A Documentary on Dior, A Depression Era Small Town Audiobook, and an Album with Just a Hint of Light

Documentary: Dior and I (2014), directed by Frederic Tcheng 

I decided to watch Dior and I because I was sick in bed and thought it would require little brain power. It is indeed easy to watch, but very much surprised me with the emotional punch it packed. It had much more heart than your average fashion documentary (which I often find a bit sterile, though interesting), and beyond being an insightful look into a famous design house with an iconic history, it reminded me that fashion is not at all frivolous but holds the power to inspire, awe, and ultimately to shape culture. The documentary covers the period of time in which the Belguin designer Raf Simmons – who previously designed minimalist clothing for Jil Sander – took over as head designer at Dior in 2012. If you have any interest in fashion, you may remember the fashion show that had each room covered floor to ceiling in walls of fresh flowers. It’s been burned into my memory since I first saw pictures 5 years ago, though I couldn’t remember the clothing that was in the show. Watching them construct those walls in the documentary made me literally cry, it was so beautiful. Even though I wouldn’t call myself obsessed with Dior designs by any means, I consider it a testimony to the quality of the film that I was so wrapped up in the process of designing Raf Simmon’s first show.

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I often feel a bit guilty for the amount of time I spend thinking about or looking at fashion because it seems kind of airy and “not real life”, but Dior and I reminded me that the best sort of fashion is an art form that is very practical and pulls together the threads of history, tradition, craftsmanship, community, innovation, perseverance, and joy. Again, if you are at all interested in fashion, you’ve probably seen how Alassandro Michelle’s recent takeover of Gucci has ignited a new level of excitement about fashion and inspired many other brands (including Dior) to go in a whimsical direction that I find myself preening over as some reflection of at least part of mydior-flower-runwaygeneration. Dior and I got me wondering why I ever gave up on being involved in the fashion industry on some level – it renewed my sense of it being a worthwhile contribution to society. As a side note, if you happened to read Flowers for Mrs. Harris by Paul Gallico that I reviewed in a previous batch, you will find special warmth in putting modern images from this documentary to all the word pictures in that book.

— Karissa Tucker

 

 

Audiobook: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

I drive a lot for work, so I’ve gotten the opportunity to discover the world of audio books. I’ve only listened to a few, but this was by far my favorite. The story of Macedonia, a small town with non-conspiratorial skeletons in the closet, is one of laughter, tragedy, and the uneventfulness of a small town during the depression. Miss Beck, daughter of a senator, is sent to Macedonia on a works project from the government during the

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depression. Sent against her will to this backcountry community, she falls in love with the inhabitants, who are the real actors in the drama.

The audio book is especially helpful due to all the point of view changes throughout the book. I love the distinct voices of each character, from the plucky Willa, the smooth Felix, and matriarch type Jottie. Their wit, familial feel, and awareness welcome you into Macedonia, as if you were Miss Beck. The scenes of power struggle and people standing up for themselves will have you cheering as you listen (or read) along.

The book does have its downfalls. There’s some pontificating near the end. The writer falls too in love with one of her characters and, as Dorothy Sayers discusses in Mind of the Maker, she tries to save them. The scene feels awkward and trite as she puts words of wisdom in the mouth of a youth resulting in an unnatural epilogue. While the ending was a slight disappointment, the books as a whole is excellent.

— Richie Gowin

 

Album: Crack-Up (2017) by the Fleet Foxes

Listen here or on apple music:

The Fleet Foxes have always been reliable for easy listening, folk rock vibes, and warm feelings. They’ve been my go-to for autumn ambience since I first heard them sing “I was following the pack, all swallowed in their coats/ With scarves of red tied ‘round their throats/ To keep their little heads from falling in the snow.”

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“With Scarves of red tied round their throats”

Their music has always evoked a comforting, melancholic, storied world, full of mountains, rivers and wilderness. Ethereal and moody, Robin Pecknold’s voice croons and cradles while meandering folk guitar lines move in the underline. Even as their work matured into Helplessness Blues (2011), [So now I am older than my mother and father/ When they had their daughter/ Now what does that say about me] there remains a defiant hopefulness that swells beneath each song and makes me feel warm and happy as a listener.

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In their latest album, the Fleet Foxes take a turn that I’m watching a lot of musicians make this year. In light of a volatile and threatening social, political and global atmosphere artists have churned out some raw, dark, depressing, and soul searching stuff. You can see this in Father John Misty’s bitter but beautiful Pure Comedy (2017) and Kendrick Lamar lays out honest, mature, and cutting tracks on DAMN. The first song of Crack-Up, I am All that I need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar, starts with a somber pace and a deep, low voice: I am all that I need/ And I’ll be till I’m through/ And I’m light on my feet/ Good to be without you. The lines flow beautifully and the dark slow phrases constantly clash with bright upbeat strains. From: And now I see that it’s all corroding/ Soonest seething, soonest folding, straight into: But the night won’t last if you just hold fast/ So calm down.

This album undeniably continues in the beautiful lyricism and harmonies that the Fleet Foxes have always been known for but it feels like it’s gone a step further, higher and deeper into darkness. The music itself feels sometimes frantic, sometimes dissonant and at others like the ocean scape on the cover: framed in clouds and colored in seething greens and dark blues verging on black, white caps crashing on indifferent rocks, the only light up off to one side, but it is, at least, a bright, golden light. The listener feels with equal insistency both “Too long now to the rising” and “Not long now to the rising” throughout the work, but is ultimately left with the last lines of the tile song, Crack-Up: All I see- / dividing tides- / Rising over me–.

— Jessica Webster

 

 

 

An overlooked American Classic, Edge-of-your-seat Anime action, and a Visceral Music Experience

Book: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne is typically associated with his short stories. He’s even more typically associated with the austere New England setting of his work. However, in this lesser-known novel, Hawthorne takes the reader to Italy, into the heart of old Rome. The Marble Faun is one of the first of the American international novels, a form perfected later in the century by the likes of Henry James. James himself had high praise for the book, which I will not quote because James was clearly writing before the advent of the “spoiler alert.”

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The themes of the work are the usual ones for Hawthorne: guilt and repentance, morality and sin, heaven and hell. Hawthorne’s work benefits from the historical setting, and the additional room afforded by the novelistic form. More than any other of his works with which I am familiar, The Marble Faun displays the author’s uncanny ability to deliver, in the midst of describing a scene, an observation that speaks directly into the heart of an apparently unrelated matter. This book is one of those few which are not considered American classics, but should be.
– David Shelton

 

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Anime: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) original manga by Hajime Isayama, anime directed by Tetsuro Araki
Yes, my roommate got me into an anime. It also happens to be one of the top animes of all time. In this world, all of humanity (mostly German) lives behind a wall to protect themselves from human devouring Giants called Titans. When the wall is breached, death and tragedy ensue.attack gif Titans are impervious, mindless, eating machines. The show is full of tragedy, complex relationships with well developed characters, a theme song you CANT skip, and gore galore. The first season is on Netflix, but you’ll have to wait along with the diehard fans for season two that’s been postponed for three years, even though it’s nearly complete! It’s hard not to binge watch this action filled thriller.

– Richie Gowin

 

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Music album: A Man Alive! By Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down (2016)

I’ve loved Thao Nguyen ever since she sang “As sharp as it stings / As sharp as I sing / It still soothes you doesn’t it / Like a lick of ice cream” in 2008. This fourth album from Thao Nguyen was produced by Merrill Garbis of tUnE-yArDs (both artists are from the San Francisco/bay area). Thao explains how many of her new songs explore feelings of abandonment and recovery from her father leaving when she was young. In her World Cafe session/interview she says that she has been acutely aware of the fact that her father isn’t dead. He left and still exists somewhere in the world. She could find him. He is a man alive.

Thao’s lyrics carry powerful emotion and convey raw vulnerable questions. With lines like “We’re not born for departure / But we do learn to take it” and “Leave me here / In disbelief again” in the song “Departure”, the artist sings honestly about her own experience with hurt. Her poetic and striking lyrics are backed by incredible tracks that incorporate dissonant/discordant beats and noise with driving melodies that pair perfectly with Thao’s voice and circling choruses. The sound has descriptions like “a driving banger fueled by a chopped-up hip-hop beat and analog squelches” (NPR’s Mike Katzif on “Meticulous Bird of Prey”) and “a cool-down strut sounds like its slinked off some mid-’70s Rickie Lee Jones record” (Stuart Berman for Pitchfork on “Guts”). The songs on this album often evoke a little girl putting on a brave face. She combines an innocent straightforward expressiveness with a questioning that borders between wounded and accusative. The swinging arc of the album shows Thao’s visceral reaction to her father’s abandonment, but simultaneously displays a fierce liveliness that shows strength and willingness to confront trouble head on. The final track, “Endless love”, doesn’t offer the listener concrete resolution. The simple lyrics, “I’ve got an endless love no one can starve / I don’t want it, carve it on out of me,” sound less like a nice tidy end and more like a lament. It would be easier not to feel than to be vulnerable to the world. Despite this final line the artist hasn’t gotten rid of her capacity to feel, instead she allows herself to be transparent with her audience in a beautiful, tender yet resilient and accomplished body of work.

– Jessica Webster