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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The History of Rock & Roll in Ten Songs, by Greil Marcus

The arrival of a new Marcus book is always cause for celebration, as far as I’m concerned, and his latest volume does not disappoint. Working in the loose, refreshing, almost improvisational style of his last two original books, which took on Van Morrison and the Doors as a listener rather than a biographer, Marcus here tracks popular music via a handful of (unsurprisingly unconventional) songs, and not in straightforward ways. As usual, the joy of his work comes partially from its anything-goes spirit, where everything is on the table and any artifact — a bootleg, a book, a film, a folk tale — can come in to the discussion, totally organically. And the fun of the book is also its love of language, as Marcus again manages to make sound into words with a virtuosity unparalleled in modern music writing. It’s a valentine to these songs and artists, a manifesto for pop culture, and winking lark, all at once. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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Alix by Generationals

Generationals make bright and sunny music that’s perfect for the magic hour when you’re sipping a manhattan and feeling melancholy about the passage of time while sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking a very still pond. Actor-Caster, from 2011, is an album that I play all the time, and I’m really excited for their newest release, Alix, out now, basically, which from a quick spin is full of synths and bleeps and gets into a really funky, sweet groove. They’re a very good band! — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

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Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’immortelle

A friend recently gifted me a copy of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first film, 1963’s L’immortelle — the nouveau roman writer’s first directorial effort following his screenwriting debut in Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. He actually tried to make the film before Marienbad. I only took a peek at it, so I can’t comment on the movie just yet. But I like this quote from the filmmaker, pulled from an interview featured on the Blu-ray: “Traditional films pretend to believe that everything can be explained. The world we live in isn’t comfortable. It’s constantly disquieting. Let’s take refuge in stories that gloss over the strangeness of the world.” L’immortelle seems to have the same fragmented sensibility as his written works, giving it a dreamy surreality. Set in Instanbul, a French professor moves to Turkey and encounters a mysterious, beautiful woman. Many of Robbe-Grillet’s films haven’t been available before, so his reputation isn’t as established as it should be in the States. This release is one of several from Kino Classics and Redemption Films. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

The Congress

I really can’t explain to you what happens in The Congress. Nothing like it exists. This is a half live-action, half animated movie directed by the man behind the Academy Award-nominated animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir. Robin Wright stars as a single mother of two who is also an aging, has-been actress (named Robin Wright). The film begins when she signs over the rights to her whole likeness – image, emotions, everything – for what is assumed to be a lot of money.

The whole thing doesn’t really get going until the midway point, when we flash forward several years and Robin Wright’s likeness is a huge movie star. For reasons that are beside the point, Robin Wright the person inhales a substance that turns her – and her perception of the entire world – into an animation. The science and logic behind this is never really explained, and that might just be the point. From here on out the movie descends into a psychedelic freak-out fest that’s animated in an LSD-meets-Steamboat Willie style, and, if you’re up for it, it’s pretty irresistible.

The story is mostly incoherent, but the film ultimately reaches poignancy when Robin is faced with the loss of her children. That said, The Congress is not for everyone. But with nice supporting turns from Paul Giamatti, Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitell, and Danny Huston, it’s certainly worth your time. — Shane Barnes, Editorial Apprentice

FRANK

Domhnall Gleeson in Frank

It’s hard to play a shitty character – not a villain, but just a shitty character. And not a romantically shitty character – not someone whose life is a shitty trainwreck that they make shittier – but rather someone who is shitty because they are somewhat parasitic, and somewhat parasitic because they are bland, and thus shitty. In Frank, Domhnall Gleeson’s character Jon is a strange kind of unlikeable: he’s quite jovial, and seemingly self-effacing, but he’s actually a huge narcissist, and certain fame-hungry actions make him a (subtle) little shit. From the get-go, Jon is detested by his bandmates, for the same reasons that he detests himself. He dully glorifies trauma and mental illness because he thinks such things make people into icons, and longs to have said iconizing hardships befall him, for he worries, quite rightly, and as part of an endless cycle, that he’s really just an empty, little shit. While everyone has been lauding Michael Fassbender’s performance – which is, indeed, incredible – notions of his characters’ “authenticity” interestingly put critics in the same torment-loving trap as Jon. Gleeson’s understated performance has been discussed as a foil to Frank, or a set of doting eyes through which we perceive Frank, but a part of me saw Frank as more of an imaginary being – a projection of a problematic artistic ideal – and Jon as the truly tragic, real character; Frank has a loving place in his strange musical niche, but Jon cannot seem to find a self with which to fill his hollowness. Gleeson’s portrayal of this struggle with emptiness is just as upsetting as Fassbender’s bobble-headed attempt to shield himself from the outside world. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

courtesy of New York Magazine
courtesy of New York Magazine

The Cut’s “Ovaries Week”

Sunday the 14th heralded the beginning of “Ovaries Week,” in which — you guessed it — New York Magazine’s The Cut dedicates at least a story a day to the mystery, eroticism, or fascinating predilections of women and their reproductive systems. Ranging from serious features such as “My Year As An Abortion Doula” to the GIF-laden listicle “Ryan Gosling And Babies: A GIF History,” the series will, by the end of the week, surely have covered anything you ever wanted to know about ovaries. The Cut, New York‘s fashion and general women’s interest site (which has also become a section of the magazine), relaunched in 2012 and keeps getting better. Ovaries Week is one of the best examples of the diverse, fearless, and hilarious work currently being done there. — Angela Lashbrook, Editorial Apprentice

Photo credit: Adam Lareau
Photo credit: Adam Lareau

Swans at Basilica Soundscape

Earlier this week, Tom Hawking ably recounted the (many) ups and (few) downs of Basilica Soundscape, the annual festival of avant-garde, experimental, loud, metal-adjacent, and otherwise weird music held in the titular lovely, historic Hudson, NY building. But I just had to add a word of praise for Swans, and particularly their — literally — fearless leader, Michael Gira. They began with an hour or so of droning, jamming stuff, then slowly amped up to the kind of full-on aural assault for which they’re known. Gira was doing guitar-god moves (which was funny, considering that he wasn’t exactly shredding; his virtuosity is of a different sort), drummer Thor Harris was (as always) living up to his Norse-god name, and the whole thing happened at a volume that was, well… ungodly. The two-and-a-half-hour set closed out Basilica’s schedule, which was perfect, because it also finished off everyone’s ears for the weekend. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief