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August Gems

Desiree Andrews (Assistant Editor, Tin House magazine): I tell people that my favorite movie is Sudden Manhattan directed by Adrienne Shelly. It’s probably true. I recently made my new roommate watch it and I realize that she’s not the first person to whom I’ve enthusiastically said “you have to watch this movie” and she won’t be the last. It’s not a perfect movie but that’s a big part of why I like it. Manhattan is Shelly’s directorial debut and it has a roughness that I really love. The cinematography is a somewhat questionable—actors are often framed off center in ways that feel unintentionally but I’m ok with that; it adds to the charm of the movie. There are certainly films where the storytelling is more masterful. But, I re-watch this movie once a year or so and, every time I do, I’m charmed by the funny writing and struck by how engrossing the story stays while Shelly plays with the conventions of film and romantic comedies. It’s got the feel of a 90’s Hal Hartley movie but is more accessible, I think. It’s probably too much to say the movie has elements of French New Wave but the playful feeling is similar. Most of all, I love how Shelly has created these characters that are immediately identifiable. It’s a movie about young people trying to figure out their lives while struggling to live in New York but, unlike more recent films with similar themes, like Francis Ha, Sudden Manhattan doesn’t feel self-indulgent or overreaching in it’s attempt to convince you that it’s hard out there for a 20 something. The movie has a wacky and surreal edge that keeps it from taking itself too seriously, which makes it a joy to watch—over and over again.

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer):  I’d seen (and loved) a few scenes from Grey Gardens (1975), but until recently had shamefully never watched the entire documentary. I’ll just go ahead and admit that it was an episode of Drag Race that finally pushed me to press play. Now I wish I’d watched it years ago.  The film offers a look at the lives of Big and Little Edie Beale, relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles are given full access to the pageantry and squalor within the crumbling estate. One scene reveals that a family of raccoons has taken up residence in the attic (Little Edie feeds them Wonder Bread and cat food!). The entire spectacle is both hilarious and tragic. Little Edie, especially, yearns for more, calling herself a “subterranean prisoner.” But one wonders how she ever survived in the real world. In an early scene, her mother lectures her, “When are you gonna learn, Edie? You’re in this world, you know. You’re not out of this world.” But she’s wrong: neither of them are of this world.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): I went to the Met’s exhibit “Photography and the American Civil War” with no expectations. I ended up staying for something like three hours. I don’t think I’ve ever had so visceral an experience of the waste of war, or such a powerful sense of the moral fissions and stakes at the heart of this one. In the first image you see in the galleries—a baseball card-sized photograph of Lincoln, still beardless, after he’s won his party’s nomination—the soon-to-be-president seems startlingly freshfaced. But before you’ve even left the exhibition’s first room, the images have turned to those of human limbs half-buried in Confederate ramparts, of in-progress battlefield amputations, of brothers setting out to fight, one to live and one not. I felt a sort of guilty, ethical need to look at the row after row of miniature portraits of soldiers left behind with their loved ones. I cannot shake one of the show’s final images, a photograph Booth’s conspirators prepared for the gallows, the female convict sheltered by a parasol as her noose is tied. I learned more than I’ve probably ever known about the Civil War, but more than that, I was upset in a way that seemed to say the show did justice to just how horrific a thing this war, every war, any war, is. Completely and totally recommended—only up through September 2nd, so go now.
Cheston Knapp (Managing editor of Tin House): I’ve been in Paris the past ten days and my time here has been dreamy and irreal. I’ve eaten pastries rich as Byzantine kings and drank wine so good it almost made me cry. I’ve seen several old movies on subsidized big screens that I never imagined I’d get to see on the big screen (Thunderbolt and LightfootCharley Varrick). I’ve stood in lines to see art that made me forget, later, to complain about the lines I stood in. I’ve seen cherubs and shit. And the book I chose to bring with me? Sentimental Education, by Flaubert. Rube I am, I didn’t realize it all actually takes place in Paris, and I’ve had that bizarre experience of reading scenes in the book that take place exactly where I am, like, at that very moment. The Palais-Royale and the Luxembourg Gardens and several, discrete rues. This strange phenomenological situation has only enhanced the fleeting and phantasmogoric feeling I’ve had the whole time I’ve been here, like it all can’t really be real. Because how else could Flaubert, dead all these years, make this city seem more alive than it is, that is, in real life?”
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): With her little black dress, a few strokes of thick liquid eyeliner and her sweet, wistful song “Parlez-moi d’ Amour,” chanteuse Juilette Greco was the darling of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 1960s. Jean-Paul Sartre was a passionate fan and said that she “had millions of poems in her voice.” The Left Bank loved her—she knew Miles Davis and Jean Cocteau and basically everybody this side of the Seine. In September, pour a tiny glass of Pernod, pull up a chair and enjoy the limpid, melancholy songs of la grande dame of Parisian jazz clubs and café concerts.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): Not surprising that I would fall for a band hailing from Melbourne (The Go-Betweens!!!) and named after a Fitzgerald character, but I think my recent fascination with Dick Diver has more to do with a listlessness in the air. Our days have been muggy of late, with late afternoons shifting between rain and sun by the hour. I have been sitting in the backyard, noting the clouds, and playing their 2011 album, New Start Again, nonstop (their new album is terrific as well). Ideas, suggested through jangling chords and standing-far-away from-the-microphone vocals, are introduced, disappear, and then come floating to the surface again, allowing you to engage with the music at your leisure. The fact that the band members share vocal duties on most tracks only enhances the feeling of being amongst friends. I have only been listening to Dick Diver for about a month now but it sure feels like we have known each other for a long time.
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