Tuesday Weld will not be attending the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective “American Girl: Tuesday Weld,” running from September 21—25, which will showcase 10 performances by the unconventional actress. Weld hasn’t made a public appearance in more than a decade. Perhaps she’s gone into self-imposed exile a la Marlene Dietrich, wanting to preserve the public’s memory of the brazen, luminous beauty that made her an icon of the ’60s and turned the heads of everyone from Elvis Presley to Pinchas Zukerman. But then again, Weld has made a career of
From the time she first entered America’s consciousness in the ’50s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, it was obvious that Weld was different from the Sandra Dees of the world, and not just because of her improbable first name. Weld’s apple-pie looks hid a dark, dangerous undercurrent. In her characters, sex and violence were inevitably linked. Her persona was innocent yet amoral—a fille fatale. Weld was Kubrick’s first choice for Lolita, but she turned him down, later claiming “I didn’t have to play it. I was Lolita.”
Weld is as famous for what she could have been as for what she was. In addition to Lolita, Weld was first choice for the lead female parts in Bonnie and Clyde, Rosemary’s Baby, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Cactus Flower, and True Grit, turning them all down. Critics at the time accused her of exercising poor judgment, but according to Weld herself, the real reason for her choices was more complicated.
“Do you think I want a success?” she said in a ’71 New York Times interview. “I refused Bonnie and Clyde because I was nursing at the time, but also because deep down I knew it was going to be a huge success. The same was true of Bob and Carol and Fred and Sue or whatever it was called. It reeked of success.”
Despite her pinup origins, Weld has shown herself to be one of the most singular film acting talents of the last 50 years. According to critic David Ehrenstein, “Tuesday Weld’s genius is that she never seems to be acting. She always looks like she is simply that way, whether the film be…Sex Kittens Go to College, or (Sergio Leone’s epic) Once Upon a Time in America.”
“There was a special intensity about her, a kind of rawness,” says film critic and historian Foster Hirsch, “…something very vulnerable and even fragile about her acting. I suspect that it reflected something of [herself].”
Susan Weld was born in New York City on August 27, 1943 to the disinherited black sheep of a wealthy New England family and an artist’s model. As a toddler she was unable to properly pronounce Susan, calling herself “Tu-Tu.” The nickname stuck, eventually becoming Tuesday.
Weld’s father died when she was three years old, leaving the family penniless. Several months later, little Tuesday was scouted for a modeling job. Driven by her ambitious stage mother, Weld worked constantly and became one of the top child models in New York City, financially supporting her mother and two siblings. Eventually, the young girl began to crack under the strain of her career. “When I was nine, I had a breakdown,” Weld recalled, “which disappointed Mama a great deal. But I made a comeback when I was 10.”
Weld moved from modeling to acting, and from New York to Los Angeles. Within a few years, 20th Century Fox was marketing a 14-year-old Weld as the “next Marilyn Monroe,” with their publicity department cooking up quotes like, “I never wear underwear. It’s much warmer with nothing on,” and Weld’s mother describing her daughter in a newspaper interview as “tawny blond all over.”
Her first film for Fox was Rally Round the Flag Boys! (1958), a clever spoof on suburban marriage in the atomic age that devolves into woolly slapstick in the home stretch. A brunette Weld had a small but memorable role as Comfort Goodpasture, a beatnik babysitter who discovers the joys of puberty seemingly overnight, squealing “All of a sudden, I like boys!”
Rally round the Flag lead to a role in the 1959 sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The show was a hit, and Weld became the fantasy of millions of teenage boys overnight. Her fame soon eclipsed the show, and she left to pursue a film career. Weld’s mother chose high-paying, pinup roles for her daughter in B movies like Sex Kittens Go to College, and her celebrity continued to grow, mostly due to the publicity her wild behavior received; columnist Louella Parsons labeled her “a disgrace to Hollywood.” Weld dated men three times her age, drank heavily, smoked pot, and was surly and difficult with reporters, once appearing on a daytime talk show in a bathrobe and bare feet. Sam Shepard later wrote of the incident, “I fell in love with Tuesday Weld on that show. I thought she was the Marlon Brando of women.”
The best of her “sex kitten” films was Frank Tashlin’s daffy bedroom farce Bachelor Flat (1962), in which Weld plays a juvenile delinquent with the voice of an air-raid siren. It’s a feather-light romp, but contains some inspired comic moments that rank with the best of Tashlin’s work.
Gradually, Weld began to take control of her own career. Now 18, she was bequeathed a sizable inheritance from her paternal grandmother. With the pressure to provide taken off, Weld began to choose more idiosyncratic roles, sticking a knife into her sexpot image in Lord Love a Duck (1966). At first resembling a Frankie and Annette beach romp, the film reveals itself to be a surreal, vicious black comedy, reveling in the hypocrisy of American consumer culture. Weld plays Barbra Ann Greene, a teenage Faust with a childlike thirst for fame. The devilish Mollymauk (Roddy McDowell) decides to help get Barbra everything she desires, no matter whose head has to roll: her teacher’s, her husband’s, or even her mother’s. Weld is ironically at her most alluring in the disturbing scene where Barbra Ann seduces her father into buying her 13 cashmere sweaters, teasing him into a grotesque sexual frenzy.
If Lord Love a Duck is as subtle as a shotgun blast, then Weld’s next picture, Pretty Poison (1968), is an ice pick aimed with deadly accuracy. Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), newly released from a mental institution, meets dishy majorette Sue Ann Stepanek and draws her into a fantasy world of C.I.A. missions and recycled spy-movie dialogue. But Sue Ann has her own plans for Dennis. In a chilling performance, Weld is careful to never tip her hand, even after it becomes apparent who’s really manipulating whom. Championed by critics at the time of its release, this wickedly smart thriller is, according to film historian Foster Hirsch, “[Weld’s] masterpiece…her most iconic role.”
By 1970, Weld was 27 years old, married, with a little girl of her own, and yet she was still playing a teenager in John Frankenheimer’s I Walk the Line. Alma McCain (Weld), a backwoods Blue Angel, innocently leads a small town sheriff (Gregory Peck) to his destruction. Peck is out of his depth with the pathos his character requires, unable to do more than look solemn. However, Weld makes the best of her thinly written character, adding subtle shadings to Alma’s guileless passivity.
The following year, everything fell apart. Weld’s five-year marriage to screenwriter Claude Harz had ended in divorce, and she sunk into a deep depression. “It seems the brighter you are, the deeper a hole you fall into,” she said in a New York Times interview that year. “I got a divorce, my car disintegrated and my house burned down….there was absolutely nothing left.” So when Frank Perry announced Weld as his first and only choice to star in a film adaptation of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, for once she said yes.
Weld plays Maria Wyeth, an ex-model and B actress who’s been committed to a mental institution. Recalling the events leading to her breakdown, she paints a bleak picture of Hollywood as a scorched, amoral desert. Maria’s best friend, gay film producer BZ (Anthony Perkins), has already lost faith in humanity. Maria tries to cling to a reason to keep living, but everywhere she looks she sees rattlesnakes. “I don’t ever want to be where you are,” she tells BZ. “You don’t want to…but you will,” he replies with weary finality.
Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein designed the film’s dazzling, sun-bleached visuals, which serve as a backdrop to Weld’s portrait of a woman falling apart. Her exquisitely subtle performance is almost entirely communicated by slight modulations of her voice, or a flicker of her eyes. Joseph Gelmis of Newsday commented that Weld “reminds me of…early Brando- implying experiences and knowledge that can’t be conveyed by speech.”
Weld was finally officially recognized for her work, and awarded Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, though some critics still couldn’t shake the image of Tuesday as Dobie Gillis’s gal pal. “Next year, I suppose the Nobel Prize for Literature will go to Jacqueline Susann,” sniffed Thomas Meehand in the Saturday Review. Still, Weld had arrived as an adult actress. No longer limited by her Lolita image, she was ready to begin a new stage of her career. So, of course, she decided to take five years off from making theatrical movies.
During her absence, Weld married and had a son, Patrick, with the British comedian Dudley Moore. She returned to the big screen in 1977 with the controversial Looking For Mr. Goodbar, a portrait of downtown New York’s gritty singles scene through the eyes of the sheltered Theresa (Diane Keaton), begging to be corrupted. As Theresa’s sister Katherine, Weld is a bundle of nerves, packing into her short screen time a bisexual orgy, a divorce, a lot of alcohol, and two abortions. She’s a mess, but she’s the only one who loves the doomed Theresa unconditionally. For her performance, Weld was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Vanessa Redgrave.
Re-established as a bankable star, Weld’s next project was the excellent, underrated 1978 thriller Who’ll Stop the Rain, about the moral consequences of the Vietnam War in America. Marge is a pill-popping suburban mother, swept into a heroin-smuggling scheme by her husband stationed in Vietnam. She suddenly finds herself on the run from thugs with her husband’s friend, macho survivalist Hicks (Nick Nolte). Weld underplays Marge’s terror with constant, subtle tension in her face and movements that only eases when the character dips into their heroin stash, at which point the actress becomes unnervingly languid and sensual. Weld walks a fine line and makes Marge’s actions understandable, even when they’re not sympathetic.
Weld went on to give some good supporting performances in the next few years as wives and girlfriends, most notably in Michael Mann’s 1981 neo-noir Thief, starring James Caan as Frank, a career criminal, and Weld as his fiancée, his one hope for a normal future. The 15-minute scene between Weld and Caan in a late-night diner is a marvel of acting, sound design, and editing; Caan has described it as his favorite scene of his career.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984) was Weld’s last hurrah, and she gives a daring performance in Sergio Leone’s career-capping, four-hour-long gangster epic. Fittingly, Weld’s role takes the sex and violence associated with her former roles to its furthest logical conclusion. She plays Carol, a bank teller who encourages a gangster, Noodles (Robert De Niro), to rape her during a robbery, and later becomes the mistress of his brother, Max (James Woods), luxuriating in violent, degrading sex. This part could easily have been repellent, but Weld turns the small role into a Story of O, letting us see the emotion behind Carol’s masochism. The film was cut to ribbons upon its U.S. release and was only recognized as a masterpiece years later, when the director’s cut was released. Critic Vincent Canby noted that “Only Miss Weld’s performance seems to survive the chaos of the editing,” and she was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actress.
It’s hard to look at Tuesday Weld’s career without feeling a tiny pang of regret for what could have been. According to Foster Hirsch, Arthur Penn, until the day he died, regretted not getting her for Bonnie and Clyde, despite the film’s legendary status. But Weld rejected mainstream stardom, instead choosing a thornier, more individual path. In the process, she created one of the most adventurous and rewarding bodies of work of any Hollywood actor of her era. “I may be self-destructive, but I like taking chances with movies,” she said in a ’71 New York Times interview. “I like challenges…I think the Tuesday Weld cult is a very nice thing.”
Louis Jordan is a journalism student at the New School in New York City. His articles have previously been featured in The Daily Beast and New York Press. He is currently working on a biography of Tuesday Weld.
2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions
How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.
How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.
There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.
Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.
Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.
Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.
Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.
Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)
The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.
Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.
It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.
Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch
There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.
“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.
The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”
Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.
There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”
The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.
The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.
There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”
And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.
In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.
This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”
John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.
Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins
9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution
At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani
8. Game Review: Far Cry 5
With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark
7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked
It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
6. Film Review: Aquaman
The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown
5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife
4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War
What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich
3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis
2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson
1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife