Film

Short Cuts - Forgotten Gems: Female Trouble

In his second certifiable masterpiece, John Waters decides to take on the growing cult of public personality by marrying his fixation with classic Hollywood trash (ala Douglas Sirk) with the increasing public fascination with true crime. The result is a movie that masquerades as a melodrama, but actually becomes a truly twisted gem. In this oddball homage to the kitchen sink saga, Dawn Davenport is a juvenile delinquent, who runs away from home on Christmas. She is picked up and raped by a mechanic named Earl, and ends up giving birth to a daughter, Taffy. Living life as a petty thief, Dawn meets a hairdresser named Gator and they marry over the objection of his fag hag Aunt Ida. Gator works at The Lipstick Beauty Salon, run by Donna and Donald Dasher. They instantly see Dawn as their next big "discovery," They have a twisted concept that crime is "beautiful" and want this eager gal to be their outlaw model. Thus begins a felonious spree that leads Dawn to a decisive day in court.

Female Trouble is Waters first real "film" in every one of the traditional senses. Told in episodic fashion (complete with tacky title cards), it proved that this otherwise underground king of bad taste could work within the confines of the traditional narrative form. Before, his films always had the kind of clothes-hanger plots made famous by porno and exploitation. But Female Trouble relies on its story for its momentum as well as its merriment. Without the rise up and flame out of our heroine, we'd never experience many of the movie's most hilarious ideals.

This is also the first time when Waters' main muse, Divine, came into her own as an actress. Before, she was simply sheer shock value, a big blousy man in Elizabeth Taylor tatters hoping to overwhelm the audience with her audacity. Here, Divine is Dawn Davenport. Her exchanges with daughter Taffy (the always amazing Mink Stole) are priceless, and when Divine does a derivation of her infamous stage act for the film—involving a trampoline, contemptible claims, and lots and lots of fish tossing—we feel it is part of Dawn's demented nature. The entire subplot involving Gator and his overbearing Aunt seals the deal. Edith Massey's pro-gay rants are out of this world, and she delivers them with such good-natured cheer that you want her nephew to ‘switch’ just to make her happy. Combined with Waters' own private peculiarities, Female Trouble becomes an outsider opus that deserves mainstream popularity.

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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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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