I thought it would be fun to ask some Sensitive Skin editors and contributors what they thought was the best of 2014 – not necessarily the “best of” the year—what they liked best during the year, whenever it came out. So I did. Some of them responded. So here you go. OK, fuggit, me first.
Nightcrawler – A modern day Taxi Driver, if Travis Bickle was trawling the streets looking for a career instead of love. A perfect movie for the Year of the Uber-CEO.
Jodorowsky’s Dune – the non-making of the greatest science fiction film never made. Immensely entertaining. What a nut, I love that guy!
Disgrace, by J. M. Coetze – an academic is forced out of his position at university in utter disgrace. Then things get bad. Beautifully written, not for the faint of heart.
Double Indemnity, by J. M. Cain – wonderfully hinky.
Best moments from a TV show
Some were critical over writer/showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s liberal “borrowings” from Thomas Ligotti. But the real horror story was the show’s tearing back of the American afterimage. All of that aside, the final 6 minutes of the fourth episode is perhaps the greatest single sequence in the history of television. Unfortunately, director Cary Fukunaga will not be part of season 2.
Black Mirror: the segment with Oona Chaplin from the “White Christmas” episode. In a little more than 12 minutes, the sequence delivered scathing social commentary on white privilege, torture, corporate sociopaths, American exceptionalism and runaway capitalism.
Honorable Mention: The Strain, when the vampire-hair-metal rocker’s dick fell off, and he didn’t even care, from the well-titled episode “Gone Smooth.” This show was godawful but man I loved every crappy moment of it.
I think it was Greil Marcus who said, when Columbia released the first “official” Basement Tapes collection almost 30 years ago, that it was “the best album of both 1967 and 1975.” And, with the release of the remastered The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, of 2014 as well. Weird, wonderful and delirious, so much better with the ’75-edition overdubs and Band songs removed. Tiny Montgomery says to say hello. Editor’s Note: normal people should get the 2-CD “best of” compilation, which costs about 1/6 as much. Unless you really need to hear 2 versions of “See You Later, Allen Ginsberg.”
“Five Summer Suns,” group show featuring Stephen Lack & James Romberger @ Dorian Grey, NYC; PUNK: CONVULSIVE BEAUTY, Ruby Ray and Winston Smith @ iheartnorthbeach, San Francisco; Martial Raysse @ Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Brooklyn Bridge, group show featuring Julie Torres and many others @ George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel and The Strange Library, both by Haruki Murakami. Two well written and wonderfully packaged books. The bookstore I work at, Posman Books, is going out of business on New Year’s Eve, so I finished off my Murakami collection while I still could. This was the year I read his book, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, about the sarin gas attacks on the Japanese transit system. I highly recommend it.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
– Deborah Pintonelli
Film: Check out The Paperboy. That shit is a scream. Though it is not categorized as a comedy.
TV: My Name Is Earl. I haven’t watched TV in 10 years or more. I like this.
Books:G ot an autographed copy of the 1946 reprint edition of The Autobiography of a Yogi for a dollar. Was not expecting that.
– Darius James
If television in all its digital incarnations is for us what movies were in the last century, and novels in the one before that, then the big discovery stateside in 2014 was Charlier Brooker’s Black Mirror. The six one-hour episodes finally arrived HD on DirecTV (and, momentarily, LowD on YouTube, then passed around as movie files on disk) and just this last month on NetFlix, and the “White Christmas” special with John Hamm was just as fantastic as the best of those episodes.
Brooker’s commitment to un-settling endings and the foregone corruption of human behavior by today’s breakneck technology is a lonely black mirror held up to the audience, always mind-expanding, always a gut-punch ending. This is the real good stuff – mini–movies that stand up next to any recent theatrical sci-fi film, all of it highly re-watchable.
And when you’re finished watching an episode and turn off the TV or PC or iPad or Galaxy, you’re left staring at your own face in the black mirror of the empty screen.
1. Book- Siegfried Kracauer’s American Writings: Essays on Film and Popular Culture
2. Book – Radio Benjamin, Walter Benjamin
3. Book – Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present
4. Film – Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg
5. Film – Red Hollywood, Thom Andersen & Noel Burch
6. Film – Birdman
7. TV – Transparent, Pilot episode, Jill Soloway
8. TV- Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, December 10, 2014 “America’s Got Torture/ Everything Is Awesome”
9. TV – True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto
10. Exhibition – Italian Futurism, 1909 – 1944: Reconstructing the Universe
– Marian St. Laurent
I’ve read a few books this year, but hardly as many as I would like to read. Lately, most of the books I’m reading are for research. And while these can be rewarding, they may not be suited for general consumption. As usual, I buy more books than I manage to finish reading, ever a guilty pursuit. Of those I managed to pore through, I’ll list three.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
While not a literary triumph, Herland (1915, reissued November 2012, Canada, Broadview Press.) offers a compelling blueprint for the structure of a utopian society. Originally serialized in her periodical, The Forerunner, the book stayed out of print until 1979 (Pantheon), and reads as such, with several passages serving as recaps of what’s been written earlier. The story follows the discovery by three occidental males of a mountaintop community populated solely by women who reproduce through parthenogenesis (the details of which she understandably skirts). Key to the matrilineal society is the art of child-rearing and education, although the women are superior builders and accomplished agronomists who cultivate forests and gardens, rather than crops. Conflict derives from one of the visitors’ incurable machismo, although his departure is contrasted with the women’s acceptance of another man’s wish to remain. The narrator is sympathetic to the society’s unique identity and also stays on for a while, but eventually leaves to share his account. Gilman’s own life story is also instructive, but I’ve yet to read The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography. (New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1935; NY: Arno Press, 1972; and Harper & Row, 1975.)
I seem to go through a weightier tome each year since reading Moby Dick in 2012. The Adventures of Don Quixote is poised to fill that habit in 2015. While I started Roberto Bolano’s 2066 in 2014, I failed to complete it, although I thoroughly enjoyed every page I got through, wishing the whole time I was reading the Spanish original. I’ll do it this year, translation dictionary by my side. That said, the thousand page opus I pounded through, teeth clenched in agony, was Hugh Thomas’s detailed history, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440–1870 (1997; Simon and Schuster). You probably think you know the story, but you don’t. The question is: do you want to know? Of course, you do. From an introductory chapter on slavery before the European incursion into the Americas to the post-Civil War century of illegal slavery, this book is chock full of details that chart the course of free labor. It’s definitely a tear-jerker, and not for those who are unwilling to comprehend the barbaric ethos that made capitalism king today.
Speaking of weighty volumes, I can’t resist including The Oxford English Dictionary here. A few of you may have noticed that the lion’s share of my Facebook statuses are conceived around a word of the day delivered to my inbox from the reference work’s faceless compilers. While the words are seemingly random save those that appear on noted holidays or especially literary birthdates (e.g., Graham Greene, James Joyce), I’ve been repeatedly startled by their uncanny synchronicity with my personal, inner tides and external exploits. Beyond this dubious oracular perception of mine, I’ve always enjoyed dictionaries, and for over thirty years I prized a copy of the two-volume Shorter OED given to me by a dear old pal as my single long-term possession, until it finally fell irreparably apart this past fall. Once in Detroit, I strolled into the four-story warehouse dba John King Books and found a pristine copy of the third Shorter edition in two volumes for only fifty bucks, foregoing a vintage edition for ninety-five. If you read without a dictionary, that’s your business. If you write without a dictionary, there’s probably a word for that, too.
Best concert of the year by a country mile: Einsturzende Neubauten doing ‘Lament’ at Le Trianon, Paris, 17/11/14.
In Case We Die, by Danny Bland, Excavation, Wendy C. Ortiz, Homeboy, by Seth Morgan (pub: 1990)
A Most Wanted Man, The Lunchbox, The Grand Budapest
Music: Wasted Years, by OFF!
Social Media Failure: Ello
2014 was something of a refocus on classics for me.
Some books reread: Huckleberry Finn, Dubliners, The Killer Inside Me, Portnoy’s Complaint.
Dominating the turntable: The Beatles, Dexter Gordon on Blue Note, Sonny Rollins on Contemporary, The Emerson String Quartet performing Mozart.
– JD King
Gretchen Faust – Random titles, position, focus, size, numbering, with no explanation. Crazy, man. And gorgeous.
Arguendo, by Elevator Repair Service, featuring Susie Sokol (far left) as Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
– Jenny Wade
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (had to watch a bootleg earlier this year; available from Netflix as of December 2014).
Critics who are only slightly familiar with gialli have opined that this is a soporific pastiche of Dario Argento. Those who actually know the genre have explained that this is an homage to many giallo directors, but mostly to Sergio Martino; that the title references What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body? by Giuliano Carnimeo; and that the nonlinear narrative and editing get more interesting with each viewing. Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog editor and author of the most important book about Mario Bava to date, told me that he never watches a current film twice but is now on his third viewing of Strange Color.
The only sad thing about Strange Color is that Trish Keenan didn’t live long enough to collaborate on the soundtrack, since it would have been a much better legacy from her than Berberian Sound Studio.
Herzog Blaubarts Burg (Duke Bluebeard’s Castle), by Michael Powell (based on the opera by Bela Bartok).
This flick was uploaded to YouTube in 2012 and taken down almost immediately; it reemerged in 2014. Watch it while you can.
After seeing Herzog Blaubarts Burg in the ’90s at the Walter Reade Theater and judging it to be one of Powell’s four greatest films, I spoke to star Norman Foster’s widow about the lack of distribution. She told me the film, which Foster had convinced Powell to make and then produced, likely would be in licensing limbo for the next forty years. I repeat: See it while you can.
Released in 2014:
The Body (produced by the Haxan Cloak): I Shall Die Here
Polar Inertia: Secret 13, Mix 131
Aphex Twin: Syro
On My Playlists:
Wiltold Lutosławski, Musique funebre, Cello Concerto No. 2, Preludes and Fugue for 13 Solo Strings, Concerto for Orchestra — esp. the Passacaille, Symphony No. 4
All of the first music dating from his adoption of his post-chromatic method.
Henry Purcell, “Dido’s Lament,” from Dido and Aeneas, in this new performance by Christina Schaefer:
Hans Werner Henze, “Being Beauteous,” on the poem from Illuminations by Rimbaud, for soprano, four celli and two harps (Edda Moser, soprano)
A Fickle Sonance (esp. the title cut)
One Step Beyond (esp. “Ghost Town”)
The final scene from Lulu — over and over, every year — with Kathryn Harries as Countess Geschwitz and Christina Schafer as Lulu
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vols 1-2.
Azealia Banks, “Yung Rapunxel”
Writing (none of it published in 2014):
Gallant, Mavis: Montreal Stories
Sebald, W.G., The Emigrants
Ligotti, Thomas: Noctuary; Teatro Grottesco
Bolaño, Roberto: The Return
Aickman, Robert: Cold Hand in Mine
Hardin, John Wesley: The Life of John Wesley Hardin
Riley, Denise: Mop Mop Georgette
Loy, Mina: Stories and Essays
Schecter, Harold: Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer [i.e., Jane Toppan]
Nirenberg, David: Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. I have it on my OnePlus One and read about ten pages on the subway every day. so important and so infuriating.
Ingeborg Bachmann, “Exiles”
Video Game: J.T. (free demo for the PS4 on PSN)
– Robert C. Hardin
Sin Eater by Angela Hibbs (Winnipeg: ARP Books, 2014) poetry
Afghanistan: from Herat to Balkh and Back Again (New York: Fly By Night, 2014) poetry
Suburban Ambush by Ron Kolm (New York: Autonomedia, 2014) poetry
A Private Mythology by Stephen Morrissey (Victoria:Ekstasis Editions, 2014) poetry
Kali’s Day by Bonny Finberg (New York: Unbearable Books / Autonomedia, 2014) fiction
Weather’s Feather by Mitch Corber (New York: Fly By Night, 2014) poetry
One Dead Tree by David Menear (Ottawa: DevilHousePress, an imprint of AngelHousePress, 2014) fiction
Butterfly in Amber by Kenneth Radu (Montreal: DC Books, 2014) fiction
Remote Life by Edward Anki (Hamilton: BareBackPress, 2014) poetry
– Mark McCawley
My reading never keeps up. Anyway, my favorite books of last year:
Georges Battaille, The Accursed Share, Volume 1. The discussion of why Aztecs utilized human sacrifice is very powerful.
Phillip K. Dick, two of his druggie books, Now Wait For Last Year, in which a drug temporarily throws you into a past time, and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, in which a person who is obsessed with you can take you into his/her drug trip.
Linked to Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial, which is mainly about the Holocaust, and centrally about the “negative hallucination,”in which you don’t see something right in front of your face.
– Jim Feast
‘Song’ -Allen Ginsberg
‘Kindness’-Naomi Shihab Nye
Paris When It’s Naked– Etel Adnan
The Luminous and the Grey– David Batchelor
The Book of Dis-quiet– Fernando Pessoa
Prisoners of Childhood– Alice Miller
Ahead of all Parting– Rainer Maria Rilke
‘Life and Death of Speech’- Julia Kristeva
‘Beauty: The Depressive’s Other Realm’- Julia Kristeva
‘In Praise of Boredom” – Joseph Brodsky
Nostalgia for the Light – Patricio Guzman
Nymphomaniac Vol 1&2 – Lars von Trier (spoiler: it is not about sex….)
Collateral– Michael Mann (the only good thing Tom Cruise ever did, and the cinematography is beautiful)
The Past – Asghar Farhadi
Homeland ( chin chin to parallel universes!)
PUSH – Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant
1980 – Pina Bausch
Sigmar Polke retrospective
Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin
Vexations – Erik Satie
Grinnin’ In Your Face – Son House
“…all speech based on concept becomes an indiscretion; one can only really exchange what is mutually understood. In this sense every work of art is an indiscretion – but a calculated indiscretion” – L. Durrell.
“For it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified” – Nietzsche
“With the death of each individual an entire universe vanishes.” – Alan Little
Seeing a sparrowhawk and a weasel in the garden.
– Gretchen Faust
Gilmore Girls / Boyhood
2014 was stressful; I needed a harder drug, and what’s harder than adolescent hormones? I had to regress. When Gilmore Girls, which ran from 2000-2007, began streaming on Netflix in October, I opened my crabby heart and now I totally, totally get it. Amy Sherman Palladino’s Stars Hollow is bedrock Americana, familiar and hellish, and just in time for the insane new century. Binge hard. Couple with Richard Linklater’s lovely Boyhood, which I found less to do with boyhood than with lightness, patience and love.
– Peter Shear
Essays Film Music Reviews