Welcome to The Culture Wrap! Our Friday feature edited by Jessie Tu, that shares her pick of things to read, hear and watch. Just in time for the weekend.
What to watch:
Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (dir. Alexandra Dean), STAN
Hollywood has a complicated relationship with female movie stars. It has an even harder time depicting female movies stars who have an aggressive sense of their own intellectual capacities.
If I had one goal in my life, it would be to normalise the use of the term ‘genius’ to describe women. Most people hear the name “Hedy Lamarr” and think “Hollywood Bombshell.” She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world while she starred in numerous films throughout the 20th century.
Four years ago, a former Forbes staff writer uncovered taped interviews of the then 76-year old Lamarr, telling a secret life of an inventor that very few people knew about. Who knew that a conventionally beautiful face could also harbour a ferocious and deep intellect? Well, our society makes us believe that women are either or. You’re either beautiful or you’re smart.
She was born Hedwig Kiesler (what a great name) and wanted to become a scientist. It was derailed by her beauty. And because women didn’t get to be scientists in those days. At 16, she walked into a film studio and people took notice. She got naked in a controversial role in Ecstasy and then that established her as a certain type of woman. She got married at 19, the first of six marriages throughout her life.
She became the arm-piece of many men. She believed people never got over her face. “You never know if people love you or their fantasy of you.”
This documentary shows an engrossing history of her life as an inventor, coming up with a secure radio communication method during the Second World War.
What to hear:
Music: Haim, Women in Music Pt. III
At the end of 2013, I heard a song that I believed was one of the greatest songs ever written. It was called “The Wire”, from a band called HAIM. “Haim?” I said to my then-partner. “How do you even pronounce that?” He shrugged and said it was an okay song. I was obsessed and a bit offended that he didn’t get my obsession. Hmmm, perhaps a sign of our incompatibility? The first line of the song opens; “You know I’m bad at communication, it’s the hardest thing for me to do.” Then said-partner and I are still very close friends. I’m a bit better at communication, though the song is still, I think, one of the best pop songs ever written.
Last month, the criminally gorgeous trio (who are sisters) released their third album, “Women in Music Pt. III” – probably their best yet. If L.A has a sound, it’s HIAM.
View this post on Instagram
HOLY SHIT just found out we got the #1 album in the U.K.!!! we have been so overwhelmed all week seeing how many of you around the world have been listening to the album and wanted to thank u all from the bottom of our hearts for supporting us and wimpiii. the SECOND that it’s safe, we’re gonna be out playing it for you guys and we can all scream these songs together. sending so much love from Los Angeles 💙
Top tracks include “3am”, (about a booty-call) “Gasoline” (about a toxic relationship) and “Now I’m in it”; a cool earworm on a very complicated relationship that has the velocity and stir of Savage Garden’s “Cherry Cola.”
Most songs are injectable relationship-in-trouble sort of anthems. There’s the band’s signatory retro groove-ness and musical fluidity, with breezy 70s rock-esque saxophone riffs, addictive guitar licks and stomping bass solos. Another track that might make you lose a bit of concentration during the day is “Man from the magazine”, a track that wails about the incessant sexism the young women still face. “What did you say? / Do you make the same faces in bed? / Hey, man, what kind of question is that?”
Podcast: Nu Voices, Izzy Niu on Storytelling and conditional belonging
July 11 Episode
When people ask me about identity, I have a mini-earth-quake in my brain. It begins like a small tremor and then shakes more vigorously when I realise I don’t know how to answer the question. I don’t know how to answer the question because the answer is always changing. For black people, people with disability, gay people, transgender people, any group of marginalised ‘other’ — this is a common phenomenon. We are geniuses of transformation because society requires us to constantly shift ourselves in order to not be killed – literally and metaphorically.
Nu Voices is an international collective of emerging writers, journalists, translators and artists who celebrate the creative work of self-identified women working on the subject of China. Podcast episodes centre around conversations with excruciatingly talented women who offer insights about their careers, projects and what’s happening in China.
In the July pod, Izzy Niu, a freelance journalist and producer talks about her journey from China to the United States, the social and political issues in American pop culture and her evolving sense of belongingness in her adopted home.
NEW: Award-winning journalist @Izzy_Niu speaks with @c1ndygao about her journey from China to the United States, her work in media, and her evolving sense of identity and “belongingness” in her adopted home. https://t.co/sloKfvipdy #podcast #media— NüVoices 女性之音 (@NuVoices) July 12, 2020
What to read:
Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is most famous, I believe, for her insanely-well-written piece on Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP feature written in NYTimes Magazine in September 2018.
Fleishman is in Trouble is her first book. I know, I know. I’m late to the game. Everyone post-mid-2019 was reading this book. It felt like a literary sensation I’d not seen in years. (Well, I suppose Sally Rooney comes close).
I didn’t catch up on this craze until last week, when my sister shipped to me her copy after she finished consuming it. And I’ve been inhaling it like air. I literally cannot put it down. (Like, literally. Like, I am late to dates. I forgot to eat. I have missed my train stop — by five stops at one point.)
Not only is this book a 373-clump of deliciously good writing (which seems rarer and rarer these days, despite the wildly fastidious rate upon which books are being published), the human beings in this story are So. Godamn. Real. Most of my closest friends are un-married. Fewer still have children. So the subject of this book (divorce, and post-divorce-life) is utterly foreign to me. And yet, I felt the lacerating pain of insecurity, despair and confusion facing each character.
As the book progresses, it just gets better and better, and sadder and sadder. My heart broke and then mended itself, broke and redid its thing. And in the end, in the dying last pages, I felt a wave of emotions, mostly something akin to grief, or melancholy, float through my body, and drain me in some strange, fluid state of tenderness. I was made a little bit weaker by this book: weaker in the sense that my heart was crushed by the lessons of the inevitable fallibility of love, or human beings, of want we all want, which is both complicated and the easiest thing in the world: to be loved. And this book was a huge, great, searing reminder of all that we are.