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:
NOW AND THEN (dir. Lesli Linka Glatter, 1996)
Nostalgia. I know I go on and on about the importance of film in educating us about the world, but I just as often reach for films the way one might reach for fried chips across the table while you’re on your period. No guilt. There is such a thing as watching a film purely for the sake of comfort. And sometimes, it’s necessary to take that path down our old wistful desires. You know what I’m talking about. Bathe in that sentimental yearning for the pure kind of happiness that feels more and more distant as the years go by. The kind of happiness that feels exclusive to those under the age of ten.
This week, I continued my expedition through 90s films by watching Lesli Linka Glatter’s 1995 version of my generation’s “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants”. Or, the mid-90s girl version of “Stand by Me”. I’d never heard of “Now and Then”, but when it popped up on my Netflix homepage, I clicked on it because I saw Christina Ricci’s face. And I love Christina Ricci.
In this ‘coming-of-age’ film (whatever does that even mean?) she plays the “Tomboy” (another label I reckon needs to be tossed) simply meaning, she’s not in pastel-colored sundresses and pigtails with ringlets dangling across her brows. Her three friends are played by equally charming actresses potent in the nineties – Gaby Hoffmann, Thora Birch (pre-Ghost World), and Ashleigh Aston Moore, who tragically died at the age of 26 from a drug overdose.
It’s the summer of 1970. The girls ride bikes with ribbons strung around their handlebars. The boys wear pre-distressed baseball caps. It’s a movie from the 90s that yearns for the 70s. And here I am, telling you about yearning for a yearning that feels so necessary at this time.
I cling to stories about female friendship like a sailor roughing it in the mid-Atlantic high seas. Why? Because I’ve always known there’s a truth and resolve settled among women that can’t be mined in relationships with men. Though this story of a quartet of 12-year old white girls in the tiny town of Shelby, Indiana is rather unrelatable to me (at 12, I was not allowed to hang out with friends, and I certainly hadn’t ever come across the word “sex”) it still gave me the feeling of some unplaceable solace; you know that feeling.
Many intelligent folks in the cinema-intelligesia have called this film “cliched”, “predictable, but pleasant.” Well, I say — Tim Tams are predictably delicious right? Doesn’t mean I stop eating them.
What to hear:
Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims (1956)
I only listen to jazz. I used to go around saying this, because it used to be true. For a few months in my mid-20s, I couldn’t tolerate anything but jazz. Mostly, the generic classics from the illuminating 50s and 60s. I listened to Art Blakey, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Theolonius Monk. I spent rent money on over-priced LPs from inner-west record stores and raided my brother’s friend’s old collections; I acquired limited edition Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I spent so many hours of my life listening to their sonic melancholy.
Yet, in the last few years, I’ve come to mourn the tragedy of the homogeneity of jazz; it’s an extremely male-dominated craft. Yes, I know. There’s Ella Fitzgerald. Dinah Washington. Billy Holiday. Nina Simone. Legends. Geniuses. True. But outside of vocalists? I couldn’t name a single one. Shame on me.
So I went out and searched. And I found Jutta Hipp. Hipp was a German daughter who took up the piano at age 9. She had to listen to jazz with her ears pressed against the radio, often transcribing tunes played on forbidden stations. (The Nazis’ didn’t like jazz). She toured Germany with Dizzy Gillespie. She escaped to the US at the age of 30, where she played alongside Hans Koller, Art Blakey and American saxophonist Zoot Sims; the latter whom she recorded an album with in 1956. Hipp continued to play around New York City, recorded another five albums, and then stopped, suddenly, at age of 35.
What happened? Nobody knows. She went on to work in a factory for a men’s clothing chain until her death at the age of 78. What happened to Jutta Hipp? We will continue to ask this question. For now, this is what we have; her music; her honey-dripping melodies, her juicy tempos, her delicious, sensual phrases on the keys. This album belongs in the Sunday-afternoon slot; those few twilight hours when the working week has not yet made its penetrating graze upon your consciousness, when that other world hasn’t yet pushed your delightful hours away; when you want to simply relax on your Eames lounge, port in hand, eyelids comfortably shut, mind twirling to a place of rest, tranquility and resoluteness.
Michelle Obama: Protests and Pandemic with Michele Norris
Speaking of going back in time, Michelle Obama’s second episode of her new podcast “The Michelle Obama Podcast” has her chatting to her longtime friend Michele Norris, a The Washington Post journalist.
The two women talk about their youth, comparing stories and discussing the differences between their adolescence with today’s youths. Whatever happened to sitting alone in a room and daydreaming? (There was a time when we weren’t all handcuffed to a phone). It’s an enlightening chat about how far this world has moved in the last few decades, and a searing reminder for us all to take time out to care for our own wellbeing – whatever form that takes.
View this post on Instagram
We’ve all been dealing with a lot of change in our lives and our communities. We’ve experienced the shock—and the aftershocks—of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And all this is happening amid this life-altering pandemic, which has upended so much of life as we’ve always understood it. All this change can feel pretty heavy—and we’re often left to deal with it at a moment when we’re forced to spend more time alone—more time in our own heads—than we’re used to. I couldn’t think of anyone better to talk about all of this with than my friend and confidante, @michele__norris. In the next episode of The #MichelleObamaPodcast, we’re talking about life during this strange and exhausting time. You can listen to our conversation now on @Spotify—link in my bio.
Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
After last week’s emotional tsunami of a book (Fleishman is in Trouble) I immediately picked up my next book on my bookshelf; Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry.
No spoilers, I promise — but there are some things you should know before you launch into this literary treat: firstly, the writing is exquisite. Exquisite in the way Alexander Sokurov’s 2003 film Russian Ark is exquisite.
Secondly, it’s set out in three parts, and I’ll only give you some details about the first part (because you need to read on to be warmly surprised). And thirdly, it feels timeless, which I guess is much like my first point; exquisite, artful writing.
I read sentences, and between sentences, and lingered on words, and grammar and rhythm. Reading this book felt like dining at a very expensive wine and cheese bar. The first part tells the loosely autobiographical story of Halliday’s May-December affair with Phillip Roth. I found some physical descriptions of the ailing man in his mid-70s having sex with a 25-year old woman somewhat uncomfortable to read, but that’s a judgement of my own prudence I guess. Mind you, the sex was not at all explicit. It is precisely the softness with which the author approaches these scenes of intimacy that makes it all the more salacious — my imagination is left to soar, creep, wander. And oh, the wild places it goes.
View this post on Instagram
“I like fiction that acknowledges its inability to supplant reality.” American writer Lisa Halliday is widely praised for her debut novel ‘Asymmetry’ (2018). Watch her talk about writing and the writers from which she draws inspiration and encouragement – from Flaubert to Mario Vargas Llosa – in our NEW VIDEO. Link in the bio🎥📚 #louisianachannel #louisianamuseum #louisianalit #louisianaliterature #lisahalliday @politikensforlag @simonandschuster @grantabooks @editorial_alfaguara @feltrinelli_editore @louisianaliterature @poetswritersinc