ten things: january 2019

Mary Oliver by Angel Valentin for The New York Times

Mary Oliver by Angel Valentin for The New York Times

Trying a simpler format for my monthly recommendations, which used to be a routine post on this blog that I ended up giving up on (this is a theme with a lot of things in my life, be it television shows, long novels or relationships. Working on it with my therapist).

Anywho, January has been a fruitful time for me. My Whole30 clean slate diet (we don’t have to go into it) has allowed me some clarity of thinking that had hitherto been obscured from me for some while. That, paired with a LOT of time at home (for cooking purposes) gave me some room to really explore various interests. Here are some things I liked:

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001, d. David Lynch) & Paprika (2006, d. Satoshi Kon): Two films I saw for the first time that both explore the inherent power of narrative, and just how our consciousness and illusions are dangerously malleable. As I dive into what I expect to be a year-long study of the way that images shape our understanding of reality (stemming from a growing antipathy towards Instagram and screens in general), these were both sort of random, perfect starting engines for that exploration.

  2. Michael Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune (and one of my favorites to read), curated this series on film music for WFMT Radio called The Film Score. Phillips has a vast history of classic and contemporary Hollywood, and his fervor for music shows with these gorgeous picks. I was surprised to learn of some new names and stunning compositions, namely Dimitri Tiomkin, who’s suite from The Big Sky had me close to tears, for a reason probably best left unexamined.

  3. I’ve already written a whole post about this, but Ethan Hawke’s interview on Little Gold Men is not to be missed.

  4. I went to the Whitney’s fabulous Andy Warhol retrospective, From A to B and Back Again, and found the entire experience to be altogether transformative. I beg you to try and visit it if you are in NYC. Reading this Jerry Saltz piece will enhance your visit tenfold.

  5. My book club read Lisa Halliday’s remarkable Asymmetry this month. This book was exciting to talk about, as Halliday deftly questions whether anyone can be the sole proprietor of a story and navigates the ways that fiction can and cannot transcend barriers between different groups of people.

  6. The Oscar nominations came out, and a lot of them are pretty lame in my opinion. But one I am very happy about is Nicholas Brittell’s fantastic score for If Beale Street Could Talk, which I have basically had on repeat as reading/studying music for a solid week and a half.

  7. Another positive from Oscar-nomination morning: this delightful reaction video from Richard E. Grant (who gives maybe my favorite performance this year, by any actor in any film).

  8. I got a record player for Christmas and can’t think of a better artist to christen it than Blossom Dearie.

  9. I started a Yale Open Course on Theory of Literature, taught by Professor Paul H. Fry. It is challenging and engrossing, just what I needed. I was delighted to see the very first session concern a 1969 essay called “What is an Author?” by Michel Foucault, having just watched Lindsay Ellis’s brilliant video essay on the topic (her examples of J.K. Rowling and John Green bring the debate into the uber-present).

  10. RIP Mary Oliver. Poet of the world. Thank you for your immeasurable gifts.

Besides that, here some other awesome things I enjoyed: descending into a Lee Isreal rabbit hole (reading her book Can You Ever Forgive Me?, re-watching Marielle Heller’s fantastic film version, diving into more Dorothy Parker). Reconnecting with Nora Ephron, my hero. Being onstage for Brittney Johnson’s historic debut as the first actress of color to play Glinda on Broadway. Minorly obsessing over marginalia (the scribbling folks like me like to do with our books) and the way we can communicate with the past. Guffawing at this tweet. Performing in aWicked boy band. Saying goodbye to Carol Channing.

As a wrap-up, here are some fun, gay tweets.

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ethan hawke is my hero

One of my routine podcasts, Little Gold Men, released this interview with Ethan Hawke, in town for his Broadway run of Sam Shepard’s True West, and still promoting his somehow overlooked First Reformed, the Paul Schrader film now streaming on Amazon Prime. Hawke is slowly, but clearly, becoming a hero of mine. His interview last year on Filmspotting highlighted his clarity of artistic thought and his frankness about the industry and his place in it was totally mind opening. This one is no less so.

Despite a dubious headline…

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the interview is a refresher of Hawke’s brilliance when it comes to discussing his craft and his dismay with the business (and perhaps the culture at large that upholds it as well). Gathering some of my favorite sections for posterity.

On spirituality in the movies

…spiritual life is something that is incredibly hard to dramatize. It always has been. You can make movies about a lot of things, but an inner life—what are the inner machinations of my soul that lead me to a certain belief system?—is something very. . .it’s just not drama. It’s made for literature. . . but for movies, it’s very, very hard. Bergman has some great ones, you know, but as an actor, it has to live in the writing. . .

ON RECESSIVE PERFORMANCES

. . .the DNA of the project is such where I immerse you in my journals and an inner thought. And if you’re paying attention, you start to realize that he’s no longer making sense. He tells you things that start not being true, and you start to be inside his psyche. When I first met Paul, he asked me if I knew what a recessive performance was, and I did. 

Hawke begins to detail what he means by that but gets distracted by one of his side tangents. The idea of the recessive is perhaps best described as the opposite of excessive (or in genetic language, the dominant). In simple terms, it is the understated performance that is prevalent now, writer and professor Shonni Enelow suggests, because of tenants of inner turmoil, anxious reserve and depressive seclusion reflected from a modern world of violating surveillance and a culture of performance. More on that to come.

On the meditation film

There’s a different kind of cinema that is inviting you and your creativity to join the movie—that’s Diary of a Country Priest, Winter Light, a lot of movies in the 50s where there was an intersection between literature and film, and film wasn’t such complete big business, and people feel like the job of a movie is to entertain you. Fanny and Alexander’s job isn’t to wow you. Its job is somewhere similar to what Anna Karenina’s job is: it’s inviting you, it is entertaining you, but it’s also asking you to join it. That’s what Paul wanted to do. A recessive performance doesn’t try to juggle and tell you jokes, and cry, and take out your sword and do swashbuckling tricks. It’s inviting you to participate in a dialogue with me. The challenge is more like a guided-meditation challenge.

On acting

People think acting is about memorizing lines and things like that, or they think it’s about a celebration of personality like, “Whoa, isn’t that person amazing?” Really, at it’s finest, it’s void of that. It’s the complete loss of personality in service of a larger story. 

This stopped me in my tracks when I listened to it. He is completely right. One of the valuable things I learned from my time studying at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago was an obvious one: it’s not about you. Taking yourself out of it to serve the larger work. It’s a spiritual thing, really. Working with an ensemble, collaborating. That’s what it’s about. I feel too often that my peers, especially in New York, value the bells-and-whistle performances, and end up emulating that. I succumb to that instinct too. My inclination for showboating and hamming it up is something I still have to temper. Stopping myself from trying to please and be adored (hello, ego!) and really dig into who the person is, what the story is. It can be a real challenge, especially in a results-driven (aka money) theatrical environment, which New York can be.

Once you start realizing that the essence of you is quite fantastically malleable, it’s almost some kind of spiritual question, because what is the essence of you that is not malleable? That’s the next question. Then, you get into acting—and how you can wear these different clothes and how you could have a different past and still be you. If you had different heartbreaks, how would that inform the way you speak? You start realizing that acting isn’t about memorizing lines—it’s about the movement of energy. 

Acting as A life’s work

My daughter is studying acting. She just left Juilliard, and she’s 20 years old and she’s really into it. She keeps asking me questions about this job versus this job and this job. The real jump is when you start not going job to job, meaning that there’s a connection between all the jobs, and that your life as a performer has a continuity to it.

The dream, isn’t it? Why do I have a steady job and still feel like I’m constantly hustling? To be in the place of access and privilege where you can start seeing roles and jobs as part of a larger body of work, that is where I want to start heading.

Acting as meditation, acting through relaxation

It’s a guided meditation—that’s where I’m going with this, where you relax, and focus on imagination, concentration, relaxation. You are entering, hopefully, some subconscious state where you’re, I, the actor, am also being played. We are being played together. I am the focal point, but that’s really it—in a meaningful performance, it’s a shared experience, because it’s not just about me dictating something. I don’t have an agenda with the audience. People say, “What do you want people to take away from this movie?” I've already lost by the question. What I really want is for you to have an experience that is your own.

Capitalism as a paradigm of culture

We live in a country that celebrates the accumulation of wealth. If a movie made a lot of money, it’s a good movie. Right? If a crack dealer makes a lot of money, he’s a good crack dealer. If you really prioritize, and the whole culture deifies and celebrates things that make a lot of money, you would be amazed if you do it for long enough who might get elected president. You see what I’m saying?

I have thought about this a lot. I have been lucky enough to gravitate towards friends and colleagues who aren’t afraid of challenging art, who still read books (real ones!), who watch plays and are as interested in the past as they are the future. This is my bubble, and it’s not limited to my immediate surroundings, but with the constant distraction and barrage of information and stimulation, I do worry that, if we don’t protect it, the interesting stuff will all dissolve away, for the public appetite is entirely for empty calorie movies and theater. Even looking at some of the Broadway line-up…it’s just depressing. That’s why I try and champion denser, richer works of film and theater. God, I sound like a pompous asshole, don’t I?

I grew up on comic books. I have four kids; I've seen all the comic-book movies. My problem is not with the movies. My problem is with the culture that now is hero-worshiping the money they’re making. That’s really what I’m talking about, because right now—look, if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest came out today, it would not be a studio release. We are not celebrating and challenging young people to watch difficult, incendiary, participate in—whether it’s literature, art, music. 

Another reminder to breathe, think, slow down and engage. Reminds me of Anne Bogart’s essay on “Arrest”…artistic experiences that really envelop us, change us, open our hearts and minds to new roads of empathy and radical thought. First, though, we have to listen and receive.

On #metoo

I think one of my heroes, Jack O’Brien, who’s a theater director . . . I was interviewing him for a bunch of young directors, young theater students—this is 10 years ago. The first question: some kid raises his hand and says, “Hey, Mr. O’Brien. What do you think is the most important thing about being a director?” He said, “Lack of sexual misconduct”. . . He said, “If you’re going to create a safe place for creativity, and people are going to understand why she gets chosen to be in the light and not her, and why this one gets the big part, and why this one doesn’t, and why this person gets to sing the final song, there needs to be some actual leadership.” Actual leadership means that you are prioritizing content of character, work ethic—things that we can root our self-esteem in, and not that you’re cuter or you kissed me backstage. Once you start that kind of behavior, the whole machine breaks down, and there’s a lack of leadership.

On acting for stage vs film

It’s a little bit like doing an album in a studio and doing a concert at Madison Square Garden. I mean, it’s the same muscles, but it’s just a much heightened, more disciplined exercise.

123 Things I Loved in 2017

BOOKS:

1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

2. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

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3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

4. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

6. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

7. My Life in France by Julia Child

8. The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

9. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

10. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

CINEMA

*first time watches, released before 2017. Top Ten of 2017 coming when I feel like I've seen all the crap I need to see*

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11. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, d. Sidney Lumet)

12. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, d. Woody Allen)

13. The Conversation (1974, d. Francis Ford Coppola)

14. King Kong (1933, d. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack)

15. The Lady Vanishes (1938, d. Alfred Hitchcock)

16. Duck Soup (1933, d. Leo McCarey)

17. Goodfellas (1990, d. Martin Scorsese)

18. Modern Times (1936, d. Charlie Chaplin)

19. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, d. David Lynch)

20. Blade Runner (1982, d. Ridley Scott)

Enlightening Re-Watches:

21. The Graduate (1967, d. Mike Nichols)

22. Before Sunrise (1995, d. Richard Linklater)

23. Little Women (1994, d. Gillian Armstrong)

24. North by Northwest (1959, d. Alfred Hitchcock)

25. Favorite 2017 movie theater experience: going with my squeamish best friends to Get Out with a packed crowd at the AMC in Times Square.

TELEVISION:

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26. Gilmore Girls (Seasons 1-2)

27. Sex and the City (Complete Series)

28. Big Little Lies (Season 1) 

29. Dear White People (Season 1)

30. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Pilot)

31. Game of Thrones (Season 1)

32. American Vandal (Season 1)

33. Twin Peaks (Season 1)

34. Master of None (Season 1)

35. Love You More (Pilot)

36. The Bold Type (Season 1)

THEATRE:

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37. Julius Caesar (Delacorte Theater, Shakespeare in the Park)

38. A Doll's House, Part Two (Golden Theater)

39. The Play That Goes Wrong (Lyceum Theater)

40. Groundhog Day (August Wilson Theater)

41. The Little Foxes (Samuel J. Friedman Theater, MTC)

42. Indecent (Cort Theater)

43. Sweat (Studio 54)

44. People, Places, and Things (St. Ann's Warehouse)

PERFORMANCES

45. Denise Gough in People, Places, and Things

46. Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion/The Little Foxes/Sex and the City

47. Laurie Metcalf in A Doll's House, Part Two/Lady Bird

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48. Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird

49. Robert Pattinson in Good Time

50. Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies

51. Andy Karl in Groundhog Day

52. Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

53. Tracey Letts in Lady Bird

54. Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon

55. Elizabeth Marvel in Julius Caesar

56. Carrie Coon in Mary Jane/The Post

57. Finn Wittrock in The Glass Menagerie

58. Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon

59. Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen

60. Rachel Bay Jones in Dear Evan Hansen

61. Condola Rashad in A Doll's House, Part Two

62. Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation

63. Mia Farrow in Hannah and Her Sisters/Another Woman/Broadway Danny Rose

64. Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters

65. Charlotte Rampling in Stardust Memories

*performances I admired from 2016 films can be found in my 2016 Cinema Wrap-Up*

MUSIC

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Faves from 2017:

66. Melodrama, Lorde (Fav track: "Supercut")

67. The Search for Everything, John Mayer (Fav track: "Emoji of a Wave")

68. MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent (Fav track: "Happy Birthday Johnny") 

69. You Don't Own Me Anymore, The Secret Sisters (Fav track: "Tennessee River Runs Low"

70. Rainbow, Ke$ha (Fav track: "Let 'Em Talk")

71. Dua Lipa, Dua Lipa (Fav track: "New Rules")

72. CTRL, SZA (Fav track: "Drew Barrymore")

73. Tell Me You Love Me, Demi Lovato (Fav track: "Daddy Issues")

74. American Teen, Khalid (Fav track: "American Teen")

75. "The Joke," Brandi Carlile

76. "The Cure," Lady Gaga

77. "How Does a Moment Last Forever," Celine Dion

78. "If I Dare," Sara Bareilles

79. Joanne World Tour, Lady Gaga

80. And all my other top hits on Spotify

Faves pre-2017:

81. I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, The 1975

82. Cugi's Cocktails, Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra

83. Raconte-moi, Stacey Kent

84. With a Smile and a Song, Doris Day

85. Blade Runner (Motion Picture Soundtrack), Vangelis

PLACES

86. Goods for the Study (West Village, NYC)

87. The Metrograph (Lower East Side, NYC)

88. Casellula (Hell's Kitchen, NYC)

89. Buvette (West Village, NYC)

90. Musée d'Orsay (Paris)

91. Chez Casimir (Paris)

PODCASTS

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92. Little Known Facts

  • Episode 39- Judith Light
  • Episode 60- Julianne Moore

93. Pod Save America

94. The Read

95. S-Town

96. You Must Remember This

  • 95: Jean Harlow Flashback (Dead Blondes Part 3)

97. Katie Couric

  • 25. Ina Garten: At Home With The Barfeoot Contessa
  • 35. Sen. Cory Booker: Living His Values

98. Fighting in the War Room

  • 163: Is Netflix Burying Movies by Not Releasing Them in Theaters?

99. This American Life

100. Dear Sugar Radio

  • How Do I Survive the Critics? (March 13, 2015)
  • The Power of No (with Oprah Winfrey)

101. The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn

  • Larry King (July 6, 2017)
  • Audie Cornish (July 3, 2017)

102. The Next Picture Show

  • #86-87: A Ghost Story/Carnival of Souls
  • Blade Runner/Blade Runner 2049

103. Pop Culture Happy Hour

104. Longform Podcast

  • Episode 261: Hillary Clinton
  • Episode 265: Michael Barbaro
  • Episode 243: Samin Nosrat
  • Episode 226: Terry Gross

WRITE-UPS/INSTAGRAMS

105. @bymariandrew

106. Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean To Him (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

107. How To Build an Autocracy (David Frum,  The Atlantic)

108. Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness (Michael Hobbes, Huffington Post)

109. You May Want to Marry My Husband (Amy Krouse Rosenthal, The New York Times)

110. Nora Knows What to Do (Ariel Levy, The New Yorker)

111. How Twin Peaks Invented Modern Television (James Parker, The Atlantic)

112. Notes on Camp (Susan Sontag)

113. Why Good People Ghost: The Rise of a Dishonest Dating Culture (Heidi Priebe, Thought Catalog)

114. My So-Called Instagram Life (Clara Doller, The New York Times)

115. The Return of Lorde (Jonah Weiner, The New York Times Magazine)

116. Work and Reward: The Great Disconnect (The Editorial Board, The New York Times)

117. The 'Busy' Trap (Tim Kreider, The New York Times)

118. Happiness is Other People (Ruth Whippman, The New York Times)

119. Stephen Sondheim, Theater's Greatest Lyricist (Lin-Manuel Miranda, The New York Times Style Magazine)

YOUTUBE

120. 73 Questions with Nicole Kidman (Vogue)

121. TimesTalks: Chelsea Handler and Gloria Steinem (TimesTalks)

122. Logan: Superhero Movies Get Old (Nerdwriter)

123. One Way to Deconstruct There Will Be Blood- Or Any Movie (Nerdwriter)

 

eat, pray, eat again: stray thoughts from France (part 1)

Bonjour from a glamorous Starbucks in Bordeaux, France (yes, that Bordeaux). I've been having a whirlwind vacation that has so far taken me to Paris, Beaune (Burgundy area), and Lyon. My limited French sounds absolutely heinous coming out my midwestern mouth, but I've been getting by with my American ingenuity. I have often been ordering things without any real idea of what will come to the table. Initially consumed by the idea that I would be whisked off my feet in a subdued but whirlwind romance with a sullen-faced dreamboat I bump into in a café, my affairs have been restricted to fondly gazing at French dudes wearing tight pants.

Traveling alone has led to some very solitary dining experiences (which I'm learning aren't as satisfying as they are in New York, where I always feel like I'm escaping people). I have been reading a lot on my iPhone (I know). I've also been making precious use of the Evernote membership I convinced myself I NEEDED a few months ago. Here are some stray thoughts from France:

12.7.17 Paris, France

-If anything, Paris has inspired me to dress better. I was very self-conscious walking around the boulevards today, in my New York Times t-shirt and my 2-year old khaki shorts. I looked like a fresh arrival at Princeton. But this is my everyday costume (swap khakis for jeans and that's my daily look). 

This kind of pared down style can help you become a billionaire, (according to Mark Zuckerberg) but I am supposed to be glamorous artist! An actor! A GAY MAN!!! There is no doubt I can escape my boyish looks, at least not for a couple more years unfortunately. I am going to turn thirty and still get carded in midtown. I walk down 8th avenue and get asked if I'm in town competing at the Jimmy Awards. I want so badly to look and sound like a man, but alas. 

-Paris is the most beautiful city. Untouched, timeless, forever glowing in the past, its buildings reaching out from decades bygone, its atmosphere as effervescent as it always has been (or we're told it always was). 

-Omg the waitress just ran out to shoo away a drunk and disorderly man, after a patron tried to get him away by throwing water on him. Hilarious. "Oh la la" says the woman next to me.

-I think I just saw Marion Cotillard get into an Uber, but it could just be one of my queer flashes.

-Coming to France was the right choice. Even if I got sick the day I left. Even if I have to sacrifice a job because of this trip. I think it'll have been worth it. Because this trip is for me. Strictly for me. And when's the last time I truly did something like that??

13.7.17 Paris, France

-I think I'm looking too much for a Disney prince. My standard is high. I would like to say that I'm worth and deserve the best, but I don't know if I actually believe in that 100%. 

-I bet someone is looking over at me and thinking "he must be writing a book." Well here's what I have to say: I am.

-Girl next to me at Les Etages (cocktail bar in Le Marais, rec. to me by Sara): "I always see the glass half full until the foreplay. Then I know what I am getting myself into. The fourth date is when I realize who you are and if i like you."

14.7.17- Beaune, France

-I need to stop ordering dessert- I get too full before it comes and can hardly eat it (lying). My second glass at Bistrot was the Santenay (2013) and it's a bit lighter wine, maybe a little spicier than the Côte de Nuits. I wonder what côte means in french. COAST. Côte d'Utopia. Un dramatique dans trois parts.

-I keep myself extremely busy. So busy I'm trying to schedule downtime to let my head breathe. I don't think that's how it works. 

-Cheese I loved was comté (?) not sure on spelling but that's what the waiter said. He is very cute. French Michael Cera. Very young. 

15.7.17 Beaune, France

-I'm reading up about silence and the power of silence and silence is something I think is supremely lacking in my life. I need space to receive. I need space for surprise. Everything is so programmed, my whole day is programmed. I don't allow myself time to wander. How can I maintain my productiveness and then allow myself time to breathe? Maybe cutting down my social media time will help. That soul sucking vortex only serves as constant reminder of everything that I convince myself I'm not (pretty, funny, talented, useful, worthwhile, worth anything).

-What's happening to our attention spans? Will we even be able to go the Opéra in 30 years?! I am fearful for it all. 

-When I'm older, Lord, please grant me the grace and circumstance to wear a jean jacket under a tied sweater wrap.

-I'm going to have to change my Scruff tribe to Stuffed Pig after this trip considering the amount of butter I'm consuming.

-I wonder if Emily Brontë ever thought her passionate, deeply soulful piece of literature would be read on a 5" screen.

-I told myself that 3 glasses of anything would be my limit from now on. That was literally yesterday (or maybe today??) I'm on my 4th glass of wine.

-I'm going to get another damned almond croissant tomorrow morning before my train. That shit is just crack. I bit into it and it was like that scene from Moulin Rouge when they drink Absinthe. Kylie Minogue didn't appear, but I did have a brief vision of Nicole Kidman whispering something melodramatic in my face.