— I finished Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and it is just as good as everyone has said, even better, and I could not put it down. What a last line! Goosebumps. Now onto the sequel! Off with her head!
— Sophie in North Korea: amazing commentary and photographs.
— “I Will Ruin Him” – a pretty harrowing piece about being stalked. He appears to have written a book on his experience, and if this essay is any indication, it will be very upsetting reading. I have been stalked in a similar manner. It feels just like he says it feels. It is a “personal emergency” because your name is being attacked. Your reputation.
— Olywn Hughes SPEAKS. What a perpetual crankypants. But hearing from Olywn is so rare, I ate this up.
— Fascinating photos and commentary about the Salton Riviera, outside of Palm Springs. Of course this makes me think of one of my obsessions: the boat cemetery in Central Asia, although the Salton Riviera is not quite a worldwide environmental disaster. Still, the eerie photos compare.
— Member the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the 1980s and 90s? Sure, you do. Well, Jessa Crispin (aka Book Slut) informed us that it is the 20th anniversary of that scare, and she has a ton of fascinating links. The Frontline documentary on False Confessions was horrific, a living nightmare. Things may be shitty but at least I didn’t falsely confess to murder, under brutal interrogation, and at least I didn’t have memories implanted in my brain by charlatan therapists that I had been forced to drink blood by my satan-worshipping daycare worker. So one thing led to another and I am now deeply engrossed in Kenneth Lanning’s 1992 FBI report on the Satanic Ritual Abuse phenomenon. Lanning actually did not go along with the flow at the time, always thought that this was a false scare, that therapists were capitalizing on it, and that people were being “given” false memories through coercive therapeutic techniques. Thank goodness for brave critical thinkers. Strangely enough (and wonderfully enough), one of my favorite writers, Joan Acocella (I excerpted heavily from her book of essays recently) has written a book on the “MPD” phenom around the same time, which wasalso tied into the SRA scare. I have the book, and will read it soon. Acocella is a dance writer, but her topics are wide and varied and I love that she would have taken on this still-controversial subject.
— Interesting essay about suicide, and the prevalence of suicide in English history (there are a couple books coming out on the topic).
Numerous believers have made themselves desperate by nursing a sense of their own unique culpability. This kind of suicidal despair – convincing oneself that one is permanently cast out from the possibility of forgiveness – is terrible to read about. Take William Cowper. He was destined for the law, a profession for which, due to his morbid fear of public speaking, he was wholly unsuited. The prospect of being examined in 1763 at the bar of the House of Lords drove him to a series of frantic measures. About a week before the examination he bought a half-ounce of laudanum. Unable to consume the fatal dose, he thought of escaping to France. He resolved to drown himself, then tried to stab himself with his penknife, and finally hanged himself with a scarlet garter which broke just as he lost consciousness. On coming to, he heard the sound of his own groans and assumed he was in hell. A period of bitter misery ensued; Cowper attempted suicide on at least one further occasion. But conversations with his brother and chance readings in the Bible began to chip away at his certainty that he was the helpless prey of a furious, vengeful God. On July 26, 1764 he picked up a Bible and opened it, randomly, at Romans 3.25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God”. In an instant, Cowper found strength to believe in the redeeming power of Christ, and was lost in tears of grateful ecstasy.
— My friend Dennis Cozzalio, he who helms the indispensable Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, pulls out all the stops with a magnificent post about special effects, from Superman to Life of Pi, but honing in on Zelig as the real groundbreaker. Not to be missed.
Seen today the movie looks like a standout in Allen’s career, one of the most original and innovative movies of the decade of the 1980s, regardless of its comparatively insular qualities and supposed lack of thematic scope. But Zelig’s real impact, as it turned out, was in the suggestion of what could be done with that familiar newsreel imagery. Cinematographer Gordon Willis ingeniously mocked-up and graded down the gorgeous monochromatic imagery he perfected for Manhattan and Stardust Memories so that footage of the “little lost sheep Zelig” could be seamlessly integrated into the same picture with historical figures like Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and even Adolf Hitler. The meager audiences that turned out in theaters marveled at Willis’ achievement— Zelig and Willis were even mentioned on the front cover of the highbrow film journal People magazine upon the film’s release, a level of mainstream coverage which would require a sex scandal some 10 years later in order for Allen to duplicate.
— Speaking of not-to-be-missed essays by friends of mine, Steven Boone writes a magnificent essay on Spike Lee and Django Unchained which is the best thing I have read on the controversy, and on the movie itself (which I really liked, with a couple of minor quibbles). But it’s a challenging work of art, and I had been dying to know Boone’s take. So there it is. A pretty raucous comments section too.