We’re all in this together.
We here at Spectrum Culture understand that the world is a scary place right now. With the spread of the novel coronavirus, it’s time to stay home. As one meme states:
We’re here to help. This feature is a running list of all music, film and books that we’re consuming while housebound. We’ll be updating it daily and hopefully giving you some ideas of how to pass the time.
Feel free to recommend what you’ve been listening to, watching and reading. We’re all in this together.
Ikiru [Streaming on Criterion Channel]
Picture this: it is the opening moment of “Breaking Bad” and Walter White gets the sad news of his imminent death. He ponders his wasted life and the pointlessness of trying to achieve something good within the ridiculous maze of public service bureaucracy. Now, if instead of breaking bad and transforming into Heisenberg, what if he had grown a heart and instead become Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation?” That is, in essence, the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, which manages to be a screed against bloated government, a paean to the potential of human endeavor and an enthralling portrait of post-War Japan all at the same time. – Ryne Clos
Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas
The melancholy sweetness of the Cocteau Twins’ 1990 masterpiece, Heaven or Las Vegas, is perfect for these trying times. For casual listeners, some of the band’s earlier work can be dauntingly impenetrable but Heaven or Las Vegas serves not only as a highpoint in the discography, but also the best entry point for non-converts.
As usual, it is nearly impossible to discern Elizabeth Fraser’s lyrics as they bend and twist over Robin Guthrie’s iridescent guitar lines. But does it matter? It’s a feeling that’s being transmitted. Give the record a spin and immerse yourself in the sentiment.
Album opener “Cherry-Coloured Funk” evokes different shades of emotive color and texture while “Pitch the Baby” is a lullaby to Fraser and Guthrie’s infant daughter. Confusion and strife swirls under the album’s placid veneer, however. Despite his new baby, drug addiction swallowed Guthrie, leaving him with issues of rage and paranoia. Yet, Heaven or Las Vegas offers some buoyance, ending with the majestic “Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires,” delivering a ray of hope, something many of us likely need in these troubling times. – David Harris
A Tony Scott Triple Bill [Viewed on Blu-ray]
I typically find that, during times of restless isolation, a palliative viewing experience involves high-octane thrill rides from a director who knows what he is doing. In 1998, 2009 and 2010, the late Tony Scott offered three movies that perfectly fit that description. In Enemy of the State, Will Smith plays a labor lawyer thrust into a game of political espionage when a mysterious NSA executive (played by Jon Voight) assassinates a U.S. Congressman and the video of his death falls into the lawyer’s possession, eventually pushing him to partner with a mysterious former government man (Gene Hackman) to stop the villain from killing him and destroying the tape. In The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, a remake of the 1974 film of a similar name, Denzel Washington plays a former MTA executive-turned-dispatcher whose day turns dramatic, to say the least, when a vengeful menace calling himself Ryder (John Travolta) hijacks a subway train and demands $10 million in cash at the one-hour mark – or he will start killing the hostages he’s taken. In Unstoppable, Washington and Chris Pine team up as, respectively, an engineer and his conductor who must find a way to stop an unmanned train under full power, after other attempts to derail or slow it down fail spectacularly (Elsewhere, Rosario Dawson plays the train yardmaster, who describes the massive vehicle as not a train but “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building,” and Kevin Dunn is the executive only worried about the bottom line). In each of these movies, Scott – paired with respective cinematographers Dan Mindel, Tobias Schliessler, and Ben Seresin – adopts a swirling and whirling directorial style that underlines the heightened drama of each situation. Whatever inherent lunacy there might be in these situations or contrivances within the specifics of how they play out, the sincerity on display in all of them is disarming and urgent. If one is stuck at home with nothing to do for weeks on end, there is nothing like being in the grip of a filmmaker in his element, and while it probably isn’t easy to determine what the “top three Tony Scott movies” actually are, bingeing these is a great place to start. If spaced out correctly, this unofficial trilogy will cover half a day of your quarantine, at least. – Joel Copling
Tootsie [Streaming on Netflix]
Tootsie was a pop culture juggernaut when it came out in 1982. It was “woke” for the time–a cutting-edge exploration of gender roles and sexual politics. Viewing it almost four decades later, the politics seem quaint, but the script still snaps with one-liners and beautiful performances from Bill Murray, Terri Garr and Charles Durning. Dustin Hoffman owns the spotlight, though, and he digs into his twin roles with gusto: Michael Dorsey, an insufferable jackass of an unemployed actor; and Dorothy Michaels, his wise and tough-as-nails female alter ego. A love triangle gets tangled into more of a polygon, where Michael seems to be both having an affair with and competing against his own crossdressing self. If that sounds confusing, just wait for the conversation where Michael tries to explain to his agent (played by the film’s director, Sydney Pollack) just who is in love with whom. The scene is a masterpiece of comedy, worthy of the Who’s-On-First pantheon. Tootsie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards but got steamrolled by the even bigger juggernaut of Gandhi. Only Jessica Lange won for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Michael’s colleague and love interest. Michael’s confession to her clinches the theme in a single line: “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man. Know what I mean?” If that sounds confusing, just do yourself a favor and stream this gem from 1982. – A.C. Koch
Patrice Rushen – Straight From the Heart
For those who slacked off during MWE Month, now’s your chance to jump back in. Patrice Rushen’s Straight From the Heart stays true to title, every earnest lyric supported by a rich, present backing band. Many already know moody groover “Forget Me Nots,” one of those songs that could go on forever. Dig a little deeper, you discover more endlessly enjoyable melodies and basslines, all of it echoing with the reverb of the ‘80s. Love, independence and hope remain as relatable today as they did 40 years ago. All of it centers around Rushen, pure of voice and full of conviction. “All We Need” leaps into its chorus, gliding slowly down carried by divine harmonies. Harmony, both musical and societal, is not that simple, but she makes it so for about six minutes. – Mick Jacobs
Grace and Frankie: Season 1 [Netflix]
When my wife and I started Grace and Frankie I had to set aside my concerns of generational wealth porn to enjoy the comedy about two ladies whose marriages of 40 years end at the same dinner. Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) play two women who have tolerated each other because their husbands Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterson) work together at the same law firm and are close friends. They find out how close when both men ask for divorces because they have been lovers for 20 years and want to get married. Strangely, the comedy ensues from there.
Both women leave their homes and head to the beach house the families bought together as an investment property. Neither expected the other, and their opposing personalities clash in close quarters. Grace is a very organized and fashion conscious woman who was once CEO of her own beauty products company. Frankie is an artist and a hippie. Though they share a lifetime of slights and simmering animosity, they are the only two people each knows who understands exactly what it means to be set adrift in your 70’s. The friendship that blossoms is heartfelt and their adventures lend themselves to binge watching.
If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, part of the fun of this show is seeing all the actors you grew up watching getting last hurrahs in countless cameos. The rest of the fun really belongs to Tomlin and Fonda, who are clearly relishing being leads in a show when actors of their age are often forgotten. Because of them, it’s easier to enjoy another sitcom about one percenters trying to make it in the world. Though with its depictions of septuagenarians walk around the world, kissing, holding hands and sitting at tables in crowded cafes, the show looks like a documentary from some pre-plague, alien world. – Don Kelly
Sunrise [Streaming on YouTube]
Widely regarded as among the greatest films ever made, F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise begins as something of a noir before morphing into a complex love story. Murnau, one of the inventors of Expressionist cinematic style as well as the unchained camera movement—what is today a tracking shot or a crane shot—moved to Hollywood in the mid-1920s. Sunrise was his first film in the U.S. and he utilized his brilliant eye for a good shot and his technical prowess in moving the camera to capture a slice of urban life during the Roaring ‘20s that still serves as a vital primary historical source for what the ‘20s looked and felt like. He takes the viewer through crowded intersections, a carnival and restaurants, creating then-novel, now-standard cinematic maneuvers throughout. For anyone interested in the history of movies, few films are as influential today as Sunrise. – Ryne Clos