“One of the best pieces I ever wrote in my life, which no one ever heard of,” as Gay Talese put it on his recent Longform podcast, has been republished on longform.org: “Mr. Bad News,” Talese’s 1966 Esquire profile of the Times obituary writer Alden Whitman. Talese says that, despite the fame of his larger-than-life portraits of larger-than-life people (Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio), he has often preferred less exalted subjects. You also get the sense that Talese derives a quiet thrill from exploring a great literary theme by way of the everyday: “While death obsessed Hemingway and diminished John Donne,” Talese writes, “it provides Alden Whitman with a five-day-a-week job that he likes very much…”
Were it only for the text of his introductory essays and extended interviews with Wes Anderson, Matt Zoller Seitz’s book “The Wes Anderson Collection,” which discusses all seven of Anderson’s feature films in copious detail, would be an indispensable resource, as well as a delight. Most of my favorite movie books are composed mainly of interviews with directors. Though good directors are virtual presences just over the borders of the screen (and many are actually present, seen and heard, onscreen as actors in their own movies), very few movies are thorough-going first-person disquisitions. It usually takes in-depth interviews to liberate the director’s self-critical voice. The primordial template is François Truffaut’s collection of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, but Truffaut and Hitchcock—though they had met a few times—weren’t exactly friends. Seitz and Anderson, however, go back a long way—Seitz is from Dallas and, seeing the black-and-white short “Bottle Rocket” there, in 1993, was the first critic to discern Anderson’s prodigious artistry and, soon thereafter, to interview him. The two have stayed in touch, and this book is the magnificent result.
Once computers can effectively reprogram themselves, and successively improve themselves, leading to a so-called “technological singularity” or “intelligence explosion,” the risks of machines outwitting humans in battles for resources and self-preservation cannot simply be dismissed.
The English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe, who is best known in the U.S. for his late-seventies hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” has kept a low profile for the past forty years, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t kept busy. From his days producing albums for Elvis Costello—he wrote “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”—to his more recent work in other genres, including roots music, he’s been unafraid to try new things. His latest effort is a “Quality Street,” a Christmas album. In classic Lowe style, he gives seasonal fare a singular spin, with a few originals as well as rockabilly, New Orleans, and country versions of classics. No surprise, really, from someone who titled his first solo album, “Jesus of Cool.”
The crucial scene in Abdellatif Kechiche’s drama “Blue Is the Warmest Color” isn’t the one that sparks the movie’s romance—the shot, in a street in Lille, in which the teen-age high-school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) falls in love with the blue-haired university student Emma (Léa Seydoux) at the moment that their glances meet—but the one that sparks their relationship. It takes place in a lesbian bar, where Adèle goes in the hope of meeting the blue-haired stranger. As Adèle, who is a high-school junior, leans forlornly at the bar, she gets teased and harassed by habitués—she’s young, and her ordinary, unstylized high-school look stands out amid severe hairdos, piercings, tattoos, and rugged or sharp fashion statements.
Recently, Paul McCartney obsessives were happy when the star’s long-lost 1980 concert film “Rockshow” was finally released on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie, which débuted in 1980, chronicles various performances from McCartney’s 1976 American tour. That enormously remunerative endeavor followed the smash records “Band on the Run” and “Venus and Mars,” produced the number-one three-LP live set “Wings Over America,” and would be his last tour for thirteen years. Early VHS and LaserDisc versions of the show were long forgotten until the film’s recent digital release. Its resurfacing serves as a reminder of how, thirty and forty years ago, rock-concert films were a far more common occurrence at the box office.
Though classic-rock nostalgists can now check “Rockshow” off their excavation wish lists, there are still many other great (or at least sociologically compelling) works from the nineteen-seventies and eighties that can’t be obtained through legitimate channels. Some sneak out on YouTube, either in their entirety or in piecemeal clips, and some remain stubbornly lost. Here are eleven whose unreleased status disturbs the dreams of concert-film completists.
Even though professional baseball has been eclipsed in popularity by football and ceded its cultural capital to basketball, the sport has managed to retain its longstanding position as the thinking person’s game—a deliberate, unflashy pastime beloved by stat-heads and amateur historians. In the age of the iPhone, baseball continues to resemble a nineteenth-century novel: sprawling, anecdote-jammed, and rather tedious at times. George F. Will, the conservative columnist and long-suffering fan of the hapless Chicago Cubs, sums up the sport’s cerebral nature in his 1990 book, “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball”:
Baseball is as much a mental contest as a physical one. The pace of action is relentless: There is barely enough time between pitches for all the thinking that is required, and that the best players do, in processing the changing information about the crucial variables.
In “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” which took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes, our brightly burning heroines first meet in a lesbian bar in Lille. Adèle, a fifteen-year-old high-school student, has already spotted Emma, a blue-haired sparkplug, on the street, and pleasured herself to thoughts of her. When the chance at conversation arises, Adèle asks Emma, somewhat mechanically, what she does. Emma replies that she studies at the École des Beaux-Arts. “Beaux-Arts?” Adèle, always hungry, wants to know. “Are there arts that are ugly?”
This exchange between the two, whose ardors we follow over years, mirrors a debate being hashed out over the film. “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” in French “La Vie d’Adèle—Chapitres 1 et 2,” shows some of the more potent and torrid sex scenes in popular memory: sex scenes between two women, one lasting seven intimate minutes. Force and firepower, Anthony Lane writes in his review of the film in the magazine this week, that amounts to “a fusillade of cries and clutches, grabs and slaps—a pitch of pleasure so entwined with desperation that we find ourselves not in the realm of the pornographic but on the brink of romantic agony.”
There ought to be a word for “the limbo-like precincts of an airport baggage claim, where groggy travellers gather around the motionless treads of empty conveyor belts.” It is a singularly desolate scene, and there should be a succinct way for a forlorn luggage-seeker to text a quick apology to the friend who is idly circling the airport roads. Now, there is: “baggatory.”
That clever turn is just one of a couple hundred neologisms coined by Liesl Schillinger in her new book, “Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century.” Other gems include “social crawler” (a party-goer who accidently mingles with losers); “Facebook-happy” (a miserable person who fakes bliss in carefully managed Facebook posts); “polterguy” (an ex-boyfriend who haunts future relationships); “factose intolerant” (a person who claims a false allergy or irrational antipathy to certain foods); and “rotter” (the bottom drawer in the refrigerator where produce goes to putrefy). Most of the words and phrases in the collection are accompanied, in a bit of whimsy, by an illustration of birds acting out the scenes described: the “social crawler” is a peacock mixing with pigeons.