Century of the Self

Century-of-Self

Originally released in 2002, Adam Curtis’s “Century of the Self” was a four-part series on the BBC that examined how Sigmund Freud’s theories of human psychology have been employed (and refined) by the rich and powerful to control the dangerous impulses of the masses. Much of this dazzlingly entertaining yarn focuses on Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, the “father of public relations” and one of the earliest political consultants to apply advertising principles to elections and governance. Anna Freud, Wilhelm Reich, and other titans of 20th Century mind-manipulators make cameos. Throughout, Curtis makes a convincing case that our current state of hyper-narcissism and egocentrism is anything but an accident.

Andasibe Hotel

Andasibe-hotel

When you’re thousands of miles away from the civilization to which you’re accustomed, a 3-star lodge in the middle of the jungle can feel like 13-stars — especially when your bungalow is tucked into the forest, where howling Indri-Indri lemurs issue “wake up calls” at dawn. The Andasibe Hotel, about four hours by car from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, achieves the perfect balance of natural rusticity and modern comfort. There’s one other fancy lodge in the vicinity, but that one keeps wild lemurs imprisoned on a small island for the amusement of tourists. At Andasibe, the living creatures (including the wealthy European guests) roam free, harmonizing with the wilderness, sleeping beneath the stars, surrounded by tree frogs, chameleons and millions of unseen insects. It’s a genuine sanctuary.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

perverts-guide-to-ideology

Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a charming public intellectual whose accented-English, absentminded nose-wiping, and obvious enthusiasm for Ideas make him a kind of ambassador of deep thinking. In the 2012 documentary “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” directed by Sophie Fiennes, Zizek delivers dazzling deconstructions of many popular films, showing how they function as instruments of ideology and propaganda. Jaws, Titanic, Taxi Driver — they all contain subtle (and not so subtle) cues that encourage the viewer to believe and accept a prevailing ideology, much like “Triumph of the Will” worked for the Nazis. Zizek, and “The Guide” are provocative and highly entertaining, often more so than the movies he analyzes.

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey

cosmos TV show

What happens when one of the best series ever to appear on American television is remade with 2014 CGI technology? A cheering glimpse of What’s Possible — on television, in our brief lives, out there in the distant ether. We’re exposed to one compelling version of The Truth. “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey,” recently broadcast on Fox and now streaming, is a brilliant celebration of Science, of the scientific method, of Reason’s triumph over Superstition. Hosted by the Carl Sagan of our time, Neil Degrasse Tyson, the series escorts us laypeople to the most distant reaches of our universe (and beyond), in both directions, inward and outward, answering many profound questions yet still marveling at the mysteries we’ve yet to solve. “Cosmos” is the best thriller series on TV.

Grand Fatilla’s “Global Shuffle”

grand fatilla

The world music collective Grand Fatilla consists of Club d’Elf bassist Mike Rivard, electric mandolinist Matt Glover, accordionist Roberto Cassan, and percussionist-singer Fabio Pirozzolo. We mention this because the astonishing breadth of the group’s repertoire sounds like there are about 14 virtuoso musicians at work. Grand Fatilla specializes in nothing — except consistent excellence. On their debut recording, they perform authentic, spirited versions of Bulgarian dances, Italian tarantellas, Turkish and Irish songs, Moroccan trances, and some deliciously groovy tangos. Recorded beautifully in a refurbished church, “Global Shuffle” is currently our favorite reminder of planet Earth’s astonishing diversity of sublime music.

Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy

Comedians have their strengths. Some are good with “paper” — prepared written material. Some are expert improvisers. Some create indelible characters. And a few, the rare ones, can do it all. Matt McCarthy, a longtime New York comic currently destroying Los Angeles, has got the magic. We’ve seen him in several realms, including bar-raising sets at Troy Conrad’s comedy-improv shows “Prompter” and “Set List,” and he’s amazed and delighted in every setting. You might have seen him in TV commercials or heard him on his wrestling podcast — he was a writer for the WWE before joining The Pete Holmes Show staff. But when you experience McCarthy live, you’ll understand why both audiences and fellow comics consider him a unique sensation.

Is the Tall Man Happy?

is_the_man_who_is_tall_happy_an_animated_conversation_with_noam_chomsky

Driector Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) is currently flummoxing viewers with his persistently inventive “Mood Indigo.” But of all his blazingly original creations, the 2013 documentary “Is the Tall Man Happy: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky” might be his most densely wonderful work. Gondry and the indispensable linguist and social critic Chomsky have a wide-ranging chat. But instead of filming the discussion, Gondry animates it (beautifully and strangely). The result is simultaneously light and trippy, heavy and profound — and consistently mesmerizing.

Tom Chang’s “Tongue & Groove”

tongue & groove

Guitarist Tom Chang’s debut recording,Tongue & Groove,is an arresting, curry-flavored gumbo of jazz, contemporary classical, and South Indian Carnatic music. What this mélange sounds like is newness personified, a foreshadowing of the globalization of musical cultures. The sonic unfamiliarity doesn’t jar; it seduces. The title track opens with a 30-second vocal percussion solo that would make Bobby McFerrin smile, followed by a blazing groove worthy of Brian Blade. The album features tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, acoustic bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Gerald Cleaver, Akshay Anatapadmanabhan on kanjira and mridangam, and Subash Chandran on konnakol. And at the nexus, Chang, who can (and does) use his guitar like a master ventriloquist channeling distant voices.

. . . → Read More: Tom Chang’s “Tongue & Groove”

Pandora’s Promise

pandora's promise

Committed environmentalists know that nuclear power is bad. Evil. The worst. We’ve been trained by incidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima to fear the inevitable disasters that radioactivity will surely wreak upon our energy-hungry world. Not to mention the apocalyptic weaponry that nuclear power begets. It’s a settled issue. According to the provocative and enlightening documentary “Pandora’s Promise,” a beautifully made and persuasively argued challenge to progressive-minded Groupthink, the issue is far from settled. Indeed, director Robert Stone suggests that thanks to third- and fourth-generation reactors, some of which are being designed to use their own radioactive waste as fuel, nuclear power may prove to be a better answer to our energy questions than wind and solar. Crazy? Blasphemous? A cynical propaganda ploy by rich folks with atomic investments? Watch, learn and decide for yourself.

 

 

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The Shape of Content

shape of content

The painter, writer, and progressive thinker Ben Shahn died in 1969. But his thoughts on Art and Life read today like a freshly-digitized TED talk. His famously provocative — as in provoking genuinely new ways of looking and cogitating — series of 1950s lectures at Harvard were collected into a graciously illustrated short book, originally published in 1960, called “The Shape of Content.” You may know Shahn from his portrait of Martin Luther King on the cover of Time (1965). Reading him 50 years later reminds all of us, creative and otherwise, that the What of art, the content part, has and always will be a meandering path to social justice.