We are seven months into 2020, so it’s a perfect time to share thoughts about art I enjoyed in 2019.
On July 3, 2020, Disney’s streaming service premiered a filmed version of Hamilton, the acclaimed Broadway musical written by Lin Manuel Miranda. It was filmed in June of 2016, during the height of the musical’s popularity and directed by Tommy Kail, who combined footage from three separate performances to create a cinematic feel. In early 2020, Miranda announced that Disney bought the rights to the film (for a reported 75 million dollars) and planned to release it in theaters in October of 2021.
A few weeks later, theaters across the country closed their doors due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
A few weeks after that, Disney opted to skip the theaters and release the film fifteen months early into a world that feels very different from the spring and summer of 2016.
Will Hamilton work in 2020? I don’t know if this is the right time for the musical. The film may feel like an artifact of another era, an unpleasant reminder of where we are now. Or it could be an inspirational bit of fun that distracts us from the chaos outside our collective windows (while inspiring us to take some concrete action). It will be interesting to see how a broad audience responds to seeing the musical for the first time.
Hamilton was developed, produced and released during the Obama administration and exemplifies the era in which it was produced.
It is a powerful, optimistic symbol of Black and Latinx culture and excellence and the potential of the grand American experiment. It gently subverts and complicates the traditional telling of the nation’s founding by incorporating elements of hip-hop art and culture and having a cast composed entirely of Black and Latinx performers (other than King George and a brief appearance of Samuel Seabury).
The filmed version of Hamilton will be released in a very different political and social environment. The Trump administration’s reactionary response to Obama has been a reminder that many of the gains we thought we made over the last decade were ephemeral. The protests and activism that have arisen in response to the Trump administration’s actions have also drawn attention to the systemic problems in this country. It’s a bit harder to have an optimistic view about the Founding Fathers and the grand American experiment in 2020. If this nation is to be redeemed, it will not be through reinforcing the old myths – if anything, it would be through a version of this story that centered the other, less prominent people who were not memorialized with a statue or an image on currency.
The release of the film to a broad audience has prompted me to revisit some of the elements of the musical that were most intriguing – from the ways that it complicated the notion of hip-hop theater to the meaning that can be found in the dual casting choices or the ways in which it served as a meditation on legacy and the benefits and costs of ambition. It has also led me to think about my initial response to Hamilton. Let’s start there.
The Best Birthday Present Ever
I first became aware of Hamilton when I read rapturous tweets from the Roots’ Questlove and NPR’s Gene Demby about an amazing hip hop musical that told the story of Alexander Hamilton with a primarily African American and Latinx cast. I was vaguely intrigued, but was hesitant. The idea of a hip-hop musical evoked memories of the ill-fated Carmen: A Hip Hopera musical, a well intentioned flop that was trying so hard to signal authenticity to hip hop fans that it felt completely false.
I pictured fresh faced Broadway performers earnestly reciting embarrassingly simplistic verses about the Revolutionary War and duels.
So I put it off.
I don’t know why I relented. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to listen to anything in my library and was open to something new.
It blew my mind.
I said all of the things that you probably read in a Hamilton review (or heard from an excited friend) five years ago. I felt compelled to share my excitement with everyone I knew. My apologies to all the people who spent the fall of 2015 (and the spring of 2016) waiting for me to shut up about Hamilton.
I loved how Lin Manuel Miranda created a dialogue between hip hop and musical theater and history that invigorated all three disciplines and introduced them to wider audiences. There were people who knew nothing about hip-hop discussing the intricacies of Daveed Diggs’ double time flow.
When my wife told me that she bought tickets to Hamilton for my birthday, I was concerned that the actual show couldn’t live up to the version of Hamilton that lived in my mind. I imagined a sweeping saga and was afraid that something would be lost once I saw it live, that it would all feel ordinary.
I was wrong. The show wildly exceeded my unreasonably high expectations. The live performances breathed life into a story that already felt compelling. I had become very familiar with the sound of the cast performing the show, but the movements and expressions of the actors added layers of meaning to the story. Some actors who were less than memorable on the soundtrack were magnetic in person.
The second act (set after the end of the Revolutionary War) is particularly moving in a live format. Diggs’ performance as Thomas Jefferson is mesmerizing in person and the rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton is far more vicious. The disdain between the two men is palpable. The subplot focusing on Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds affair is similarly enlivened by the performances of actors involved – Jasmine Cephas Jones’ movements and expressions (as Ms. Reynolds) add a layer of seduction that can’t be conveyed by vocals alone.
The relationship between Alexander and his wife Eliza (played by Phillippa Soo) also feels more fully realized in the live performance. We only see glimpses of their marriage in the second act of the musical, but those moments are enriched by watching Soo and Miranda interact on a stage. The two are comfortable with each other and their body language, gestures and facial expressions give the audience insight into their relationship (and inform the choices the two make later in the musical).
To put it plainly, I was deeply impressed.
Hamilton Mania Recovery – A Glimpse of How Race Complicates Hamilton
That was several years ago. In the time since, I’ve been one of the many who enthusiastically participated in Hamilton mania. I bought the t-shirt, watched the mini performances posted on Facebook, saw and appreciated the fan art and read Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s Hamilton: The Revolution.
I’ve also thought a lot about the ways in which Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical comments on the darker side of the Founders’ collective legacy. Race is central to Hamilton, from the casting choices to the art forms used to tell the story. It’s also present in the conversations between Hamilton and Laurens about recruiting enslaved African Americans to fight for the colonies during the Revolution or the sly comments Hamilton makes about Jefferson’s slaves in the second act and the multiple references to the importance of slavery for the power brokers in the South.
Hamilton is a historical period drama, not a docudrama. This gives Miranda license to shape history to fit his narrative and explore race in unorthodox ways. His take on George Washington might be the best example of this approach. Miranda’s version of the man is as informed by our national myths around our first president as Chernow’s masterful biography (or any of the other histories about Washington’s life). Miranda’s Washington does not chop down trees but is a towering inspirational figure that could have come from mid 20th century elementary school textbooks. Chris Jackson depicts Washington as a wise leader who stands above the fray, the ultimate gentleman warrior who is also a mentor and surrogate father to Alexander Hamilton. The audience sat at attention when he was introduced, and I saw tears in eyes when he stepped down from office and departed from the play in the second act. He was a humble man who appreciated the terrible cost of war and leadership, who understood the risks that our young country would face going forward. Jackson’s performance gave me a glimpse of what it must feel like to be a person with uncomplicated views about our first president.
I learned the secular myth of George Washington and the Founding Fathers with everyone else when I was a child. I’m not sure I ever believed the stories of the cherry tree or some of the mythology built around the founding of our country, but there was a moment in my life when there was something inspiring about the brilliance and vision of the men celebrated in our history books. I always knew that they were flawed, that some owned slaves, that many were willing to make a dark compromise with the elites in the southern colonies/states to ensure that the American experiment was successful. I told myself that it was a different time.
As I got older, I read more about the abolitionists of the time, the men and women who recognized the horrors of slavery as it happened. Those who accepted that the institution shouldn’t be ‘normal’. It became harder to think of the founding fathers as fundamentally good men with flaws when some of their contemporaries understood that those shortcomings were monstrous in scale.
Chris Jackson reminded me of that more innocent time in my life and of the singular impact George Washington still has in American culture/history. Casting a Black man in the role is a revolutionary act – a reminder that African Americans are central to the story of America and that the dreams we associate with the idea of America are ours.
Although the tension between the physical identity of the actors and the historical identities of the individuals their characters are based on adds meaning to the story and places African American culture at the center of the American story, it also obscures the role of African Americans in the colonial era.
The act of transforming George Washington into a heroic black man comes at the cost of ignoring the black men and women held captive by the real George Washington. There are no references to the one hundred and twenty three (123!) enslaved people who resided at Washington’s estate against their will at the time of Washington’s demise in Hamilton.
There are a handful of references to slavery, but little that reminds the audience of the pivotal role that African Americans played in the Revolutionary War (on both sides of the conflict) or how omnipresent they were in early America. The stage is filled with brown faces but there are no African American characters in the musical. There are no references to the compromises that perpetuated slavery, and which laid part of the foundation for modern systemic racism (although there is a powerful track on the Hamilton mixtape that gives some hint of what might have been).
Even the conversations about race that take place in the musical are transformed by the cross-cultural casting in complicated ways. The line ‘we will never be free until we end slavery’ line sung by Anthony Ramos (as John Laurens) and Miranda would have sounded very different (and more radical?) from the mouths of actors who bore a closer physical resemblance to the historical figures.
This is not necessarily a failing of Miranda’s Hamilton. He is telling the story of the rise and fall of one man. Lin Manuel Miranda is not aiming to simulate reality or give the audience a panoramic view of colonial America. Miranda sacrifices realism to present an America where the demographics of the power elite are reversed. He doesn’t present his story as a science fiction style alternate reality, but the visual impact of scenes where a group of African American and Latinx men decide the fate of a nascent America is indescribable, particularly when viewed in an audience that’s predominately white.
The Untold Stories
The experience of watching Hamilton onstage was so moving that I missed some of the gaps in the story, at least for the first few weeks and months. It’s hard to imagine a story about the beginning of this country that doesn’t include a reference to the crimes against the people who lived in this space before we arrived.
Hamilton samples the language Americans use in our creation myth – the story of a brand-new nation in a land filled with endless possibility. It’s a powerful and familiar idea that connects with Miranda’s approach to depicting Hamilton’s genius. He uses the qualities and characteristics we associate with creative brilliance in pop culture as a metaphor for political and economic genius. Miranda’s Hamilton is a tireless dreamer who uses language to create different worlds. In another life, he would’ve been a playwright or a novelist or an MC. He sees early America as a blank canvas, a space that can be filled with his ideas about government, the economy and society as a whole. This is a version of the American dream that is familiar and appealing. A frontier waiting to be explored, a blank page waiting to be filled. A new system where the best ideas for organizing society can be introduced and tested.
This approach is enormously effective, especially when combined with Miranda’s vocal performance, which features the kind of polysyllabic speed rapping and complex rhyme schemes that hip-hop fans associate with skill and erudition. It is complicated by the fact that the canvas was never truly blank. Our nation was new, but the land was not. It was filled with nations, villages, families and people who were violently displaced. The improved prospects for some led to the end of possibilities for others.
Hamilton is not a story about the conflict between people indigenous to this land and the colonizers who sought to conquer it. It is also not a story about the experiences of people who helped build this country without any of the accolades (or anyone to tell their story). This is not a narrative that includes black people, and while it does include some women, they are far from the center of the story.
I left the show wishing that we had more time with the actresses and the fascinating women they portrayed. It’s only right that Alexander Hamilton sits at the center of a musical called Hamilton based on a giant biography with the title Alexander Hamilton. It’s the story of a guy narrated by another guy who killed him. I was just intrigued by the glimpses we got of the inner lives of the Schuyler sisters. We are told about Angelica’s brilliance on multiple occasions, but we never get a chance to see her mind at work after Satisfied. We see hints of the famed intellect that entranced the real Hamilton in her letter urging him to resolve the dispute with Jefferson, but no more than fragments. Eliza doesn’t get the genius label, but she may be the most fully developed (and emotionally complex) character in the musical. In Stay Alive and That Would Be Enough, Soo brilliantly conveys the fear, hope and love of a woman desperately trying to convince her husband to make safe choices and to be content with their life together. This simply may be a reflection of an era when women were almost entirely excluded from the “rooms where it happens”, but I still wanted more. We all know what happened in those rooms – it would great to imagine what happened outside of them (and to remember that history is more than the stories of powerful people).
Despite Hamilton being such an out-sized unstoppable phenomenon at its peak, it can’t be all things to all people. It distills the essence of a masterful biography about a brilliant flawed man into an exploration of manhood, ambition, parenthood, love and friendship, while sharing some fun historical insights and blending elements of different musical genres into an entertaining whole. It’s a story about the power of stories – the refrain “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” reminds us that the history we’re familiar with (and the story we’re viewing) are only carefully curated fragments of the truth.
It’s also a product of its moment in history, when elevating artists from varied backgrounds and musical forms created and innovated by people of African and Latinx descent felt like a Great Leap Forward. A story that elevated our art and the Founding Fathers felt radical-ish in 2015, but things are different in this era, a time when we are collectively disabusing ourselves of the lies we’ve been told (and been telling) about our country.
The film is an opportunity to revisit a tremendously entertaining show, a welcome distraction in this time of political, economic and social chaos. It’s a time machine to an era that many are nostalgic for, when it appeared that we had made meaningful progress on the issue of race in this country. The musical is a compelling work of art, even if it’s not completely accurate. Hamilton symbolizes the shortcomings of that era in which it was produced. It privileges demographic representation over inclusion. It shows our faces and incorporates our art and vernacular while disregarding our stories. It represents a kind of progress that flatters the powerful without addressing some uncomfortable truths about our world. We had a Black president in 2016, but we also had a Black Lives Matter movement that formed during his time in office. We were so excited about the prospect of a Broadway musical theater production with a predominately Black and Latinx cast that blended hip-hop and history that many of us disregarded the parts of the story that were left out. I’m still looking forward to the film, but the musical is also a reminder of the limits of that era.
At 2 East 70th Street the day-shift doorman recognized her—“That you, Mrs. Dyer?”—and with a certain amount of pride Isabel remembered his name—“Hello, Felix”—and chatted about family, his four children now all grown, the older two with children themselves, though time unarticulated was the truer subject, Felix following the doorman code and refraining from asking personal questions, but seeing Mrs. Dyer of the sixth floor gave him a passing awareness of the gap between when he was young and when she was old and how it had narrowed to a crack.
–& Sons, David Gilbert
if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve certainly learned something about it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn’t that true?”
–Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams
It was as if he had been assigned to take apart a fiendishly complicated alarm clock to see why it wasn’t working, only to discover that an important part of the clock was inside his own mind.
–The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis
You would not, I imagine, suggest that it is the task of botanists to devise more flowers? Or that astronomers should labour to rearrange the stars? Magicians, Mr Segundus, study magic which was done long ago. Why should any one expect more?”
–Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know, when you make love for the last time, that you are making love for the last time. Voting is like that. Some of the Germans who voted for the Nazi Party in 1932 no doubt understood that this might be the last meaningfully free election for some time, but most did not. Some of the Czechs and Slovaks who voted for the Czechoslovak Communist Party in 1946 probably realized that they were voting for the end of democracy, but most assumed they would have another chance. No doubt the Russians who voted in 1990 did not think that this would be the last free and fair election in their country’s history, which (thus far) it has been.
–On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder
I laughed and grabbed his head as I had done God knows how many times before, when I was playing with him or when he had annoyed me. But this time when I touched him something happened in him and in me which made this touch different from any touch either of us had ever known. And he did not resist, as he usually did, but lay where I had pulled him, against my chest. And I realized that my heart was beating in an awful way and that Joey was trembling against me and the light in the room was very bright and hot.
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
We shouted over the dinner tables and slipped away into empty rooms with each other’s spouses, carousing with all the enthusiasm and indiscretion of Greek gods. And in the morning, we woke at 6:30 on the dot, clearheaded and optimistic, ready to resume our places behind the stainless steel desks at the helm of the world.
–Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
“That’s not true. Of course you do. Denise would whisper to Sharon, and Sharon would tell her husband and her sister. You would come to the office and find them whispering, and after a few days, you’d begin to think that it was about you. After a week, you would start to think that people all over town were looking at you strangely. You would notice them trying to look directly past you when you ran into them in the grocery store and on the street. When Christmas came, you would have only half as many cards in your mailbox, and least once a year, junior-high boys would throw a half-dozen eggs at your window. “If you think they wouldn’t say anything, though, you’re right. They wouldn’t say a word. It would be rude and un-Christian to do so.
–All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu
She attracted attention not so much because of the qualities of her features but rather because of the naturalness and grace with which her expression moved.
–IQ84, Huraki Murakami
When you borrow a lot of money to create a false prosperity, you import the future into the present. It isn’t the actual future so much as some grotesque silicone version of it. Leverage buys you a glimpse of a prosperity you haven’t really earned.
–Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis
I spent some time in Philadelphia this week in order to think about gender equity in a time of uncertainty and regulatory change. I learned a lot, and left energized by conversations with brilliant colleagues who use their skills as educators and advocates to help make a better world.
The conference reminded me that this moment is an opportunity for all of us to demonstrate commitment to creating a welcome environment for people of all genders and to ending violence and harassment on our campuses.
The experience also helped me realize that the hard working folks in my field need to shift our focus from training models designed to help people understand policy and procedure (message: obey!) to a learning one where we help people learn about healthy relationships (with scaffolding strategies) and persuade people who aren’t inclined to care about our work or listen to us. It was a timely reminder that compliance isn’t enough – we have to get up off the floor and reach for the ceiling.
When I wasn’t doing that work (or dong other work), I used the time as an opportunity to sample some of the amazing cuisine and art in Philadelphia.
The food was uniformly delicious – from Bridgid’s delectable trout to the oyster po’ boy at Beck’s Cajun Cafe and the bialy and lox at Hershel’s East Side – but the highlight of the trip was a lunchtime visit to the Rodin Museum in the Fairmount neighborhood. The museum is on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, on the path to the Philadelphia Art Museum.
A replica of Rodin’s Thinker welcomes visitors and passersby at the entrance. I’m familiar with the famous sculpture, but I never spent much time thinking about it, except as a symbol/shorthand for deep contemplation. I marveled at Rodin’s ability to capture such a fundamentally internal process in a statue, but didn’t think about it as a representation of the human figure. When I stood in front of the statue, I found myself focusing on its physical characteristics – the knuckles, the tendons, the obliques, the body language.
The museum is located in a building that evokes ancient Greece. The museum’s website helpfully shares that it’s a Beaux Arts style building, a style of architecture from the 19th and early 20th century derived from France that blended ancient Greek and Roman designs with ones from the Renaissance and Baroque era. There’s usually a sense of grandness with buildings in this style, but the museum feels quiet and intimate. The garden and reflecting pool immediately outside the museum complements this effect – once you pass the two columns at the front of the museum, you feel like you’ve entered a different world.
The museum features over 140 pieces of Rodin’s work scattered throughout the building and in the garden area, with samples from every phase of his career. I found myself drawn to Rodin’s hands and faces. I love the way that he depicts emotional extremes, from the anguish of the Burghers of Calais walking towards their death and the gates of hell to the passion captured in I Am Beautiful and the exuberance of Youth Triumphant.
Rodin’s hands are expressive and beautifully rendered. They add layers of meaning to his sculptures. The hands of the burghers – both in the Burghers statues and in the Clenched Hand (an early study for the former) – complement the sense of hopelessness that one gets from Rodin’s faces.
His Cathedral suggests an intimacy between lovers that is a quieter counterpart to the more demonstrative I Am Beautiful or the powerfully passionate the Damned Women.
I was also struck by Rodin’s efforts to grapple with the ineffable through his Hand of God and Gates of Hell sculptures. The Hand of God draws a parallel between human and divine acts of creation, with God as divine sculptor, shaping humanity from a barren rock. The contrast between the hyper-real sculpture of a human hand emerging from a block of marble and the impossible image of the partially formed figures materializing from the rock is striking, almost magical. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the creative process.
The Gates of Hell are a powerful monument to the human experience. It contains figures in agony and ecstatic abandon, along with images suggesting compassion and love (both sexual and maternal).
The Thinker is perched near the top of the gates, surrounded by figures in all manner of embraces (some of which look passionate, others of which almost look torturous).
As with the Hand of God, the title of the piece suggests a straightforward religious interpretation, but the sculpture feels like a tangible representation of a doorway to the human mind, complete with chaotic and contradictory emotions and experiences.
The statues are impressive in photographs and art books but gain a magical quality when viewed in person. The interplay of light and shadow over the curves of the statues spark the imagination and add layers of mystery and meaning.
The hand in the Hand of God felt majestic and awe inspiring upon first view, but after looking at it for a few minutes in the midday light, it almost looked tender.
- Dick (Nightwing) is the one sitting alone in the booth, the one who is relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. The one who comes closest to being a well adjusted person.
- Jason (Red Hood) is the angry one, the rebel without a cause. He communicates through sarcasm and provocations.
- Damian (Robin) is the young one, one who pretends to be an entitled jerk but doesn’t want you to know that he’s just an adolescent boy.
- Bruce (you know who…) is the father figure and a man who is not comfortable in a fast food restaurant.
The dialogue sharpens the distinctions between the men (and boy), but you’d get it without reading a thing.
The four are meeting in a “Batman” themed fast food restaurant, which gives Finch the opportunity to add humorous elements in the background that lighten the tone of the story. There’s something extremely ironic about the panel in which the three proteges banter in front of a Joker themed wall decoration.
This was a fun read. I find that I appreciate superhero comics more when I read them the same way I did when I was a kid/adolescent – with enthusiasm and a sense of generosity.
I had a mixed response to the parts of the story focused on the conflict between Bane and Batman. I was intrigued by the broad strokes of the story, in which Batman is trying to defeat a foe who was not only stronger than him, but had successfully broken the body and mystique of Batman in the past. In the first two volumes, King and Finch explored the nature of the character through stories exploring his role as a mentor to other heroes (who were not sidekick/surrogate child figures), a tactician and leader of a group of amoral adventurers and as a failed/tragic romantic figure in his relationship with Catwoman. In this volume, Finch and King use a physical conflict between Batman and a superior foe to help the reader understand a man who would dress up as a bat to fight crime. There’s a long buildup to the battle in this volume. We see Batman prepare for war and Bane dispatch all of the other members of the cast (hero and villain alike) with ease.
The conflict between the two takes up most of an issue and feels pretty anti climatic on the first read. Finch and King mix sequences of Bane beating Batman senseless (while the two verbally spar) with an imagined monologue delivered by a figure from Batman’s past that helpfully summarizes the plot and transforms the subtext into text. Finch alternates between panels illustrating the combat and ones which complement the monologue (e.g., a panel featuring Catwoman accompanying a passage about doomed love). The fight ends as one might expect (hint: we’re not reading the continued adventures of ‘Bane‘). It was a bit anti-climactic – I wanted a perfectly choreographed martial arts inspired battle between two skilled combatants, but I got a brawl with a pretty implausible conclusion.
On a second read (with more sleep), I had a better sense of things. The story inverts Knightfall, the classic Batman story by an army of creators including Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle that introduced Bane a quarter century ago. In Knightfall, Bane defeats Batman by pitting him against a gauntlet of his most dangerous foes (he stages a breakout at Arkham Asylum, the residential facility/hostel for Batman villains) and viciously attacking him when he is at his weakest. Finch and King have Batman borrow Bane’s old technique by using the tools at his disposal (including his enemies) to drive Bane to mental exhaustion and use a ‘rope a dope’ strategy (which involves letting Bane pummel him into oblivion) to further exhaust and distract him.
Although the experience of reading the scene is still a tad unsatisfying – I would have preferred more visual cues hinting at the strategic planning behind the physical conflict – the final moment of the battle does feel more powerful.
Captain America, Doug Murray, fascism, Garth Ennis, George Evans, Greg Pak, Harvey Kurtzman, J.M. De Matteis, Jack Kirby, Joe Casey, Joe Kubert, Joe Sacco, Kieron Dwyer, Legion of Superheroes, Mark Gruenwald, Michael Ellis, Michael Golden, Mirko Colak, Nazis, Nick Dragotta, Paul Neary, Red Skull, Red Skull Incarnate, Robert Kanigher, Sal Buscema, Sgt. Rock, Steve Englehart, superhero comics, The Avengers, The Nam, The X-Tinction Agenda, Two Fisted Tales, Vengeance, Wally Wood
I was confronted by two Red Skulls the other day while I was browsing the Comixology digital storefront (looking for a good bedtime read). The covers from Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta’s Vengeance and Greg Pak and Mirko Colak’s Red Skull: Incarnate miniseries stared at me from the row of comics in my collection.
The Red Skull has been dead in Marvel for a long time now. Sure, he’s been resurrected a couple of times since then – in the bodies of a clone of Steve Rogers (the original Captain America), a Russian post-cold war billionaire, and a clone with a piece of Charles Xavier’s brain – but it just doesn’t feel the same.
These were diluted Skulls. The images staring at me from the screen were the real thing.
I care about complete artistic statements in pop culture – the album, the film, the run on a comic book series by a single creative team, or the complete television series. When I wax nostalgic about a youth
misspent listening to music, I dream of the seemingly endless series of near-perfect hip-hop albums from my high school years.*
I enjoy scenes from films and passages from books, but always felt like their meaning mostly came from their relationship with the larger whole. The scenes and passages that tend to linger over the years are the ones that are informed by (or inform) other scenes in the larger work.
But there are still some moments that I can enjoy as discrete statements of their own. Here are a few from film and television:
Ocean’s Twelve, directed by Steven Soderbergh
Treme, Season 3, Ep. 2, directed by Jim McKay
Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 12, directed by Chris Manley
The Raid: Redemption, directed by Gareth Evans
*Note: I am not being an old fogey, I grant that every generation of high schoolers has an identical experience with the great albums of their time.
Highlights from a visit to the Yale Art Gallery on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
I loved everything, but the surreal Tu m’ and La boite de pandore resonated in my imagination. Rene Magritte’s La boite de pandore (Pandora’s Box) feels like the beginning of a beautiful nightmare, a mystery that can never be solved. Marcel Duchamp’s Tu m’ is a stunning work that is a reminder that even realism is an illusion. If you’re ever in the New Haven area, you should take the time to see them in person – the image below doesn’t capture its scope.
- Marcel Duchamp – Tu m’
- Max Ernst – Papillons
- Max Ernst – Paris Reve
- Max Beckmann – Abend auf der Terrasse
- Oskar Kokoschka – View of the Thames from the Vickers Building, Millbank
- Rene Magritte – La boite de pandore (Pandora’s Box)
- Pablo Picasso – Dog and Cock
- Jean Metzinger – Nature Morte
- Fernand Leger – Composition VII
- Auguste Lepere – La Rue Galande