Friday Music Focus: 8/19/16

After some time away from Friday Music Focus, I return with a new post concentrating on seven pairs of songs by a variety of musicians from yesterday and today. As always, I hope that you will discover or rediscover an artist or a song that you will want to revisit.

PJ Harvey, “The Orange Monkey” (appears on the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, 2016) and “Guilty” (non-album single, 2016). In lieu of being able to attend either of PJ Harvey’s concerts at New York’s Terminal 5 venue this week, here are two songs by her that I have been listening to a lot in recent days. “Guilty” is driven by the same political themes as the tracks on The Hope Six Demolition Project since the song was recorded during the album sessions; meanwhile, is “The Orange Monkey” about Donald Trump? You decide. Or take Consequence of Sound’s word for it from this headline that ran on the website yesterday: “To Make America Great Again We Need Less Donald Trump, More PJ Harvey.”

case/lang/veirs, “Atomic Number” and “Best Kept Secret” (both appear on case/lang/veirs, 2016). Singer-songwriters Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs have combined to create a new power-trio – purposely spelled in lowercase letters, in case you were wondering – and they put out their self-titled debut album in June. It has immediately become one of my favorite releases of the year, a spirited mixture of folk and pop that works wonders in nearly all of the tracks. If you like the two songs above, I recommend trying “Delirium,” the bittersweet and beautiful “Behind the Armory” and “Supermoon.”

Lee Morgan, “You’re Mine, You” (appears on the album City Lights, 1957) and “All the Way” (appears on the album Candy, 1958). After reading about the new documentary I Called Him Morgan, about the jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938-1972) and his murder at the hands of his wife Helen, I knew I had to listen to Morgan’s music. “You’re Mine, You” features Curtis Fuller on trombone, George Coleman on alto saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums, while “All the Way” has Sonny Clark on piano, Doug Watkins on bass and Art Taylor once more on drums.

The Adverts, “New Church” and “No Time to Be 21” (both appear on the album Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts, 1978). Almost lost among the tremendous number of punk bands that emerged in the UK in the mid-to-late 70s, the Adverts might never have appeared on my radar if I didn’t listen to the Radcliffe & Maconie show on BBC Radio 6 Music. Like so many groups from that era, they had a short-lived but exciting burst of energy to fuel their two albums’ worth of anthems for pissed-off youth.

Joy Division, “Transmission” (non-album single, 1979) and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (music video; non-album single, 1980). Disclaimer about myself: Joy Division was incredibly important to me when I was seventeen. Every time I listen to them, I go back to what it felt like to experience them for the very first time, a time-travel device that transports me as soon as I hear the opening notes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Each time I listen to that song (the first I ever heard by Joy Division) or to Ian Curtis’s sarcastic exhortations in “Transmission” for us to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the soulless radio, it’s as though I’m a teenager again, dazed and speechless as I try to make sense of uptempo songs about relentless inner torment. Joy Division’s music is the best representation I can imagine for this observation once made by Tom Waits: “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”

McCarthy, “Red Sleeping Beauty” (non-album single, 1986) and “We Are All Bourgeois Now” (B-side of non-album single “Should the Bible Be Banned,” 1988). Probably forgotten by all but their most faithful fans, the indie pop band McCarthy created some of the loveliest, hookiest politically-minded songs of the mid-to-late 80s. Sandwiched between the rise of U2 and the “baggy” days of the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, McCarthy’s socialist serenades (including those on their 1987 album I Am a Wallet) breathed fresh air into the British music scene, if only for a little while.

Chromatics, “Running Up That Hill” (appears on the album Night Drive, 2007) and “Into the Black” (appears on the album Kill for Love, 2012). The Portland, Oregon band Chromatics, fronted by the Nico-esque singer Ruth Radelet, has an extraordinary collective ability to create seductive covers of songs from the 70s and 80s, making them sound sleekly modern. The particular combination of Radelet’s voice, the guitar and synthesizers on Chromatics’ versions of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” (1985) and Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” (1979) highlight the timelessness of the lyrics while adding a uniquely hypnotic edge to each song.

2016: Part 1

(Before we start: I am trying out a new aspect to my reviews by jotting down notes on movies right after I see them, then officially marking down the dates from when I collected those thoughts. When I post reviews here for movies that I saw in theaters long enough ago that memory alone might not suffice, keeping track this way should help me as a critic and you as a reader.)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Directed by Zack Snyder. Notes from April 13: After deciding on a quiet Wednesday evening’s whim to see the newest DC extravaganza on the last day that it was available at my favorite IMAX theater (thanks a lot, new Jungle Book), I have too many questions buzzing around my head. If I went down just a slice of the list – What was the point of Lois throwing the Kryptonite spear into the water in the first place? Is Ben Affleck’s version of Bruce Wayne/Batman intended to be read as a Republican, given that the character’s argument for why Superman should be destroyed is rooted in a conservative-sounding desire to rid America of an illegal alien interloper who has taken the job of Big Important Superhero away from Wayne? Isn’t it sort of wrong that Jeremy Irons’ velvety voice should make the Alfred character so sexy? Why is our Superman, Henry Cavill, a star despite being such a terrible actor? Conversely, when will supporting player extraordinaire Scoot McNairy be upgraded to better roles in mainstream movies? And why do Bat and Supes seem to be fighting in the bathroom from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? – we might be here all day and night. Instead, the main puzzle I want to try to unpack is what’s going on with how the Lex Luthor character is written and how the role is performed by Jesse Eisenberg.

When I first saw the trailer for BvS last year, I noted that Eisenberg’s Luthor appeared eccentric (partly because of the awkward length of his hair), but I didn’t have any takeaways other than that. While watching the completed film, however, I began to catalog all of Luthor’s/Eisenberg’s tics and quirks in a mental cabinet. Eisenberg is known for his ability to deliver dialogue in a hyper-fast style that plays up his characters’ neuroses, but in BvS that tendency is amplified to the point that I wonder if Luthor’s verbosity is indicative of his being somewhere on the autism spectrum. (One might also observe his discomfort at public speaking, or perhaps the psychopathy that manifests in his kidnapping people or pushing them off of buildings, as other indicators – though of what, I’m not quite sure.) Then there are the sartorial choices: the patterned shirts (example 1, example 2), wearing white sneakers with a pale blue suit (can’t find an image, but I assure you it was interesting), and again the soft waves of hair.

All of this could probably be chalked up as weird choices on the part of screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, but there are too more factors in this equation of DC Villainy: 1) a scene in which Luthor asks a corporate henchman to get him access to various kinds of dangerous weapons, and in doing so, seems to be flirting with and/or teasing the man by asking (well, essentially forcing) this high-grade lackey to eat a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher candy, this action followed by Luthor licking his (own) fingers (you may watch the homoerotic exchange here); 2) Luthor’s constant paraphrasing of literature by assuming the voices of different characters: affecting a Southern accent to reference Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (”We don’t have to depend on the kindness of monsters…”), comparing himself to the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and most tellingly, rewording Humbert Humbert’s famous opening paragraph in Lolita when meeting Lois Lane (”Lane Lo in the morning. Lola in slacks…”). If the above combined idiosyncrasies had not already clued you into cinematic perversity, then the Nabokov citation was probably meant to be the final nail in Luthor’s coffin. (I would also like to mention that Luthor’s brief affectation of a Southern accent links him to one of his main antagonists in the film: a woman, the do-gooder senator played by Holly Hunter. Hunter’s Georgia twang is a major aspect of what defines her screen persona. Curiouser and curiouser…) Like Javier Bardem as Bond villain Silva in Skyfall (2012), Eisenberg’s Luthor is coded as gay, or at least gay-adjacent. Maybe the Lex Luthor character isn’t really supposed to be gay, but I think that the screenwriters did everything they could to heighten his effeminacy and undeniably softened masculinity as the subtexts for any and all aberrations perceived by the audience. (Eisenberg’s Luthor also briefly makes reference to his father, Lex Sr., as physically abusive, so that adds another layer of complexity to the young man’s development.) Whether sexuality is an active, conscious element of the Lex Luthor characterization in BvS or not, I would not be surprised if the audience’s identification of Luthor as “abnormal” has been interpreted on some level as “not recognizably heterosexual.”

P.S. After all that ranting: Larry Fong’s cinematography was a definite improvement on the lackluster visuals from BvS’s predecessor, Man of Steel.

P.P.S. Michael Shannon’s performance as General Zod’s corpse was better than Henry Cavill’s acting as a live Clark Kent/Superman. Ouch.

Captain America: Civil War. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Notes from May 18: The latest Marvel extravaganza is definitely entertaining when seen in IMAX 3D (as I did last night), but don’t get your hopes up that it’s anything you haven’t seen before. Just like we saw in DC Comics’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, two sides are pitted against each other by a guy with major problems (in this case played by the delightful Daniel Brühl, whom I adore more with each movie I see; in one crucial scene his “Baron Zemo” character looks like an overdressed professor – I approve) and by the end it doesn’t feel as though anyone has won.

Thinking about the details of this loud, proud epic of CGI-designed proportions causes me too much of a headache, but here are the important takeaways from my experience at the movies: Chadwick Boseman is handsome and compelling as one of the newest members of the Avengers team, T’Challa (aka Black Panther); Chris Evans, who plays Steve Rogers/Captain America, continues his reign as our nation’s most boring leading man, coasting by on his good looks and easy smile without displaying any noticeable acting ability; Paul Bettany (as a synthetic robot-alien called “Vision”) and Elizabeth Olsen (as telepathic Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch) have way more chemistry as a potential romantic pairing than most humans do in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; last but never least, it seems like a missed opportunity that there are scenes set in Bucharest and yet we don’t get to hear Romanian-born Sebastian Stan speak more than a couple of mumbled words in his native language (by the way, as someone on the IMDb asked about Stan’s character: “How does Bucky make a living in Romania? He has been in hiding for 2 years? How does he get money to pay rent and to buy plums?”). Maybe the next Marvel outing will step up to the plate and recapture some of the higher power from the first two Captain America vehicles.

Florence Foster Jenkins. Directed by Stephen Frears. Notes from August 11: The weird but true tale of 20th century socialite-turned-opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, infamous for her almost complete inability to sing in tune, is told in an entertaining, funny and often quite touching manner. In the Wednesday night screening that I attended at the Museum of the Moving Image, the film elicited both gales of laughter and many streams of tears as Florence (played beautifully – as if you would expect anything less – by Meryl Streep) pursues her lifelong dream of performing her beloved arias, first at the Verdi Club (an organization she founded and supported financially) and then, as her crowning achievement (of sorts), in concert at Carnegie Hall. FFJ is aided in her endeavors – no matter how ridiculous they were – by her husband, St. Clair Bayfield, which is a career-best role for Hugh Grant. Grant imbues his performance with both his customarily droll charm and a good deal of tenderness towards his dear Florence. Simon Helberg also has an excellent role, playing Florence’s piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon, with an immediately lovable sweetness and deft comic timing. Some good work is also done by Rebecca Ferguson (as Bayfield’s mistress, Kathleen), Allan Corduner (as Carnegie Hall house manager John Totten), Christian McKay (as newspaper columnist Earl Wilson) and David Haig (as Carlo Edwards, a Metropolitan Opera conductor and Florence’s personal singing coach), although their screen time is far less than that of the film’s three main stars. The principal weakness of the film is in the casting of Nina Arianda as Agnes Stark (an original creation of the screenplay, I believe); she is a stereotypical brassy, not-classy Brooklyn blonde who cracks gum, wears tight dresses, shimmies all over the place like a precursor to Jayne Mansfield and generally embarrasses the viewer with her non-stop parade of clichés in her characterization. If not for Arianda, I would rate Florence Foster Jenkins higher; it certainly has three leads that carry the film extraordinarily and no shortage of top-of-the-line costumes, art direction/production design and cinematography.

P.S. Hugh Grant attended the screening I went to and he was absolutely as funny and self-effacing as you would hope. He talked about having done research on St. Clair Bayfield and Florence Foster Jenkins in preparation for his role, so it’s to credit that when many of the audience’s questions revolved around the “true history” of these figures, he had the answers. (When asked what his favorite Meryl Streep movie was, HG said he liked “the one with the dingo” and when asked “So what’s your favorite Hugh Grant movie?” he said that he was proud of About a Boy and Florence Foster Jenkins.) One of my other favorite comments that Hugh made (though I will probably paraphrase it) was about the “brilliant” Simon Helberg, who really was playing music live on set: “He can do it all – comedy, drama and piano too!”

Star Trek Beyond. Directed by  Justin Lin. Notes from August 3: Ah, so the catching with the first two films in the rebooted Star Trek series finally led me to the moment when I was able to see a Star Trek movie in IMAX 3D, which I did last night (a rather mild Tuesday night compared to what NYC’s weather has been like lately). Beyond isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed it and for the most part I liked the energy that Justin Lin (he’s new to this particular cinematic universe, but he honed his skills with the Fast and Furious franchise) brought to the action scenes. I love the rush of seeing those exciting moments on the IMAX screen. I am also one of the people who absolutely loved the “Sabotage” scene (the song is broadcasted across radio airwaves, destroying other spacecrafts’ communication), which is both a great callback to Kirk’s music of choice at the beginning of ST (2009) and an excellent track anyway. Plus you get a quick but wonderful shot of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov tapping his foot to the beat and John Cho’s Sulu practically headbanging. It’s totally worth it.

Does Star Trek Beyond have flaws? Yes, naturally. Isn’t Krall’s motivation lacking and rather by-the-numbers? (Also: by casting Idris Elba, I am reminded of Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse – these are villains played by male actors of color by having the them conceal their real skin under alien makeup and by having them hide their real voices under accents or other voice modulations. What’s the good of that?) Why is there is no explanation as to what became of Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who was introduced to Abrams’ Star Trek universe in Into Darkness? (Note: I didn’t mind her absence in Beyond because she was not particularly interesting in the aforementioned previous sequel.) How did Scotty get himself up from hanging off the edge of the cliff? Isn’t it disappointing that Uhura’s only involvements with the Beyond plot are her relationships to men – her complicated relationship with Spock and her being a captive of Krall’s who needs to be rescued (by Spock, of course)? Is it weird that we didn’t get the follow-through on seeing that Sulu’s family made it through the attack on Yorktown (or am I simply forgetting that the film confirmed their survival)? And is it silly that the use of the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage” (which, I have to say again, is awesome) to destroy alien warships is too similar to the use of “Indian Love Call” in Tim Burton’s sci-fi satire/parody Mars Attacks!?

I’ll bring up one point of confusion for fans that I actually don’t consider problematic. I know that a lot of people are confused by the inclusion of the photo of the original show’s crew among Spock Prime’s belongings, but in this universe those characters don’t literally have to be Kirk, Bones, Uhura, etc., right? They can just symbolize the crew members who lived and worked with Spock, without actually being the same characters.

Luckily the actors are up to the task of following through on the emotional, non-CGI components of the film. Chris Pine has finally grown up as Captain Kirk, no longer the wild rebel and now an adult with gravitas. As always Karl Urban is fabulous as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, adding more delightful “dammits” to his repertoire of constant irritation with Kirk and Spock. Zachary Quinto adds even more emotion to his characterization of Spock, both in melodramatic moments and in humorous ones. Sofia Boutella brings some oomph, both as an athletic presence and as an actress, as a new character, the space warrior Jaylah. Zoe Saldana has less to do here as Uhura, but Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the screenplay this time) has many great scenes, John Cho has some marvelous moments and the late, lovely Anton Yelchin has even more to do in this film than in the previous two Star Treks, his eager puppy-dog version of Chekov always being a joy to watch; he’ll make you smile even as you continue to mourn the real-life loss of the actor. In spite of some narrative weaknesses, you’ll feel more than ever that this Star Trek family has the most important ingredient for a successful franchise: unity. They stand together.. As the end credits roll and the Sia-penned Rihanna song “Sledgehammer” pounds through the speakers (which, by the way, has those now sadly ironic lyrics about “I hit a wall…”), you’ll feel the love for Star Trek more than ever.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Directed by Bryan Singer. Notes from June 12: On the one hand I’m glad I saw this on the big screen (although I wonder if I should have experienced it in 3D rather than 2D), but on the other hand I don’t feel bad about using my free movie tickets for Regal theaters – the X-Men franchise doesn’t need my money. Here are the good points: James McAvoy does his usual fine work as Charles Xavier; Michael Fassbender has some great scenes during the part of the movie set in Poland (Magneto made me cry, who’d have thunk it?); Nicholas Hoult, once again doing solid work as Hank/Beast; Evan Peters, again charming us all as Quicksilver, especially in the “Sweet Dreams” sequence (which, in my most humble opinion, is more enjoyable than the similar “Time in a Bottle” scene from Days of Future Past since the Eurythmics are more fun); Tye Sheridan continues to grow as an actor (he’s wonderful in Mud), doing a nice job of introducing us to a rebooted Scott Summers/Cyclops; and in an interesting bit of casting, Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (whom I have not seen in any other films) was terrific as Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, an unusual but very entertaining character (although Smit-McPhee’s German accent sounded a bit weird at times).

The bad news? There’s so much strange stuff going on in Apocalypse. Why cast Oscar Isaac (a great actor) as the title bad guy (aka En Sabah Nur) if he must be hidden under blue makeup and prosthetics? How much does Michael Fassbender’s Magneto character have to suffer in every film, and when will he grow tired of the good/evil/good again (or evil/good/evil again) formula before he finally picks a side? Why is Beethoven’s 7th symphony such an overused theme in movies and TV shows? What was the point of Rose Byrne’s character (CIA agent Moira MacTaggert) returning to the franchise, especially since the character doesn’t have much to contribute? Does anyone really care about Olivia Munn’s character (Psylocke) since we don’t know anything about her backstory and her “superpower” is her ability to wear a barely-there leather costume? Oh, and how many millions of people die over the course of the events in Apocalypse? Or are we not supposed to care that probably most of Cairo’s population is decimated by En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse?

Vital American Material: The Film Criticism of Andre Sennwald

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Cinema Journal (Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring 1971)) review by Howard Suber of the collection The New York Times Film Reviews, 1913-1968 (published in six volumes, 1970).

I am writing today about Andre David Sennwald, Jr. (born August 4, 1907; died January 12, 1936). He was the second person to hold the position of chief film critic (1935-1936) at the New York Times, the first being Mordaunt Hall (1924-1934) and the third being Frank S. Nugent (1936-1940). Although Sennwald wrote during one of the most important periods in film history – Pre-Code talkies (1931-1934), then the transition to the implementation of the Motion Picture Production Code (1934-1936), including Becky Sharp as the first-ever three-strip-Technicolor feature – his name is a footnote in the New York Times’ history of film criticism. Sennwald is so well forgotten that he does not have an English-language Wikipedia page (he does have a German-language page (translated here), which makes me wonder if he came from a German family and a relative wrote it) and I have not been able to find any photographs of him online. He is a man of many mysteries.

There isn’t really any way for me to know Andre Sennwald outside of what he wrote for the New York Times, although I would like to particularly since he and I share the same birthday. He adored W.C. Fields and Greta Garbo; he had a definite disdain for John Boles; he often rolled his eyes at the popularity of Shirley Temple; he wasn’t always sure what to make of James Cagney’s cinematic choices, depending on which film he had to review (in the earliest Sennwald piece that I have found, dating to April 1931, the first sentence of his negative critique of The Public Enemy describes it as “just another gangster film at the Strand, weaker than most in its story, stronger than most in its acting, and, like most, maintaining a certain level of interest through the last burst of machine-gun fire”); after watching Captain Blood (1935), he saw the obvious potential for superstardom in “spirited and criminally good-looking” Errol Flynn; in perhaps my favorite bit of flattery, Sennwald wrote in a review of The Gilded Lily (1935) that “there is a young man named Fred MacMurray who can munch a peanut or take off his shoes like one of the boys” and that “Mr. MacMurray’s ability to seem completely natural without abandoning his charm ought to make him one of the most popular of the cinema’s glamour men within the next few months.”

Andre Sennwald’s career was all too brief. Here is some of the news coverage of his death in 1936; most articles are from Monday, January 12, the day after it happened.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/13/36

The Pittsburgh Press, 1/13/36

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Lewiston Daily Sun, 1/13/36

Motion Picture Daily, 1/13/1936

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Columbia Daily Spectator, 1/16/36

Sennwald’s death is a perplexing one. Did he mean to commit suicide because of supposedly impending blindness, or was the gas leak/explosion a terrible accident? An article published in the Times Herald of Olean, New York on January 13 mentions that the explosion “was caused by escaping gas in the kitchen” and that “it was believed to have been set off by a spark from an electric refrigerator,” while the January 14 copy of Jefferson City, Missouri’s Daily Capital News states: “A medical examiner’s report indicated today that Andre David Sennwald, Jr., movie critic of the New York Times, died by his own hand. An explosion wracked Sennwald’s penthouse early yesterday. The top three floors of the apartment house were damaged and a broken water main sent water down elevator shafts, disputing service. The explosion was caused by escaping gas. The medical examiner found that Sennwald died from gas poisoning, showing he was dead before the explosion. He had suffered from an eye disease and was said to have feared for his sight.” Despite the M.E.’s conclusion, unless there was a suicide note that the family withheld or other information which the investigating police did not make available to the public – or which is simply not searchable through free Google fieldwork – it seems to me that it is impossible to know with 100% certainty the intention (or lack thereof) that led to the death of Sennwald, who had been considered “the brightest film critic” in New York City (according to The Montreal Gazette), at age twenty-eight.

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Columbia Daily Spectator, 1/13/36

Andre David Sennwald is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY (according to Find a Grave). Occasionally his name resurfaces, although such acknowledgments are rare. In 2014, J. Hoberman wrote New York Times essay about classic Universal Studios horror films and he quoted Andre Sennwald’s musings on the role of violence in American film: “In the mad, confused days which preceded our entrance into the World War, the cinema was satiating the blood lust of noncombatant Americans with just such vicarious stimulants. Hollywood, always quick to reflect or stimulate a mass appetite, seems to be doing the same thing all over again.” More recently, New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick wrote a Tweet this past January to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of Sennwald’s death. In memory of this sadly overlooked critic, here are a dozen of my favorite examples of Andre Sennwald’s New York Times film reviews:

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Sons of the Desert (1933, dir. William A. Seiter) – reviewed January 12, 1934

“Let it be said at once that the new Laurel and Hardy enterprise has achieved feature length without benefit of the usual distressing formulae of padding and stretching. It is funny all the way through. The mournful and witless Mr. Laurel and the frustrated Mr. Hardy are just as unfitted for the grim realities as they have ever been. A Quixote and Panza in a nightmare world, where even the act of opening a door is filled with hideous perils, they fumble and stumble in their heartiest manner. At the Rialto spectators are checking their dignity with the doorman; an audience yesterday spluttered, howled and sighed in sweet surrender.”

The Old Fashioned Way (1934, dir. William Beaudine) – reviewed July 14, 1934

“To the lyric popping of vest buttons and the tortured noises of the laugh that begins deep down, the magnificent Mr. Fields has graciously placed himself on view at the Paramount, and honest guffaws are once more heard on Forty-third Street. The great man, the omnipotent oom of one of the screen’s most devoted cults, brings with him some new treasures, as well as a somewhat alarming collection of wheezes which, ten years ago in the vaudeville tank towns, must have seemed not long for this world. But somehow when Mr. Fields, in his necessary search for comic business, is forced to strike up a nodding acquaintance with vintage gags, they seem to become almost young again.”

Our Daily Bread (1934, dir. King Vidor) – reviewed October 3, 1934

“King Vidor, who gave us ‘The Crowd’ and ‘Hallelujah,’ has plunged his camera boldly into vital American materials in ‘Our Daily Bread,’ which opened at the Rialto last night. His new work, which he wrote, produced and financed himself, is a brilliant declaration of faith in the importance of the cinema as a social instrument. In richness of conception alone, Mr. Vidor’s attempt to dramatize the history of a subsistence farm for hungry and desperate men from the cities of America would deserve the attention and encouragement of intelligent film-goers. But ‘Our Daily Bread’ is much more than an idea. Standing in the first rank of American film directors, Mr. Vidor has brought the full power of a fine technique and imagination to his theme. ‘Our Daily Bread’ dips into profound and basic problems of our everyday life for its drama, and it emerges as a social document of amazing vitality and emotional impact.

“The effect of the photoplay is to bring the cinema squarely into the modern stream of socially-minded art and to lay bare for the inquisitive cameras the same fundamental dramatie [sic] themes which the young proletarian novelists like Albert Halper, Robert Cantwell and William Rollins are exploiting in the new American literature. For that reason alone it is impossible to over-estimate the significance of the new work.

“You may quarrel with the sentimental idealism of the ex-convict who voluntarily surrenders himself to the authorities so that his fellows may obtain the reward and save the crops from the drought. This theme, incidentally, was suggested to Mr. Vidor by Charlie Chaplin. You may quarrel with the theme of the blond-headed siren who almost wrecks the collectivist farm in her gratuitous efforts to lure the leader to destruction. This department applauds the Chaplinesque note and deplores the Theda Barish element. But ‘Our Daily Bread’ is too important as a canvas to be chastised for its debatable taste in minor details of Mr. Vidor’s brushwork.”

The Painted Veil (1934, dir. Richard Boleslawski) – reviewed December 7, 1934

“Pettish folk, out of an evident spirit of wish-fulfillment, are forever discovering that Greta Garbo has outlived her fame. They are knaves and blackguards and they should be pilloried in the middle of Times Square. She continues handsomely to be the world’s greatest cinema actress in the Oriental triangle drama, ‘The Painted Veil,’ which begins an engagement at the Capitol this morning. Tracing its ancestry to Somerset Maugham’s novel, which it resembles only in the casual surface qualities of the narrative, Miss Garbo’s new film is a conventional, hard-working passion-film which manages to be both expert in its manufacture and insincere in its emotions. Since it allows Miss Garbo to triumph once more over the emotional rubber-stamps that the studios arrange for her, we must not be ungenerous about ‘The Painted Veil,’ Richard Boleslawski has made a visual treat of it, and Herbert Marshall and George Brent head an excellent group of subsidiary players.

“It is the height of dishwater diplomacy to affect a temperate attitude toward this cool and lovely lady with the sad, white face and the throaty voice. She is the most miraculous blend of personality and sheer dramatic talent that the screen has ever known and her presence in ‘The Painted Veil’ immediately makes it one of the season’s cinema events. Watch her stalking about with long and nervous steps, her shoulders bent and her body awkward with grief, while she waits to be told if her husband will die from the coolie’s dagger thrust. It is as if all this had never been done before. Watch the veiled terror in her face as she sits at dinner with her husband, not knowing if he is aware of her infidelity; or her superb gallantry when she informs him of what it was that drove her into the arms of his friend; or her restlessness on the bamboo porch in Mei-Tan-Fu with the tinny phonograph, the heat and her conscience. She shrouds all this with dignity, making it precious and memorable.”

Becky Sharp (1935, dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – reviewed June 14, 1935 (reproduced here in its entirety since this particular movie is so important in film history)

“Science and art, the handmaidens of the cinema, have joined hands to endow the screen with a miraculous new element in ‘Becky Sharp,’ the first full-length photoplay produced in the three-component color process of Technicolor. Presented at the Radio City Music Hall yesterday for its first public showing, it was both incredibly disappointing and incredibly thrilling. Although its faults are too numerous to earn it distinction as a screen drama, it produces in the spectator all the excitement of standing upon a peak in Darien and glimpsing a strange, beautiful and unexpected new world. As an experiment, it is a momentous event, and it may be that in a few years it will be regarded as the equal in historical importance of the first crude and wretched talking pictures. Although it is dramatically tedious, it is a gallant and distinguished outpost in an almost uncharted domain, and it probably is the most significant event of the 1935 cinema.

“Certainly the photoplay, coloristically speaking, is the most successful that has ever reached the screen. Vastly improved over the gaudy two-color process of four and five years ago, it possesses an extraordinary variety of tints, ranging from placid and lovely grays to hues which are vibrant with warmth and richness. This is not the coloration of natural life, but a vividly pigmented dream world of the artistic imagination.

“Rouben Mamoulian and Robert Edmond Jones have employed the new process in a deliberately stylized form, so that ‘Becky Sharp’ becomes an animate procession of cunningly designed canvases. Some of the color combinations make excessive demands upon the eye. Many of them are as soothing as black and white. The most glaring technical fault, and it is a comparatively minor one, is the poor definition in the long shots, which convert faces into blurred masses. In close-ups where scarlet is the dominant motif, there is also a tendency to provoke an after-image when the scene shifts abruptly to a quieter color combination.

“The major problem, from the spectator’s point of view, is the necessity for accustoming the eye to this new screen element in much the same way that we were obliged to accustom the ear to the first talkies. The psychological problem is to reduce this new and spectacular element to a position, in relation to the film as a whole, where color will impinge no more violently upon the basic photographic image than sound does today. This is chiefly a question of time and usage. At the moment it is impossible to view ‘Becky Sharp’ without crowding the imagination so completely with color that the photoplay as a whole is almost meaningless. That is partly the fault of the production and partly the inevitable consequence of a phenomenon. We shall know more about the future of color when its sponsors employ it in a better screen play than ‘Becky Sharp.’

“The real secret of the film resides not in the general feeling of dissatisfaction which the spectator suffers when he leaves the Music Hall, but in the active excitement which he experiences during its scenes. It is important and even necessary to judge the work in terms of its best—not its worst or even its average. ‘Becky Sharp’ becomes prophetically significant, for example, in the magnificent color-dramatization of the British ball in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.

“Here the Messrs, Mamoulian and Jones have accomplished the miracle of using color as a constructive dramatic device, of using it for such peculiarly original emotional effects that it would be almost impossible to visualize the same scene in conventional black and white. From the pastel serenity of the opening scenes at the ball, the color deepens into somber hues as the rumble of Napoleon’s cannon is heard in the ballroom. Thenceforward it mounts in excitement as pandemonium seizes the dancers, until at last the blues, greens and scarlets of the running officers have become an active contributing factor in the overwhelming climax of sound and photography.

“If this review seems completely out of focus, it is because the film is so much more significant as an experiment in the advanced use of color than as a straightforward dramatic entertainment. Based upon Langdon Mitchell’s old dramatization of ‘Vanity Fair,’ it is gravely defective. Ordinarily Mr. Mamoulian is a master of filmic mobility, but here his experimental preoccupation with color becomes an obstacle to his usual fluid style of screen narration. Thus a great deal of ‘Becky Sharp’ seems static and land-locked, an unvarying procession of long shots, medium shots and close-ups. It is endlessly talkative, as well, which is equally a departure from Mr. Mamoulian’s ordinary style.

“Perhaps it was inevitable that Thackeray’s classic tale of the ambitious Becky and her spangled career in English society would be reduced on the screen to a halting and episodic narrative. But the film is unconscionably jerky in its development and achieves only a minor success in capturing the spirit of the original. In many of the screened episodes, Thackeray’s satirical portraits come perilously close to burlesque, and they barge over the line in several places. Miriam Hopkins is an indifferently successful Becky, who shares some excellent scenes with many others in which she is strident and even nerve-racking. Frances Dee makes an effective Amelia, and photographs beautifully in addition. There are fine performances in the celebrated rôles by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alison Skipworth, Nigel Bruce and Alan Mowbray.

“But one thing is certain about ‘Becky Sharp.’ Its best is so good that it becomes a prophecy of the future of color on the screen. It forced this column to the conclusion that color will become an integral motion picture element in the next few years. If Mr. Mamoulian and Pioneer Pictures can be persuaded to film a modern story for their next venture, striving to repress their use of color to the more sombre hues of our twentieth century civilization, ‘Becky Sharp’ will have fulfilled its great promise.”

No More Ladies (1935, dir. Edward H. Griffith) – reviewed June 22, 1935

“The kind of class which Eadie (who was a lady) used to spell with a capital K has been expensively buttered on the motion picture version of ‘No More Ladies,’ which opened at the Capitol Theatre yesterday. Joan Crawford has it, Robert Montgomery has it, the dialogue has it, Adrian’s gowns have it, and the opulent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sets have it. The photoplay, despite its stage ancestry, is out of the same glamour factory as Miss Crawford’s ‘Forsaking All Others.’ If it is less furiously arch than that modern classic of sledgehammer whimsey [sic], it is also somewhat less successful as entertainment. Out of the labors of the brigade of writers who tinkered with the screen play, there remain a sprinkling of nifties which make for moments of hilarity in an expanse of tedium and fake sophistication.

“…Although Donald Ogden Stewart has contributed several really funny lines, the screen play is chiefly notable for its surface shimmer, the hollowness of its wit and the insincerity of its emotions. The sophistication of ‘No More Ladies’ is the desperate pretense of the small girl who smears her mouth with lipstick and puts on sister’s evening gown when the family is away. It ought to make a very respectable profit.”

Curly Top (1935, dir. Irving Cummings) – reviewed August 2, 1935

“Shirley Temple’s new picture is dedicated to the simple things of life, with special reference to the power of the hello-neighbor smile in conquering the ills of humanity. So shameless is it in its optimism, so grimly determined to be cheerful, that it ought to cause an epidemic of axe murders and grandmother beatings in this sober vicinity. Shirley herself, far from showing signs of deterioration or overwork in ‘Curly Top,’ actually hints in her work at an increased maturity of technique. Her remarkable sense of timing has never been revealed more plainly than in the song and dance scenes in her new film, and she plays her straightforward dramatic scenes with the assurance and precision of a veteran actress. With all this, she has lost none of her native freshness and charm.”

Mad Love (1935, dir. Karl Freund) – reviewed August 5, 1935

“Peter Lorre, the brilliant Hungarian actor of ‘M,’ arranges another of his terrifying studies in morbid psychology in his first American photoplay at the Roxy. At heart ‘Mad Love’ is not much more than a super-Karloff melodrama, an interesting but pretty trivial adventure in Grand Guignol horror. With any of our conventional maniacs in the role of the deranged surgeon, the photoplay would frequently be dancing on the edge of burlesque. But Mr. Lorre, with his gift for supplementing a remarkable physical appearance with his acute perception of the mechanics of insanity, cuts deeply into the darkness of the morbid brain. It is an affirmation of his talent that he always holds his audience to a strict and terrible belief in his madness. He is one of the few actors in the world, for example, who can scream: ‘I have conquered science; why can’t I conquer love?’—and not seem just a trifle silly.

“Perhaps you have not yet made the acquaintance of Mr. Lorre: squat, moon-faced, with gross lips, serrated teeth and enormous round eyes which seem to hang out on his cheeks like eggs when he is gripped in his characteristic mood of wistful frustration. As if these striking natural endowments were not enough, his head has been shaved as clean as Mr. Micawber’s for the occasion, and his skull becomes an additional omen of evil in the morose shadows which Karl Freund has evoked for the photo-play.

“…‘Mad Love’ is frequently excellent when Mr. Lorre is being permitted to illuminate the dark and twisted recesses of Dr. Gogol’s brain. In the theatre des horreurs, which he attends night after night, you see him in his box watching his lady tortured upon the rack, veiling his eyes in an emotion which is both pain and sadistic joy as he listens to her screams. There is an extremely effective scene in which the doctor, going quite definitely mad, hears the voice of his subconscious lashing him for his failure to conquer the woman. In the climactic scene, when the doctor loses all contact with reality and immerses himself in his Pygmalion-Galatea identity, his maniacal laughter raises the hair on your scalp and freezes the imagination.

“Even if it is not quite what we might have looked for in Mr. Lorre’s first American picture, ‘Mad Love’ is an entertaining essay in the macabre, and it may be a useful vehicle for introducing him to his new American film public. As those fortunate filmgoers who saw him in ‘M’ do not need to be told, he is among the great screen actors. He is capably assisted here by Colin Clive as the injured pianist, May Beatty as the doctor’s drunken housekeeper, Keye Luke as his operating room assistant and Edward Brophy as the condemned murderer. Ted Healy, a highly amusing comedian, has gotten into the wrong picture.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935, dirs. William Dieterle and Max Reinhardt) – reviewed October 10, 1935

“Hollywood pursues the shapes and shadows of the unfettered imagination with courage, skill and heavy artillery in Max Reinhardt’s film version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which the Warner Brothers presented at the Hollywood Theatre last evening. Many of the elusive, dancing conceits of Shakespeare’s lyric fantasy remain at large, though, and seem to hover about the screen hooting derisively at the cinema’s determined bloodhounds. But Mr. Reinhardt has isolated some of the winged fancies and the photoplay caparisons them in rich and lovely stuffs. If this is no masterpiece, it is a brave, beautiful and interesting effort to subdue the most difficult of Shakespeare’s works, and it has magical moments when it comes all alive with what you feel when you read the play.

“For the work is rich in aspiration and the sum of its faults is dwarfed against the sheer bulk of the enterprise. It has its fun and its haunting beauty. The play has been adapted with intelligence and affection. Except for a laggard quality in the ballet movements, it moves with a mettlesome step. William Dieterle, one of the most skillful directors in Hollywood, has transferred Mr. Reinhardt’s visions to the screen all complete. Erich Wolfgang Korngold has arranged the Mendelssohn music in a magnificent score, which weaves a rhapsodic spell about the spectator and transports him to the sightless realm of Avon’s elves and fairies.

“But the plain and distressing truth is that the screen, in the proud act of releasing the play from the shackles imposed on it by the proscenium arch, has the embarrassing miracle to perform of creating visual images which will catch the phantoms that lurk behind the words. The Nijinska ballet, for example, evokes not the fairy attendants of Oberon and Titania, but pretty girls in white gauze and sturdy gentlemen with wings strapped to their shoulders.

“The goblins are dwarfs in make-believe masks and the moonbeams on which the fairies dance are clever mechanical tricks in which the man-made magic is never quite submerged in the illusion it is striving to create. If you look too eagerly at Puck as he soars into space on a stick, you will discover the wire on which he is being hoisted.

“It is an illuminating fact that the photoplay achieves perfection in the clowns, those pragmatic louts who have no belief in the revels of the fairy people in the enchanted wood between dusk and dawn. Joe E. Brown as Flute the Bellows-mender gives the best performance in the show. It is a privilege to roar with laughter when he is rehearsing for the rude masque or playing the timid Thisbe to James Cagney’s Pyramus. Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh are uproarious as his fellow tradesmen.

“…Mickey Rooney’s remarkable performance as Puck is one of the major delights of the work. As the merry wanderer of the night, he is a mischievous and joyous sprite, a snub-nosed elf who laughs with shrill delight as the foolish mortals blunder through Oberon’s fairy domain. In the other important rôles the film is uneven in performance and suggests flaws in Mr. Reinhardt’s reading of the play. As Bottom, the lack-wit weaver whom Puck maliciously endows with an ass’s head, James Cagney is too dynamic an actor to play the torpid and obstinate dullard. While he is excellent in the scenes in the wood, in the ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ masque he belabors the slapstick of his part beyond endurance.

“…It is difficult to measure ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ critically because the infant cinema has had no time to build a Shakespearean tradition. Whatever its flaws, it is a work of high ambitions and unflagging interest, and it provides a stimulating evening in the cinema. It is a credit to Warner Brothers and to the motion picture industry.”

Peter Ibbetson (1935, dir. Henry Hathaway) – reviewed November 8, 1935

“The striking thing about the new screen version of ‘Peter Ibbetson’ at the Radio City Music Hall lies in the identity of its director, Henry Hathaway. Known almost exclusively for his ‘Lives of a Bengal Lancer,’ Mr. Hathaway bridges the spiritual gulfs between that rousing super-Western and the fragile dream world of duMaurier’s sentimental classic with astonishing success. With his directness and his hearty masculine qualities, he skillfully escapes all the lush pitfalls of the plot and gives it a tenderness that is always gallant instead of merely soft. The photoplay, though it scarcely is a dramatic thunderbolt, possesses a luminous beauty and a sensitive charm that make it attractive and moving. Under Mr. Hathaway’s management Miss Ann Harding, who has been losing prestige lately, gives her finest performance, while Gary Cooper fits into the picture with unexpected success.

“Hathaway’s special triumph is in the dream sequences, which could have degenerated so easily into the double-exposure ghostliness of the recent ‘Return of Peter Grimm.’ Carefully avoiding the temptation to bathe the screen in misty photography and heavily remind his audiences that this is a spirit world, he abandons conventional screen devices and boldly insists on the reality of the dreams. This is a shrewd modern touch and it goes for to make duMaurier’s celebrated love story dramatically effective. The astral sphere on which the lovers moved through a lifetime of happiness, while their bodies remained shackled to the earth, thus becomes to us what it was to them, more vividly actual than the daytime world that kept them apart.”

Your Uncle Dudley (1935, dirs. Eugene Forde and James Tinling) – reviewed December 12, 1935

“The Center Theatre offers a meager and unassuming little comedy of small-town life as its pre-Christmas contribution to the film sector. We cinema reviewers, when films as unobtrusively dull as ‘Your Uncle Dudley’ happen along, make a minor virtue of anemia by applying such kindly adjectives as amiable to them. Although ‘Your Uncle Dudley’ is unpretentious, it is also aggressively commonplace. It seems to have been manufactured for the tail end of double bills and it barely possesses the laughs for a competent two-reeler. Consequently it scarcely impresses this column as an amiable motion picture. In the title rôle Edward Everett Horton fidgets familiarly as a rural Caspar Milquetoast who finally rebels against the tyranny of his sister. The chances are that, like Cole Porter’s first sniff of cocaine, it will bore you terrifically, too.”

The Ghost Goes West (1935, dir. René Clair) – reviewed January 11, 1936 (the day before Andre Sennwald’s death)

“This review seems to require a preamble. Faced with an event of such imposing interest as René Clair’s first English-speaking film, it is a grave temptation to go in for comparisons. That is distinctly the wrong approach to ‘The Ghost Goes West,’ which M. Clair made in England for Alexander Korda. The film is not pure Clair, or even characteristic Clair, because for the first time he is working in a strange language and from a script that is not his own. Robert Sherwood, who wrote the screen play, is as much a part of the film as the director himself. Consequently, the new film at the Rivoli Theatre reveals little stylistic relation to the precious handful of French films which bear his name. Nor does it possess, except in isolated scenes and details, any such distinct form as might identify it immediately with the cinema’s finest master of comedy.

“This is an unhappily pompous way to introduce such a gay, urbane and brilliantly funny film as ‘The Ghost Goes West.’ The Messrs. Sherwood and Clair are toying a gracefully long, loud laugh at the expense of American millionaire art lovers and European tradition. Their ghost, very solidly played by Robert Donat, is of the Scotch persuasion, he is a handsome devil, and even after 200 years he has an eye for the ladies. His adventures with the castle that is dismantled and transported to America are always merry and sometimes sharply satirical.

“…Mr. Donat, who revealed his brilliant talent for romantic comedy in ‘The Thirty-nine Steps,’ plays his two rôles with fine zest and even manages a Scottish burr with fair success. Eugene Pallette is uproariously solemn as the millionaire and Jean Parker plays the daughter engagingly. It would be criminal not to single out Morten [sic] Selten for special mention. As the proud old head of the Glourie clan he makes such an indelible impression during his brief appearance on this earth that his ghostly dialogues with his son acquire an added hilarity. ‘The Ghost Goes West’ is the first important film of the new year, and a joyous one. It is the cream of an ebullient jest.”

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: August 2016

Director Maïwenn (right) working with actors Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel on the set of Mon Roi, 2014.

Here are fifteen new films due to be released in August which have been directed and/or photographed by women, titles that are sure to excite cinephiles and provoke worthwhile discussions.

AUGUST 5: Amateur Night (dirs. Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse) (DP: Nicole Hirsch Whitaker)From a Variety article: “[Jason] Biggs plays an out-of-work expectant father married to [Jenny] Mollen’s character. The two are also married in real life. In desperation, he answers a Craigslist ad for a driver and discovers that he’ll be the chauffeur for three charismatic call girls, portrayed by Ashley Tisdale, Janet Montgomery and Bria Murphy. Steven Weber, Cedric Yarbrough and Adrian Voo are also starring.

“The script was written and directed by the husband/wife team of Joe Syracuse and Lisa Addario — whose own life experiences served as inspiration for the movie when Syracuse had a lucrative — and sometimes dangerous — job driving call girls around Los Angeles while Addario was pregnant with their first child.”

AUGUST 5: collective:unconscious (dirs. Lily Baldwin, Frances Bodomo, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Josephine Decker and Lauren Wolkstein) (DP: Dagmar Weaver-Madsen (on Lily Baldwin’s segment “Swallowed”))From the New York Times review: “A throwback to the Surrealists and exquisite corpse games, the omnibus film collective:unconscious began from a simple premise: Five filmmakers transcribed their dreams; each description was then given at random to one of the others to direct as a short. (The film bears no relationship to the theater organization Collective:Unconscious.)

“The results — which have varying degrees of coherence and power — raise fascinating questions about the individuality of interpretation. For anyone familiar with some of the filmmakers featured, watching the movie plays like an exercise in mix-and-match.”

AUGUST 5: Five Nights in Maine (dir. Maris Curran)New York Times review: “Maris Curran had plenty of opportunities to insert a cheesy plot twist into Five Nights in Maine, her delicate drama about loss and its aftermath. Yet she stayed true to her intentions, and the result is a believable character study that may not draw crowds but certainly challenges its two lead actors.

“David Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, portrays a man named Sherwin, whose idyllic-seeming life is derailed by the death of his young wife. This sends him on a sort of pilgrimage to visit her mother, Lucinda, in Maine. They are not well acquainted, though he does know that there was a simmering tension between Lucinda and his wife, a subject tiptoed around during his visit.

“Ms. Curran, who wrote and directed, could have pulled a dark family secret out of the hat at any point: a dead twin buried in the backyard, sexual abuse by a weird uncle, whatever. That’s what we’ve come to expect in these types of family-excavation stories. But the revelations here are subtle rather than shocking; Ms. Curran has her actors show rather than tell.

“It helps that the other star, Dianne Wiest, who plays Lucinda, is very good at that sort of thing. Lucinda had her own struggles even before her daughter’s death (Rosie Perez plays her nurse), and now her brand of survivor guilt is very different from Sherwin’s. Ms. Wiest and Mr. Oyelowo probe the pain slowly and convincingly. In the end, you may feel as if you didn’t know enough about either character. Some may consider that a weakness of this spare film, but it can also be viewed as a strength.”

AUGUST 5: Front Cover (dir. Ray Yeung) (DP: Eun-ah Lee)New York Times review: “Though too slight to be memorable, the gay romance Front Cover takes a gentle, thoughtful look at the intersection of ethnicity and sexuality. For Ryan (Jake Choi), a Chinese-American fashion stylist in New York City and a self-described snob, cultural heritage is a burden he must rise above to further his career. Dating only Caucasian men, he gives the side eye to those whose dress or behavior marks them as less assimilated than he; so when he’s assigned to facilitate the introduction of Ning (James Chen), an ostensibly straight Beijing actor, to American audiences, Ryan is less than pleased.

“Tugging lightly but insistently on the masks we wear in order to fit in, the film’s writer and director, Ray Yeung, creates mirror images of suppression and alienation. While Ryan is disgusted by Ning’s table manners and imperfect English pronunciation, the patriotic Ning is shocked by Ryan’s ignorance of Chinese history and openness about his homosexuality. A photo shoot that features revealing silk pajamas and a foot washing, however, is all it takes to expose rather more about Ning than his dedication to working out.

“Sensitive, decorous and buffed by Eun-ah Lee’s warm photography, Front Cover still strains to surmount its thin narrative and unfortunate dips into clichéd cultural comedy. Yet the acting is reserved and sincere, the two leads exhibiting a believable attraction that Mr. Yeung takes care not to disrupt. In the end, both their characters will be changed, but only one will be closer to accepting who he really is.”

AUGUST 5: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (dir. Deborah Riley Draper)Synopsis on the film’s official website:Olympic Pride, American Prejudice explores the experiences of 18 African American Olympians who defied Jim Crow and Adolf Hitler to win hearts and medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Set against the strained and turbulent atmosphere of a racially divided America, which was torn between boycotting Hitler’s Olympics or participating in the Third Reich’s grandest affair, the film follows 16 men and two women before, during and after their heroic turn at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. They represented a country that considered them second class citizens and competed in a country that rolled out the red carpet in spite of an undercurrent of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism.

“They were world heroes yet returned home to a short-lived glory. This story is complicated. This story is triumphant but unheralded. This story is a vital part of history and is as relevant today as it was almost 80 years ago.

“Since the 1936 Olympics was a well-documented event, this film will utilize the wealth of newsreel material, newspaper articles, photographs, personal interviews and never-before-seen footage as well as resources from the personal archival collections of Olympians and organizations in both the U.S. and Germany.”

AUGUST 5: Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (dirs. Karen Bernstein and Louis Black)From the Hollywood Reporter review: “One of the most enriching and enjoyable docs about a filmmaker in recent memory, Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny reveals the peculiar pairing of modesty with artistic ambition that has allowed the director to thrive in an industry that doesn’t cotton to his sort of artist. It will serve as an excellent entry point for those who became aware of the helmer after the audacious Boyhood and wondered what this man is about; for those of us who have followed his work since before he debuted at Sundance 25 years ago with Slacker, it is a joy-filled reminder of the high points of a career we hope is just hitting its stride.

“Not the first doc to assess Linklater’s unpredictable oeuvre, this one sets itself apart quickly, both in its access (several interviews with the subject, delightful old behind-the-scenes materials) and in the content of its interviews: Famous face or not, a speaker has to have something insightful to say to make the cut here; mere praise will not do. This may come as a happy surprise to Austinites familiar with Black’s Austin Chronicle editorials, which over the years have often risked sycophancy when discussing the filmmakers he befriends.

“Here, Black’s long association with his subject is an unalloyed advantage. He knew Linklater before Slacker got made (he’s a memorable presence in the film, in fact), and efficiently illustrates how the Austin Film Society, which Linklater and friends founded to show art films in the then-sleepy college town, both taught the aspiring filmmaker about DIY promotion and gave him a ready-made crew for Slacker. Speaking of those early, communal days, crew- and cast-member Clark Walker describes Linklater’s ability to collaborate generously while staying fixed on his own vision: ‘While you’re doing it, you’re pretty sure it’s your idea, too.'”

AUGUST 10 (NYC), SEPTEMBER 2 (LA): An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell (dir. Molly Bernstein)Film Forum synopsis: “Molly Bernstein, whose superb portrait of sleight of hand magician Ricky Jay we premiered, here embraces another type of conjurer. Artist Rosamond Purcell creates collages of natural objects (bones, feathers, leaves, fossils) and found objects (distressed books, industrial scrap, cast-off objects of all stripes) and imbues them with life through her photography. Among her many books are three with scientist Stephen Jay Gould, in which her visuals and his words complement one another. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, one of Purcell’s admirers, extols her ability to reveal ‘the hidden history of the world’ and to ‘find art in really strange places.’ Bernstein’s portrait reveals an artist whose work defies our basest materialist impulses and celebrates the beauty of decay, the poetry of destruction, and the ineffable effects of time – on everything.”

AUGUST 12: ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL (dir. Tracy Droz Tragos) (DPs: Kamau Bilal and Judy Phu)City Cinemas Village East Cinema synopsis:Abortion: Stories Women Tell is a documentary that explores states’ increasing restriction on abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to make it legal in the US. Since 2011, more than half the states in the nation have significantly restricted access to abortions. In 2016, abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in America, especially in Missouri, where only one abortion clinic remains open, patients and their doctors must navigate a 72-hour waiting period, and each year sees more restrictions.”

AUGUST 12 or AUGUST 19 [it’s not clear to me which date is correct]: Disorder (dir. Alice WInocour)From Variety review:Maryland is the original title of Disorder, the second feature by Parisian writer-director Alice Winocour, and while not one minute of it takes place in the American state of the same name, it’s a film that hints at bright transatlantic possibilities for its helmer. A fine-cut tension exercise that eventually ignites into a full-blown home-invasion thriller, Disorder reps about the last step one might have expected Winocour to take after debuting with 2012’s porcelain-textured costumer Augustine. It’s a sharp, slinky change of pace, however, given human backbone by Matthias Schoenaerts’ tightly wound performance as a PTSD-afflicted ex-soldier hired to protect Diane Kruger’s corporate trophy wife. Schoenaerts’ current international ubiquity lends added commercial appeal to a genre pic that already doesn’t want for exportable elements; arthouse distribs should form an orderly (or disorderly) queue.

“For Belgian thesp Schoenaerts, now coming off a triple-shot of English-lingo period romances — Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française and A Little ChaosDisorder marks a crackling return to the sensitive-thug persona with which he made his name in Bullhead and Rust and Bone. Hulkingly built, buzz-cut and stamped with stark tattoos, he cuts a more baleful figure than the average buffed-up leading man, which suits Winocour’s purposes just fine: As Vincent, an Afghanistan veteran prone to volatile paranoid episodes, he’s a hero who nonetheless seems capable of turning on his charges (and, by extension, the audience) at any given moment. Post-traumatic stress disorder has been a heavily worked character condition in recent cinema, but Schoenaerts enacts it with bracing spareness, his nerve ends prickling through even in benign domestic exchanges.”

AUGUST 12: My King (aka Mon Roi) (dir. Maïwenn) (DP: Claire Mathon)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot, in a performance that won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel) are an odd match—or so Tony’s brother Solal (Louis Garrel) thinks when she tells him that they’re falling quickly, recklessly in love. Actor-director Maïwenn’s fourth feature captures the couple’s tempestuous 10-year relationship in retrospect as a string of flash points, eruptions, betrayals, tender reconciliations, and life-altering decisions. At the center of My King’s wide, expansive frames are Bercot and Cassel for nearly every second of its runtime, and the movie stakes itself on their harrowingly committed, nerve-fraying performances. Maïwenn’s formidable new film is one of French cinema’s most memorable recent amour fous.

AUGUST 17: When Two Worlds Collide (dirs. Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel)Film Forum synopsis: “Alberto Pizango, indigenous leader of Peru’s Amazonian people, vs. Alan Garcia, President of Peru (2006-2011), backed by the multinational corporations intent on exploiting the Amazon’s rich natural resources. It is a David and Goliath battle currently being fought in one of the world’s most lush and magnificent rainforests. Pizango, reminiscent of Cesar Chavez in his charisma and implacability, organizes people who have called the rainforest home for a millennia, to oppose the illegal and violent takeover of their land. ‘Frankly, they’re savages,’ intones the Minister of the Interior on Peruvian TV. We recently played the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, a drama of Amazonian intrigue and Western corruption. Here is a documentary that updates that story with aplomb.”

AUGUST 19: A Tale of Love and Darkness (dir. Natalie Portman)From The Guardian review: “For her feature directing debut, Black Swan actor Natalie Portman has shepherded through a sombrely reverential adaptation of Amos Oz’s 2002 memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a study of the founding of the state of Israel refracted through Oz’s troubled family life. Portman, who was born in Israel and who lived there until she was three, before her family moved to the US, has taken a brave decision to take on such potentially contentious material – and while the resulting film is perhaps a tad on the conventional-looking side, it has an unusual, and possibly unique, perspective on Israeli psychology, and Portman demonstrates she possesses a confident grasp of film-making fundamentals.”

AUGUST 26: The Intervention (dir. Clea DuVall) (DP: Polly Morgan)From Variety review:The Intervention finds three couples gathered for a country weekend, where they’ve plotted to perform emergency surgery on a fourth duo’s trouble marriage. Naturally, this well-intentioned but very probably misguided effort goes awry, with everyone’s personal fault lines exposed to variably seriocomic effect. Actress Clea DuVall’s debut feature as writer-director is an ensemble piece that breaks no new ground in themes or execution, but is pleasingly accomplished on all levels. It may not be quite edgy or distinctive enough to make much of a splash in niche theatrical release, but should prove a viable home-format item.

“The group of thirtysomething friends who gather at an expansive family summer residence outside Savannah, owned by Jessie (DuVall), haven’t met there for some years; life got in the way of what had been an annual tradition. But now Annie (Melanie Lynskey) has orchestrated a reunion, one with a mission as yet unknown to the two who are its intended target. The others in on the plan — though more reluctantly, having bent to Annie’s considerable will — are Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), Jessie’s girlfriend in Los Angeles; Matt (Jason Ritter), Annie’s long-term fiance; and recently single Jack (Ben Schwartz), who’s brought along an otherwise uninvited stranger in the form of his new, discomfortingly young squeeze Lola (Alia Shawkat, serving a purpose a whole lot like Meg Tilly’s in The Big Chill).”

AUGUST 26 (limited release), SEPTEMBER 2 (wider release): White Girl (dir. Elizabeth Wood)From an IndieWire article: “Elizabeth Wood’s feature directorial debut White Girl dropped more than a few jaws when it premiered earlier this year at Sundance, where its unflinching look at female sexuality, life in the big city and raw human desire shocked audiences. The bold film follows Morgan Saylor as Leah, a college kid who unexpectedly falls for Blue, played by Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, a bad boy who is hardly her typical love interest. When a wild night of partying pulls them apart, Leah sets out to win him back, no matter what the price or the consequences.”

AUGUST 31: The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (dirs. Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth and Tilda Swinton)Film Forum synopsis: “John Berger calls himself ‘a storyteller’ and longtime friend Tilda Swinton calls him ‘a radical humanist.’ The soft-spoken Berger is, in fact, a brilliant polymath: a painter, art critic/historian (The Success and Failure of Picasso), Booker Prize-winning novelist (G), BBC television host (Ways of Seeing), screenwriter (La Salamandre), essayist (A Seventh Man), poet, Marxist, philosopher, and self-styled peasant. These four ruminative essays – produced by London’s Derek Jarman Lab – are set in the French Alps where Berger has lived for several decades.  As Swinton peels apples and Berger draws her portrait, they consider the effect of their fathers’ war experiences on their childhoods. The film is punctuated with excerpts from Berger’s television appearances — but it is this seemingly casual talk in and around his rustic kitchen that allows us to be guests in his home and on intimate terms with his intellect.”

2015: Part 10

Black Mass. Directed by Scott Cooper. In 1990, Johnny Depp made a film called Edward Scissorhands which obscured his “21 Jump Street” looks under extreme makeup, hair and costumes and, by extension, allowed Depp the freedom to perform in a purer way. The audience could see his abilities as an actor better than they could when he looked like a teen heartthrob, and the result was a classic that I consider one of the ten best films ever made. Twenty-five years later, in Black Mass, Depp covers himself up with aging makeup, distractingly blue-eyed contacts, rotting teeth and an exaggerated Boston accent, the combined effect of which leaves me hollow and indifferent. What happened?

Maybe my opinion is too clouded by the recent, nasty divorce proceedings going on between Depp and Amber Heard; maybe it’s just that I’m no longer impressed by Depp’s detached, possibly inebriated persona in every late-night interview I’ve seen him do for the last ten years. Whatever the reason is, while watching Black Mass I realized that I could not enjoy an iota of Johnny Depp’s performance. He snarls and shoots and occasionally strangles while playing gangster overlord James “Whitey” Bulger, but by the end I felt like so what? The only sympathetic characters in the film – Dakota Johnson as Bulger’s girlfriend, Julianne Nicholson as the fearful wife of an FBI agent who is also one of Bulger’s closest friends (Joel Edgerton), Juno Temple as a prostitute whose relationship with Bulger’s main right-hand man gets her in trouble – are either dropped from the film or meet with violence from Bulger and his cronies. I’m not saying that the film glorifies the bad guys, but the direction and screenplay bring nothing new to this depiction of sadistic criminality. I have seen the scenes in Black Mass many times in similar movies, and they were almost always done more successfully by other filmmakers.

The Boy Next Door. Directed by Rob Cohen. The Boy Next Door is one of those sexy-but-stupid thrillers that plays out exactly like you know it will if you’ve seen the trailer (or, really, even if you haven’t): an English teacher (Jennifer Lopez), recently separated from her husband (John Corbett, who in middle age now resembles John Heard) after he cheats on her with a co-worker, is surprised and pleased when a hunky young man (Ryan Guzman) moves in with his elderly uncle next door. Said young man proceeds to befriend Lopez’s nerdy teenage son (Ian Nelson), and also to charm J. Lo and flirt with her endlessly; when Corbett and Nelson go on a father-son camping trip and Lopez has a bad experience on a blind date, a night of drunken loneliness leads her to make the terrible mistake of allowing sweet, puppy-dog-ish Guzman to seduce her and have sex with her. Ah, but comes the dawn…

Lopez knows she has done a problematic thing. The issue isn’t Guzman’s age – the character is “almost twenty” (the actor was 26/27) – but rather the fact that he has just enrolled in Lopez’s English class (I don’t recall an explanation as to why he never finished high school), which means an unsettling conflict of interest. Naturally Guzman can’t take “no relationship” for an answer and he turns out to be an A-class psycho who stalks Lopez at home, at school and everywhere else, as well as turning teen son Nelson against Lopez and Corbett. (There’s also the issue of Lopez’s best friend, Kristin Chenoweth, who is the vice principal at the school – she senses right away that there’s something not quite right about Guzman, and of course she eventually pays the price for trying to help Lopez.) Long story short, there’s not much to recommend The Boy Next Door unless you’re incredibly bored and you have an hour and a half to waste, although the cinematography by David McFarland is occasionally quite striking and Ian Nelson, as Lopez and Corbett’s son, is a pretty good actor. He has a kind of young John Cusack quality to him, so perhaps he can capitalize on that someday.

The Intern. Directed by Nancy Meyers. Ah, yes, the typical Nancy Meyers quote-unquote “chick flick.” I must try not to say that too disparagingly (as a lady myself and therefore in the wished-for demographic), but there is something hopelessly discouraging in the idea that a blend of The Devil Wears Prada and Meyers’ own What Women Want (at least as far as the “woman trying to balance being the head of a company and having a love life” thing goes) would end up as anything other than sappy. Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, professionals that they are, do their utmost to keep the proceedings entertaining as the title intern and his overworked boss respectively and, when called upon to do it, they are emotionally engaging too. What weakens the film, however, is all of the melodrama Hathaway experiences both in and out of the office. Frustrated by too much paperwork! Looking for a new CEO! Dealing with a cheating husband! The Intern throws a lot at us. If anything, the film is most worth seeing for the charms of Rene Russo as De Niro’s love interest – in her early 60s, she is still effortlessly sexy – and for Anders Holm, who holds his own in dramatic scenes as Hathaway’s husband (you know he’s doing Important Acting since he has dyed-brown hair, a beard and glasses – but in all seriousness, he’s good in the film). (Also: Adam DeVine, Holm’s co-star on “Workaholics,” is also in The Intern but they don’t share any scenes.) You can guess where The Intern is going to go by seeing the trailer, or maybe even just from looking at the poster: De Niro always knows what to say in order to be helpful; he is probably one of the most feminist male characters of his age that you’re likely to see in a movie any time soon; ultimately he guides Hathaway to becoming a better, stronger person. You may cry at some of the touching sentimentality in The Intern, but it’s doubtful that you’ll laugh at the predictable, cheesy comedy.

No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers. Directed by Elizabeth Marcus. I am of two minds regarding this documentary about Manic Street Preachers, the Welsh rock band I discovered five months ago and who have totally turned my world upside down with their brilliant music, lyrics, singing, glamour, politics, love of literature and so much more. Enjoying an hour and a half to absorb this fantastic band’s music and philosophy is divine, but the question is for whom the film is intended. If it was made primarily with fans in mind (viewers who, let’s face it, make up the majority of people who have seen/will see the film), then the film does not offer enough to appease superfans. (The most interesting bits – Nicky and Sean arguing about the longevity of music, James and music producer Dave Eringa having breakfast in an NYC diner – were left out of the finished film and appear as extras on the DVD.) If the film was made to introduce the Manics’ discography to prospective fans, then the film also falls short; director Elizabeth Marcus tries to make the film both a current (well, current at the time) look at the band recording their 2007 “comeback” album Send Away the Tigers and also a retrospective history of the band from 1986 to the present day. It is an impossible undertaking to attempt to chronicle every detail of the band’s oeuvre (so of course that doesn’t happen) and it feels like a failing on Marcus’s part that we see footage of the Manics being interviewed in the early 90s, yet there is no concert footage from between 1992 and 1994; we see the guys do “Stay Beautiful” in 1991, and the next chronological show clip is “A Design for Life” in 1996. This means that inexperienced viewers never see the band performing in their leopard-print Generation Terrorists get-ups (although we see the clothing in pieces of interviews), doing the more low-key thing in 1993 or performing in military regalia for The Holy Bible in 1994. The visuals are just as important as the sounds! And while it’s all well and good to see the trio doing “Motorcycle Emptiness,” “Sleepflower,” “Yes,” “Archives of Pain,” “Faster,” “Die in the Summertime,” and others circa 2006/2007, not hearing/seeing the songs from when they were originally made does a disservice to the film and to the band. It might be somewhat difficult for non-Manics fans to get a strong enough sense of why people get so obsessed with the band.

Oh, and how can you make a film about the Manics and not include one of their signature songs, “You Love Us”? I’m not sure I heard the phrase Everything Must Go uttered at all either, despite the time spent talking about “A Design for Life.” Strange.

Obviously it is fun, though, to spend 95 minutes in the presence of a band that has the power to change your life. It’s easy to see from the interviews with fans that the Manics have altered their lives permanently (and wonderfully). Watching Nicky jumping rope in a skirt, or playing with his dog Molly, or excitedly meeting Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, is lovely; seeing James cook omelets is a delight; Sean’s enjoyment of sniper rifles and his time spent at a shooting range is a little scary. I just wish that the film had either spent more time focusing on the making of Send Away the Tigers (wouldn’t it have been nice to see/hear the creation of the major hit “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”?) or else make a film concentrated more deeply on the band’s history. By trying to do both, the film unfortunately does not completely succeed.

P.S. When the DVD came in the mail, there was a thank-you note from director Elizabeth Marcus and producer/editor Kurt Engfehr. Very nice!

Suffragette. Directed by Sarah Gavron. A film so disappointing that I almost forgot that I watched it last week, Suffragette takes a fascinating topic and grinds it down into mediocrity with bland, dreary direction. The 1910s suffrage movement and the fight for women’s rights are topics that are still relevant today, but Sarah Gavron’s film dilutes its own potential impact by focusing its narrative on a composite character, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan, a good performer as always), rather than on the real-life suffragette Emily Wilding Davison (played by Natalie Press in a supporting role). The melodramas of Maud’s family life take up quite a bit of the running time; while the issues of abuse at home and in the workplace are stories that should indeed have been told in the film, it might have been more effective if Abi Morgan’s screenplay was based on a real protagonist rather than a fictional one. That being said, Ben Whishaw did an excellent job at playing Carey Mulligan’s unsympathetic husband and I liked the performances by Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson and Anne-Marie Duff as well. Meryl Streep overacts embarrassingly, but her performance as leading activist Emmeline Pankhurst is merely a cameo. Watch Suffragette if you like anyone in the cast, but don’t expect an accurate history lesson.

Indelible Film Images: Gods of the Plague

Gods of the Plague (1970) – dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Hanna Schygulla, Margarethe von Trotta, Harry Baer, Günther Kaufmann, Carla Egerer, Ingrid Caven, Jan George, Lilo Pempeit, Hannes Gromball, Lilith Ungerer

Cinematography: Dietrich Lohmann

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Friday Music Focus: 7/8/16

Since this will be my last “Friday Music Focus” post for a while – I will be on vacation starting next weekend – I hope I can make this one count. These ten entries form a small percentage of my musical intake. I am constantly listening to new albums, singles, live performances and random, weird stuff; the following list may introduce you to some exciting new sounds. Enjoy!

Glass Animals, “Life Itself” (single, 2016). My favorite new song that I heard on a BBC radio program this week: the first single released from British indie rock group Glass Animals’ upcoming second album, How to Be a Human Being (due out in August). I always like a song that tells a story.

We Are Scientists, “Buckle” (live on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” 2016; studio version appears on the album Helter Seltzer, 2016). Seen last week: a catchy song by a band that I have heard of (their first album came out ten years ago) but never listened to; the new album, Helter Seltzer, turned out to be disappointing, but this lead single is really good and I was impressed by what I saw in this TV performance.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dark Necessities” (music video; studio version appears on the album The Getaway, 2016). Much less impressive than the previous number on the list is the first single from the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album, The Getaway. (Anthony Kiedis and Flea have been doing this music thing since 1983, so it’s a miracle that they aren’t fossils yet.) The music video was directed by actress Olivia Wilde, which is interesting since the skaters seen in the clip are all women – God knows the Peppers are not the world’s most feminist band, so I guess this is a step forward – and perhaps Wilde contributed some ideas to the concept. I cannot, however, get over the fact that Josh Klinghoffer, the guitarist who joined RHCP after longtime member John Frusciante’s departure in 2009, both plays and sings like Frusciante. Same guitar tone, same high-pitched background vocals. He even has a hairstyle similar to John Frusciante’s funky late 80s/early 90s ‘do. I wish Josh would carve out his own niche instead of being a replacement and a mimic.

Tacocat, “Talk” (music video; studio version appears on the album Lost Time, 2016). If you want to hear and see a real feminist rock band, try Tacocat.

Mick Harvey, “Deadly Tedium” (music video; studio version appears on the album Delirium Tremens, 2016). From Tacocat to a music video co-starring a cat. Mick’s translation/interpretation of this Serge Gainsbourg song has a jazzy, loungy cabaret quality and there is a delightful sense of humor, sort of like an oddball film noir in color, evident in the video.

Pi Ja Ma, “Radio Girl” (music video; studio version appears on the EP Radio Girl, 2016). Utilizing another pop-throwback type of sound, Pi Ja Ma (aka Dominique de Tarragon, a French musician/visual artist) offers a memorable beat and a ton of whimsy.

Meilyr Jones, “Strange/Emotional” (music video; studio version appears on the album 2013, 2016). There is something immensely charming about Meilyr Jones, whether in his music or in soft-spoken interviews. Reviewers have described his style as “chamber pop,” a categorization that aptly describes many of his slow, lushly orchestrated songs but which I think also applies to the more upbeat track “Strange/Emotional.”

The Anchoress feat. Paul Draper, “You and Only You” (music video; studio version appears on the album Confessions of a Romance Novelist, 2016). The Anchoress, aka Catherine Anne Davies (or “Catherine AD”), first appeared on my radar when I saw a review of her debut album in The Guardian this past January. But the Welsh singer-songwriter permanently earned a place in my heart when she wrote a guest column for Q magazine last month, detailing her lifelong obsession with her fellow countrymen, the Manic Street Preachers. One paragraph contains some of what I consider the best assessments anyone has ever made of the group: “…as a Manics ‘groupie’ (and I use the term very loosely here) you were more likely to end up with a PhD than an STD. This was a band that encouraged you to devour books and films and suck in culture; to open your mind, not your legs. They were a band that glamourised the idea of being intelligent – a notion that can be endlessly empowering for a young girl looking for a way to be valued in a world that seems only concerned with the value of appearances. As the working class kid who’d been taught that education is your only route to social mobility, and as that kid who’d been relentlessly bullied for being ‘smart,’ this was a revelation to me. You could be well-read and wear fake leopard print. You could have intellectual aspirations and be glamourous. The two were not mutually exclusive. Wow, I thought. This changes everything.” And now here she is as an artist in her own right, a pop-rocker with a PhD (literature and queer theory, University College London), opening for the Manics when they perform in Cornwall tomorrow.

James Dean Bradfield (of Manic Street Preachers), “Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)” (live on “The Andrew Marr Show,” 2016). Last Sunday, JDB made a solo acoustic appearance on BBC One to promote the Manics’ beloved Welsh football anthem for Euro 2016. Although the team lost to Portugal in their semi-finals match two days later, “Together Stronger” may yet become a chart-topper in the UK since there was a push for it to happen by both fans and footballers alike (star player Gareth Bale retweeted the Football Association of Wales’ post about getting the song to become a hit). Also on the couch with James, prior to the start of the song: Neil Kinnock, a Labour Party politician who is also from South Wales and apparently recognized the talent in the Manics when they were wee lads at Oakdale Comprehensive School.

Viola Beach, “Boys That Sing” (single, January 2016); Coldplay, “Boys That Sing” (live at the Glastonbury Festival, June 2016). Rather than play David Bowie’s “Heroes,” as has become a standard tribute in the last half-year, Chris Martin and company decided to honor the members of British band Viola Beach, all of whom died in a car crash in Sweden in February. (Their first – and sadly, their last – album, self-titled, will be released on July 29.) I can think of a couple of similar tragedies that befell young bands just starting out; the lead singer, bassist and tour manager of alternative rock band For Squirrels died in a crash right before the release of their major-label debut album in 1995 (which, ironically, had a minor radio hit with a song about the death of Kurt Cobain, “Mighty K.C.”) and three-fourths of the punk/power pop band The Exploding Hearts died in a car wreck only a few months after the release of their 2003 album Guitar Romantic (featuring the wonderful song “I’m a Pretender”). At least nowadays when such a horrible loss happens, the world can talk about it on social media and spread the love so that the band is not forgotten before they even had a chance to begin. The “alternate future” that Coldplay collectively create for Viola Beach by allowing them to “headline Glastonbury for a song” is a beautiful gesture.