When you purchase something using affiliate links on our site, The New Yorker may earn a portion of the sales revenue, which helps to support our journalism.

What do you want to do?

Our staff and contributors share their latest enthusiasms in books, music, podcasts, movies, TV, and more.

  • In Hollywood, the term “dump months” is used to describe fallow periods in the release schedule, when audiences are less likely to go to theatres and revenue is low. It’s during these windows—January and February, say, or mid-August through September—that the arty, low-budget, or off-kilter movies show up, free from the shadow of blockbusters. In the coronavirus era, with most major studios moving big theatrical releases to 2021 or later, every month is a dump month. The films being released are, by and large, titles that never would have made a splash at the box office to begin with.

    “The Rental,” a lean and slick thriller about a casual Airbnb stay gone catastrophically wrong, is one such film, and it thoroughly scratches the summer horror-flick itch. The directorial début of Dave Franco, brother to James Franco, the film follows two couples on a weekend getaway to a palatial, ocean-view rental house in the Pacific Northwest. There’s Charlie and Michelle, who, as played by Dan Stevens and Alison Brie, make a winning husband and wife. Then there’s Charlie’s troubled younger brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and his girlfriend, Mina (Sheila Vand), who’s strong-willed and accomplished, and who happens to be Charlie’s work partner at a newly successful venture-capital firm. Tucked away in a spectacularly remote part of the country, the four are left with nothing to do but confront the demons of their past. (Charlie has a secret history of philandering; Josh has a criminal record.) Franco and his co-writer, the indie-film darling Joe Swanberg, are deft observers of character. But they also manage to provide an entire summer’s worth of stimulation: “The Rental” is a slasher film masquerading as a psychological thriller, and is also a commentary on the racially fraught nature of renting an Airbnb, a seductive slice of real-estate pornography, a cautionary tale about the perils of surveillance technology, and, to top it all off, a study of a love quadrangle which allows for some titillating speculation about Dave Franco’s fraternal relationships. If I could see it again on the big screen, I would.

  • The other night, I found myself once again scrolling the multiple streaming services I subscribe to, and wondering, as I often do, which show or movie would allow me to relax my brain into a pleasing limpness. Should I pick the reality dating show about Indian singles looking to enter an arranged marriage with the help of an unflappable matchmaker? The documentary series about the face-off between federal agents and New York goodfellas in the seventies and eighties? The travel show in which a tetchy British comedian joins celebrities on jaunts to various international locales? All of these seemed solid options, if fairly mindless. Then I noticed that Martin Ritt’s 1979 drama, “Norma Rae,” which I hadn’t watched since high school, was on Hulu. Relaxing my brain, I decided, could wait for the night.

    For those who haven’t seen the movie, or whose memory of it is hazy, a recap: Norma Rae Webster—played by a ferocious Sally Field, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role, in 1980—is a Southern single mom of two who works on the dim, noisy floor of the town textile mill, where her parents, and, likely, her grandparents, have worked before her. It’s a grim, precarious, and repetitive job, which makes for a grim, precarious, and repetitive existence. Early on in the movie, we see her attempt to rouse her mother, who has gone temporarily deaf from the incessant din of the mill’s machines. The plant doctor is unimpressed: “Now, you know it happens, Norma Rae. It happens all the time!,” he says, suggesting that the older woman “can get herself another job” if this one isn’t to her liking. But in their mill town there is no other job, and no real alternative to the low-paying and dangerous work that the plant provides.

    Though she is as constrained as anyone by her work and life conditions, Norma Rae is spirited. The movie’s original theatrical poster, an image of which is used as a thumbnail on Hulu, shows Field silhouetted on a white background, smiling widely as she raises her arms high in a cheesy triumphant stance, a slice of bare tummy revealed over the waistband of her jeans. The film itself, however, presents the character’s spunk as an angrier, more complicated, and occasionally self-defeating thing. She rails against her circumstances by talking back—to the worthless men she sleeps with and who degrade her, to her loving but domineering father, to her uncaring bosses. “Norma Rae, you have the biggest mouth in this mill,” one of her managers tells her, before attempting to neutralize her workplace demands—for a Kotex machine in the women’s bathroom, for longer smoke breaks, for more time off—by giving her a supervisor job, which she leaves soon afterward, when she realizes that it makes her a “fink” in the eyes of her fellow-workers. “You’re looking fine, Norma Rae,” the deadbeat father of one of her children tells her, when he runs into her at a local baseball game. “I’m always fine. I’m a horse!” she tells him, defiantly. Like a horse, she is strong, and she keeps going, but she also has blinders on. On her own, she is unable to shift course.

    A turn comes about when Reuben Warshowsky (the great Ron Leibman, who died this past December), an organizer for the Textile Workers Union of America, arrives. A New Yorker, Reuben is an oddity in town, and his unionization efforts are met with resistance. As far as most millhands are concerned, he is a communist Jew interloper who will cost them their jobs. Norma Rae, however, is intrigued. “I think you’re too smart for what’s happening to you,” Reuben, with whom she develops a platonic but transformative relationship, tells her. The film’s most iconic and well-known scene—and the one I recalled, from watching it as a teen—is a moment when Norma Rae stands on a table at the mill and holds up a sign that reads “UNION,” until, one by one, the workers around her stop their machines and silence falls on the factory floor.

    On this viewing, what struck me even more strongly, however, was the movie’s suggestion that no struggle can take place alone. Norma Rae is heroic, but she comes into her own, as a woman, because she is fighting for class solidarity—a struggle that, in turn, could not happen without a breaking down of long-standing ethnic and racial barriers. Even though he is Jewish, Reuben doesn’t have horns, as Norma Rae was taught to expect (“I’ve never met a Jew before,” she tells him. “As far as I can see, you look just like the rest of us”), and, though she is a woman, habitually derided by men, he treats her as his equal. What’s more, the racist tactics taken by the factory bosses, who try to persuade white employees that their Black co-workers are scheming to take over the union, can only be countered by a white-Black coalition working together against management. Speaking from the pulpit at a Black church, Reuben tells the workers of his grandfather’s textile union and its members: “When they spoke, they spoke in one voice, and they were heard. And they were Black, and they were white, and they were Irish, and they were Polish, they were Catholic, and they were Jews.” To watch the scene, toward the end of the movie, in which the factory workers chant as one, to celebrate their unionization victory, is to be reminded of something that is not only moving but also, still, more relevant than ever.

  • A fashion of the Baroque era, the Wunderkammer, or “cabinet of curiosities,” was a wealthy patron’s collection of random artifacts from across time and space: animals, art, plant specimens, mechanical devices, religious relics. Bits of ancient Roman statuary were nestled next to conch shells, as portrayed in a painting by Frans Francken the Younger from 1636. The purpose of the collection was to be admired, the objects examined one by one as hints of the world’s unknowable breadth.

    The French artist Camille Henrot’s thirteen-minute video-art masterpiece, “Grosse Fatigue” (“Major Exhaustion,” or, as a 1994 comedy translated the phrase, “Dead Tired”), is a Wunderkammer of and for the Internet era. Made in 2013, the piece is now streaming on YouTube until July 16th as part of an online exhibition called “Video Lives,” from the Museum of Modern Art. (Because video art is so rarely displayed in full online, it is something of a rare item in its own right.) “Grosse Fatigue” emerges from and dissects the endless archives we’ve created online. It’s somewhere between a video essay (that arcane format) and a supercut, collaging found archival clips, Henrot’s own footage, meme GIFs, and documentary shots from inside the Smithsonian, where Henrot developed the piece during a residency.

    “Grosse Fatigue” depicts, more or less, the evolution of life on Earth, mashing up creation myths and scientific theories, art, poetry, and the human body, with a conspicuous lack of boundaries that recalls the seventeenth century, when all of those categories were thought to have more in common. The video takes place on a computer screen: on a familiar Mac desktop, with a hard drive labelled “HISTORY_OF_UNIVERSE,” a cursor opens a file titled “GROSSE_FATIGUE_.” Offscreen, the artist Akwetey Orraca-Tetteh recites an epic poem written by Henrot and the poet Jacob Bromberg, and a propulsive beat composed by Joakim Bouaziz plays in the background. File-browser frames pop up and close, nesting in one another, piling up. It’s a digital data binge in which resonance matters more than fact or logic.

    “In the beginning, the universe was a black egg where Heaven and Earth were mixed together,” Orraca-Tetteh intones. Wikipedia pages scroll. Henrot paints a Zen circle in ink wash on a bright yellow background, symbolizing the state of an empty mind. A photograph of Jackson Pollock in the act of painting opens over a video clip of someone wearing galaxy-print pants on the subway, the splashes of paint resembling the stars. Orraca-Tetteh chants “coelacanth,” invoking the still-extant species of fish that might have gradually evolved into land vertebrates. Smithsonian conservators gently examine preserved bird bodies. There’s an element of “Grosse Fatigue” that seems akin to ASMR: when the artist’s hands peel a black-dyed egg or roll an orange like a ball of clay, the sounds and gestures get inside your brain, tickling nerve endings and accessing subconscious archetypes. It’s like a headier version of a TikTok compilation.

    Henrot’s work has moved between drawing, sculpture, video, and installation, often collaging different media and subject matters together. Her themes are sprawling: hope, archives, classical myth, the way the detritus of the mind spills out into the world of objects. The format of “Grosse Fatigue” is particularly successful at illuminating the crush of information we face in the twenty-first century, daunting and confusing but also magical, infinitely recombinable. The seventeenth-century Wunderkammer gained its value because of a scarcity of knowledge, which is now obsolete—we can Google anything and see what it looks like. Henrot, working in a period of overwhelming accessibility, restores a sense of wonder and discovery, the epiphany of holding a mysterious specimen in your hands.

  • The Georgian folk dancer is an image of masculine stereotype. His movements are martial, virile; they simulate war, hunting, and the courtship of his beloved. Often accoutered with a double-edged dagger, he personifies the small, proud nation’s history and traditions. So when the Swedish-Georgian director Levan Akin arrived in Tbilisi to shoot the country’s first explicitly queer feature film, a coming-of-age story about a traditional dancer, he was met with not a little hostility. The Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet, the country’s principal dance ensemble, wanted nothing to do with the project. The rights holders to a number of old folk-song recordings refused to co?perate with the film; Akin rerecorded the songs with new artists, many of whom, along with the lead choreographer, declined to be named in the credits. The casting manager received death threats, and the production company retained bodyguards for the crew. Securing locations was so challenging that some scenes had to be shot on the fly, with many roles filled by non-professional actors, lending the film a neorealist aspect. If anyone asked, Akin resorted to lying about the plot: it was, he’d say, about a French tourist who comes to Georgia and falls in love with the culture.

    In truth, “And Then We Danced,” which was released this week on iTunes, centers around a fledgling member of the national dance ensemble, Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), who is auditioning for a spot in the main troupe. His oppressive trainer reproaches him for being too soft, too feminine. “You should be like a nail,” he growls. “This isn’t the lambada.” Offstage, Merab’s life is a grind. To survive, he waits tables, bringing leftovers home for his mother, grandmother, and feckless older brother. He stays up studying grainy videos of Vakhtang Chabukiani, a legendary Georgian dancer, until the electricity cuts out. His entire future, it seems, rides on the upcoming audition, and on the appearance of normalcy the profession demands. “This life is not for everyone,” his trainer tells him in private. “There is no room for weakness.” Outside the dance studio, the first time we see Merab smile is on an early-morning bus ride to rehearsal, when his rival and crush, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), falls asleep on his shoulder.

    In 1934, Joseph Stalin passed Article 154-a, which made “sexual relations between men” punishable by up to five years of hard labor. (Such proclivities in women were treated as a mental-health issue, which, according to one Soviet psychiatrist, could be cured with “pregnancy and child-bearing?.?.?. even after lasting perverted forms of cohabitation with women.”) In 2000, nine years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Georgian parliament decriminalized homosexuality, but the state does not recognize same-sex marriage and, as in the United States, restricts blood donations from sexually active gay men. In one recent survey, fifty-nine per cent of Georgians said that they would object to having a gay neighbor (down from eighty-seven per cent a decade ago). Earlier this year, “And Then We Danced” had the curious honor of being mentioned in Human Rights Watch’s 2020 World Report. At the film’s Georgian première, both in Tbilisi and in the port city of Batumi, the report reads, “ultranationalist hate groups and their supporters organized protests against the screening.” (Its world première was at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it received a fifteen-minute standing ovation; three months later, Sweden submitted the film to the Academy Awards as its entry for the Best International Feature Film category.) One of the protest organizers, Levan Vasadze, a neonationalist millionaire with close ties to the Georgian Orthodox Church, called the film “a moral threat to the fabric of our society.” Many of the demonstrators were parishioners, grandmothers in headscarves carrying prayer candles and wooden icons of the Madonna and Child. “Georgian national dance is the pinnacle of the beauty of our tradition of manhood, warrior spirit, and purity,” Vasadze told the Times. “To pick that very sanctuary and create something as heartbreaking and offensive to our culture as this is ten times more hurtful than if it was just an anti-traditional movie.” In other words, had the film’s protagonist been a gay tax attorney or software developer, it would not have stoked such controversy. After three days of sold-out screenings and rioting, twenty-seven arrests, and one hospitalization, Akin called off the remainder of the film’s run in Georgia.

    Considering this backstory, it may seem odd to view “And Then We Danced” as a love letter to the country in which it’s set, but that is what it is. The film scintillates with the colors, sounds, and textures of Georgia: magisterial vistas of the Caucasus; precise displays of folk dance and dress; a-capella polyphonic singing; delectable shots of freshly baked shoti bread and big plates of khinkali soup dumplings; and the custom of the supra, the hours-long ritual of communal eating, drinking, and toasting. An enormous earthenware jar (kvevri), used for fermenting wine, serves as a backdrop for a love scene. In another scene, Merab dances by the dawning light for Irakli; apart from his boxers, he wears only an old-fashioned sheepherder’s hat (papakhi) and an Orthodox cross. Akin commandeers these traditional elements not to provoke but to raise the questions at the heart of the film: Who counts as authentically Georgian? And who decides?

    “And Then We Danced” celebrates Georgia’s rich cultural heritage while reclaiming it for a broader demographic—for Georgians like Merab, who have been a part of it all along. One particular scene in the film is executed with such understatement that, on my first viewing, I completely missed its import. Merab is rehearsing in front of a mirror. In another room, offscreen but within earshot, a conversation is unfolding on the subject of a young couple who, following an accidental pregnancy, have agreed to marry—in two days’ time, to “save the girl’s honor.” An older woman’s voice is heard evincing disapproval of an ethnically mixed marriage. “I heard she’s Armenian,” she says. “It could be true.” “Jesus Christ,” a younger voice retorts. “Who cares if it is?”

  • If you’re sitting at home—and you are—gazing dully out the window, half-reading half of whatever’s open on your Web browser and thinking how weary, flat, and unprofitable all the uses of this world seem to be, then click on over to YouTube and watch Michael Urie reprise his 2013 performance of “Buyer & Cellar,” Jonathan Tolins’s one-man show about an actor who takes a job staffing a fake mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement. Yes, it’s digital live theatre—Urie performed the show, which was produced by Broadway.com, Rattlestick Theatre, and the Pride Plays, in his living room on Monday night, to raise money for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’s COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund—and, yes, it’s good. In fact, it’s great: frothy and hilarious, satisfyingly seasoned with treachery, bitchery, idolatry, and punctured celebrity hero-worship. Here I’ve been scouring the Web for works of theatre that seem suited to the moment and have been coming up with sombre, worthy stuff that I in no way want to watch. I lasted five minutes into a three-hour-plus recording of a Krzysztof Warlikowski play, in Polish, with English subtitles, billed as a commentary on sacrifice and the Holocaust, which opened with a man and a woman voicing stiff-armed mannequins the size of small children, and I tapped out early from the great Billie Whitelaw’s rendition of Samuel Beckett’s monologue “Rockaby,” whose depiction of isolation and decay seemed, for once, just a bit too on the nose. But I was delighted to stay with “Buyer & Cellar” for its full hour and forty minutes, because that’s what we all need right now: to be trapped in Barbra’s Malibu dream house instead of our own.

    As Tolins, who briefly appears at the start of the video stream, explains, the play sprang from an unlikely source: Streisand’s 2010 coffee-table book, “My Passion for Design” (it seems important to note that she did the principal photography for it herself), in which Babs displayed the frankly terrifying Potemkin shopping street, complete with an antique store and “Gift Shoppe,” that she built in her basement to show off her costumes and possessions to—herself. What if, Tolins wondered, Streisand hired an employee to work down there? Enter Alex, a struggling actor—he can’t even hold a job at Disney World—who lucks into the gig and soon shows a talent for catering to the lady of the house. As he haggles over the price of an antique doll (Barbra wants a discount) and stays late, while Barbra entertains guests upstairs, to man the mall’s frozen-yogurt machine, in case anyone wants to come down for a scoop, Alex falls under the diva’s spell. He becomes her confidant and encourager. She’s wily; he outfoxes her. She’s needy; he affirms her. Alex is living the American fantasy of proximity to fame and fortune, and, though he thinks he’s protected by a jaded attitude, he’s as susceptible as anyone to the promise of intimacy with a star.

    Over at Vulture, the critic Helen Shaw pointed out that, in technical terms, “Buyer & Cellar” should be the model for digital?theatre going forward, and she’s absolutely right. I don’t know what Urie’s living room usually looks like, and I don’t care to. He’s pulled the shades down over his windows and moved his furniture somewhere else, making the space a blank slate; the lighting is clean and bright. Three directors are credited: Nic Cory, who directed the digital production, Stephen Brackett, who directed the original show, and Paul Wontorek, who directed the live stream, which featured—miracle of miracles—a second camera angle, a thrill in the age of the relentless Zoom closeup. (The totally adequate camerawork was done by Urie’s partner, the actor Ryan Spahn.)

    And then there’s Urie, with his antic charisma, consummate pacing, and endearing, confessional manner, amplified by direct addresses into the iPhone camera. He plays not only Alex and Barbra but also Alex’s boyfriend and Streisand’s jaded property manager. One pleasure of the show is seeing him move. He leaps around his living room, and gives Streisand a special slouching walk, part sexy panther, part Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Watching him work his way through Tolins’s pleasurably digressive and cannily structured script is like listening to a story being told by a slightly hapless, hugely entertaining friend. Go watch, and, if you feel so inclined, donate to a worthy cause—you have until midnight on Wednesday.

  • When a Twitter acquaintance put out a call the other day for followers to “Describe Your Taste in 10 Female Voices,” I was game, because it was as much a chance to learn from others’ choices of noteworthy artists as to share enthusiasms of my own. The list I offered ranged from Mary Lou Williams and Dawn Powell to Marguerite Duras and Gena Rowlands, and also included one lesser-known artist whom I similarly revere: Eunice Norton, a classical pianist (who was born in 1908 and died in 2005), whose work I’ve become familiar with almost exclusively from YouTube clips, of which there are more than a hundred.

    The Eunice Norton Archive, her YouTube channel, carries listeners straight to an astounding performance, one that, had it been well known in its time, would likely have been history-making: her 1942 recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” which the site calls the first ever done on a piano rather than a harpsichord. (Claudio Arrau’s recording of it on piano was made in the same year, but it wasn’t released until 1988.) Norton plays the vast and intricate composition with glittering angularity and tactile intensity, intellectual grandeur and joyful energy that make it, from the start, no less bracing and imaginative than Glenn Gould’s celebrated 1955 recording. It should have made her a name to reckon with, rather than one of the thrilling obscurities of artistic history.

    The site offers extended recordings of discussions with Norton, too (fans of the podcast format will delight in Norton’s voice and reminiscences), as well as written interviews, such as one with Bernard Jacobsen, from 1997. A child prodigy, Norton was whisked from her native Minneapolis to London when the great pianist Myra Hess arranged for the young Norton study with Hess’s own piano teacher, Tobias Matthay. While still a teen-ager, Norton launched her concert career; in 1932, she heard Artur Schnabel play Beethoven (he was in the midst of an epochal project, the first complete recording of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas) and spent the next three years studying with him. But then she married a British chemist, Bernard Lewis, and, as one obituary reported, “settled in?.?.?. to raise a family” and “shifted her emphasis to teaching.” An unsigned article on the Norton site gives the rest of the story, which is depressingly exemplary of many great female artists’ trajectories: “Ultimately it was Norton’s management, Columbia Artists, who dealt the decisive blow when they took her off their roster of represented artists.” The piece adds that her many acclaimed concert performances with major orchestras “did not protect her from the idea that a woman should not have a career and a husband simultaneously.”

    Norton nonetheless continued to perform and to record (including privately—Lewis himself made sure that her playing was preserved), as in a pair of spectacular, idiosyncratic recordings from 1949. One features Sonata No. 21 in B flat, D. 960, the last sonata by Schubert, a composer whose music (including this piece) she performed (as Schnabel did) obsessively and audaciously throughout her life. This early recording is unique—brisk and pugnacious, a stormy, bitter Schubert raging against his earthly fetters and then distilling his passions, in the last movement, into headlong lunges, dazzling whirls, and delicate pirouettes. (Its boldness is matched, four decades later, by the reckless thrust and the chorale-like rapture of her 1987 concert performance of Schubert’s Sonata No. 17 in D, D. 850, from Pittsburgh’s Frick Auditorium.)

    Two other early recordings indicate the power and range of Norton’s art. The 1949 performance of Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28, is a modernistic, whirlwind interpretation of the composer’s fiery romanticism and visionary complexities. (She sustained this ardent view of the composer throughout her career, as in a 1979 recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in G, Op. 37, No. 2.) And Norton’s devotion to twentieth-century music is seen in her 1950 recording of transcriptions of two movements from Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” where she brings out the dissonances and abruptness that characterize his later work. But the center of Norton’s career, like the center of Schnabel’s, was Beethoven. In one of the discussions featured in the archive, Norton cites and demonstrates what she deemed “the most unique feature of Schnabel’s teaching,” namely, “to think in shapes.” She adds, “When you think in shapes, you’re getting very close to the process of the composer, you feel that you’re entering into his imagination and his creativity.” Other analysis, she says, is “too abstract,” whereas “when you think in shapes, it’s not abstract at all.”

    Norton and Lewis had a summer house in the small town of Peacham, Vermont, and she turned it into a hive of musical activity, teaching small groups of students there, launching a summer music festival, and giving concerts in the town church. Many of her later recordings come from Peacham, and they make clear both the ferocious spiritual devotion and the ruggedly physical intensity that she derived from Schnabel’s insights. This 1977 performance from Peacham of Beethoven’s last sonata, No. 32, in C minor, Op. 111, has a terrifying, apocalyptic fury to match its celestial wonder. Her last recording of Beethoven’s colossal Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, his ultimate piano masterwork (a vast and comprehensive work that bookends Bach’s Goldberg Variations), spans the hushed momentousness of the occasion—a private 1989 concert at her home after her recovery from surgery and injury—and the titanic essence of Beethoven’s creative power.

  • Most of us who love film noir and have seen all the classics are tantalized by the hard little gems that turn up now and then—lost or forgotten noirs that are sometimes as atmospheric as the better-known ones. In his essay “Notes on Film Noir,” from 1972, the director Paul Schrader argues that, measured by “median level of artistry,” the noir cycle of the nineteen-forties and fifties represented Hollywood at its most creative: “Picked at random, a film noir is likely to be a better made film than a randomly selected silent comedy, musical, Western, and so on.” When a noir obscurity shows up on TCM, or is restored under the auspices of the indispensable Film Noir Foundation and screened at one of its Noir City festivals around the country, chances are it will be well worth seeing. It’s likely to be a B movie—so many noirs were—but that won’t mean it’s any less appealing. Noirs were ideally suited to low budgets and low lighting, tight editing and short running times, stolen shots on city streets.

    Led down some meandering Internet path not long ago—I’ve since forgotten what I was searching for—I came upon a nifty little suburban noir from 1951, “Cause for Alarm!,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Directed by Tay Garnett (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”), it stars the excellent Loretta Young as a housewife, Ellen Jones, tormented by her sadistic invalid husband (Barry Sullivan). Though it was written and directed by men, “Cause for Alarm!” feels like a work of accidental feminism—a cry for help sent telepathically from the fifties. (Maybe the uncredited writing contribution from Dorothy Kingsley helped.) The film takes as its subject a husband’s sinister campaign to undermine his wife’s perception of reality, but the setting is more conventional and ostensibly benign than that of, say, “Gaslight”—not a crepuscular Victorian mansion but a neat, tidy house in a sun-bleached California suburb. In that bright, smug milieu, Ellen is trapped and watched—by the nosy neighbor, the officious postman, even the cute but insistent little boy who keeps dropping by with his toy TV and six-shooters. Like the men in other noirs who’ve been accused of crimes they didn’t commit, Ellen’s reasonable actions attract suspicion, but, in her case, a maddening condescension, too. A notary who comes to the house to see her husband tells her, “He warned me that I’d get some resistance from you” but that “I wasn’t to take you seriously.” It’s a tense, suspenseful movie, with a wry twist at the end, but it’s also, in its way, a sharp-eyed study of the feminine mystique.

  • “He was a renaissance man,” the late Gil Scott-Heron once said, of Langston Hughes. “He wrote songs; he wrote poetry; he wrote columns; he wrote essays. And as a writer myself, I knew that you couldn’t use just one form and get every idea across.” This spirit animated Scott-Heron’s career, and it allowed him to loom, in the cultural consciousness, as something more than just a musician or a poet. The same energy informs a few recent reimaginings of Scott-Heron’s final album, “I’m New Here,” which was released by XL Recordings in 2010. In 2011, the British rave-music revivalist Jamie xx recorded “We’re New Here,” splicing Scott-Heron’s words and rearranging them into a meditative dance record. Some of Jamie xx’s remix, in turn, was used by Drake and Rihanna, as the seed for “Take Care,” the pair’s mournful Top Forty hit. Scott-Heron, who died in 2011, resisted appeals to commercialism, but in listening to that track one got the sense that he could compete with any hit musician of today’s generation.

    The latest artist to remake “I’m New Here” is Makaya McCraven, a jazz drummer and producer from Chicago. Whereas Jamie xx’s take was spacious, even anxious, McCraven adds a shagginess to Scott-Heron’s album, layering in live instrumentation and old jazz recordings that his parents produced. Much of “I’m New Here” ’s original power flowed from its confessional side; Scott-Heron used the album to explore his addictions and family history. McCraven gives those elements a new frame, returning again and again to the theme of matriarchy. “Womenfolk raised me, and I was full grown before I knew I came from a broken home,” Scott-Heron says on the opener, “Special Tribute - (Broken Home Pt. 1),” repudiating the stigma of single parenthood. Scott-Heron spoke often of his all-knowing mother and grandmother, and in McCraven’s hands those figures emerge in the foreground while political ruminations recede. You can’t help but think that Scott-Heron would have been pleased with how McCraven fulfills the Hughes credo—that art and writing are never finished, and that both can continually deepen our perspective.

  • Don’t be fooled by the straightforward title of the lively new book “Video/Art: The First Fifty Years.” A better description of Barbara London’s indispensable and enticingly personal history arrives two pages in, when she writes, “This book describes the madcap trajectory of a pliable medium.” Few guides are more qualified to lead readers through the rapid rise of the once renegade art form, which is now so ubiquitous that screens and paintings share walls in museums—London was the very first curator to introduce video to the Museum of Modern Art, where she championed tech-based experiments for forty-three years. (She retired in 2013.) What makes her book such a fun read is that it’s not exactly the comprehensive survey its title implies. Instead, it’s as much memoir as exegesis, an idiosyncratic front-line report from a deeply informed, intrepid, and passionate pioneer who is still in the trenches. (London now teaches graduate students at Yale, and her exhibition on sound art is about to commence a five-year tour.) Even her curatorial path was unconventional: the native New Yorker was pursuing a graduate degree in Islamic art when she traded the classroom for downtown haunts, like Max’s Kansas City, which was the Cedar Tavern of the electronic avant-garde—or “scenester intermedia mavericks,” in London’s words.

    So, although readers won’t learn about, say, Christian Marclay’s iconic twenty-four-hour video installation “The Clock,” from 2010 (the artist merits a mention, but not regarding his most famous work), they will travel with London to meet Chinese artists in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou, in 1997. (Full disclosure: I was part of a team in New York that produced London’s daily online diary of that visit for MOMA, a blog before the word existed.) Any history of video must begin with the wizardly Korean innovator Nam June Paik (1932-2006), who is widely acknowledged as the medium’s founding father. Paik plays a major role in London’s story, but, in addition to contextualizing him as a towering historical figure, she shares personal anecdotes, including this vivid description of his studio: “I would crawl over and through a maze of electrical wire, tubes, and old circuitry to find Paik often standing in rubber boots, so as not to be electrocuted.”

    Similarly, an in-depth account of the work of the influential New York artist Joan Jonas—who has been combining performance with technology since the late sixties and whose bewitching room-sized installation “Mirage” (conceived in 1976), a six-part game of drawing and erasure, is a highlight of the new MOMA—includes the astrological tidbit that both the curator and the artist are Cancers. (London writes, of this cosmic affinity, “Once we met, I identified with her tenaciousness, imagination, and loyalty as a sympathetic friend.”) One special merit of London’s perspective is her emphasis on the role of women in the medium’s evolution, from familiar names like the pop-culture crossover artist Laurie Anderson to equally important but lesser-known figures like Dara Birnbaum, whose deliriously feminist spin on a DC superhero is also now on view at MOMA, in the five-minute video “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.” Not a bad label for the pathbreaking insights of London herself.

    The cover of Video/Art.
  • The Best of Everything,” Rona Jaffe’s best-seller from 1958, is what you would get if you took “Sex and the City” and set it inside “Mad Men”?’s universe. A novel about three young women who meet while working in the typing pool of a publishing house, it has the white-gloved, Scotch-swilling aesthetic of the fifties but also an unflinching frankness about women’s lives and desires—a combination that makes it feel radical, prescient. In order to write it, Jaffe interviewed fifty women about “the things nobody spoke about in polite company”: losing their virginities, getting abortions, being sexually harassed. “I thought that if I could help one young woman sitting in her tiny apartment thinking she was all alone and a bad girl, then the book would be worthwhile,” Jaffe wrote, in the foreword to the 2005 reissue of her novel. Put simply, she wanted it to say, “Me, too.”

    “The Best of Everything” centers on Caroline Bender, April Morrison, and Gregg Adams. Caroline is a self-possessed Radcliffe graduate who was engaged until her fiancé took a six-week trip to Europe and left her for the first familiar girl he ran into on the ship. She has professional aspirations, which immediately earns her suspicion from her bosses. April is a starry-eyed girl from Colorado who just wants to meet a nice boy but instead falls in with a handsome upper-crust cad who works at Merrill Lynch. And Gregg is an actress who becomes infatuated with an emotionally unavailable theatre director. “Some people are made to be hurt,” Caroline says at one point. “Gregg is that type.” The three become close, search for love, and navigate the indignities of being a woman in the workplace.

    Chief among them is Mr. Shalimar, the editor-in-chief of one of the imprints at Fabian Publications and a serial abuser who would fit right in at Leslie Wexner’s Victoria’s Secret. He asks April, on a night when he requested she work late, “Tell me, what kinds of things do the young boys do when they make love?” and later tries to kiss her in his office. He teases Caroline with the possibility of a promotion and then puts his hand on her knee at after-work drinks. And, most memorably, at the office Christmas party, Mr. Shalimar asks Barbara Lemont, an assistant editor at one of the publisher’s magazines, whether she has nice legs, and, when she doesn’t answer, he crawls under the table to appraise them. “You have beau-ti-ful legs,” he concludes. When he re?merges, he leans in to kiss her, but she dodges him. “What did you think I wanted to do, rape you?” he cries. “You’re fired. Don’t you dare come into this office on Monday.”

    Refreshingly, Jaffe doesn’t treat this episode with cheerful permissiveness, doesn’t present it as having a kind of louche glamour. Instead, she stays close to Barbara. “For the first time that evening her feelings were revealed completely on her face—resolution, fury, and desperation. ‘I need this job,’ she said. ‘He’s not going to take it away from me if I have to go to Mr. Fabian himself.’?”

    It’s no better outside of work, either. On dates, which Barbara describes as “hand-to-hand combat,” men force themselves on the women. At a wedding, the bride’s drunk uncle pinches their cheeks and squeezes their waists as they try to politely signal that they’d rather be left alone.

    Yet “The Best of Everything” imparts this vision with sly humor, top-notch banter, and a sudsy plot that made me gasp out loud. The book still reads like a romance, still gets its propulsiveness from the question of whether the characters will find the love they desire and happiness therein. Will Caroline’s fiancé come back to her? Will April’s socialite boyfriend commit to her? Will the married man whom Barbara Lemont is in love with leave his wife for her? And do we even want them to? Or are they all bad news? In fact, Jaffe uses the badness of men to raise the stakes for finding a good one; love becomes a heroic quest rather than a doomed endeavor. In this sense, “The Best of Everything” cunningly enacts a tragic irony: the worse men behave, the more fervently the characters turn to men to find exceptions to the rule.

    Cover of The Best of Everything

About The New Yorker Recommends

The New Yorker Recommends is where our critics, editorial staff, and contributors share their enthusiasms in the worlds of books, music, movies, TV, and the Internet. The page is updated regularly, and the picks range from new releases to revisited favorites. For more, sign up for The New Yorker Recommends newsletter, which culls from both this page and the magazine’s wider cultural coverage. To stay on top of our culture and news coverage every day, and the magazine each week, download The New Yorker Today app. You can subscribe to The New Yorker for access to the full contents of the magazine, as well as the entirety of its archives.

蓝月亮246精选大全