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Shepard’s ruminations occasionally get caught up in knots, but he finds new relevance in every movie he endeavors to explore.

Essays on a handful of contemporary classic films and what they reveal about American politics.

Shepard (English/Williams Coll.; The Book of Aron, 2015, etc.) began writing these essays in 2003 for the Believer, and they have some mid-2000s must on them, given his use of the George W. Bush administration’s adventures as hooks for pieces on ChinatownGoodFellasBadlands, and other movies. However, as the author writes in the introduction, his larger, more evergreen concern is with “the power and resilience of the lies we tell ourselves as a collective.” In Badlands, Terence Malick’s fictionalization of teen serial killers Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate, Shepard finds a challenge to myths about America’s innocence and rugged individualism, while Martin Scorsese’s mob epic GoodFellas is a portrait of undiluted national selfishness. Steven Spielberg, arguably America’s most successful myth purveyor, gets skewered twice. In an essay on Saving Private Ryan, Shepard argues that only “the most beautiful and deserving find justice" in the director's vision, while Schindler’s List proffers a facile salvation narrative that looks weaker in comparison to Roman Polanski’s darker The Pianist. The author is a precise and careful fiction writer, and these looser, more meandering pieces, padded with plot summaries, read more like a busman’s holiday, and he's susceptible to abstruse gassing. (Do we really watch Douglas Sirk movies because “they enshrine what seems to us an antiquated masochistic selflessness, if not self-eradication”?) Shepard dives so deep sometimes that one wishes he’d come up for air more often. However, because he is not beholden to conventional film theory, his ideas can be intriguing and surprising, as in his exploration of how Babette’s Feast undercuts melodrama tropes or how the 1988 Dutch thriller The Vanishing reveals our inherent capacity for violence (and for rationalizing it).

Shepard’s ruminations occasionally get caught up in knots, but he finds new relevance in every movie he endeavors to explore.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-72-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven.

Turn-of-the century New York did not lack either hotels or apartment buildings, writes Tippins (February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, 2005). But the Chelsea Hotel, from its very inception, was different. Architect Philip Hubert intended the elegantly designed Chelsea Association Building to reflect the utopian ideals of Charles Fourier, offering every amenity conducive to cooperative living: public spaces and gardens, a dining room, artists’ studios, and 80 apartments suitable for an economically diverse population of single workers, young couples, small families and wealthy residents who otherwise might choose to live in a private brownstone. Hubert especially wanted to attract creative types and made sure the building’s walls were extra thick so that each apartment was quiet enough for concentration. William Dean Howells, Edgar Lee Masters and artist John Sloan were early residents. Their friends (Mark Twain, for one) greeted one another in eight-foot-wide hallways intended for conversations. In its early years, the Chelsea quickly became legendary. By the 1930s, though, financial straits resulted in a “down-at-heel, bohemian atmosphere.” Later, with hard-drinking residents like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, the ambience could be raucous. Arthur Miller scorned his free-wheeling, drug-taking, boozy neighbors, admitting, though, that the “great advantage” to living there “was that no one gave a damn what anyone else chose to do sexually.” No one passed judgment on creativity, either. But the art was not what made the Chelsea famous; its residents did. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Phil Ochs and Sid Vicious are only a few of the figures populating this entertaining book.

A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-72634-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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