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.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday [Streaming on Criterion Channel]
Jacques Tati was a professional mime and comedian before he became a filmmaker in the ‘50s. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday was his feature debut and set the stage for his short, delightful cinema career. It is in this film that he introduced Monsieur Hulot, the character that stars in most of his films, and who is played by Tati himself. He also commenced his characteristic slapstick style of humor that relies on physical comedy, sight gags and clever set design rather than dialogue to generate laughs. Even in our cynical and tense times, Tati can produce a good belly laugh or two from any viewer with his Keaton-esque gymnastics and searing social critique. – Ryne Clos
Vanilla Sky [For rent on Amazon and Apple Movies]
Wouldn’t it be nice to go to sleep now, and wake up long after this whole mess has gotten cleaned up? That’s the allure of the deal Tom Cruise takes in Vanilla Sky, a masterful techno thriller with a sweet love story at its center. Cruise plays David Aames, a filthy rich Manhattan fancy boy who suddenly reassesses his life when he falls for a lovely party guest played by a glowing Penelope Cruz. Re-watching the movie nearly twenty years after it came out, I was struck by how current and vibrant it all feels. Sure, Cruise and Cruz look startlingly young, and the music is primo ‘90s alternative rock (Radiohead, R.E.M., Joan Osborne), but the editing is snappy and the story still unfolds and re-folds in mind-bending ways that keep you guessing—even if you already know the ending. What really stands out today is how tuned-in Tom and Penelope seem, and how believable their onscreen romance feels. Their flirtation scenes buzz, but he just can’t have her, and that sets up David’s dilemma: in a pampered life that’s been all sweetness, can he handle the bitterness of being the guy who ends up going home alone? That doesn’t sound like the set-up to a techno thriller, but that’s what’s so thrilling about Vanilla Sky. Before long, the timelines get juggled, Penelope Cruz transmogrifies into a truly terrifying Cameron Diaz, and a disfigured Tom Cruise is staggering around in an abandoned skyscraper lobby screaming “Tech Support!” while the Beach Boys croon Good Vibrations. Even if none of it makes sense, it will provide fodder for some crazy dreams, and hopefully we’re all still here when we wake up. If not, then I’ll see you in another life, when we are both cats. – A.C. Koch
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun and M83 – Saturdays = Youth
A month ago, I was in San Francisco to see the Mountain Goats. On the last day of the trip, after a long day of wandering, I went to the record collector’s holy land: Amoeba Records. I bought two records: Yo La Tengo’s Summer Sun, and M83’s Saturdays = Youth. I knew I was moving, but because I didn’t know exactly when, I gave my old address. This was a mistake: it spent an infinite amount of time in mail forwarding limbo, resulting in me having to leave the house and go pay $6.50 to pick it up.
It feels weird to have these records now. The world of one month ago seems so vastly different than where we are now. I won’t do anything to try to parallel these two records with our current times, or ascribe some significance to either of them. It could have been any letter or package. The point is, though, they feel like a postcard from a completely different time. They came in the yellow bag that the store clerk put them in, standing with a foot between us, neither of us having a single reason to give a shit about germs or plague or anything. I don’t know about him, but I’m pretty certain neither of us had heard the phrase “social distancing” even once before that.
These two albums are really great, too. Summer Sun is a strange black sheep of the Yo La Tengo family, despite having one of Georgia Hubley’s finest songs – “Little Eyes,” naturally. Is it the finest of their albums? Absolutely not, but it’s still charming and quiet in the same way And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out was. It also has the criminally underrated “Moonrock Mambo,” whose chorus does feel like it holds different weight during these trying times: “I wanna be next to you,” he pleads, a desire that makes all too much sense, but is a wild violation of social distancing. Six feet, Ira!
Saturdays = Youth, however, is the best M83 album. It was Anthony Gonzalez’s last record before “Midnight City” sent M83’s fame into the stratosphere, and contains some of the greatest moments in his catalog: “We Own the Sky,” “Graveyard Girl,” the unfuckwithable “Kim & Jessie,” not to mention the blissful, droney closer “Midnight Souls Still Remain.” It’s the sonic embodiment of a John Hughes movie, and for time spent stuck in a Breakfast Club-esque lockdown, it’s a brilliantly sun-drenched record to help shake things up.
I’m glad to have these records now, finally – even though it meant I had to go outside and leave quarantine to go to a post office. They’re a neat little reminder of the last major adventure I got to go on before all of this mess started. With any luck, it won’t be the last one, and I’ll get to send myself records from some far away shop – this time, though, I can only hope it doesn’t take a full month to get to me. – Holly Hazelwood
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Before special effects advanced to the point of making superhero movies fairly seamless combinations of practical sets and CGI there was Alex Ross and his photorealistic paintings. Ross elevated two prestige projects in the ‘90s, Marvels, a nostalgic journey through the Marvel Universe with writer Kurt Busiek, and Kingdom Come with Mark Waid, a great literary apocalyptic tale where a disillusioned Superman must save the earth from his abandonment before it’s too late for DC. In the story, the Justice League and their cohort have mostly abandoned the world to their violent progeny. There are no villains, only clashing bands of superpowered youth with no regard for the collateral damage their battles cause among the human population. A pastor named Norman McCay begins to have visions of the end of the world that center around Superman. The Spectre, a supernatural spirit of vengeance, anchors himself to Norman and guides him to Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, so they may attempt to prevent the doom to come. Waid and Ross provide everything you could want in a story of this magnitude, including a broken Batman executing his own agenda, an uncompromising Wonder Woman able to lead when Superman cannot and a climatic battle centered on Shazam and Superman. Every page of the book is stunning with Ross’ paintings expanding the sense of possibility of what could be visually achieved in comics, his work was unarguably high art by any definition. – Don Kelly
Giant Days by John Allison
There are no superheroes. No explosions. No monsters. That is why John Allison’s Giant Days is the perfect comic to quell those apocalyptic feelings many of us are experiencing right now. Telling the story of three British university students – the easy-to-anger Susan Ptolemy, the histrionic Goth heartthrob Esther DeGroot and the burgeoning nerd Daisy Wooten – Giant Days reminds me of simpler times when making friends, hooking up and falling in love wrestled with my attention against impending adulthood. Essentially a human drama, Giant Days (which is still on-going) has already racked up two Eisner Awards and should garner many more for its gentle humor, curious cast of characters and, ultimately, loving look at life. – David Harris