Taegan Goddard’s must-read current events compendium Political Wire – I read the latest “stories” to my wife Nell upon awaking each day – has a members-only forum called The Cloakroom. Just over a week ago, I wrote a short piece there called “A clinically-depressed electorate?”
This is the key passage:
“But there is a larger point here – one I have been trying in different ways to make for a few weeks now: the electorate, on the whole, is GRUMPY. It is EXHAUSTED. It is STRESSED. It is ANXIOUS. It is PEEVISH. It has had it UP TO HERE with the constant faux outrage and fundraising and advertisements and all the other mischegoss.
“They FEEL rotten – but cannot quite articulate why – so they blame those in charge and tell pollsters it is inflation or COVID fears or ‘the fighting in Washington’ because pollsters, for all their skills, struggle to measure abstractions.”
I ascribe what I analogize to a depressive episode to a combination of nearly two years of COVID-19-induced privations and more than six years of the malign influence of Trumpism. Whatever its cause, it is real, and it needs to end.
In related news…
It took me a few years to boil the concept of “interrogating memory” down to its essence, but I finally landed on a single word:
There are other words and word groups – fact-checking, persistence, critical thinking, respect for truth, “updating one’s priors” – but at its core, interrogating memory involves a willingness to be wrong, no matter how many comfortable and comforting memories and stories it costs. The payoff is worth it, as I have observed many times on this website.
And because I want to make “Interrogating Memory™” my brand, there is a credo attached to it, one that begins with humility and continues with reciprocity, respect, kindness and balance. It does not end, because a credo must be lived, not merely stated. As social media weaves itself more inextricably into our lives, we find ourselves shouting louder, acting more outrageously and generating more faux outrage and mischegoss in an increasingly-futile attempt to be heard – the “social” is actually a cruel paradox. Those of us seeking to make a living through our creativity particularly struggle to break through – and many of us are discomfited by the necessary, albeit endless, self-promotion.
Despair ye not, however, for within my credo – humility, reciprocity, respect, kindness and balance – lies a solution.
Just bear with me.
On the evening of December 19, 2016 – less than three months after my 50th birthday – I launched this website with “Welcome, and just bear with me…” Five years and 230 additional essays – most standalone, some part of a larger series – later, my life is radically different than it was then. Regular readers of this website know I declared myself a Writer less than seven months later. That same month, following an borderline-desperate suggestion by my wife Nell, I began to turn my first “breakthrough” essay – Film Noir: A Personal Journey – into a full-length book.
Three-and-a-half years, two election cycles, hundreds of polls, dozens of movies, a handful of television series and one large move later, I completed a first full draft of Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History…and My Own. My all-too-familiar lack of success in finding a traditional publisher is why I made a PDF version of this book available for sale here – and I will now invest my own funds to produce high-quality hardback copies, complete with snazzy dust cover, for anyone to purchase.
In so doing, I join the ranks of independent, creative and compelling writers, artists and videographers whose laudatory perseverance and unique perspective have brought them to the attention of…well, me, at least. Fame and fortune are an entirely different matter – though even there, it is all relative. Last month, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie “only” sold 2,289 copies of his new book in its first week; this was deemed a “colossal publishing flop.” I read this and thought, “Holy s**t, I would be thrilled to sell 2,289 copies of Interrogating Memory in any week.” This exemplifies how fundamentally broken the traditional publishing industry is.
It is also why it is utterly imperative that we “independent, creative and compelling writers, artists and videographers” support each other, if not financially then through mutual reference, critical appraisal and algorithm-feeding (Like, Share and Subscribe) on whatever platform we have; mine are this website, Twitter and word-of-mouth. In the words of rocker-philosopher Roger Waters, “Together we stand, divided we fall.”
This is why I am flipping the script and turning the rest of this “anniversary” essay over to some “independent, creative and compelling writers, artists and videographers” whose output I see most often and/or most inspire me and/or similarly work to interrogate memory. My essays remain here for everyone to read.
I begin with my fellow essayists; “blogger” is too limiting. Constructing and maintaining a personal website is a monumental task requiring hours upon hours of regular, often-unpaid labor and devotion to our craft. The compensation we do receive comes either through ads, which uglify the very websites we puts so much care into designing, memberships, which segment followers into “super-duper” special and “just-ordinary” special, or donations, which are the least intrusive – and my personal preference – but also bring inevitable free-riders.
In Dianes Kitchen. By far, the website which has appeared most in my Inbox over the last five years writes is this one.
“Diane” – who lives with her husband of multiple happy decades in the wide-open spaces of rural Ohio – calls herself a “food blogger,” but that short description does not do her writing justice. Her detailed, step-by-step recipes, complete with well-curated photographs, exude an effortlessly optimistic, can-do spirit. Diane and I have carried on a conversation via “Comments” for a few years now, and she has never been anything other than supportive, curious and upbeat.
If you love recipes, cooking tips and photographs of well-prepared food, you likely already follow In Dianes Kitchen. But if you do not and, like me, you desperately want to turn down the volume, dim the din, and remedy the toxicity that infects far too much interaction on social media and elsewhere – then I urge you to follow In Dianes Kitchen.
bone&silver. Describing herself as “A silver fox hot [flush] queer Mama who just met 54,” the English-born Australian “G” writes with laudatory emotional honesty on her website. She and I are similar in that we contextualize events in our lives through geography, history and social trends: our personal stories fit into a larger truth. We also view being in our mid-50s not as “middle age,” but merely as the start set of interesting things to do.
Following bone&silver never fails to remind me that life is a – circle, rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, Moebius strip, loop, sine wave, or any other “you need to suffer the lows to appreciate the highs” metaphor you choose. Just in a very entertaining way.
MadMeg’s Musings. “From a mind who may or may not be lost…” is an apt description for this Canadian woman who used to fill my Inbox with the most elegant, unhinged, poignant, gutter-mouthed rants imaginable – or unimaginable. I relished every word of them.
Like me, she is a Generation-X spouse battling depression, among other of life’s indignities. Or, at least, she was…she has not published anything new since March 26, 2021, when she set out with only a cat for company in a newly-purchased RV. She may be writing under a new name, of course, but more likely she is spending her time engaged in a less-public form of self-healing. Either way, I wish her well…and I still urge you to follow her, if only to discern how accurate my description of her writing is.
FoodPrism. After COVID-19 shut everything down – at least here in Massachusetts – in March 2020, one of the things I missed most was going to restaurants, especially diners, to which I am inexorably drawn – especially if they are open 24 hours a day, every day. I found myself clicking on diner and other restaurant links on GoogleMaps to scroll through the customer-posted photographs. While this is partly because I plan to write a book called Meet Me at the Counter: A Life in Diners, it is primarily what have dubbed “diner porn.”
By extension, then, FoodPrism is food porn. The website features nothing but mouth-watering photographs of finished – or partly-eaten – dishes. I do not know who takes and curates these photographs, but they are of astonishingly high quality. Following this website offers nothing but reward.
SoundEagle. This multi-everything website takes “feast for the eyes” to its illogical conclusion. Run by a web designer living in Brisbane, Australia, it is a swirling, hypnotic, almost-psychedelic visual symphony of narrative, spirituality, horticulture and more…much, much more.
In that sense, my website – which does not focus on any single topic as much as on the act of storytelling itself – is similar. But SoundEagle turns it all up well past 11; following this website is a joyous adventure.
Larry Harnisch and Movies Silently. I write extensively about Harnisch and Fritzi Kramer on my Interrogating Memory page. I simply note here that Harnisch curates a terrific website chronicling aspects of Los Angeles history, while Movies Silently addresses silent films with impressive rigor and no-nonsense authority. Both are unequivocally worth following.
I end this section with an exemplar of a happy corner of Twitter into which I have merrily crawled: cinema Twitter. Here one will find @MoviesSilently as well as – but not only – CelluloidCinema (@acroce66), cinematic enthusiast (@cinematicenthus), The Tinseltown Twins (@TinseltownTwins), The Nitrate Diva (@NitrateDiva), Molly McNair (@noirgal17), GR44 (@TheCinemaTicket) and…Cultura (@CulturalGutter).
The Cultural Gutter. The name of this website, my most recent follow, is a clever play on an Oscar Wilde quote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I believe a key facet of being Generation X – and here I acknowledge not knowing who, if any, among the creative masterminds behind The Cultural Gutter were born between 1965 and 1980 – is a willingness to evaluate every form of art on its own terms, refraining from elevating “lower” forms of art into a higher, presumalby more praise-worthy, form.
In other words, we enjoy “thoughtful writing about disreputable art,” which is how The Cultural Gutter – a true artistic collective – describes itself. “Cultura” (Carol Borden) and I follow each other on Twitter, and she always has something insightful and instructive to say about a wide range of art, whatever its “reputability” level. The five primary author-analysts on The Cultural Gutter tackle a wide range of themes (gender, ethics, representation, inter alia) in a wide range of media (video, comics, other literature) across a wide range of genres (science fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, noir) – all with enthusiastic flair.
Always surprising, they definitely merit a follow.
There are, of course, MANY worthy essayists to follow and support – this is merely a first-pass sampling. And I hasten to add the disclaimer that I do not agree with everything these writers publish; I globally respect their work, and I am honored to support them, but we all need to balance our thoughts and insights with those of others.
If memory serves, that is called a “conversation.”
Just as I prefer “essayist” to “blogger,” I distinguish more-sophisticated creators of filmed essays – whom I dub “videographers” – from “YouTuber,” a term I find devaluing. That said, YouTube – which I can access on our large HD living room television set (“HDTV”) in the dark quiet of the so-late-its-early – is now where I binge-watch “episodes” of my favorite “shows” (i.e., YouTube channels).
For this essay, I sidestep such channels as WatchMojo, WhatCulture, Buzzfeed Unsolved, Channel Awesome/Nostalgia Critic, Pitch Meeting, Honest Trailers and what used to be called CineFix; their excellence is well-established. I also set aside channels like Harbo Wholmes, Wow Lynch Wow! and Corn Pone Flicks, which excel at what they do, but whose focus is narrower. Instead, I highlight eight videographers I/we routinely watch – and who follow at least certain interrogating memory precepts: careful research, presentational calm and respect for audience intelligence. The same disclaimer applies, of course: I do not agree with everything these videographers present – heck, I have not watched all of their videos – but I am always entertained, educated and inspired by what I do watch.
And, of course, I encourage you to watch at least one video from each of them.
ObsoleteOddity. One night about four years ago, I was scrolling through the Recommended videos on the HDTV when my attention was caught by the words “true unsolved crime” and “locked room.” Curious, I played the video…and was introduced to the delightfully macabre world of ObsoleteOddity. The video I watched was the unnarrated version from 2016 – not the narrated version from 2017.
Still, the words I read about the 1929 murder of Isidor Fink had a dank cellar backdrop lit by a slowly-swinging overhead lamp, accompanied by eerie dripping noises. This morphed into a series of photographs set to water-flowing noises and suspenseful music. It was like watching a silent film with long intertitles.
After a multi-year hiatus, I returned to ObsoleteOddity, delighted to find the tragic tales were now narrated. The unnamed narrator was born in Australia but raised in England – and his Anglo-Aussie accent and tempered delivery are a charming contrast to the dark, sometimes gory, always true stories: like sitting around a campfire or nighttime patio table listening to a master storyteller. Indeed, he ends his videos by speaking directly to his “dear viewers” for another 10 or so minutes, empathetically commenting upon the tale he has just told.
BriefCase. On the opposite end of the personalizing spectrum is the English-accented narrator of Brief Case, a series of often-obscure historic murders. He delivery is almost robotic, as if he is reading an English transliteration because this is not his native tongue; I somewhere once read a similar description of Ric Ocasek’s vocals for The Cars. He also accents words in unexpected ways and uses archaic language without obvious irony: Nell – who also loves these videos – and I joke that all the “respectable young ladies often stroll the promenade accompanied by handsome and polite young gentlemen.” I laughed out loud upon reading similar language describing Nell’s paternal grandfather in contemporary newspaper accounts of the January 1909 trial of Adelaide “Addie” Burns.
This narrative style is perfectly suited for the formulaic-by-design structure of the videos. After a short introduction setting the time and place of the murders – “Today we are going to the late 19th century. So, sit back – as we go – to England” – the video, a series of photographs, carries us from Background through The Crimes through Arrest and The Trial through the end of the story. On rare occasions, there is a short epilogue.
Whereas the intensity of ObsoleteOddity videos may limit how many to watch in a row, Brief Case videos are pure binge fodder. I started with this “strange & horrifying” case; it remains a terrific entry point.
Trash Theory. We shift from true crime to music, but maintain the British narration – because Trash Theory focuses primarily on British pop and rock music from the 1970s onward. There are three types of Trash Theory videos:
- In-depth analysis of a specific track or artist in the “New British Canon” (e.g., Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”).
- A detailed look at the birth of a musical genre (e.g., Goth music through Bauhaus)
- Related musical history (e.g., the influence of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”)
These are extraordinarily-well-made videos. The research – including pointed excerpts from published interviews – is impeccable. The narration is authoritative, a bit cheeky and well-modulated; if I ever read my book aloud as an Audiobook or multi-part podcast, I will model my intonation and pace on the narrators of Trash Theory, Brief Case and ObsoleteOddity. The story arcs follow a logical and coherent progression.
Oh, and the music discussed is excellent.
One Hundred Years of Cinema. Whenever I turn on YouTube and maneuver to Search with the remote control, Nell and I joke about whether “1949” has finally appeared. Because after starting on May 10, 2016 with 1915’s The Birth of a Nation, One Hundred Years of Cinema – analysis of one or two thematically-representative films from each of 100 consecutive years – has been stuck on two Shakespeare adaptations from 1948 since December 6, 2020.
Which is a shame because every thus far made is a masterclass in videography – and obvious labors of love. Narrated by yet another man with a British Empire accent, these could easily be short lectures in an advanced film studies class. And the hook of using at most two films per year to represent a specific theme – 1929’s Man With a Movie Camera, for example, is used to address the nature of cinema itself – is clever. I urge you to watch the series straight through, even if the ending is currently a cliffhanger.
The Cinema Cartography. When I was an undergraduate at Yale from 1984 to 1988, we joked that the graduate students in English literature all work black and smoked clove cigarettes. This is a bit how I picture Lewis Michael Bond, who writes and narrates The Cinema Cartography with Luiza Liz Bond. They are devoted to Art, with a capital A, and Truth, with a capital T; in contrast to the Generation-X sensibility outlined above, they believe there is Art that is objectively Good. Their videos provoke and challenge in all the best ways – especially when it comes to distinguishing empty “content” from fulfilling “Art.” They also obliterate all chronologic, cultural and geographic boundaries in their search for the best cinema, among other forms of Art.
The final English-accented narrator I laud here, his tone is mellow to the point of soporific. This brilliantly forces you to listen even more carefully to what he is saying, as if he is asking us to lean in closer to hear a whispered secret. Unafraid to speak at length, his two-hour long David Lynch retrospective is worth every second. And while their most recent videos – possibly their last? – are almost nihilistic in their critique, they are a necessary antidote to the mind-numbing sewer of click-bait “content” masquerading as creativity across most of the Internet.
The Take. A successor to ScreenPrism, which I discovered through this terrific video about Twin Peaks, this channel is produced and narrated by our first American videographers: the dynamic duo of Susannah McCullough and Debra Minoff. While they also release in-depth looks at specific movies and shows, what makes The Take truly special is its authors’ sophisticated and insightful “take” on longstanding tropes like “The Smart Girl” or “The Nice Guy.” It is not surprising in the #MeToo era that 2/3 of the 66 tropes dissected thus far apply only to female characters – with five more applying solely to non-white or non-heterosexual characters. However, their approach is far more humanist than feminist: they want to see fully-developed characters on the screen, not mere stereotypes or plot devices. And rather than loudly seeking revolution, McCullough and Minoff wisely take a more subtle approach: quietly, but firmly, prodding film and television creators to add depth and nuance to onscreen characters. They understand that just as art has imitated – reflected may be a better word – life, life will also imitate art; change the art, change the lives.
Adding to their appeal, they cast an extremely wide net in their well-structure presentations, recognizing – unlike the smart, but generationally-myopic writers at WatchMojo and WhatCulture – that cinema dates back to the end of the 19th century, and that most of these tropes are grounded in an uncomfortable historic and social reality. These tropes have a beginning and a middle, and now it is time to bring them to an end.
To which I say, huzzah.
Matt Baume’s Culture Cruise. Our second – and second-to-last – American videographer is also the first openly gay one – the wicked smart and endearing Matt Baume. On his “culture cruise,” he takes a “deep dive into LGBTQ moments from film and TV that changed the world!” As with ObsoleteOddity’s Isidor Fink video, I happened one night upon one of his video essays discussing All in the Family – about which I write in Chapter 9 (The Dark City Beckons…on Television) of Interrogating Memory – and I was deeply impressed by the kind and balanced approach Baume takes to history. He understands, as do McCullough and Minoff, that cultural progress is a series of baby steps with an occasional giant leap forward to keep things interesting.
I watched a few more “episodes” and genuinely enjoyed them. But then I found this video about Paul Lynde, and I became a full-fledged fan. It is as pure an example of “interrogating memory” as I have seen since I coined the term in 2017. Baume humbly – and on camera – revisits some of his older writing, researches more thoroughly, rethinks his positions and reaches the conclusion he was, at least partially, incorrect. His good-natured ribbing of his older self is a long-overdue tonic. This sort of thing should happen all the time – we all make mistakes and/or need to update our priors – yet it is actually quite rare.
Kudos, Matt Baume. Sign me up for your continuing voyages.
When Gen-X Ruled the Multiplex. In 1984, when I was a senior at Harriton High School, I became smitten with “Deeper and Deeper” by The Fixx. I thus bought a vinyl copy of the soundtrack to a just-released movie called Streets of Fire, though I have long since lost or sold it, much to my regret. It would be another 35 years, though, before I saw the movie, which I mostly liked; it is an odd little film. It popped up on cinema Twitter a few months ago, so I rewatched it. Because we live in the age when you can watch a film then watch any number of YouTube analyses/reviews of that same film, that is how I found this video, the 28th in a string of 85 – and counting – under the rubric “When Gen-X Ruled the Multiplex” (“WGXRTM”).
A quick meta-thought: despite writing a book which includes aspects of my childhood and adolescence in the 70s and 80s, I had never thought of myself as belonging to a generation – other than to assure our children their mother and I ARE NOT BABY BOOMERS, that is. Morgan Richter, the auteur behind WGXRTM, has many insights about our respective Gen-X-dom which I may address in a later essay. All I say here is that I am innately optimistic, a trait not commonly associated with what Richter and I also call The MTV Generation.
The format of WGXRTM is elegant in its simplicity: Richter sits in front of a V formed by two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, looks directly into the camera and summarizes the plot of the film, relying upon representative stills. No frills, no gimmicks, just really smart talk, reminiscent of late-night college bull sessions with your most interesting classmates. I wrote above that Gen-X members prefer to address films on their own terms; Richter routinely displays this small-d democratic attitude toward pop culture. In her analysis of The Wraith, for example, she observes, that while it is not a “good” movie, it “is a B movie [and] the primary duty of a B movie is to entertain viewers – and it sure is entertaining.” Like Baume, Richter takes a refreshingly mellow and balanced approach to pop culture, and this makes her conversations – albeit one-sided – with her audience as entertaining as Baume’s…or a good-bad B movie.
I close with the most recent video essay from The Cinema Cartography – “Dying on the Internet.” It is a dense and dark exhortation to step away from the Internet, the place where true creativity goes to die, and step out into the light; the married Bonds’ literally do this in the third part of the video, though all we see are shaky iPhone images of shrubbery and trees. Lovely, but more than a little pretentious.
This essay reveals that they are wrong, at least partially. Yes, the vast majority of “content” lodged on the Internet is banal garbage, warmed over ideas that were barely half-baked when somebody long ago first cribbed them from the original plagiarist. But the 16 essayists and videographers highlighted above are also on the Internet. Just Bear With Me has been on the Internet for five years; I am extremely of what I have written here. Smart, insightful, humble, balanced, well-researched and quietly-narrated commentary – dare I call it “Art?” – is on the Internet, if you are willing to wade through the neck-deep sludge to find it. Simply – and self-righteously (as much as I love the Bonds’ work) – abandoning the Internet because there is no Art to be found there of which one approves is both foolish and short-sighted.
Like I said, the Art is there – but we all need to work to sustain and continue it. If we “independent, creative and compelling writers, artists and videographers” support each other in our creative endeavors, we will each feel this way:
Until next time…please wear a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you have not already done so, get vaccinated against COVID-19! And if you like what you read on this website, please consider making a donation. Thank you.