Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Nov. 15 2017 9:00 AM

Why Some Artists Are Never Separated From Their Work (and Why Louis C.K. Was)

This article originally appeared in Vulture.   

After the news broke about Louis C.K. and sexual misconduct, my mind ran over C.K.’s work, his stand-up, his curmudgeonly late-night appearances, his intimate, formally adventurous TV works, and my thoughts landed on someone else. I thought about Lena Dunham. They’ve been linked in my mind for years, ever since I saw someone give a paper on the way both creators have used the familiar shape of a TV season to create innovative, boundary-pushing stories. Suddenly the comparison took on a new flavor–Dunham’s Girls was always a brilliant, challenging work, and it always became a referendum on her. It was occasionally framed as an indictment of all people her age; it was sometimes focused on a particular portrait of people who live in Brooklyn; it was sometimes seen as a show about the myopia of white feminism. But it was almost inescapably seen as a show about Dunham herself.

Louie was autobiographical, too. We knew C.K. as a parent, and there were his two fictional daughters, looking at him adoringly and in pointed judgment. We knew he was a stand-up, and that he had a seat at the table, laughing and opining on the state of comedy. We knew he was someone who liked to masturbate, whose sexuality, like much of the rest of his personality, was performative—we knew it because he told us, constantly. It was a personal show; it was personal to the point of intimacy. And yet, we never treated Louie as a referendum on white male masculinity. He was never assumed to speak for an entire generation of middle-aged men; he never had the burden of his art being fundamentally rooted in his identity. His show was seen as a brilliant artistic transformation of himself. It promised us he was seeing himself clearly, and he was making a joke about who he was. We believed him.

Nov. 15 2017 3:13 AM

Hulu Cancels Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner’s Difficult People

Hulu is cancelling Difficult People, Deadline reports. The series, which stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, debuted in 2015 and has run for three seasons. Klausner created and executive produced the show; Amy Poehler also served as an executive producer, as did former Louis C.K. manager Dave Becky, last seen apologizing for ignoring his client’s sexual misconduct. (Difficult People, in contrast, went out of its way not to ignore Kevin Spacey’s alleged sexual misconduct, at least as a comedic premise.) Eichner confirmed the show’s cancellation and paid tribute to Klausner on Twitter:

Difficult People was originally created as a pilot for USA but was acquired by Hulu as part of a wave of high-end original shows that included Casual and 11.22.63. James Urbaniak, Andrea Martin, and Cole Escola also starred. The show followed Klausner and Eichner as a pair of aspiring comedians who were, when considered as people—well, the title pretty much explains it.

Nov. 15 2017 12:38 AM

Jimmy Kimmel: Jeff Sessions Refuses to Answer Questions About His Pot of Gold

Usually, running news clips of Trump administration officials doing bad things is more of the Daily Show’s beat than Jimmy Kimmel’s, but on Tuesday night, the host got his hands on some footage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that was so damaging he had no choice. Sessions appeared at a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, but it looks like the ol’ MSM really dropped the ball on covering the most damning moments in Sessions’ testimony, because the highlights Kimmel focuses on don’t seem to have made the news. Take this telling—and utterly damning—exchange:

Senator: Attorney General Sessions, what we really want to know is, where exactly is your pot of gold?
Sessions: I don’t recall.

In less tempestuous times, an Attorney General refusing to answer questions about his pot of gold—Sessions wouldn’t even confirm that he kept his gold in a pot!—would be A1 news. It’s a sad marker of just how thoroughly Trump and his cronies have corrupted American democracy that this sort of interaction is treated as normal. The only hope for the country going forward is that the media can keep its spotlight on Sessions’ antics, refusing to look away until he leads us to his pot of gold, even if he points behind us and hollers “Look out,” because, as you can see, there’s nothing behind us, and—oh. He’s gone.

Nov. 14 2017 3:48 PM

Batman Forever Was as Bonkers as Jim Carrey at the Height of His Powers

Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were truly weird movies. Sandwiched between Tim Burton’s tormented Bruce Wayne and Christopher Nolan’s dark realism, Joel Schumacher’s mid-’90s Batman movies were stupidly silly affairs.

But sometimes, you love a movie deeply even though it’s stupid, perhaps even because it’s stupid. And that is exactly why we will be watching and loving Batman Forever … forever. At least that’s the case for the new Honest Trailers voice-over guy: “This is definitely the worst movie I’ve seen 30 times.”

There was almost too much weirdness in this movie for Screen Junkies to pack in. There were two Jim Carreys, each trying to outdo each other: The real Jim Carrey as the onesie-wearing Riddler, and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, who “makes the horrible choice to bring the same manic energy as Jim Carrey.” But it wasn’t just these intentionally wacky actors. Batman Forever featured a whole star-studded cast of weirdness: Val Kilmer’s emotionless Bruce Wayne, whose contribution to the Batman legacy was that his mouth was always open; Nicole Kidman’s incredibly thirsty Bat-girlfriend/Bat-therapist, drooling lustily over a rubber suit; Chris O’Donnell’s laundry-karate–doing Robin—“Holy dry clean–only Batman, this makes me want to drink some bleach!” And there was a subplot with a giant bat that was (unfortunately) cut.

Look, Batman Forever does have its redeeming qualities, admits the trailer, the most important being the thumbs up GIF it spawned. And at the end of the day, the fact is “it’s not as shitty as Batman & Robin.

Nov. 14 2017 12:01 PM

Seth Meyers Takes a Closer Look at the Most Ridiculous GOP Defenses Against the Roy Moore Allegations

On Monday’s Late Night, Seth Meyers took a closer look at people who believe things that are blatantly untrue: Donald Trump, who believes Vladimir Putin when he says he didn’t meddle in the U.S. election, and Roy Moore’s dwindling supporters, who still believe he is fit for office.

As the disturbing allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore—that he initiated a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old while in his 30s, that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old after offering to drive her home, that he was known to cruise malls looking for teen girls—continue to pile up, so too do the ridiculous ways in which his supporters have tried to defend him. Meyers offered up a litany of these defenses, from the conspiratorial to the stupid to the grotesque and incoherent, and they hardly needed Meyers’ quips to sound laughable.

In the conspiratorial corner, Steve Bannon—who has “slithered out of his fever swamp”—believes the media is conspiring with the Democrats to destroy both Moore and Trump, declaring the story a “Bezos Amazon Washington Post” conspiracy. Hey, wasn’t it also the “Bezos Amazon Washington Post” that dropped the Access Hollywood tapes? “Now is that a coincidence?” Bannon asked.

The stupid came in the form of Moore himself, who could not have done a worse job of defending himself on Sean Hannity’s show (“less than persuasive” is Meyers putting it gently). Moore was given plenty of opportunities to deny the claims—easy yes/no answers—but runs with the preferred method of fellow Alabamian Jeff Sessions: “I don’t recall.” “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother,” he chose to add.

Lesser known figures provided the gross and incoherent, in a combination of victim-blaming, Obama-blaming, frogs, and lawnmowers. Alabama state Rep. Ed Henry said that if the sexual allegations were true, the women should be prosecuted as accomplices to the crimes and, speaking to Anderson Cooper, gave this rambling response: “My grandfather used to have a nice quib about a frog and if he had wings. But here’s the thing: Frog doesn’t have wings.”

“Of course, if a frog had wings, it still wouldn’t be the creepiest thing in Alabama,” added Meyers.

A local reporter who had written an op-ed in support of Moore also appeared on CNN, saying if we disqualified everyone who had ever done something bad, Obama and Clinton shouldn't have been allowed to run either, before comparing sexual relationships with minors to, um, stealing lawnmowers.

In fact, the only person more obstinately disbelieving this weekend was Donald Trump, or as Meyers called him, “the easiest mark Putin’s ever had.” Trump, who has so far declined to take a side on the Moore allegations, did tell reporters that he believes Putin when he says he didn’t meddle in the 2016 election. But also that he doesn't. We can only marvel at the knots Trump is able to tie himself in over this.

Or as Meyers puts it: “I believe he believes what he believes, and he believes that I believe what I believe, even though he believes what I don’t believe.”

Yep, that pretty much sums this year up.

Nov. 14 2017 9:59 AM

Jon Stewart Says He’s “Stunned” by the Louis C.K. Accusations on The Today Show

Jon Stewart has spoken up about Louis C.K. for the first time since a New York Times report revealed that the comedian allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with at least five women over the years. Stewart made an appearance on The Today Show on Tuesday to promote his upcoming HBO comedy special, Night of Too Many Stars, which will benefit programs for autistic education and services, and at the end of the segment, co-host Matt “No Segue Necessary” Lauer asked Stewart to respond to the reports of C.K.’s behavior, which C.K. has since admitted are true.

“Stunned,” said Stewart after a moment’s hesitation, before comparing C.K.’s behavior to that of a gambler or alcoholic. “You give your friends the benefit of the doubt. I try to think of it in terms of—I’ve had friends who have compulsions, and who have done things, gambling or drinking or drugs, and we’ve lost some of them. Some of them have died, and you always find yourself back to a moment of, ‘Did I miss something?’ or ‘Could I have done more?’ ”

Stewart noted that comedy “on its best day” is not a hospitable environment for women in general and suggested that “You get mad at yourself for laughing it off or thinking, ‘That didn’t happen.’ ”

Of course, that’s exactly what Stewart did in May 2016 when, during the Q&A portion of a live podcast taping, a University of Chicago student asked him about the then-rumors about C.K. Stewart acknowledged that he had learned about the allegations more than a year ago during that taping, remembering how he responded at the time by laughing it off. “He’s always been a gentleman to me,” Stewart recalled of his reaction, “which, again, speaks to the blindness that I think a man has, which is, like, ‘Hey, he’s a good guy, what are you talking about?’ ”

Though it’s a little unclear, Stewart then suggests that he and his team looked into the allegations at that point but that “we were all assured, no, and we took somebody’s word for it, and maybe that’s an error on our part.”

At the end, Stewart returned again to the idea of C.K. as comparable to a drug user in need of an intervention. That’s an odd comparison, considering that, as Slate’s Susan Matthews has reported, that “sex addiction” is not comparable to drug addiction, and that C.K. is not the victim here; for years, he took advantage of his position of power, not only using women’s discomfort for his own sexual gratification but also lying about it just weeks ago. Up until very recently, in fact, he was going to be part of Stewart’s Night of Too Many Stars, until HBO dropped him from the program.

Nov. 14 2017 9:29 AM

The Director of The Light of the Moon Thinks It’s Time for Women to Control the Narrative Around Sexual Assault

When the Weinstein Co. expressed interest in distributing The Light of the Moon, the sexual assault drama that took home the audience award at SXSW earlier this year, director Jessica M. Thompson and her team knew immediately that the partnership wouldn’t be a good fit. This was back in May, months before an explosive New York Times report would bring the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior out into the light, but Thompson was already aware of the rumors about the company’s now-ousted co-founder and chairman. “Not about the sexual assault, but about his abuse of power more generally,” she told Slate in an interview. “I knew he was [a] tyrant to work for and that he mistreated everyone, not just women, but I didn’t realize the extent and the cover-up even within his contracts.”

That would have made working with the Weinstein Co. an uncomfortable fit for The Light of the Moon, which stars Stephanie Beatriz as Bonnie, a woman whose life fundamentally changes after she is raped by a stranger while walking home from a night out. The bulk of the movie, a compelling, low-budget indie drama set in New York City, examines how that night affects Bonnie’s job and relationships, especially with her boyfriend, Matt (Michael Stahl-David), as she tries to move past her assault.

The Light of the Moon, which marks writer-director Thompson’s feature debut, was inspired in part by one of Thompson’s friends, who was assaulted while jogging on the Upper East Side. But it was also prompted by the disconnect Thompson saw between witnessing the effects of that real experience and the way sexual assault is typically portrayed on screen. “For the last five years, I was quietly disturbed about the way that rape was being depicted in the media, film, television, even in some of my favorite shows like Game of Thrones,” she said. Those depictions tended to fall into one of two camps: films where a woman is raped and falls to pieces or revenge thrillers where the survivor kills their attacker—a subgenre so popular it has its own Wikipedia page.

“Even Kill Bill I rewatched with a different take, because she gets raped in the hospital and she kills her rapist,” said Thompson. “I love that film, but I wondered what message we’re putting out to victims that that’s the only way in movies that they can move on with their lives is with violence. I thought, well, there’s got to be something in between.”

Part of the frustration with that dichotomy came from the fact that while the victims in these films tend to be women, many of these stories are written and directed by men. Thompson said she believes that having a woman behind the camera can fundamentally change the way rape is portrayed on screen. In preparation for writing the The Light of the Moon, she watched dozens of movies about sexual assault, or that had sexual assault scenes, to learn what not to do. She found that in many of the male-directed films she watched, the assault was overly sexualized, with soft lighting and seductive music or with an emphasis on the victim’s naked body, as in the 1988 courtroom drama The Accused. “Her breasts are exposed and the camera is focused on them,” Thompson pointed out, talking about the extended scene in which Jodie Foster’s character is held down and raped by multiple men. “Who are they shooting this for? Not a female audience.”

That’s one of the reasons Thompson brought in a female director of photography, Autumn Eakin. “Even though I know some incredible male cinematographers who don’t objectify women, I just know that our gaze is such a part of who we are,” said Thompson. “It’s that kind of bias that we hold regardless of how aware of it we are. To create a fully female gaze, I felt that the writer, the director, the editor, and the cinematographer should be all women.”

The result is that the rape scene in The Light of the Moon is about as far from sexy as possible. For starters, it’s filmed in a dirty alleyway, and it’s so dimly lit that it’s impossible to see much of anything. Bonnie is almost fully clothed, pinned against the wall, and the camera focuses on her silhouetted, crying face throughout. It’s over in less than a minute, but it still manages to be devastating.

Having a female-run set also affected the way the rape scene was shot behind the scenes. “I’ve heard horrible stories—and we’re all hearing horrible stories lately—about how women are treated within this industry,” said Thompson. “I wanted Stephanie to feel completely empowered and in control and safe.” That sensitivity is not always afforded to actors in Beatriz’s position; Maria Schneider revealed in 2007 that she had been coerced into performing the notorious rape scene in Last Tango in Paris by co-star Marlon Brando and director Bernardo Bertolucci. “That was disgusting,” said Thompson. “I used to love that film in terms of its complexity, but now it makes me sick to even think about it, what they put that young actress through.”

To help her star feel in control, Thompson let Beatriz choose who was allowed in the room for the film’s rape scenes (and for the other, consensual sex scenes) as well as which days of the shooting schedule she’d be filming them. The production employed safe words, and the scene was carefully choreographed so that there would be no surprises.

But the rape itself, while it’s the impetus for the rest of the film, is only one small part. Most of The Light of the Moon is devoted to the aftermath, from an excruciating hospital visit that involves a combination of invasive questions and a thorough physical examination, to the long-term effects. There’s the first time Bonnie and Matt try to have sex after the attack, which immediately becomes awkward when Matt remembers he now has to wear a condom. There’s the guilt suffered by Bonnie’s best friend and co-worker, Jack (Conrad Ricamora), for not walking her home the night of her attack, which he thinks was a mugging. And there’s the legal rigmarole involved in trying to find the perpetrator and the added stress of what will happen if the police do find him. (A well-meaning district attorney warns that even in a best-case scenario, the man would only spend a few years in prison, and “If you were black, or if he was your husband? Forget it.”)

Then there’s Bonnie’s own desire to repress the incident completely, even as we see the toll it takes on her job as an architect and her relationship with Matt, who feels burdened by being the only person who knows what she’s going through and whose newfound protectiveness makes Bonnie, already grappling with self-blame, feel even more stifled.

To get that part right, Thompson spent months before she even started writing the script interviewing social workers, district attorneys, doctors, nurses, and police officers. She also attended sexual assault survivor meetings, where she identified herself as a writer, and spoke to women there about their experiences.

Two of those women had male partners who were willing to talk to Thompson as well, so that she could understand Matt's perspective. “All they wanted to do was help afterward,” Thompson explained. “All they wanted to do was coddle and be the most supportive partner that they could be, but what I found from speaking with social workers is that you’re meant to give the survivor back control. So even if they’re not doing the thing that you think is healthy for them to do, it’s about helping them make the decisions again, because they’ve had that taken from them.” She says she’s seen a surprising response from male audience members who came in support of their partners or friends and found themselves identifying with Matt.

While Thompson shut down talks with the Weinstein Co. early on, another distributor did seem like the right fit: Imagination Worldwide, an independent distributor with an emphasis on films directed by women or aimed at female audiences. They've helped the The Light of the Moon partner with advocacy groups like U.N. Women and He for She, as well as plan an upcoming tour to screen the film on college campuses. The film’s release coincides with an unprecedented moment in the conversation about rape culture, where every day’s headlines seem to bring new allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, politics, and beyond.

“I would like to see a world where sexual assault is not so prolific in stories, but I think the reason we’re seeing so much of it is because it’s prolific in life,” said Thompson. “We’ve become accustomed to this culture of exploiting and abusing women and then somehow turning a blind eye to it. The world is ready for a change. I feel very optimistic about it all. And I really look forward to that era of storytelling where we see women come to the forefront as writers and directors and are able to tell our own stories. I can’t wait.”

Nov. 14 2017 8:33 AM

Martin McDonagh’s Filthiest Lines, From Three Billboards to In Bruges

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

With In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and now Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh has given us some of the funniest dialogue ever put to film. He’s also one of the deftest screenwriters in the business when it comes to deploying profanities and crude language. Here, we present some of the writer-director’s best—and filthiest—lines.

Nov. 14 2017 7:33 AM

Honorary Oscar Winner Agnès Varda Shows How Documentary Directors Can Still Be Movie Stars

Flaubert wrote that the artist should be like God in his work, existing everywhere and yet never seen—but Agnès Varda doesn’t want to be God. In the movies she’s made since 2000, beginning with The Gleaners and I, Varda, who was given the motion picture academy’s Governor’s Award over the weekend, is a constant presence even when she’s not in front of the camera. Especially in her documentaries, every image, every cut, feels like the product of a single personality, and after you’ve seen enough of them, watching a new Varda film is like catching up with an old friend.

In Varda’s latest, and possibly last film, Faces Places, that old friend shows up with a new associate in tow: J.R., a now-34-year-old photographer and street artist who is sometimes called the French Banksy. And he’s not just along for the ride. The movie, which credits Varda and J.R. as co-directors, follows their joint project to travel through the French countryside, taking black-and-white photos of its residents and pasting their super-sized enlargements on apartment buildings and barns. The method is J.R.’s—in September, he did the same with a photograph of a Mexican baby so that it seemed to be about to crawl over the border fence—and if you’ve come for a continuation of Varda’s mercurial oeuvre, J.R.’s self-conscious statements can be an unwanted intrusion. But Varda, whose own movies have paid special attention to the overlooked and dispossessed, clearly sees something in J.R., and so you do, too.

There’s another, more practical reason Varda shares the director’s credit. As Faces Places reveals, her eyesight has deteriorated to the point that she can only see the world as a vague blur. The camera, which in Gleaners came to seem like an extension of her own body, is now held by other hands. It’s gutting to realize that you’re watching what may be the last film (half-)made by one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers, but there’s nothing ponderous or funereal about the movie itself. Varda clearly feels the deaths of those she has loved deeply; in Faces Places she makes a point of visiting her old friend Henri Cartier-Bresson, and she has been mourning her late husband Jacques Demy in one form or another since his death in 1990. (She brought a photo of Demy with her to the Governor’s Awards, and “tucked it in” using a napkin as a makeshift blanket.) But she has gone beyond the point where it is something that she fears for herself. “I’m looking forward to it,” she says at one point, “because then that’ll be that.”

Although her vision may be failing, Varda’s mind is as sharp as ever, and her spirit as beguiling. Like her pre-New Wave compatriot Chris Marker, she makes films that don’t feel constructed so much as they do thought, beamed straight from her consciousness onto the screen. When she snaps at J.R. that he’s disrupted her train of thought, the movie gets derailed too, as if it’s standing in a room and trying to remember what it came in for. Faces Places has a more solid, conventional structure than some of Varda’s more associative documentaries; it’s a road movie, following a trail that eventually leads to her old friend Jean-Luc Godard’s front door. But she’s in no hurry to get where she’s going, keeping her eyes, however blurry, open to possibilities along the way. “Chance,” she says, “has always been my best assistant.”

Varda and J.R. are congenial companions for the most part, traveling in a truck made up to look like an old still-photo camera. But she bristles at his self-created mystique, especially his insistence on wearing sunglasses no matter the circumstances. In a film devoted to focusing on the human face, J.R.’s is conspicuous in its elusiveness, and Varda’s patience with his affectation runs thin—or at least it seems to. Perhaps it’s the archness of J.R.’s presence, but there are more moments in Faces Places that feel like they might be staged, or at least provided for in advance, than in Varda’s previous documentaries. She admits on camera that the idea to seek out Godard is an attempt to impose a narrative throughline, one that both she, and, as it turns out, Godard are uneasy with.

Varda is frequently moved to revisit her past, especially by way of the images she’s created along the way; like Marker in Sans Soleil, she muses on the way that images made to fix memories eventually supplant them. “I may remember my pictures of him better than I remember him,” she says of an old friend. But even those pictures fade, and Varda seems reconciled to that. In one sequence, Varda revisits the beach in Normandy where she took a picture of a young Guy Bourdin, and J.R. whips up an enormous copy of the photo to past onto a World War II bunker that has fallen off the cliffs above and lodged itself at an angle in the sand. It’s a majestic site, but when Varda and J.R. return the next day, the tide has come in and washed the photo clean away. J.R. is briefly vexed that his effort has been wasted, but Varda immediately takes it in stride. “The sea always has the last word,” she says, “and the wind and the sand.”

Nov. 14 2017 2:38 AM

Watch Jimmy Fallon’s Teary-Eyed Tribute to His Late Mother

Jimmy Fallon, canceled a week of shows after the death of his mother Gloria last Saturday, returned to the the Tonight Show Monday night. He marked his mother’s passing with a teary-eyed tribute to the woman he calls “the best audience.” It’s a truth about performing that echoes the hearfelt condolences Stephen Colbert offered on Twitter on Sunday:

Fallon ended the segment with a mission statement, explaining both what he’s trying to do with his determinedly apolitical Tonight Show and the way his mother’s memory continues to inspire him:

We’re going to continue to work really hard to bring some light and some laughter into the world. … Mom, I’ll never stop trying to make you laugh. I love you.

There’s politics, and there’s comedy, and then there’s just being human. This clip is about the last of those.

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