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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for television, movies, books and music

By JACOB ANDERSON — arts@theaggie.org


Movie: “Tangerine” dir. by Sean Baker (2015)

Sean Baker’s grimy, hilarious, iPhone-shot romp follows two transgender sex workers, one of whom is determined to find the woman whom her pimp/boyfriend had slept with during her brief stay in prison. The film is bright and filthy the whole way through, capturing the complicated and sometimes funny, often depressing lives of its characters. Sean Baker depicts Hollywood in all its debauched, 100-degree charm, treating the characters with compassion in such a way that never detracts from the comedy.


While Baker’s later films are arguably better, and the flat, grainy tone of iPhone footage can be somewhat distracting, “Tangerine” is still a fantastic watch that perfectly marries empathy and comedy.


Book: “I Used to be Charming” by Eve Babitz (2019)

In the final release before her death in December of this last year, the mordant and ever confident Eve Babitz also captures Hollywood. For her, though, it’s a frantic place full of Jim Morrisons and Francis Ford Coppolas and writers of sensational and skeevy erotica. Over a span of 40 years, Babitz’s nonfiction charts Los Angeles as the rock bars decay and a sleeker 2000’s culture rises to prominence through essays on dating celebrities and playing nude chess and a startlingly long piece about the fashion brand Fiorucci. In many ways, the opposite of her contemporary and frequent point of comparison Joan Didion, Babitz lived a life of uninhibited and unskeptical joy, and this last collection completes the impossible deed of summing up that life in 400 pages.


Album: “First Utterance” by Comus (1971)

The short-lived, psychedelic folk (among other classifications) band Comus received almost no recognition for the release of their first full-length album, “First Utterance,” but the album has since developed into something like an underground notoriety. And for good reason: The music is terrifying and skillful, sporting 10-minute, jaunty tracks about folklore creatures that kidnap and eat virgins that sound like the hymns of a medieval-themed cult. Clamoring tambourines, violins that sound like they’re about to burst apart and uneasy vibrato from shrill people make the music sound endless and threatening. Despite being sort of upbeat, this is the music one would compose to accompany a human sacrifice.


It’s fascinating, yes, but there’s clear artistry behind the spectacle, inspiring awe in the same volume as incipient terror. The band never saw commercial success for obvious reasons, but this release has still managed to arrest the minds and amygdalas of many despite its unorthodoxy.


TV Show: “Gunbuster” (1988)

This classic mecha anime from the ‘80s, which has been referenced and ripped-off in so many contexts across so many cultures and mediums that it’s unlikely they all know what they’re paying tribute to. This TV show has aged tremendously: elegant animation, a great story and one of the most memorable endings from anime of this era. The show’s director, Hideaki Anno, would of course go on the make the infinitely more famous “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” but while that show has at least one part (spanning seven or eight episodes in the show’s beginning and middle) that seems excessively dry compared to the rest of the show, Gunbuster remains fantastic the entire way through — and at only 6 episodes, it’s easily watchable in an afternoon. This is one of the best animated works of the ‘80s and I have a hard time believing anybody could watch it and have a bad time.


Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org



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