Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Two Westerns


Western (Germany 2017) d. Valeska Grisebach

A team of German workers travel to Bulgaria to build a dam. One of them, Meinhard, becomes interested in the people who live in the nearby village. The tensions between these two groups sharpen even as Meinhard’s relationships extend and deepen. This film has been billed as a thriller, though its pace is so deliberate that any “thrills” play out virtually in slow motion. Grisebach, the director, has said that she was raised on a steady cinematic diet of US American westerns as a child in West Germany and that she saw this film as an opportunity to explore homosocial forms of masculinity. The denouement defies expectation.

Sweet Country (Australia 2017) d. Warwick Thornton

The Australian and US American frontiers share both sublime terrain and a history of racist violence. Sweet Country dramatizes the paradoxes of settler colonialism and white supremacy, in particular the unavoidable dialectic of contempt and intimacy both of those power structures depend upon and produce. If the Crown’s law can distinguish between murder and self-defense, the passions ruling white colonists will never permit such a distinction. The darkest aspects of frontier life— particularly the antagonisms between sacred and profane, savage and civilized— are vividly rendered here with artful camera work.  


Here are some of the books I read and films I watched in Fall when I probably should have been doing other things:


Theodore Dreiser, The Titan

The second volume of Dreiser’s Trilogy of Desire. Frank Cowperwood, fresh from the Pennsylvania penitentiary, begins a new life in Chicago with his second wife.

William McIlvaney, The Papers of Tony Veitch

Another second novel in a trilogy. McIlvaney’s Glasgow is harder than either Chandler’s L.A. or Hammett’s San Francisco.

Horacio Castellanos Moya, Dance With Snakes

A surreal critique of post-Civil War El Salvador.

Ling Ma, Severance

While not as dire as The Road or Last Man Standing, this post-apocalyptic novel troubles the banalities of consumer capitalism.

China Mieville, This Census Taker

Reminiscent of Coetzee’s best work, this novel resists specificity to such a degree that it resembles an allegory.

Jeff Vandermeer, Borne

By the author of Annihilation. If David Cronenberg is the master of body horror, Vandermeer pulls focus to the environment itself.


The Shape of Water

A beautiful companion to Creature From the Black Lagoon.

You Were Never Really Here

Possibly Lynne Ramsay’s most powerful film.

I, Tonya

I loved this in part because I remember the events it describes.


What happens when your framework for interpreting reality fails?


Malcolm McDowell’s first feature. A story of youth revolution.

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Ossie Davis directed this adaptation of Chester Himes’s hard-boiled novel.

The Fall of Berlin

Unapologetically Stalinist!

Young Karl Marx

KM was a punk avant le lettre.


Shock Corridor for the Aughts.


At the core of any effort to contemplate Youth Subculture.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

The most revisionist Western. James Coburn has a serpentine charm.


A spare, beautiful film that cuts to the frozen heart of capital.