Our Personal Criterion Collection


To open this week’s newsletter, we’re opting to answer at newsletter length a question we saw posed on Twitter:

Dame Margaret’s Pick: To me, the special joy of this question isn’t just getting to write at length about a favorite movie, but also getting to canonize a favorite that might otherwise be overlooked. Something being included in the Criterion Collection means that it is a work is worthy of serious preservation and analysis. It says that people who care about film will find something of value in consuming it, regardless of whether or not it is to their taste. So, instead of picking an already-acclaimed-but-not-yet-included film I adore (leading contenders there: Lady Bird and When Harry Met Sally, both of which I hope are someday included), I’m picking my Best Loved, Least Celebrated favorite: the early aughts music industry satire, Josie and the Pussycats.

Not exclusively because of this iconic line, but not without regard to its excellence.

I love this movie so much that I flew to L.A. to attend a screening of it last fall, and it remains one of the best treats I’ve ever given myself. The movie was widely panned at its release, largely because people did not think fare for teenagers could be so scathing in its depiction of them on purpose, so surely it must be an accidental tonal mismatch. BUT! That assessment underestimated both teenagers’ intelligence and their ability to imagine themselves to be smarter than their peers, which can both be well nigh infinite. So, in addition to being a stone-cold teen classic, complete with a gangly-but-goofily-blank male love interest to warm the hardest adolescent feminist’s heart, it’s also an extremely sharp and sophisticated comedy that skewers our consumerist culture with cartoonish aplomb.  

Dame Sophie’s Pick: Like Dame Margaret, I’d want to use the opportunity to write a Criterion Collection essay specifically to add an unjustly overlooked film to their canon. And I would very happily write about any of the films I listed above! Today, though, I’m feeling very sentimental about a rock documentary that aims to be too many things -- a behind-the-scenes verité, a pensive self-reflection on the road with a band at a new peak of their fame, a goosebump-inducing concert film -- and winds up being a bit of a lovable, disorganized mess: U2’s Rattle & Hum.

They really were giving us some looks on this tour

Rattle & Hum, released 30 years ago this month, documents some aspects of U2’s Joshua Tree tour in 1987, but never quite gets its arms all the way around its massive subject and eventually stops trying. On balance, the film is a very concrete manifestation of the phrase teen reporter William Miller uses to describe his profile of Stillwater in Almost Famous: it’s a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh light of stardom. If anything, it doesn’t show enough of the band struggling with the existential question all artists must face when they know they’re in the middle of something extraordinary, “ok, this is amazing, but how on Earth are we going to follow it up?” Of course, there’s no way director Phil Joanou or the band could have known that three years later, after a series of grueling, marathon recording sessions, U2 would release Achtung Baby, a hard turn away from the spiritually soaring heights of the songs they rode to adulation and into the muck of messy relationships and their own alchemical version of industrial, dancey arena rock.

With the benefit of hindsight, while Rattle & Hum will never match the elegance and élan of A Hard Day’s Night, does stand as a valuable, if sadly fragmentary, document of its very particular time and place.

Wheeeeeee! See, they’re not ALWAYS serious rock lecturers!

Dame Margaret Gettin’ Gritty With It

If loving Gritty is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

These Are A Few of Sophie’s Favorite Things (Of The Week)

A few weeks ago, DamesFav & Past Guest Editrix Rave Sashayed remarked on Twitter that the only attractive person on the Internet now is Erik Singer, the dialect coach who presents the accent analysis videos for Wired, and now that I have watched them all twice, I have to agree. These videos are notable for doing just one thing -- assessing actors’ accents in movies and explaining what works (or doesn’t) about them -- and doing it very, very well. They light up the same pleasure centers of my brain as The Great British Bake-Off: exquisite expertise, lovingly applied. Bliss.

The rest of my recommendations to you this week come as a trio of trios! What symmetry!

A trio of items that have brought me considerable delight & joy recently

  • Did you know that Big Boi loves Kate Bush? He does, and he explains his passion for her as an artist and producer in this extremely charming video from Pitchfork’s Verses series, breaking down “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).”

  • I have never watched Batman Returns, but knowing what I now know about Selina Kyle’s pink apartment, I may need to change that. This movie was released in 1992 but that apartment looks straight out of the 2010s. So prescient! If you like to think about pink and its place in our culture, this Instagram account may be just the thing for you.

  • Salt Fat Acid Heat is a four-part documentary series based on Samin Nosrat’s cookbook of the same title. I’ve watched one episode so far and am kiiiiiind of ready to apprentice myself to a cheese-maker now? My husband & I have been making our way through all the episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown that are available on Netflix, and as much as I love to see Bourdain so full of life (and grapple with the hindsight knowledge that he was, by his own description, almost always exhausted and lonely, too, self-medicating with overwork and a lot of alcohol) SFAH is a really lovely counterweight to it. As Maura Judkis puts it in her review for The Washington Post, “To put it bluntly: Most travel food shows are about white male discovery.  And most home cooking shows are about white female domesticity. Nosrat gently rejects all of that.” This show is sublime, and I’m doing my best not to binge-watch it, though I really, really want to.

A trio of podcasts to entertain, enlighten, and enrage you

  • Do you ever think to yourself, “Gee, what my day needs is 90 minutes of erudite yelling about ableist Southern gothic mass-market paperbacks of the 1980s?” Then have I got the podcast for you!!! Cherished DamesPals Renata & Kait have once again allowed me to be their guest on The Worst Bestsellers! This time, we dug into V.C. Andrews’ utterly bonkers, baroque masterpiece of gaslighting, My Sweet Audrina. I still feel that I owe them an apology for making them read it, but I take Worstness very very seriously, particularly when it comes to deeply weird formative texts of my youth that I had absolutely no business reading at age 12! Also, our Readers’ Advisory for this episode is chef’s kiss.

  • (Content warning: sexual assault) Forever 35 is one of my favorite podcasts these days. I love listening to hosts Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer talk about their lives and their various self-care regimens. A show that pairs Serious Life Stuff with levity and skincare is a show for me. Their recent interview with one of my favorite music writers, Jessica Hopper, goes to a really serious place where she discusses the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of her doctor while giving birth, and the experience of being discouraged to bring charges against him until another patient -- an undocumented immigrant, who was in an even more vulnerable position than Hopper -- came forward with an identical allegation. It is raw and moving, and one of the best episodes the show has ever done.

  • As Dame Margaret noted above, 99% Invisible’s 6-part series on clothes, Articles of Interest, is fantastic. The episode I want to shout out is the series finale, which addresses the origins of the punk aesthetic, is a perfect balance of erudite and fizzy, personal and global. I love thinking about the journey everyday, ubiquitous things took to become everyday and ubiquitous, and listening to this methodology applied to clothes is a particular treat.

A trio of long-reads: two sobering, one gleeful (but also kind of sobering in that “huh, the patriarchy has really been killing our vibe for millennia, huh?” kind of way)  

  • I’m going to put the really sad ones first; skip if you can’t read stuff about drug addiction and overdoses. This moving obituary of Madelyn Ellen Linsenmeir, who worked very hard to stay sober, and who couldn’t, has gone viral this week. With good reason: her family has written something very personal, which illustrates how dangerous and wrong it is for us as a culture to persist in viewing addiction as a weakness, when it is more accurately & helpfully considered as an illness. The response of Maddie’s police chief is equally moving in its portrayal of public servants sweating the small stuff to do right by their neighbors. Finally, this infuriating, heartbreaking feature in the New York Times, about the opioid crisis in my beloved home city of Philadelphia, is an unrelenting series of punches to the gut. Jennifer Percy uses vignette after vignette to highlight the complexities of the crisis -- including inadequate affordable housing, residents feeling and being threatened by addicts behaving out of desperation, fatally bad batches of heroin laced with fentanyl tearing through its users, attempts to house and account for addicts moving too slowly to help users being rousted from their encampments in vacant lots -- and offers no easy answers. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s important to read.

  • This newsletter loves Dolly Parton. We admire her as an artist and as a feminist icon of self-determination and self-definition. We also have to reckon with her role as a really not-great employer at her amusement park, Dollywood, and the way her Dixie Stampede leans heavily on racist, ahistorical understandings of the Civil War. This essay is also about identity and fandom and so much more; it’s one I’ll be returning to again & again.

  • I hesitate to say “and finally, on the lighter side, here’s a two-part essay about Catherine De Medici!”, because although this two-part essay is indeed packed with wit, it’s also a serious examination of how she survived a lifetime of trauma -- brilliantly, craftily, often ruthlessly -- becoming a skilled political strategist who we now only remember as that crazy bitch who poisoned people. Anne Thériault’s entire series on Queens of Infamy is most worthy of cancelling brunch plans to loll about catching up in full.

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