COLUMNS

  • Music

    the Plastic People of the Universe

    THE SCENE IS RIGHT out of a dialectical fairy tale: a band that once upon a time became a subterranean legend, an avatar of freedom and refusal, reunites to record a live album. The group reaches back almost a quarter century into its repertoire to dredge up the now-quaint signature tune “Waiting for the Man.” Only this isn’t the Velvet Underground finally paying a call on a stadium-full of adoring fans somewhere in Europa, but a much more obscure and mysterious outfit that sprang from such fandom itself in the waning days of 1968: the Plastic People of the Universe.

    Born in the wake of the

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  • Books

    The Diary of Jack the Ripper

    The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Discovery, the Investigation, the Debate by Shirley Harrison. New York: Hyperion, 1993.

    Visitors to Madame Tussaud’s in 1974 ranked [Jack the Ripper] third on a list of most hated and feared (edged out only by Adolph Hitler and Richard Nixon).

    —Jane Caputi, The Age of Sex Crime, 1987

    There lives within me . . . a monstrous hybrid of the perpetrator, victim, and witness. . . . Siamese triplets with no circus to escape to, a complicitous Holy Trinity that is the closest thing to authenticity that we can experience in the land of Nod.

    —Mark Alice Durant, “Overexposures

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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,

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