Staff Picks: ‘Frank Zappa: Eat That Question,’ Daveed Diggs and ‘Death by Video Game’

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Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks below.

Frank Zappa: Eat That Question (dir. Thorsten Schütte)

Like the Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, Frank Zappa: Eat That Question — now playing at New York’sFilm Forum — allows its subject to take centre stage. Director Thorsten Schütte wisely gets out of the way: Instead of talking heads and voiceover narration, he uses archival footage in the form of interviews, television appearances, and live performances to present a fascinating portrait of this singular musician and composer.

Zappa, who died of prostate cancer in 1993, may be remembered as a freaky-deaky child of the ’60s. But Eat That Question pays tribute to Zappa the prolific composer and outspoken iconoclast. (In fact, Zappa didn’t take drugs, and forbade his musicians from doing drugs when they were on tour.) In interviews and appearances on shows like Crossfire, Zappa railed against a music industry that he insisted was “better off” when it was run by “cigar-chomping” old fogies than “supposedly hip, young executives” who have too much control over the product they’re putting out. That’s just one example of Zappa’s incredible insight and intelligence. Eat That Question is an affectionate, respectful homage to Zappa — and a reminder, kids, that substances don’t make you interesting, you make you interesting! — Lara Zarum, TV Editor

Song of Ice and Fire

With Game of Thrones off the air for about ten months, I’m recommending fans of the show actually read the Song of Ice and Fire books. Across 4,200 pages, George R.R. Martin has created a rich world with an extensive mythology and countless side stories that didn’t make their way onto TV. I’ll admit, some of them feel like vamps — Tyrion being enslaved as a performer in a traveling dwarf act was pretty awful — but many of the lesser tales are just as gripping as the main plots. The books shed light on the politics of the Iron Islands, show Essos’s mercenary companies in battle, and reveal an entirely different version of Dorne allying with Daenerys. Martin also sets up some intriguing mysteries, such as the Doom of Valyria, the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and Tyrion’s parentage. There are many characters, many of whom die, and many descriptions of food (one of Martin’s quirks). It’s a lot to get through, but with the show on hiatus for almost a year, and no publication date for The Winds of Winter, you’ve certainly got the time. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor

Daveed Diggs Interestingly enough, this week’s pick came to me by way of my staff pick from a few weeks ago, Another Round (how meta). You probably know Daveed Diggs as Jefferson from Hamilton, but did you also know he’s an amazing rapper who invented his own style of rapping? It’s called clipping, a descriptive, experimental, story-oriented genre that prohibits the use of the first-person. The focus is on objects, on some stream-of-consciousness second person narration, etc. Just look at the imagery (albeit morbid) he’s able to achieve in his song, “Inside Out”. Diggs, in case you are under some sort of no-Hamilton rock, is also in general a very technically savvy and I might venture punnier-than-average rapper, sometimes reminiscent of Childish Gambino. Listen to his stuff here and here, and his guest spot on Another Round here. — Carmen Triola, Editorial Apprentice

Ford and Wayne on Blu

I came to the John Ford/John Wayne collaborations late in my movie life – a little under a decade ago, when I finally got around to watching The Searchers on my then-new Blu-ray player. Since then, I’ve tried to scoop up as many of their movies as were available in the format, so the recent release of two more (via Warner Archives) is particularly welcome news. Their 1945 WWII drama They Were Expendable is a stone classic, set in the days just before and after Pearl Harbor, wrestling with timely questions of sacrifice for country and the human toll of defeat. It’s a war movie as interested in the lulls between battles as the battles themselves (though they’re muscular and crisply executed throughout); particularly memorable is a silent, powerful scene in the blinking lights of an army operating room near the front lines. And Wayne is wonderful, particularly in the later scenes – watch his square-jawed sincerity as he speaks at a makeshift funeral, and the way makes a hasty retreat for a bar afterwards.

Expendable came early enough in Duke’s career that he was still working the younger half of the surrogate father/son dynamic that Ford so enjoyed (to Robert Montgomery, in that case), but by She Wore A Yellow Ribbon four years later, he’d switched to the role of the wise elder (with the help of some aging make-up and hair dye). As with Howard Hawks’s Red River the previous year, these tricks helped Wayne try out the kind of old-timer gravitas he’d eventually grow into naturally, and as with that film, Ribbon has some of his finest acting to date; his heartfelt farewell to the troops indulges in just a flash of sentimentality, acknowledged and quickly brushed aside. That moment, in many ways, was Ford in a nutshell. Ribbon has its problems – it’s one of those movies where the depiction of Native Americans is so overwhelmingly troubling that it casts a pall over the entire picture – but the cinematography is gorgeous, the relationships are heartfelt, and Wayne is, thrillingly, figuring out the kind of acting that would carry him for the decades to come. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Death by Video Game by Simon Parkin

Death by Video Game was released in the UK a while ago, but it’s just been released in the USA, and thank god, because this country could use a reexamining of the underlying appeal of video games. Simon Parkin’s book does just that, exploring the different aspects (discovery, evil, competition) that come to captivate player-bases so strongly that individuals will neglect their health to the point of death. Something interesting that Parkin does throughout the book, too, is constantly remind the reader of the stigma attached to video games, and how that plays into the way gaming-related deaths are reported. (Think, for example, of the way a World of Warcraft-related death in a South Asian internet cafe might be reported compared to the way a death that occurs while someone is reading a book might be reported.)

Unfortunately, the bait-y title and on-point book cover will probably scare away any potential converts and draw only the evangelized nerd set, but that’s good, too, because being able to speak eloquently about the finer points of one’s hobbies is as good a way as any when it comes to having that particular hobby accepted by the wider public. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

OITNB Season 4

I haven’t finished Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black yet, but at nine episodes in in I am so relieved by how far superior it is to Season 3, which often felt uneventful (which is fine, if the character psychology is intriguing, but Season 3 was also plagued by character inconsistency) and lazily written. (I will never forget, or forgive, Red’s Pokémon-ishly self-referential line, “the world is better in black and white…and red.”) This season manages to restore the show’s sensationalized dramatic quality without making it feel like they’re sacrificing character motivation for plot, and without making the sensationalism trump the message. I’ve been particularly impressed by how this season is still funny, but how the humor, and even the flashback subplots, all seems to be working towards something greater. The institutional critique — with the privatization of the prison, the subsequent overcrowding, the singling out of nonwhite inmates for routine body searches, the “protection” of the one trans inmate in extended solitary confinement — is all pointed, and the humor is derived from and speaks to those harsh conditions, rather than used as filler, as it seemed to be in the aimless third season. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor