January 2023 in media

Everything I've read & watched this month. Highlights mark the really good stuff. Enjoy!


C = cinema, W = watched for work, R = rewatch.
More here.




From Strength Comes Forth Sweetness: "Top Gun: Maverick" and Tom Cruise's Terribilità by David Garry Hughes for Mubi Notebook

the one horse & the nextover by Anne Boyer

To be from a place where slowness unfurls in all its cinematic extremity and loneliness is lit by the single stoplight hanging over the town's only meaningful intersection is to have always arrived from near-nil, that is, to have become something from nearly nothing, unlike all of those who were born something and somewhere and therefore display no superiority of character. One-horsers can brag, that they, like Adam, were formed by the lord's own hands from the naked dirt. To rise up from the rural slowness, as if it were primordial ooze, is, if not heroic, at the least mythopoetical enough for a night at the bar.

By the Bomb’s Filmic Light by Nicholas Russell for The Baffler

Out of this frenetic time came films that span from the grave to the ridiculous. Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959) examines the generational and philosophic weight of the bombing of Hirsohima through an interracial relationship between a French woman named Elle and a Japanese man named Lui. Like Winter Light, Resnais’s film holds the bomb itself at a distance while still engaging deeply with its implications; wonder, ambivalence, and fear pervade the conversations between Elle and Lui. “What did Hiroshima mean to you, in France?” Lui asks. “The end of the war . . . completely, I mean. Amazement that they dared, amazement that they succeeded. And for us, the start of an unknown fear. Then indifference. And fear of that indifference.”

Yet both Winter Light and First Reformed share a common conclusion, more by negative representation than outright duplication. Bergman instills haunting ambiguity in his priest’s closing actions as Tomas presides over an empty church service, together with his ex-lover, the organist, and faithful sexton; allegedly freed from the delusions of religion, Tomas still goes through the motions. Schrader’s priest Ernst is on the verge of detonating a bomb during his service in protest against an energy mogul who patronizes the church. Ernst is bitterly defeated—though his faith remains shakily intact. Laura Kane, writing in Commonweal about these two films, notes, “This doubt finds expression through art because there is no theology that can articulate with sufficient intimacy and nuance the sense of disillusionment these characters feel. It cannot be resolved, systematically, doctrinally, or otherwise. Narrative art, whether novels or movies, offers an honest depiction of the spiritual displacement of modernity, and gives voice to its intense loneliness.”

The lasting impression, instead, is that of a communal holding-on. “If only we could feel safe and dare show each other tenderness,” Marta says to Tomas. Both films turn on a forgoing of choice and agency, on the futility of individual effort in the face of the unfathomable. After all, First Reformed forces its audience to contend with a destruction that is all but assured, whereas Winter Light circles round a possibility of unknown time or circumstance. And both films depict a kind of truism: that to look at the death hurtling toward us is to invite hopelessness into our lives.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Top 10 for Criterion Current


Cosmopolis, Don DeLillo

When he died he would not end. The world would end.

He watched Torval bend a hand to the side of his head, listening to the person who was speaking into his ear bud. He knew these devices were already vestigial. They were degenerate structures. Maybe not the handgun just yet. But the word itself was lost in blowing mist.

"Put a stick of gum in your mouth and try not to chew it. For someone your age, with your gifts, there's only one thing in the world worth pursuing professionally and intellectually. What is it, Michael? The interaction between technology and capital. The inseparability.”

Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see a woman who wants to live shamelessly in her body. Tell me this is not the truth. You want to follow your body into idleness and fleshiness. That's why you have to run, to escape the drift of your basic nature.

When I try to suppress my anger, I suffer spells of hwabyung (Korea). This is cultural panic mainly, which I caught on the Internet.

I did not read for pleasure, even as a child. I never read for pleasure. Take this any way you will. I think about myself too much. I study myself. It sickens me. But this is all there is to me. I'm nothing else. My so-called ego is a little twisted thing that's probably not so different from yours but at the same time I can say confidently that it's active and bursting with importance and has major defeats and triumphs all the time. I have a stationary bike with a missing pedal that someone left on the street one night.

He was hungry, he was half starved. There were days when he wanted to eat all the time, talk to people's faces, live in meat space.

The man waited for a response. Eric was looking past him at a large shop window, one of the few on the street not showing rows of precious metal set with gems. He felt the street around him, unremitting, people moving past each other in coded moments of gesture and dance. They tried to walk without breaking stride because breaking stride is well-meaning and weak but they were forced sometimes to sidestep and even pause and they almost always averted their eyes. Eye contact was a delicate matter. A quarter second of a shared glance was a violation of agreements that made the city operational. Who steps aside for whom, who looks or does not look at whom, what level of umbrage does a brush or a touch constitute? No one wanted to be touched. There was a pact of untouchability. Even here, in the huddle of old cultures, tactile and close-woven, with passersby mixed in, and security guards, and shoppers pressed to windows, and wandering fools, people did not touch each other.

Maybe she was middling, desperately unexceptional. She was better-looking back in the bookstore when he'd thought she was someone else. He began to understand that they'd invented her beauty together, conspiring to assemble a fiction that worked to their mutual maneuverability and delight. They'd married in the shroud of this unspoken accord. They needed the final term in the series. She was rich, he was rich; she was heir-apparent, he was self-made; she was cultured, he was ruthless; she was brittle, he was strong; she was gifted, he was brilliant; she was beautiful. This was the core of their understanding, the thing they needed to believe before they could be a couple.

"But we have to give the word a little leeway. Adapt it to the current situation. Because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its own sake. There's no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself.”

Property is no longer about power, personality and command. It's not about vulgar display or tasteful display. Because it no longer has weight or shape. The only thing that matters is the price you pay. Yourself, Eric, think. What did you buy for your one hundred and four million dollars? Not dozens of rooms, incomparable views, private elevators. Not the rotating bedroom and computerized bed. Not the swimming pool or the shark. Was it air rights? The regulating sensors and software? Not the mirrors that tell you how you feel when you look at yourself in the morning. You paid the money for the number itself. One hundred and four million. This is what you bought. And it's worth it. The number justifies itself.”

"Because time is a corporate asset now. It belongs to the free market system. The present is harder to find. It is being sucked out of the world to make way for the future of uncontrolled markets and huge investment potential. The future becomes insistent. This is why something will happen soon, maybe today," she said, looking slyly into her hands. "To correct the acceleration of time. Bring nature back to normal, more or less.”

"You know what capitalism produces. According to Marx and Engels."

"Its own grave-diggers," he said.

"But these are not the grave-diggers. This is the free market itself. These people are a fantasy generated by the market. They don't exist outside the market. There is nowhere they can go to be on the outside. There is no outside.”


It took him a moment to absorb the words and identify the line. He knew the line of course. It was out of a poem he'd been reading lately, one of the few longer poems he'd chosen to investigate, a line, half a line from the chronicle of a city under siege.

It was exhilarating, his head in the fumes, to see the struggle and ruin around him, the gassed men and women in their defiance, waving looted Nasdaq T-shirts, and to realize they'd been reading the same poetry he'd been reading.

There was a shadow of transaction between the demonstrators and the state. The protest was a form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating. It attested again, for the ten thousandth time, to the market culture's innovative brilliance, its ability to shape itself to its own flexible ends, absorbing everything around it.

"People will not die. Isn't this the creed of the new culture? People will be absorbed in streams of information. I know nothing about this. Computers will die. They're dying in their present form. They're just about dead as distinct units. A box, a screen, a keyboard. They're melting into the texture of everyday life. This is true or not?”

"There you sit, of large visions and prideful acts. Why die when you can live on disk? A disk, not a tomb. An idea beyond the body. A mind that's everything you ever were and will be, but never weary or confused or impaired. It's a mystery to me, how such a thing might happen. Will it happen someday? Sooner than we think because everything happens sooner than we think. Later today perhaps. Maybe today is the day when everything happens, for better or worse, ka-boom, like that.”

The woman looked away when he approached. It was Elise, noncommittally, in profile. "You smoke since when."

She answered without turning to face him, speaking from a seeming distance.

"I took it up when I was fifteen. It's one of those things a girl takes up. It tells her she's more than a skinny body no one looks at. There's a certain drama in her life."

"She notices herself. Then other people notice her. Then she marries one of them. Then they go to dinner,” he said.

But he felt old, watching them dance. An era had come and gone without him. They melted into each other so they wouldn't shrivel up as individuals.

"Everything's a scandal. Dying's a scandal. But we all do it.”

When I was employed I kept small accounts at five major banks. The names of major banks are breathtaking in the mind and there are branches all over town. I used to go to different banks or to branches of the same bank. I had episodes where I went from branch to branch well into the night, moving money between accounts or just checking my balances. I entered codes and examined numbers. The machine takes us through the steps. The machine says, Is this correct? It teaches us to think in logic blocks.

It's hard for me to speak directly to people. I used to try to tell the truth. But it's hard not to lie. I lie to people because this is my language, how I talk. It's the temperature inside the head of who I am. I don't aim remarks at the person I'm speaking to but try to miss him, or glance a remark so to speak off his shoulder.

After a time I began to take satisfaction in this. It was never in me to mean what I said. Every unnecessary lie was another way to build a person. I see this clearly now.

There are dead stars that still shine because their light is trapped in time. Where do I stand in this light, which does not strictly exist?

He stood in the street. There was nothing to do. He hadn't realized this could happen to him. The moment was empty of urgency and purpose. He hadn't planned on this. Where was the life he'd always led? There was nowhere he wanted to go, nothing to think about, no one waiting. How could he take a step in any direction if all directions were the same?

He liked that, the sound of wind knocking through the rooms and halls. He liked the two rats he saw moving toward the food nearby. The rats were good. The rats were fine and right, thematically sound.

I've seen a hundred situations like this. A man and a gun and a locked door. My mother used to take me to the movies. After my father died my mother took me to the movies. This is what we did as a parent and a child. And I saw two hundred situations where a man stands outside a locked room with a gun in his hand. My mother could tell you the actor's name in every case. He stands the way I'm standing, back to the wall. He is ramrod straight and he holds the gun the way I'm holding the gun, pointed up. Then he turns and kicks open the door. The door is always locked and he always kicks it open. These were old movies and new movies. Didn't matter. There was the door, there was the kick. She could tell you the actor's middle name, his marital history, the name of the rest home where his abandoned mother dozes in a chair. Always a single kick suffices. The door flies open at once.

Because no matter what kind of movie we went to, it was a spy thriller, it was a western, it was a romance, it was a comedy, there was always a man with a gun outside a locked room who was ready to kick in the door. At first I didn't care about their relationship. But now I'm thinking they did amazing things because why else would he want to whisper her name to his handgun?

How many times do two people have to fuck before one of them deserves to die?

"All right. I don't have the manhood to know these names. Men know these names. You have the experience of manhood. I can't think that far ahead. It's all I can do to be a person.”

He looked at Benno. He covered the watch with his good hand. He thought about his wife. He missed Elise and wanted to talk to her, tell her she was beautiful, lie, cheat on her, live with her in middling matrimony, having dinner parties and asking what the doctor said.

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