Obsessions #11: I Love to Accidentally Watch Three Soul-Destroying Movies in a Row
Everything I've Been Reading, Watching and Listening to in June
This is Obsessions, a monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter highlighting all of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to and generally obsessing over for the past few weeks.
What I’ve Been Reading
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman (2022)
While I was obsessed with culture writer Chuck Klosterman in high school (of course I was!), I haven’t kept up very well with his work since then. I figured his latest book The Nineties would be a good re-introduction to his style, as well as an exploration of a decade I’m personally obsessed with (I’m a ‘90s baby, baby).
Immediately, I remembered what a strong and deeply smart writer Klosterman is. Over twelve essays, he tackles everyone from George Bush to Garth Brooks and everything from Seinfeld to ACT UP. It’s a collection of culture writing at its highest prose and intellectual level; reading the book, while fun, also required maximum brain power and concentration.
My only complaint was that each essay jumped around topics in a smorgasbord approach that left me craving deeper dives into certain topics. Still, the essays about the commercialization of Kurt Cobain and the evolution of the Internet are among some of Klosterman’s finest works ever. I’d recommend this book if you are a NERD!
Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces by Elamin Abdelmahmoud (2022)
Another nonfiction essay collection tackling pop culture is Son of Elsewhere, the debut book from Buzzfeed writer and CBC podcast host Elamin Abdelmahmoud. The memoir tackles his emigration from Khartoum, Sudan to Kingston, Ontario at the age of 12, with essays exploring ideas of culture, language, family and identity.
He approaches each essay with sincerity, depth and nuance in a way that’s very readable and oftentimes emotional. There are also many pop culture connections, including pieces about nü metal, The O.C. and wrestling. Still, the interwoven essay “Roads,” exploring the different ways Highway 401 has been a bridge in his life, was the collection standout for me. Who knew you could cry from someone writing about an ONroute?!
Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman (2022)
Acts of Service is a novel I’ve heard buzzing about ever since the beginning of the year. The debut of young American millennial writer Lillian Fishman, Acts of Service is told from the point-of-view of Eve, a woman in her late 20s who starts a sexual relationship with a couple.
I really liked how this novel explored bisexuality and internalized misogyny; I don’t think I’ve ever read a queer book that worked through these topics directly on the page as heavily as this did. It’s a very introspective and philosophical novel, sometimes occasionally too subtle, but the beginning and end make it worth the read.
I’d recommend this one to real Literary Fiction fans only though, since there are really minimal plot beats. If you’re into Sally Rooney, Sheila Heti or Rachel Cusk, you’d probably like this too.
What I’ve Been Watching
Atlanta (Season 3)
After four long years, Donald Glover’s televisual brainchild has returned and is better than ever. This season finds rapper Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry) and his manager Earn (Donald Glover) highly successful and touring Europe, accompanied as always by their up-in-the-clouds friend Darius (played ever brilliantly by Lakeith Stanfield).
The change of setting and financial situation for the crew made this season even more surreal than usual, with episodes exploring everything from cultural appropriation to celebrity cancellation, the latter of which included a cameo that almost broke my brain.
However, the real highlight of this season was four standalone episodes that feature completely different characters. Done in an anthology-style similar to The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, these episodes tackled reparations, the child welfare system and passing.
Episodes “The Big Payback” and “Trini 2 De Bone” were smart, innovative and some of the most brilliant TV I’ve watched in a long time, and I watch a LOT of TV. Even if you haven’t seen the first two seasons, you can jump in and enjoy this one on its own. More people need to watch this show!
(Sidenote: I really enjoyed this article by Nylah Burton about this season and Afrosurrealism.)
I Love to Accidentally Watch Three Soul-Destroying Movies in a Row
Over the weekend of June 4th, I accidentally watched not one, not two, but THREE 5-star soul-destroying movies in a row. I don’t think this has ever happened to me before, so let’s break them down.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
I’ve put off watching this for a long time because I knew it would eviscerate me. It did, even more than I thought it would! I first became aware of this film through Rookie Mag (RIP) and then found it referenced often in niche film podcasts.
The debut for both director Todd Solondz and lead actor Heather Matarazzo, this 1995 dark comedy follows a 12-year-old weirdo girl in middle school. It’s a brutal and at times even violent film, done in a way that is both visceral and real, never shying away from how mean kids are.
Still, it’s also incredibly funny, with Matarazzo’s ridiculous performance somehow over-the-top and completely on-the-nose at the same time. This isn’t one I’d recommend to everyone due to the subject matter, but if the idea of Ghost World meets Eighth Grade intrigues you, go for it.
Totally Fucked Up (1993)
Immediately after I watched Welcome to the Dollhouse, I went to see Totally Fucked Up at Cinema Moderne, a new small theatre in Montreal which was showcasing their Pride programming. The film is considered a seminal work in the New Queer Cinema movement of the ‘90s and is thought to be director Gregg Araki’s best.
Done in a minimalist style, the film follows a group of queer teenage friends who are, as one could guess from the title, totally fucked up. Through vignettes and interviews, the characters explore their personal and political nihilism: think gay boys in NIN t-shirts having conversations about Dennis Cooper.
Obviously, I absolutely adored this film. It feels very singular and ahead of its time, especially by casting a group of queer friends. And that ending! Absolutely ripped my soul in half. I’m really excited to dive into more of Araki’s work.
Out of the Blue (1980)
The next day I went to an afternoon matinee of Out of the Blue at Cinema Du Parc, another Montreal indie theatre. After getting my heart crushed by Totally Fucked Up, it was destroyed even further by this cult film.
Directed by Dennis Hopper, the movie stars a 15-year-old Linda Manz as Cebe, a troubled young girl obsessed with Elvis and The Sex Pistols. The film follows her running away from home multiple times and her erratic home life, including Hopper as her abusive father who’s recently been released from prison.
Manz’s performance is striking and singular, going head to head with Hopper and at times even out-acting him (really digest that for a moment!). I don’t think I’ve ever seen teen girl adolescence portrayed on film with as much fury. Although the editing and pacing feel slightly off due to the time period it was made in, the uniquely raw intensity of this film really impressed and moved me.
What I’ve Been Listening To
When Bo Burnham dropped Inside in June 2021, it instantly became my new favourite thing. I analyzed it at length with friends and even wrote a newsletter reviewing it. So when I heard there was a 9-part podcast devoted to analyzing Inside, I screamed, “HELL YES!”
Dissect is a podcast hosted by Cole Cuchna, who created the show by himself in 2016. Now produced by Spotify, the show has released nine seasons, each devoted to analyzing a different rap or hip-hop album song by song, including Flower Boy by Tyler, the Creator and Lemonade by Beyoncé.
This season diverted from the usual format by covering both the songs and the visuals of Inside. The in-depth analysis felt like listening to an incredible lecture by a professor, with Cuchna breaking down all of Burnham’s references and even integrating academic theory at times.
The podcast gave me so much to think about Inside that I had yet to consider, and framed it as the inevitable summation of Burnham’s career so far. If you’re a fan of Burnham’s, I’d highly recommend this series to geek out even further.
Big Time - Angel Olsen
I wasn’t an Angel Olsen convert until her 2019 album All Mirrors, which was one of my favourite albums from that year. I loved the lush and richly textured sound and how it harkened back to rock and pop production of the ‘60s.
When I first put on her new album Big Time, I was initially disappointed that Olsen had gone for a more minimalist, ‘70s singer-songwriter style. The album tackles Olsen’s coming out, as well as the death of both her parents. While the subjects are intense, there are moments of levity that brighten the record.
However, it only took four songs for me to start crying, proving that Olsen is one of the strongest contemporary songwriters around. At only ten tracks, there isn’t a moment of wasted space on the album, making it a concise and well-executed listen. I truly think she is our modern Springsteen, and that’s coming from someone with a Springsteen tattoo!
“Break My Soul” - Beyoncé ft. Big Freedia
Beyoncé is BACK and she gave the girls something to dance to for the summer! I’ve been a Bey fan since childhood and was so happy to know that she has another record coming so soon. I really loved this first single and hope the whole album has this ‘90s house vibe. Can you imagine if she TOURS?! Vive le club renaissance!
Things I’m Looking Forward To In July
Seeing Elvis, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and NOPE
Going to see Dua Lipa and Bikini Kill in concert
Rereading the Neapolitan Novels
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