With a box set collecting her Decline of Western Civilization due for release next week, the hugely underrated director Penelope Spheeris has been making public appearances and sitting for interviews. And she’s great — brutally honest, devastatingly funny, and incredibly smart. In an interview with Flavorwire’s Alison Nastasi, Spheeris offered some great insight based on her own fascinating life story: “I’m just some poor kid from the trailer park with seven stepdads. I never thought I would get anywhere. I’ve often said that I should be dead or in jail. Somehow, I used my instinct along the way and did whatever felt right. When you overthink it or push it too hard, it fucks it all up. I think people have the ability now to do too many things, and I think you need to focus on one and really put your effort into it.” And at a screening of the original Decline last Friday in Brooklyn, Spheeris was lively and candid — shouting out her heroes, confessing her desire to move past the films that made her famous, and keeping Q&A host Michael Azerrad on his toes. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief
Larry Wilmore on Charleston
Jon Stewart was applauded—and rightly so—for taking a somber approach to the news of last week’s racially-motivated mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. “I have one job, and it’s a pretty simple job,” Stewart said. “I come in, in the morning, and we look at the news, and I write jokes about it … But I didn’t do my job today, so I apologize.” That take ended up making for a smart, powerful Daily Show—but credit is also due to his lead-out, The Nightly Show’s Larry Wilmore, who chose to do the job Stewart described. And he did it well, with an equal mix of sadness and outrage, and (as Stewart so often would) he made those jokes at the expense of Fox News, an organization whose numb-skulled reframing of the event “makes my fucking head explode.” It was a welcome takedown—and a reminder that Wilmore is more than capable of picking up where Stewart leaves off. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
The Polish National Ballet at the Joyce Theater
On Thursday, the Polish National Ballet dazzled at the Joyce Theater, debuting fast-paced contemporary-ballet works set to recordings of music by Schubert, Stravinsky, Gorecki, and Schnittke. The performances were emotional, exciting, and visually captivating (relying on mostly lighting and, at times, a lone rug to create a sense of scenery), and included hints of salsa, tango, and swing. Under the direction of Krzysztof Pastor, the performers created a frenzy of stories about romance, jealousy, and (maybe) our modern, industrial reality. — Ona Abelis, Editorial Apprentice
Samira Wiley, Lea DeLaria and Yael Stone on Orange Is the New Black
Whenever Orange Is the New Black introduces a new character who exists to further a plot line rather than to — as the show’s richest characters do — purely exist, it’s annoyingly clear, because the series has very rightfully become the cultural phenomenon it is due to its thoughtful character development. I’m almost at the end of the new season, and it still seems that Ruby Rose’s character — whose name I can’t even remember — appeared out of thin air for the sole purpose of shooting surreptitiously sexual glances across a sewing table and upending the tired romance between Piper and Alex. Such a character — coupled with inconsistencies in some others across seasons — puts the more considered characters in perspective. Yael Stone’s Morello, Samira Wiley’s Poussey and Lea DeLaria’s Big Boo all seemed angled to play supporting characters at the beginning of the series, but they’ve quickly become some of the most interesting and magnetic presences OITNB has to offer.
This season, Poussey’s persistent loneliness and longing for romantic love — which Samira Wiley makes palpable — smartly underscores the whole of the prison experience. DeLaria’s Big Boo’s friendship — and alliance after a harrowing event — with Pennsatucky is also fascinating, and her radical queerness is a good counterpoint to characters Piper and Alex, whose sexuality isn’t as politicized insomuch as they physically fit in to feminine norms. Lastly, Morello’s combination of sweetness and maniacal, cruel obsession continues to deepen this season. Miraculously, Yael Stone is able to give this character an immense range: a lesser actor would get too caught up in Morello’s weird voice, but Stone has a masterful command over her saccharine squeak. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ and Jamelle Bouie’s writings about race in America this week
My staff pick is the history lesson the internet has been getting, from writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jamelle Bouie and so many more in the wake of Charleston and the debate over the confederate flag. One of the biggest underlying issues in America’s utter failure on race is our misunderstanding of our brutal history, brushing it under the rug — or in the case of the South, glorifying an anti-American army that fought for white supremacy as some sort of great lost cause.
But it’s about more than taking down the flag. Unlearning the way we commonly think about each side of our great past conflict over slavery will help us understand where we are today. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large