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Links for the Day: Tracing Malik Bendjelloul’s Tragic Final Days, The Goldfinch and the Infantilization of Literary Culture, Uzo Aduba Interview, & More

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Links for the Day: Tracing Malik Bendjelloul’s Tragic Final Days, The Goldfinch and the Infantilization of Literary Culture, Uzo Aduba Interview, & More

1. “Oscar to Suicide in One Year.” Tracing the Searching for Sugar Man Director’s Tragic Final Days.

“Death, especially when it is violent and unexpected, often leaves a hazy, and sometimes unwarranted, glow around the deceased. But Malik Bendjelloul, by all accounts, stood out as exceptionally talented, creative and for the most part also happy and well-adjusted. Over the course of the past several months, however, friends say he also had become increasingly lonely and isolated. The Oscar win had catapulted him into the upper reaches of the New York and Los Angeles art worlds, away from his best friends and family. For the past several months, he had been living in New York, writing a script for a feature-length film about a South African conservationist named Lawrence Anthony, who had traveled to Baghdad in 2003 to rescue wounded and abandoned zoo creatures. However, writing for movies was harder than Bendjelloul had anticipated, and he apparently had grown frustrated and anxious. He developed insomnia while in New York. He also had lost touch with some of the people he had been closest to in Sweden and confessed to at least one close friend that he felt lonely.”

2. “It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?” Some of the self-appointed high priests of literary criticism are deeply dismayed by The Goldfinch and its success.

“’Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,’ wrote critic James Wood, in The New Yorker. He found a book stuffed with relentless, far-fetched plotting; cloying stock characters; and an overwrought message tacked on at the end as a plea for seriousness. ’Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art, but this seems an anxious compensation, as if Tartt were unconsciously acknowledging that the 2013 Goldfinch might not survive the way the 1654 Goldfinch has.’ Days after she was awarded the Pulitzer, Wood told Vanity Fair, ’I think that the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.’”

3. Orange Is the New Black Star Uzo Aduba on Her Journey From Track Phenom to Crazy Eyes.” The Nigerian-American actress is given her close-up in season of of the Netflix series. Aduba on Suzanne’s transformation and her own backstory.

“For me, it bred the question of what nature and nurture can really do to someone. It’s almost a reflection of the pre-ADHD days, before there was a name for it. I think of myself as a little kid and I had a wild imagination, but it was something that was encouraged and supported, which helped steer me into the arts. But yes, what happens when you have an over-hyper or over-sensitive child if people aren’t there guiding you in the right direction? For Suzanne, she was a kid—and a person now, as an adult—who was incredibly misunderstood and, because she’s been misunderstood her entire life, it’s helped unravel her.”

4. “I Spit on Your Fairy Wings, and Your Little Dog, Too!” Laura Bogart on Maleficent and other films.

“Maleficent now exists within the archetype of the woman warrior, the righter of wrongs, and the avenger. This archetype wields her wand and sword, her pistol and Tiger Crane Kung-Fu, and, above all, her wits, directly against her enemies. She is Coffy, hiding razor blades in her hair; she is Beatrix Kiddo, crossing names off her ’Death List Five’; she is Arya Stark, whispering her own kill list as a nightly prayer; she is Carrie, unleashing telekinetic Hell against the high school sadists and the fundamentalist mother who’ve tormented her; she is Mystique, the mutant revolutionary out to assassinate the political operatives who oppress her kind. She is Katniss Everdeen, who must ’remember who the real enemy is’ if she’s to escape the ceaseless spiral of violence and use her power for a purpose. And she is Maleficent, who must learn that cruelty is simply scratching an itch, not treating the wound that burns clear to the bone. Every time the woman warrior flexes her might, she’s defining who she is and who she wants to be: the victim-turned-avenger, asserting her worth against those who tried to break her—or the villain, just another abuser who thinks that making someone, anyone, pay, is the same as actual gain.”

5. “Art, Freedom, and the Bechdel Test.” Glenn Kenny explains it all.

“The movements Wood laments the loss, or diminishment of, have seemingly returned, and to the mainstream even. And real milestones have been passed with respect to gay liberation, at least. But there’s been a dilution; the values represented by these movements have been both commoditized and marginalized in that they are only deemed important if the operate within a pop culture context, or matrix, if you will. It’s more comfortable than what we understand a genuine radicalism to be. This is why Questlove, who plays with the house band on a television chat show that recently excised a remark by Shailene Woodley about women’s image issues that the audience found sufficiently alienating to boo the actress, wants resistance rather than barricade storming. Empathy is a great thing, but do we really gain it through pop culture? Or do we just posture and preen about our good intentions? Are we debating, to the point of rage, the color of the curtains, so to speak, while the same interests that have been running our lives forever continue to do so.”

Video of the Day: This is what a Dior ad directed by Harmony Korine looks like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe6kdmP6Awg
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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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