Staff Picks: Flavorwire’s Favorite Cultural Things This Week

Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

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Salome’s Last Dance (dir. Ken Russell)

I’ve been on something of a Russell kick recently, inspired by the availability of a few intriguing titles by the late British cult filmmaker — and, let’s be honest, little else of note — on Netflix streaming. Although Gothic, the director’s more famous piece of historical fiction about Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley’s bonkers fever-dream weekend at their pal Lord Byron’s castle, got pulled down at the end of August, I actually much prefer Salome’s Last Dance. Russell transforms Oscar Wilde’s infamous biblical drama into a play-within-a-film, setting the production at a fin de siècle brothel, before an audience of the playwright himself. The movie is as schlockily decadent — boobs! severed heads! sexual deviance! cravats! — as you might expect. Its real highlight, though, is unknown actress Imogen Millais-Scott’s demonically possessed performance as Salome (or, really, the chambermaid who plays the role at the brothel), hissing things like, “I will kiss your mouth, John the Baptist.” Even crazier than the movie itself is the fact that Millais-Scott went blind just three weeks before starring in it. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

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Auto Biography by Earl Swift

Do you see that pun in the title? It’s there because Earl Swift’s twisting “biography” is ostensibly about a car — a classic ’57 Chevy — and the lives that circle around it. The story tracks back to 1993, when Swift was writing for the Virginian-Pilot about the Chevy’s owner, Tommy Arney, a character that your average crime writer would love as his star. Arney is an American outlaw, a go-go bar owner, and a felon who’s restoring an American wreck. There’s something distinctly hopeful and enthralling about the way that Swift shows us some likable, complicated dreamers whose lives coincided with the life of this car. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

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Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series

Welcome Back, Kotter is kind of the quintessential ‘70s sitcom: broad characters, multiple catchphrases, a braying studio audience, the works. (Hell, the third season even starts with a clip show.) But if it’s junk, it’s satisfying junk — comfort food television, getting its laughs from familiarity and the considerable charisma of its performers. The latter is supplied less by ostensible lead Gabe Kaplan (a very good joke teller and not-very-good actor) than by the “Sweathogs,” the quartet of tough students led by a young John Travolta in his breakthrough role. From his very first entrance Travolta is electrifying — you totally get why the show made him a star — but credit is due to his fellow Sweathogs Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Ron Palillo (the quartet merged into a pretty tight little comedy team), as well as John Sylvester White (a nearly-perfect foil). Kotter was a show that burned bright quickly and burned out just as fast; by its terrible fourth season, both Kaplan and Travolta were merely occasional guest stars. But there’s some good stuff in this new full-series DVD box set, and Shout Factory has again come to the rescue of a show previously abandoned on DVD — WB put out only the first year, back in 2007. The second season features two must-have episodes for comedy geeks: the surprisingly touching “Horshack vs. Carvelli,” penned by an up-and-coming young writer named Garry Shandling, and “Radio Free Freddie,” featuring a terrific guest appearance by George Carlin.  – Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I’m always late to the game when it comes to books so I only just picked up The Magicians after hearing it’s being made into a TV series. I was hesitant because the elevator pitch is basically “Harry Potter for adults!” and I even gave up halfway through those books. But The Magicians is addictive and mature, weaving in typical college and post-grad experiences (sex, booze, drugs) with a surreal element (magic spells, morphing into arctic foxes). The Magicians treats this magical world with a necessary seriousness that keeps the narrative fresh throughout. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

SBTRKT and Ezra Koenig’s “NEW DORP. NEW YORK.”

This is on repeat for me. I have attempted to talk about this song with a couple of people IRL, and as soon as the phrase “New Dorp” leaves my lips, I receive a look or a laugh in return. New Dorp is a neighborhood in Staten Island, thank you very much, and it makes sense in the context of what Vampire Weekend leader Ezra Koenig is talking about here: the class and power divide of New York City… and possibly a hooker? In the context of wiggly, bass-heavy dance music, Koenig’s voice-manipulated dispatches sound positively absurd — and that’s half the fun. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor