Author Archives: humanizingthevacuum

If they move, kill’em: the best of Sam Peckinpah

The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner I hold up as examples of the gentleness of which Sam Peckinpah was capable. In the 2000s, I suspect, an imaginative producer would have hired him to film a Harry Potter film, … Continue reading

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How the GOP still wins with Donald Trump: the courts

Since the Reagan era, Republicans have kept their eye on the federal courts, seeing them, correctly, as citadels of reaction that stand for decades. Democrats have not. One of the reasons I voted for Hillary Clinton was, whatever else, I … Continue reading

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Defining spaces: St. Vincent and Kelela

Kelela – Take Me Apart As limpid and tough as The Velvet Rope, Kelela’s first official album boasts glassy electronic textures provided mostly by Arca, Jam City, and the ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid. Unlike Tinashe, who works similar terrain, Kelela writes … Continue reading

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But not for me: the best of Devo

As subcultural phenoms, nourished by a cult whose fervor wasn’t quite enough to get them any substantial airplay after 1984, Devo never went away. Like “Don’t You Want Me,” “Whip It” survives beyond the memories of pop radio listeners and … Continue reading

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Singles 10/13

A strong week during which Shakira returned at the peak of her powers and several Latin artists excelled at balladry and tejano. If we saw controversy, it was over Morrissey’s best single in over a decade, not that it means … Continue reading

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The best heist films

A heist film involves a crime, dastardly characters, some of whom with hearts of gold, and an often comic/violent resolution. In the nineties, thanks to Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood inundated audiences with terrible imitations. As usual I wasn’t looking for a … Continue reading

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‘Faces Places’ an elegy to a vanishing France

Near the end of Faces Places, muralist JR remarks to Agnès Varda, “You’re playing the wise grandma.” A legitimate point, for what stifles my enjoyment of Varda’s amiable documentary is the sense that the audience must adore the puckish octogenarian … Continue reading

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He’s laid back, not laying back: the best of Grace Jones

Recording music to fit the cyborg Zulu drag that Jean-Paul Goude designed for album sleeves and costumes, Grace Jones moved from recording at best okay disco (“Do or Die” defines “okay”) to an electronic dub as adamantine as her voice. … Continue reading

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Everything is awful

Since January I’ve recited Elizabeth Bishop’s line from “The Bight” as if it were a mantra: awful but cheerful. As the worst week of the year inches toward some kind of dignified close, reminders why we’re fucked. First, Puerto Rico, … Continue reading

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The best of Jean-Luc Godard

Michael Gebert’s “He made sense when you or the whole world was twenty-one,” is the best line of criticism I’ve read about the restless innovator, still making movies that defy categorization and narrative. He’s the benign ghost in Agnes Varda’s … Continue reading

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‘Call Me By Your Name’ is an unabashed romp

What might make Call Me By Your Name the first wide release film about two gay men fondling each other to attract audiences since 2005 is that it presents itself as an idyll: Armie Hammer is Oliver, a graduate student … Continue reading

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A lesson from the master

What I’ve learned from twenty-nine years of reading Henry James is the cultivation of a private life, an interiority deepened by contact with our fellow men. The process is circular: the private life helps us understand friends and strangers. “I … Continue reading

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