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.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January – by Alix E. Harrow
I discovered this book in a chapter excerpt published in F(r)iction Magazine last year, and promptly put the novel on my wait list at the public library. The first chapter introduces a scrappy young narrator, January Scaller, who is a heat-seeking missile of adventure and intelligence. When she finds a decrepit door standing in a field on the outskirts of a west Kentucky town, she seems to discover a glimpse into another world–breezy and sea-smelling, somehow familiar. Punishment follows adventure, however, and she soon loses the chance to explore what seemed to be her chance to find her long-lost parents. But of course, girls like January don’t stay down for long, and soon she’s carving messages into her arms to escape locked rooms, fighting off cold-eyed villains with mystical coins, and slipping through in-between spaces to hidden worlds where a mysterious book leads her in search of her mother and father.
This novel would be equally engaging for a high schooler who needs an admirable character in a page-turning story, or for a graduate student interrogating liminal spaces and the inherent tensions of otherness. In her contemporary world of 1901, January is considered “colored,” along with all the prejudice and trouble that evokes, but the story she learns of her true heritage unlocks confidence and strength she didn’t know she possessed. She discovers that there’s more than one way to slip between worlds. The language is crisp and scenes unfold quickly, with startling imagery and a vivid sense of place. January’s faithful dog evokes the brave and loyal companions of old Jack London stories, and drives some excruciating tension. If anything happens to this dog, I told myself, I’m rioting.
My last public act before quarantine was to pick up this book at the library. I hope Ms. Harrow is writing more, because I can’t think of a better story to be locked up with. At this point the late fees are bound to be piling up, but any price is worth stepping into The Ten Thousand Doors of January. – A.C. Koch
Stray Dog [Streaming on Criterion Channel]
Stray Dog was the second film that Toshiro Mifune made with Akira Kurosawa, cementing one of the most prolific actor-director partnerships in the history of cinema. The film follows Mifune’s Detective Murakami through post-war Tokyo after the rookie detective had his police revolver picked from his pocket. His gun is implicated in a string of violent crimes and Murakami is riddled with guilt over his indirect role in the spree. He is possessed by the determination to get his gun back and stop the criminal(s) responsible.
Stray Dog captures the spirit of a Japan picking itself up from catastrophic defeat in the Second World War and beginning its meteoric rise as a global manufacturing power. It is a gritty, grimy film and is full of captivating images and sets. It was a star-making role for Mifune and set Kurosawa up for what might be the best ‘50s run—including Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood—of any director in the world. – Ryne Clos
Total Recall [Amazon Prime]
Arnold Schwarzenegger has always been a strange case of celebrity. He’s not particularly handsome. He’s a terrible actor, but through sheer force of will he foisted himself upon us, mastering pop culture like it was a set of Olympic free weights. There’s even an argument to be made that he was the proto-Trump in terms of a famous person getting millions of rubes to believe he was qualified to govern a vast economy because he once ran a business. We all seem to have forgotten the train wreck that was Governor Arnold because he posts cute videos of his animals that entertain us during this time of confinement, but it was a dark time. Just not Trump dark, if orange can be considered the new dark.
Total Recall was released in 1990 and firmly placed Schwarzenegger ahead of Sly Stallone in the international ranking of overly muscular action stars. The movie also required him to do more acting then he had ever done before since his character, Douglas Quaid, is a construct of a normal, decent man implanted over an evil Mars intelligence agent. Duality and the construction of reality is a standard theme for Phillip K. Dick whose short story “We Remember It For You Wholesale” served as the basis for the movie. But, unlike Blade Runner another famous Dick adaption of the time, Total Recall never tries to be anything but an action movie.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, it brokers in light social commentary while giving its star plenty of room to destroy things and a one-liner or two to add to his repertoire. Science fiction and fantasy films were ruled by Spielberg, Lucas, Zemekis and Star Trek movies at the time. Verhoeven added a little edge and anarchy to the mix with this film sandwiched between Robocop and Starship Troopers in his science fiction oeuvre. I remember liking it at the time, but now I think it’s the perfect encapsulation of its star and what could be done in Hollywood during the peak of the era of blockbusters. It’s a little sexist, the effects were state of the art at the time but look crude and low budget compared to the CGI of the time, but everyone involved had something to prove with this movie and that’s its lasting quality. – Don Kelly