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The Review’s Review: Quiet Magic

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This Week’s Reading

We Work Again includes the only known footage of the Negro Theatre Unit’s 1936 production of Macbeth, staged by Orson Welles through the Federal Theatre Project. Above, a photograph of the production: Charles Collins and Maurice Ellis in act III, scene 4 of the play.

I am a lover of old things. I could spend hours strolling through vintage furniture stores or flipping through clothing catalogs from the past, but my favorite is undeniably archival video. Recently, I discovered a treasure trove of streaming links: The Black Film Archive. The site, which aggregates lists of comedies, westerns, dramas, and documentaries made between 1915 and 1979, is updated each month, and accepts submissions from the public. It’s free, and equal parts educational and entertaining. This week, I watched We Work Again, a video commissioned by a New Deal–era public works project, in which a narrator describes an idealized version of segregation in the United States over videos of Black life in the thirties. It was moving footage that I likely would have never come across otherwise. This weekend, I think I’ll watch Two-Gun Man from Harlem, a musical western about a deacon who becomes a cowboy. —Lauren Williams

I’m a lurker on Facebook, always about to delete my account, and will by year’s end. Right. But some months back, as if to redeem the bad faith of Facebook “connectivity,” I started seeing on that platform extraordinary poems by Katie Farris—riddling, devastating, peculiarly spritely poems about death, cancer, Emily Dickinson, the limits of mind and body:

Will you be
my death, breast?
I had asked you
in jest and in response
you hardened—a test
of my resolve? Malignant
magnificent palimpsest.

Will you be
my death, Emily?
Today I placed
your collected poems
over my breast, my heart
knocking fast
on your front cover.

These (from “Emiloma: A Riddle & An Answer”) and other poems are in Farris’s 2021 chapbook, A Net to Catch My Body in its Weaving; her first full-length collection, Standing in the Forest of Being Alive, is due out from Alice James in 2023. The heart knocks fast with and for this poet, the top of one’s head blown off, as Emily Dickinson almost said. —Maureen N. McLane

The Lehman Trilogy may or may not be a good play—it’s impossible to trust yourself to form an objective opinion once you’ve been seduced by its irresistible themes of money/power/patrilineage, as impossible as it is to avoid whatever happens to your soul once you’ve been given a corner office on Wall Street (I assume). I can say certainly that there are monologues that trace with devastating clarity the decades of manipulation that kicked the American people into today’s late capitalism like a can, three very talented actors in three very distinguished overcoats, and nearly three hours of deftly executed third-person narration. —Lauren Kane 

The Japanese director and screenwriter Ryusuke Hamaguchi has become one of my favorite filmmakers. His movies, curiously intimate and subtly strange, attest to the mysteries of our selves and of the people we love—and to the strength of the bonds we share anyway. His latest, Drive My Car, which screened last week at the New York Film Festival, is a loose adaptation of a story from Haruki Murakami’s short story collection Men Without Women. In it, Yusuke Kafuku, an actor and director, grieves the sudden death of his screenwriter wife, Oto, haunted by the fact that he never revealed he was aware of her infidelities. Driving his red Saab, he listens again and again to the tapes she once recorded to help him practice lines for Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. When he stages a production of the play at a festival in Hiroshima, he draws his cast from across the continent, the actors performing their roles in native tongues from Tagalog to Korean Sign Language—and his star is Takatsuki, a disgraced heartthrob he believes is the man he once, unnoticed, walked in on with his wife. Meanwhile, Kafuku chafes at the theater’s mandate of a personal driver, a laconic young woman named Watari, but as the days pass and Oto’s cassettes play, a friendship begins to unfurl out of their silences. I say all this, but the plot can only say so much: Hamaguchi has a gift for subtle shifts in feeling, for the moments life takes on the texture of candlelight. He works with, as Dennis Lim put it in his introduction to the film, something of a “quiet magic.” At a home-cooked dinner with his dramaturge, Kafuku is asked what he thinks, after his initial protestations, of his driver. She is so skilled, he says, he forgets he’s not alone, forgets he’s in a car. Sitting in the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, I suddenly remembered I was watching a movie. Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy opens at Film Forum on October 15; Drive My Car will open there on November 24.
—Amanda Gersten

Still from Drive My Car, courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films.