Who’s Really Wrong Here?

June 14, 2022

Have you ever noticed something that is objectively incorrect, and it really irritates you, and yet the wrong thing is in a package that is either a) not interested in being correct and/or b) is kind of ridiculous and inconsequential? And yet still, the urge to correct this wrong thing feels really strong? I’ll give you two examples from my own life, not because I am going to use this phenomenon as a jumping off point to discuss something actually important, but because I just really want to point out how wrong these dumb things are in the public sphere. The itch is too strong not to scratch!

First, a long while ago, I watched a movie on Netflix Called Private Life, about a couple struggling to conceive a baby who hire one of their nieces (?) as a surrogate. It was… fine. Anyway, in an early scene, the couple, played by Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giametti, are in a fertility clinic waiting room filled with characters who are supposed to represent, I don’t know, some panoply of New York City life. A Haredi couple nearby, and the wife is affectionately rubbing her husband’s arm. And of course, I was like, um, no way! A Haredi couple would NEVER touch one another in public! Where was their Haredi advisor, ahem?!

I was reminded of this particular kind of irritation when I recently watched––wait for it––the M. Night Shyamalan movie Old. My understanding from the little I read of the reception was that it was a silly, very Shyamalan-y movie. That wouldn’t be enough to put me off, because I can occasionally get into the silly, especially if it’s horror-related, but a friend of mine whose taste I really respect told me she thought it was actually Good. So I decided to watch it as I was doing household chores.

It was, again, fine. Sort of what you would expect from a Shyamalan flick. The ending was wildly dumb. In case you aren’t familiar with the premise, it goes something like this: a group of seemingly random people staying at a tropical resort are taken by a tour guide to a beach, where they begin to age rapidly. They quickly figure out that on this beach, time moves at some exponentially faster rate than it does elsewhere. Insanity and decay ensue.

A view through a ribcage

One of the people on this beach is a rather tense-seeming British cardiologist (or maybe cardiothoracic surgeon, which I’m sure is different in some way that it is above my pay grade to describe). There are references made throughout the early parts of the film to his being “stressed” and to dealing with tension at work, which manifests in erratic behavior: he slashes another beachgoer with a knife, he loses his concentration in the middle of a tense moment and starts babbling about film. So my first thought is, obviously, some kind of dementia, that his family (also on the beach) was in denial about. But then at the end of the movie, another character reveals that the doctor actually had paranoid schizophrenia.

I GUESS you could make this work, but it’s just way less sensible than having him having some kind of dementia, which would also potentially cause erratic behavior. First, the guy is in at least his late forties, and schizophrenia, in a majority of cases, develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, around 16-20. So this means this guy’s backstory is that he either developed schizophrenia in middle age––again, unlikely––or that he developed it in the typical range, but then made it through university, medical school, and potentially more than a decade of work in a high-stakes field only to then develop schizophrenia? Meh! Also, the way his familiars on the beach are talking about the “pressure” sort of implies that his schizophrenic break came about as a result of his job stress. I would never deny the impact of external circumstances on mental health, but that’s not really how schizophrenia works.

But so here’s the thing though: this is a cheesy body-horror flick from M. Night Shyamalan, the guy who brought you “I see dead people” and Mel Gibson running through cornfields looking for aliens or Jesus or whatever. It’s probably more dumb of me to expect medical textbook-level rigor from him than it is for him to choose the less-logical malady for one of his characters to suffer from. (Also, the movie is based on a graphic novel, so perhaps the original character had schizophrenia and Shyamalan felt locked into that.) I can see how a certain type of person might feel the need to go on a crusade about this, but personally I just feel like the odds that this misstep has any real consequences in life are so, so slim. And yet still, the urge to correct prevails, because here I am, ranting about it on the Internet.

Best Hat Ever

April 1, 2022

Jenny Walton’s raffia acorn hat. Sold out before I knew it existed. Acorn hat, we hardly knew ye!

GAH so cute

Dream Me Speaks Truth

March 31, 2022

LA: So funny you called you were in my dream last night!

ID: What did I do???

LA: You just told me that only old ladies visit the Empire State Building! That’s all I remember

The Sensory Delight Scale

March 10, 2022

Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann and her cohort developed something called the Sensory Delight Scale, a kind of counterpart/complement to the Tellegen Absorption Scale, that measures “who is more able, by temperament and choice, to have vivid experiences of gods and spirits.” If you answer yes to all of these, you might be a mystic!

When I’m listening to music, I like to imagine the sounds taking shape and moving in the air around me.

When I finish reading a really powerful book, I find that the ordinary world around me seems oddly unfamiliar.

Sometimes I feel like my body is weightless, as if I’m floating, even when my feet are firmly on the ground.

I like to watch the shapes and movements that sunlight makes reflecting off the water.

Sometimes the world seems intensely present to me.

I like to think that the trees in a forest are talking with each other.

I have had a distinct sense of a watchful presence.

Sometimes when I am at a concert, I find that the music has ended a few seconds ago and everyone is clapping before I notice.

The sounds of different languages seem to be connected to different colors in my mind.

Sometimes I feel like the air is full of little bubbles of light.

Sometimes I feel like I can sense the passage of time almost tangibly.

When I hear the waves lap against the shore, I sometimes think of how much those waves might know.

I find joy in little things, like a newly opened flower.

Exquisite pleasure sometimes floods my senses.

I can get lost watching a spider lower itself on a thread.

Sometimes I feel the arms of the universe embrace me.

When I dance, I like to feel that my body is simply responding to the music.

Thoughts can have different colors for me.

My Son’s Ice Cream Flavors

February 2, 2022

My four-year-old son likes to play a game in the bathtub in which he pretends to be an ice cream man making ice cream and selling it to me. Here are some of the flavors he makes:

Yellow Fire

Blue Ocean

Salt White

White Cloud

Seaweed Green

Orange Setting Sun

Purple Rising Sun

Pink Grapefruit (this one is the most ordinary)

Mud Brown

I feel like I am forgetting some! My favorites I’ve tried so far are Orange Setting Sun, Salt White, and actually Seaweed Green is surprisingly good.

Just Not Now

January 20, 2022

“And one day Wulfhild, having dropped off the rents with Marie, stops in the scriptorium to kiss Gytha on the cheek, to slide a packet of candied fennel seed into the mad nun’s pocket. Gytha smiles bluely. Later, when in weariness Wulfhild takes off her leather tunic at her house at night, out falls a tiny painting of a fantastical beast on a cut-up old letter, a green tighter with a human smile or a porcupine playing the lute, which her daughters will one day pin to their collection on the wall. Some nights, going in to kiss her girls in their sleep, she will stop and look and feel before these many bests of Gytha’s something akin to what she felt as a child when the nuns sang their most beautiful, most awesome psalms, a slow internal pouring of ecstasy. Awe. If only she had time to examine this feeling, Wulfhild thinks ruefully; but she does not have time, she never has time, her children call, the business of the abbey calls, the hungers and fatigues of her body call. She will come closer to god when she is old, in a garden among the flowers and the birds, she tells herself; yes, some day she will sit in silence until she knows god, she thinks, lying down in her bed to sleep. Just not now.” ~Lauren Groff, Matrix

Clever Riff

December 9, 2021

Let’s start with the obvious: everyone loves the Cholmondeley Ladies. Painted in the early 17th century by an unknown British artist, the Cholmondeley ladies were said to be sisters, though not much else is known about their identities beyond this.

And now, Israeli-American artist Andi Arnovitz’s take, if one of the sisters had been infertile:

Also, a really interesting interview with Arnovitz over at Hey Alma.

Me Me Me

October 26, 2021

If I ever took a dance class again, I’d want the prompts to be similar to what Spike Jonze told Margaret Qualley to do when she auditioned for that Kenzo video:

“The only note I got from my agent was that they wanted me to dance like a tree,” said Leftovers actress Margaret Qualley, star of the original, viral Jonze-directed Kenzo World perfume ad, which featured her dancing and contorting her limbs with a back-bending frenzy…

“I get to Spike’s apartment and he’s there. I’m terribly nervous because I’m such a massive fan. We sit down and talk, I filibuster while I try to calm myself and tell him bizarre anecdotes about my father that have nothing to do with why I’m there. He gives me a vague idea of the story and concept. He plays the song [the same one heard in the ad] and is like, ‘Okay, want to improvise?’ He records it on his iPhone. I dance like a psychopath for about an hour, literally until his phone dies.

“During it, he was saying things like, ‘Now you’re a vampire, now your arm is trying to attack you, and you’re eating your pinky.’ I’m crawling on his floor, jumping on his chairs, it’s winter and I’ve got a turtleneck and stockings on and by the end, I’m drenched in sweat and out of breath. Then I get up and he’s like, ‘Nice to meet you.’ I’m like, ‘You too,’” says Qualley.


Evangelical Bots

October 8, 2021
Ben looks really unlike most hip Christians I’ve seen on Instagram

The Real Star

August 25, 2021

Back when I was a wee sophomore in college, I developed this cherished ritual: maybe once a month or so, when my group of friends was going out or studying or something, I’d smoke *something or other* and head over our local outpost of the legendary (and much missed!) Kim’s Video.  There, I’d browse aimlessly through the selection and just pick a DVD or two, bring it back to my dorm room, and escape into another world.  Sometimes my selections were because I knew I was supposed to like those directors––like L’Avventura, or Hannah and Her Sisters––and sometimes it was based solely on the Criterion imprimatur.  More often than not, it was entirely at random.

I had surprisingly good success with this (“surprising,” because I wasn’t taking film classes and clearly had no idea what I was doing).  Even the notoriously judgmental Kim’s staff occasionally nodded in begrudging approval of my choices.  I still own a lot of DVDs I purchased then, and to this day, I count some of my filmic discoveries of that time among my favorite movies ever, including the terrifying Dutch-French thriller The Vanishing (which I’ve actually never quite had the stomach to re-watch) and Robert Altman’s atmospheric, hazy Three Women.  

But I had actually forgotten about one of the best finds of this era, Nicholas Roeg’s 1980 erotic thriller (kinda?) Bad Timing, until I fell down a mini-wormhole watching Criterion Closet Picks on YouTube (Ben Sinclair and Isabelle Huppert selected it)!  Bad Timing is the story of the beautiful, enigmatic Milena Flaherty, portrayed by Theresa Russell (who would later go on to marry Roeg) who seduces the clinical, controlling Dr. Alex Linden, an appropriately cerebral Art Garfunkel.  The two meet at a party and embark on an obsessive love affair, which eventually reaches a devastating, violent climax.  The film is set in Cold War Vienna, kind of the fifth main character here, which is depicted as equal parts decadence and paranoia, as evoked by alternating shots of paintings by Klimt and Schiele.

I could have sworn I had the Criterion DVD of Bad Timing, but I guess I lost it somewhere in the ensuing decade-plus because I don’t see it on my shelves.  Bummer, as it isn’t, even now, easy to find: the film’s distributor released it only briefly in 1980, calling it “a sick film made by sick people for sick people,” and it remained largely unavailable until Criterion released in the early aughts, which is around when I would have nabbed it.  (It’s now sold out on that site but there are some slightly-too-expensive copies on Ebay.)  But luckily for me, you can rent it on iTunes, so the other night I charged my card and settled in for an evening of nostalgia.

It was fascinating revisiting something that I remembered not only for itself, but for the particular reaction I had to it at that point in my life.  For example, I very much wanted to be glamorous and mysterious in exactly the way Theresa Russell was, so encountering her character was like locating a new icon.  And yet while watching it, I remember feeling like I had to consciously overlook one aspect of her character I found truly ridiculous: her HAIR!  Throughout the movie, Russell dons a truly baffling array of hairstyles, from the futuristic to the schoolmarmish.  Herewith, a compilation (incomplete):

This look is from the scene where Alex and Milena first meet, at a party.  It’s hard to tell from this picture, but her hair is in a bun towards the front right side of her head, and obviously curled throughout.  (Not clear if her hair is naturally curly or straight, based on other hairstyles.)  This is the first of a few times she opts for this front-of-the-head bun thing, to which I say: why?  Just, why?

Another angle.  You kind of have to see her in motion to get a sense of how hideous this is.

Final shot.  Sorry for the poor photo quality.

This is from the scene when she’s separating from her husband, played by Denholm Elliot, at the border of (then) Czechoslovakia.  This is one of my favorite of her styles: a kind of corporate hausfrau situation?  I’m sure there is a thesis written by an FIT student out there somewhere that explores the origin of this style.

Back view.

A similar look, from a scene where Alex Linden gives her a personality test.  (This photo is of Roeg directing Russell.)

Here is Russell in some classic Von Trapp braids, which were a specialty of mine in my early and mid-twenties.  (I could do my hair this way without looking in the mirror!)

Okay here is where it gets even weirder: after Alex asks Milena to move in with him, she goes back to Bratislava to have farewell sex with Elliott, and then does herself up nicely in this fancy rabbit fur situation and… some kind of space age hair wave?  This is truly confusing both on an aesthetic and practical level (meaning, how would one even accomplish this? Some kind of claw clasp)?

Really, why?!

And my absolute least favorite of the bunch: hair severely straightened and then put into a side-front bun, with a few loose baby wisps for added ugliness.  Mystifying! 

Aside from the styles I liked on this list, there are some scenes where she looks truly spectacular, mostly when her hair is wild and down or the little strands at the side are pulled back neatly with small clips., kind of like this, or in the bar scene where she makes out with a rando and is rocking an eagle t-shirt.  You’ll have to watch the movie to see those looks.

So in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the re-watch, despite feeling occasionally distracted by the odd coifs.  On a more serious note, it was interesting to watch it now, knowing how sordid people thought it was upon its release––not that the denouement isn’t a terrible violation, but in the decades since, we’ve been subject to so much depraved behavior on screen––just to pick one example, anyone seen Antichrist? That was not a good day, for me––that it weirdly registers as anticlimactic, or maybe just not something that would induce a moral panic?  Or perhaps I felt that way this time just because I knew what was coming?  (Don’t cancel me, this is a purely academic consideration, obviously rape is terrible!) Oh and one last thing: anyone care to weigh in on whether Harvey Keitel is supposed to be like, an actual Austrian or an American expat who somehow got a job in the Austrian police? Anyway, the real moral of this story is a) buy me this DVD and/or b) figure out how to get me invited to do a Criterion Closets Pick.