FLOOD’s weekly Pop Culture Cure offers an antidote—or six—to the most upsetting developments of the past week. (Because therapy’s expensive, and entertainment’s not.)
Even if you love football and America and truck advertisements and beer, you still have to admit that the words “Super” and “Bowl” have no business appearing in the same paragraph together, let alone the same branding concept. But I suppose that speaks to the power of the product. We’re cool with bowls being super in the same way that we’re cool with going to “the movies” (as though seeing people move onscreen is still the height of technology) or enjoy reading “the news” (that is, the stories about the things in the world that are new). These names are paltry because they don’t need to be good. Because football, like Armageddon, and like Twitter hysteria, is great despite itself.
BUT at the same time, good lord, enough is also enough. The NFL is not just absurd, it’s also actively full of shit, stupid, and evil. And the actual game is only likely to make one city happy, leaving the rest of us to wallow in a state of disappointed disrepair at best, and agonized self-destruction at worst. So fuck it, man. Let’s just not do it. Let’s be dignified instead, and do some dignified shit with our untarnished day. Let’s make our Super Bowl Sunday™ a good and decent bowl (?) Sunday (??) instead. It may not sound sexy right now, but trust me it’s sexier than vomiting into your lap at your soon-to-be-former-favorite sports bar at two o’ the clock in the after a’ noon.
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” became the rallying cry of the Friday Night Lights TV show and the rallying meme of its fans, but that slogan is derived from the much more muddled, much less meme-able speech that Billy Bob Thornton delivered in the film adaptation of Buzz Bissinger‘s famous book about high school football in rural Texas in the 1980s. This scene would be depressing if it weren’t also so magnificently tragic. This is the greatest sports movie of all time for many reasons (shut up, Malamud), but not least of all because it’s largely about the cost of victory, rather than the thrill of same. This is that rare sports movie that’s not just exciting, but also deep. (Plus: score by Explosions in the Sky!)
Remember that octopus that was able to predict the outcomes of World Cup matches for a minute or two? Carl Dreyer’s Joan of Arc is like that octopus, but with all of the whimsy removed and all of the agony (the agony of knowledge) restored. His Joan seems to be not so much looking directly at her fate, or directly into the abyss, so much as looking beyond all of that–beyond the camera lens, beyond the viewer, beyond the frame–and staring, instead, directly into the eyes of God. It appears to be a very sobering view.
I won’t lie to you: you cannot read this book in a single day, no matter how super or full of bowls. But Growth of the Soil is the most un-put-down-able novel about a rando Norwegian’s slow rise to prosperity in a rando Norwegian proto-village that you could ever hope to find. It is great, with a capital G, R, E, A, and T, and if you don’t believe me then call my bluff and buy a copy and then call me, sobbing, to apologize. This is some seriously unfunky fiction, but it is harder than flint, harder than steel, harder than the cold glint of the Arctic moon, and it will make you remember what it feels like to be alive. (PS: I DO NOT VOUCH FOR THIS SILENT MOVIE ADAPTATION OF HAMSEN’S CLASSIC NOVEL FOR ONE SILENT SECOND, I JUST THINK IT’S INCREDIBLE THAT IT EXISTS.)
The interrotron does not fuck around, and Robert McNamara does not fuck around either. This documentary, as a result, is some hard, hard shit. Reckonings are rare, and this feels like one, but it doesn’t feel very good either. It kind of feels like winning a staring contest with the devil (and I don’t know whether the devil is the lens that McNamara is talking to or the guy that McNamara is); it begs the question: now what?
Anything written by M.F.K. Fisher
M.F.K. Fisher was a great American writer who took her food as seriously as Ernest Hemingway took his big two-hearted river. She wrote clearly, precisely, and passionately about her meals and her life, and if you want to enjoy what you eat this coming Sunday, she’s the writer most likely to help you do just that. Every meal is precious, even the humble ones (perhaps especially those), and so take a long hard look at yourself before you dive into that plate of Chicken Kickers, and ask yourself: WWMFKD. (A: M.F.K. would slap you right across the face and ask you what on earth you expect these dead and fried chickens to still be able to kick.)
There are a lot of ways to be all-American, and drug-addled is certainly one of them, statistically-speaking, at least. Denis Johnson made his name with this collection of stories about some very American, very criminal types who are just trying to do the best they can under some very trying circumstances indeed. (I mean, you try keeping your cool when you’ve got a knife in your eye!) This is not “real” America, necessarily, and it’s not even really written in a realist style, but you can’t help feeling that you are seeing something very clearly when you’re reading Johnson’s words, and at certain moments that thing that you’re seeing seems like it might almost be something like, well, something like America. A certain kind of America, anyway.
This is an amazing time for realist cinema. Andrea Arnold, Kenneth Lonergan, and the Dardenne brothers are carrying the flame for this seemingly antiquated style, but even such contemporary hits as La La Land are now inflected by a kind of realist mode, refusing to go fully fantastic even when their material or their genre seem to require it. And this is a deep well, too. Andrew Haigh, for instance, has faded from view somewhat since Weekend, his award-winning debut, but 45 Years was another masterpiece, and more are sure to come. Until then, however, Weekend is here to remind us of just how vital and moving a seemingly simple story told in a seemingly straightforward style can be. No drama is needed beyond the drama that the characters provide, and no hype is necessary beyond the simple compulsion, the simple need, to just keep watching.