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

THE TUNNEL AT THE END OF THE LIGHT

ESSAYS ON MOVIES AND POLITICS

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 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

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 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

WARHOL

An epic cradle-to-grave biography of the king of pop art from Gopnik (co-author: Warhol Women, 2019), who served as chief art critic for the Washington Post and the art and design critic for Newsweek.

With a hoarder’s zeal, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) collected objects he liked until shopping bags filled entire rooms of his New York town house. Rising to equal that, Gopnik’s dictionary-sized biography has more than 7,000 endnotes in its e-book edition and drew on some 100,000 documents, including datebooks, tax returns, and letters to lovers and dealers. With the cooperation of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the author serves up fresh details about almost every aspect of Warhol’s life in an immensely enjoyable book that blends snappy writing with careful exegeses of the artist’s influences and techniques. Warhol exploded into view in his mid-40s with his pop art paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans and silkscreens of Elvis and Marilyn. However, fame didn’t banish lifelong anxieties heightened by an assassination attempt that left him so fearful he bought bulletproof eyeglasses. After the pop successes, Gopnik writes, Warhol’s life was shaped by a consuming desire “to climb back onto that cutting edge,” which led him to make experimental films, launch Interview magazine, and promote the Velvet Underground. At the same time, Warhol yearned “for fine, old-fashioned love and coupledom,” a desire thwarted by his shyness and his awkward stance toward his sexuality—“almost but never quite out,” as Gopnik puts it. Although insightful in its interpretations of Warhol’s art, this biography is sure to make waves with its easily challenged claims that Warhol revealed himself early on “as a true rival of all the greats who had come before” and that he and Picasso may now occupy “the top peak of Parnassus, beside Michelangelo and Rembrandt and their fellow geniuses.” Any controversy will certainly befit a lodestar of 20th-century art who believed that “you weren’t doing much of anything as an artist if you weren’t questioning the most fundamental tenets of what art is and what artists can do.”

A fascinating, major work that will spark endless debates.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229839-3

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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