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Posts Tagged ‘film’

Staff Picks: Pink Shells, Invisible Animals, Unreliably Unreliable Narrators

July 15, 2016 | by

An illustration of Moll Flanders from an eighteenth-century chapbook.

I’m glad I never read Moll Flanders in college. Because it was published in 1722 and has the structure of a picaresque, I would have dismissed it as primitive. I’d have thought Daniel Defoe didn’t know how to write an actual novel. Now Moll Flanders strikes me as the kind of artwork big enough to invent a way of writing fiction—in the voice of a woman, with all the freedom, moral ambiguity, and sexual complexity of a man. Moll is what James Wood would call an “unreliably unreliable” narrator. Sometimes we get to smile at the gap between her Christian principles and her career as a thief, but just as often there will be a scene—as for example, when she’s a little girl telling her foster mother that she’s afraid of going into service—that have the ring of documentary truth. (Defoe often adapted interviews and eyewitness accounts in his fiction: that ambiguity is at the heart of his novels.) Moll Flanders may have impressed me especially because I’d just read Play It As It Lays, in many ways a descendent of Moll, but whose charm now lies mainly in its period details—the cigarettes, phone booths, and unair-conditioned nights. —Lorin Stein

I only started reading Music and Literature’s newest issue on the train this morning, but I’ve already fallen quite ardently for one of their featured writers, Ann Quin. This has happened once before with M&L, who brought me the Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik in their last issue. At quick glance, the two women aren’t all that dissimilar: both are rather unknown, both were tormented by suicidal inclinations. (Quin took her life just a year after Pizarnik took hers, and at nearly the same age.) Of the two short pieces of fiction in M&L by Quin, my favorite is the second, “Eyes that Watch Behind the Wind”—an arresting story of lovers in Cuetzalan, Mexico, who sway back and forth in their adoration and disgust for each other. Nearly each one of Quin’s sentences oscillates with sex and with rage, no matter how innocent some of them appear: she writes of the pink shells that hang on the necklace that drapes over one of the woman’s breasts and of burying the man in sand; of the eight bulls hemorrhaging from the mouth after banderillos strike them and how the woman “felt almost an urge to … Be ravished. Even Raped.” Quin’s prose never falters; it’s stunning, almost especially when it’s brutal. —Caitlin Youngquist
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How to Look at White Squares, and Other News

July 5, 2016 | by

Robert Ryman, Arrow, 1996, oil on Plexiglas with steel, 13 1/2" x 12". Image via Dia.

  • Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian director who made Taste of Cherry, Certified Copy, and a host of other poetic films, has died at seventy-six. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Kiarostami’s contemporaries, told the Guardian, “Kiarostami gave the Iranian cinema the international credibility that it has today … But his films were unfortunately not seen as much in Iran. He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanized it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version. He was a man of life, who enjoyed living and made films in praise of life—that’s why it’s so difficult to come to terms with his death.”
  • It wouldn’t be a lie to say that Robert Ryman paints white squares—exactly the kind of concept that makes the uninitiated roll their eyes and say, My kid could do that. But your kid could not do this, not even your honor student. As silly as it sounds, Ryman’s canvases force you to reevaluate the whole, like, concept of white: “If you take a close look at the current exhibition at Dia: Chelsea, you quickly realize just how much can be contained within them. With smears and flecks and whorls of paint, built up in some places, washed out in others, the works catch the light in a singular way … The works are best seen when lit by the sun, as filtered down through the Dia skylights. And the light can activate the paint differently during the day, often calling up blue or green undertones.”
  • The web in the nineties was a simpler, uglier place, where color schemes grated, links broke, and a MIDI version of your favorite Third Eye Blind song was always just a click away. What explains our nostalgia for all this? Charles Thaxton writes, “It’s now well established that most Internet users experience the web through a handful of large, enclosed platforms and apps … Was the Early Web any better? The pre-platform, pre-mobile Internet was a web of pages and links and counters. The most essential thing about it is the notion that it looked bad. But the bad-looking web is making a comeback. All of a sudden you’re on that clunky-looking webpage again … Nostalgia for the way the web looked is really a sublimated nostalgia for how it felt, for a time in almost everyone’s life when discovery and openness and joy were all more operable. As much as we want to preserve the early Internet in amber, we want to hold on to the feeling of the early Internet even more.”
  • Boethius was executed in the year 524, but don’t let that deter you: his De consolatione philosophiae, written as he awaited execution, remains a vital read in troubling times. “Boethius’s task was both personal and communal, for in stoically embracing the decisions of the goddess Fortuna he admitted that death would soon come, but as he was also a refugee from a world that was dying, his manuscript served as an ars moriendi for culture, too. And in subsequent centuries his accomplishment was steadfastly maintained by fellow humanists, laboring in monasteries and libraries dotting Europe, making The Consolations of Philosophy one of the most copied texts of late antiquity, a capsule from one culture’s final moments through the eclipse of the next centuries … It’s an interesting question how much someone like Boethius could anticipate that their world was coming to an end; it’s an important question to ask if we are adequately anticipating it right now.”
  • In which John Berger visits a small coastal village in Italy and rhapsodizes about eels: “The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbors. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term down-to-water. Every year in the first week of October they celebrate a fete known as the Sagra dell’Anguilla (the festival of the eel). The cobbled town center is crammed with stalls of street vendors, come from elsewhere, selling trinkets, rings, seashells, cheeses, madonnas, salamis, dolls at low prices, small pleasures. The inhabitants wander slowly past, fingering the knickknacks, reckoning the small pleasures, and from time to time paying out a few coins. There are also benches and trestle tables where one can drink and eat. There is the smell of food being grilled. Onions, aubergines, peppers, and, of course, eels.”

Staff Picks: Bad Calls, Bad Books, Breakups

June 24, 2016 | by

From Cemetery of Splendor.

A still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Cemetery of Splendor.

Tate Modern, in London, recently showed Cemetery of Splendor, the new and wonderful movie by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It was part of a weekend homage to the sly, metaphysical Thai filmmaker, including an all-night sequence of his complete works. Now, I am no longer young enough to watch movies all night, so I contented myself with my own home retrospective, including the wonderful bipartite movies Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century. In the new Tanks space at Tate Modern, which just opened this weekend, you can also see his installation Primitive, a nine-video extravaganza. There are few people thinking more rigorously, or more joyfully. —Adam Thirlwell

I was so relieved to read Tim Parks’s review of The Vegetarian, the Man Booker–winning novel by Korean Han Kang. The novel came recommended by a friend, so I persisted till the bitter end, despite grousing about every awkward sentence, every cliché, every narrative contradiction. I spent much of the first section wondering whether it was the fault of the writer or the translator. Parks was bothered by the same question and spends the space of his review examining the way content and style in the English translation work in relation to one another. He concludes that “the prose is far from an epitome of elegance, the drama itself neither understated nor beguiling, the translation frequently in trouble with register and idiom.” But for Parks, The Vegetarian isn’t merely a bad book badly translated; it’s representative of a “shared vision of what critics would like a work of ‘global fiction’ to be.” The desire to always see oneself in a story necessarily limits one’s view of the world, and seems to me to be the exact opposite reason for reading a book in translation—or any book, for that matter—in the first place. —Nicole Rudick

Just yesterday I was given two gorgeous chapbooks, both part of a series called Señal of contemporary Latin American poetry in translation. I began the first in the series—Sor Juana y otros monstruos, a dissertation (of sorts) in verse by Luis Felipe Fabre, translated by John Pluecker—this morning, and I haven’t been able to put it down. Fabre muses on the scholarship buzzing around the seventeenth-century poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, tackling one assertion in particular. “Yes: Sor Juana was a monster,” he writes. It’s a claim most academics accept as true, but “where they differ / is / / on what kind of monster she was.” Was she a phoenix? A sphinx? Will she, as Fabre imagines, return at night to devour her scholars because her body has never been found? And yet, the most striking question Fabre goes on to ask is this: “What kind / of monster is it whose power / resides in language?” Whatever it is, Fabre would be one, too; Sor Juana y otros mostruos is like nothing I’ve read in a long while. —Caitlin Youngquist
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Staff Picks: Light, Lust, LiveJournal

May 20, 2016 | by

Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent [251b], ca. 1923, black-and-white photograph flush-mounted on card, mounted to board, 4 9/16" x 3 9/16".

In 1925, Alfred Stieglitz began a series of moody, diminutive photographs of cloud patterns (abstracted, they resembled curls and skeins of smoke); he called it Songs of the Sky, before later changing it to Equivalents. He showed the images to his friend, the composer Ernest Bloch, who, according to Stieglitz, declared it to be music. Partly in response to his friend’s photographs, Bloch composed “Poems of the Sea.” A show at Bruce Silverstein Gallery takes its name from Stieglitz’s series and presents five pairings of art and music, including Stieglitz/Bloch. The idea is to listen to a piece of music while looking at artworks that were inspired either by that composition, that composer, or by music more generally. Though it’s not always convincing, the idea of having two mediums respond and react to and provoke one another is intriguing. I love Frederick Sommer’s ink drawings of musical notation (they’re hieroglyphs and also stacked Futurist cityscapes), but his coupling with Chris Washburne is too on the nose. The obliqueness of Lisette Model’s photographs of people’s shadows resonates well with Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal Pierrot lunaire. My favorite, though, may be Aaron Siskind’s black-and-white photographs of male bodies tumbling through space set to a string-quartet arrangement of John Cage’s delicate, gorgeous Cheap Imitation: neither transcends its medium, but instead seems more acutely, more exquisitely itself. —Nicole Rudick

I spent some time this week on websafe2k16.com, an Internet project dedicated to cataloging memories of the early web. Built by three artists—Ben Sisto, Josephine Livingstone, and Joe Bernardi—the “literary/graphic” project asks writers to draw inspiration from one of the 216 web-safe color codes, such as the offending #66FF33 or the wistful #0099CC, writing personal recollections in 216 words. I scrolled through Web Safe’s rainbow grid, reading lyric memories about the conversant gargle of dial-up (Andrew Blevins, #CC6600), multiplayer computer games (Adrian Chen, #33CC00), LiveJournal (Anna Weiner, #003366), and other relics of the early web. Colors in the palette regularly inspire memories of braces and prom, group chats and forums. I wondered, reading about MySpace and MSN, what the colors of the early Internet trigger for me. Maybe Ask Jeeves, the first man in my life to whom I never could ask the right questions. Or Xanga, where I lurked on blogs written by my classmates. Or maybe Machu Picchu, an obscure nineties computer game I’ve lost nearly all memory of and haven’t ever found again. All that’s left is the name, and the bellow of nostalgia. —Caitlin Love Read More »

Timbuktu’s Massive Book Heist, and Other News

April 25, 2016 | by

Abdel Kader Haidara in Timbuktu, 2009. Photo: Brent Stirton/National Geographic

  • Today in censored statues: in Italy, the fashionable thing to do with one’s nude statues is not to display them but to conceal them with some plywood or maybe a heavy drop-cloth or whatever else you’ve got lying around. The Capitoline Venus, which resides in the hall of the Capitoline Museums, in Rome, was boxed up last month to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the visiting Iranian president, but really this sort of thing happens all the time: “True, some discussions were had. According to one journalist, questions were raised about the conspicuous testicles of Marcus Aurelius’s horse in the equestrian statue which also graces the hall … This kind of artistic censorship is remarkably common in Italy, to the point of being frequently unreported. As journalist Giovanna Vitale has pointed out, for instance, it had been only five months since a nude by Jeff Koons in a Florentine palace included in the itinerary of sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan was concealed … And—in case you think it’s only heads of state of the Muslim faith who are reserved this peculiar treatment—it was eight months since posters of a Tamara de Lempicka exhibition in Turin ... were covered to save the Pope from certain emotional trauma.”
  • A few months ago, I used this space to hawk Saul Bellow’s ten-thousand-dollar desk, which was not, at the time, a hot seller. But things have changed. That desk is gone. As Bellow’s son Daniel explained to Atlas Obscura: “All of a sudden, everyone from famous journalists to doctors from the Mayo Clinic contacted him about purchasing his father’s desk … In the end, though, Bellow’s desk was sold to his son’s niece, who matched the top bid at the auction, and kept the desk in the family … The desk will be put in his niece’s new home in Hudson, New York. As for the money from the auction, Daniel says he is going to use it to build a kiln chimney in his new pottery studio.”
  • Faced with an al-Qaida invasion, librarians in Timbuktu oversaw a massive smuggling operation in which some 300,000 rare books and manuscripts were secreted away to safety: “The first thing we’re going to do is get them out of these big libraries. We’re going to take trunks. We’re going to pack them into trunks at night when the rebels are asleep, and then we’re going to move them in the dead of night by mule cart to these various houses—safe houses scattered around the city. And hopefully they’ll be safe for the duration of this occupation … They’re in about a dozen climate-controlled storage rooms in Bamako, the capital of Mali.”
  • In which Meghan O’Gieblyn decides to give Updike a chance, takes Couples off the shelf, and finds … many things she expected and a few she didn’t: “There was plenty in the book that lived up to Updike’s contemporary reputation: women who think things no woman would think (‘She had wanted to bear Ken a child, to brew his excellence in her warmth’) … There are many passages in which Updike’s prodigious gifts as a prose artist are given over to the effects of gravity on women’s bodies. Nobody can write the female body in decay quite like Updike. So clinical and unrelenting is his gaze, he manages to call attention to signs of aging that even I—someone in possession of a female body—had never considered. ‘Age had touched only the softened line of her jaw and her hands,’ he writes of Piet’s wife, Angela, ‘their stringy backs and reddened fingertips’ … What intrigued me most about Couples, though, was the sense of doom that undercuts the orgy.”
  • Jonas Mekas was the first film critic for the Village Voice, and a new collection of his critical writing reveals “an artistic time capsule of New York at a moment of crucial energy”: “There’s a live-wire spontaneity to Mekas’s writing, an excitement sparked by his sense of beauty, by his sheer pleasure in cinematic imagination, and it’s connected to a soulful sense of inwardness and empathy … What energizes his discussions and exhortations is the impulse behind the films, rather than the films themselves—the lives and dreams of the artists, the harsh demands placed on filmmakers by the effort to create homemade, self-financed, independent films, made by oneself and one’s friends. These are films that repudiate openly the conventions of the commercial cinema, the norms and limits on subject matter and representation, while the filmmakers submit to a horrific range of deprivations and afflictions for the sake of their art. In effect, Mekas offers, both in and as film criticism, extraordinary and enduring sketches of downtown lives.”

Serial Queens Now and Forever, and Other News

April 1, 2016 | by

The actress Ruth Roland in an advertisement for the serial Hands Up in 1918. Image via The Atlantic.

  • Remembering Zaha Hadid, the “starchitect” who died yesterday at sixty-five: “It always amazed me that Hadid had somehow attracted a singular reputation for being difficult to deal with. Compared with other prominent architects, no one was more down to earth, more exuberantly real, than her … Why did every second article attach ‘diva’ to her name? Isn’t every architect a diva? Truly, it was because Hadid was a woman who had dared to enter a man’s world, and took no shit from anybody, though plenty was offered. She had to be twice as smart and three times as tough as her male counterparts in order to get anything built. And even then she struggled for years to realize her projects, and was forced to endure cruel and humiliating referendums on such thwarted projects as the Cardiff Bay Opera House, or the ongoing Olympic-stadium debacle in Tokyo, in which the government blocked Hadid’s competition-winning design from going forward after protests from prominent Japanese architects.”
  • In the 1910s, before women even had the vote, they were starring in swashbuckling adventures courtesy of the early film industry: “During the early years of cinema in the 1900s and 1910s, men starred in action films such as westerns, but women dominated the so-called ‘serial’ or ‘chapter’ film genre. These were movies in which the same character appeared over several installments released on a regular basis, with plots that were either ongoing or episodic. The story lines typically featured female leads getting into danger, getting out of danger, brandishing guns, giving chase in cars, and battling villains … By the early 1920s, those films and their stars, the so-called ‘serial queens,’ disappeared. What happened? The answer may have to do with the early film industry’s short-lived tolerance of greater female involvement at all levels of the filmmaking process … ”
  • Everyone wants to be an artist. If you want to be a wealthy artist, though, there’s one simple trait you should go out of your way to cultivate: narcissism. “Researchers found that work by narcissistic artists is likely to sell for more money at auction than work by their humbler counterparts … The researchers obtained the signatures of 815 modern and contemporary artists from Oxford Art Online, then used them as a measure of narcissism when comparing auction price data sets from 1980 to 2012. In their analysis of hundreds of pre- and postwar paintings, they found that narcissistic artists’ work sold for as much as 25 percent more than that by their less narcissistic peers.”
  • Teju Cole on the photographer Raghubir Singh: “Singh worked from the late ’60s until his untimely death in 1999, traveling all over India to create a series of powerful books about his homeland … Singh had a democratic eye, and he took pictures of everything: cities, towns, villages, shops, rivers, worshipers, workers, construction sites, motorbikes, statues, modern furniture, balconies, suits, dresses and, sure, turbans and saris … How do we know when a photographer caters to life and not to some previous prejudice? One clue is when the picture evades compositional cliché. But there is also the question of what the photograph is for, what role it plays within the economic circulation of images. Some photographs, like Singh’s, are freer of the censorship of the market. Others are taken only to elicit particular conventional responses—images that masquerade as art but fully inhabit the vocabulary of advertising.”
  • Today in fact-checking imperialism: “In its last week in print, the Independent carried a piece under the headline: ONE MORE THING IMPERIALISM HAS TO ANSWER FOR: DYSENTERY. It’s a striking statement, but is it true? … In the case of Shigella flexneri … imperialism has to take some of the blame. Study no. 19 from the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, ‘Dysentery in the Federated Malay States’ by William Fletcher (a bacteriologist) and Margaret Jepps (a protozoologist), was published in 1924 … Jepps and Fletcher’s laboratory studies showed that most cases of dysentery were caused by flexneri, and that the link between its mortality rate and poverty was dramatic. The Kuala Lumpur General Hospital charged fees. It had wards of three classes: first for ‘Europeans’ (mortality negligible), second for ‘Eurasians, well-to-do Asiatics and government clerks’ (mortality 2 to 3 per cent), and third for ‘native laborers, paupers and vagrants’ (mortality about 25 per cent).”