The CSI franchise recently got another extension (its third) with CSI: Cyber. The CBS series is riddled with analog cop-show tropes like explosions, chases and weighty lines delivered by equal pay activist Patricia Arquette and that kid who loiters by the river. And like a Toshiba laptop, it’s dying a fast and ugly death. The only way this show can revive itself and beat its sexy spinoff older brothers, CSI: New York and CSI: Miami, is by upping the tech ante. Not to worry. We’ve divined some upcoming scenarios that go beyond sweaty keyboard clacking and desperate cursor blinking to sexify forensic computering for the small screen. Let’s cyber! Behind Your Chair Hovering Before a preposterous array of flat screens, bureau director Simon Sifter (Peter MacNicol) stands over the shoulders of an unnamed junior investigator just out of Cyber Police Academy: “Click there. There. No there. There! Don’t you know what there means? Oh great—now the perp’s dead! Pack up your treadmill desk, Mahoney. You’re fired.” Double Keyboarding Because non-hierarchical teams working in an open-floor plan are more efficient at solving problems, and because any two people sharing any form of keyboard is so darn touching, characters Chubby Guy (Charley Koontz) and Quirky Gal (Hayley Kiyoko) type twice as fast on a single keyboard to nab an NSA leaker before he crosses the border into Russia. Nine months later, a chubby, quirky baby operative is born—in Siberia. Sweet Surplus Swag A Silk Road–style organization, masquerading as a perpetual backyard BBQ with foosball tables, is annihilated by a Predator drone decommissioned from Iraq. In a meta-CBS twist, the organization’s leader is the son of Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor, because, you guessed it, Opie grew up to become an internet billionaire libertarian supervillain. Gratuitous Sound Effects Hollywood likes to invent a lot of “cool,” “techy” sounds that will never exist in any operating system anywhere in the multiverse. So viewers will no doubt be treated to an ever growing repertoire of nonsensical tweeps, bleeps and zeeps as sleuthing technology locks onto targets. Meanwhile back on your sofa, you’ll be checking your phone with every notification, which is what real people with real electronic devices actually do. Photo courtesy of Monty Brinton/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel, enlists the Arthurian tradition to tackle questions about love and memory. For some readers, Ishiguro’s directness in asking these questions will be a boon. But the book’s relatively straightforward style may leave other readers wishing for a deeper weave of the narrative thread. In a post–King Arthur medieval England, the indigenous Britons have found a muddled peace with the conquering Romans, Saxons and Germanic tribes, thanks to a memory-erasing mist. The citizens cannot recollect their grievances against one another, but neither can they recall their happy memories. This is what propels our two main characters—an old married couple named Axl and Beatrice—from their hill-warren village to look for their grown son, who left many years ago, though they cannot remember why. Axl and Beatrice are kind, gentle Britons who deeply love each other, yet they make unlikely heroes, given their age and frailty. Nonetheless, the journey to find their son and recover their memory takes on aspects of the heroic quest. Like other tales in the Arthurian canon, our heroes encounter tests and challenges, as well as new friends along the way, including Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur; Wistan, a Saxon warrior; and Edwin, a boy with strange powers who’s in danger because a monster bit him. When Axl and Beatrice learn that a dragon called Querig is producing the mysterious mist, they are compelled to help Wistan and Edwin, yes, slay the dragon. Of course, restoring everyone’s memory brings new problems, and herein lies the book’s central questions: When is it better to forget the past, and when is it better to face up to it? If Wistan removes the peace-giving cloud, will the Saxons regain their appetite for vengeance and reconquer the land? During a discussion last week at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, Ishiguro commented on the influence of historic memory in the novel. Citing such countries as Bosnia and Rwanda, Ishiguro said that “memory had been deployed as a kind of weapon of war.” Given the specifically English history here, it seems as if Ishiguro levies a similar critique against the United Kingdom. Might not that nation desire to live in such a mist, given its imperial past? In other words, do we create mists of our own choosing? And how well does that kind of selective memory serve us? These are questions the book only glancingly suggests. Of course, memory can be used as a weapon in marriage, too. Early on in the novel, a boatman warns Axl and Beatrice that when the time comes to cross the water, they must prove their love is true, else they’ll be separated forever. (Later we learn the boat goes to the island of the dead.) Little by little, Axl’s and Beatrice’s memories return, and both husband and wife begin to worry their marriage might not have been unadulterated joy after all. Yet they’re willing to risk the boatman’s test, even though—or perhaps because—the fear of final separation is upon them. “For I suppose there’s some would hear my words and think our love flawed and broken,” Axl tells the boatman, after recalling some less-than-blissful times in the couple’s past. “But God will know the slow tread of an old couple’s love for each other, and understand how black shadows make part of its whole.” When half of such a loving couple is in the boat alone, forgiving past wrongs is obviously the right thing to do. But what happens when the buried giant of painful memories is uncovered earlier in life? As profound and moving as The Buried Giant is, that far more difficult question is not within this novel’s scope. Photo courtesy of Everett
A good documentary can be enjoyed without prior investment in its subject, and that’s lucky because I had little apparent interest in 1960s British rock or one of its most legendary incarnations, the Who. But Lambert & Stamp is about two men you’ve probably never heard of—and they turn out to be more responsible for the Who’s success and even existence than two men you most likely have heard of, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Daltrey and Townshend (the band’s last surviving members) appear throughout the film, but the real focus is on Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. Lambert, who died in 1981 after years of issues with drugs and alcohol, was an upper-class, chain-smoking homosexual with a weary wrinkle in his brow. Stamp is a son of the working class with a scrappy air, roguish smile and cockney twang; as it happens, he’s also the younger brother of actor Terence Stamp (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert , Superman 2, The Limey), known for playing British tough guys. We see and hear a lot more from Stamp, but the enigma of Lambert makes him just as compelling as his charismatic partner. First-time director James D. Cooper offers such a wealth of archival photos and footage from the 1960s and ’70s (masterfully edited by Christopher Tellefsen; Capote, Moneyball) that we get to know Lambert almost as well as the more visible Stamp. The dynamism of their working relationship—and the peculiar and ambitious nature of what they set out to do—easily make this nearly two-hour film engaging from start to finish. What’s most compelling about Lambert and Stamp’s story is that their initial goal was to make a film. Having met as assistants at Shepperton Studios and both being fans of the French New Wave, they envisioned making an epic vérité documentary about a rock band. But first they needed a band. So they took a fledgling group, then known as the Detours, and fashioned it into a popular entity of the times. Together Lambert and Stamp came up with the band’s image and even its name, and started promoting the Who domestically and internationally. Recognizing Townshend’s songwriting potential, they moved him into their shared flat to nurture his talent and give him space and time to compose, meanwhile keeping the rest of the band on a retainer so they’d have time to practice. What’s really impressive is that they did this without any financing. Lambert understood that appearing to have money is often more important than actually having it, so through bravado and numerous dodgy loan schemes they skated through all their fellowship’s formative years simply on credit and hustle. Being little more than young, ambitious men with a keen sense of taste, Lambert and Stamp understood and harnessed the zeitgeist like cultural sorcerers to create one of the most popular musical acts of the 20th century. They are an awesome example of making something out of nothing, and not just financially. Unfortunately, as is often the case, their creation outgrew and escaped them. When it finally came time to make the film, the band members, who were estranged, wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, in 1975, the band released its legendary rock opera Tommy, adapted and directed by Ken Russell, though by then the project was out of Lambert and Stamp’s hands. But in many ways, Cooper’s Lambert & Stamp is the film that never was: a highly watchable documentary, and one of the most intimate glimpses behind the music I’ve experienced. It’s now more than 50 years in the making, and well worth the wait. Photo courtesy of Everett
What’s left to say about Elena Ferrante, a writer her rabid readers can’t stop talking about? Ever since Ann Goldstein translated her Neapolitan novels (the first three in the series—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay—are out and the fourth is expected in September), American readers ranging from essayists Meghan O’Rourke and James Wood to anyone with the hashtag #FerranteFever have joined Ferrante’s Italian fans to make the internet hum with praise and questions. The Neapolitan novels chronicle the full lifespan of the friendship between Elena Greco and the mercurial Lila Cerullo, which Ferrante gives a centrality and an intimacy usually granted only to romantic entanglements. She describes their evolving relations—first as girls, then as women—in propulsive, run-on sentences that reveal a deep subjectivity, which Elena as narrator continually second-guesses and complicates. Ferrante never shies away from the uglier aspects of closeness, the jealousies and inevitable comparisons one makes with an adored friend. Inexorably linked to this tale of female friendship, however, are the stories of the men in Elena and Lila’s very different lives, and the question of whether it’s possible for women to escape having their fortunes, minds and personalities shaped by men. The Camorra-dominated Neapolitan suburb where the girls grow up is like a complex male character in its own right, casting a shadow wherever the women go. And beyond the neighborhood, Ferrante very naturally explores the intellectual movements fomenting in Italy in the 1960s. Picture postcard of Naples c. 1960. The city Ferrante writes about isn’t nearly so serene. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia In many ways, Ferrante’s Neapolitan series employs the techniques of the greatest 19th-century literature, recontexualizing both the psychological novel and Tolstoyan realist fiction amidst post-war labor movements and the rise of feminism. Ferrante brings to life not only her two protagonists, but a neighborhood cast that’s Dickensian in scope, summoning nuance to each portrait. As if that were not enough to win attention, Ferrante’s biography is a tantalizing mystery; the novelist has insisted on keeping her identity from the public eye. “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t,” Ferrante declared in a 1991 letter to her editor. This anonymity, which she calls a “space of absolute creative freedom,” has acted as an additional frame for her celebrated works, much in the way 19th-century novels often begin with throat-clearing introductions that explain the manuscript’s provenance. But in all this FerranteFever, something has gone unaddressed and unquestioned, and today I write to correct it. I’m talking about a certain misperception, represented in a blurb on every copy of the Neapolitan novels that suggests Ferrante writes as “if Jane Austen got angry.” Let’s look at the first part of this statement: that Ferrante is like Austen. It’s true that both authors write novels concerned with women. But is that all Austen really is? Or can we agree that, beyond being a woman who writes for women, a few other things are notable about Austen’s work: her English settings among the landed gentry; her comic, ironic plots; her biting criticism of the late-18th-century sentimental novel that many mistake her books for. In any case, none of these connotations carry over to Ferrante, meaning the writer of the blurb uses Jane Austen merely as a synonym for authoress. The world Ferrante writes about is no drawing room—it’s a mean, hardscrabble arena. Which brings me to the “got angry” part of the statement. Setting aside its tone deafness in a society that discounts and dismisses women perceived to be angry, the blurb seems to conflate subject matter with temperament. It’s like insisting that someone who writes about war must be violent. Maybe for some readers the mystery of authorship makes it possible to confuse Ferrante with the characters and situations she depicts. Not that she doesn’t grant the occasional interview: In The New York Times last December, Ferrante gently corrected the record—she is not anonymous, she simply chooses to be absent. And in the most recent issue of The Paris Review, she once again spoke as herself. “As a girl—12, 13 years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me.” She went on, And now all has been said. Photo courtesy of Everett