its wonderful sense of irony, and the skilled way that Berlant can skewer both the language of liberal arts academia and the solipsism of millennial identity with a single gesture. This particular performance revolves around the narcissistic ambitions of acting, opening with several Steve Jobs-esque portraits of Berlant in black and white, and culminating in Berlant’s repeated (and failed) attempts to make herself cry for the audience by discussing her trauma from being diagnosed with an iron deficiency. Yet, somewhere, in between the jokes, winks, and over-the-top characters — from a “shrewish” Irish mother to a husky regular at a jazz bar who’s seen it all — Berlant also manages to reveal more of herself, too. Which is exactly what many of us have been waiting for.


The Bear |


F.X.’s latest critical darling is an entertaining but rather uncanny specimen of blue-collar chic, a show about gentrification that is itself hopelessly gentrified. Jeremy Allen White stars as an ultra-fancy chef who’s recalled to his Chicago roots by his brother’s tragic death. Determined to salvage his family’s Italian beef operation, White’s character returns to run the shop in River North — one of the city’s swankiest neighborhoods, but inexplicably depicted here as the hardscrabble working-class village it was roughly 50 years ago. The effect is something like Sesame Street by way of Dennis Farina. Episodes are punctuated by montages of Instagram-caliber cityscapes set to a playlist of the best of early-aughts indie rock. It’s cheesy but innocuous fun, competently constructed to tug on the heartstrings of viewers who are themselves ambivalent about their decisions to leave behind the heartland and climb the professional ladder. Things go off the rails, however, every time Amherst, Mass. native Ebon Moss-Bachrach opens his mouth and utters his abrasive, almost prosecutable caricature of a Chicago accent. Stick to Wilco, guys.


Requiem for a Norm |


At nine years old, Lorenza Böttner lost her arms in an improbably extravagant accident: climbing to reach a bird’s nest atop a transmission tower, she was electrocuted and fell some 650 feet. A retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art displays the improbable art she made, mostly with her feet and her mouth, in the three decades between the fall and her death from AIDS. Most of the work is self-portraiture of a sort, iterating her authoritative jaw and flowing hair with a genderpunk whimsy; in one painting, Böttner reads a book held open by her toes, while behind her, a red rose blooms from a rock, its two leaves bent around the stem like legs encircling a lover. Most haunting is a pencil sketch of three jewelry clasps that look like hands, each clutching a black bolus. It’s a queer anti-portrait: what Böttner lost turned into accessories she might have worn, an absence made ornament. 


Marcel the Shell with Shoes On |


We should be afraid of — not delighted by — this 89-minute reboot of the 2010 viral sensation. It forecasts a future in which “rand0m” YouTube videos from the mid-to-late 2000s return as glitzy A24 films. Just imagine a feature-length version of “It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!!!”


VladTV |


This channel’s profane longform interviews with faded pop stars, athletes, ex-cons, and hangers-on (think “It Wasn’t Me” singer Shaggy, gun-toting former NBA star Gilbert Arenas, and hip-hop video vixen Karrine “Superhead” Steffans) are often more revealing than any sit-downs with A-listers. The eponymous Vlad gets his subjects, freed from the shackles of peak fame and P.R., to tell stories you would never hear on Oprah, like when a face-tatted, bandana-clad Aaron Carter details a foray into coke-dealing shortly after the release of his final teen-pop album. Vlad will never interview the stars when they shine the brightest, but he’s interviewed the women who have slept with them, and it turns out that they usually give the better quote. 


“Atopos” |


In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes famously characterized the loved being as atopos, an unqualifiable, “ceaselessly unforeseen originality.” In her latest single, Björk revisits the “unclassifiable OTHER” by dressing up as a prophesying mushroom. Her fungal grotto overflows with love’s primordial elements — spores, gills, pileal caps. Under oozing snoticles, an ensemble of dour toadstools play bass clarinets in garish harem pants while a papakha-clad DJ Kasimyn sways dreamily over his drum machine. Looking on, one is drawn less to the portentous calls for connection (“if my plant doesn’t reach towards you, there’s internal erosion towards all”) and more to the rings that branch into sterling silver cordyceps. Perhaps, though, there’s something to envisioning one’s lovers as mycelium — inescapable, world-sustaining, and ultimately consisting of innumerable fine hairs.

T.M.R. |


At the apex of its influence, this vlogging site had a partnership with The New York Times, capital from the founding chairman of C-SPAN, and a monopoly on blurry videos of Matthew Yglesias and Ross Douthat. While its co-founder says that “the era in which Bloggingheads makes sense is kind of over,” the company’s newly renamed YouTube channel indicates that it still possesses an engaged audience. Glenn Loury’s vlogs with John McWhorter (about such subjects as “The ‘Badass MF’ Problem in the Black Community” and “Returning to the race and IQ debate”) make up approximately 94 percent of the site’s most-watched uploads. The only exceptions in the top twenty are an interview with a Singaporean diplomat on Sino-American relations and a video entitled “Sex with Older Women.” Occasionally reactionary, with whiffs of realpolitik and shamelessly horny overtones: maybe the era in which Bloggingheads makes sense has only just begun.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe |


Previous versions of Mike Judge’s cartoon featured the protagonists wandering through deserted shopping malls, empty Texas subdivisions, and desolate parking lots. In this latest installment, that sense of lonely vacancy expands to a cosmic scale. America’s own Beckettian pair are pulled into a black hole and transported from 1998 to 2022, where everyone is just as screen-addicted and media-addled as they are. The saga of “two very, very stupid and horny teenagers” has always been one of the better, funnier expressions of American alienation. Once, cable television was the main source of consolation; today, it’s a smartphone. We’re all Beavis and Butt-Head now.


Acting Class |


Reading a Nick Drnaso comic evokes the same visceral, second-hand embarrassment as watching a Nathan for You sketch — and not just because half of the characters are rocking the signature bowl cut. In this new graphic novel, his first since the 2018 Booker Prize-longlisted Sabrina, we follow a group of misfits as they join an experimental acting class at their local community center in an attempt to overcome various social anxieties. But while “famous” cartoonists from alt-comix’s past have built careers out of lampooning sad-sack characters like these — some, like the hunky male painters’ model or the sexually stagnant couple, feel straight out of a Dan Clowes book — Drnaso instead chooses to approach his cast with empathy. Acting Class is sometimes silly, sometimes sad, but even its most cringe-inducing conversations are suffused with compassion for the weirdos having them.