2020 Series/Volume





Initially published April 3, 2020
Last updated November 24, 2020





April 2020 Picks




1 TV ad

The Canada version of the "Courage Is Beautiful" ad for Dove (uploaded 8 April 2020)

Dove's "Courage Is Beautiful" TV ad via Ogilvy Canada. (Released in Canada and the US, 8 April 2020)
    SINCE 2004, with the help of ad/marketing/PR agency Ogilvy, the ostensibly biggest soap brand in the world, Dove, started to depart from the usual conscription of a model "face" for its ad campaigns' "faces" roster, opting for beauty beyond modeling-agency ideals. Never mind if that's not what Unilever did with its other brand, Axe. Touting this as Dove's sticking up for "real beauty," you could say that the brand has truly democratized the model-face image in beauty-product advertising with its "non-models," leading us away from a modern kind of myopia or royalism, as if to say, "the myth of beauty is just a product of cultural perception." Or, "no such thing as an ordinary face; every face is beautiful, for as long as it uses Dove." Aptly named the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, the new direction came out with classics like 2016's "Mannequin Challenge," liberating the color white from classicism and privilege and making it work for realism and the inhabitants of a mundane world.
    In this month of a continuing anti-SARS-CoV-2 lockdown, Dove, with Ogilvy Canada, stretched its democratization further with a "courage is beautiful" theme for a single ad that featured overtaxed health workers, N95-mask marks or bruises clear on their faces. In another time such an ad would be seen as a too-spun-out version of the campaign's gospel, but in our present frightening crisis it looks classy, even. Well, anti-Fascist Guernica has always looked classy; go figure.
    The ad's vantage point is still in line with the Real Beauty campaign's purportedly liberated eyes. It nudges us to see this chiller in our present war moment, visceral beauty that we've been taking for granted or have been hiding behind our cosmetic outlooks in life, thanks to the magazine-pollution or billboard-saturation of our peacetime tastes. This month, nurses and doctors, erstwhile mere fellow employees in our multi-industry world of specializations, have suddenly loomed large in our vistas, bigger than the suddenly-gone-prosaic athletes we just intermittently see appear on camera now, helplessly quarantined in their homes (and undershirts) like the rest of us.
    Those N95- or FFP-armored warriors of the day are our new beautiful icons. It wouldn't matter if someone or something accidentally sends blood or dirt or povidone-iodine onto their faces. They're already our new action heroes, our past two months' Roman gods.



2 Animated short films

Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani, 2 Lizards: Episode 1, 2020 from Artforum on Vimeo.


Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani, 2 Lizards: Episode 2, 2020 from Artforum on Vimeo.


Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani, 2 Lizards: Episode 3, 2020 from Artforum on Vimeo.

Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani's 2 Lizards video trilogy. (18 March, 25 March, and 3 April 2020, on Instagram and the Artforum channel on Vimeo)
    FILM editor Orian Barki and renowned Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani were self-quarantining in New York City and so came up with a trio of playful animated videos that are also female-buddy films, the first episode of which went up to Artforum's account on Vimeo last 18 March. The next episodes went up on 25 March and 3 April respectively, completing the charming trilogy. We're calling it a trilogy because we don't know if another episode is going to go up later on Artforum's channel on Vimeo where we saw these, but we only mean to say that the videos already look quite complete seen that way, as a trilogy.
    The videos are a black comedy in the sense that they put a bright light into the threatening dark ennui of self-isolating. We say threatening, given that dark stories have been told about people isolated from the rest of the world, mostly involving situations like that in Room (the 2015 film), or simply involving irritability within the usual silence within a room or apartment unit that may result in domestic violence, incestuous rape, nervous breakdowns or, worse, depression, suicide, and so on. But we also say it's comedy because the personified two lizard protagonists in the series remind us of both Kermit the Frog (with their voice, color, and humor) and Geico's gecko (with their shape). Their shine even sometimes makes them look like those seals in the zoo that balance balls, inviting us to already clap our hands at the sight of them dancing on the rooftop deck.
    The presence of other animals in the series also reminds us of those other animated animals in American TV advertisements that have become quite a common sight. Maybe these animated animals in American pop culture say a lot about the influence of children's literature tradition that has bled into the Walt Disney culture that continues to be big in the American psyche. Or maybe that overwhelming animal presence in TV advertising primarily signifies a lowered production cost already departing from the hiring of either expensive commercial models with their agencies' markups or from actors with their unions' threats. Or maybe it just says America has always been a land of animals, which would sound both dark and funny in itself as a thought. But the animals in these videos by Barki and Bennani are as harmless as those in Winnie the Pooh.
    The positivity doesn't end there. The script of video 1 starts with talk about a real advantage brought about by this confinement, and the following episodes make that talk turn out to be not just "a quarantine week-1 thing to say." The video then quotes reality during this period with musical talent (here of some animals) going out into the community from the limits of rooftops, terraces/balconies, and windows. It closes with the lizards (who may be representations of Barki and Bennani) doing a synchronic dance on the rooftop ledge. It's not so dire for B 'n' B to be confined up there in the air, after all, is it? B 'n' B up in the air! (Air B 'n' B, get it?)
    In video 2, the lizards go out and drive their car to go somewhere ("technically we're inside"). One of the lizards offers an insight: this self-quarantining is actually something already quite familiar to celebrities. And although the episode offers a few frights here and there, both from the relatively people-less urbanscape that looks like something from Blade Runner and from the characters' imagination regarding the virus ("Fuck, I just touched my nose!"), it all finds resolution via a literal possible-savior in rain. Just . . . woww!
    Then came video 3 in early April, actually the video that prompted us to pay the series some notice on our list, not necessarily because it's the best of the three. It opens with a salute to fantasy film, here represented by a Harry Potter film poster. Zoom out to reveal a female tiger doing a waist-trimming slow dance exercise. Turns out it's just one of those uploaded YouTube or Vimeo videos by one of those celebs that one of our lizards is watching on her laptop from her bed. Cut and our lizard is now doing selfies while reading a book by creative director Robyn Crawford. Her laptop soon displays the sad breaking news about America's being now the country with the most COVID-19 cases, but the mouse newscaster soon drops an April Fools joke aimed at landlords to make us laugh. A mouse, by the way, has in our time been regarded as a symbol of endurance, adaptability, and great focus, although previously they were seen "as links to the Underworld, due to their connection to the ground." Dr. Fauci appears in the news too, and we see that he's here a green snake; decidedly of the harmless opheodrys genus, but nonetheless an image that would be seen as threatening by the Pepe Frogs of the alt-right. :)
    All that is not going to ruin B and B's positivity. Sure, this breaking news means that it's going to be a long long long flight . . . but "with better food," and so on. See what they think everyone is turning into these days, which could permanently turn a lot of restaurants into just food markets selling ingredients. Even celebs you'd only see on TV are now emerging as your neighbor taking their walk in this big equalizer. Sure there's all these images, too, of frightening SARS-CoV-2-hijacked cruise ships and tear-jerking tributes to healthcare workers in constant danger as we speak. But then there are also the Zoom birthdays we can crash anytime that we hitherto would not be paying notice at all. Just . . . awww.



3 Arguments for a material culture object

A surgical mask. [Photo from commons.wikimedia.org]

The cultural arguments (expected to continue) in defense of people wearing the surgical mask, that new everyday object more have academically been wearing since early March, independent of doctors' earlier advice.
    THERE have been big debates about whether the government (ours and others') should have done this or that, even about whether the 2019-nCoV came from a Wuhan market or the Wuhan Institute of Virology, among so many more. Those debates, political and not in nature but concerning everyone, come with the territory of being in a pandemic.
    But if we zoom in on the everyday objects that are looming large in this moment of historic debates, none would be more immediately magnetic to the itch to create prose around its contexts than the surgical mask. Undoubtedly, this period would also be remembered as that span in time when, at the onset of things and even late into the game in early April, the surgical mask was still a subject of contention among medical authorities and media pundits. That small, delicate piece became the center of a scientific tug of war within that year of our Lord 2020.
    On January 31, Time published an article by contributor Mahita Gajanan titled "Can Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus? Experts Say That Depends." Later in March, the international magazine would publish "Why Wearing a Face Mask Is Encouraged in Asia, but Shunned in the U.S.," written by Hillary Leung, a contributor to Time, which painted a loud signal not only of an existing large culture of denial among conservative-leaning Americans but also concerning the impact the don't-get-a-mask message coming from the health sector had created, resulting in a wide embrace of a no-to-masks philosophy by the American population. [On April 3, however, the updated version of Gajanan's article placed this note on the page: "A previous version of this article was based on expert guidance at the time of publication, but as the COVID-19 pandemic has grown in the U.S. in recent weeks, public health thinking around wearing face masks has changed. On March 30, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it was reviewing its guidelines for face masks, citing data showing that COVID-19 can be spread by people who are infected but not exhibiting symptoms. Then, on April 3, President Donald Trump announced that the CDC is changing its guidance to include a recommendation that all Americans wear non-medical masks, or fabric that covers a person’s face and nose, when they leave their house."]
    In the Philippines, a similar contradiction as regards this object was visible, but minus a social conservative denial, at least none that we heard of from either the small evangelical niche or the selfie-loving herds here. There was not so much conflict here as simply the presence of a side in healthcare imploring people to steer clear of the mask and then a much-bigger side among the people ignoring those pleas. Early in March, while doctors appeared on television still discouraging the healthy from using those face masks, there was already an extraordinarily increasing sale of the piece in all of the major drugstores of Metropolitan Manila, although the near-depletion started from the period of the January 12 eruption of Taal Volcano. This sale spike should already have reached the ceiling during the March 13 partial lockdown of the metropolis, although by then most drugstores had none of these masks left in their inventory, but surprisingly when the Philippine government's March 16 declaration of a Luzon-wide "enhanced community quarantine" came, everybody was seen wearing their edition of the uniform sky-blue or light-grey mask, or something that would pass for one, and a late panic-buyer would be lucky to find a single such item left in even the smaller, relatively-hidden drugstores (though some would find them in a magazine stand, of all places, although decidedly price-gouged).
    During this time, doctors guesting on TV would continue to discourage the masses from resorting to the object, as expected, the object that they said don't really (or won't) keep people safe, and although they would say that not without good reason, it would come with the self-contradictory fear that health workers who would crucially need the masks might soon be left with a non-existent supply. Barangay governments who would be leading their areas' lockdowns, on the other hand, heeded their own guts and threw people without masks back into their homes! On April 1, abs-cbn.com even re-published a report from The New York Times by journalist Farhad Manjoo titled "Should You Make Your Own Mask," which enumerated the yeas to doing so.
    As mentioned or implied above, the United States was slow to catch on to the item's (perceived) importance. A big debate on whether to wear or not to wear was still in people's heads, with much of the no stand deriving from either the US conservative media angrily scoffing at Asians who were wont to wear them or the medical authorities obviously anxious of a potential shortage. New York state would, however, quickly become an exception as the novel-coronavirus spread started to show its might there, turning out 729 infections in 15 days from the single infection confirmed at the start of March; from 729 it would shockingly more than double in three days. Suddenly, New York subway culture would change its color to a sky-blue-faced one in less than a week. Before, Asians wearing face masks on New York's subways or sidewalks would either get jeers or get harassed (by whites and blacks alike who may have developed a new racist attitude towards Asians in light of this); and then, boom! suddenly everybody in the subways would become Asian. (Could the presence of numerous fellow Asians, the Chinese and South Koreans, walking along Metro Manila's sidewalks unashamed to don this piece of sky-blue clothing what ultimately made it easier for Filipinos to adapt to the necessity of this cumbersome fashion?)
    On March 31 (April 1 in our country), when the horror in New York and a few other states seemed to have already seriously sunk into the head of the US President and consequently his minions', the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revisited their oft-announced position regarding the surgical mask. As noted with expressions of disbelief by hosts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Willie Geist in the MSNBC morning show Morning Joe, that rethink seemed to have also fast-tracked the governor of Georgia's learning curve regarding the virus.
    A day before the CDC announced that rethink on its earlier position, a well-researched take by science journalist Ferris Jabr was actually already published by Wired, titled "It's Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work." It's a piece on the pro-mask position that comes out as convincing as the law of gravity. A similar realization happened to the Philippine national government when, on the morning of April 2, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) announced an executive order that now nationally and officially mandated the wearing of masks, a move that Los Angeles would also simultaneously make, supposedly after newly-released findings said the virus could be transferring via breath exhalations alone. The L.A. city government encouraged Angelenos to wear surgical masks, even bandanas, while discouraging them from getting the N95 ones.
    So, indeed, now might be the time to revisit the debate on this blue- (sometimes grey-)colored item, and, in perfect hindsight, to also ask whether our government should have done more to allay the fears of the medical profession regarding running out of face masks, especially the respirator kind, and, finally, to ask if, once caught late, as it was, the same government should have done something to muster all of the nation's technological knowhow and energy into quickly producing these sky-blue things for the frontliners. For instance, at present, should the Philippine President use his recently-acquired Congress-approved emergency powers to order able manufacturers and sewers to start fabricating more of these masks, and quickly so, for the medical profession (as a priority) who need new ones at each turn and then for the rest of the population who shouldn't be re-using theirs haphazardly?
    The debate around the item may have reached a resolution for now. However, we suspect that the now-silenced discussion around its (and respirators') presence, especially in aid of planning for future epidemics and pandemics, isn't going to see (medical) pundits' mouths covered just yet. Not just yet, both in this moment of ongoing confusion and moving forward. Especially as when we talk about confusion regarding the mask, it can go as deep as some people's not understanding the difference between it and the N95 one.



4 Political satire piece

Trump Wants His Coronavirus Failures to Be “Quickly Forgotten”: A Closer Look

Trump Wants His Coronavirus Failures to Be “Quickly Forgotten”: A Closer Look. (Uploaded to YouTube by Late Night with Seth Meyers, 9 April 2020)
THIS April 9 edition of the A Closer Look segment of comedian-writer Seth Meyers' show Late Night with Seth Meyers should stand out as another concise reminder to the near-future remaining inhabitants of this planet of the presidency of Donald Trump, if only because it can be remembered as that one that appropriately mocked the United States President's hidden plea to America to forget about what happened during that period in early 2020 in his administration. This A Closer Look edition's mocking of Trump's plea delivers on point why the President's misdeeds (before and during the COVID-19 pandemic) should not just be forgotten, least of all be forgiven (remember: the most uncivil of people will always solicit your civility).
    But this episode of that segment should also be deemed memorable for its use of a background prop, namely Australian bestselling author Colleen McCullough's romance novel The Thorn Birds, which there subliminally functioned as a nudge towards that other news breaking in the Eastern Hemisphere concerning George Pell. The book is not exactly a story about a priest's sexual offence against minors, but it definitely has a lot to say about priestly ambitions and questionable records and the tragedy of clerical celibacy. On the side the book also comments on a society's religion's (and its product culture's) attitude towards women, in this case women's ability to bear children. That last should here promptly get us back to the subject of Trump's government and his Catholic and evangelical Christian Right backers leading his pandemic policies on a leash (we'll get to that leash after a couple of paragraphs).
    Now, this segment edition does look like an apt paraphrase to the end of Donald Trump's presidency and government. But we know that that end still remains to be seen, considering that fifty percent of the United States population still seems eager to laud The Donald's government's failures as triumphs or achievements for the American tribe.
    Anyway, as if to underline the segment's penchant for inserted subtleties, this A Closer Look episode also takes a jab at Trump's other reputation as a confidence trickster (with that cotton swabs micro-skit). It does not choose subtlety, though, in its reassertions of Trump's being a carrier of a certain personality disorder (a "dickhead," the script says, although we wouldn't be surprised if Joe Biden himself gets to be similarly so against a journalist from Fox News or OAN by calling that latter "a goddamn liar"). No holds barred here, too, in simply replaying a news clip where Trump runs amok with a display of his prideful ignorance, likewise of a cultist-magnetizing ego, the same ego that has allegedly made him America's most "useful idiot" to the Russians (but now just America's most static "backup")
all this illustrated with the best analogies a show's writers and researchers can gather.
    Now, perhaps The Thorn Birds has to be there on Meyers' side to also act as metaphor for half of Trump's party's faith-based eagerness to re-open the US economy as soon as Trump's whims can. After all, the Catholic dictates and tradition that subconsciously created the social culture (both the religious and the irreligious) alluded to in that book is echoed by the dictates of the plutocratic Republican Party's evangelical prosperity theology upon present policy towards everything, everything including science (and science-backed warnings).
    We love all of the similes brought out here, even the vague joke about Trump's face being a mask hiding Bodhi, the character from the Kathryn Bigelow action film Point Break. In that film, Bodhi is one of the bank-robbing members of a gang called Ex-Presidents. About this film Roger Ebert wrote, "(Bigelow) is interested in the ways her characters live dangerously for philosophical reasons. They aren't men of action, but men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs." Owen Gleiberman, meanwhile, wrote, "Point Break makes those of us who don't spend our lives searching for the ultimate physical rush feel like second-class citizens. The film turns reckless athletic valor into a new form of aristocracy." We know, of course, that at the end of that film Bodhi surfed to his death. Should we say, and brought his reckless aristocracy and their dogma down with him?
    Then there's the mention of Bull Durham, which is probably just an empty mention of an old film, coming from a need to name just about any old film there on Meyers' grandparents' shelf that might be nifty to watch during these days of quarantine. But that film actually fits snugly here, too, with Meyers' having pulled out another news clip. In this other news clip, we can see baseball-cap-wearing Trump there seeming to think he's the big-leaguer being surrounded by CDC's minor-league scientists waiting for his thumbs-up, or baseball-cap-wearing Trump there thinking he may indeed be the minor-league science student, but he has already quickly "got it all" just from the one short briefing he got that day, and it's now making him think he's already in the big leagues of science-speak. Sure. But it's actually in this clip where Trump clearly bares himself, via his own words, as very much the even-less-than-a-little-leaguer that he's always been
no smarter than Wile E. Coyote, Meyers implies, at whom even Looney Tunes little-league fans can and would laugh.
    Then Meyers brings in Drew Barrymore's character in 50 First Days, whose anterograde amnesia is probably what Trump wants all Americans to have, so they can all forget what he said about testing that day (that anyone who wants a test will get a test), the testing that he is now seeking to cut funding for (to likely support his government's utopia of an oncoming day of economic return).
    Then Meyers bares his saddened preference for a Bernie Sanders nomination in the Democratic Party primaries. Saddened, what with the Medicare for All argument having been made moot, supposedly, by the recent exposure of the US's current Medicare coverage, this coverage acting as proof of just how right Sanders had been about it, and yet, despite that exposure, it is Sanders who now has to give way to Joe Biden, Biden whose universal health care ideas have not exactly been as universal and as workable for any future pandemic. Well, when it rains it pours, doesn't it? Unless Biden, who may not be a Hillary Clinton, is now ready to absorb a lot of those Democrat progressive ideas into his White House, should he win in November.
    You might now ask where the aesthetics are in all of this, diskurso being an art magazine; we think that that's just a fair question. So, let us answer that this way: the fact that Meyers is a comedian and he's talking about the tragedy of the US' having passed up twice on a potential president who hates pomp and circumstance as well as the art of lying, that's like a triple aesthetic theme there!
    Then Meyers applauds another aesthetic reality, the magnificence of Sanders' expressionist sarcasm when he uses it. We applaud Meyers' unwavering gift of high sarcasm as well, even though we think that that clause in his take's penultimate sentence, "(Trump) forfeited responsibility to the states," is just bare-naked realism that's also just plain sad. Have you ever seen black comedy this realist and yet still this black?



5 Video

View of the Garden Court of The Frick Collection (360° Video)

View of the Garden Court of The Frick Collection (360° Video). (Uploaded to YouTube by The Frick Collection, 26 March 2020)
THE last time The Frick Collection uploaded to its YouTube channel a garden video was on November 21 last year; that video, using time-lapse photography for a static bird's-eye view, presented the institution's 2016 Spring Garden Party inside one minute. That was quite a scene in the fast lane of "art appreciation."
    In contrast to that of the 2016 outside-garden party, our present court-garden video (embedded above) that TFC uploaded last March 26 . . . doesn't have people in it. Which is just right, being a product of our March-April 2020 months of seclusion against SARS-CoV-2, away from people who come to public spaces like this. And, we assume, museums everywhere have been doing their disinfections, readying their spaces thus for hopefully virus-free new visitors expected to come in after the lockdown.
    This present video is also longer, clocking in at 1:30 minutes. Furthermore, its highest resolution is 2880s (5k), far superior to the earlier November one that was only 1080p at its clearest. Which are both just right, too, given that that earlier video was intended to merely be an atop-the-building scan of what happened during that day in the outside garden (just a faraway-vantage-point scan where the bird had to do some social distancing for its own good against the bird-eating humans below). The present video, in opposition to the goal of that earlier one, is for contemplation, for seeking clarities, for stopping time to be in the moment. This video ought to be a soothing screensaver, if we'd be allowed to suggest.
    This present video also puts us in the middle of its garden-court subject, making us quite like the frog in the fountain. It gets us to meditate on both the architecture around the atrium and the work of the garden expert. Unlike the frog in the fountain, however, we can move our heads (the video is a 360° one) to make us feel we're truly in the middle of what's happening here. Unlike that cement or bronze or acrylic frog, enslaved by the design, although we're probably poorer
as aliens to this wealthour view is undoubtedly freer.
    That last sentence is your signal. Because the video gives us more than what it wants us to see, can get us to places other than the one it wants us to immerse ourselves in in quiet. As we suck up to the soothing water sound, and even as we fall with our PC mice for the 360° arrows or the open hand cursor, our minds thereinafter meander and go loud. . . . Sure, we can obey and think only about what's here: the neoclassical architecture (which may either have been a part of the original Thomas Hastings design or of the improvements imposed by John Russell Pope), and the magnolias (correct us if we're wrong) along with the other flora elements in the garden part of the view. But we wouldn't blame you if you can't avoid contemplating death, also, within all this pleasant silence (the virus in people's aerosols outside as well as on street furniture surfaces, etc.), or the sense of death or of struggles with the ventilator, which threat straddles that space between our homes and the museum. We wouldn't blame you if, finally, you'd start thinking about Henry Clay Frick himself, and
―yes―about the context of private donations by men like him of stuff like this to the realm of public ownership (turning once private paintings of privilege and power into accessible public art).
    It's almost as if The Frick Collection had been commandeered by a populist dictatorship or by a litigating Department of Justice, except that this wasn't: Frick's family gradually had this turned over to a board of trustees as symbol of their wealthy charity. We should be grateful, shouldn't we? Though we wonder what the 2,200 who died in the Johnstown Flood would have to say about the tranquility of those water sounds in that cultured garden.
    But, hush now, people. Frick is gone. And the once-his building is now in need of preservation funds. Let's just enjoy this product of labor-intensive coke manufacturing (and wealth via union busting), even from a distance, and
―sure―entertain, too, whatever enters our minds from within this opportunity to see images of beauty from the past. Then we can start to consider how all this may fit into this rare moment of realizations, potential rethinks, and plans for a different future. [04.08.2020]



6 Film

Tigertail. (Streaming release: 10 April 2020, Netflix)
TIGERTAILS prefer fast-flowing streams. But this Alan Yang film is not about those dragonflies. It's about the fact that events or opportunities, or lack thereof, would always come or not come, and then they impose changes on us or demand a move from us. From this reality we also soon realize fate's other unbendable axiom: you can't have everything that you desire. As our lives progress, though, we see how we are free to choose from what's available to us within our constantly evolving worlds, evolving thus quickly or slowly, and it is always up to us to catch or ignore what's already in front of us. Again, this is not about tigertails preferring to hover beside fast-flowing streams. Or is it? [04.12.2020]



7 Film

Uncorked. (Streaming release: 27 March 2020, Netflix)
CIVIL rights in the United States is an American liberal cause. But while there are African-Americans willing to count themselves as part of the conservative right and its tax cuts for the wealthy and all (for instance, if Kanye West was a channel he'd be another Fox News), there is also another form of conservatism within the black liberal/progressive cause. Traditionalism is one kind of cultural conservatism. And in the case of this film by Prentice Penny, the issue is a kind of filial traditionalism. What a fine work to accompany your viewing of the "Mashama Bailey" episode of Netflix's Chef's Table volume 6 and the "BBQ" and "Fried Chicken" episodes of Ugly Delicious season 1 to get your feel of African-American cuisine traditions, barbecue traditions, and so on. Traditions . . . and both the "liberalisms" and "conservatisms" that have been applied to them. [04.08.2020]



8 Documentary film

Beastie Boys Story. (Streaming release: 24 April 2020 / Adam Horovitz, Spike Jonze and Mike D, writers; Spike Jonze, director)
KUDOS to Spike Jonze for applying the auditorium lecture format for the remaining Beastie Boys wherein they were given the freedom to present the trio's evolution. That proved quite strongly that the dudes aren't only great at memorizing rap lyrics but also a continuous lecture-like script.
    The remaining Beastie Boys' telling of their story is also quite the confession, mostly in regards to their birth as Def Jam's white heroes doing the usual Def Jam routines of toxic masculinity and unrelenting misogyny, especially with their hit "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)." As we all know, that Ill Communication part of their lives would soon go, as it had to, and things would then lead to critical (though not always chart) successes that had Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) returning to their own old selves that many more, including girls, could love to have on their earphones.



9 Television series season

The official trailer for Money Heist Part 4. [Uploaded 6 March by Netflix]

Money Heist Part 4. (Released 3 April 2020, Netflix)
PART 4 of Álex Pina's Money Heist continues the suspense of its erstwhile Post-Keynesian-like pro-endogenous money demonstration that evolved into a chaotic quasi-socialist revolt, all via the heist genre. Pina recuses himself from the writing this time, allowing writing partners Esther Morales, Ana Boyero, Jaun Salvador López, Emilio Díez, Luis Moya and Esther Martínez Lobato to further the series' arguments on behalf of the people and the truth. Directors Koldo Serra, Álex Rodrigo and Jesús Colmenar resume their posts from Part 3, joined by Javier Quintas for episode 2 and 6 (he adds himself to the team after his one-episode gig in the series' Part 2).
    To make a sense of what we're saying in that first sentence of ours, read our text for Money Heist Part 3 in our July 2019 picks-of-the-month notes here.



10 Television documentary series

the YouTube full-episode videos of Netflix's Abstract: The Art of Design season 1

Abstract: The Art of Design season 1 free on YouTube. (The documentary's first streaming release: 10 February 2017, Netflix. 2020 streaming re-release as an all-access free to watch series of videos on YouTube: 17 April 2020, Netflix on YouTube)
IT would take a book or
lengthy monogram to write about this series. Let's just focus on that last one, then, as an example of how the other episodes might sound like:
As the eighth and final episode of Abstract: The Art of Design season 1, "Ilse Crawford: Interior Design" gives us a sigh of relief . . . because it gets us into Ilse Crawford's philosophy instead of the usual feel-good theatrics of mostly paint-obsessed, happy interior designers to be found on this streaming service or another. In this series' episode on Crawford, the History of Architecture graduate talks about how interiors influence our behavior, even our humanity. Hey, while we're at it, why not watch-attend this Crawford lecture, too, so you'd further get her point and that of our listing this episode here? [04.18.2020]



11 Film

Happy Old Year - official international trailer

Happy Old Year. (Released 26 December 2019, Thailand; 13 February 2020, Malaysia and Singapore; 14 February, Taiwan and Vietnam; 7 March, Osaka Asian Film Festival; 26 March, Hong Kong [postponed]; 29 March, Netflix Philippines)
THIS month we're all going to have to be minimalists. Well, at least in relation to our snack food consumption and such, or to our newfound opportunity to do some interior cleaning.
    What coincidence! For, now on Netflix, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's love story titled Happy Old Year attaches a new significance to the word Minimalism.
    Now, by "minimalism" we (as educated watchers) and the film (as educated about what it's talking about) may be referring both to the art movement (just look at the framing of the shots!) and to that practice called simple living. The clash of those two meanings of the word here would probably make you laugh, especially if you're an art snob. But there's actually a connection between those two: professional organizer Marie Kondo, for example, often refers to her aesthetic of relatively simple living as having been influenced by her stint as a miko in a Shinto shrine, while Minimalism the art movement would have such an architect as John Pawson who, like many other minimalist architects or visual artists, would acknowledge the influence of Zen philosophy on his design beliefs.
    One thing to remember, though: minimalists like Pawson would tell you that minimalism is not about blankness as vacancy, an idea that would be depressing, but actually about a lucid feel for what's there (as opposed to what's not there) and a sense for what's abundant inside all that restraint. It is from this profound understanding of the beauty of minimalism that Thamrongrattanarit's almost-rebellious cinematic take becomes an offer of an addition to the sensibility's rationale. For it is as if Thamrongrattanarit is saying, "some people want to become minimalists because they come from a past full of hurt, a past that moves them to desire more absence." As well, minimalism may be a form of expression to these people, intimating their inability to articulate events, situations, and their own reactions, or to rationalize at length their decisions.
    This new sense about the minimalist movement doesn't entirely sound ultra-rebellious to make it come out as mocking Kaimo and Pawson. If Buddhism is about attaining the capacity to dispose of desire in order to de-fang pain, then Thamrongrattanarit's Buddhism via Minimalism in this film would make sense (even if it is by itself a desire to kill desire). It would be as if minimalism, to Thamrongrattanarit, is a sort of reached nirvana where one is able to let it all out, but without tears, and without sound.



12 TV ad series

The four TV ads in the Truck series for Lidl created by o escritório, first aired middle of April 2020. [Uploaded by Lidl Portugal, 13 April, 18 April, 23 April, and 25 April 2020]

Lidl Portugal's Truck TV ad series via o escritório. (First aired on April 13, 18, 23, and 25, 2020 respectively, Portugal)
    THE March 12-initated anti-SARS-CoV-2 lockdown in Portugal was to end today, as per the second extension announced by the country's President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
    But during the lockdown silence in the country's city streets that lasted until today, May 2 (if that silence has drastically changed at all since sunrise of this day), there was this TV ad series from Lidl Portugal and Lisbon-based
ad agency o escritório that came out on Portuguese TV echoing the quietude outside quite resonantly.
    In the ad series' scenes, the mood is like that from a World War II suspense film, except that some of the structures seen here are quite contemporary, and all of them are untouched (un-bombed). Or the mood is like that inside a post-apocalyptic film, again except that there's no destruction here or sign of even just a month's worth of neglect.
    But truly, indeed, inside these scenes is a war of sorts. The enemy is not human, however, but a virus that must be left without a host. So, family by family, or household by household (of one or more), all have to self-isolate until the virus finally becomes host-less and dies on a surface. We close our gates or doors and wait out the end of the lockdown, which could be for 15 days or more of an original dictated length or an extended one.
    Meanwhile, though their lights remain on, the streets stretch their arms people-less and in quiet. A bird might pass, a house lizard or gecko may crawl, flies may buzz on a dropped fish, but the streets would be eerily still except for that thin reverberation from a TV set coming out of the glass of a nearby window.
    Then, suddenly, at an intersection meters ahead, a surprise. A momentary sound and presence occurs as a truck passes. Sole sign of an attending human outside the buildings.
    It's not entirely so, of course. We with the camera eye in these ads could be riding on a silent bike, along with a few others coming from various points of departure. We are maybe on our way to a discount store, a Lidl one in Lisbon or Porto or Amadora or Braga.
    It's allowed. One member of each household can get a pass to go fetch food and other essentials, at a bakeshop or restaurant-turned-food market or a convenience store. Or, for more supplies, at a nearby Lidl, whose slogan in Portugal is "mais para si" (more for you). That's what a discount store is all about, after all. This time, however, the slogan has to be "Acqui para si. Mais para si." Here for you. More for you.
    But the March 12-initated anti-SARS-CoV-2 lockdown in Portugal was to end today. If that went on as planned, we pray these beautiful ads won't have to be used again.



13 Film

The Occupant - Netflix trailer

The Occupant. (Released 25 March, Netflix)
ONE thing for sure. These months of quarantine would definitely be treated by many a political mind as an opportune time to reassess their position on things, the details of these things, and their methods with them. Here's just the film to help everyone on that.
    The Occupant, written and directed by brothers David Pastor and Àlex Pastor, was the Best Spanish Film (Mejor Pelicula Espa
ñola) at this year's Malaga Spanish Film Festival. Who knows what other accolades it'll get (or fail to get) in the remaining days in this year of viral deaths or in the coming months of potential rebirths? But we dare say that this work ought to be a welcome addendum (or rebuttal) to the likes of Bong Joon-ho's Parasite.
    Parasite became last year's entry to the social realist argument concerning the impossibility of winning against the winners in a society designed for the upkeep of privilege. The Occupant upends that social realist argument itself via a once-successful executive named Javier Muñoz (played by Javier Gutiérrez Álvarez), who went down with an economic crisis and found it hard to get back up to his previous position now taken over by millennials.
    After setting the premise, the film tackles the thin line between unquenchable, addictive greed and angry envy. It ends up equating the materialism of capitalism with that of a sort of cunning communist revolt (and vice versa). Further at the end of the story, the film has depicted both those kinds of materialism as producers of their own kind of dependents, dependents who all wouldn't want to end up in the streets outside of their leaders' offered opportunity (although there is always an alternative, the satisfaction of freedom). The two systems symbolized here, the one-upmanship game of free enterprise and the anti-reactionary alertness of communist revolution, have just become updated versions of the blindness of archaic patronage monarchism that those two systems purport to both not want to go back to; these two systems have become manifestations no less corrupt than the monarchism they replaced.
    Beyond the thesis of Parasite, this film elliptically argues for a kind of occupancy different from what's presented in the film. Instead of solely focusing on the space that a Marxist must occupy, it zooms in on the subversion by an unvirtuous would-be occupant, Muñoz's, characterizing it as far from being a Christian Socialist one but as an anti-rich but wealth-loving Stalinist sort (or Castroist, if you'll grant Castroism was an antithesis to what could have been a Che Guevaran kind of benevolent socialism).
    In the Pastor brothers' symbolist acumen that would rival Bong's, it would seem that the two aforementioned sorts of materialism both end up with a leaking faucet (as symbol of oncoming decay). A more benevolent sort of socialism, in contrast, might look at leaking faucets as opportunities for renewed camaraderie.



14 Photojournalistic curation

"A demonstrator protesting against lockdown measures in the wake of the coronavirus disease outbreak argues with counter-demonstrators Dr. Erich Bruhn and his wife, former nurse Kristin Bruhn, during a rally calling for the reopening of the state of Virginia in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020." [Photo by Leah Millis/Reuters]

"A demonstrator gestures with a flag on a stick at counter-protester Dr. Erich Bruhn during a protest against measures put into place to limit the spread of coronavirus and call for the reopening of the state in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020." [Photo by Leah Millis/Reuters]

"A health care worker stands in the street in counter-protest to hundreds of people who gathered at the Colorado State Capitol to demand the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver, April 19, 2020." [Photo by Alyson Mcclaran via Reuters]

"'To brazenly reopen the economy without all the facts is irresponsible. I feel opening the economy will kill more lives than save lives,' said Alex Cummings, an ICU nurse at St. Louis University Hospital, who stands in the middle of the street blocking cars protesting the stay-at-home orders on April 21, 2020, in Clayton, Mo." [Photo by Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP]

"Healthcare workers stand in counter-protest to drivers passing in front of the Arizona State Capitol in protest of Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order to combat the coronavirus, April 20, 2020." [Photo by Michael Chow/The Republic via USA Today Network]

The captioned photos that accompanied the abcnews.go.com report titled 'We disagree': Medical professionals counter coronavirus lockdown protesters. (24 April 2020)
AS regards this abcnews.go.com report (link above), kudos to the editors and ABC News contributor Bill Hutchinson for the report's interesting and well-chosen accompanying series of five photographs. We think these five photos offer the perfect symbols needed for a pop semiotic examination of what's really behind all this developing altercation or conflict that's been worrying American news lately. The photos were sourced from everywhere, but were perfectly curated to a final five from a deep photojournalistic sense: the works chosen were by photographers Leah Millis of Reuters (2), Alyson Mcclaran via Reuters, Laurie Skrivan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, and Michael Chow of The Arizona Republic via USA Today Network. 
    The report is all about a counter-protest by health workers who are worried that their latest efforts to contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus may all be for naught, given this resistance (reports say by Right-leaning Americans) to social distancing, quarantining, and even face masks. Simple insight would suspect that the healthcare workers are also worried about their own health should there be a spike in COVID-19 hospital cases. The health workers' counter-protest is well represented in all five photographs.
    The photographs also display the protesters themselves and what they purport to be all about. In all the photos they carry the American flag as their general symbol. However, while most of them aren't wearing face masks, some are. In the third photo above, a protester invokes the concept of "freedom" as one of the protest's basic reasons for its aversion to the anti-virus lockdown.
    In the first photograph, the woman "former nurse" in the picture holds a placard that alludes to one of the announced reasons for the protest, the economy, offering her argument against the narrow concern. Her argument is echoed by the counter-protesting ICU nurse's placard in photo #4, albeit with a debatable text. In that same first photo and in the second one, the male doctor's placard alludes to another word that has been touted by the protesters: rights.
    The fifth photo is almost a mockery of the protest. A row of counter-protesting nurses are there looking like health teachers demonstrating to the innocent how to social-distance and how to wear a face with a face mask.
    Turning to pop linguistics, we would notice that common among the protesters are the words "economy," "rights," "freedom," and "open." On the side of the counter-protesting health workers, meanwhile, are the words "risk," life," and "die." In other similar reports there have been placards that read something like, "I'm willing to die for the economy," an echo of what a conservative politician has declared in favor of the quick reopening of "the economy"; it is obviously what the former nurse in our photo #1 is taunting.
    If we are to simplify these two sides, we can tag one as the side of science-leaning healthcare work, which is actually at the bottom of the health care pyramid when it comes to viruses, the higher occupants of that pyramid being the local government, the federal government's CDC and the federal Department of Health. We imagine that these entities at the higher part of the health care pyramid are the ones with policing power. The health workers don't have any such power; all they have in terms of power is probably just their right to choose who among a hundred patients needing a ventilator can be made to use the sole ten available. Therefore, while the protesters are aiming their grievances at a local government that may have imposed the quarantining or lockdown guidelines for their state, the counter-protesters are just fighting both for that imposition's correctness as well as for their own possible oncoming future as hospital workers tasked with both taking in patients hit by the virus and staying in for extended hours in case of a spike in cases.
    The other side, meanwhile, can be tagged as being representative of your everyday American who, after a week or two of house-confinement, wants to own his freedom to go anywhere as well as his right to work and earn a living. Thus the American flag as this side's common symbol, being also the symbol of a nation that has similarly touted those very same words through those many decades: rights, freedom, and economy.
    The male doctor's placard, therefore, with the text "You do not have the 'right' to put us all at risk," pushes the perfect argument against the concept of limitless freedom (which, by the way, has been a rallying cry for classical liberalism or Republican Party neoliberalism, at least when it comes to its campaigns averse to business regulation). [By the way, kudos to this report's editors' decision to exclude any photos displaying Second Amendment advocates carrying heavy arms, as well as photos with protesters carrying anti-black Confederate flags, should be lauded, as those sorts of imagery would be about issues that have altogether nothing to do with the debate concerning the lockdown; at least nothing directly.]
    So, there you go. That is our reading.
    Except, wait a minute:
    Don't you think that the presence of the flag in these anti-quarantine protests and their accompanying reckless invocation of freedom also come out as quite a perfect signifier of two types of America? To be simplistic, there is a classical liberal America on one side and a more social liberal one on the other. We argue that although classical liberalism is quite friendly to engineering and technology in so far as these are intellectual tools of enrichment, it is social liberalism that would be friendlier to basic science if only because all of social liberalism's demands require basic scientific backing against attacks by the greedy (who don't want to be their "brothers' keepers," as per their Reaganomic science). Thus there would be suspiciousness among classical liberals towards basic science, because basic science often becomes a hindrance to a continued quest for wealth or self-enrichment. Social liberals, on the other hand, are wary of engineering in the hands of the regulations-wary corporate elite, especially when use of such technology results in fracking disasters, pipeline disasters, medicine and health care scandals, climate change, and so on and so on.
    This is not to say that the health care workers, representing the social liberal philosophy of the moment in this conflict in the above report, would not carry the American flag anytime themselves. It is just that if they are to do so, it would be in reference to another kind of America. An America that defeated a virus' spread, perhaps.
    We must remember that the America of Nobel laureates in science is an America planets away from the America against the teaching of evolution. [And this division is not always between two kinds of people, lest you mistake it as so. Sometimes this division can exist in a single American, who'll be very scientific towards certain things and be pseudo-scientific towards his rationalizations for a certain kind of prejudice troubling his heart.]
    Finally, the presence of the American flag on only the side of the protesters symbolizes for us another two faces of America. (By the way, why do the thirteen states, represented by stripes, have to be separated from the other states, represented by stars?) While there would be democratic socialist Americans who would want to wave the flag of America as the America that can possibly finally make all levels of education in the country free, the other face of America is what we're seeing in these protests, waving at our faces the flag of that America of theirs that is content to be "free" in a country where education will always be a privilege and where ignorance even in conservative leaders (like Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who are mostly wary of science, anyway) can be supported by the consequences of taking a swig at a bottle of bleach to kill a SARS-CoV-2 virus in the esophagus.



15 Concert

Tarriona "Tank" Ball: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, 27 March 2020

Tarriona "Tank" Ball: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. (Released 27 March, NPR Music's YouTube channel)
THE idea for NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts came from a frustration with music performances in a bar full of crowd noise. Towards that frustration somebody joked. The joke became one hell of a serious video series.
    Now, in 2020, came the anti-SARS-CoV-2 stay-at-home orders that became a familiar system all over the world. Instead of getting frustrated, NPR Music adapted. And now they're probably kidding when they say their "Tiny Desk (Home) Concert" could be an offshoot that they just might keep permanently. Hmm.
    We'll see. But this 14-minute home concert by Tarriona "Tank" Ball, of the group Tank and the Bangas, seems to already demonstrate the palatability of that idea in terms of potentials. You see, MTV Unplugged became a test of maintained onstage impact given to acts denied their electric and electronic tools. The Tiny Desk Concerts, meanwhile, became a far bolder barometer, given both the cramped space for performers to create magic in and the quite small audience to apply crowd manipulations on. You can't say a TDC is just like the recording of a bedroom performance, because often the latter isn't live; a bedroom performance would relatively be a breeze to do (it could be like some unserious green room thing), although we admit one can be conscious of the camera as stand-in for a later video streaming format's audience with critiquing capabilities.
    Now, you could say that NPR's Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is nearer the bedroom concert format because of the space size, but you'd be forgetting again that it's always going to be live. And . . . you see, it actually doesn't exist by itself! By that latter statement we mean that, should it become a permanent TDC edition, it's going to be measured against the original Tiny Desk concert, and thus shall be seeking rationales for its existence every gig it churns out for the Internet public. It has to be a version different from the original TD (see, for instance, Tank's performance with the Bangas way back in 2017 on Tiny Desk, to see our point).
    But, you're right. Like the bedroom concert, apart from functioning as a test on an artist's creativity at home without the sound engineer's miking and all that, a TD(H)C will be scrutinizing talent at its rawest form, wherein you the viewer might feel like you're being the first-time audience to this new roommate of yours showing off some skills of his/hers. In this kind of show, you'll have to immediately know if you'd recommend this new roommate of yours to friends and family. You'd be a Simon Cowell, or better, in your own bedroom or living room.
    In her first TD(H)C, the saved live video of which we embedded above, Tank sets a high bar and almost writes the criteria for judging future TF(H)C performances (not to take away the value of NPRM's two earlier TD(H)Cs featuring Soccer Mommy and Margo Price & Jeremy Ivey). She confesses, "I'm scared to do this." But, boy, does she kick her fear out the door and just let go, just focusing on how fun it can get with non-instruments to drum on
a suitcase, a jar of cocoa butter, and a cassette box, using a pen as sole drumstick. We're lying, of course, because she has with her the star presence of a Korg Kaossilator, actually the iKaossilator for iPhones and iPads, but listen:
    the point is she must try to get away with it, with this idea of a home concert with just herself as director (a sister, perhaps, for a cameraman), sound technician (getting remote instructions from NPRM's sound engineer), deejay, rapper, singer, and emcee, and do it all live, of course. If she can do that, if she can get away with it, God knows how many more artists need not fly down on a fuel-consuming chartered flight to NPR Music's Tiny Desk over in Washington D.C. anymore, but just do it all from home. Tank's gamble here pays off, completing a kind of high-bar performance from her remote electricity-saving living room down there in New Orleans.



16 Music album

Song for Our Daughter. (Released 10 April 2020, Chrysalis/Partisan)
STEVEN Johnson of musicOMH writes of British singer-songwriter Laura Marling's new album: "Released four months ahead of schedule in an attempt to offer succour and comfort at a time of unprecedented uncertainty, its main premise sees Marling considering what advice she would give to girls soon to find themselves challenged by all the world has to throw at them. Speaking ahead of the release she remarked how she 'acutely feels the responsibility to defend The Girl' and what follows is a set of sensitively delivered tracks that demonstrate why she’s still so far ahead of her contemporaries."



17 Music album

the cover for Dua Lipa's new album Future Nostalgia. [Photo from genius.com]

Future Nostalgia. (Released 27 March 2020, Warner Records)
IMAGINE yourself a young American partisan, and you're at an auditorium gathering with fellow youthful Republicans honoring an icon of yours like Phyllis Schlafly. Some dance-pop music might start to play and, for some reason, it could be music from English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa's new album Future Nostalgia. Some couples would start to dance. And somebody who hears the line mentioning modern architecture and John Lautner in that album's opening and title track might be prodded to smile, if only because it's one that would easily make him recall Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, a novel on republican modern architecture standing up to royalist traditionalism.
    But then, suddenly the song's post-chorus mutters this: "I know you ain't used to a female alpha." That one should prompt our new acquaintance to now want to know what the rest of that album's title song is actually trying to say. Not that there aren't forms of conservative feminism, but if this is truly a night celebrating, say, Schlafly's name, organized by, say, the most sexist movers of conservative politics, then would that "Future Nostalgia" ditty be an appropriate song to play here? Especially as it also later sings of the impossibility of being a rolling stone when one's living in a glass house, and this, being a Republican event, would likely be in a neoliberal billionaire's glass auditorium.
    The song is not about modern architecture, truth be told, but on a postmodern one. What Lipa describes as "future nostalgia" is essentially a postmodernist manifesto for her aural architecture. Not something for conservatives to want to dance to, in short, you and your new acquaintance might now begin to realize.
    For, pray tell, how can a conservative feminist embrace this collection when, in song 2 ("Don't Start Now"), Lipa scarily sings, "Did the heartbreak change me? Maybe. / But look at where I ended up, / I'm all good already. / So moved on, it's scary." It even seems to push a snide remark against false sympathy coming from, let's say, Trump people in an election year, via that chorus that goes, "Don't show up, don't come out. / Don't start caring about me now. / Walk away, you know how. / Don't start caring about me now." Then, Lipa, more a progressivist as a Bernie Sanders supporter than a liberal, becomes almost libertinely scandalous (to you) in "Cool," standing up for lipstick feminism's pride, and then, horror of horrors, takes her hats off to that champion of dolphins and the environment, Olivia Newton-John, via her own composition titled "Physical," released as a single last January 30. There are more odes to female-alpha third-wave feminism in this sexy salute to '80s disco-era music, the peak being in "Good in Bed," we think. But finally, as a matter of course, all that mini-skirted empowered stuff must needs get into the area of #MeToo concerns, too, so Lipa must close her record "before the sun goes down" with the seriousness of "Boys Will Be Boys." It's a track that's sure to offend the men who are invoking the Schlaflys of the world, men whom she addresses with: "If you're offended by this song, / You're clearly doing something wrong."
    It's been a tough planet for the females even in our time, the song evokes, where we allow Epsteins to still be Epsteins while "girls will be women." What an album, combining fun with intelligent fecundity, sensuality with "nothing funny now" solemnity.



18 Music album

the jacket and records of a vinyl copy of Fiona Apple's new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, grabbed from milled.com

Fetch the Bolt Cutters. (Released 17 April 2020, Epic Records and Clean Slate)
EVERY song, and its singing, . . . well, it's all theater, really, as American Idol judges would tell you and everybody. Maybe that goes without saying, as songs have for a long time been structured and then delivered as just so, theater stuff, to our collective subconscious . . . via all the required live performances, music videos and, finally, the jukebox musicals that may later carry them.
    So, today, a songwriter may take any form, say, the samba song, and drop his/her lyric poetry into it, where you could say the resulting theater in it was already "ready" from the git-go, that is to say, expected. Well, for as long as the singer's singing "acts" out the song quite successfully, subtly sans theatrics, everything should be nifty as fuck. Faced with such a skillfully-finished product, the listener, for his part, should already be able to automatically direct that music video in his head from the sheer experiencing of the piece.
    Still, decades ago, a more theatrical sort of aural theater, going beyond the subtle but already ready theater in the act of song recording, was flaunted by such genres as psychedelic rock and progressive rock (Pink Floyd, etc.), followed later by art rock, baroque pop, noise rock, and so on. Heavy metal itself came up with its own theatrical tropes or traditions.
    So, instead of seating herself in front of a piano for another set of classic Apple that might equal the accessibility of "Criminal," Fiona Apple decided to this time take the latter route, expanding perhaps on similarly-fancied forays in her last studio collection, The Idler Wheel.... With her unbridled "experimentation" (or imagination) for Fetch the Bolt Cutter's production (aided by co-producers Amy Aileen Wood, Sebastian Steinberg and David Garza), Apple's expanded theatrics joins not only the prog rockers but the pop subversions of people like Frank Zappa, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Black Francis, Tori Amos, among many others, with songs that walk the line between pop accessibility and cabaret music-like theatricality (if this is a salute to cabaret music, in emulation perhaps of her sister the cabaret singer, we don't know). It's not an easy route to take, hard to get away with. But the requisite is simple, really. Beyond lyrical creativity, just simple sincerity, especially that sort of sincerity cynical towards the larger market.
    The humor and insight in Fetch's tracks keep them well safe from the embrace of pretense. Perhaps it's also because every musical trope used at a turn, extracted from Apple's musicological lexicon acquired through the years, is there to service a verse line or stanza, the way an Arthur Sullivan or George Gershwin might appropriate one for the turns of those musical-book verses in their plays. Her musical creativity is not here to display a virtuosity but to dramatize the delivery of black jokes, servicing her own delivery of her lines, as if she's a postmodernist Liza Minnelli interpreting a feminist aria at a cabaret full of clueless men.
    Humor is abundant here. But this is not comedy. It is, in fact, subtly blackly riddled with hidden suspicion, some distaste, sardonic while understanding, at times pleading and loving, but oftentimes tired of it, utterly cynical ("fetch the bolt cutters" to get outta an impossible here, opened by what sounds like high school band rhythms for a cheerleading squad). Cynical, we said, armed with a smirk. The album's narrative sprinkles metaphors all over for the relationship between men and women and between all sorts of women, magically stronger as a theme set within the stage of Trump-era-, Duterte-era-, Putin-era-fattened sexisms inside our various living circuses called nations. She sings, "Kick me under the table all you want, / I won't shut up."



19 Documentary film

Knock Down the House free on YouTube (The documentary's first streaming release: 1 May 2019, Netflix. 2020 re-release as an all-access free video to watch: 17 April 2020, Netflix on YouTube / Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, writers; Rachel Lears, director)
RELEASED on Netflix in May 2019, the film returned this year as an all-access video on YouTube (courtesy of Netflix's channel there). Which is perfect. Just in time for candidate Cori Bush to get renewed exposure (or campaign support on social media) for her return candidacy as Missouri District 1's Democratic hopeful in the August 2020 primaries and eventually in the November 2020 US congressional elections. Then maybe she can join fellow Justice Democrats-affiliated young politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the US House of Representatives floor. [Read our review of the film in our May 2019 picks of the month list...] [10.13.2020]



20 Song

"Starstruck" by Sorry (originally released as a single on 5 November 2018, re-released 27 March 2020 by 4AD as track 4 in Sorry's album 925 / Written by Louis O'Bryen and Asha Lorenz)
THE obscure Sorry single from 2018 is resurrected as track 4 in the band's debut album, 925, released last 27 March. A take on female groupies and their addiction to stars, perhaps, but could also be about the small talk of western boys and their foolish antics, antiques, cutting-edge entertainment, uppers, downers and, not to forget, temper tantrums. [10.13.2020]



21 Music album

Shortly After Takeoff. (Released 24 April 2020, Bella Union)
    HOW should one confront one's pain from a mental illness? Manchester-based American songwriter and multi-instrumentalist BC Camplight's own such pain is here laid bare for all to hear about, but all via whatever fascinating charm there is that could be distilled from the discomfort. And, to boot, not without the humor he would bravely bandy about concerning this tumult. The melodies and hooks that Camplight runs with up to this record's finish line, to many listeners' probable standing applause at the end, are in themselves a marvel, like music to a musical play very much trying to make the aesthetic merging of anxiety, stunning beauty, and hilarity work. It's a triumph enough that it does. [10.22.2020]



22 Animated television series

The Midnight Gospel. (Released 20 April 2020, Netflix)
    CREATED by Pendleton Ward and Duncan Trussell, written by Ward, Trussell and Mike L. Mayfield, and directed by Ward, Midnight Gospel combined the interview vodcast with animation and surprisingly was able to keep it interesting and pleasing.
    Wei-Huan Chen of Houston Chronicle: "Filled with insight and otherworldly imagery, it's as close a TV show can get to emulating a good psychedelic trip."
    Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com: "We often say that a show is 'like nothing else on television' and it's usually an act of critical hyperbole. Trust me. It's true here."



23 Television series

Elite season 3. (Streaming release: 26 March 2020, Netflix Philippines)
    THIS thriller of a teen drama created by Carlos Montero and Darío Madrona and produced by Zeta Producciones now continues its usual melodrama set amongst the social classes but embedded inside and outside classrooms. It resumes its connotations about a country's political future through these sons and daughters of libertine albeit mostly political conservatives. [04.24.2020]



24 Video essay

Art, Death + Taxes: U.S. Girls (aka Meghan Remy) breaks down the budgetary struggle of touring, (31 March 2020, CBC Arts)

Art, Death + Taxes: U.S. Girls (aka Meghan Remy) breaks down the budgetary struggle of touring. (Uploaded 31 March, CBC Arts' YouTube channel)
THIS almost-6-minute video for CBC Arts' eight-part series on money and artmaking titled Art, Death + Taxes had an interesting guest in Meghan Remy, continuing the series' well-graphic-designed and well-edited output to produce educational items that wannabe art and rock stars would find very helpful for their own economics-of-the-arts struggles. (Also check out last April 8's part of the series featuring photography and installation artist Sanaz Mazinani or that one from last month with artist Anita Kunz). In its own serious but accessible way, the series brings us back to the old issue artists contend with everyday regarding the relationship between money and their art.
    The video with Remy (a.k.a. U.S. Girls) starts with the music artist's pronouncement that would segue into her story regarding the money she lacked for her art, the money she put into her art, and the money she culled from it: "Money is not the goal. I don't think it should be the goal or the thing that we're really using to measure anything. For me, my main currency is my body of work."
    Immediately the video leads us to this account about a bunch of patrons who sponsors the pressing of 300 copies of her young music in 2007. She then feels she owes it to them to sell the 300 copies. Feeling obliged, she does a US East and West Coast bus tour to "promote" the pressed vinyl using her own cash. Voila, she soon finds herself traveling for, say, 24 hours on the Greyhound to get from one destination to a next stop, at which next stop she would do a 20-minute set that would hopefully earn her $50. She finds herself scrimping on her spending and stretching her funds by, say, being her own porter. Being young, she finds it hard but exciting.
    Next chapter, big jump. She gets big in 2018 and learns to use credit during her Poem Tour (in support of her sixth album In a Poem Unlimited). This for the advance payment of plane tickets, hotel bookings, backline rentals, etc. She sees how big a risk it all is, even with an accompanying grant, because there's what's called the "door deal," where "what you get is based on how many come," under which arrangement you pray no snowstorm happens.
    She declares that the credit way is "privileged" but "insane," preferring the romanticism of the cash way that she knows she can't go back to anymore while still up here, here with already a bunch of employees.
    As regards these employees, she feels a responsibility for them, supported by her awareness of the fact that their wages are all they'd be getting, given how they're all working for her name and cultural capital, a currency they can't ever have. Wow!
    The video ends with this Remy acknowledgment regarding money in/from her art: "I definitely have a business. I've struggled with admitting that. It's kind of icky because business is icky. But . . . it's all about how you act within it."



25 Documentary film

Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, 2017 official US trailer. [Uploaded by Cohen Media Group]

Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait on Netflix Philippines and Australia. (Released 28 April 2017, Tribeca Film Festival; 5 May 2017, USA; 13 October 2017, Warsaw Film Festival; 12 December 2017, Italy; 7 January 2018, Netflix Canada; 11 January 2018, Germany; 6 February 2018, Navarra and Vizcaya, Spain; 12 April 2018, Barcelona; 1 April 2020, Netflix Philippines and Australia)
READ our separate review of this Netflix outing of Pappi Corsicato's documentary film about Julian Schnabel here.






Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso art magazine










© 2014-2019 diskurso art magazine online. all rights reserved.

diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.