The 5th annual Portland Black Film Festival took place at the Hollywood Theater on NE Sandy Boulevard, starting on Thursday, February 9th, and ending on Wednesday, February 22nd. The Black Film Festival aims to bring the underrepresented African American experience to the forefront of Portland moviegoers’ attentions by exhibiting typically underappreciated black cinema in what has been justifiably called The Whitest City in America.
“Reed must be the place where we take things apart and put them back together.”
Last weekend, my favorite Reed theater production so far came to life in the Black Box, featuring five actors and five chairs. More Eliot chairs and desks were suspended from the ceiling beyond the stage, tipped sideways, upside down, made strange by the lighting and suggested flight.
When you pick up The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, please don’t read the back cover. While essentially true, it has the same problem as the blurb of any good book: it oversimplifies the novel into something that it actually isn’t. The first time I picked up the book, I read the back cover and then put it down. The same process occurred the next three times I considered adding it to my ever-impending reading list. I just wasn’t interested in another anger-driven, “rage against the man,” drama-filled opinion piece. The current American political situation provides more than enough headlines of blind hatred and negativity as it is. When I finally bought the novel as part of my quest to read all the Man Booker prize-winners, I was blown away. Rather than a family drama unfolding into an outlandish scheme, the novel is—like its protagonist—intelligent, good-humoured, and fed up with a lack of action in the world around it. As a Man Booker winner, it bears greater resemblance to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (although it is markedly more brief) than to, say, Hilary Mantel’s historical dramas or Julian Barnes’ introspective societal commentary. The Sellout is far more politically and socially relevant. While not as grounded or perhaps as intense a read as James’ masterpiece, The Sellout and its protagonist, Me, inspire more critical examination of what is going on in the news and also on campus.
On Thursday, October 6, this year’s Visiting Writers Series launched with a winning author, Dao Strom. Born in Vietnam, Strom is currently a Portland-based writer whose newest work, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People (published in 2015), is a crossroads of music, poetry, and visual art. I attended all but one of the Visiting Writers Series events last year and none of them stood out the way Strom’s set did. There was a microphone and DJ equipment set up stage left with two chairs. Center stage stood a taller microphone. Behind that, against the wall, the screen had been pulled down and images of Strom wearing wings and walking on the beach were projected onto the wall in time with instrumental music playing in the background. Her reading was a beautiful mixture of her own voice singing original work, a collection of instruments, and readings she gave, with key words or definitions or phrases projected onto the screen behind her.
Trevor Noah isn’t American, and it’s a fact he doesn’t let you forget. Born and raised in South Africa, Noah’s identity seems to be inexorably defined by his relationship with his home country. Because of this, race is a recurring theme in his comedy, and he often tiptoes on the line between acceptable and not, in a way that is almost universally amusing. Noah also has a way of guiding his audience down a line of thought, has us hanging on his every word, and then hilariously undermines our expectations.
Rejoice! Isaiah Rashad finally got out of bed, and his new album The Sun’s Tirade sounds like he recorded the whole thing not long afterwards. Hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rashad is signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), the label for California superstars Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q. The rest of their Black Hippy collective, rappers Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, also call the label home as well as lesser-known artists like SZA and Lance Skiiiwalker. TDE has made a name for itself through the astronomical critical and commercial success of Kendrick and Q, a reputation that was shored up with the release of Isaiah Rashad’s 2014 EP Cilvia Demo. Cilvia was Rashad’s first widely available body of work, and showcased a laid-back, playful rapper and singer with an ear for soulful production and a willingness to tackle subjects like depression and heartbreak in his songs. I was one of many who listened to the album on repeat and quickly became a fan of the guy who wasn’t really doing anything new, but was rather doing the old really, really well.
A release that has been stuck on my mind a lot recently is the new tape from The Savage Young Taterbug, titled Shadow of Marlboro Man. Taterbug is a lo-fi weirdo in the vein of Daniel Johnston, but he can tend to stray a bit weirder, if you could believe it. There’s a raw edge on a lot of Taterbug’s recordings, as if he is shouting at you from alternately the other side of the room and three rooms over, depending on how lo his fi is feeling that day. On some tracks, you can also kinda see Taterbug as being the roguish counterpart to Youth Lagoon, an act that, at least in its infancy, was reserved and fragile. They also have similar vocal deliveries. On this release, the recording quality is actually pretty high, and the songs carry a fair amount of bounce and groove. A standout is “Victor the Vapor Rubber,” equal parts catchy and creepy. Maybe it’s the mindset I’m in, because there’s a fair amount of DNA shared by this song and “Squealer Two.” Guess I’m ready to glam out for Renn Fayre. Stay safe and have fun at the Big Party, dudes, I’ll see you on the other side.
A more serious suggestion: I just finished reading the new book A Murder over a Girl, by Ken Corbett, a couple days ago, and it was absolutely devastating. Corbett tells the real-life story of the court case surrounding the murder of Leticia (fka Larry) Brown, a person of color who is killed during homeroom by her junior high classmate, Brandon McInerney, just weeks after coming out as transgender. The book examines the troubling cross-section of white supremacy, transphobia, toxic masculinity, child abuse, and queer and racial erasure present in both small-town America and the court system that oversees it. Corbett doesn’t go deep into queer theory or issues (even if he is rather knowledgeable about it) but instead lets the story, and the people surrounding it, unfold over the course of the book. A really emotionally challenging read, so be warned if you want to pick this book up.
So, in case you didn’t know, thesis is due next week. This means that, when the editors of this grand publication emailed me to ask me to write a shorter column this week to make room for an advertisement, I wasn’t exactly complaining. In fact, I wondered if I could just send in my thesis abstract and call that good enough for the column. But I’m not sure if any of you want to deep dive with me into the politics of social and textual exclusion in the American campus novel, and if you do, just get a taste of the real thing and spend some time on Reed Facebook (ZING!).
How do you prioritize? Always an important question to a Reed student, and there are many resources available to us that give us insight into how we can prioritize our academic demands (for many of us over spring break, that insight may have been: DROP EVERYTHING YOU HAVE A THESIS DRAFT DUE IN THREE DAAAAAAAAAYS). What we aren’t given a whole lotta insight on is how we can prioritize our cultural consumption. For that, I’m here to help.
I talked at length about The Life of Pablo without even mentioning the music! I bet that’s the first time that’s happened! But honestly, it’s good stuff. I think the noise about the rollout has sometimes overshadowed the actual noise (understatement of the year), but perhaps, like we could say about many things regarding Kanye, what seemed off the cuff is actually intentional. The music on The Life of Pablo indicates a low-key release, at least the lowest key Yeezy could possibly reach for. This is kaleidoscopic Kanye, you try and see one version of him and it is instantly replaced with another version. For a quick sec it seems like Graduation-era Kanye has returned, but then he throws you face-first into 2009 Taylor-interrupting Kanye; some beats would be at home on the first half of Yeezus, while others carry on the glory of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is mid-career retrospective Kanye, and it seems that it may be a turning point to something different from him. I don’t know what it is, but this album, as inconsistent as it is, makes me think we’ll be getting a more moderate, consistent Kanye in the future. He’s just as likely to prove me wrong (especially if we are truly getting another album this summer) but if he’s still operating at this level, I’ll take it. Kanye 2020.
IDK why “Arthouse Horror” has become such a thing lately, but it has and it should be much better than it is. I was excited for The Witch, I was. And let me tell you, as a piece of craft, that thing is immaculate. But if you go to movies for, ya know, themes and characters and such, The Witch may not be for you. I don’t know if I’m the most suitable dude to go in on why The Witch fails as a certain type of feminist narrative, even if its director Robert Eggers thinks it succeeds, but I know someone who is. She likes her horror gory and her feminism obligatory, heeeere’s Kasie with her hot hot hot take:
Whew, I didn’t know if we were going to make it through that. I’m not talking about the album, or even the pre-release hype cycle of name and tracklist changes, or even Kanye’s extracurricular twitter emissions (Innocent ?????? Yeah right), but I’m talking about the nonstop internet chatter and complaining about all of the above. Yeah, he changed the name at least three times, yeah, he was still putting it together, in a very public manner, up until, and past, the release date. Get over it, no one needs another “ugh Kanye enough already” comment on the music journalism website of your choice (and if you are a “Waves is the superior album title” truther, you can just get out).
Hey buddies! This past weekend was Valentine’s Day, so what better way to celebrate romance than to invite my partner in affection and movie-going to the column so we can argue about movies? This will be the last cultural column before the Oscars on February 28, so we thought we would discuss some of the movies nominated (and not nominated), so you guys know what you should catch up on. Kasie, what’s good in this year’s Oscars race?
On to music! I feel like music in 2015 was characterized by an excessive outpouring of good-to-great but not quite exceedingly excellent music, if that makes sense. Every single week seemed to bring about a handful of exciting or big name releases, to the point that there was never really a quiet period or moment of the year. By my own count, there were somewhere around 200 albums that I listened to that I thought were quite good, which is pretty crazy! That being said, there wasn’t a whole lot that truly dug into me and affected me intensely. But these 25 albums represent some amazing tunes in all genres that did get to me. Take a listen:
Hey y’all. I’m back again for one last semester of this column, so, to quote Ray Arnold, played impeccably by Samuel L. Jackson, “Hold onto yer butts.” Before we get into some new stuff, I want to look back a bit on the year that was 2015. To do so, let’s delve into some lists. Here are my ten favorite books from 2015:
‘Tis the season, folks. Not only the Christmas season, but also it’s Papa Wilcox’s 60th Birthday. Hi Dad! Happy birthday! To honor the patriarch’s entrance into his 7th decade of existence, I combined the two major seasons and watched a classic of the Wilcox household, the 1989 comedy Christmas Vacation. If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Vacation, I suggest you make a trip to Movie Madness and get to know the Griswold family immediately.
In a recent episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast that I was listening to, one of the co-hosts remarked on how, as far as the cultural output calendar goes, October and November are relatively calm months. For them, that means that the fall months are a time for ruminating on the year and catching up on things that they may have missed in the preceding seasons. This all leads up to the wintertime take-no-prisoners mêlée of year-end best-of list season, in which every columnist, blogger, and critic finally publishes their highly curated index of 2015’s best offerings and scours their rivals’ lists and furiously downloads whatever they’ve been foolish enough to ignore. Of course, this is coming from people inside the industry, who get albums, books, and screeners about three months early. For us normies, the months of October and November can feel just as packed with content as the summer and spring seasons that came before. The fall TV season is in full swing, meaning that the best new shows have finally pulled ahead of the pack and we can begin whittling down our interest from the insurmountable mound of programming that the networks and streaming companies have dumped upon us. O veritable mount of fine hour-long dramas and ten-episode sitcoms! How would I ever conquer thee? New vital albums are coming out every week, some that you can’t get enough of (hello, Arca) and some that you can’t help hearing about all the time (oh hey Grimes). That pile of library books that you put on hold in August isn’t getting any smaller. All those movies you heard about when they were getting rave reviews on the festival circuit are coming out.
Everyone’s favorite Mormon couple turned slowcore legends! Low continue to be the pinnacle of consistency, releasing a reliably great album every other year or so. See ’em, they may break into one of their political protest drone songs from the years they were opening for Godspeed. MN represent!
If you need more emo shit after the TWIABP show, just come back a few days later for this show. “MoBo is a suckier Front Bottoms, for all you genre loving folk” sez my partner (perhaps facetiously), but I would have to flip dat hierarchy. Modern Baseball is better, and their new album should be pretty dang alright.
No one is quite sure at any point if there are more words in the name or members in the band TWIABP. . . but if that’s all you know about the band (and decide it’s all you need to know) you are making a big mistake. With their new album Harmlessness, TWIABP move from a screamier version of emo towards a more baroque pop sensibility (probably because they lost the screamy member of the band). This show will be a veritable cornucopia of twinkly guitars.
This under-the-radar pop act is surprisingly better than it has any right to be. If you find yourself jonesing for a Carly Rae Jepsen concert, but are miffed that she has no dates anywhere near PDX, this may be the singer for you to discover. Although her debut full-length Pocketknife can wear itself a little thin, there are some legitimate gems in there for you to discover.
Oh hey, the dude from The National has a new project and long, quasi-creepy hair. It’s with the guy from Menomena, but I don’t really care about him/that band. Your mileage may vary on fairly conventional dude-indie music, and El Vy definitely isn’t The National, but it ain’t bad either. I do have to say, when I saw The National on the Trouble Will Find Me tour, it was pretty earth-shatteringly, tears-on-my-wine-bottle great; Matt Berninger is a fantastic live presence, and this would be pretty much your only chance to see him in a room this small. Plus, this is their tour kickoff, so you’d be among the first people to see them ever.
Hey everyone, Charlie here, I want to take a minute to talk to you about Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty is a fairly popular animated television program that just ended its second season this past Sunday. I say fairly popular based entirely on my Facebook feed, which consisted of nary a R&M post during its first season, growing healthily over the year-and-a-half absence, and seemed to reached a healthy consistency over the course of this summer’s delivery of episodes. This is all well and good, but there’s a slight problem: this season hasn’t been that great.
Much has been written about the McConaissance, so much so that Google Docs doesn’t even mark the word McConaissance as a typo, once I figured out how to spell the damned thing. Now that the idea of affixing the descriptor “prestige” to the phrase “actor Matthew McConaughey, star of Sahara, Failure to Launch, and Fool’s Gold” is old hat, it has reached the time for the cultural consciousness to move on and bring a different performer to the spotlight. And that actor is one of our all-time greats, Lily Tomlin. Now, I know this comparison doesn’t quite work; McConaughey went from rom-com dreck to mumbly, apocalyptic greatness, Tomlin has been consistently great throughout her entire career. Also, Tomlinaissance doesn’t quite have the same ring (and Google Docs insists it isn’t a word.) But for some reason, Tomlin doesn’t quite have the resonance amongst the younger generations that she should have. After seeing the new film Grandma, now playing at the Hollywood Theatre, I think that may change. In the film, Tomlin plays a semi-retired and penniless Californian lesbian poet-academic, basically the spirit animal/future self of many a Reed student. Over the course of the movie, she assists her granddaughter scrape together the money she needs for an abortion. Many reviews are positively assessing Grandma as being a progressive step forward following last year’s Obvious Child in terms of abortion plots; the idea of abortion is thoroughly normalized throughout the film, and the narrative never second-guesses the character’s intention to follow through with the procedure. The abortion is really a backdrop for Tomlin to work her magic, though. She wields tremendous emotional power in every scene, mixing mirth, sadness, and disgust into singular facial expressions. There’s one episode in the middle of the movie that features Tomlin squaring off with Sam Elliott, and it is definitely up there with the best scenes of the year. Hopefully films like this, will lead a new generation of viewers (shall we call them… the TOMLINELLIALS?) to delve into her deep back catalog of hits, especially 9 to 5, the workplace comedy/proto-third wave feminist tract featuring her alongside Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. 9 to 5 has firmly integrated itself into the lexicon of my partner and I, so much so that we have decided who would be each character (I think I would be the Dolly, but she insists I’m the Jane. Whatever, she’s definitely the Lily.) Rumor has it a 9 to 5 reunion might be coming soon, fingers crossed.
If you were asked what the most important political or social development in the United States has been in this past year, what would you say? Donald Trump, right? Nah, or at least I hope not. A healthy amount of you would probably say the continued development and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and rightly so. As such, one of the most timely and essential books to come out in the recent months is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Taking on the form of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Coates writes a long essay-letter to his son, describing his hopes and worries about his son’s continued existence in a society that actively destroys black and brown bodies. Coates’s sentiments are heartrending, and one leaves this book feeling both furious and numb. Put simply, Between the World and Me is a Serious Book. But it is also a serious book, which is why I’m not discussing it here today. I’m discussing funny books.