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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly pick of movies, tv shows, books and music

Movie: “Basket Case” dir. by Frank Henenlotter (1982)

Nervously patched together on a budget of only $35,000, this C movie is filled with gross, unconvincing gore and a surprising amount of charm. Henenlotter takes a naked approach to the art of cheap horror, with practical effects limited to heavily off-putting stop motion movement and awkward puppetry for the titular basket-bound villain. Despite no grand ambitions or tact of any kind, “Basket Case” succeeds on a more base pathos level—this film was made by an artist, albeit one of ambiguous skill. The plot is kind of a mess, like everything else, but basically consists of the protagonist and his malformed twin brother attempting to murder the doctors involved in their surgical separation as children. The film is dark, amateurish, filthy and incredibly memorable.

Book: “U and I: A True Story” by Nicholson Baker (1991)

Even in an artist now popularly derided, like John Updike, one can find a lot of meaning. Baker, a nearly schoolgirlish Updike fan, took it upon himself to perform a complete analysis of Updike’s work from memory. What this really consists of is Baker neurotically recounting his few brief encounters with his idol and spending 5,000-word passages meditating on single phrases like “vast, dying sea.” Despite being framed as an (unorthodox) literary analysis, the real interest present is how Baker lays out his insecurities, explicit thought processes and imagination, projecting them onto poorly remembered Updike passages and unintentionally providing a complete portrait of himself, rather than his subject. He spends whole chapters wondering how Updike and himself vary in their handling of their shared psoriatic condition, how Updike feels about Baker’s fiction and whether Updike would go golfing with him—he comes across as slightly histrionic, but also human and self-aware. Baker’s prose is predictably lurid and expansive, though devoid of his signature beastly four-page footnotes (and probably better off for it).

Album: “Home, Like Noplace is There” by The Hotelier (2014)

Massachusetts emo group The Hotelier displays the unmistakable ability to weaponize catharsis on their second album. Every adolescent, angst-riddled moment of its runtime expertly captures the pain and heartache of true 2010’s suburbia. While not bringing fresh ingredients to the table per se, it’s selective and honed in the way genre representatives can only really be after decades of exploration; it weaves through passages of distant optimism and heartbreaking climax without a wasted moment, all the while demonstrating both intricate control and honesty. It’s teary-eyed, loud, self-absorbed and unashamed to be childish. “Home, Like Noplace is There” is embarrassing in the loving way of a parent or sibling—it reminds you of yourself. This is an album for people hurt, unsure or hopeful, now or any time in history.

TV Show: “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (1988)

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” requires no introduction. My role here is to humbly remind you that it exists, and that a period of extreme inactivity, such as being forced to remain inside for months due to a pandemic, is a fantastic time to watch a show with 90-minute episodes. It’s witty, charming and a cultural landmark for good reason. If laughing at old trashy sci-fi sounds like something up your alley, give it a watch. Some of the earlier episodes are rough, so if you’re diving in for the first time season eight is a good place to start.

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org

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