the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Posts Tagged ‘film

Charlie Chaplin in New York

with 3 comments

Born in London in 1889, legendary comic actor Charlie Chaplin grew up poor. He was the son of a singer who often found herself out of work due to poor health. Together with his older brother, Sydney, he found ways to make ends meet by following in the family’s entertaining footsteps. The two Chaplins were successful both on stage and on screen, each signing million dollar contracts at some point in their career.

Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, simply titled My Autobiography, recently published as part of Melville House’s Neversink Library series, is a fascinating life story. Not only is it a portrait of the film industry from the early 1920s to the 60s, it’s a look at how a mixture of luck, talent, and business savvy created one of the era’s top performers.

Around 1910, Chaplin landed in New York for the first time. Here is his first impression:

At ten o’clock on a Sunday morning we at last arrived in New York. When we got off the street-car at Times Square, it was somewhat of a let-down. Newspapers were blowing about the road and pavement, and Broadway looked seedy, like a slovenly woman just out of bed. …

However, this was New York, adventurous, bewildering, a little frightening. Paris, on the other hand, had been friendlier. Even though I could not speak the language, Paris had welcomed me on every street corner with its bistros and outside cafes. But New York was essentially a place of big business. The tall skyscrapers seemd ruthlessly arrogant and to care little for the convenience of ordinary people; even the saloon bars had no place for the customers to sit, only a long brass rail to rest a foot on, and the popular eating places, though clean and done in white marble, looked cold and clinical.

I took a back room in one of the brownstone houses off Forty-third Street, where the Times building now stands. It was dismal and dirty and made me homesick for London and our little flat. In the basement was a cleaning and pressing establishment and during the week the fetid odour of clothes being pressed and steam wafted up and added to my discomfort.

That first day I felt quite inadequate. It was an ordeal to go into a restaurant and order something because of my English accent — and the fact that I spoke slowly. So many spoke in a rapid, clipped way that I felt uncomfortable for fear I might stutter and waste their time.

I was alien to the slick tempo. In New York even the owner of the smallest enterprise acts with alacrity. The shoe-black flips his polishing rag with alacrity, the bartender serves beer with alacrity, sliding it up to you along the polished surface of the bar. The soda clerk, when serving egg malted milk, performs like a hopped-up juggler. In a fury of speed he snatches up a glass, attacking everything he puts into it, vanilla flavour, blob of ice cream, two spoonfuls of malt, a raw egg which he deposits with one crack, then adding milk, all of which he shakes in a container and delivers in less than a minute.

On the Avenue that first day many looked as I felt, lone and isolated; others swaggered along as though they owned the place. The behaviour of many people seemed dour and metallic as if to be agreeable or polite would prove a weakness. But in the evening as I walked along Broadway with the crowd dressed in their summer clothes, I became reassured. We had left England in the middle of a bitter cold September and arrived in New York in an Indian summer with a temperature of eighty degrees; and as I walked along Broadway it began to light up with myriads of coloured electric bulbs and sparkled like a brilliant jewel. And in the warm night my attitude changed and the meaning of America came to me: the tall skyscrapers, the brilliant, gay lights, the thrilling display of advertisements stirred me with hope and a sense of adventure. ‘That is it!’ I said to myself. ‘This is where I belong!’

Written by Gabrielle

November 20, 2013 at 7:20 am

TV on the Radio

with one comment

This post originally ran on Longreads, where I now contribute a monthly podcast roundup.

For a while now we’ve been hearing about the rise of television, how shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones have surpassed the film industry when people think of quality viewing experiences. Gone are the days where writers and actors dreamed of making it big in pictures, now talent is flocking to small screen.

Here are some recent interviews that will be of interest to those who like to dig deeper.

WBUR On Point: Is The U.S. Movie Industry Broken? 

Bling RingA recent panel discussion on WBUR’s On Point featured Lynda Obst, a film and television producer whose credits include “Sleepless in Seattle” and whose recent book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business, chronicles the recent changes in the movie industry—big blockbusters becoming more common with smaller films barely being made. Alongside Obst, sometimes arguing, sometimes agreeing, was Sharon Waxman, CEO and EIC of TheWrap.com, a site that covers Hollywood and film industry.

KCRW The Treatment: Sofia Coppola 

Still making small films, however, is Sofia Coppola. This summer she’s back with The Bling Ring, a film based on the real life events of a group of California teenagers obsessed with celebrities; so much so that they break into stars’ homes. Sofia spoke with host Elvis Mitchell about making a true crime film and her filmmaking career so far.

Fresh Air: Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth MossMad Men just wrapped up its sixth season and has one more to go before it’s off the air for good. Terry Gross spoke with Elisabeth Moss, better known as Peggy, about the evolution of her character, how she came to be an actress, and how much she knows about the show’s direction before shooting an episode.

The Nerdist: Charlie Hunnam

Charlie HunnamAnother excellent show currently on television is Sons of Anarchy, the story of a biker gang in California’s Central Valley, running drugs, guns, and their small town. “Jax” Teller, one of the heads of the club is played by Charlie Hunnam who, in real life, turns out to be British. In this interview with Chris Hardwick he talks about being approached by real bikers, his life growing up in a working-class town in North East England, and what it’s like to play a character for so many years.

The Nerdist Writer’s Panel: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries 

Lizzie BennetSomething that’s starting to get a lot of attention these days are web shows. One show that’s doing particularly well is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which, according the series’ site, “is a modernized adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice” with the story told primarily through the lead character Lizzie Bennet‘s video diary entries.

Nerdist Writer’s Panel host Ben Blacker sat down with co-creator Bernie Su, writers Margaret Dunlap, Rachel Kiley, and Kate Rorick, and writer/transmedia guy Jay Bushman to talk about the impetus for the series and how it gets made.

Bonus: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New BlackI’ve started watching the new Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, a show based on author Piper Kerman’s memoir by the same name which tells the story about the 15 months she spent in prison for a small part she played in a drug smuggling ring. Orange stars Terry Schilling as Piper; Jason Biggs as her fiancée; Laura Prepon of That 70s Show as Alex Vause, Piper’s ex-girlfriend who introduced her to smuggling; and Natasha Lyonne of Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader, and American Pie as the ex-junkie inmate who knows how to get along on the inside.

You can read an excerpt from Kerman’s book on Salon, an interview with her on The Los Angeles Times about having her book made into a show, and an interview from 2012 about the book on The Rumpus. Piper even learned a few tips that you can apply to your worklife and shared them with Fast Company. Then, check out the two books Natasha Lyonne believes capture prison life.

Written by Gabrielle

July 16, 2013 at 6:57 am

The Difficulty of Being Jean Cocteau

with 5 comments

Difficulty of BeingJean Cocteau, who died at the age of 74 in 1963, was a man of many talents—a poet, a novelist, a filmmaker, and an artist. He wrote the libretto for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and was best known for his 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles and the 1946 film adaptation Beauty and the Beast. After his death, in 1965, he was named the Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival.

I once read that if you’re in a rut, creative or otherwise, you should read a biography of someone who did great things. Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, as does any social movement leader, but when I saw The Difficulty of Being, Cocteau’s collection of biographical essays—written in 1947— I was curious to know what this polymath had thought about life. As I thumbed through the copy in the bookstore, I noticed that the chapter headings read like Montaigue: “On conversation,” “On my style,” “On friendship,” “On death,” and “On beauty” are just a few.

In his introduction to Melville House’s Neversink Library edition, Geoffrey O’Brien, a critic and the Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America, notes that the book is written in “a mood of detached self-examination” and that Cocteau “makes himself his own portraitist … determined to work out some basic definitions.” He goes on to say, “It is most fundamentally a work of criticism, in which by paying close attention to his own writing process he creates a different kind of writing, opaque and deliberate.”

From my own reading, I found a poignancy in many of the questions Cocteau seeks to answer and the observations he puts on the page. Here is a very small selection of what is a great read—whether you choose to go from cover to cover or open at will.

On Reading

I cannot read or write. And when the census form asks me this question, I am tempted to say no.

Who knows how to write? It is to battle with ink to try to make oneself understood.

Either one takes too much care over one’s work or one does not take enough. Seldom does one find the happy mean that limps with grace. Reading is another matter. I read. I think I am reading. Each time I re-read, I perceive that I have not read. That is the trouble with a letter. One finds in it what one looks for. One is satisfied. One puts it aside. If one finds it again, on re-reading one reads into it another which one had not read.

Books play the same trick. If they do not suit our present mood we do not consider them good. If they disturb us we criticize them, and this criticism is superimposed upon them and prevents us from reading them fairly.

What the reader wants is to read himself. When he reads what he approves of he thinks he could have written it. He may even have a grudge against the book for taking his place, for saying what he did not know how to say, and which according to him he would have said better.

The more a book means to us the less well we read it. Our substance slips into it and thinks it round to our own outlook. That is why if I want to read and convince myself that I can read. I read books into which my substance does not penetrate. In the hospitals in which I spent long periods, I used to read what the nurse brought me or what fell into my hands by chance. … you often hear a tubercular patient say of Thomas Mann’s book The Magic Mountain: ‘That is a book one couldn’t understand if one hadn’t been tubercular.’ In fact Thomas Mann wrote it without being this and for the very purpose of making those who had not experienced tuberculosis understand it.

We are all ill and only know how to read book which deal with our malady. This is why books dealing with love are so successful, since everyone believes that he is the only one to experience it. He thinks: ‘This book is addressed to me. What can anyone else see in it?’

On the Rule of the Soul

We cannot run from place to place without losing something, suddenly move all our goods from one place to another and change our work all in a moment just as we please. Nothing takes so long over its journey as the soul, and it is slowly, if it detaches itself, that it rejoins the body. Hence those who think themselves speedy are thrown into confusion, badly reassembled, since the soul, joining them little by little and having rejoined them when they departed, is found by them to perform the same exercise in reverse. IN the end they come to believe they are, and are no longer.

The same thing applies to the discomfort of passing from one work to another, since the finished work goes on living in us and only leaves a very confused place for the new work. It is important, in regard to a journey, to wait for the body to reassemble itself and not to rely on an appearance in which only those who do not know us well can have any faith.

In regard to one’s works, it is important to wait after each one, and let the body free itself of the vapours which remain in it and which may take a long time to disperse. … In my estimation it takes a month, after a work or a journey, to regain control of one’s individuality. Until then it is in limbo. … Each time I find myself in this intermediate state, I wonder if it is permanent. It upsets me to the point of making me exaggerate the void it creates and convinces me that it will never be filled.

Here I am then between two rhythms, unbalanced, weak in body and lame in mind. Woe to him who rebels against this. An attempt to bypass it would only make things worse. … What is one to do against this fear of emptiness? It dries me up. One must forget it. I practise doing so. I go to the point of reading children’s books. I avoid any contact which might make me aware of the passing of time. I vegetate. I talk to dogs.

On Words

I attach no importance to what people call style and by which they flatter themselves that they can recognize an author. I want to be recognized by my ideas, or better still, by the results of them. All I attempt is to make myself understood as succinctly as possible. I have noticed that when a story does not grip the mind, it has shown a tendency to read too quickly, to grease its own slope. That is why, in this book, I turn my writing around, which prevents it from sliding into a straight line, makes one revise it twice over and reread the sentences so as not to lose the thread.

Whenever I read a book, I marvel at the number of words I meet in it and I long to use them. I make a note of them. When I am at work this is impossible for me. I restrict myself to my own vocabulary. I cannot get away from it, and it is so limited that the work becomes a brain-twister.

I wonder, at every line, if I can go any further, if the combination of these words that I use, always the same ones, will not end by seizing up and compelling me to hold my peace. This would be a blessing for everyone, but it is with words as with numbers, or with the letters of the alphabet. They have the faculty of rearranging themselves differently and perpetually at the end of the kaleidoscope.

Reprinted from The Difficulty of Being by Jean Cocteau; English translation ©1966 Elizabeth Sprigge; Published by Melville House

::[Links]::
Buy The Difficulty of Being from your local bookstore
Read an interview with Jean Cocteau in The Paris Review
Explore the Neversink Library collection

Written by Gabrielle

June 18, 2013 at 6:49 am

Posted in books, excerpt

Tagged with , , , , ,

What to Listen to: Jeff Garlin and Friends

leave a comment »

By the WayThe mark of a great comedy podcast is having to give this caveat: if you aren’t comfortable laughing to yourself in public, best to listen to this one at home alone. Every one of the now seven episodes of By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin has made me laugh out loud, often with an uncontrollable sputter. Not only that, I grin nearly the whole way through, which, I might add, makes me appear friendly during rush hour, a threat to my tough New Yorker exterior.

Actor, comedian, producer Jeff Garlin, known best to me for his role as Larry David’s manager and friend in Curb Your Enthusiasm, hosts a conversation with fellow talented entertainment industry creatives in front of a live audience at Largo in Los Angeles.

The run time is about an hour and a half, with J.J. Abrams clocking in at an hour and fifty, but however long the show, it never gets tedious. Garlin is one of the rare hosts who can keep you engaged and entertained long past the standard 45 minutes.

Jeff Garlin and Lena Dunham

Whether Garlin has had the good fortune of sitting down with people who enjoy his company, or if he’s just that good at putting people at ease, every conversation has been comfortable and paved the way for mutual openness. In the first episode, Garlin draws out Larry David’s quirks, of which there are many—one being his dislike of listening to music for its own sake. In episode two, he and Lena Dunham discuss the hell that is awards shows—unless, as was the case with Dunham, you have your quick-witted mom in tow. Parenting, and family life in general, is a common topic: both J.J. Abrams and Will Ferrell like to make their kids breakfast and see them off to school. Farrell volunteers at his son’s soccer games and J.J. makes up stories at bedtime.

Even if Garlin didn’t have great timing and a knack for getting stories out of his guests, his laugh, boisterous and infectious, would be enough to get your smile going. The only downside of By the Way is its lack of an archive, having just begun in January of this year. However, if you get in on it now, you’ll be one of the lucky ones with bragging rights, able to say you were listening to it back when, because, with a bit of luck and more excellent guests, this show will be around for a very long time.

::[Links]::
By the Way, In Conversation with Jeff Garlin

Written by Gabrielle

April 9, 2013 at 6:49 am

Week in the World: Lindsay Lohan Takes the Cake Edition

leave a comment »

Lindsay Lohan.Jeff Minton for The New York TimesThis roundup’s strongest piece of journalism goes to Stephen Rodrick, contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and contributing editor at Men’s Journal, for his piece Times, “Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.”

Rodrick was given full access to the filming of Lindsay Lohan’s forthcoming low budget, Kickstarter-funded film, “The Canyons,” directed by Paul Schrader and written by Bret Easton Ellis. It reads as a fair piece, which, with Lohan as a subject, is a feat all on its own. What makes it so incredible, however, is that the writing is fantastic. It truly is a lesson in feature writing, to be printed, studied, and saved.

A bit of background:

Schrader wrote “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” and has directed 17 films. Still, some fear Lohan will end him. There have been house arrests, car crashes and ingested white powders. His own daughter begs him not to use her. A casting-director friend stops their conversation whenever he mentions her name. And then there’s the film’s explicit subject matter. Full nudity and lots of sex. Definitely NC-17. His wife, the actress Mary Beth Hurt, didn’t even finish the script, dismissing it as pornography after 50 pages.

Dunham and Apatow.credit Art Streiber

Noir-like description of Lohan:

“She was quite pale, her skin not on speaking terms with daylight.”

This article had been so popular with #longreads fans that they begged for an interview with Rodrick on their Longform Podcast. Rodrick discusses how the assignment came about, the access he had, and how writing stories for The New York Times works.

Another great interview in Longform’s growing archive is with Charles Duhugg, New York Times reporter and author of The Power of Habit. Here he talks about journalism, best practices for writing (and life), and (again) how The New York Times works.

On his approach to interviewing for a job, which can be applied to many other things:

You want to be surprising. People love surprises. That is how we stay interested.

Marley

On using edited material for “bonus features”:

The stuff that gets cut out gets cut out for a reason. The discipline of space is always a good discipline. If it deserves to be read, it shouldn’t be on the cutting room floor… If it ends up on the cutting room floor, there’s usually a reason why.

Parul Sehgal, Editor at the New York Times Book Review, former Books Editor at NPR, explores three essay collections in an essay of her own.

Invented in France by Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century’s great oversharer; perfected in England by Samuel Johnson and William Hazlitt; the essay found America very agreeable: “The United States itself — and even its name, according to some sources — is partly the outcome of the essayistic brilliance of the radical English artisan Thomas Paine,” Christopher Hitchens, one of its finest modern practitioners, wrote.

The Millions ran an argument in favor of reading fewer books in 2013:

This past year I read 56 books. That’s slightly off the pace of 60 books a year that I’ve set over the previous 12 years, but then I did read a lot of very long history books this year — yes, I’m looking at you, Robert Caro – and my wife and I did make a very time-consuming move to Canada late in the year. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Maybe the real answer is that I’m just getting tired of trying to read so damn many books.

Seth Green

Podcast host extraordinaire Colin Marshall sat down with Los Angeles Review of Books founder and editor-in-chief, Tom Lutz. They talk about the LA literary scene, book reviewing, and what it’s been like running the Review. You can catch Colin Marshall regularly as host of Notebook on Cities and Culture, “a twice-weekly long-form conversation with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene around Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Osaka, Kyoto, and beyond.”

Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow had this totally adorable–and insightful–conversation via Skype (transcribed for print) about how they collaborate. It sounds like a very healthy relationship.

Apatow: You know, the show is run differently from other shows because we’re trying to really filter everything through you. My goal is to have you do as much work as possible without getting killed. So part of what I’m trying to do is pace you so you don’t collapse. For me, a lot of the work is just having a very fresh brain and set of eyes to read things and look for where there are holes or trouble and then trying to help fix that.

Dunham: I feel like you’re constantly monitoring my brainpower and body power, even when I’m not able to tell what I’m feeling.

And Lena Dunham was on Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Incredible conversation.

The Bob Marley documentary “Marley,” now streaming on Netflix, is beyond amazing. I hope to have a proper writeup in the near future but, in the meantime, watch it. Seriously.

always, Susan Morris has some great advice for writers. Here she has 10 exercises to help hone your craft and Seth Green’s interview with Marc Maron was a good one.

Written by Gabrielle

January 22, 2013 at 6:51 am

Week in the World: Publishing in Your Ears, Book Groups on TV, and Reading Journals

with 2 comments

While I do have a few book reviews lined up–including one about dark fantasy short story collections I think you should read–I’ve come across so many awesome non-book things in the past week or so that I needed to put those on the backburner in order to share some other great stuff with you.

Podcasts
Anyone interested in publishing should get ready for this lineup. There were three great podcasts these past few weeks that go behind the scenes of the industry.

The online literary community Litopia interviewed Faber and Faber chief executive Stephen Page for their Naked Book podcast, a show devoted to “ripping the covers off print books and finding out what lies beneath.” It was a candid, informed conversation about print and digital publishing. Well worth saving after you’ve listened the first time.

On Other People, Brad Listi spoke with Steven Gillis, co-founder of the indie press Dzanc Books–who also has a new book out. Listening to Steven’s daily routine was awe-inspiring–and envy-inducing. The following week, he spoke with Paris Review editor Lorin Stein, who was once a book editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The two talk about work/life balance, literary publishing, and digital publishing. [Disclaimer: I’m the publicist working on The Paris Review book and set up the interview but it was so awesome I couldn’t help but share.]

You may have heard about Longreads, a site that finds the best of long-form stories on the Internet. Well, they now have a podcast called the Longform Podcast. Their interviews with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates and author and journalist Gideon Lewis-Kraus are good places to start.

The Nerdist was on a roll with their interviews with actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hanks (interviewed separately, in case that’s not clear). I’m a huge fan of Gordon-Levitt’s not only because I think he’s talented at what he does but also because he always sounds so appreciative and gracious. This interview was no exception. Hanks as well, a huge talent and a guy who seems like he’s happy to be doing what he does, was hilarious. If you only listen for his impressions of foreign fans, it’ll be worth it. And, while we’re talking about The Nerdist, co-host Jonah Ray was on WTF with Marc Maron. It was great.

Music
I picked up the new Kid Koala album, 12 Bit Blues, the other week in preparation of seeing him in November. I’m a longtime fan of the koala. His jazz and blues-meets-turntablism blows my mind and always look forward to what he’s up to. You should check out the official video for 8 Bit Blues on YouTube. It was excellent to hear him on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Television
While I wait for season 4 of Sons of Anarchy to free up on Netflix, and for Mad Men season 5 to release, I’ve been watching Grimm, the NBC show based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It’s pretty good–creepy but not hard to watch at night, good characters, and an interesting storyline. The main character, Nick, a cop, turns out to be of the Grimm lineage and able to see the creatures that lie beneath seemingly average people. With his abilities, a unknowing partner on the force, and a reformed “Blutbad,” he solves crimes from week to week.

Also something worth watching, which is streaming on Netflix, is the Woody Allen documentary that came out in 2011. In the film, Allen remembers back to his childhood to tell how he came to filmmaking. He brings the camera crew on the tour of his old neighborhood and they interview the many people who played a part in his personal and professional life. Even if you haven’t seen all his films, this was a nice, intimate look at a great artist.

What I’ve been raving about however, is this quirky, little British television show that I came across serendipitously on Netflix, The Book Group, also streaming. An American girl, new to Scotland and looking for friends, forms a book group with a bunch of locals she’s never met. I fell in love with this show almost immediately and blew through the entire two seasons in a little over a week. If you like books, you should watch it immediately. You can thank me later.

Writing
Every Monday I look forward to Susan Moriss’s column, ‘Writers Don’t Cry’ on the website Omnivoracious. Every week Morris offers invaluable thoughts and tips on fiction writing. While I don’t write fiction myself, her column is so much fun to read I keep returning. This past week’s topic, keeping a “reading journal,” was so amazing, I printed it out, underlined choice sentences, and plan to take her advice.

As a blogger, predominantly of book reviews and essays based on the books I’ve read, finding a balance between reading and writing can be hard. “Should I read this morning or should I write?” is often a question I ask myself. Poignantly, Morris opens her column with “reading is not procrastinating,” an answer geared more toward fiction writers who don’t necessarily need to read books to work on their own stories. However, Morris–along with many other authors who often offer advice–begs to differ.

Reading, Morris says, “is an important part of maintaining and honing your skills, staying inspired, and keeping in touch with why you write.” She continues with a practical application which, honestly, sounds like a whole lot of fun:

To take the best advantage of your reading for your writing, I recommend keeping a reading journal. In it, you can keep track of what you like, play with particular paragraphs to figure out how they work, and experiment with the styles and ideas you read about to improve your own writing.

I won’t spoil the article for you, you really need to read it for yourself … and then, Mondays, set your calendar.

Written by Gabrielle

October 16, 2012 at 6:58 am

Week in the World: The Best Things Ever

with 2 comments

I’ve been reading so many great books lately that after finishing each one I’m tempted to call it The Best Thing Ever. I’ve also seen some incredible movies, gotten hooked on TV shows, and listened to music that I think everyone needs to hear. Not to mention the podcasts … and the essays. Well, you get the idea.

This week, I’ve decided to round up some of The Best Things Ever. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

BOOKS
I just finished the essay collection Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugresic. After reading that the book had won an award, and being a fan of Open Letter, I went out and bought it that day. At first I was nervous that a majority of it would be devoted to karaoke–the title esay is about a third of the book–but Ugresic makes it known early on that karaoke is just a metaphor for explaining larger cultural and political events. A longer, more thoughtful review of Karaoke Culture is to come but in the meantime, imagine if Chuck Klosterman wrote a column for The Nation and you’ll have a pretty good idea of Urgresic’s style.

LITERARY CRITICISM
As we’ve all heard by now, some of us ad nauseum, the literary community is concerned, one way or another, with niceness in their book reviews. We’ve heard it, read it, and discussed it all–however, here are two points I’d like to make. First, there were a few great articles that came out of the debate that dove deeper into the role of criticism and the critic. One article that found its way to my printer for a closer read was Daniel Mendelsohn’s essay A Critic’s Manifesto that ran on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner.

In the essay, Mendelsohn begins by telling us that he dreamt not only of becoming a writer but more specifically, a critic. He found criticism “exciting” and thought the critics he’d studied “admirable.” While still a young kid, he went further than reading their work … he studied it.

By dramatizing their own thinking on the page, by revealing the basis of their judgments and letting you glimpse the mechanisms by which they exercised their (individual, personal, quirky) taste, all these critics were, necessarily, implying that you could arrive at your own, quite different judgments—that a given work could operate on your own sensibility in a different way. What I was really learning from those critics each week was how to think. How to think (we use the term so often that we barely realize what we’re saying) critically—which is to say, how to think like a critic, how to judge things for myself. To think is to make judgments based on knowledge: period.

He continues, “For all criticism is based on that equation: KNOWLEDGE + TASTE = MEANINGFUL JUDGMENT. The key word here is meaningful. People who have strong reactions to a work—and most of us do—but don’t possess the wider erudition that can give an opinion heft, are not critics.”

The other point I’d like to make is, as Jacob Silverman, the author of the Slate article which caused this mighty uproar, mentions on the Three Percent Podcast, we have a tendency to move on from these discussions quickly, thinking that we’ve exhausted the conversation, when in reality, discussions like these should be on-going. As someone who can’t read or hear enough about the process of criticism, maybe this is a selfish request.

PODCASTS
John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine was on Radio National’s Book Plus program to discuss his essay collection, How to Read a Novelist. In the interview he graciously shared a few personal stories about interviewing authors. For anyone interested in journalism, these few minutes will save you agony later. After an incident with a writer early in his career, a mistake anyone of us could make, John came to this conclusion: “While we have access to writers and their books, and as journalists we have to them in person, there is a limit to it”.

If there’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Teju Cole, it’s “mesmerizing.” His writing envelops you; one second you’re in your kitchen reading, the next you’re walking down a London street. Recently, he told of a dinner he was invited to for the writer V.S. Naipaul, “Natives on the Boat,” for New Yorker‘s Page-Turner. This week he spoke with The Guardian about it. After the quick Q&A he reads the piece in full, which is, as it turns out, also mesmerizing.

MUSIC
For some reason I love listening to trip hop in the fall–maybe it’s the darker nights that put me in a brooding mood. This fall, just like last, I’m again amazed that I can go back to the music I listened to in the late 90s, early 2000s, and not be embarrassed. Three artists that always make an appearance are the Sneaker Pimps, DJ Shadow, and Tricky.

Modeselektor has been in heavy rotation for a few months now and neither of their albums, Monkeytown from 2011, nor the mix they put out on their label in July of this year, Modeselektions Vol. 2, are getting old. A review of the band and their music is to come but what makes Modeselektor difficult to write about succinctly, or even talk about with friends, is that they are hard to define. If you like tweaky electronic music–some electro with your dubstep–these guys are a must. Check out Berlin and Evil Twin and let me know what you think.

FILM and TV
I finally saw the movie Drive, a “neo-noir crime drama,” as Wikipedia categorizes it. The film features Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stuntman by day and getaway car driver for hire. Key performances also from Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks. Drive is one of the rare films that begs to be watched over and over. It’s dark, brutal, and beautifully done.

Not yet ready to leave the world of gritty crime dramas, I found the 2007 film Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Another brutal movie, this one with a Greek tragedy-like plot. I’ve also started watching Boss, the political drama with Kelsey Grammer where he plays the corrupt mayor of Chicago. Grammer does an incredible job playing pure evil. There’s a Roman opulence to this one.

ADVENTURES IN LITERARY NIGHTLIFE
Last night I kicked off Brooklyn Book Festival Week (my unofficial title) at BookCourt with a panel discussion called “Who Gives a Sh*t about Literary Magazines?” Obviously, I do. It was a conversation between Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, John Freeman, editor of Granta, and Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House, moderated by Randy Rosenthal, editor of The Coffin Factory. Both The Paris Review and Granta are in the process of launching apps, in part hoping to ease the current challenges of international distribution. All three have, to varying degree, created some sort of free, online content on their websites–all of which uphold the quality of the print magazine. The topic might seem like a well-trod one but the way these four guys are thinking about the technology available to them, the conversation went into new territory.

Written by Gabrielle

September 18, 2012 at 6:59 am

What to Watch: Pariah

with 2 comments

It’s a commonly held belief that the African-American community is, when compared with the general population, less accepting of homosexuality at best and more homophobic at worst.

Recently, President Obama endorsed gay marriage and many wondered how black voters would respond in the upcoming election. However, on May 19th, in an outstanding display of solidarity with fellow human rights advocates, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution in support of marriage equality, a move that is bound to chip away at this persistent stereotype.

Amidst this flurry of news, it’s suiting that “Pariah,” a film about a young, black lesbian, was just released on DVD.

In this full-length feature from director Dee Rees, Brooklyn high school junior Alike [Ah-LEE-kay], played by Adepero Oduye, navigates her way through family, friends, and love as her sexual orientation becomes increasingly obvious. Early in the film, the audience becomes aware of an inner tension living inside Alike. On the one hand she knows she’s gay, has no need to question it, and actively pursues women as she’s dragged along to gay clubs by her out friend, Laura. On the other is her family. Alike’s mother, played by Kim Wayans, a devoutly religious woman, attempts to steer her daughter toward a more feminine lifestyle through pink blouses and forced friendships. Although one gets the sense that her father, played by Charles Parnell, has the potential to be more accepting — he’s more lenient of Alike’s personal style — there’s a reluctance to confront her homosexuality head on.

For Alike, finding ground between these two worlds is a struggle. “It’s about her trying to find herself and express herself in a way that’s authentic,” said Rees in an interview with KCRW’s film show, The Treatment.

“Pariah” is a reminder to those who may have forgotten the details of high school life just how tumultuous and tortured those years can be. Part of Alike’s charm is how she hangs on with the best of them — getting straight As, leaning on her friend, using poetry as an emotional outlet, and finding a mentor in a supportive English teacher.

Much of “Pariah” is informed by Rees’s life, although it shouldn’t be confused with autobiography. The opening scene where Alike is in a gay club is inspired by Rees’s experience when she first came out — she even used the same song that was first playing when she’d walked in her first time. Although much of the film deviates from Rees’s personal story, “Pariah” has a very real feel to it: there are no gimmicks, no formulaic feel. “Pariah” is one of the most original films I’ve seen this year.

“This is a film about identity … it’s about how to be yourself. … It’s not the typical coming out story, it’s more coming into,” Rees said; and if viewers are open to it, they’ll find that the film transcends the immediate subject matter, giving it a universal coming-of-age feel.

“Pariah,” with its lovable lead character, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. This realistic piece of cinema will leave you wondering: where is the next Dee Rees production?

::[Links]::
Pariah, the official website
Dee Rees interviewed on KCRW’s The Treatment
Dee Rees and lead actress Adepero Oduye speaks with NPR
Dee Rees profiled on The Root
An interview with the Los Angeles Times
NAACP announcement on marriage equality
Behind the NAACP Equality Decision at The Root

Written by Gabrielle

June 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

On the Shelf: Recent Sights and Sounds

with 5 comments

Here are a few things that caught my eyes and ears these past few days.

Rub Out the Words: the Letters of William S Burroughs 1959-1974 ed by Bill Morgan

I’ve always found William Burroughs intriguing — after all, he did kill his common-law wife while playing a game of William Tell, or so the story goes. I read his novel Junky multiple times but could never get into Naked Lunch, the book he is best known for. Now, Ecco has published the second volume of his letters: correspondence that spans the years after the publication of Naked Lunch to the year he left London to return to New York.

Of the collection, The Telegraph writes:
“This second volume of correspondence may not quite dispel this image of Burroughs as American fiction’s resident alien, the lexical bomb-thrower in the body of a government man – but it does offer intriguing glimpses into the personality behind the mask. …

For fans of [his] way-out approach [the cut-up technique], the letters will provide a valuable glimpse into the genesis of his most impenetrable work, the trilogy that comprised The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express. …

One surprising theme in these letters is Burroughs’s cosmic indifference to the swelling counterculture. Our correspondent remains unmoved as the Sixties progress, beatniks become hippies, and even the parties he attends in Hampstead start to be filled with people ‘turning on’.”

What’s the big idea?
Dostoevsky tackled free will, Tolstoy the meaning of life – but is it still possible to write philosophical novels?
by Jennie Erdal

This past weekend’s Financial Times had an incredible essay on philosophy, literature, and the blending of the two into the philosophical novel.

Jennie Erdal, the author of the essay, begins with philosophy and philosophers: “while [they] were good at asking questions and setting out arguments, their engagement with truth was often woefully abstract, and a world away from the stuff of novels”. She continues, “The analytical style [of philosophy] rigidly separated reason from imagination, precision from imprecision.”

Of novels, she writes, “The more I read at university, the more I felt that fiction was where truth was to be discovered” and that some things “can never be adequately expressed in conventional philosophical prose.” Erdal then makes a case for the hybrid form, “moral philosophy needs the novel for the fullest possible expression of its aims . . . Plato was wrong to think that literature had nothing to offer philosophy . . . It is one thing to study John Stuart Mill’s defence of utilitarianism in ethics; quite another to read the passage in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), where Raskolnikov tests utilitarianism to its limits by taking an axe and cleaving an old lady’s head in two.”

It’s a brilliant read all the way through. For anyone interested in literary theory and the grander workings of fiction, this is not to be missed.

Orbital / Wonky
It can be scary picking up a new album by a band who has been around for 25 years — especially if that band, up until recently, has been on hiatus — but that’s exactly what’s going on with electronic duo Orbital who just released Wonky, their first album since 2004.

About their music, one half of the group, Paul Hartnoll, told Wired magazine, “Ultimately, it has to move us emotionally…. We can get a great big thunderous beat … but melody is the real icing on the cake for me. If I get a really good melody, I get really excited about thinking about what’s going to come. That’s when I burst into tears, thinking, ‘That’s it!’ The hook’s got you, and you know you’re going to finish that piece.”

Explaining why they’re back together and making music, he says “When you’ve got a background and a history, and a rich idea of what you wanted to do, it was a real shame to give up … It was the live aspect that I missed.”

The article features the video for ‘New France’. Here’s the video for ‘Wonky’. Not sure how I feel about the cats.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything
Simon Pegg’s new comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, looks amazing. Unfortunately, at the time of this post, no US release date has been confirmed. Science fiction and fantasy site io9 quotes the synopsis:

“Jack is a children’s author turned crime novelist whose detailed research into the lives of Victorian serial killers has turned him into a paranoid wreck, persecuted by the irrational fear of being murdered. When Jack is thrown a life-line by his long-suffering agent and a mysterious Hollywood executive takes a sudden and inexplicable interest in his script, what should be his big break rapidly turns into his big breakdown, as Jack is forced to confront his worst demons; among them his love life, his laundry and the origin of all fear.”

They also have the trailer.

Podcasts
The first week in April, on the WTF podcast, Marc Maron spoke with musician and comedian Carrie Brownstein. Carrie was in the Olympia, Washington-based indie band Sleater-Kinney and is currently in Wild Flag; however, these days, she’s best known as co-creator of Portlandia, the sketch show on IFC. On the podcast, Marc and Carrie nerd out about music — and other things. One of my favorite WTFs so far.

On the Nerdist, voiceover actors Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche taught me that voiceover actors are awesome. Rob and Maurice, which I only learned from this podcast, are the creators, and voices, of Pinky and the Brain. Their vocal skills do not end there. These two guys had Chris Hardwick awestruck. A must-listen.

What caught your eyes and ears these past few days? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

April 10, 2012 at 7:03 am

What to Watch: Page One: Inside the New York Times

with 2 comments

If you’re looking for a take down of the New York Times, Page One: Inside the New York Times, is not for you. This documentary, which premiered at Sundance in January and is now available on DVD, is a look at the future of the newspaper industry through the lens of the New York Times’ media editors and reporters.

Director Andrew Rossi, previously the Associate Producer of Control Room, the 2004 documentary about Al Jazeera, had 14 months of considerable access at the Times. His footage even includes scenes from the twice-daily meetings where executives and desk editors meet to decide what stories would make it onto the front page, the coveted spot after which the movie is named.

When asked by The Huffington Post why he allowed Rossi such access, Bill Keller, who was the paper’s Executive Editor at the time of filming, said, “Andrew had what sounded like a smart angle — follow the media desk as it covers the implosion of our own industry”. More importantly, perhaps, “Andrew passed [David Carr’s] smell test.”

For those of you who don’t already who know David Carr is, you will by the end of the film. Former editor of the Twin Cities Reader and the Washington City Paper, now media columnist for the paper, David is the star of the film. He’s brash, incisive, scrappy—and incredibly likable. Despite his rough demeanor, he’s a fair journalist. In an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Carr explains that he doesn’t trick sources into giving him good quotes. He doesn’t feed them false pleasantries hoping to lower their guard. If the story’s going to be a rough one, he tells them so they have a chance to defend themselves.

Carr’s media desk cohorts include Brian Stelter, a former anonymous blogger now Times reporter known for his fantastic Twitter skills, reporter Richard Perez-Pena, and department editor Bruce Headlam. Together, with a few other contributors, they form the site’s Media Decoder blog, which according the Times is “an insider’s guide to the media industry . . .  a showcase for the extensive media coverage throughout The New York Times and a window on how the business of connecting with consumers is changing in the digital age.”

The film sets out to chart the wave of uncertainty that swept the newspaper industry starting in 2008—and continues to this day. As part of the investigation into new media’s role in people’s consumption of news and the status of traditional news outlets, Wikileaks acts as a case study. As the paper who released the Pentagon Papers 30 years earlier, Times reporters and news analysts are able to make direct comparisons.

The film allows the editors at the paper to discuss the gaffes that had taken place in quick succession—the Judith Miller Iraq War reporting and the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal—in their own words and how they affected traditional media’s integrity.

In a short segment on the encroaching online outlets both Gawker founder, Nick Denton, and Arianna Huffington, owner of The Huffington Post, said the future of the media is giving people what they want to read. Notable push back on this philosophy, one of hit-driven content, came from former Baltimore City reporter and Wire creator David Simon and Katrina vanden Heuval, Editor and Publisher of the liberal weekly magazine The Nation. ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative news outlet was praised for its model and efforts: serious reporting on issues that matter to the health of civil society and their willingness to partner with traditional media outlets for occasional content and distribution.

Also worth mentioning are the interviews with Clay Shirky, a prominent thinker on Internet technologies, and Jeff Jarvis, similarly, a media theorist, both of whom play something of a foil to the more positive predictions for traditional media outlets.

For media junkies, the talk about the future of print journalism, the behind-the-scenes footage, and David Carr’s show-stealing personality makes this documentary well-worth watching. Highly recommended for a lazy Sunday.

::[Links]::
Page One’s official website
Page One on Netflix
Q&A with Andrew Rossi
David Carr and Andrew Rossi on NPR’s Morning Edition
David Carr on Fresh Air
David Carr on Twitter
Brian Stelter on Twitter
Michael Kinsley’s review of the film for the New York Times
Slate’s review
Review on NPR’s All Things Considered

On the Shelf: books by people featured in the film

The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own. by David Carr
David Carr is outspoken about his history with drug addiction. He speaks a bit about it in the film. In this book.

“In his ambition for connection Mr. Carr decides to report on his own life as if That Guy were a stranger. If This Guy can’t clearly see That Guy through the chemical and temporal blur, perhaps others can. Across many months, equipped with tape recorder and video camera, he tracks down figures from his past: friends, antagonists (including old editors), drug dealers, former girlfriends, members of his immediate family. He even interviews his own daughters. He hopes all of them will fill in some of the blanks. For the most part they do. The emerging self-portrait is not pretty.” [Pete Hamill via New York Times]

You can listen to his 2008 interview on Fresh Air about the book and there’s a 3-minute video at the New York Times where he recounts an incident in the book.

Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators by Clay Shirky
“Shirky’s hypothesis is that a lot of the 20th century stuff we used to take for granted — most people didn’t want to create media, people didn’t value homemade and amateur productions, no one would pitch in to create something for others to enjoy unless they were being paid — weren’t immutable laws of nature, but accidents of history. The Internet has undone those accidents, by making it possible for more people to make and do cool stuff, especially together. . . . Cognitive Surplus fizzes with great insights about how people use networks and interact with each other [and] continues to prove that Clay Shirky is one of the best thinkers and advocates the net has. It’s a delight to read and will change how you think about the future.” [via BoingBoing]

You can check out his profile and videos at TED

Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live by Jeff Jarvis
“Privacy has its advocates. Jeff Jarvis has made himself an advocate for publicness. In Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live, the original Internet optimist argues that if we become too obsessed with guarding all personal information on the ‘Net, we’ll miss important opportunities that come with making information available.” [via Fortune at CNN Money]

You can listen to an interview with Jeff about his book on the Six Pixels of Separation podcast

The Kingdom and the Power: Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: The Institution That Influences the World by Gay Talese
Gay Talese, a former reporter for the Times, appeared in the film. He also wrote a book about the paper.

“The classic inside story of The New York Times, the most prestigious, and perhaps the most powerful, of all American newspapers. Bestselling author Talese lays bare the secret internal intrigues behind the tradition of front page exposes in a story as gripping as a work of fiction and as immediate as today’s headlines.” [IndieBound]

You can listen to an interview with Gay on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about his other book A Writer’s Life.

What’s on your shelf? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

November 17, 2011 at 6:39 am

must see :: Bill Cunningham New York

leave a comment »

“Using the low-key approach that shapes Cunningham’s column, Press works up a portrait that’s as raw, gentle, funny, and—in the end—irresistible as the pictures themselves.” —Slate

If you don’t follow fashion you could be forgiven for not knowing who Bill Cunningham is. Forgiven—but not off the hook. There is even less of an excuse now that a fascinating documentary has been made about his life and work. In Bill Cunningham New York (Zeitgeist Films) Director Richard Press has captured a truly charming character who could have easily been overlooked by the wider public—and what a shame that would have been.

Although famously praised by Vogue’s Anna Wintour and given front row seating to all the fashion shows in the US and abroad, Bill, the legendary New York Times fashion photographer, is not one of these ascot-donning, private car-hiring types. Instead, this octogenarian can be seen riding his bicycle through New York City traffic in a blue smock normally worn by Parisian street cleaners—both of which point to his ascetic lifestyle beautifully captured on screen.

It might be easier to think of Bill not as a fashion photographer for one of the largest newspapers in the world, but as someone he more closely resembles: a street photographer. All day he roams the city looking for themes: hats, flowers, colors, patterns, whatever appears to be trending at the moment. His photos are candid and rarely, if ever, posed.

Every Sunday in the New York Times Style Section, Bill’s thematic photos are collected and carefully arranged. The painstaking process, also given time in the film, is both humorous and endearing. Aside from the shots of ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, people, Bill is the man behind the week’s gala event pictures. One’s heart melts when you hear Bill explain that he chooses which to go to based on the good of the organization, not on who is attending as one would assume.

This sharp divide between the notion of the fashion industry and one of its most-loved is what makes this film so compelling to those outside of this seemingly glamorous culture. Bill Cunningham is one of the most genuine characters I’ve ever seen, a humanizing force in a world viewed as vapid and materialistic. All should be grateful to Press for taking the time to capture him on film.

After you watch this documentary, you’ll never miss the Sunday Style section again.

Official Trailer

Now playing at the IFC Center  and Village Cinema East through Thursday, June 16 and coming to Symphony Space starting June 12th

::[Links]::
Official site
Slate review
Bill Cunningham’s New York Times page

Written by Gabrielle

June 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

%d bloggers like this: