When Rita Moreno was filming the 1961 movie “West Side Story,” her skin color — as well as that of the numerous white actors playing Puerto Rican characters — was darkened with makeup. Moreno, who is Puerto Rican, questioned the makeup artist on set about the practice.
“We are many colors,” she recalled in a 2019 interview with the Associated Press. That makeup artist then accused her of being racist. “I was so stunned that I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. That’s really also how little people know about Puerto Ricans.”
Thankfully, no actor is in brownface in the new version of the movie musical, now playing in theaters. Twenty members of its cast are Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent; eight of these actors were found at casting calls in San Juan. A notable portion of its dialogue is in Spanish, delivered without subtitles appearing on-screen. And a newly added moment sees the Sharks singing the original version of “La Borinqueña,” which became the official anthem of the U.S. territory after it was rewritten with less confrontational lyrics.
Remaking “West Side Story” in the 21st century required such changes, said filmmaker Steven Spielberg. “It’s important that representation be authentic to return the piece to the integrity that I think it deserves,” he said in a “20/20″ special. “I really felt — we felt, all of us, together — that we needed this to be a Latinx production.”
But is it possible to transform a text like that of “West Side Story,” as profoundly flawed as it is groundbreaking and beloved, with such surface-level fixes? No matter how many Nuyorican actors are cast, how many lines are recited in Spanish, how many Puerto Rican consultants are hired and how many panels with historical experts are held, the collective effort does not correct the problematic appropriation on which the musical was built.
“West Side Story” was originally conceived by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who approached book writer Arthur Laurents and composer Leonard Bernstein in 1949 about a contemporary musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” He suggested the star-crossed lovers hail from an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family as they feuded in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the Easter-Passover season. However, the concept felt too similar to Anne Nichols’ popular 1920s play “Abie’s Irish Rose,” and the trio shelved the project, then titled “East Side Story.”
Six years later, The Times published an article about a fight that broke out between Latino gangs in San Bernardino: Two young men fought outside a dance at Johnson Community Hall, one died. It sparked the idea to inject their tragic love story with some topical racial conflict.
“We decided to make the show about teenage gangs, to make it more timely,” Laurents told The Times in 2009. Noted “Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story” author Nigel Simeone, “If they hadn’t seen that newspaper story, I’m not even sure [the musical] would have gotten finished. It was more than a turning point. This was a mess that hadn’t been worked on in six years. It’s a seemingly insignificant moment that had a colossal impact.”
Because of the article, “Lennie wanted to set the action in Los Angeles, but I suggested New York,” Laurents recalled to The Times in 2009. “We had Puerto Rican gangs there, and the story would work well.”
According to Craig Zadan’s book “Sondheim & Co,” Stephen Sondheim, then a rookie lyricist, was hesitant to sign on for the project because “I’ve never been that poor and I’ve never even known a Puerto Rican!” But his agent “told him not to think in those terms. They are star-crossed lovers. They are underprivileged and the haves and have-nots have more to do with their psyches than their economics.”
Though the 1957 Broadway production and its 1961 film adaptation remain groundbreaking for Robbins’ trailblazing choreography, Bernstein’s complex compositions and Sondheim’s formative writing experience, it also remains a classic case of cultural appropriation. Said Laurents himself in a 2008 interview with AARP: “Because of our own bias and the cultural conventions of 1957, it was almost impossible for the characters in ‘West Side Story’ to have authenticity.”
The creators said they did some research on the Nuyorican community: Robbins visited youth dances in Harlem to incorporate moves into choreography, and Bernstein added pan-Latin rhythms to the score. But ultimately, “West Side Story” borrowed the aesthetics from what these four Jewish men perceived to be a Puerto Rican identity — thick accents, dark skin, motivations for violent interactions — to tell a highly theatrical Shakespeare tale, not the other way around.
Of course, “West Side Story” was written in the 1950s, when cultural authenticity was not a prime concern. For example, Sondheim famously balked at complaints about an original “America” lyric that inaccurately characterized Puerto Rico as an “island of tropic diseases.” As he wrote in his book “Finishing the Hat”: “I’m sure his outrage was justified, but I wasn’t about to sacrifice the line that sets the tone for the whole lyric.” (The line was eventually changed for the 1961 movie.)
The stage show was a critical and commercial hit — The Times’ Albert Goldberg described it in 1957 as “the most serious and uncompromising musical yet to achieve success on the Broadway stage” — and the subsequent film adaptation collected 10 Oscars and is considered one the greatest movie musicals of all time. It has been revived on Broadway multiple times and is often staged in high schools, aided by its ability to accommodate large teenage casts.
Decades later, the cultural inauthenticity of the popular title continues to have real-life ramifications for the Puerto Rican community. “The movie was the first major — and still the most widely seen and exported — U.S. cultural product to recognize Puerto Ricans as a distinct Latino group in the United States with specific physical characteristics (brown, dark-haired, svelte) and personality traits (loud, sexy, colorful),” Frances Negrón-Muntaner, founding director of the Media and Idea Lab at Columbia University, wrote on the Women’s Media Center website.
“Drawing on centuries-old stereotypes about Latinos, the women are virginal and childlike or sexual and fiery; the men are violent and clannish. [It] widely popularized racist and sexist stereotypes that continue to shape how the world sees Puerto Ricans and how they see themselves.”
The entertainment industry would be better off investing in homegrown Nuyorican theater rather than trying over and over again to fix this particular problematic piece. Still, like the makers of many previous “West Side Story” versions onstage, Spielberg and his collaborators have said they worked hard to try to repair the damage caused by the original productions.
“I think it’s absolutely, as all art is, a product of its time,” the new movie’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner, told Time of the original. “There were certain kinds of articulations unavailable to the four gay Jews that wrote the thing originally. And there are mistakes that they made, absolutely.”
In creating the remake, which received strong reviews and is considered an Oscar contender despite its disappointing box office opening, the filmmakers did consult multiple Puerto Rican experts on its historical accuracy, translations, dialects and period-specific slang. “The reason we’ve hired so many Puerto Rican singers and dancers and actors is so they can help guide us to represent Puerto Rico in a way that will make all of you and all of us proud,” Spielberg told a group of University of Puerto Rico faculty members and students during an unannounced visit to San Juan in 2018.
Additionally, casting Latino actors as Latino characters “goes hand-in-hand with my reasoning for not subtitling the Spanish,” Spielberg told IGN. “If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it.” (The 2009 Broadway revival similarly featured Spanish-language lyrics translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda — a majority of which were reverted to English five months into its run.)
The tweaks were no doubt made with serious intent. But beyond providing a showcase for Spielberg’s visually stunning craft, they still serve as coverups of the cultural appropriation of the original text, to which this version remains all too faithful. Although no movie can ever encompass the lived experience of a community, this “West Side Story” was remade by a filmmaker, screenwriter and key department heads who are not of Puerto Rican descent, with the guidance of many Puerto Rican experts.
“It continues the original’s tradition of advancing a dangerous narrative even as it offers Latinx people some important opportunities,” Latino Rebels film critic Cristina Escobar writes of the new movie. “In the end, it’s a film by and for white guys, and I’d rather watch something else.”
Although its characters are cast authentically and not wearing brownface — the bare minimum of moviemaking in 2021 — these performers, like Moreno in the original film, are inevitably put in the position of cultural watchdogs for the Puerto Rican diaspora as well as being skilled singers, dancers and actors in a big-budget release. For example, the set’s many dark blue Puerto Rican flags were swapped for the original light blue ones after dancer David Avilés wore a shirt to set with the original flag and shared his knowledge of its history. Avilés said he then became part of a committee Kushner formed with other Puerto Rican cast members who shared information about the Puerto Rican experience with him.
And regardless of the copious pages of nuanced, heavily researched backstory newly written by Kushner, these Puerto Rican actors are still playing the same reductive Puerto Rican characters. “These continuous revivals reinforce America’s colonizing power to determine who Puerto Ricans get to be,” critic Carina del Valle Schorske wrote in GFN last year.
The new version does have transportive renditions of Bernstein’s legendary score, conducted by the L.A. Philharmonic‘s Gustavo Dudamel; gorgeously gritty sets by production designer Adam Stockhausen; and standout performances by Ariana DeBose, Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist and Iris Menas. It even finally solved the problem of “I Feel Pretty,” a song that always bothered Sondheim. Like any other piece of artistic expression, this “West Side Story” is multifaceted, with dimensions of varying quality and legitimacy.
Ultimately, its headline-making attempts at cultural authenticity parallel a scene in the current movie that involves Valentina, a new Puerto Rican character played by Moreno. Hours after meeting María, Tony (Ansel Elgort) asks Valentina to translate the phrases “I’m happy to see you again” and “I want to be with you forever” into Spanish for him. He then recites them quite badly to María on their date; when she laughs it off as an endearing effort, he tells her to stop laughing and begins to tell her what the phrase means — as if she didn’t understand what he had just said.
But uttering “I want to be with you forever” in broken Spanish, after a brief consultation with Valentina, doesn’t mean that Tony can suddenly in any way speak María’s language. As he has no real comprehension of its linguistic complexities or the lived experience of the people who speak it, his words have no weight. It’s the definition of an empty gesture; it’s literally lip service.
Twin Cities Issue Vaccine Mandates for Restaurants, Bars, and Entertainment Venues
On January 12, 2022, just one week after issuing mask mandates, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter issued executive orders mandating that places of public accommodation serving food and drinks indoors require persons to furnish proof of vaccination or negative PCR or antigen tests. Then, on January 13, 2022, and January 14, 2022, respectively, Mayor Carter and Mayor Frey each issued additional emergency regulations amending their January 12, 2022, orders.
Similar to the mask mandates, the Twin Cities’ respective vaccine mandates describe the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as the reason for the new measures. The key provisions of the cities’ vaccine mandates are summarized below.
Minneapolis Emergency Regulations No. 2022-4 and No. 2022-5
The Minneapolis vaccine mandate provides, in relevant part, the following:
[A]ny space of public accommodation in the City of Minneapolis where food and/or drink is sold or served indoors for consumption onsite shall admit only those persons who furnish proof of a Completed Vaccination Series against COVID-19 occurring at least two weeks prior to entry, or proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test conducted by a medical professional from a sample that was collected from such person within three calendar days prior to the person’s entry.
The regulations also reaffirm the previous mask mandate by stating that “[a]ll individuals, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a Medical-Grade Mask or Cloth Face Covering while not actively engaged in eating and/or drinking onsite.” The regulations also reiterate the requirement that employers operating businesses subject to the regulations must require their employees to wear masks “whenever such employees have face-to-face contact with the public,” regardless of an employee’s vaccination status.
Interestingly, the regulatory framework also previously included language regarding OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), which was stayed by the Supreme Court of the United States on January 13, 2022. That language was rescinded by way of Minneapolis Emergency Regulation 2022-5 on January 14, 2022. The language previously stated the following:
All employers of businesses that are spaces [of] public accommodation subject to this Regulation shall comply with OSHA standards OSHA standards 1910.501(e) and (g), as existing on the date of issuance of this Emergency Regulation, relating to employee vaccination status and testing at covered locations, regardless of the number of their employees. (Emphasis added.)
OSHA Standard 1910.501(e) concerns a vaccine mandate for employees, while 1910.501(g) concerns a testing mandate (if an employee is not vaccinated). Previously, it was unknown whether this language would remain in effect after the Supreme Court’s decision, but that question was answered strongly in Minneapolis’s new emergency regulation. Nevertheless, employers may want to keep their eyes on this because the language may be back depending on the ultimate resolution of the OSHA ETS litigation.
The emergency regulations define “space of public accommodation” as “a business, or an educational, refreshment, entertainment, or recreation facility, or an institution of any kind, whether licensed or not, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public.” The regulations also provide various examples of spaces of public accommodation subject to the proof of vaccination or negative test requirement, including:
“indoor restaurant spaces or coffee shops;
cafes within larger spaces (e.g., museum cafes);
sports venues that serve food or drink for onsite consumption;
other entertainment venues that serve food or drink for onsite consumption;
conventions (if food is being served);
catering halls; and
food court seating areas, if exclusive to specific establishments.”
Places and establishments expressly excluded from the regulation’s vaccine mandate include:
“K-12 and early childcare settings;
congregate care facilities or other residential or healthcare facilities;
shared consumption areas not exclusive to an individual space of public accommodation;
establishments and/or food service locations that provide take out only for off-site consumption;
any location where food or drink is consumed as part of a religious practice;
any portion of a location that is outdoors, meaning the area is fully open to the outside on two or more sides;
grocery stores, convenience stores, bookstores or other establishments that primarily sell packaged food and other articles for offsite use, except in seated dining areas within those stores; and
soup kitchens or other similar sites serving vulnerable populations.”
The regulations identify what “completed vaccination series” means, which is defined as two weeks “after an individual has received the second dose in a two-dose series of an Approved COVID-19 Vaccine or a single dose in a one-dose Approved COVID-19 Vaccine.” In addition, “approved COVID-19 vaccine” is defined as “a vaccine that has been authorized or approved by either the Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization to prevent COVID-19, whether for emergency use or otherwise.”
the new regulation issued on January 14, 2022, further described what proof of vaccination may consist of, including: “presentation of a [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)]-provided card, [a] photograph of [the] card, other government-approved record of vaccination, or an application approved by a governmental entity (e.g. Docket) to hold immunization information. A photo identification is not required unless otherwise required by law or by policy of the space of public accommodation.”
Finally, the new regulation also sheds light on what a negative COVID-19 test means. The regulation states that the following is sufficient: “an email, printout or screen shot with the name of the individual and the test result showing the date of the test. A photo identification is not required unless otherwise required by law or by policy of the space of public accommodation.”
The window for employers to comply is longer than the one-day period the mask mandate provided, with the regulation taking effect on January 19, 2022, at 8:00 a.m., and remaining in effect for 40 days following, “or at the end of the declared local public health emergency to which it relates, whichever occurs first.”
Emergency Executive Orders 2022-4 and 2022-5
The St. Paul vaccine mandate is similar in many respects to the Minneapolis one. The emergency executive order provides the following:
[A]ny licensed business that is a space of public accommodation in the City of Saint Paul during any time that food and/or drink is sold or served indoors for consumption onsite shall limit admission of patrons to the area of the licensed premises where food and/or drink is being consumed, to only those persons who furnish proof of a completed vaccination series against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test obtained within seventy-two (72) hours of entry.
Not all restaurants will be subject to this requirement because they are not licensed by the City of St. Paul—only restaurants specifically licensed will be subject to the requirement. This typically means only those places with alcohol licenses.
In addition, the St. Paul mandate also requires that:
any licensed business, during any time that a ticketed event is being held, that is a space of public accommodation in the City of Saint Paul during any time that food and/or drink is sold or served indoors for consumption onsite shall limit admission of patrons to the area of the licensed premises where food and/or drink is being consumed, to only those persons who furnish proof of a completed vaccination series against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test obtained within seventy-two (72) hours of entry.
Like the Minneapolis mandate, the St. Paul mandate includes language regarding OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS setting forth a vaccination and testing mandate that was stayed by the Supreme Court of the United States on January 13, 2022. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, St. Paul revised the executive order to remove the implicated language. Previously, the executive order provided as follows:
All employers of businesses that are spaces public accommodation subject to this Regulation shall comply with OSHA standards 1910.501(e) and (g), as existing on the date of issuance of this Emergency Regulation, relating to employee vaccination status and testing at covered locations, regardless of the number of their employees. (Emphasis added.)
As stated above, this language largely resembles the Minneapolis regulation.
Employers may want to keep their eyes on this because the language may be back depending on the resolution of the OSHA ETS litigation.
The executive order defines “a licensed business that is a space of public accommodation” as “an entity that holds a City license that is a business, or an educational, refreshment, entertainment, or recreation facility, or an institution of any kind, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public.” A “ticketed event” is defined as “an event where all patrons must obtain a ticket to attend the event and tickets were available for purchase at least 14 days in advance of the event.”
With respect to terms specific to vaccination, the executive order defines “proof of a completed vaccination series against COVID-19” as “presentation of a CDC-provided card, photograph of card, other government-approved record of vaccination, or an application approved by a governmental entity (e.g. Docket) to hold immunization information in conjunction with any photo identification that includes a photograph and name of the individual. A photo identification is not required for individuals under the age of 18.” A “completed vaccination series” is defined by the executive order as “two weeks following completion of any CDC-approved vaccination series, including: a 2-dose series of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine).”
The St. Paul order also specifies what constitutes a “negative COVID-19 test,” defining it as “an email, printout or screen shot with the name of the individual and the test result showing the date of the test in conjunction with any photo identification that includes a photograph and name of the individual.” (The executive order states that “photo identification is not required for individuals under the age of 18.”) Similar to the Minneapolis mandate, the St. Paul one also does not allow at home tests as proof of a negative COVID-19 text.
The executive order provides an exemption for certain St. Paul businesses; the Minneapolis mandate does not include a comparable exemption. Namely, the executive order provides that “any facility hosting an event or activity (on a one-time or ongoing basis) that holds a license issued by the City of Saint Paul is not subject to these requirements for a specific event if no food or beverages will be consumed at the event and the facility follows all supplemental COVID-19 safety measures” is exempt from implementing the required vaccine and testing requirements. As defined by the executive order, such supplemental COVID-19 safety measures include:
“requiring face coverings be worn by all individuals, regardless of vaccine status, except young children at risk of suffocation and persons who cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering.
mak[ing] masks available for staff and attendees.
providing sufficient hand sanitizer and hand washing facilities.
following CDC-recommended cleaning protocols.
maintaining as much social distancing as possible.
maximiz[ing] indoor air ventilation.”
Like the Minneapolis window of compliance, the St. Paul compliance window remains open a relatively long time. The executive order will take effect on January 19, 2022 (generally) and on January 26, 2022 (for ticketed events). While the window of compliance is longer than the mask mandate, businesses may want to begin preparations immediately.
© 2022, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 16
Omicron options: Chronicle critics share their picks for entertainment if you’re stuck at home
With the omicron variant on the rise, many people are finding themselves back behind closed doors, isolating in an attempt to keep the coronavirus from spreading. And they’re going to need something to while away the long, lonesome hours.
With that in mind, The Chronicle offers this list of recommendations of entertaining ways to stay occupied in isolation.
The Chronicle’s top 10 movies of 2021
6 exciting offerings coming to Netflix, Hulu and more in January 2022
If the thrill of solving a mystery is strong enough to get you out of the COVID funk, “Search Party” delivers that thrill in excess, while adding gripping humor into the mix.
The Comedy Central/HBO Max comedy series stars Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) as Dory Sief, a Millennial woman living in New York City who steps out of the monotony of her life to investigate the sudden disappearance of her college acquaintance Chantal Witherbottom. With the help of her boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) and best friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner), Dory solves the initial puzzle and finds herself at the center of its bombastic aftermath, taking viewers through police investigations, media frenzies, courtroom drama and the horrors of captivity, among other surprising plot developments.
With the show’s fifth and final season set to premiere Friday, Jan. 7, now’s the time to sit back and catch up on this hidden gem of a show before it unveils its final chapter.
Stream it: Available on HBO Max. Season five premieres Friday, Jan. 7.
— Jose Alejandro Bastidas
There’s something satisfying about watching stories of survival when faced with a difficult personal moment. As I hunkered down for my own COVID-19 isolation, catching up on Showtime’s new mystery thriller “Yellowjackets” proved to be an entrancing pastime.
Many shows have tried to mimic the pop-culture sensation of ABC’s “Lost,” which followed the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. More than a decade after the end of that iconic series, Showtime’s new drama elevates the premise with two alternating timelines and a focus on the female gaze.
“Yellowjackets” follows the members of a high school girls soccer team after a plane crash leaves them fighting to survive in the wilderness in 1996, with little to no hope of being rescued. Then in 2021, the series catches up with four of the surviving members as their seemingly ordinary lives are plagued by the trauma they lived through, and a looming threat that may bring the secrets of their survival to the surface.
With a few episodes left to premiere in season one, “Yellowjackets” may inspire the conspiracy theorist in you long after your quarantine period ends.
Stream it: Available on Showtime. New episodes released Sundays through Jan. 16.
— Jose Alejandro Bastidas
’Yellowstone’ and ‘1883’
Stuck at home and can’t travel? Sometimes the best remedy is to watch a show that brings the great outdoors right to your living room. But, to be clear, this is no “Planet Earth.”
“Yellowstone” stars Kevin Costner as the Dutton family patriarch in the Paramount+ drama series, which just wrapped up its fourth season, created by Taylor Sheridan and John Linson. It’s an intense, modern-day cowboy tale that ropes you into the story of the Duttons’ Montana cattle ranch and all the dirty work it takes to protect its borders, including conflicts with neighboring Native American reservations and land developers.
If you were a fan of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” or BBC’s “Peaky Blinders,” this is a must-watch.
And once you’re done bingeing “Yellowstone,” check out the series’ spin-off “1883,” which premiered last month. Starring Sam Elliott, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, it’s the origin story of the Dutton family and it brings audiences along on their journey from Texas to a better life in Montana.
Stream it: Available to stream on Paramount+ and Amazon Prime Video.
— Mariecar Mendoza
This is a miniseries from Denmark, which I’d heard about for years but never had the time to watch until the pandemic. It’s the story of a Danish prime minister (Sidse Babett Knudsen), with a very shaky majority in Parliament, doing her best to do good and stay in power. The show follows the press, the political strategists and the jockeying among the politicians. Who ever thought that Danish politics could be so fascinating?
Knudsen, one of the best actresses in Scandinavia, is just terrific, and the series is brilliantly written — with the first two seasons off the charts. And here’s the amazingly good news: The fourth season, the first in nine years, premieres on Feb. 22.
Stream it: Available on Netflix.
— Mick LaSalle
If you’re a devotee of crime caper movies, you already know the pleasures of the genre — in particular, watching a meticulous plan unfold with clockwork precision, or adapting to meet unexpected obstacles. But you also know the drawbacks. There’s a limit to how many plot twists can be compressed into a couple of hours of screen time. There’s rarely room for character development. They’re male-dominated. Most of all, there’s a tension between filling viewers in on the heist plans ahead of time and letting us watch them unfold in action, a tension that almost no caper films get quite right. (Looking at you, “Ocean’s Eleven”!)
“Money Heist,” the magnificent Spanish miniseries that became an unexpected global sensation, nimbly solves all those problems. It’s stylish, sexy, funny, elaborate and tender. The characters are fully rounded, making space for emotional plotlines along with the caper mechanics, and the female characters are central. The heist unfolds with plenty of surprises, but the audience always has enough information. And at 41 hour-long episodes, there’s enough material to keep you happily bingeing as long as you want.
— Joshua Kosman
‘The Great British Baking Show’
You don’t have to be interested in baking to get lost in this British series. What’s appealing here is the human drama of people, from every possible background in Great Britain, competing against each other for the approval of two celebrity judges.
Paul Hollywood has been one of the judges from the beginning. For the first seven seasons, his partner in judging was Mary Berry. Now it’s Prue Leith. There are also comedian presenters, the latest of whom are the best, in my GFN — Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas.
It’s a lovely, warmhearted show, and the beauty of it is that there are 12 seasons, so you’re not likely to completely exhaust it before the pandemic is officially over. Let’s hope.
Stream it: Available on Netflix.
— Mick LaSalle
‘Hollywood: A Celebration of American Silent Film’
This is one of the greatest documentary series about movies ever made, and it couldn’t be made today. It’s a 13-part BBC documentary, narrated by James Mason and directed by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, about the entire silent film era. And because they made it in the 1970s, they were able to interview the actual stars and directors from that era, who were all in their late 70s, 80s or 90s.
It’s incredibly entertaining, as well as poignant, featuring a brilliant score by Carl Davis, the world’s premier composer for silent film. It’s the best education about silent movies you will ever receive. There’s no source, either in film or print, that gives you such an overview of the period, as well as a sampling of what you might want to investigate further. I’ve rewatched this series, from beginning to end, at least 10 times.
Stream it: Available on Amazon Prime.
— Mick LaSalle
The Chronicle’s 15 best books of 2021
2021’s best books for young adults
A guide to new books that promise to be great in the first half of 2022
‘The Lost Daughter’
If Maggie Gyllenhaal and Olivia Colman’s partnership on the Netflix adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel has left you thirsting for more, the source material, first published in 2006 and translated into English in 2008, might conjure a strange state in your mind. It’s almost unbearably painful, and yet you can’t stop reading.
Leda, an academic, is supposed to be escaping her daily life for a seaside town, but she makes a couple of dark, impulsive decisions that deeply entangle her with a chaotic Neapolitan family.
Fans of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet might recall the profound significance the author gives to dolls; here the toy becomes not just totem or charm or avatar but something grotesque, a receptacle for our most inexplicable urges.
The Lost Daughter
By Elena Ferrante
(Europa Editions, 125 pages, $16)
Stream it: The film adaptation is available now on Netflix.
— Lily Janiak
‘You Must Remember This’
Karina Longworth’s classic Hollywood podcast has been a delight since its debut in 2014, tackling subjects as varied as movie stars’ experiences during World War II, the racist legacy of the Disney film “Song of the South,” the overlooked filmmaker Polly Platt and Charles Manson’s ties to show business.
The podcast’s most recent season, “Sammy and Dino,” explores Rat Pack performers Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin with a unique central thesis. At the beginning of their careers in the 1930s and ’40s, Davis, who was Black, and Martin, who was Italian American, were both members of communities marginalized by the dominant white, Protestant culture of the time. But as the 20th century progressed, Italian Americans gained wider societal acceptance much faster than Black Americans, making their journeys to the Las Vegas stages of the 1950s and ’60s very different. As Longworth charts Davis and Martin’s careers, the specter of Rat Pack “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra is ever-present, as are booze, drugs and a steady stream of sexual partners.
With almost 200 episodes from its various seasons, there’s a Hollywood story for almost every taste narrated in Longworth’s crisply enunciated yet slightly cooing voice.
Stream it: Available to stream on podcast apps or via www.youmustrememberthispodcast.com.
— Tony Bravo
‘Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty’
Television newsman Anderson Cooper has spent much of his life and career downplaying his famous Gilded Age ancestors, but in his third book (written with novelist Katherine Howe) he confronts the Vanderbilt history with few reservations.
Cooper’s maternal great-great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt, known as “The Commodore,” built the family fortune in the New York ferry business and railroad industry. His statue stands at Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal to this day, which led Cooper to believe as a child that all grandparents turned into statues when they died. Since then, various descendants have been, in Cooper’s words, more interested in spending money than making it, depleting the fortune in most branches.
The book is not an exhaustive encyclopedia of the family, but rather highlights members and events in a way that places the Vanderbilts and their privilege in the context of their times. Chapters dedicated to the complicated Alva Vanderbilt, who was both a pioneering suffragette and a Southern-born racist, and to the last Vanderbilt descendants to live in the mansion-turned-museum the Breakers in Newport, R.I., are entertaining and enlightening beyond previous reporting on the family. But it is the final chapters of the book, dedicated to Cooper’s mother, celebrity denim designer and artist Gloria Vanderbilt, that are the most affecting. Cooper chronicles not only the 1930s custody case that made “Little Gloria” tabloid famous but also her role as a muse to author Truman Capote. The book also shares honest appraisals about how the Vanderbilt wealth and tragedies colored her life, as well as his own.
Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty
By Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
(Harper, 336 pages, $18)
— Tony Bravo
‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’
Millennial readers will likely feel seen in a new way by this blockbuster novel by Irish author Sally Rooney. She acknowledges and takes seriously the tics of contemporary life, from scrolling to swiping to anxiously waiting for a pulsating ellipsis to morph into text. Gently tracing the will-they-or-won’t-they exploits of two very different young couples, she makes sex suspenseful and erotic, dialogue barbed yet fragile.
Discursive epistles, fully transcribed, on everything from religion to aesthetics to the Bronze Age might look indulgent or pedantic elsewhere, but here they’re refreshingly deep dives into character and voice.
Beautiful World, Where Are You
By Sally Rooney
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 368 pages, $28)
— Lily Janiak
‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’
The phantasmagorical new novel by Anthony Doerr is both a celebration of the art of storytelling and an irresistibly virtuosic example of it. Across expanses of space and time, Doerr weaves together seemingly disparate yarns of vividly drawn characters — an Anatolian herder at the fall of Constantinople, a curious teenager aboard a spaceship in flight from a dying Earth, a lonely American POW during the Korean War — only to fuse it all together in a final narrative coup.
Lovers of Doerr’s previous masterpiece, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the Light We Cannot See,” will recognize his signature style, a dreamy present-tense voice that infuses even the most mundane scenes with a seductive shimmer. The difference is that this time around, the plotting is firmer and more precise, the characters more lifelike, the themes more crisply drawn.
Cloud Cuckoo Land
By Anthony Doerr
(Simon and Schuster, 640 pages, $30)
— Joshua Kosman
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New TV Shows And Movies In January 2022 For UK Screens
Including Sing 2, Scream, and a new season of Too Hot To Handle.
Looking for a new TV show to binge or a movie to watch for a film night? Well, you’ve come to right place! Here are 33 of the best TV shows and movies coming to the UK this month.
The Masked Singer – season three
Gossip Girl (part two of season one)
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts
The Apprentice – season 16
A Discovery of Witches – season three
Twenties – season two
Euphoria – season two
Rules of the Game
Cheer – season two
Too Hot To Handle – season three
Ozark – season four
The Gilded Age
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Save The Cinema
A Journal for Jordan
The Souvenir: Part II
The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window
The Amazing Maurice
Which of these are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!
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