Critical perception is laced with love in this appreciation of the B-movies and exploitation flicks of the 1970s, which remain “the third—and, to date, last—great period in American movies.”
An astute critic of film and popular culture in general, Taylor is often drawn to the grittier vitality of the dark underbelly. This collection of critical essays will provide revelation for many—readers who have never heard of most of these movies—but it also serves as vindication for the movie geeks who know exactly where Quentin Tarantino finds inspiration. The author celebrates the emergence of directors Walter Hill and Jonathan Demme, the coronation of Sam Peckinpah, and the riveting onscreen presence of Warren Oates, Charles Bronson, and particularly Pam Grier. Most of these essays are about something larger than just one particular film, and the homage to Grier, “A Queen Without a Throne: Coffy and Foxy Brown,” is particularly ambitious, showing how institutional racism contributes to the systemic underuse of great black actresses and how some of the forces that were at work in the rise of the blaxploitation trend anticipated the popular emergence of hip-hop. “Like the gangsta images of hip-hop,” writes Taylor, “blaxploitation offered a disreputable form of feel-good minstrelsy.” He continues: “there’s no denying that blaxploitation allowed many black moviegoers their first images of black heroes, affording them some of the good, disreputable pleasures that white audiences had enjoyed for years at shoot-’em-ups and gangster films.” The author is equally perceptive and provocative on the connections between the Rolling Stones’ much-heralded “Some Girls” and the less-celebrated Faye Dunaway film Eyes of Laura Mars, “a celebration of sleaze as high chic.” Though Taylor is careful not to inflate the artistic case—“outsized claims for their greatness would only falsify their grungy, visceral appeal”—he makes readers eager to see movies that were barely seen the first time through.
An illuminating collection of film criticism that is like a critical history of rock as exemplified by garage bands and one-hit wonders.
The director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi recounts the past 60 years of Southern food traditions, their effects on the South’s culture, and vice versa.
As Garden & Gun contributing editor and Oxford American columnist Edge notes at the beginning, this book is a “sequel” of sorts to Nashville social historian John Egerton’s Southern Food (1987). Mixing deep scholarship, charming anecdotes, and his own extensive culinary explorations, Edge provides a chronological account by decades, starting in the 1950s. Throughout, as he entertains, Edge advances a multipronged thesis: that both the proud and shameful cultures of the Southern states can be understood through the socio-economics of cooking and eating; that the future of the South looks bright as cooking and eating evolve; and that Southern food cultures directly affect the rest of the country. The author’s scholarship is undoubtedly compelling, but what will stick with most readers are the vignettes about specific chefs, restaurants, food producers, food marketers, politicians, celebrities, and race-based relationships. One of the more memorable portraits focuses on Craig Claiborne, a Mississippian with an unusual character who became a bestselling cookbook author and an influential food journalist for the New York Times. Claiborne’s journalism helped lead to national recognition for two extremely different chefs, Paul Prudhomme of Louisiana and Bill Neal of North Carolina. The flashy Prudhomme not only spread the popularity of Cajun cuisine, but also successfully promoted the use of locally grown, fresh produce in restaurants. In addition to teaching chefs that superb cooking requires research, the more restrained Neal also helped cement the now-widespread belief that making food for the public involves an artistic sensibility.
Without question, this is a book for foodies, but it is also for readers who may be indifferent to the food they consume yet care deeply about regionalism, individual health, and race relations, among other themes.
The 1991 Ridley Scott film, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, became very popular and highly influential, but few fans know the back story. Thanks to former Newsday reporter Aikman (Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six FriendsRemaking Their Lives, 2012), we do now. Drawing on extensive interviews with many of the film’s participants, the author creates an entertaining and in-depth film history. In the late 1980s, Callie Khouri, a college dropout from Kentucky, ended up in California, working for a small production company. Frustrated by the “male-driven, violence-tinged” films of the time, she felt like “she had something to say, something that mattered, and she knew it belonged on film.” Khouri wanted to write an authentic movie she wanted to see. Basing her main characters on a best friend and herself, she came up with Thelma, a “cheerfully scattered housewife,” and Louise, a “tightly wound coffee-shop waitress.” The movie started as a comedy but then went “someplace completely unexpected, someplace wilder and weighted with conflicting impulses toward emancipation and dread.” Aikman does a terrific job of showing how the film found the right director in Scott—who loved the film’s “romantic vision of Americana” and its “mythic grandeur”—an impressive cast (including Davis, Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, and Brad Pitt), settings, and the controversial, dramatic ending. Scott had hoped for the convertible to go off a cliff in the Grand Canyon but settled for one near Moab, Utah. The first car failed, the second just “sailed away.” Thelma & Louise received six Oscar nominations, but only Khouri won, for best original screenplay, the first woman writing on her own to win one since 1924. The book is enhanced by informative, brief biographies of key players and mini-essays on pertinent topics like the history of women in film.
For fans of the iconic film, Aikman provides everything you wanted to know about it and then some.
A tale of a species on life support and the ramifications for people, nature, and place.
While Cook’s (The Mushroom Hunters, 2014, etc.) earliest memories of salmon stem from his New England childhood, he first encountered them in the wild during summer swims in Oregon's Rogue River. He was in his early 20s and had moved across the country to take care of a remote homestead in the mountains. Drawn to the wild as a source of rejuvenation and sustenance, the author learned to fish for salmon and to ponder their relationship to people and place. Intoxicated, he began pulling at a thread that would take him on a journey across the Pacific Northwest, including stops at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the country’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, a state forestry meeting, a First Foods ceremony, fish hatcheries, dammed rivers, and gill-netting operations. Cook was guided along the way by a diverse, colorful cast of characters, including ecologists, conservationists, activists, chefs, restaurateurs, commercial fishermen, and others, each sharing their stories, politics, passions, and philosophies on the state of the world and pathways for the future. Exposing striking human-salmon parallels, these stories tell of settlement and cultural clashes, of life cycles and migrations, of deforestation and industrial agriculture, of racism and gentrification, and Cook skillfully illustrates the interconnectedness of it all. Seeking the wild in a landscape fraught with man-made alteration and annihilation, the author interrogates the nature of wildness, posing urgent, provocative questions. Can we disentangle human and natural landscapes? Is it possible to restore nature? Can humans move from markets and mitigation to reconciliation with nature and with each other? If we know better, will we do better? How might we imagine new ways of living and being in the world?
Blurring boundaries and complicating the oversimplified, Cook provides a moving, artfully layered story of strength and vulnerability, offering glimpses of hope for growing humility and reverence and for shifting human-nature relationships.
Essayist Ettinger’s affection for ice cream takes her across the country in a search for variations on her favorite food.
The author, who attributes her interest to the “immense tubs of generic-brand ice cream” her father dragged home in compensation for other lacks in the family, now describes herself as an “ice cream snob.” She has taught herself to make ice cream and includes relatively esoteric recipes at the end of many of the chapters, though readers interested in duplicating her efforts might be wise to first read her chapter about the difficulty of manufacturing her chosen delight. Ettinger enrolled in the short version of “the world’s most famous ice cream making class” at Penn State University, where she faced the dilemma of whether to spit out samples or not and learned more than she wanted to know about listeria. More than anything, the Santa Cruz–based author traveled, sampling frozen custard in Milwaukee and getting carjacked in the process; riding along in a Brooklyn ice cream truck and learning about the vicious territory disputes for such trucks in New York; and even, to her own disgust, investigating her nemesis, frozen yogurt, which tries “so unsuccessfully to imitate the whipped fatty creaminess of my childhood obsession.” Along the way, she makes the questionable case that “ice cream is more like a drug than any other food,” and she works up a certain amount of indignation about how many ice cream makers, even allegedly artisan operations, use commercial ice cream base rather than manufacturing their own. But for the most part, she keeps her tone light, concentrating on the pleasures of Brown Butter Spiced Pumpkin Seed gelato, “like a studly hazelnut gigolo.”
Best consumed in small portions, Ettinger’s book will be a vicarious treat for fellow addicts.
A collection of essays on our culture’s fascination with celebrities.
Klam (Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can't Live Without, 2012, etc.) has done her share of celebrity journalism in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour. In her fifth book, she chronicles her interviews with one-time or sort-of celebrities like Timothy Hutton, whose 15 minutes came when he won an Oscar in 1980 at age 20 for Ordinary People, and Griffin Dunne, who starred in An American Werewolf in London. They come across as perfectly pleasant, polite guys with little apparent interest in the subject of celebrity. The author professes a fascination with celebrities that began when she was a teenager plastering her bedroom walls with pages from Tiger Beat, but by this point, that fascination has clearly faded, and she seems to be proceeding dutifully through all the expected bases. She observes strangers taking selfies outside the restaurant where Seinfeld was filmed, speaks with Quentin Tarantino’s publicist, discusses the necessity of plastic surgery for celebrities, frets about the Kardashians and their unearned fame, and interviews former Mets player R.A. Dickey, forgetting to turn on her tape recorder, with a resulting chapter that’s more about her than him. The book is padded with dozens of recollections of celebrity sightings by Klam’s friends and acquaintances. In the book’s most pleasurable moments, the author discusses her Aunt Mattie, an unabashed reality TV show fan who enjoys sitting in her La-Z-Boy with her dog and some licorice and pretzels to watch and muse on the complicated relationships in Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood.
Entertaining but shallow. Klam is perhaps too sensible a writer to care much about the filtered world of celebrities, and her fundamental indifference to the subject, no matter how she struggles to overcome it, makes the book seem less than essential.
A moving trucker shares stories from a life on the open road.
Murphy is not your typical trucker. As a moving truck driver, often known as “bedbuggers” hauling “roach coaches,” he describes the strict hierarchy among truckers and how his type are shunned as outsiders. He also touts his middle-class background in suburban Connecticut and his nearly completed education at Colby College, a prestigious liberal arts school in Maine, to distinguish himself from the “cowboy truckers” who think of themselves as living out some modern fantasy of the Wild West. The author even mentions his nickname “The Great White Mover,” which refers to his talent and indirectly to the industry’s widening racial gap. In fact, Murphy decided to leave college a year before graduating (much to his parents’ disapproval) to work full-time in the moving business following his experience of the camaraderie of working with a local company as a teenager. Eventually, the author worked his way up as a driver in the “high-end executive relocation” business, where he routinely makes cross-country hauls for his high-profile clients. Throughout his recollections, Murphy maintains an air of armchair philosopher, imparting common-sense wisdom and morals from three decades behind the wheel. With carefully retold anecdotes that illustrate the minutiae of life as a trucker, Murphy sheds light on this unique subculture. More than anything, he uses the narrative to combat the negative stigma against movers, taking jabs at past customers who slighted him. One story in particular fittingly encapsulates the author’s background and mission: he purposely placed an abusive customer’s antique Chinese gravestones upside down (he took a course in college) to embarrass the owner, who wouldn’t have noticed. Ultimately, the behind-the-scenes appeal of Murphy’s stories fades a bit after several chapters, but they shed light on a world not experienced by most.
An entertaining and insightful snapshot of the hauling life.
We taste sweet at the front of the tongue and bitter at the back, right? Wrong. Thanks to what Spence (co-author: The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, 2014) characterizes as “the general neglect of the ‘lower’ senses by research scientists,” we’re brought up on all kinds of misinformation about food and the way our bodies respond to it. Enter “gastrophysics,” a new blend of various sciences with cultural and psychological elements of food preparation and presentation, which, in Spence’s hands, yields all sorts of aha moments—e.g., if they’re playing fast music in the restaurant you enter, it means they’re trying to get you out of there quickly. Part of this book seems an extended advertisement for Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, which Spence, an experimental psychologist, directs and which conducts probes and disquisitions in what he calls “neurogastronomy.” But part is a disinterested—and highly interesting—examination of the widely diverse food domains we inhabit, the recognition of which should help chefs put aside the notion that anyone who tinkers with their spicing by adding salt at the table is an evil creature. They’re not, and seasoning a dish differently from how the chef prepared it is not an insult but, instead, “a form of customization that recognizes the very different taste worlds in which we all live.” Spence has a light touch and a knack for framing research questions in provocative headings: “What’s the link,” he asks, “between the humble tomato and aircraft noise?” It’s a question worth pondering should you have the dubious pleasure of being served an in-flight meal, just as you’ll learn here why the barista at Starbucks puts your name on the cup (hint: it’s not really a memory aid for said barista).
A sharp, engaging education for food consumers and a font of ideas for restaurateurs and chefs as well.