Reviews

Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

While everyone here seems agreed that Harper Lee is that "conscience," she remains rather perfectly the writer who refuses to perform her intentions.


Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

Director: Mary McDonagh Murphy
Cast: Tom Brokaw, Roseanne Cash, James McBride, Oprah Winfrey
Rated: NR
Studio: First Run Features
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-05-13 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

"I just felt so attached to her. I just wish I could have been as smart as her, always been there with the comeback, but, oh well." Lots of people feel the same way as Mary Badham about Scout Finch, the character she played in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Wise and immature, tomboyish and vulnerable, Scout is recognizable even to people who didn't grow up in segregated Alabama, who didn't have a scary next door neighbor and who didn't have an awesome dad like Atticus.

The continuing resonance of Scout's story is the subject of Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. James McBride describes Scout's narration as a delicate combination of perspectives: "She sees the world through child's eyes with an adult's understanding." Mark Childress notes her meaningful symbiosis with Dill: "Scout was about half boy and Dill was about half girl, so you know the two of 'em were odd birds in their town." And Oprah Winfrey underlines the character's effect on her as a child: "I fell in love with Scout, I wanted to be Scout. I thought I was Scout."

None of these assessments is necessarily right or wrong, but all demonstrate the impulse to perform feelings about the character and To Kill a Mockingbird, novel, film, and phenomenon. The film piles up testimony to the book's greatness, with celebrity speakers including Oprah, Tom Brokaw (who speaks to the "universality of small towns"), Scott Turow ("Not only is Atticus this wonderful father, completely intuitive and caring, you know, but he's even the best shot in the county!"), and even Roseanne Cash (so moved she struggles to describe her response, "I remember taking that feeling of integrity and sense of conscience, and the idea that the way you behaved, whether people saw you or not, was central to becoming yourself," a point underlined by a glamour shot of Cash, apparently become "herself").

Each of these declarations probably says more about the performer than Harper Lee's book (or again, Robert Mulligan's movie, as the documentary hopelessly entangles the two, repeatedly using scenes from the movie to illustrate readings from the books). At the same time, they all insist on the resonance of To Kill a Mockingbird, as a story, as a mirror held up to a culture and set of beliefs, and as a reading and viewing experience.

It's a resonance that's both singular and, because it's been noted so often, a little too familiar. While it might be summed up in somewhat standard fashion ("You don't get a chance to have a book or a film like that very often, that has such an impact on people's lives," offers Badham), it also inspires overstatement (Lee Smith: "I think Scout has done more for Southern womanhood than any other character in literature") or reflections on the history it translates, as when Rev. Thomas Lane Butts observes over footage of children in Klan robes and photos of lynchings, "It was just a time in which black people were treated terribly. And people took in racism with their mother's milk."

Other speakers also serve to situate To Kill a Mockingbird in history, including Mary Tucker, a teacher who grew up in Monroeville, Alabama and also recalls loving the book when she was a child, though she now sees herself as unusual: "I didn’t know many white people, so I didn’t know what they thought of it," she says, "Not a lot of black people read the book." As if to illustrate, the film cuts to Andrew Young, who confesses he didn’t read it when it was published in 1960. "I didn’t need to read that. I knew what they were talking about. For somebody who didn’t know about that, all right" he says, alluding to those white readers who might have been amazed at what they learned. "I had no intellectual curiosity about it."

Mary McDonagh Murphy's documentary doesn’t explore this difference between white and black experiences of the book and movie, as it focuses again and again on their "universality." It does, however, confront more directly its own structuring absence, namely that of Harper Lee. As much as the film asserts To Kill a Mockingbird's significance and articulates the two texts' shifting meanings, it can only guess at the experience of the author -- who has famously not written another book and also, equally famously, refused to be interviewed for some 40 years.

Lee's nonappearance is established in the film's first moments, which run a 1964 radio interview with her over a black screen. Asked how she felt about the book's popularity, she says, "Well, my reaction to it was not one of surprise, it was one of sheer numbness. It was one of being hit over the head and knocked cold." As to why she stopped speaking to the press, her friends and readers can only imagine -- as they are apparently eager to do. Some of their conjectures are to be expected, as when Childress generalizes, "All your experience is born out of your own life. It's, do you transform the material? And I think that's what she did, and put such magic on it." And others are a little mischievous. Historian Diane McWhorter says of Lee's childhood friendship with Truman Capote, the inspiration for Dill: "The incredible contrast between this person who has become the conscience of the country and this person who was probably a sociopath," she smiles broadly, "It's phenomenal when you think about it."

While everyone here seems agreed that Harper Lee is that "conscience," she remains rather perfectly the writer refuses to perform her intentions, for an interviewer who's asking or an audience who's projecting. Even as people speculate, imagining both questions and answers for her. Her 99-year-old sister Alice, still a lawyer in the firm their father helped to found, explains Lee's absence as a choice. "As time went on, she said that reporters began to take too many liberties with what she was saying, so she just wanted out... She felt like she gave enough." Hey, Boo isn't asking more of her. But it can't quite leave her alone, either.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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