COLUMNS

  • Film

    Six Degrees of Separation

    There is something morally anemic about Six Degrees of Separation. On Broadway, where it ran like a Restoration comedy on poppers, the messier social issues of John Guare’s play were folded in on themselves—as if a perfect sheet of dough covered everything with a creamy ubiquitousness. That the scary plight of the hustling black antihero is left willfully unresolved in order to serve up an epiphany of conscience to its careless white heroine caused nary a whisper of discontent.

    The play’s premise concerns a young man who claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier in order to insinuate himself into

    Read more
  • Film

    Schindler's List

    Not until Schindler was I really able to not reference other filmmakers,“ Steven Spielberg has said. ”I’m always referencing everybody. I didn’t do any of that on this movie.“ But he did something even more ”post-Modern" and appropriative: he referenced the Holocaust, and without understanding it. Instead of interpreting this particularly notorious part of modernity (a part that pessimists have come to view as symptomatic of the whole), instead of gaining insight into it, he identified himself with it the way one does with a film star.

    Schindler’s List is a filmic act of belated empathy yet of

    Read more
  • Music

    Melvins

    Every three to five years there seems to be one band that artists, intellectuals, and cultural critics gravitate toward as symptomatic of the moment and, on a higher level, as a symbiotically beneficial organism. A few years ago it was the expansive fucked-upness of the Butthole Surfers that entered/altered art-world consciousness; and now it’s Melvins. Nearly ten years after escaping the redneck logging town of Aberdeen, Washington, and spawning the so-called Seattle sound of Mudhoney, Nirvana, et al.—the current “loser’s revolution”—Melvins seem to have arrived, and right on time.

    The

    Read more
  • Books

    Downcast Eyes

    WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF the recent outpouring of books on the subjects of visuality and visual culture? No longer confined to studies of visual art, or to specific visual media such as film, photography, video, or TV, the new studies survey literary and philosophical texts, psychosocial constructions of visual experience, and what might be called “vernacular practices” of the visual in public and private life. Books with such titles as The Dialectics of Seeing, Visual Theory, The Optical Unconscious, Vision and Visuality, Techniques of the Observer, The Reader’s Eye, and Signatures of the Visible

    Read more
  • Books

    Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir

    Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 669 pages.

    It’s terribly difficult knowing what to think about Leni Riefenstahl’s Memoir. She began writing it when she was 80, finished it at 85, and now that she’s 91 the English-language edition has just been issued. While the Memoir concludes in 1982, a new documentary (Ray Müller’s The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl) shows her soldiering on with enough projects to last another lifetime. Together, the film and autobiography should meld into a hymn to the wondrous possibilities of simply, magnificently

    Read more
  • Books

    Virtual Light

    Virtual Light, by William Gibson. New York: Bantam Books. 325 pp. $22.95.

    As Bertolt Brecht once pointed out, Hell looks suspiciously like Heaven, and both look like Los Angeles. This is a maxim worth remembering as we are sucked screaming into the dark vortex of the 21st century.

    Only a few years ago, of course, pundits were romantically hallucinating the “end of history” as crowds danced on the ruins of the Berlin Wall. McDonalds, not the Internationale, seemed to be uniting the human race. Since then, however, utopian capitalism has sunk up to its metaphysical axles, from Sarajevo to South

    Read more
  • Performance

    the Five Lesbian Brothers

    Bitter jealousy, glorious revenge, corrupted innocence—these are the tropes of an emerging pulp lesbian sensibility that traffics in the tawdry castoffs of ’50s and ’60s American pop culture. The territory of fanzines, girl bands, and a host of recent artists and writers, this self-consciously downbeat vision salvages its images from a mélange of bad plays, pop psych, and supermarket novels from Ann Bannon to Jacqueline Susann. Trashy, melodramatic, and trading on irony, its seductions collide with more familiar aims of gay cultural politics: countering the stereotype, fighting misrepresentation,

    Read more
  • Books

    the West-as-Metaphor

    Richard Slotkin, The Myth of the Frontier of Twentieth-Century America (New York: Atheneum), 850 pages.

    Jane Tompkins, West of Everything (New York: Oxford University Press), 245 pages.

    Reading Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation and Jane Tompkins’ West of Everything reminded me of a line Lindsey Buckingham sang years ago, on his album Law and Order. Donning imaginary chaps and jingle-jangle spurs, the Hollywood cowboy slumped dreamily back in his saddle: “I’m just a shadow of the West.”

    That mythic landscape—wide-open spaces and closed caskets, Monument Valley and Wounded Knee—casts a tall shadow

    Read more
  • Music

    the Pet Shop Boys

    For more than a decade gay men have responded to the presence of HIV and AIDS in our personal lives in a wide variety of ways. At one end of the scale, some, sadly, have been terrified into celibacy or loveless monogamy; at the other, some evidently find Safer Sex difficult to sustain. Yet the great majority of gay men have found ways to feel confident about sex. Community-based HIV education has insisted that Safer Sex is an issue for all gay men, regardless of our HIV-antibody status, and a remarkable collective response has emerged that is intimately informed by our awareness of the epidemic

    Read more