The Arts Desk’s weekly pick of movies, TV shows, books and music
Movie: “The Wicker Man” dir. by Robin Hardy (1973)
A strange, funny, brilliant movie. Part musical-horror-comedy, part reminiscence of free love and the set sun of the ‘60s counterculture, “The Wicker Man” manages to saturate the screen with morbidity without spilling a single drop of blood. Edward Woodward as Sergeant Neil Howie wanders around a neo-pagan village off the coast of England and spends just about the entire 88-minute runtime of the film reacting with never-diminishing indignance at the gleeful debauchery of the village’s inhabitants, culminating in one of the most memorable scenes in horror history, a scene that I won’t do you the disservice of spoiling here.
Book: “Ficciones” by Jorge Luis Borges (1944)
In “Ficciones,” the legendary writer Jorge Luis Borges gifts us with 14 short stories centering around the concept of infinity, literature and inevitability. Each is weaved from verbose, elegant prose which has no issue staying sharp through translation. “The Library of Babel” is maybe the most noteworthy (which is saying a lot) with its libraries that contain every possible book with every possible page (including an accurate account of your death and, of course, every possible inaccurate account of your death), several reviews of authors and books that don’t exist, a man who remembers every minute detail he’s ever experienced and assassinations that are, in actuality, decades- and generations-long scripted dramas. Each leaves a distinct taste behind well after you’ve finished reading. It’s tightly constructed and brimming with imagination—hard not to recommend.
Album: “Acquiring the Taste” by Gentle Giant (1971)
Progressive rock O.G.s Gentle Giant came into their own not with their self-titled debut (which was poorly recorded and significantly less interesting than anything that followed), but with with their 1971 album “Acquiring the Taste,” exposing listeners to the calculated and instrumentally hyper-diverse dreamscape the group would later perfect with “Octopus.” Self-indulgent, but not to a fault, it showcases the moment that Gentle Giant evolved from just a band to something undeniably special. No two tracks sound the same, from the euphoric tumult of “Wreck” to the moody, quietly tilted “Edge of Twilight”—though most feature some form of string instrument and the nearly medieval vocals the band is known for. Prodigious guitarwork and some genuinely catchy moments elevate much of the tracklist. Despite its nature as less revered (and way, way less debilitatingly experimental) than some of the band’s later releases, “Acquiring the Taste” is meritorious in its own right and worth a listen.
TV Show: “Six Feet Under” (2001)
Many of HBO’s “Prestige Dramas” have a kind of childish edge to them, and “Six Feet Under” takes said edge to comical extremes. In between moving discussions of mortality and human nature are cartoonish dream sequences and abrupt non-diegetic musical numbers. Despite the weight of the show’s premise, it’s often not as unpleasant and heavy as one might think. The cast is abrasive, but charming, and their subtle neuroses expand and become clearer over time, forming a psychological web that’s intricate and compelling, though perhaps not very subtle. “Six Feet Under” places its maladjusted characters at the center of an oft-ignored and emotionally taxing industry, and makes no short change of the resulting strife. “I never worked in a funeral home that was this depressing,” one character says.
Written by: Jacob Anderson — firstname.lastname@example.org