Here are some of the books and films I completed during the semester when I could have been doing other things.
Will Self, My Idea of Fun
I consulted a thesaurus multiple times in order to read this black comic, postmodern satire of finance capitalism.
JG Ballard, Cocaine Nights
There’s not enough cocaine in this novel, though it represents another chapter in Ballard’s study of a vacuous end-of-century bourgeoisie searching for meaning through cheap kicks and violence.
Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin
Balzac’s most gothic novel. A young man on the verge of suicide stumbles into a curiosity shop and claims an artifact reputed to possess the devastating power of granting wishes.
Tony Wood, Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War
One of the major defects of the present US mediascape is that many journalists appear to be staggeringly ignorant of history and have thus become the often unwitting purveyors of a narrow, reactionary version of global politics. This book could be the beginning of a remedy to that.
George Sanders, Memoirs of a Professional Cad
George Sanders was the most charmingly unctuous of all screen villains, at least from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood. Surely this book could be much more explicit, but it features both juicy gossip and hard-fought contrarianism in equal parts.
Mia Wasikowska plays a self-abusive prostitute who has the misfortune to be hired by a man who is deluded into thinking that he must murder someone so that he does not kill his own infant son. Contains actual piercing.
The Happy Prince
Rupert Everett took what could have been a relentlessly depressing story– the inexorable decline of Oscar Wilde after his release from prison– and dramatized that author’s enduring perspicacity and charm.
I was prepared to hate this exceptional remake of Argento’s 1977 story of a coven of witches. Tilda Swinton’s exotic malevolence, even Dakota Johnson’s fully-committed dance performances, the evocation of the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Brigades: these are all reasons to spend 2 and 1/2 hours watching.
The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard made a western! John C. Reilly digs deep as the elder Sisters sibling while Joaquin Phoenix gets to play the damaged, violent younger brother. Jake Gyllenhall’s character speaks in complete sentences like the protagonist of a 19th century novel.
A distinctive if not entirely coherent addition to the Western-Horror subgenre. I actually closed my eyes during one of the more sanguinary scenes in this film.
Can’t wait to read the novel Lucrecia Martel based her film on. As with any good dramatization of colonialism, absurdity and brutality are conjoined.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer/ The Lobster
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. The latter is a comedy while the former is definitely not. The principle of Brecht’s “alienation effect” seems to be operative here, which allowed me to gain a new appreciation of Colin Farrell.
Mandy/ Beyond the Black Rainbow
Panos Cosmatos isn’t concerned so much with plot as he is with conjuring the queasy, bad acid vibe of the Reagan 80s with a panoply of cultural references drawn from comics, heavy metal, and modern folklore. The mise-en-scène in both of these films, particularly the use of color, cannot be ignored.
Abel Ferrara’s jumbled nightmare of addiction and lost memory stars Matthew Modine.
Super freaky. The most gothic of all institutions is the family. Images from this film still burrow in my head.