1. “The Real Knick.” Richard Brody on S. Josephine Baker’s 1939 biography Fighting for Life
“The mortal intricacies of the surgical theatre and the laboratory work on which it depends are the centerpiece of Steven Soderbergh’s TV series The Knick, set in a downtown Manhattan hospital in 1900. Soderbergh (who does his own camera work) films it thrillingly, but his greatest inspirations unfold the details—intellectual and physical, analytical and gory—of medical practice. Closely bound to the show’s unstinting view of scientific progress is the bureaucratic wrangling—in effect, the backstage business—that makes stunning medical productions possible. Clearly, Soderbergh and the screenwriters, Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, and Steven Katz, did their historical research. But, for a real-life, Knick-like account of the grim spectrum of sickness in turn-of-the-century New York that pierces the screen of dramatic artifice and shows the sort of visionary practicality that it took to change things, there’s a very worthwhile read: Fighting for Life, the 1939 autobiography by S. Josephine Baker (1873-1945), which was reissued last year by New York Review of Books Classics.”
2. “The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far.” Pitchfork’s not-too-shabby list follows closely on the heels of their earlier 200 Best Tracks of the Decade So Far.
“It’s been an interesting decade for the album. As the 2000s ended, conventional wisdom suggested that the album was on its way out, that the future would all be individual tracks and playlists. And while there’s still a certain inevitability to the notion—the way we experience recorded music has never been fixed, after all—you get the feeling that it’s going to take a while. The first five years of this decade saw artists playing around with what an album could be—surprise releases, wholes assembled from trickles of fragments, free downloads—but the idea of the single-artist-driven listening experience that lasts between 30 and 90 minutes still has some life in it yet. These 100 records offer a convincing argument.”
3. “Kings of Their Very Own Genres” J. Hoberman on the Herzog: The Collection and Twin Peaks Blu-ray boxes.
“Mr. Lynch never shot a movie in the Amazon or the Sahara, but with Twin Peaks, made in collaboration with Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues), he produced one of the strangest dramatic series ever shown on network TV. No less explicable was the national craze the show inspired during its eight-episode first season. I vividly remember taking my daughter to a sixth grade Twin Peaks-theme birthday party. Revisited 24 years later, the phantasmagoric investigation into the murder of the high school homecoming queen Laura Palmer and the twisted normality of the her hometown suggests a mutant version of the 1980s super soaps Dallas and Dynasty. Nestled in the deep forest of the Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks was a seething realm of sinister doings, inhabited by a variety of outlandish and outlandishly ordinary characters, not least the straight-arrow F.B.I. agent (Kyle MacLachlan) assigned to the case.”
4. “The Miracle of Love Streams.” Durga Chew-Bose says that the last true John Cassavetes film rests on two tenets: that every beautiful woman has a secret, and that love is the act of not knowing.
“Even to those inured to volatility, the couple’s two-week fight might seem ridiculous, but for those especially versed in their films, the anecdote echoes Cassavetes’ affinity for off-the-chart emotions coaxed by dramatic yet soulful beats—that immoderate timbre which ultimately distinguished him as a director who found levity in living through everyday burdens. It’s easy to imagine him storming out while a baffled Rowlands bitterly slams on the keys—she’s wearing big-framed sunglasses, her smile is sweet. After all, Cassavetes’ characters are always coming and going without ever staying away. They arrive unannounced, only to flee seconds later. They run out the door and tumble down stairs, bruised and boozy. They kick people out from parked cars. In Cassavetes’ world, having a good time can feel belligerently lonely, marriage can deliver you to your brink, and falling in love is unplanned by nature and sometimes quite hostile by virtue. Indeed, it’s very possible that what Rowlands felt was volatile in their relationship, Cassavetes perceived—and praised—as vulnerable, a word he used frequently in interviews (’We don’t take the time to be vulnerable with each other,’ he’d say). An alloy of his ’vulnerable’ and her ’volatile’ is at the base of every Cassavetes film.”
5. “Noah Berlatsky on On The Wire.” Building a Better Panopticon.
“[David] Simon’s achievement on The Wire, therefore, is not that he has created a tragedy, but that he has created an especially intricate and complicated melodrama. The Wire does not aristocratically call for an acceptance of the war on drugs or racism as inevitabilities to which its characters must resign themselves. Rather, it demands moral commitment and social transformation even as it demonstrates the power and intractability of institutional barriers to change. Bunny Colvin’s efforts to legalize drugs are stymied by the policing and political system as surely as Stringer Bell’s efforts to move out of drugs and into legitimate business are stymied by insurmountable barriers of class. (’They saw your ghetto ass coming from miles away,’ as Avon tells him.) The liberal, democratic possibility of individual effort and public transformation is everywhere blocked by neoliberalism, which ’so strictly adheres to the operation of a ’free market’ that only the few, already wealthy, already educated, and mostly white have real opportunity,’ according to Williams.”
Video of the Day: The video for Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda:
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