Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Feb. 15 2017 11:54 PM

Action Proust! Film Footage of Marcel Proust Surfaces for the First Time

The first, and almost certainly last, film footage of author Marcel Proust has been discovered in the French national film archives, France 24 reports. The film, which can be seen above, was taken at the 1904 wedding of one of Proust’s friends, Armand de Guiche, to Elaine Greffulhe. A man believed to be Marcel Proust walks down the stairs at 37 seconds into the clip.

Proust, who was 30 at the time, was known to have attended the wedding, and, being gay, was one of the only guests who came alone. The bowler hat and grey suit match descriptions of his wardrobe, plus the man looks exactly like Marcel Proust. “The silhouette and the profile match him, although it is always difficult to identify for certainty with a film of this type,” professor Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan told Le Point.

The author would probably have appreciated the way a few seconds of footage has conjured up a wedding he attended more than a century ago: The opening section of his life’s work, the sprawling novel Remembrance of Things Past, has a celebrated passage about the way smells and tastes can bring long-forgotten worlds back to life:

… when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring , more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, hoping,  amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

Proust scholars believe the author was most likely rushing out of the wedding in order to scarf down as many madeleines as possible at the reception before the other guests could arrive.

Feb. 15 2017 1:32 PM

Milo Yiannopoulos Will Appear on Real Time With Bill Maher. What Fresh Hell Will it Be?

Bill Maher has booked alt-right favorite Milo Yiannopoulos to appear as the top-of-the-show guest on his HBO series Real Time this Friday, according to Deadline. The news comes a week after Maher expressed interest in speaking with Yiannopoulos (whose racist provocations had him banned from Twitter last year) after his scheduled appearance at UC-Berkeley was shut down by protesters.

“I’ve been a longtime critic of colleges shutting people up,” Maher said last Friday in relation to the Berkeley protests. “Free speech should be something [liberals] own.”

Feb. 15 2017 11:38 AM

Disney’s Live-Action Mulan Remake Taps Whale Rider’s Niki Caro to Direct

Let’s get down to business: Disney’s Mulan remake has finally found its director. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news on Tuesday that the studio has hired New Zealand-based director Niki Caro, whose credits include Whale Rider, North Country, and upcoming drama The Zookeeper’s Wife, to direct the new live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated classic. The announcement, according to the Reporter, makes Caro the second female director ever to helm a (live-action) Disney movie with a budget over $100 million. (Ava DuVernay, director of the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time, is set to be the first.)

 

Caro’s breakout film was 2002’s Whale Rider, which stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as a Māori girl who defies gender stereotypes to lead her people, while North Country features a woman fighting for equal rights in the workplace. That makes Caro well-suited for a movie like Mulan, which is based on the Chinese folk tale about a woman disguising herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. Previous reports suggested that Disney was seeking an Asian director and had spoken with Ang Lee (who passed for scheduling reasons) and Jiang Wen about the project.

Feb. 15 2017 10:51 AM

Alvin Ailey’s Tribute to Moonlight Captures the Film’s Haunting Beauty Through Dance

One of Moonlight’s many cinematic feats lies in its casting. Though three different actors embody the character of Chiron in three different periods of his life (tween, teen, and young adult), the spirit and direction of the actors’ performances are so powerful as to feel almost as if they are one.

This gorgeous tribute to the Oscar-nominated film perfectly embodies that oneness. As choreographed by Robert Battle, artistic director of New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and directed by Anna Rose Holmer, who broke out last year with the critically acclaimed indie The Fits, Chiron’s emotional arc is rendered balletic. On a bare black box stage lit blue, dancers Jamar Roberts, Christopher Taylor, and Jeremy T. Villas perform to Nicholas Brittel’s signature score.

Feb. 15 2017 10:20 AM

Trevor Noah Reveling in Michael Flynn's Resignation Is All of Us

 

Tuesday started off with a bombshell in the political world as Michael Flynn resigned amid swirling scandal, becoming the shortest-serving National Security Advisor in modern American history. It was the latest blow to the Trump Administration, which has seemingly turned terrible decision-making into an art form.

 

 

 

Daily Show host Trevor Noah could barely contain his glee at the irony of it all. “Donald Trump [is] finally draining the swamp of the people he brought to the swamp,” he quipped. “President Trump is a genius, people—he hires a cabinet full of terrible people, fires them one-by-one, looks like he’s a man of action. Drain the swamp—down the previous levels!” The story was big enough for Noah to spend two segments on it, later transitioning to Republicans’ laughably evasive responses to Flynn’s lies and subsequent departure. (On Kellyanne Conway’s starkly contradictory Today Show segment, Noah asked, “How does she say that with a straight face?”)

 

Feb. 15 2017 8:03 AM

Rap Is Less Homophobic Than Ever, But It Has a Long Way to Go

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

I was a weird kid growing up—or so I was told. You never feel weird as a child. I thought everyone obsessed over Prince’s, Janet Jackson’s, and Bobby Brown’s outfits and dance moves. I thought all the other kids knew every breath and beat of Lisa Stansfield’s “Been Around the World.” They … did not. My first sense of being “different” arrived at age 6, when I showed up to the first year of grade school months younger than everyone else, quiet and bookish, and picked up slang and mispronunciations I had no practical use for, to keep from coming off as a smart-ass. The feeling never left. The urge to be more like the other boys would drive me through a string of feigned interests—I still keep tabs on the exploits of players for sports teams I don’t care about in the slightest—that never quite seemed to fit. I got by on trash talk and fistfights, as one did in those cagey Dinkins and Giuliani years, and the notion that soldiering through the end of high school with my own tribe of weirdos would get me to a point where it didn’t matter what the masculine norms were, or at least keep toxic ideas about manhood out of my line of vision.

Feb. 15 2017 7:33 AM

This Is Us Is TV’s Biggest New Hit. Sterling K. Brown Makes It Human.

Last year, Slate’s Aisha Harris hailed Sterling K. Brown’s performance as Christopher Darden on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story for its powerful embodiment of the “double consciousness” involved in being a black man prosecuting one of black America’s greatest heroes. Ryan Murphy’s anthology series boasted bigger names and flashier performances, but Brown’s portrayal was essential for the way he, through Darden, so fiercely and carefully complicated the dichotomous nature of the series’ conflict.

Brown is now a regular cast member on NBC’s runaway hit drama This Is Us. A tearjerker fueled by smartly timed narrative twists, it’s vastly dissimilar in intent and execution from People v. O.J., but Brown’s value to the new show is no less immense. Once again, he’s not only stealing scenes with a strikingly layered performance, but emerging as the key to its success.

This Is Us is built around the history of the Pearson family, jumping between time periods as it follows Randall (Brown), his adoptive twin white siblings Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley), and their parents, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). As an adult, Randall is ostensibly living the American Dream, residing in a wealthy, mostly white suburb with his wife and two daughters, but his relatively stable existence is marked by an emotionally messy past. We watch him grow up without knowing his birth father, and as part of a family who, whatever their intentions, can’t fully relate to his experiences as a person of color.

In both The People v. O.J. and This Is Us, Brown plays characters negotiating their racial identities in predominantly white environments, but where the former is realistic and mostly confined to the public sphere, the latter is a heavy-handed domestic drama, taking moments of devastation and uplift to equal emotional extremes. Like the show, Randall is defined by his complex conception of family. His character arc jumpstarts with the unexpected arrival of his dying birth father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), which forces a painful but worthwhile reexamination of his life choices and familial relationships.

In the broader context of This Is Us, this is merely one storyline among many. The show stitches together resonant insights into weight-loss struggles, commitment issues, and class inequality, in addition to racial tensions. Yet despite the gifts of the other cast members—especially Chrissy Metz, who’s outstanding when not saddled with exploitative material—it’s Brown who imbues This Is Us’ saccharine family portrait with the depth and nuance it’s otherwise lacking. In scenes with Rebecca—Randall’s adoptive mother, whom he learns secretly kept William out of his life—Brown forcefully unveils the character’s buried resentment; it gets to the point where a make-up scene between them feels less like the magical healing fix it’s written as than well-intentioned patchwork for a very deep wound. In the show’s Thanksgiving episode, Brown plays Randall’s obsessive maintaining of his adoptive father’s holiday traditions with an intensity that veers between endearing and troubled. The subsequent reveal that Jack died while Randall was just a teenager gives new dimension to Brown’s initial performance—revealing it as a searing and tender reminder of grief’s long, dark shadow.

As a prime-time broadcast drama, This Is Us doesn’t have the artistic latitude of a prestige cable miniseries; while creator Dan Fogelman skillfully plays with the requirements and restrictions of network TV, they’re an unavoidable influence on the finished product. The ingenuity of Brown’s work is how he transcends any and all constraints, taking a simple, neatly delinated scene and muddling it with a stare or a stutter. When Randall learns that his birth father is bisexual, Brown silently conveys nearly a dozen emotions in a few takes, even as the script limits his reaction to explicit, digestible surprise.

The challenges Randall faces are, on paper, more obvious than Chris Darden’s: the betrayal of a mother, the stresses of work-life balance, the return of an estranged parent. This Is Us has a pattern of presenting comfortingly recognizable conflicts before complicating and subverting them, but there’s still the sheen of engineered melodrama, that sense of the gears churning behind the scenes. That’s what makes Brown’s presence so valuable: His textured portrayal seeps into the other characters’ scenes as well, extending Randall’s hard-earned authenticity to the rest of the show. Brown elevates This Is Us above being a timely escapist weepy, lifting it towards something more ambiguous, realistic, and thought-provoking. He makes it human.

Feb. 14 2017 11:46 PM

Conan Looks Into the La La Land Subplot No One’s Talking About: The Cursed Fedora

La La Land turned out to be a surprisingly polarizing film for what is ostensibly a sweet, good-natured homage to classic musicals. But while the film has drawn praise for its references to Old Hollywood and opprobrium for its clichéd treatment of jazz, there’s one aspect no one has been brave enough to address: the cursed fedora Ryan Gosling pawns off on a hapless black couple on the Hermosa Beach pier. Fortunately, Conan went where no other commenters dared, taking a look at the film’s most problematic scene and its bloody aftermath.

In retrospect, it’s strange that La La Land’s brief excursion into Trilogy of Terror territory hasn’t gotten more attention. But, as Saturday Night Live astutely pointed out weeks ago, criticizing La La Land is a fast ticket to a run-in with the taste police. Conan’s best defense against La La Land fanatics is simultaneously his best offense: At least someone’s trying to flesh out the black characters!

Feb. 14 2017 11:01 PM

Philip Pullman’s Follow-Up to His Dark Materials Is Finally Coming Out

Philip Pullman, the author of His Dark Materials, the (excellent) kids’ fantasy trilogy about overthrowing God and organized religion—really!—is finally releasing a follow-up: a forthcoming trilogy called The Book of Dust, Random House Children’s Books said today. The first book, whose title has not yet been announced, will be released on October 19, and is available for pre-order now. Pullman announced he had begun work on The Book of Dust more than a decade ago, so this is great news for his fans (and a valuable example of an author actually finishing a book for George R.R. Martin).

The new series will focus on Lyra Belacqua, half of the duo at the center of the original books (and New Line Cinema’s not-very-successful film of the first book, The Golden Compass). Pullman is being close-lipped with the details, but said he thought of The Book of Dust as neither a sequel nor a prequel, but an “equel.” Here’s what he had to say about the story:

What can I tell you about it? The first thing to say is that Lyra is at the center of the story. Events involving her open the first chapter, and will close the last. I’ve always wanted to tell the story of how Lyra came to be living at Jordan College, and in thinking about it I discovered a long story that began when she was a baby and will end when she’s grown up. This volume and the next will cover two parts of Lyra’s life: starting at the beginning of her story and returning to her twenty years later. As for the third and final part, my lips are sealed.

Slate’s Katy Waldman tried to get further details from Pullman in this great 2015 interview, to no avail. The engine of the plot, according to Pullman, will be a struggle over dust, a mysterious substance featured in the first series, and what Pullman describes as “the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organization that wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free.” In other words, it sounds like Pullman’s cooked up an extended allegory about Milo Yiannopoulis getting banned from Twitter, and frankly, we are here for it.

Feb. 14 2017 4:55 PM

Google and Disney Sever Ties With YouTube Star PewDiePie Over Anti-Semitic Videos

Felix Kjellberg, the Swedish YouTube star better known by his alias, PewDiePie, has lost contracts with Google and Disney after a Wall Street Journal report pointed out anti-Semitic language and imagery in his videos. Kjellberg’s channel, which features a mix of humor, opinion, and gaming videos, has the most subscribers on YouTube with more than 53 million.

Disney-owned Maker Studios was the first to sever ties, according to the Journal, apparently in response to the publication's inquiries. A spokesperson told Variety: “Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”

Google-owned YouTube followed suit, cancelling the second season of Kjellberg’s reality show, Scare PewDiePie (which is produced by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman) and removing him from Google Preferred, an aggregate program that connects advertisers with YouTube’s most popular channels. Google had previously removed ads from some of the videos.

The Wall Street Journal flagged nine videos, three of which have reportedly since been pulled from the site, as having anti-Semitic or Nazi-related comments and imagery. One of the videos in question, which has not yet been taken down, is a prank video in which Kjellberg pays two men to hold up a sign that reads “Death to All Jews” via the freelance website Fiverr. “I didn’t think they would actually do it,” Kjellberg says in the video, after the men display the sign and begin dancing.

Kjellberg responded to the controversy in a Tumblr post. “I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary,” he wrote. “As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don’t support these people in any way.”

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