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Grappling with Intellectual Disability Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

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Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories
Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read is that rare book that manages to speak to its specialized academic audience while imagining and addressing a much broader readership. Bérubé, who’s the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, has crafted an accessible, if still rigorous, study of the way fiction grapples with intellectual disability.

“Representations of disability are ubiquitous,” he states in his opening sentence, “far more prevalent and pervasive than (almost) anybody realizes.” Take Disney’s Dumbo: You maybe wouldn’t use the language of disability to describe the oversized ears of the titular elephant, but at the heart of the 1941 film is a message about overcoming—embracing even—one’s differences in order to succeed. By the end of Bérubé’s book, you’re likely to start spotting the way disability is often used as a trope in films as diverse as Minority Report, Total Recall, and Mad Max: Fury Road. But Bérubé wants to push us further than merely understanding the ubiquity of disability in pop culture. This is especially important as disability (both physical and intellectual) is often used as a metaphor or character trait in popular art, significant only in the way it teaches us something about a story or a character with rarely any nuance with regard to the disability itself.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Rob Humanick’s Top 10 Films of All Time

To choose only 10 films for this list was a task at once simple and impossible. Had I been given enough time to watch every film ever made, then allowed several decades to narrow down my choices, I would have still bemoaned this challenge. By the time this is published, I’ll have changed my mind. Held at gunpoint, however, the results would probably look something like this, and for my purposes here, know that the difference between “best” and “favorite” is immaterial. Every one of these represents not only a peak of the art form, but an experience I wonder whether I could truly live without. With apologies to Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg, F.W. Murnau, Nicholas Ray, Fritz Lang, Abel Gance, Werner Herzog, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick, Chuck Jones, Ridley Scott, George A. Romero, and the 1930s, among others.

15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

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15 Famous Movie Blackbirds
15 Famous Movie Blackbirds

In what’s unfortunately one of the lesser films about a literary great, John Cusack wields a quill and a gun as The Raven’s Edgar Allen Poe, a legend who would’ve skewered this thriller in one of his sharp-tongued newsprint critiques. What’s perhaps best about the movie is the eerie mood that’s established, a mood symbolized by the titular winged creature. Blackbirds have been harbingers of doom in many a dark tale, and otherwise added spooky style to countless filmic palettes. Even in lighter fare, they point to something sinister, be it imminent attack, loneliness, or even racism.

Suspended Cirque’s Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale at the Connelly Theater

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Suspended Cirque’s <em>Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale</em> at the Connelly Theater
Suspended Cirque’s <em>Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale</em> at the Connelly Theater

Developed from their earlier Urbanopolis, which ran at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, Subterranea: An Urban Fairytale is the latest production from underappreciated aerial troupe extraordinaire Suspended Cirque. Opening with Joshua Dean’s futuristic hobo Pan making small, uh, “talk” (Pan uses nonsense-speak) with the incoming audience, Subterranea can best be described as Dr. Seuss gone cyber. As a synthesized voice welcomes us to our visit to this strange land, Pan helpfully pantomimes the consequences of cellphone use and photography during the performance before the curtains part to reveal three amorphous bundles dangling in midair. Bathed in red lighting against the blackness of the stage, chandeliers crafted from empty, upside-down water bottles hanging from hoops come into focus. As the purple fabric begins to writhe, the cocoons conjure up an Alien creepiness. After slowly unfolding from their aerial wombs, which morph into sturdy strips, a trio of gothic female extraterrestrials (the troupe’s tall blonds Angela Jones and Kristin Olness as Prima and Hecate, and its petite brunette Michelle Dortignac as Echo) perform an alluring modern dance in midair. They’re trying to entice our protagonist, The Man, played by Suspended Cirque’s lanky vaudevillian straight man Ben Franklin, who has just descended—via a white fabric strip—into their dark underworld.

Imitation of Life: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

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Imitation of Life: <em>The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church</em>
Imitation of Life: <em>The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church</em>

“What are you writing there? Are you reviewing? You’re a bit late!” Daniel Kitson teased a young man seated in the audience scribbling away at the January 16th matinee of The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, Kitson’s one-man show that opened at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO 10 days earlier as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. (For the record, this mile-a-minute monologue that made audiences swoon at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival plays through the end of the month, having outrun the UTR festival. And also for the record, this critic has a good excuse for tardiness, having just arrived back in NYC from Europe.) “You review away,” the bearded and bubbly, disarmingly charming standup comedian and actor continued. “But the critics have spoken. And it’s a hit!”