June 2018 Culture Recap

Ugh - I'm already missing deadlines! I'm sorry to say the beginning of July has been non-stop and I've had so much to write about here and I just haven't had a chance to get to it. What a month - June seemed like it was never going to end and I think I racked up a record amount of cultural intake. Books, podcasts, articles, shows...my mind has been running hot, so July might need to move a little more slowly. But here goes!

TV & Film:

Masterpiece is sort of my Sunday night treat (because I'm that nerdy...) Although I told a friend recently that I usually watched Masterpiece and she thought I was super-charming by the admission. Speaking of charming, I really enjoyed the reboot of Little Women that was recently produced and shown on PBS's Masterpiece lineup. Emily Watson as Marmie was just lovely, and it was so fun to see Angela Lansbury as Aunt March - she was perfection. But, Maya Hawke as Jo March was a discovery. I can’t decide if I love her or if I’m annoyed by her, but she was good casting. I kept looking at her face and listening to her voice and I was thinking “why do I know her?”, and it’s because she’s Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter. She looks EXACTLY like a young Uma, and has clearly taken on her mother’s speech patterns and gestures, which sometimes feel a little less-than-natural (even on Uma). But overall, the series holds up and it’s beautifully done.

I read Picnic at Hanging Rock last year after Penguin sent me an advance copy of the newest edition and I really enjoyed it. I had already seen the film from the 1970s as it’s known to be a stylistic touchstone for Sofia Coppola, especially when considering her treatment of The Virgin Suicides and The Beguiled. The latest version (on Amazon Prime) with Natalie Dormer as Mrs. Appleyard definitely follows the original with dreamy, gauzy cinematography, but there are plenty of differences. I think one of the most compelling aspects of the original book and film is that there are so many unanswered questions, specifically about the origins of Mrs. Appleyard. This new reboot seeks to create that character’s backstory which not only felt contrived but also didn’t serve the character well. Mrs. Appleyard is stern and creepy, and in this version she becomes somewhat sympathetic, which feels like a cop-out. Thankfully we never find out what actually happens to the missing girls, and I’m glad they didn’t attempt to solve that riddle. There are also a lot of heavy-handed hints at homosexual relationships which are not at all in the original text, although you could certainly extrapolate them if you tried hard enough. Here they are handed to you quite clearly whereas the original leaves it up to you to decide. It’s all fine, and looks beautiful, but I think they stumbled in the re-write a bit.

I watch a lot of BBC America and after seeing a lot of teasers for Killing Eve, I finally surrendered and binge-watched the entire series. Weird, funny, and very dark, this show is a 21st-Century take on a classic Cold War spy-versus-spy story, and with really wild and entertaining results. I don’t want to say too much, except that watching it won’t be a waste of time and I’m excited to know that based on the ending there will be a season 2…and, as of today, Sandra Oh has been nominated for an Emmy for her leading role as Eve!

As a palate-cleanser (hee), I found Netflix’s series Lords and Ladles to be highly entertaining. Food on a grand scale coupled with gorgeous old Irish castles and manor houses and all of the history that goes with them? Sign me up. The premise is that three modern-day chefs in Ireland go off to a different manor house each episode and effectively draw straws to determine who will cook a dinner based on menus and recipes from the manor’s archives. Since the menus and recipes date back almost 200 years in some cases, you can imagine the weird things that come up. Beef palates anyone? The meals are mostly served a la française, meaning a ton of dishes arrive at the table and they can range from savory to sweet all at once. This creates drama in the kitchen and intimidates the dinner party guests in a really delightful way. Sure it’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun and the Irish houses look utterly gorgeous.

I finally got to two 2017 Oscar winners (I know, I know): Lady Bird (I know, I know) and Phantom Thread. Both, I’m sad to say, didn’t thrill me much. I enjoyed both of them and appreciate them for what they did, especially Greta Gerwig’s script for Lady Bird, but overall I was left feeling rather meh about both. Phantom Thread was a very strange film which will no doubt be categorized as a “fashion” film going forward, and while I appreciate P.T. Anderson and what he was exploring here, I felt that he missed a lot of details of the industry and they type of man Reynolds Woodcock would truly be, and instead made him sort of a glossy, clichéd character with very little depth. The ending comes off as sort of a big inside joke which for me, fell flat. Beautiful? Sure. Would I watch it again? Probably not.

Okay, call me a dork but I’m really excited for the reboot of A Star is Born that’s due to come out in October. (The trailer was released in June and I’ve watched it many times already.) A Star is Born has such a time-honored history in Hollywood, being made three times already: 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason (which should have netted Garland with a much-deserved best actress Oscar, but didn’t), and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson (screenplay by Joan Didion & John Gregory Dunne). In that tradition, I think the casting of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper is a refreshing pairing (obviously more in line with the 1976 version of the script), and I think we will see some fantastic performances from both.

Also in the short-form category, I am OBSESSED with the video for Beyoncé and Jay Z’s (ahem, The Carters') Apeshit. Where to even begin here? I think it’s clear that they are asserting themselves in the pantheon of great art quite literally, and it completely works. Filmed in the Louvre with lots of focus on certain works of art, especially “La Gioconda” by Leonardo da Vinci, the “Nike of Samothrace” and “The Coronation of Napoleon” by Ingres, not only as mise-en-scene but also as detailed close-ups, this video is like nothing we’ve seen in this modern era of music videos. It’s provocative, beautiful, unsettling, and completely fresh in the greater genre. This is a big yes.

Podcasts & Articles, Etc:

I started listening to a fun podcast called Unspooled, in which an actor and a film critic re-screen and discuss the AFI’s Top 100 films (from the 2007 list), and then discuss them. It’s given me some really interesting morsels to think over, especially in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I’m definitely along for the ride with this one. The pick the order of films randomly, which also keeps things interesting…

Like many people I have been following the story of Anna Delvey from Jessica Pressler's article on New York Magazine’s blog The Cut, as well as the article by former Delvey acolyte and ultimate mark Rachel DeLoache Williams in Vanity Fair. I find this story completely fascinating in that it so easily happened in a world where mistaken identity on this scale would be really difficult to pull off given our societal penchant for digging for people’s backstories via the internet. How do you fake a life in such a big way? Is it a case of fake it till you make it, or blatant fraud? I’m hooked… And now there are rumors of a film...

The New York Times article “How Marc Jacobs Fell Out of Fashion” by Steven Kurutz from June 2nd really disturbed and alarmed me, to the point where I was still thinking it over a few days later. As someone who was hired at Louis Vuitton corporate in 2002 when Marc Jacobs really could do no wrong in the worlds of fashion and culture, the narrative of this article was tough to swallow. How does one go from being the nexus of culture for essentially two decades, to admitting that he simply “doesn’t get it [culture]”, especially concerning social media. (Given his background, I should have thought that Marc Jacobs’ visual language would be a natural fit for social media. I don’t get how he doesn’t get it.) The alarming commentary quoted from LVMH head Bernard Arnault didn’t help; as someone who worked for LVMH brands for over 8 years I know that any poor financial performance is kept very closely guarded. (In fact, in slow years they will make the accountants work every magic they can so they can say “we’re flat to last year” in their reporting. At LVMH, there is never, ever a “poor performance”.) I was at the Marc by Marc Jacobs store opening on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, and even chatted briefly with Patrick Duffy, Marc Jacobs’ long-time business partner, who was working the door himself at the opening. The whole spirit of the MxMJ brand was delightful, playful, and fun, while still offering a touch of aspirational high fashion and really cute kitty ballet flats. When they shuttered those stores in 2015 in order to focus on the main Marc Jacobs brand, I had a premonition that they’d just killed the golden goose. Now things seem even worse… Marc Jacobs seems listless and uninspired, and Duffy and Jacobs apparently haven’t spoken in months. It all feels very very wrong to me and deeply unfortunate. I haven’t always loved Marc Jacobs, but I’ve always respected his place as a creator of culture and influence and I am certainly unsettled by this state of affairs.

Some other posts about Marc Jacobs from the archive...:


And now the books...It was a record month for me, finishing four books and a play.

The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz - An entertaining but rather long redux of an Agatha Christie-type whodunit with a somewhat disappointing ending. I’m not sure why people are so into this book. Yes, it’s clever, but I soon forgot all about it after finishing it. Maybe that’s the point?

Transatlantic by Colum McCann - Ugh ugh ugh. Colum McCann writes with so much heart-rending beauty that it gets difficult to read. Every word and phrase is so precisely chosen and put together that you almost need to chew on the words. This story is a beautiful take on the Irish diaspora, but it is very intense in places and a little flat in others. Beautifully done, but it was a lot of work to get through it.

Still Lives by Maria Hummel - My Book of the Month for June and it was a really fun, fast read. A mix of true crime, a whodunit, high art and the world of a modern museum all in one. Again, an ending that felt a little rushed to me but I think that’s because they wanted to squeeze out a sequel.

The Sisters: The Saga of The Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell - I’ve read Nancy Mitford’s books Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love, and I’ve also read Decca Mitford’s memoir Hons and Rebels, but I’ve never had a full picture of the entire family so I’m glad I read this biography. It’s exhaustive - almost 550 pages - but very interesting, even tragic. It’s difficult to determine which of the Mitfords to root for since they’re all so deeply flawed (and even a little terrible all around), and there are so many different political philosophies between them that it’s difficult to keep up. It’s amazing to me that most of them made it through World War II, (although with many setbacks and personal traumas), only to have ongoing feuds between them that lasted decades. I dug out archival recordings of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs that featured Diana Mitford Guinness Mosley, and Jessica Mitford, and while I really wanted to love Diana and dislike Jessica, the opposite came true. Diana was a bit of a Hitler fangirl in the 1930s along with her sister Unity, and she ultimately married Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the fascist party in Britain. In her interview she essentially denied the Holocaust and talked about how fascinating Hitler was in person. (Oy vey!) Jessica Mitford, by contrast a life-long communist, was exceptionally sharp, witty, and down-to-earth, with a deep rich voice that was clear and vibrant. (Diana’s voice was rather lispy and soft.) Jessica “Decca” spent most of her adult years living in Oakland, CA where she wrote her books and sometimes taught at local colleges. It was definitely an interesting and worthwhile deep dive into the Mitfords - now if only Netflix would do a proper biopic!

The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan - The 1940 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, The Time of Your Life is a fun, heartfelt play that takes place in a dive bar in San Francisco. How I had never heard of nor read this play is beyond me! Like most plays it would be better to see it performed, but it was a great glimpse of old San Francisco.

Like I said, it was a big month, but I've already slowed down for July, so I think next month will be far more manageable! Have a great month everyone!