Books

(Tough)Loving the Alien

John G. Nettles

Here’s Looking at You, Kid: I came home from work the other day to find my 13-year-old son doing the dishes, voluntarily, to give his mother a break. As I went to him to give him kudos on his act of industry and kindness, I was stunned to notice that the top of his head was no longer at eye level. It’s one of those moments I’ve been having a lot lately, the realization that I no longer have a little boy living in my house but a budding man, with a whole new world of trials ahead for both of us. He’s gotten to an age where he’s vibrating with the need to go and do on his own, but without a clear sense of which of the infinite paths before him to choose. It’s a delicate, dangerous juncture, and as his dad I must be very careful from here on out.

In this place I feel for David Gilmour (the Canadian novelist and film critic, not the overrated British guitarist) as he looked across the dinner table at his 15-year-old son Jesse, flunking out of school and getting into all the worst kinds of teenage trouble. Realizing that the wrong course could well drive his son out the door, Gilmour made him a deal: no school, no work, free rent, in exchange for watching three movies a week of Gilmour’s choosing. It was a risky plan but Gilmour reasoned that if he could not speak to Jesse in Jesse’s language -- teen angst, rampaging hormones, depression and self-destruction -- then he would use his own, the universal language of film with its capacity to illustrate the wide spectrum of the human condition. This bold experiment is chronicled in Gilmour’s memoir The Film Club (Twelve Books, 2008).

I’m going to drop my usual snarky pseudointellectual pose here and just say it: I loved this book, every word of it, unreservedly. As the weeks roll on and Gilmour shares the richness of the cinematic universe in all its hues with his son, from French New Wave to Kurosawa samurai epics, from spaghetti westerns to goofy pure-Hollywood comedies, the two men begin to form bonds of communication and wisdom that so-called parenting experts can only dream about having. Gilmour writes in unflinching terms about the perils of navigating the treacherous waters of his son’s life -- drinking and drugs, his risky foray into white-boy hip-hop, his obsession with a particularly manipulative 16-year-old femme fatale -- with patience and firmness and, hardest of all but most importantly, trust in Jesse to do the right thing.

This is not to say that Gilmour makes himself out to be Ward Cleaver with a DVD player. During this period Gilmour struggles with his own demons, out of work and anxious, desperate to save his boy, and always terrified of making that fatal mistake that drives Jesse away. But while Gilmour educates his son, Jesse educates his father in the crucial balancing act between being the child’s friend and being his parent. As so many of us who were raised in the post-Dr. Spock era can attest, that balance is the most difficult stunt to pull off, but the most necessary. The Film Club shows that it can be done, maybe not with a feel-good Hollywood ending, but with something far more substantial.

(Also highly recommended, if you can find it, is Dennis Hensley’s remarkable book Screening Party [Alyson Books, 2002], the story of six diverse friends brought together by their monthly movie gatherings. Poignant, both sad and hopeful, and spank-me funny, it’s worth combing the Internet to find.)

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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