Friday, March 18, 2016

Staff Picks: 'Transparent,' William Klein, 'West of Eden,' Meat Vending Machines and more

Posted By , , , , and on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 3:34 PM

click to enlarge "Transparent"
  • "Transparent"
Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.

We've been plowing through some addictive Netflix and Amazon shows in the Ramsey household and these are all really obvious choices but sometimes you need the nudge to embrace the obvious, so: "Transparent," "Better Call Saul," "Nurse Jackie." And we enjoyed "Love," and we sort of enjoyed "The Americans" but then it all becomes too hokey somehow and we quit. Oh, and the spooky French show "Les Revenants" (The Returned). "Transparent" transcends; the rest are like the copper lining of a golden age. They do the trick. Anyways, it's nice outside, so go check out the blooming flowers, but like if the allergies hit, the comforts of serial dramedies await. Netflix and grill. — David Ramsey  

I went through a span of about 5 years where most of what I read had something to do with being down and out, destitute, homeless, drifting, addicted, etc. etc. The two books that occupy the most space in my memories are easily "You Can't Win" by Jack Black (not the actor) and "Hunger" by Knut Hamsun. I picked up "You Can't Win" again last night and fell right back into it. I'll say no more than to simply recommend you try out either of these titles. Both are great books. — Bryan Moats

William Klein was a groundbreaking fashion and street photographer (often listed alongside Robert Frank as a godfather of the candid snapshot-style) before he turned to feature films in the late 1960s.  I admire his photography a lot — he was a better photographer than filmmaker, all things considered; check out his book "Tokyo," if you ever come across a heavily marked-down copy in a used book store — but this week I'm recommending his 1969 film "Mr. Freedom" instead, which the great film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once memorably described as "conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made."

I kind of disagree, but understand what he means: It's marked by that alternative tradition of patriotism that's rooted in occasional disgust and self-loathing rather than open-ended jingoism. Its brand of satire is so over-the-top and just weird as to go beyond political-cartoon-style parody; it's a kind of absurdist tribute to American exceptionalist tropes (a joke that's since become a little worn out, thanks to South Park and Sarah Palin, et al.). But in the context of the Trump era, I think it still has some sting to it, aside from being wonderful to look at. All of his features are available in this beautifully designed box set released in 2008. — Will Stephenson

If you liked Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon," but wanted more substance and maybe more truth in your gossip about old Hollywood, you should read Jean Stein's new oral history, "West of Eden." It features the story of five wealthy and, for the most part, highly influential Los Angeles families, including those of Edward Doheny, the tyrannical oil tycoon who was the inspiration for Upton Sinclair's "Oil" and "There Will Be Blood" and was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal; Jack Warner, cofounder of Warner Brothers, and his conniving and reclusive wife, Ann; and Jules Stein, optometrist, founder of MCA and father of the author.

There are stories of suicides and affairs and terribly neglectful parenting. Psychotherapy and lavish parties and old Buster Keaton playing canasta with aged silent movie stars. Dennis Hopper, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion and many of the descendents of the families features all talk.

I still have the last section of the book, about the Steins, to go. I hope Jean Stein dishes on herself a little. She famously launched her career as a journalist with a 1956 Paris Review interview with William Faulkner, who she had an affair with when she was 19 or 20 and attending the University of Paris. — Lindsey Millar

It’s been a bad week for me, folks, and about the only non-self-destructive thing that I can find any pleasure in right now is space. Thank god for astronomy. Thank god for APOD. Thank god for the fact that the fragile configurations of hydrocarbons that comprise our addled genetic line — “our” meaning “all terrestrial life” — adds up to a rounding error when weighed against even the relatively miniscule bulk of the Earth itself. Hubble has recently discovered a cluster of nine hyper-massive stars in the Tarantula Nebula that are “shedding an Earth's mass worth of gas and dust each month.” The European Space Agency said in a statement, "together these nine stars outshine the Sun by a factor of 30 million.” Or if you need a more potent shot of the cosmic negation we so fully deserve, watch this video, “Gigapixels of Andromeda,” which is a slow pan across the sharpest ever image compiled of the Andromeda galaxy, home to around a trillion stars. It took 7,398 individual exposures to create this picture, and you can indeed make out individual stars. “It's like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand. And there are lots of stars in this sweeping view — over 100 million, with some of them in thousands of star clusters seen embedded in the disk,” NASA said.

Closer to home, read the New York Times’ roundup of discoveries from Pluto, assembled from the slow stream of data continuing to arrive from the New Horizons probe after last year’s flyby of the dwarf planet. I also recommend this tweet by Scott Kelly, the NASA astronaut who recently returned from a year aboard the International Space Station. I don’t, however, recommend ever using the hashtag #Earth. — Benji Hardy

click to enlarge Meat Vending Machine
  • Meat Vending Machine

There's really only one thing I can recommend today: Meat Vending Machine. Say it out loud. Savor the words. Meat. Vending. Machine. Then thank God for the French, who have made such a thing a reality.

In America, we have vending machines that dispense bad pastries, candy bars and sodas. I've even seen vending machines in airports that dispense electronics and cosmetics. But gourmet charcuterie like duck confit and beef carpaccio? Be still my heart. And take all my money.

So let this be a head's up to our local butchers: emulate Parisian shop L'ami Txulette and let's bring the meat vending machine to America. Because sometimes I want pâté at 1 a.m. — Michael Roberts

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