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Posts Tagged ‘Iris Dement’

Staff Picks: Passing Saviors, Psycho Sitters

October 23, 2015 | by

Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother to Knock, 1952.

Before The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, or Blue Sunshine, there was Mischief, Charlotte Armstrong’s 1950 suspense novel and home of the original psychotic babysitter. The story, newly reissued in Sarah Weinman’s anthology Women Crime Writers, follows an out-of-town couple in a Manhattan hotel; for a night out on the town, they leave their only daughter in the care of a meek woman who knows the elevator guy. (Good help is so hard to find.) From there things go quickly south. Armstrong’s fixation on social mores, on the subtle ways we pay obesiance to convention, reminds me of John O’Hara—Mischief’s crazy sitter has an implacable ennui that would put her right at home in the pages of Appointment in Samarra. Her violence is motivated by sheer boredom, and her psychology makes the novel eerily effective, even in its clunkier moments: Armstrong tapped into postwar fears about class and belonging in a new and terrifying way. Two years later the book was adapted in Don’t Bother to Knock, with Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark; “The female race,” says the latter, “is always cheesing up my life!” —Dan Piepenbring

In The Act of Killing, a 2012 documentary, the directors Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn travel to Medan, Indonesia, where they film the feared and vaunted Anwar Congo, Adi Zulkadry, and Herman Koto: deified “gangsters” of the paramilitary Pancasila youth. Congo and co. are family men, cinephiles, and mass murderers who have never faced punishment for their crimes. They’re invited by Oppenheimer and Cynn to make a film about their contribution to the mass killings of 1965–1966, in which a million alleged communists lost their lives. In it they dramatize their “glory days,” abiding by their favorite Hollywood tropes (gangster, western, musical). In one scene, on a rooftop, Congo explains his preferred method of killing: strangulation by wire. In another, we watch him gently admonish his two grandsons for treating some backyard chicklets with too rough a touch. As the camera rolls on, we see Congo’s defenses against remorse and self-disgust erode. Watching these scenes you sense him begging for his comeuppance—“I’m always gazed at by those eyes I didn’t close”—but a full admission of guilt is slow to arrive. It’s probably best to take this one in over several viewings, with a bottle of something strong nearby. Then watch The Look of Silence. Joshua Maserow Read More »

What We’re Loving: All Kinds of Poetry

June 8, 2012 | by

Iris DeMent

When Anthony Heilbut isn’t producing beautiful gospel, he tends to be writingslowlyeither about German modernism or else about the music and musicians he loves. The Fan Who Knew Too Much is the book Heilbut's gospel fans have been waiting for since The Gospel Sound (1972). In this connection, I can’t resist quoting our Southern editor right off the back cover: “Nothing new in the last year gave me as much pure reading pleasure as pages of this book. Heilbut ranges over the culture like a madman, but with a fierce sanity in his eye, debunking myths and erecting new ones. I finished The Fan Who Knew Too Much wondering how, without it, I’d ever thought I understood a thing about America in the twentieth century. Let me ask: Are you familiar with the history of gays in gospel? Or with the early, radio roots of soap operas? Then you too are similarly benighted. Get with this.” Amen. —Lorin Stein

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