Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers through episode six of “Euphoria” season two.
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Action! Sight and Sound II class shoot a campfire scene in the Production Studio.
The strength of the bond between Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona cannot be overstated. He joined the team when he was just 13, and has led the club to the pinnacle of domestic and international soccer. When he recently became a free agent on July 1, it scarcely made the news. It was his complete intention to rejoin Barcelona, taking a pay cut so that the team could be rebuilt around him. Messi is 34, with the possibility of two or three contract extensions left in his career. When Messi became a free agent, I was just about to start my grand European adventure. Like many students, I enrolled in Middlebury with the hope of utilizing their vast network of schools abroad to spend a semester in another country. And when it came time for me to apply to these schools and programs, I did just that. I was set to arrive in Copenhagen in the fall of 2020, but of course the world had other plans. After deferring to the spring 2021 semester, I withdrew my application, realizing that it wasn’t worth the eight hour flight and the financial burden to sit in a room, staring out my window at an unavailable outside world. Instead of semesters filled with new experiences, foods and languages, I returned to campus for two semesters of online courses, clubs and friends. After spending two weeks alone in Copenhagen, gorging myself on fried foods and art museums, I flew to Paris for the remainder of my summer abroad. One day in Paris, I was sitting in my rented apartment late at night, watching the day's Olympic events and medals recapped on the small television that sat in the living room. I had just purchased tickets to a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer match on a whim. They were $30, and as far back in the stadium as you could go. And I was going to see Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, Messi’s former teammate, and Kylian Mbappé Lottin, a top star in world soccer, pummel whichever team was unfortunate enough to face-off against the Parisian juggernauts. Their season home opener was just days away, giving me enough time to see them play before I had to board the eight-hour flight home. I picked up my phone and scrolled through Instagram to kill some time before I could go to bed at a reasonably late hour. Just after 9 p.m., I saw a post about Messi pop into my feed. He had left Barcelona without a contract renewal. I feverishly went to the Twitter page of Fabrizio Romano, the world’s leading soccer transfer reporter. He had confirmed it: Messi was leaving Barcelona. I was shocked, stunned, and energized, like I had downed two espressos. I wanted to tell someone about it — shock like this needs to be shared — but there was no one. I was alone in a foreign country, with no local friends or family. I texted my brother, who was still asleep due to his near nocturnal sleep schedule, but it didn’t satiate the urge I had to share the news. I needed to tell someone. So I tested how it sounded out loud. “Messi is leaving Barcelona,” I said to my empty apartment. I wanted to run out in the streets and talk with strangers, to see how they felt, but it was night, and I scarcely spoke their language enough to convey the news. I spent the night flipping through the rolodex of teams that both wanted and — more importantly — could afford to sign Messi. By the time I woke up, PSG had extended an offer. Not only that, they were Messi’s first choice. My eyes shot open as I came to the realization that I might have bought the cheapest tickets ever to see Messi play. Two days later, I was heading to the airport to pick up my girlfriend from her arriving flight, as she would spend the last week with me in Paris before we both returned home. After leaving the airport, my feed was flooded with pictures of hoards of fans just yards from where I had been. They were at the airport to see Messi. He had just flown in from Spain to a hero’s welcome. Hundreds of Parisians flocked to the airport to catch a glimpse of the man who would bring fame and glory to their team and, for this week, my team. Before the match, I wanted to get a real Messi PSG jersey. I thought it was momentous to be in Paris when the world’s greatest soccer player joined the local team, the kind of story I’d tell my grandkids about. So I ventured to the PSG store on the Champs-Élysées. Before I even rounded the corner to the correct block, a father and son, in matching navy-blue jerseys, passed by. I swiveled to see “Messi” printed across the back. One out of every ten people walking along the Champs-Élysées that day wore a Messi jersey. It was incredible. I had to wait over an hour just to get inside the store — it was a Black-Friday-like rush to grab each and every Messi jersey the store could print. Messi didn’t play in the match I attended; he was understandably taking time to adjust to his new life in a new country before he was ready to make his debut. When we arrived, however, they were giving a special presentation of all the year’s new signings. After each one was presented, the anticipation built until finally the Argentine stepped foot onto the field. A hauntingly loud chant of “Messi. Messi. Messi.” echoed through the stadium. It was followed by an equally spirited chant of “Ici c’est Paris” (This is Paris). It was the first time in over a year that it mattered where I was. In a year that was remote, when you could be a student or a friend from anywhere in the world, it never mattered where I set up my computer. I’ll always remember the time that I was in Paris when the world’s best decided to lace up his boots for this city. It felt like it was my city too.
For one night a year, Middlebury’s lights don’t shut off at 8 p.m.; its doors don’t close, leaving students without late-night meals or public hangout spots. Instead, each May, when night descends on campus, Middlebury becomes home to a new set of sounds and sights: projectors whirring, arms and legs flowing gracefully in improvisational dance, electric guitars roaring from their amps, neon spotlights casting shadows on the sides of dorms. For one night a year, Nocturne lays claim to campus. Now, in its fourth-ish iteration — ‘ish’ because last year’s festival was canceled — Nocturne’s arts festival hosted nearly a hundred projects spread across campus. Exhibitions ranged from screen printing T-shirts and interpretive dances to films projected against the walls of Painter Hall and Mead Chapel and poems hung from tree limbs. Yet Nocturne’s most inventive projects are often its most difficult to describe. Walking around campus, students were greeted by an oceanscape of crocheted marine life, a bulletin board filled with glow-in-the-dark tacks marking “Places We’ve Cried on Campus” and a collection of cowboys playing country music beside a fire. This year, it was the live performances that drew the largest crowds. What felt like well over a hundred students gathered around the Gifford Hall Gampitheatre to hear Will Koch ’21 and Jordan Ramos ’22.5 blast covers of Jimmy Hendrix and The Beatles, as well as an array of original songs. “I was genuinely so surprised,” Ramos said. “We were still setting up and people I’ve never seen before were sitting down.” Equally large crowds formed around performances by student band BevCo and the a cappella group The Bobolinks, as well as the nearby paint-infused dance performance “Making Purple.” The night’s climactic final performance on the Mead Chapel hill also drew an audience; spectators gathered at the base of the hill to watch red-clad dancers improvise behind the band Croc Tears. The air crackled with an unmistakable intensity, both from the music blaring from the speakers but also from the energy of the audience. “The mood that Nocturne brought to Middlebury was the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel,” Ramos said. “There’s an appreciation that wasn’t there before.” “It’s people living, experiencing normalcy and reveling in it,” Justin Celebi ’22 wrote in his Nocturne project “My Writing, Your Catharsis.” “These people, the ones making the music and the ones taking it in, are coming back to something they’ve been missing for a long time.” Nocturne felt for many like the first glimpse of normalcy in a year that was anything but. “I love that people were saying that,” said Nocturne President Maia Sauer ’22. “In any other year, Nocturne is the strangest, most abnormal night of people’s semester.” The festival had an unprecedented capacity to draw students out of their dorms and into the open air. Because of Covid-19 regulations, Nocturne took place solely outside, making use of lawns, patios, sidewalks and tents due to the necessity to spread out gatherings. While traditionally much of the festival’s layout is dependent on the availability and usage of multiple locations, this year’s Nocturne had the added burden of Covid safety precautions. “Thinking about future years, I’m curious about the mostly outdoor format because you encounter the festival whether you plan on going or not. There’s something beautiful about that,” Sauer said. Nocturne organizers were especially wary of the crowds that gathered around live performances, being certain to ask performers about their setlist ahead of time. “[We had to ask] questions like ‘What kind of music are you going to play? Is it going to make people dance?’” founding Nocturne organizer Sam Kann ’21 said. “We can’t have people dance.” And while so much of this year’s Nocturne felt unusual, some moments struck a familiar chord. “Two things felt like a return to normal: a feeling of having so much to do — so much to see — and also seeing so many people I don’t know,” Kann said. Saturday night was a reaffirmation of the club’s origin. Founded in the fall of 2017 by Miguel Castillo ’18, Nocturne is a place for unification. “Nocturne was founded in a time where we were very much feeling the impact of Charles Murray’s spring 2017 visit on campus and Donald Trump’s election, a time of campus and national feelings of separation and division, a sense of lack of mutual care,” Kann said in her recent Spring Student Symposium presentation “Nocturne: Community Through Loose Organization, Reimagined Space, and Joyful Experimentation.” Nocturne continues to be one of the most memorable and magical traditions Middlebury holds. Perhaps it is its intentional spontaneity, how the festival is designed to promote waywardness and exploration; perhaps it is their acceptance of all projects, which allows for students who wouldn’t normally consider themselves artists to be uniquely creative; or perhaps it is their identity as a markedly non-administrative organization that is made by and for students. No matter the reason, Nocturne has solidified its position as Middlebury’s premiere arts event and has brought back energy to a campus that desperately misses it.
Maybe it’s the recent afternoon sunshine or number of days over 60 degrees in the past week, but dammit, I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve spent the last year listening to (and writing about) music that reflects the distant and often lonely existence that quarantine forced us into. Looking into my Apple Music 2020 Replay, I found most of the playlist to be a reflection of a somber year — there wasn’t an exceptional amount to be excited for. But, every once in a while when the day was just right and aligned just so, I found myself jamming out to music that was entirely different; it was happy. I have assembled a somewhat random assortment of songs that reflect this newfound optimism. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but springtime is in the air and so is the need for a good time. I’m not a music critic, but I’ve been inspired by the recent editions of “WRMC Radio Roundup” and wish to make a few picks of my own that I hope will offer you the same emotional jumpstart that they did for me. “Levitating” — Dua Lipa feat. DaBaby This first pick is a two-for-one with a pair of easy selections for this list: Dua Lipa and DaBaby. There are few people in this world that seem more excited to perform than DaBaby. His happiness is palpable and every song he produces or appears on feels as though he couldn’t wait a moment longer to jump on the track. His excitement is infectious and pairs beautifully with his lyrical rhythm. There are few rappers — or musicians for that matter — that can create such movement with their voices that they seem to propel the beat forward, rather than the other way around. On this track, he is paired tremendously with perhaps the only other artist who can match his excitement and movement. Dua Lipa’s voice glides along like a pair of rollerskates, flowing back and forth with such ’70s groove that it is impossible not to admire. This song dominated the summer and with DaBaby’s additions, it has only improved tenfold. It is a match made in disco heaven. “Peaches” — Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar & GIVĒON I’ll be the first to say it: it’s not cool to hate Justin Bieber anymore. In the artist’s young but bright career, he has lived under the harsh, blinding lights that The Weeknd sings about and that flash from paparazzi cameras. Yet, after his marriage in 2018, Bieber seems to have found stable footing and is recreating his image. “Peaches” pairs Bieber’s love for his wife with an incredibly catchy hook that has been playing in my head nonstop since the song was released two weeks ago. The song is fun and its music video takes it up a notch. Along with Bieber, singular vocal talents Daniel Caesar and GIVĒON take part in the fun, reminiscing about their own affections and crooning about their love. I’m a fan of the new Justin Bieber and his happiness emanates throughout the track right into my ears. “Peppers and Onions” — Tierra Whack Tierra Whack’s style is as hard to pin down as it is eccentric. She is defining her own genre of music brought out by her lyrical tenacity, rap talent and abnormal beats. Though “Peppers and Onions'' is a reconciliation with her newfound fame and public scrutiny, it ultimately lands on an optimistic tone of appreciating her own individuality. Coming off her eccentric and uniquely built album consisting of 15 one-minute songs, Whack released a pair of singles in late 2020 that proved an even deeper dive into her artistic distinction. “Peppers and Onions'' draws its infectious beat from a combination of whistles and mouth clicks, whose strange combination is enrapturing. Whack inhabits a creative distinctiveness that demands attention. Her music is irreplicable. “13 Besties” — Henry Hall This song is precisely what its title suggests: an ode to Hall’s 13 best friends. “I don’t see why I can’t show my love to you guys,” sings Hall in the chorus. “13 Besties” is clear in its premise and would otherwise be uninteresting if not for Hall’s patented pairing of humor and near-angelic falsetto. Hall is the son of acclaimed comedian and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and his witty lyrics and lighthearted tones only seem to carry on the lineage. Hall boasts a wide array of best friends yet hints that not all know they’re a part of such a large group. “And despite what Amber says, there aren’t 12 other friends. Bill there’s only you,” insists Hall in his final verse. In a world where friends more easily gather on Zoom than in-person, I’ve had to overcome my jealousy of his 13 best friends in order to fully enjoy the song. It is witty, charming, playful and just well-executed to a point where it does not grow old after a listen or two. In addition to these songs, I recommend Anderson .Paak’s entire body of work, “If It Feels Good” by Leon Bridges, “New Light” by John Mayer, “No Ordinary” by Labrinth, “Good As Hell” (Remix) by Lizzo feat. Ariana Grande and “65th & Ingleside” by Chance the Rapper.
There is an old adage — as old as one about the internet can be — that a YouTube creator is judged not based on any individual video they produce, but by their entire body of work. This is not how the Neistat Brothers approach YouTube. When Casey Neistat, the younger half of the Neistat Brothers, started his daily vlog on his 34th birthday in March of 2015, he set out to create one film for every day of the year. This genre of film has now become commonplace, but no one since has been able to replicate the magic of his daily vlogs. And the reason is simple: Casey intends for each daily video to be a full and complete film. Casey is not a YouTuber; well, he didn’t start as one. And because of that, his videos are not dependent upon any of his other videos — they are each films in their own right. His brother Van is no different. Both Van and Casey were brought up in the Tom Sachs art school of functionalism; it is striking to see the brothers’ stylistic similarities to their mentor. Their production studios are unique — yet entirely homogenous to one another — and have sparked great intrigue by visitors. The walls are littered with boxes, labels, hooks and hangers, yet nothing is out of place. Everything is labeled — by hand — and there is a preference for built over bought. Why buy something that is close to what you want when you can build exactly what you want? Casey’s office is adorned with a homemade Go-Pro security camera affixed to his door, running a 24-hour feed to an attached vertical monitor. Van’s office is much the same, yet in a distinctly more analog fashion. He clacks away at a typewriter with commonly misspelled words typed out on strips of paper and taped to the front of the machine for easy access. A wooden tape dispenser with an attached saw-blade is hooked to a shelf. And a mobile repair station with reversible tool access rests just under his desk. In so many of Van’s videos, there is a distinct lack of reverence for the manufactured good. Tools are valued over made goods because tools can be used to make an infinite number of made goods. It is — to say the least — a playground for the Spirited Man. “What is a ‘Spirited Man?’” you might find yourself asking. Well, it is the subject of Van’s “unlimited series.” It is hard to pin down precisely what it means to be spirited, but it is, in a word, play. The world is open for interaction, for change, for manipulation, and the Spirited Man takes advantage of that. “All children are spirited. All dogs are spirited,” Van Neistat says in the first installment of the Spirited Man series. Van Neistat’s filmmaking style, however, strays drastically from Casey’s. While Casey uses tools as a part of the filmmaking craft — using them to create films on a lower budget — Van’s videos are about tools. He is, at heart, a repairman. His first video chronicles his life as a repairman, switching between stories of fixing a new, expensive German dishwasher with those of times he spent as a live-in repairman with Tom Sachs’ “Nutsy’s” exhibition, consequently also in Germany. He self-prescribes his videos as “industrial essay films,” a combination of industrial films which explain a concept and essays that offer a point of view. “[It’s] sort of like a newspaper column, but with image and sound,” Van Neistat writes in the description of his Kickstarter for the series. In keeping with this style, Van Neistat’s videos unfold like an instructional video. Van Neistat the filmmaker assumes the role of the omniscient narrator, providing a voice-over to the videos. He references Van Neistat the repairman only in the third person, mentioning him as “he,” “the repairman” and “the Spirited Man.” While his younger brother Casey’s films are intensely personal, and follow his life in an almost point-of-view manner, Van strays far into the abstract and the dissociative. There is little inflection to his narration; he uses only his iPhone to record and the videos are stripped almost entirely of significance, leaving the viewer to add it on their own. Do not be fooled, however, because Van Neistat is a seasoned filmmaker who crafts his videos with meticulous dexterity. There is a rhythm and a musicality to his editing that echoes his younger brother’s and has yet to be matched elsewhere on the internet. The Neistat Brothers have once again set out to pioneer filmmaking, first with their HBO series “The Neistat Brothers,” then with Casey’s daily vlogs and now with Van’s unlimited series. The brothers are intensely creative, innate storytellers who are unrelenting with their ideas. There is a timelessness to Van’s videos that can also be found in Casey’s; it doesn’t matter when you sit down to watch their videos, the storytelling is just as relevant and captivating as it was when they were released. So, if you do not want to watch Van’s videos as they are being released, subscribe to his channel and watch them sometime in the future — they are more than worth your time. Casey Neistat rests atop my list of idols, and has consistently astounded me with the simple beauty of his storytelling. Now, I feel that his older brother Van is about to do the same.
Upon hearing the news that Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Donald Glover – two of my absolute favorite writer-actors – would be co-creating a series for Amazon Prime, I immediately thought I should revisit some of their earlier projects, namely Waller-Bridge’s kinetic TV show “Fleabag.” There has never been anything before or since “Fleabag” that is similar enough for it to be compared to; it stands alone as a monolith of frenetic, deeply captivating storytelling. During the opening days of the spring semester, as room quarantine bled into campus quarantine, I binged the show in its entirety — something I would normally recommend against, but for this show it felt appropriate. “Fleabag” is intensely immersive. It draws you in like a whirlpool, encircling you with a charmingly witty yet unapologetically unhinged protagonist who is never given a name. In fact, very few characters are named; instead, they are credited by either their relationship to Waller-Bridge’s character (who is dubbed online as the titular Fleabag) or by their distinguishing feature: the godmother, the arsehole man, dad and the priest, to name a few. It is in this that “Fleabag” reveals its true nature: an intentionally biased show with a fixed point of view. The show’s opening shots depict Fleabag looking at and speaking directly to the camera, talking to us as though offering advice; we are meant to see her as a coolly confident woman. ‘She’s been through this before,’ we think in these opening moments. She stands just beyond her apartment door, precisely disheveled with her jacket still on. She is waiting for someone, a man, to knock on the door and see her as if she has only just arrived home and has forgotten about their midnight rendezvous — though in actuality, she has been waiting at the door for 15 minutes or more. As the night continues, she describes to us different moments just before they happen, seeming both as though she were willing them into existence and emitting a sense of control. Yet, as the show progresses, this initial impression of Fleabag as our guide through this story slowly unravels. It is not entirely uncommon for a television character to break the fourth wall, yet “Fleabag” does it not as a cheap trick but as a key filmmaking technique. Fleabag’s interaction with the camera is fantastically complex — at times making us her friend, her confidant, her crutch, her witness, her everything and occasionally her only. She speaks to us, looks at us, relies on us, eludes us, lies to us, boasts to us and confides in us. We are her best friend and her diary, following her closely yet always under her control. We inhabit the camera, seeing through its lens as we would our own eyes. Its movement becomes our movement and when Fleabag stares into it, it is as though she is speaking directly to us. The editing follows suit, often cutting on a punchline so that Fleabag can give us her “I told you so” smirk. Each scene feels like a journal entry, offering us little to no transition as we jump headfirst into a moment. It can be initially jarring, yet to watch “Fleabag” is to relinquish control over to its protagonist, and soon the storytelling is maneuvered with ease. That is not to say, however, that this show has any sense of normalcy or routine, for each episode is entirely unique and never are we lulled into a sense of contentment. Moments fly by at 200 miles per hour, and just when you are able to grab a stable footing, she whisks you off to a new situation with new problems and a new code of discourse. We get only the information that is truly essential, and at times we are intentionally left in the dark. In one brilliant moment, Fleabag tilts the camera down towards the floor as if to say “this moment is just for me.” Because the show neglects to name so many characters, I have come to the understanding that this show is not about its characters themselves but rather about their relationship to Fleabag. Her dad (Bill Paterson) is very plainly called “Dad,” because that is how she understands him in her life. This is where “Fleabag” becomes devilishly clever. If her dad is referred to only as “Dad” (and as “darling” by his fiancée), then why would someone like her sister (Sia Clifford) not be called “sister?” But instead, the sister does have a name, Claire. It’s choices like this that pull into question the nature of their relationship, and decoding its complexities becomes an essential part of the show. “Fleabag” is a truly unique viewing experience, so wholly unlike its peers that I find myself marveling in its genius. The experience of watching “Fleabag” is what inspired me to create this column in the first place. Works of art like “Fleabag” send a rush to my heart and cause me to – literally – jump in the air in excitement about the prospect of what art can be. I got a similar feeling at the end of “Parasite,” when at its final fade to black I stood, hands on my head, mouth agape, in a dark theater in pure joy. “Fleabag” is surely one of the greatest television shows ever created, and to me there is nothing more exciting than watching a master at work.
While many industries have been crippled by the pandemic, none has surged quite as much as online entertainment. Internet platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram have seen greatly increased interactions and have seen their user-bases grow exponentially. None, perhaps other than TikTok, have seen quite the influx of viewership and mainstream attention as Twitch, a platform where users can watch live-streams from their favorite creators. When you log into Twitch, you are immediately inundated with a smorgasbord of channels arranged by category. Within the vastness of Twitch’s creator base, viewers can find categories and channels that serve their most minute interests. Though Twitch started as a site where fans of video games could come together, its largest category has quickly become the “Just Chatting” section, wherein you can find streamers discussing politics, watching live sports games, cooking or — as the name would suggest — simply sitting in their rooms talking. Instead of Twitch relying on a recommendation algorithm like its peer sites, it lets its viewers to curate their own streamers based on their interests. The real allure of Twitch is the ability of viewers to write messages in chat, allowing them to speak to the streamers in real time. In a time where human interaction has become increasingly sparse, the ability to be in a community as intimate as 60 viewers to one as massive as 60,000 people has become a real source of camaraderie for me and many others. In the past nine months, I have spent more time in my room than ever before and have found it to be overwhelmingly quiet. Early on, I tried watching seasons of television, but, in practice, it’s much less entertaining than I would’ve thought. After stumbling across Twitch, I discovered it to be a perfect remedy. I’ve uncovered a rotation of around five streamers that go live at various times, allowing me to keep my room full of energy and community whenever I need. Often, streamers would be live for 10 hours at a time, so I could have them play on my TV all day, drowning out the quietness of my rural home. Being able to escape into a pixelated world during these months at home and on campus has been a worthwhile remedy to the mental lulls. In watching Twitch, I have rediscovered old games that brought me so much joy as a kid. Whether it be a reinvigorated interest in the Pokemon cards that I used to purchase with earnings from my lawn-mowing ventures or in the endlessly competitive sports games like NBA 2K and FIFA that I used to play with my brother, Twitch always seems to target those specific nerves that remind me of my childhood. And while I acknowledge how silly and often adolescent these games are, there is beauty and comfort in their simplicity. It provides me with a certain comfort in its dependability, a certainty in this year of marked uncertainty. It’s all too easy to get wrapped into a detrimental routine day after day that saps you of your productivity, and while Twitch is very often just a time vacuum, it has provided me with the most profound human interaction I’ve had since the pandemic broke out. I encourage you to watch Twitch not for the games (though they are certainly a gateway in) but rather for the personalities. Many of my favorite streamers, such as Ludwig Ahgren, play games I’ve never played nor even heard of. These variety streamers, as they’re termed, maintain consistency in their persona rather than in their subject. It’s like watching a movie to see your favorite actor grace the screen regardless of what the film is about. And, while I’m a critic at heart, having essentially spent the better part of my college career overanalyzing art, I find these lean-back streams to be thoroughly cathartic, offering me greater happiness than most other endeavors. As with all my recommendations in this column, it is not a foolproof one that works wonders for everyone just as it did for me. Twitch happened to enter my life in a time when I acutely needed it. For people who did not grow up in households where videogames left a large impression, you may find that the “Just Chatting” section provides you with ample interesting content. I’ve spent hours watching people cook, draw, play music or just converse with their chat. I implore you to find avenues of human connection in this year when they can be fleeting and sparse. At the very least, tune in to Twitch and just let it roll for hours, seeing where your interests guide you, and you may just stumble upon something to fill this upcoming winter break with a little more warmth.
It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of comedian Dave Chappelle’s imprint on our zeitgeist. Even calling him a comedian feels like the wrong title; perhaps activist or social commentator is more apt. This week, for the second time, Dave Chappelle hosted “Saturday Night Live” immediately after a U.S. presidential election. The first — in 2016 — followed the election of President Donald Trump; the second occurred just a few days ago, after Joe Biden was voted president-elect. As a comedian, Dave Chappelle has been known to inject his jokes with sophisticated social commentary, mixing it with his branded slurry of lewd humor. If you have been deterred by Chappelle’s particular concoction of crass jokes in the past, I would urge you to see it not as profanity for profanity’s sake but rather as a vessel through which Chappelle is able to reach millions to deliver his insightful commentary and introspective storytelling. To overlook Dave Chappelle as a political activist because of his comedic crudeness would be a grave misstep. In his opening monologue on Saturday night, Chappelle took on a rather serious tone, donning a well-tailored suit instead of his signature one-of-a-kind, army-surplus-inspired jacket. He began the monologue, cigarette in hand as always, with a remembrance of his great grandfather, who was a slave before being freed. Chappelle remarked that he wished his great grandfather were able to see him at that moment — see a Black man in America who has become successful enough to fly to New York City via private jet to host “Saturday Night Live.” But Chappelle doesn’t stop there. He notes that his immensely popular sketch comedy show, “Chappelle’s Show,” has begun streaming on Netflix and HBO, though without Chappelle receiving any payment. Longtime fans of Chappelle (or those who kept up with early-2000s current events) know that even in success, “Chappelle’s Show” did not go off without a hitch. Instead, Chappelle voided his contract and left the show during the production of its third season. In his Netflix special “The Bird Revelation,” he likened his relationship with the show’s network to one not unlike that of a pimp and his most profitable prostitute. Chappelle finished his musings on a punchline, as always. “[You] were bought and sold more times than I was,” Chappelle said, assuming his great grandfather’s voice, relaying to the audience that despite his success, Chappelle was still confined by deeply rooted, harmful institutions. While the joke naturally aroused uproarious laughter from the audience, it was meant to be much more pensive than its reaction would lead one to believe. “I can’t even tell something true unless it has a punchline behind it,” Chappelle said. It is this constant embattlement that Chappelle seems to face in each of his Netflix specials and his monologues,and even back during his “Chappelle Show” run. If he were to simply outline the enormity of the racism he faces on a daily basis from a political or social standpoint, no one would listen. If he were just a comedian, he would be unable to discuss the issues he feels are most pressing in America. Every time Chappelle walks out onstage and grabs hold of a microphone, he is walking a tightrope. At the beginning is Chappelle, tentatively putting his weight on the wire, eyeing what lies across: an audience and a society that understands the plights he speaks of, understands the inhumane racism that has been systematically oppressing Black people for centuries and understands the social critiques he speaks of and wishes to enact change. The burden of this thin wire is the comedic sheath Chappelle must veil his commentary in. If he is not funny enough, his audience won’t stay long enough to listen, and if it’s pure comedy, he fails to reach his goal and educate his audience.“You guys aren’t ready,” said Chappelle. “You’re not ready for this.” It is an interesting affair to watch both of Chappelle’s monologues back-to-back. There is a clear distinction in tone that is influenced directly by the political circumstances of the time. In the first monologue, he is light, funny and cautiously optimistic. He talks of the impending Trump presidency with the same humorous disbelief that most Americans did at that time. He wishes Trump well in the White House and makes light of his infamous Access Hollywood tape through a joke about himself staying in Trump’s New York hotel. Referring to the Obama administration, Chappelle remarks how profound it was to have a Black leader who made deliberate efforts to bring to light the very same racial issues about which Chappelle speaks. His optimism is matched by an equally optimistic tone in his newest monologue, though marred with much less levity. Chappelle addresses racial issues with urgency and openly points out the hypocrisy of white-on-Black racism that prevailed in Trump’s and earlier presidencies. Chappelle isn’t joking anymore about the seriousness of racism in America, and neither should we. His monologues and stand-ups have tipped the balance to weigh much more heavily in social critique than in pure comedy. His recent special “8:46” built directly upon the surge of Black Lives Matter movements across the country this summer. Chappelle’s deftness for the comedy craft is unquestioned and unparalleled, and the timeliness of his critiques are as dire as ever. I implore you to consider his words and listen to his voice with earnest intent. For white people, now is the time for listening; we have been talking for far too long.
Covid-19 wreaked havoc across the world both physically and mentally, stripping some of their loved ones and others of their mental health. I thankfully fell only into the latter category, and while I was spared the full extent of the pandemic’s destruction, I did not leave unscathed. In returning home, I found that an incredible paradox arose, one in which I was simultaneously greeted with overwhelming love and inescapable loneliness. After months of seeing the same four faces day in and day out, I found that the repetition only served to push me further into myself. That is, until one day when I was scrolling through Apple Music and happened upon an album with a beautifully simplistic design that demanded my attention. It was a plain off-white canvas with a simple image drawn only from five deliberately imperfect lines and inside, written in a soft handwriting, “12 Songs From Home.” I pressed play and tossed my phone to the other side of my bed, laying down with my eyes closed. I was soon enraptured by a delicate piano melody played directly from the composer’s home to mine. Accompanying his deft keystrokes was a light crackle of the recording and muffled sounds of Einaudi breathing. This is not a studio album; it is precisely the opposite. You can hear the soft creaking of footsteps in his home; a light shuffle as he readjusts his seating. The album is designed as an invitation into his life, an intimate human connection I hadn’t experienced in weeks. After putting his European tour on hold because of the pandemic, Einaudi set out to record an album of his own, performing an impromptu concert inside his living room during the height of Italy’s lockdown. There was a boom of amateur art being produced during the pandemic, much of it truly wonderful, yet something about the honest intimacy of Einaudi’s album has lingered with me long after lockdown ended and I have begun my life anew. That is not to say that “12 Songs From Home” changed my life or cured my mental exhaustion — rather it offered me a form of reprieve I hadn’t experienced in some time. The quiet optimism of Einaudi’s music represents the incredible heartbreak that accompanied recent losses of life and social connection. But it also provides a reserved hopefulness that looks forward as confidently as one could in a time where nothing is certain. “12 Songs from Home” became a part of my daily routine, serving as a constant reminder of the forgone social interaction that I missed so dearly. Einaudi released an accompanying video of himself playing the song “Nuvole Bianche” from the album. The making of the video is even simpler than that of the album. Seemingly recorded from an iPhone placed on top of his home piano, it shows the aged composer, shot slightly off center, sitting atop a well worn stool, playing a more modest piano than the astounding grands one would see in his usual concert shows. I have never been to a classical concert, nor do I have the faculties to accurately describe the music being played; I only have my own experience of it. I listened to a great deal of music this past spring and summer, and watched a great deal of film and television, yet the modest empathy of this album still rings through my mind far louder than any other. Perhaps it is the emotional resonance that the album possesses, to have been as timely as it was whilst seeming to urge its listeners forward toward a better tomorrow, and perhaps it is the sheer intimacy of it that lured me in and provided me with something I’d been deprived of. Either way, “12 Songs From Home” provided me with a reserve of what I would consider companionship during the months I needed it most. Listening to this album will not cure you of your mental ails, but it will provide you with another source of hopefulness in your life. In a time where everything was beyond my control, I found it to be a constant upon which I could draw my strength. I still listen to it often just before I fall asleep because its quiet presence is enough to drown out the silence. And sometimes that’s enough: to quiet the overwhelmingness of silence. I hope you will listen to “12 Songs From Home,” and if you do not prefer this kind of music, I hope you have found something else that helps.
Direct Your Attention: At the October Apple Event, come for the tech, stay for the cinematic spectacle
There are very few events I watch live. I’ll tune in to the Super Bowl on occasion, if only to watch what millions of dollars look like in 30-second commercial form. I’ll watch the presidential debates every four years. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay up late enough at my grandparents’ house — the last residence I know to still have a cable subscription — to catch the early moments of SNL. Yet every few months, when Apple hosts one of their world-renowned events, I find myself eagerly attending the virtual affair, counting down the seconds until the start. Of the principles Apple is conscious of when creating a product intended for home users, none is more important than ease of use. Approachability is crucial for Apple, not only in its products but also in its marketing. I am by no means a tech person. I couldn’t tell you how many megapixels my phone’s camera has — or even what a megapixel is. Nor could I tell you how my earbuds connect to my iPhone, except for the possibility of magic being real. And still I sat down on Oct. 13 for over an hour to listen to Apple executives talk about an array of shiny new toys for consumers to play with. Despite my lack of knowledge and marked non-expertise, I was compelled by the event — though more as a fan of filmmaking than of tech. Apple has long since been known for its brilliant events. While Covid-19 undoubtedly rocked event plans that had been thought of years in advance, Apple only seemed to flourish in this new technological era. The event was live-streamed on YouTube to millions of concurrent viewers and, as of the publication of this article, has over 53 million views. The event started off in the Steve Jobs Theatre in Apple Park, where CEO Tim Cook stood beside the brand new HomePod Mini and detailed the event’s proceedings. After a brief montage showing off the new and exciting features of Apple’s smart speaker — now in a smaller build — the camera slowly crept toward the HomePod and peered around the corner in the first of many brilliant cinematographic choices. Just behind the miniature speaker laid an even smaller diorama of a living room, and as the camera moved in closer, Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Bob Borchers stepped out from behind the fireplace and began to introduce the HomePod in more detail. Less than four minutes into the event and Apple had absolutely floored me with an elegant camera move wherein a miniature diorama filled the shot to become a full-sized set. This is where the fun began. Displayed beside Borchers as he spoke were key bullet points from his speech, presented in the easily legible Helvetica font in a plain white color. Everything about this presentation screamed ease of use. Suddenly, as Borchers introduced a new speaker, the camera pulled back to reveal a new kitchen set adjacent to the previous one, separated only by a false wall. While Acoustics Engineering Manager Dave Wilkes Jr. prattled on about the glorious sound of the new speaker, the camera seemed to peer behind Wilkes and moved inward toward the new kitchen set. As the camera panned forward, an actor walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, instantly filling the space with life and intimacy. Apple wanted to make viewers feel how easily the new HomePod could be integrated into daily life so they showed it — brilliantly, I might add. After all was said and done for the HomePod, the camera pulled back once again to reveal a six-section, two-story set complete with a kitchen, garage, living room and bedroom built specifically for this event. Throughout the remainder of the event, Apple introduced the new iPhone 12 lineup with presentations from a wide swath of Apple employees, each in a different location. The beauty of this portion was that the presentation was focused on just one product, but each new feature was given its own speaker and set. Vice President of Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson discussed Apple’s committal to carbon neutrality while literally standing on the solar panels of Apple Park’s roof, while Camera Software Engineering Senior Manager Alok Deshpande talked about the iPhone 12 Pro’s new incredible camera from within Apple’s own photography lab, complete with lighting kits and massive photographs presumably taken on the new iPhone. Apple cuts down on the boredom associated with what is essentially a massive Powerpoint presentation by providing little slices of newness throughout the event to keep its audience attentive. In the event’s most wonderful stroke of presentational surprise, Vice President of iPhone Product Marketing Kaiann Drance opened up a briefcase containing the littlest big surprise of the night. “To add to all these big announcements” said Drance, “we also wanted to do something a little different.” As she walked offscreen left, the iconic James Bond theme began to play overhead. Drance proceeded to dramatically open up a steel briefcase only to reveal another briefcase, which upon its opening revealed a third briefcase. Laid within that third briefcase was the new iPhone 12 Mini. Now, did Apple have to take up 30 seconds of my life opening three briefcases only to reveal an iPhone less than an inch smaller than its peers? No. But was it fantastic to watch? Yes. Obviously yes. To be an Apple fan is to be a fan of the dramatic. It’s the little moments treated with overwhelming attention and deliberateness that makes these events so compelling as entertainment. I would recommend watching this event for the sheer filmmaking alone; it possesses a greater understanding of the craft than many movies I see in theaters. Apple isn’t so much selling technology as it is a way of life: a lifestyle that turns little moments into memorable ones. I’m all in on Apple — partly for how incredibly functional their phones and computers are, but mostly I’m in for the lifestyle it promotes. Sure a phone can just be a phone, but why can’t it be something more?
There’s a moment in each of my favorite NPR Tiny Desk Concerts when the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in applause because something truly remarkable has just happened. It’s at this moment that some of the music industry’s biggest stars and some of its brightest newcomers realize the potential of the intimate concert hall in which they find themselves. It’s found in Hobo Johnson’s impromptu message of gratitude for NPR’s Bob Boilen during “Peach Scone.” It’s found in Chance the Rapper’s poetry, written on the ride from his hotel to NPR’s office. It’s found in Anderson Paak’s wry smile as he says, “So y’all like being called b*****s over here,” in response to the audience’s song request. It’s in these moments when the talented and famous become human. The NPR Tiny Desk Concert series has existed for as long as I can remember, hosting its first guest, Laura Gibson, in April of 2008. “In a perfect world, there’d be no crowded bar shows or super-sized arena concerts. Musicians would come to your home for a private performance, or they’d show up at your office and play at your desk, easing you through the workday,” says Tiny Desk Concert creator Bob Boilen in the description of this inaugural show. This beautiful yet simple idea that music should be heard closely and intimately is the keystone that holds together the Tiny Desk Concerts. What started in 2008 as a request to play a few songs at Boilen’s desk has turned into a YouTube channel with nearly five million subscribers and well over one billion views. At this point, it is no longer merely an idea but an institution that has been viewed and replicated all across the globe. It never ceases to amaze me just how massive an artist NPR can book, only to be followed by 10 more I’ve never heard of — yet who are just as talented. I, along with many others, flocked to this concert series for its big stars — Tyler, The Creator, Chance the Rapper, other musicians that don’t include a “the” in their name — yet find myself returning time and again to find new, unknown artists looking to make a name for themselves. I remember watching the Hobo Johnson and The Lovemakers concert and thinking to myself, “This is exactly the type of artist that was built for these concerts.” Johnson’s awkward charisma provided him and his band just the right amount of nervous excitement to match the honest and heartfelt lyrics of their spoken-word hip-hop music. At times it feels like entire songs are improved, leaning more toward emotional conversation than musical show. Interspersed within cleverly written verses with references to both Shakespeare and Jay-Z alike, Johnson riffs on his life, adding commonplace to the dramatic. “I got a duvet the other day,” Johnson says. “How do you wash a blanket? In a washer? That’s what I found out.” The NPR Tiny Desk Concerts humanize their guests in a way I hadn’t experienced before. As multiple-Grammy winner Chance the Rapper set about to read his newly minted poem titled “The Other Side,” he was suddenly and abruptly interrupted by a voice crackling over the loudspeaker asking for someone to call the mailroom. In the midst of reciting a heartfelt original poem about holding keys to a life he no longer lives, Chance was forced to start again. It is often easy to forget that this incredibly established institution is still in fact hosted in an actual office, behind an actual desk. Traditional concerts are carefully and deliberately choreographed down to the second, and rightfully so, but to see these wonderfully gifted musicians sing honestly and openly, unafraid to make a mistake, is quite remarkable. Here is my recommendation: search for your favorite artist’s concert and watch it the whole way through, and, when you’re done, let autoplay decide the next artist, and just let it roll for hours upon hours. There isn’t a bad concert in the entire catalog, and I’m sure that you’ll find new and exciting artists. If you thought that your Spotify’s Daily Mix was a perfect way to find new music, you are in dire need of what NPR has to offer. My only complaint is that the studio version of my favorite songs never live up to their live performance; perhaps its the soft acoustics provided by the office’s bookshelves, or maybe it’s this unparalleled feeling of closeness that you really can’t find on a studio album.
This issue of Direct Your Attention is of a different sort; you won’t hear me shouting compliments toward a film or project. Instead, what you will get is a presentation of a project whose mission is so urgent that I think it surpasses even the shortcomings of the project itself. “The Social Dilemma,” directed by Jeff Orlowski — who directed similarly timely films “Chasing Ice” (2012) and “Chasing Coral” (2017) — displays its message as boldly as a neon sign: YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. Assembling an array of ex-silicon valley executives, “The Social Dilemma” aims to break down the problem with social media companies' business models. According to Tim Kendall, who previously served as Facebook’s Director of Monetization, the most logical way to monetize platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram was to sell advertisements. What the film describes is a commercial industry built on the “attention economy.” This economy is thus predicated on the level of certainty that a user’s attention will be given to an ad, and the highest level of certainty is rewarded with the highest monetary compensation. This is where the film takes a turn. In what appears to be an attempt to mimic Adam McKay’s directorial approach to breaking down complex problems, “The Social Dilemma” puts on a fictional drama wherein a teenage boy (Skyler Gisondo) is seduced by his phone and ultimately falls prey to the entrancing aura of an extremist organization that floods his feed. These scenes are haphazard and poorly written, and the characters that inhabit this parallel world are reduced to their most simple form. It truly feels like a wasted opportunity, one where a more adept hand would have created more intelligent characters with more complex thoughts, rather than portraying the prototypical user as a helpless victim of algorithms. Despite all of this, the film’s message comes across clearly, because it is understandably presented so simply. The artificial intelligence and algorithmic processes behind the farming of user data are incredibly complex and equally difficult to convey, and my only thought is that the film went too far in the opposite direction, oversimplifying the problem to a point where, at moments, I felt condescended to. However, I think the film does a sufficient job in waking viewers up from the zombie-like slumber we’ve been in, putting forth a call to action for us to protect ourselves against the manipulative power of these platforms. Similar to how “Inside Out” (2015) conveyed children’s emotions, this film portrays the social media algorithms as three men inside the brain, coldly calculating the perfect posts to add to the teenage boy’s feed so that his attention will always be kept above 90%. Not only do they curate his recommended pages, they auction off his attention to advertisers, always selling to the highest bidder — no matter the company. This, I believe, through all the murkiness of its poorly designed drama, is the thesis of the film: these companies are auctioning off our attention to the highest bidder — and very often that highest bidder can spread false information, hate speech and a slew of other poisonous ideas throughout a user base. Most of all, the film describes how powerless we, as individuals, are when it comes to stopping it, drawing parallels to other industries that call their customers “users” — namely the illegal drug market. What “The Social Dilemma” fails to accomplish is what appears to be its only goal: to create a more educated user base. It ultimately spreads an equally oversimplified presentation of a problem, as would be seen on the very social media posts they cite. What is missing from this film is any sort of guidance, any step towards a greater conversation that would instill any sort of well-crafted thought from its audience. I fear that this film is a part of the problem it documents: it presents its viewers with something they already know, appealing to their want for approval. And yet, the film’s mission is to start a discussion that needs to take place. This movie presents some of the problems, not all of them. I do, however, wish there were a greater thrust towards education and fostering a viewership that attempts to educate itself and take back some of the power over its own ideology. My advice: watch the movie and do your best to be a savvy and critical viewer. Don’t go rushing to uninstall Facebook or Instagram, and don’t brush the problem off for its role in this uninspiring film. Do your research, and find ways to reassert control over how you consume social media. Most of all, become an educated user, someone who is equally aware of the information they’re not receiving as that which they are. I, for one, will be sure to dial back my YouTube screen time and reevaluate the channels I subscribe to. Take this film for what it tried to be, not what it is: a spark that lights the fires of discourse and creates long-lasting, real-world change in the way that social media companies dominate the globe.
Before a week ago, Casey Neistat — famed YouTuber, filmmaker and vlogger — had uploaded 11 videos in the past eight months. In the last 10 days, he has uploaded 10 times. His comment section is filled with different versions of the same question: “Is Casey starting up the daily vlog again?” I wanted to write this article in part to answer that question so that Neistat doesn’t have to. Before you read more, just know that the answer is no, at least not in the way it used to be. In a largely unwatched, minute-and-a-half announcement video released almost a year before the first episode of his daily vlog in 2014, Casey Neistat said a few key things that laid the groundwork for his meteoric daily vlog and subsequent reinvention. “I haven’t done [a daily vlog] yet because it just seems daunting,” Neistat said. He was, without a doubt, right in his thinking. After watching Neistat go about his life, it is immediately apparent that he has never half-assed anything. He is beyond hard working, sacrificing everything to create a perfect product. He even has the phrases “do more,” “work harder” and “do what you can’t” tattooed on his arms. Neistat’s personality in a single, all-encompassing word? Driven. Every day, Neistat would take his years of filmmaking experience and apply it to this new short film genre, creating novel and innovative vlogs, each seeming to come equipped with the production value of a 10-person film crew. Neistat carried around a much larger camera than his peers, allowing him to — with a significant amount of added effort — create a better quality image with clearer sound. There is a great video essay about Neistat’s hidden effort that you should definitely check out. For example, just to show himself walking a city block, Neistat would film five different angles, requiring him to reset the camera mount and walk through the frame each time. After all the extra labor, it would merely turn into a 15-second segment. Neistat mastered the art of making his vlogs appear to be effortless without them actually being effortless. After moving from New York City with his wife and two young daughters to Los Angeles, Neistat’s vlogs have changed tremendously. The scale of his storytelling is infinitely smaller, yet no less captivating. Neistat was on top of the internet world, winning numerous awards for his daily vlog. He was a king of the internet video world. And now, after a significant decline in output, Neistat has completely reinvented his filmmaking. No longer is he in a world of constant motion, barely having time to spread himself out among his various artistic projects. Now, Neistat is moving at a much slower pace, taking time to enjoy his family and new lifestyle. During its near 1,000 episode run, Neistat’s filming would overflow into his every moment, demanding all the energy and attention he could give. Today, it’s family first, vlog second. His vlogs have become considerably shorter, ranging five to six minutes as opposed to his previous 10-minute standard. It is not, I believe, a conscious decision to create bite-sized entertainment like other YouTube personality David Dobrik’s four-minute-and-20-second vlogs. It is instead an effort on Neistat’s part to create a less consuming daily vlog — one that doesn’t sap his energy and drain his attention. All of his vlogs include much more footage of his children, and it is clear that he doesn’t hesitate to put the camera down when something more pressing comes up. For longtime viewers of Neistat’s work like myself, these new vlogs are a glimpse into a different side of his life: a chance to see how Neistat has grown as a father and husband as well as a filmmaker. There is definitely a skill to making captivating vlogs like Dobrik, but to do so without any sort of spectacle is nothing short of brilliant. His new videos show nothing more than the mundane ongoings of daily life in an effort to create a greater sense of realism in the daily vlog world. One of his episodes, titled “i started a fight i’ll never win” and my favorite so far, depicts Neistat in his ongoing struggle against the ants that have invaded his yard and home. Neistat likens himself to a Carthaginian general preparing for a total war against the imposing force of the Roman army-like ant infestation. Reading snippets from “The Enemies of Rome” by Stephen Kershaw, Neistat is able to dramatize a household chore into a full-on war. The video, like all his others, is mesmerizing from start to finish. He has managed to make a five-minute vlog about a non-story — something he wouldn’t even mention at the dinner table. It is his unparalleled storytelling capability and eye for editing rhythm that make his vlogs so captivating. Most of all, the video doesn’t seem to dominate his day; the five-minute video appears to take a backseat to his daughter’s playtime and his weekend getaway to a beach house, which force him to cut the segment short. Casey Neistat was an integral part of YouTube’s development and an iconic figure of the 2010’s internet zeitgeist. His nonstop quest for greatness undoubtedly cemented him as one of the platform's best and as a transcendent filmmaker of his time. His vlogs were never intended to be effortless - just to appear effortless. And now, after over five years of vlogging, Neistat has cracked the code to this new form of video. He is by no means overexerting himself, but he has sacrificed none of the polish and craftsmanship that has gotten him so far. It is wonderful to see someone who was previously consumed by a hunger-pained drive for greatness now take the time to appreciate how far he’s come. Neistat has all the wisdom and patience of a retiree, yet still possesses an internal motor that perpetually pushes him forward. His time off seems to have granted him a greater understanding of himself as an author as well as a man, and he has come out the other side more well-crafted as each. Neistat has marched himself to the forefront of the internet filmmaking world. I’m as excited as ever to be a fan, and you should be too.
Upon first glance, Andrew Callaghan is like any other news anchor: he wears a suit, holds a mic and stands in front of an ever-present cameraman. That is, however, where the similarities end, for even in his adherence to journalistic conventions Callaghan is most certainly unconventional. His iconic gray suit was purchased from a Goodwill in Tucson for $15 and, according to its eBay description, has never been washed; he adorns the suit with a pair of Nike Air Max 95s and — instead of in a news van — Callaghan and his crew tour the country in a 1999 Coachmen RV. Callaghan doesn’t belong to any larger news organization, and it is precisely this freedom that allows his YouTube show “All Gas No Brakes” to be as untethered and chaotic as it needs to be. What separates Callaghan from his peers -- and I use that term broadly -- is his profound ability to listen. As the show has developed and matured over the course of its year-long existence, so too has Callaghan’s interview prowess. Callaghan’s career began with his project “Quarter Confessions,” which was inspired by the drunken mayhem that unfolded in front of him night after night during his stint as a doorman in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The premise of the show was simple: Callaghan and his director/camera operator Michael Moises would roam the streets of the French Quarter in the late hours of the night and film anyone and everyone that could stand in front of the camera. Needless to say, in an area with cheap and plentiful drinks and tourists that had come from all over to lose their inhibitions, there was no lack of subjects to film. “It’s an honor to be able to document this frenzy of sex, liquor, garbage and drugs,” Callaghan said in an interview with Office Magazine in 2019. The differences in maturity between “Quarter Confessions” and “All Gas No Brakes” are drastic, though their underlying premises are not too dissimilar. Initially posted to Instagram, “Quarter Confessions” was a series of quick moments, each less than a minute in length, capturing people saying and doing whatever their drunken minds told them to do. These videos are lewd, jarring and pure pandemonium: some people lob insults at opposing colleges’ quarterbacks, others reveal themselves to the camera, and drunkards fight in the street — chaos. “All Gas No Brakes” is a continuation of this format but with an additional appreciation for the subject matter. Many of the show’s core components remain the same, such as the shouting, cussing and overly excited interviewees, yet Callaghan and his crew have expanded the show to be so much more than its predecessor. Just as soon as Callaghan finished his first year of college, he fled, leaving his clothes, electronics and everything else in his dorm behind to hitchhike across the country. It wasn’t so much a manifest destiny-like want to become a more worldly person; he had just become fed up with the rigid structures of college and wanted to be free and untethered. So, for 70 days, Callaghan hitchhiked across the country, relying on the kindness of strangers to travel and eat. He turned the whole experience into a zine of the same title as his current show, and most interestingly, he removed himself and his stories almost entirely from it. “I think it’s important to let people tell their own story, to remove yourself from it even if you disagree with what they’re saying,” Callaghan said in the Office Magazine interview. This, above all else, is the mantra of his current show: let people tell their own story. “All Gas No Brakes” and its crew know no bounds. They have traveled to just about every state in the country, finding its most bizarre convention, event or individual; there are episodes on the Midwest FurFest, a Flat Earth Conference, the NASA/SpaceX rocket launch and a Donald Trump Jr. Book Club, to name a few. My reaction to his videos always follow the same emotional trajectory. The initial impacts of his videos are increasingly a slap in the face, like he reached out through my monitor and shook me awake. After being shocked by the mayhem of it all, I immediately feel a sense of superiority, as every interviewee that steps into the camera’s frame makes a fool of themselves. Yet, as the video progresses, I drop the superiority complex and am taken aback by how understanding Callaghan is of his interviewees. He is a journalistic chameleon, always seeming to record people from within their own community, finding common ground and empathy everywhere he goes. Callaghan never interrupts anyone, and he always seems to understand and empathize with his subjects, even at their least intelligible. His ability to be a part of the very communities he is researching separates him from other news sources — so much so that when he cuts to footage of Fox News and Democracy Now! covering the very same Portland protests as he does, it makes them seem like uneducated third parties. If you’re going to his YouTube channel to find ignorant people spout off about this or that, you’ll be satisfied, but if you go in with an open and empathetic mind, you’ll find yourself uncovering pockets of the United States you never knew existed. “All Gas No Brakes” is not a social media freak show. It is instead a magnification of America, a spotlight on its dark corners. What Andrew Callaghan and his crew are doing to modernize and democratize journalism is more than just drumming up viral social media. It is an unadulterated look at a greater collective of individuals; an inside look at America’s outsiders.
This article is an installation of the new column "Direct Your Attention" by Arts and Culture Editor Owen Mason-Hill. Each week, he will discuss his favorite media projects he’s discovered. I can think of no better subject for the inaugural issue of Direct Your Attention than Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” podcast because it has done for me precisely what I intend to do with this column. It is hard for me to remember a time when I wasn’t aware of this masterclass in podcasting; I have begun to mark my calendar year by interchanging periods of listening to “Revisionist History” and then those of waiting for another season like one would a new iPhone. To listen to “Revisionist History” is to become acutely aware of the world around yourself. There is an unquenchable thirst for truth that permeates Gladwell’s authorship of this podcast; even in his intro dialogue one comes to understand that he is unlike other hosts because of his refusal to take part in our historical zeitgeist. The aim of the podcast is to undermine the historical narratives we retell without question in order to find a better, more accurate version of the story we share. The stories Gladwell tells and the narratives he weaves are unexpected to say the least, and nearly impossible to predict. He uncovers the reason why our society deems hoarding a disorder yet praises art museums that rapidly collect pieces. Later, in the next episode, he explores the invention of napalm and our weaponization of it in wartime. If “Revisionist History” were a ship, Malcolm Gladwell would most assuredly be a captain away from his steering wheel, letting the winds of curiosity fill his sails. Despite being released just a month ago, the finale of Season 5 has lived in my mind for what seems like years. In this episode, “A Memorial for the Living,” Gladwell interweaves two seemingly unrelated stories so that only in their combined retelling does the audience join Gladwell himself in understanding their link. In the Season 5 finale, the first story is Gladwell’s deep dive into what he describes as “the world’s most perfect memorial,” the 9/11 memorial in New York City. It is almost difficult to express in numbers just how much money, time, personnel and resources were thrown at the complex problem of translating a nation’s collective trauma into a single architectural design. The second story Gladwell recounts is about a trip he took earlier this year to Jacksonville, where he visited Changing Homelessness, an organization that conducts a yearly survey of their city’s homeless population. The results of this search are represented on a scatter plot, arraying them along a scale of vulnerability. Each dot on the plot has a name, and each week during their meetings the leadership of Changing Homelessness become increasingly familiar with the identities of their city’s most vulnerable. The question Malcom Gladwell presents is simple: What is the purpose of a memorial? Why is it that we have constructed, in Gladwell’s own words, “a gorgeous mausoleum for the dead and only a scatterplot for the living?” I will not attempt to answer this question in a way that will spoil the episode for you but for me, it encapsulates everything that makes “Revisionist History” and its author unique: a fearless progression towards a better tomorrow. Gladwell has no intention of tearing down our attachment to our nation’s trauma, he simply implores us to uncover its purpose. Every episode can be summarized in two simple questions. The first: Why? The second: How can we do it better? When something as large as a pandemic looms over your shoulder like a perpetual storm cloud, it is hard to discern what is worthy of our time and interest; suddenly all the world’s problems seem to pale in comparison. Yet, despite the overwhelmingness of it all, Gladwell always seems to make the issues feel approachable and, most importantly, personal. The sense one gets from “Revisionist History” is a warmth of humanity that is deeply embedded within every aspect of the podcast: Gladwell’s voice is both carefully articulate and wildly emotive, the show’s writing is conversationally casual while driving its emotional beats home with an undoubtedly poignant accuracy — and Gladwell’s own quirks make the show deliberately unacademic. I am not someone who can read a 40-page dissertation without a lapse in concentration, yet every time I finish an episode of “Revisionist History,” I feel immensely more knowledgeable than when I started and nonetheless light. “Revisionist History” was my first artistic love: a project in which I saw no flaws, not a single scuff on its polish. While Malcolm Gladwell’s search is to find and uncover the overlooked and misunderstood, mine is to find artists like him at the top of their craft. The purpose of this column is to direct your attention toward what I think are masterful projects more than worthy of your time, and “Revisionist History” is most assuredly at the pinnacle of artistic creation, head and shoulders above its peers.
Time is now, for many of us, no longer a luxury; it is something we possess in abundance. If you, like me, have found yourself searching for something to occupy your time at home in between a 10 a.m. wake-up and a 2 a.m. bedtime, look no further. While I may be biased, I think there is no better way to spend your time during this quarantine than by watching and rediscovering the golden age of streaming we live in. There are far too many shows and movies available online for any single person to see in a few months, and because of that, there is no shortage of critics and news outlets releasing their own streaming guide. I have read all these lists and still find them insufficient, so I have, with the help of my good friend Gabe Gilleland, devised a list of movies and television worthy of your time. They will be divided by streaming platform, so feel free to skip ahead to whichever you subscribe to, but I would also consider reading others and possibly picking up a new streaming service that suits your fancy. Netflix Netflix is a streaming behemoth, though with options aplenty, it can be even more difficult to make a decision — I personally have a list of over 75 shows and movies. I will limit my choices to just three: one film, one television show and one more suggestion that could fall into either category. Movie: “Good Time” The Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time” (2017) is, like their 2019 release “Uncut Gems,” an exploration into chaos. After a poorly executed bank robbery finds Connie Nikas’s (Robert Pattinson) brother Nick (Benny Safdie) arrested and thrown in prison at Rikers Island, Connie must come up with $10,000 in bail money. To watch “Good Time” is to ride a roller coaster without the price of admission; a roller coaster with no chest bar, screws missing and no brakes. It is a release of oneself into the chaotic world the Nikas brothers inhabit. Television: “Sherlock” Though my favorite show on Netflix is far and away “Bojack Horseman,” I have already written a slew of Reel Critic reviews on the subject and I would be remiss if I didn’t look beyond it for another recommendation. The 2010 BBC adaptation of Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle’s original works stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as investigative duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a modern 21st century London. Though many of Doyle’s stories are well known, “Sherlock” reinvents them for a modern setting. The writing is incredibly complex, with some of the finest acting I’ve seen from either Cumberbatch or Freeman and an undeniably engrossing chemistry between the two. Each episode of this show is a short film in its own right and invites viewers to watch in a single sitting, but I would urge this one to be taken slow. It really rewards a viewer who takes his or her time with each episode before continuing to the next. Wildcard: “Demetri Martin The Overthinker” Demetri Martin’s 2018 stand-up special is an hour long buffet of one-liners served up in polished silver dishes. Martin’s style of comedy is not for everyone and very much unlike many of his contemporaries, but I find myself completely stitched in laughter from the pure silliness of his humor. “The Overthinker” also includes a sort of meta-commentary from Martin over his stand-up in a way that draws attention to the medium in which he is performing and only extends the reach of this special. It is well worth the watch. Hulu Though only valued at 10% of Netflix’s net worth, Hulu has surprised me recently with its consistent release of acclaimed films as well as fantastic and original television shows. If you don’t have a subscription to Hulu, I would highly recommend it for its FX television shows and steady release of smaller, less popular but nevertheless great films. Movie: “Shoplifters” "Shoplifters" was my favorite film of 2018. It centers around the Tokyo-based Shibata family as they maneuver the streets of Japan stealing and scamming for their survival. Even in their destitute state, the family adopts a young girl (Miyu Sasaki) who they find locked out in the cold night. With meager resources and a misguided moral compass, “Shoplifters” asks audiences to consider the ethics of doing bad things for good reasons. How far does empathy allow us to go to understand one another and the decisions we make? Television: “Nathan For You” Nathan Fielder graduated from one of Canada’s top business schools with really good grades. The premise of the show is quite simple: Nathan is hired by failing businesses as a consultant to revamp their declining sales. Nathan Fielder, the show’s creator and star, is an odd person who excels in filling the awkward silences between strangers with even more awkwardness. His solutions, while not always perfect, are most certainly unconventional. The show thrives in presenting people with an absurdist reality through which it generates a certain honesty in their reactions. There is a nonfiction humanity in “Nathan For You” that a room full of writers would never think about. The show’s final episode “Finding Francis” is a beautiful combination of quirky honesty and an impossible search wrapped up into a 90 minute documentary. Even if you don’t watch the show, make sure to check out “Finding Francis;” it’s more than worth your time. Wildcard: “DAVE” “DAVE” is a semi-fictional autobiographical depiction of Dave Burd’s transformation into his ironic and comedic rap alter ego Lil Dicky. Created and starred in by Dave Burd himself, “DAVE” throws audiences into the struggle of trying to be the greatest rapper of all time whilst also being Dave, a normal suburbanite who’s entire existence is in antithesis to rap culture. “DAVE” finds comedy in the mundane, in Dave’s awkward mannerisms, and in being a musical braggadocio rapping about sex and drugs whilst also trying to be polite and have a stable relationship. The line between Dave Burd and Lil Dicky is distinct, almost like a superhero donning their costume, but the show explores the times in Burd’s life when the line isn’t so clear. This show is without a doubt hilarious and the cast of characters Burd surrounds himself with are incredibly unique and undoubtedly comedic in their own right. Make sure to look out for a part two coming soon with recommendations for Amazon Prime and HBO with additional updates for Netflix and Hulu based on my current viewing. I’ve only just started watching season one of “You” on Netflix and it’s sent my head into a tailspin, so lookout for a possible Reel Critic on that as well.
Just before the show’s final fade-to-black, Bojack Horseman (Will Arnett) recites a story to his longtime friend Diane Nguyen (Allison Brie). In the story, the pseudo leader of his prison block, Big Andy, forces the block to watch the same rom-com every week during movie night. After weeks of watching the same movie, Bojack hatches a scheme to destroy the DVD and, after his plan’s success, suggests a new one. Instead of fixing the problem, Big Andy falls in love with the new flick and the cycle begins anew. In one concisely written, only “kind of funny” anecdote, as Bojack says, the show’s entire message pours out of the screen: though the appearance of life changes, shifting circumstances and situations, the essence of it is constant. There is no grand moment of rebirth when the baggage of a past self is left behind and forgotten; we carry our entire past, every decision we’ve ever made, with us every step of the way. We can never escape our faults, or be wholly free from them; we just have to accept ourselves and strive towards betterment. Life is what it is, and nothing more. “Bojack Horseman” is a show of supreme collaborative effort between Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the show’s creator, and the actors and actresses he employs to great effect. This show could only have been made as an animation because the bounds of reality would only serve to restrict creative potential. Each character, whether they be a Persian cat agent, an asexual rabbit or a horse actor, is entirely unique and unforgettable, creating a world unlike any other. They seem to defy the trappings of archetype and stereotype. Season 6 Pt. 2 finds Bojack in a period of reinvention; he has been sober for some time and has taken a teaching job at Wesleyan as a professor of acting; yet, his past is inescapable. From the opening credits, which focus on Bojack’s face center-screen as he is confronted by the consequences of his past actions, the final season prompts Bojack and the viewer alike to grapple with the atrocities they have committed and witnessed. He is constantly telling people — and himself — that this is the “new Bojack,” someone who has entirely moved on from his past self, but is this truly possible? At points, it seems as though he has changed — he seems fulfilled and successful in his profession and cares about his students — but time and again, he reverts back to his old self. After scandalous allegations of his involvement in the death of his “Horsin’ Around” co-star Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal), Bojack conducts an interview with Biscuits Braxby (Daniele Gaither) to tell the truth on live TV, yet even the interview is shot on a replica soundstage set of his home hours before it airs. Fueled by the reviews of a “successful” first interview, Bojack pushes for a second against the wishes of his longtime agent and former girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), believing that he has “won.” When he is in the steady structure of routine, Bojack can maintain his new self, yet under pressure, he folds and reverts back, erasing years of character reconstruction. “Bojack Horseman” is at its filmic zenith when it recognizes and reverses the expectations of its viewership. Its self-awareness is unparalleled. This season sees Diane in her attempts to simultaneously battle depression and write her book of memoirs, her agent selling her on the idea that “sad is the new fun.” Instead, she writes — in her own words — a “middle-grade detective fiction series,” starring spunky protagonist Ivy Tran. For years, Diane has considered writing her memoirs, believing she must publish her book in order for the trauma, abuse and neglect of her youth to be “good damage,” but ultimately finds herself altogether questioning the notion of good damage. Life isn’t a perfectly written narrative that succinctly resolves all our problems in a single season, and the irony of this is not lost on “Bojack Horseman.” It is entirely unique in its refusal to resolve its characters’ problems, forcing them to carry the weight of their failures with them just as they would in real life. The final season of “Bojack Horseman” is the most artistically adventurous of the series. It creates a completely new style of animation for Diane’s internal conversations with her book’s protagonist and depicts a talent show of friends and family for Bojack as quite literally faces his past. These episodes are not artistic feats that draw attention solely to the talent of the show’s creators; they are purposeful alterations of style that present information the most clearly and effectively. “Bojack Horseman” has quickly become my favorite TV show for its constant reinvention, its seemingly limitless artistic imagination and its unflinching capacity to sucker punch me with a beautiful line of devastating monologue when I least expect it. The greatest compliment I can offer this show is that it is the only one that I watch both the intro and end credits for every time. “Bojack Horseman” remains a pillar of animation that draws its strength from its ability to make the nonsensical more grounded than any other television reality I’ve seen. I cannot recommend a show more highly than this. Please go out and watch it so that I can stop bringing it up at every party I attend.
The capacity for a war film to stand out amongst the infinite library of previous war films lies in its treatment of violence and death — and in its ability to combat war in a novel way. Sam Mendes’ “1917” (2019) doesn’t have the grandiose scale of “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) or the horrific spectacle of “Come and See” (1985) but it treats the World War I rescue mission with an unexpected intimacy that carries viewer engagement throughout the film’s entirety. On the back of a seemingly docile German retreat on the Western Front, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) find themselves on a mission to save the lives of an isolated British regiment about to fall into a perilous trap built around the false withdraw. Lance Corporal Blake and his best friend must hand deliver a message to the commanding officer, Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), directing him to hold back his 1,600 men from certain death at the hands of the German force, who have been planning the faux retreat for months. Oh, and Lance Corporal Blake’s brother is in the regimen — and they only have till tomorrow’s dawn to deliver the message. Tick tock. The duo must journey alone, both for stealth and for quickness, taking only necessities with them. In order to keep the epic trek intimate and continually engaging, Director Mendes and acclaimed Cinematographer Roger Deakins decided to shoot the entire film as if it were a single take, weaving together long moving shots to conjure the effect. To their credit, the visual choice establishes an incredible sense of intimacy with the film’s protagonist, centering him onscreen for most of the film’s duration, aligning his perspective with that of the audience. For all of the dogged praise being heaped upon the film’s cinematography, earning Deakins an Oscar for Best Cinematography, it felt at times as though the technique inhibited the films overall efficiency and ability to match the level of expression exhibited on screen. While some scenes, like when a German plane was shot down and came barreling towards the two Lance Corporals as well as the camera, used the one take rule to great emotional and exhilarating effect, others drag and seem to wait for the camera to play catch up. Because the film is a journey, much of it was walking, or some form of it. The slow-moving camera only appeared to make the journey all the slower, and didn’t seem to provide any artistic impact other than to abide by the set restriction. That is not to say, however, that the cinematic decision to make the film appear to be one take was not utilized by Mendes and Deakins to create a visually rich and stimulating film. Due to the fact that the camera moved slowly and with deliberate pace, audience members were always craning their heads to see just outside the contents of the aspect ratio, allowing the filmmakers to ratchet up tension at their own tempo. The camera acts as one with Schofield, performing a ballet of motion across the silver screen. When under fire from an unknown direction, Schofield hesitantly cranes his head around the corner of the staircase to find the bullets’ origin and so too does the camera, ducking back as each shot buries itself into the concrete just beside him. It is in moments like these that the inspiringly difficult cinematographic choice is rewarded. The uniqueness of “1917” is in its approach to scale, how the lives of 1,600 men are dependent on one single man. For if Schofield fails in his mission, Colonel Mackenzie will send his men into a trap for which there is no return. So, contrasting other war movies where death is omnipresent and countless soldiers die every scene, “1917” strives to make each life count. For the majority of the film, only one soldier dies yet his loss pervades the entirety of “1917,” resonating to the final fade-to-black. In the end, “1917” creates a more intimate WWI story, yet its greatest asset may also be its primary weakness. It separates itself from the rest of the pack via its novel approach to the war genre, focusing on the people that built the often forgotten moments that saved lives. And while it leaves open some thematic and philosophical threads, of which it starts many, the final handshake and “thank you” make the whole mission seem worth it. Is the final catharsis rewarding and satisfactory? Sure. But could it have been redirected for greater complexity? Of course. “1917” crafts a story that suits itself well amongst its peers, yet it lacks a certain refinement and unpredictability that would propel it into the annals of film history. For now, it remains a perfectly honed WWI picture that stands out for its remarkably personal account of an impersonal war.
The entirety of the Safdie brothers’ 2019 “Uncut Gems” is a sucker punch to the gut, and as soon as you fall to the ground gasping for air, you are battered by an assault of kicks. There isn’t a moment’s respite for the full two hour and fifteen minute runtime. It seems, right from the start, that the film has caught Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) at a point when his world is crumbling. Yet after the final fade to black, I have come to the realization that it has always been crumbling. Howard is a jeweler working with a range of very high-paying clients, yet there is something undeniably shady about his practices. He has a wide selection of precious gems and an array of studded necklaces, bracelets and watches. Those around him understand not to ask where he gets them: They already know that the answer will most certainly not be legal. He owes money to just about everybody, though he doesn’t seem all too concerned with paying them off, causing tremendous stress and irritation to his creditors. Howard has always been a day late and a dollar short, but that just seems to be the way life goes for him; it’s not an anomaly, it has become the norm. Set in the midst of the 2012 Eastern Conference NBA Semifinals as the Boston Celtics take on the Philadelphia 76ers, “Uncut Gems” brings the real life persona, charisma and talent that is Kevin Garnett into Howard’s arena. One of Howard’s “partners,” Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), who helps Howard bring in customers on the condition that Howard helps him sell his fake Rolex watches, has brought Garnett in for that exact purpose, yet Howard has something different to show him on this occasion. For the past 17 months, after making a discovery while watching the History channel, Howard has wheeled-and-dealed his way into procuring a black opal, one of the most precious stones in the world, worth roughly $1 million as is. “You can see the whole universe in a black opal,” Howard says to Garnett as he hands him a loupe to inspect the gem, drawing him into the allure the gem emits. This is the central theme of “Uncut Gems,” you must search past the rough exterior of an uncut gem and look inward to discover the beauty of it. Howard is an uncut gem to the utmost degree; rough on the exterior and only to the trained eye can his 24-karat brilliance be seen. Kevin Garnett found himself in a turbulent seven game series, fluctuating up and down, carrying his team equally often to victory and defeat. So, as he enters Howard’s shop, he is searching for salvation. As soon as he places the loupe to his eye and leans in to the crystal he sees his whole life flash by. Garnett himself is an uncut gem, especially as an athlete. Professional athletes open themselves up to incredible amounts of criticism and hate; reactions are directed towards their outermost layer, yet Kevin wants to look deep within himself to find the star ball player he is. The pull of the gem is incredibly magnetic, as soon as he sees it, he knows he must have it, offering up his 2008 NBA Championship ring as collateral, given that he doesn’t have the $1 million tucked away in some back pocket. A jeweler with a ring and an athlete with a rock, each possessing something of value to the other with the agreement that a swap will be remade at the end of the week when Howard has arranged for his gem to be auctioned off. However, things immediately fail to go according to plan as Howard pawns the ring to make a bet on Kevin in order to procure the $100,000 debt he has collected. Howard believes completely in his ability as a businessman and financial whiz, yet time isn’t on his side — there are only so many chances you can be offered before your mistakes get the better of you. In the end, the constraints of the hole Howard has dug for himself may be too great for him to escape. It is in his beautiful demise that “Uncut Gems” emplores audiences to strive to understand the deeper existence of someone, see them as there are, not who they present themselves to be. Everyone is an uncut gem struggling to find their way out of the mines and into the spotlight; Howard’s only problem is mistaking the gem for himself. An endless search for external and monetary validation can lead nowhere, and it is only within ourselves that we come to understand the world.