Why Nobody Dared Stream The Dissident

    “Has the sacrificial victim arrived yet?” ”He has arrived.” “Thank God.” Those are quotes from Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Turkish intelligence obtained (one does not ask how) an audio recording, and highlights from the transcript are part of the new documentary The Dissident. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who won the 2018 […]

Black Holes and Psychic Vampires

    Two months ago, the country was melting down, the virus was winning, and the prospect of being sucked into a black hole in outer space was the only scenario terrifying enough to dwarf the rest of my angst. I read to distract myself, but the explanations confused me from the start: Black holes […]

Tulpan a Beautiful Homage to the Steppe

  A stampede of camels groan in the red dust; a dog barks as it streaks past a yurt, in pursuit. This is the opening of Tulpan (2008), a Kazakh narrative film streaming now as part of Filmatique’s Foreign Language Oscar Submissions curation. The film won many awards internationally, including the Prix Un Certain Regardat […]

How German Captured the Pandemic, and French Gave It Nuance

    All those stereotypes you struggle against? Dig them out and brush them off, because of course the German language invented the most complicated, somber, interesting words for life in a pandemic. And French added the most nuance. And Spanish emphasized sociability. As for us? Quite a few of our neologisms sound like a […]

The Booksellers Shows Labor of Love and Obsession

    The documentary The Booksellers was set to release theatrically in 2020, but the pandemic hit, and it made its way to Amazon Prime. The film is a group portrait of lovesickness—the ecstasy, labor, and sometimes disappointment of the spurned, of book dealers and collectors. “If you’re a collector you’re a sick, obsessive, compulsive […]

The Cock Will Crow

    We sigh in bliss outside French patisseries, dab on French parfum, drink French wine, eat cassoulet and coq au vin, wear Parisian couture. We have made French toast, French fries, and French kisses our own. Yet we cannot manage to absorb the French sensibility. Criticize their politics all you like, the French know […]

How Mud Can Save Us

    The dog looks like a baby rhinoceros, every black curl caked with mud, his eyes bright slivers beneath a brown spiked fringe. How did seven pristine inches of snow turn into this diarrhetic substance? After enthusiastic greetings from Figgy and Lucy and Buddy and Dukie at the dog park, I am almost as […]

Spitting on Polish

    Like the canals in Venice and the air over Beijing, my fingernails have cleared during the pandemic. No longer stained by red polish or suffocated into fungus or splitting from the astringent polish remover, they are simply there, white crescent moons bright above smooth pink nail beds, the ends gently curved. Why did […]

Dreiser in St. Louis

One of the literary figures whose association with St. Louis has been mostly forgotten is Theodore Dreiser, author of the novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Dreiser lived and worked in St. Louis for 16 formative months, from November 1892 to March 1894. He was only 21 when he arrived, and other than five […]

The Contagion Narrative—and What It Leaves Out

    We have been living in a disaster movie, so caught up in the suspense, we failed to see how scripted it was. Turns out there is an “outbreak narrative” in films and popular novels, and it has influenced our media, our policy, our response. There are stock characters: Patient Zero, who seems healthy […]