With all that’s gone on since early 2020, I’ve had a lot more time than usual for the arts. By this, I don’t just mean the time spent consuming it. I mean the time I’ve had to reflect on it. The time I’ve had to expand on it. So I’ve set about on a mission of sorts: to up my consumption repertoire — to move away from the well-known greats to the lesser-known greats and see more of what’s out there. Below are these artful things which I feel are most likely to resonate with you as well. Films, books, stuff, that you just might get a serious kick out of. Sure, we aren’t socialising and having fun in the same ways we’d like to, but that doesn’t mean we can’t consume the abundant art that’s all around us in the spare pockets of time that we do still have. Enjoy.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Written and Directed by Bong Joon-Ho (yes, the man responsible for that best picture winning masterpiece, Parasite), Memories of Murder is a well-paced, well-nuanced detective thriller that had me unable to stop thinking about it for days after. Set in 1986 around a rural town in Korea, homicide detective Park Doo-man investigates the death of a local woman before it becomes clear there are a string of murders occurring. Shot incredibly, and acted incredibly, this is a must-see for people who can get over their fear of films that require subtitles. If anything, this movie is worth watching for the closing shot alone — one of cinema’s most affecting.
Boy Parts, by Eliza Clark
If you’re under thirty-five and British (or have lived in Britain), then this book is worth your time. Written in the first-person, it wastes no time in getting going. I quickly found myself inserted right into the hectic life of protagonist Irina. And somehow, in spite of the subject material (lewd photography), in spite of her being a female and I a male, Irina is often easy to relate to. If you understand the cultural nuances of being a young person in modern Britain, I feel it’s more likely you’ll understand what I mean when you read this book. Dark, humorous, exciting, shocking, and sad, this is the best debut novel I’ve read in a very long time.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Although critically acclaimed, I’ve found this Wim Wenders movie to be one that escapes most people. Its synopsis isn’t helpful: a vagabond named Travis emerges from the desert and attempts to reunite with his family. It doesn’t exactly say much does it? And yet this film has so much to say. Harry Dean Stanton is masterful as Travis, our protagonist who begins the film as an awkward mute and ends it as an admirable man. The soundtrack is stunning, the cinematography lovely. But, as is often associated with cult movies, Paris, Texas is a slow-burner. It requires patience and attention. Those who give it the respect it deserves will be rewarded by one of the most beautiful final sequences in film. It’s a scene revolving around the reconnection of two characters which some tout as the greatest acting ever seen on screen.
In The Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami
Looking for a page-turner you’ve not heard of? I’d wager that this could be it. Certainly the less esteemed Murakami, and though not at all related, Ryu Murakami is, like Haruki Murakami, an incredible Japanese author. Fiction from this corner of the world has always been up there with the best for me, and this short novel is one that had me terrified, thrilled, and unable to put it down across its 200-page span. We follow Kenji. He’s a young man who’s job it is to guide gaijin (foreign) men around Tokyo’s numerous sex clubs and sleazy establishments. When a man named Frank offers him a large sum for three-days work, Kenji finds himself unable to turn it down despite his doubt and ill-feeling toward Frank. What follows is up to you to read about, but I know that American Psycho fans will likely rejoice.
The many works of Edward Hopper
There are many things I miss about life pre-pandemic. Wandering art galleries, and attempting to or pretending to understand the art within is one of them. Perhaps then, that my greatest discovery over the past year or so is that of Edward Hopper. A realism artist who came to fame in the 1930’s and beyond, Hopper’s artwork is something that could certainly resonate with us all right now. Often dwelling on isolation, his paintings and drawings capture the solemn feeling that the original Covid lockdowns caused for many, as well as the hope that their end will come. Deeply human and beautiful, I’d implore you to check out works like Nighthawks, Summer Evening and The Long Leg.
The Hunt (2012)
As it turns out, there are quite few movies named The Hunt. You’ll want to make sure it’s the version starring Mads Mikkelsen that you watch though, because this one makes for truly excellent viewing. A Danish production (yes, that means you need to watch it with subtitles), The Hunt focuses on the drama a man faces when he is wrongly accused of touching a child. As the audience, we’re forced to confront the reality that a terrible lie can cause as we watch the main character’s life fall apart. It’s a great look at how humans might turn on one another based on word of mouth alone, and I found the performances of the actors to be wrought with emotion and realness as the film builds to its brilliant conclusion.
The Peregrine, by J.A. Baker
A book about a Falcon sub-species? I hear you question, quite hesitantly, with arched eyebrows. Well yes, this book is essentially a journal of the time J.A. Baker spent watching Peregrines in and around the quaint English countryside of Essex. I too was hesitant to read it. Even though it’s set where I grew up, I read reviews of this critically acclaimed gem and thought that it was just the hysteria of the bird-watching community. I was wrong though. The Peregrine is near perfect. It is a gentle hug, a warm fireplace, a sweet back rub. A beautiful book that everyone should experience. To be quite honest, I’m unsure if the English language has ever been used as wonderfully as it is in this book. A slow delight best saved for quiet evenings, you’ll have a new appreciate for nature when it’s over.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
Quick. Turn on Netflix. Watch this movie. The Peanut Butter Falcon was quite possibly the feel good film of 2020, and yet I know a lot of people who haven’t seen it or down right refuse to watch it. Don’t be one of those people. Starring Shia LaBeouf, the film charts the unlikely relationship his hick character forms with a young runaway who has down syndrome (played by Zack Gottsagen, an actor with down syndrome in real life). Inspirational and heartfelt, you’ll be rooting for more adventures when it’s over. In any case, I’m just glad somebody green-lit this unique and lovely film.
One Hundred Years Of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
You’ve likely heard of this book. Maybe you’ve even wanted to read it but haven’t found the time. It’s a classic after all, and I’m here to tell you that if you’re up for the challenge, then this book should not escape your grasp. Charting the fictional history of the Buendía family, One Hundred Years Of Solitude is an epic tale that blurs the lines of fantasy and realism. I would strongly suggest buying a copy of the novel that has a fold-out family tree included. It’ll help you keep track of the characters, which I found a necessity in my overall enjoyment of it. When it was over, I felt like I’d travelled in time with a family in a place that I will never know. Quite amazing.
Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream is a masterpiece. Everything from the way it’s shot, to the colour palette, the performances, the perfect soundtrack, the visceral imagery, the hellish plot. It’s sublime. I’m actually a little perplexed that it took me so long to sit down and watch it, so here I am to tell you that you might want to do the same thing. Your warning though: it’s about addiction. It’s about drugs. It’s not a happy film. It is however as gripping a warm tyre on a race track. You’ll shake when it’s over, but you’ll appreciate what you’ve seen.
In many ways, the pandemic has left some of us feeling stranded or distant. The feeling is perhaps captured best by the distance many of us are having to maintain from our families and friends. It’s tough to bear I know. Writing though, is an art-form with which you can send virtual love. There is honesty in handwritten words, and it can sometime create the proximity we crave. So I’ll end this by challenging you to send a postcard to someone. To anyone. Send them your words and your thoughts and create a feeling of closeness that Covid has ripped away, but that words can often give back. It’ll be a warm lamp in the dark forest which we find ourselves in, but not for too much longer.
~ Samuel Hodges, January 2021, London.