Staff Picks: ‘Inferno,’ Eve Babitz, Maggie Nelson’s ‘The Argonauts’


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.

Inferno on Blu-ray

No, not the Tom Hanks movie (or the Werner Herzog one). I’ve talked before about my affection for the less reputable 3D B-movies that labels like Kino-Lorber and Twilight Time have been releasing on Blu-ray, and this 1953 effort – out a little while back from Twilight Time – is hard to even explain properly: it’s a 3D Western survival story with film noir undertones, in which wealthy jerk Robert Ryan is left for dead in the desert by his wife and her lover, and basically has to crawl his way to civilization. It’s visually masterful (the cinematographer is The Wild Bunch’s Lucien Ballard), and really comes to life, dimensionally speaking, once Ryan begins his terrifying and incapacitated journey through the desert, where he’s challenged by steep drops, wild landscapes, falling rocks, and even a rattlesnake. And the final fight scene, full of flying lanterns, flying chairs, and flying fists, is a real corker. The nonstop voice-over monologue is a little monotonous, but as per usual with Ryan, the sheer physicality of the performance is striking; there’s never been a movie star quite like him, and this long-forgotten little gem is a fine showcase for his boundless talents. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Eve Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company

I’ll be toting Eve Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company with me to the beach for my (semi-not-really) vacation read in a few weeks. This fall marks my one-year anniversary of living in LA. Discovering the city through novels has been a fun supplement to my other explorations. All I really know about Babitz is from her iconic photo with Marcel Duchamp. She’s nude, and they’re playing a game of chess. The intro to Slow Days, Fast Company sounds like several conversations I’ve had with LA strangers before: “I did not become famous, but I got near enough to smell the stench of success.” Babitz gave a rare interview to Vice recently: ”The L.A. I lived in and wrote about doesn’t exist anymore. Everything is transient. The Los Angeles of my youth was just that—mine. Everyone feels like that about the place they grew up, my place just happens to be L.A. Of course, to me it’s a pale ghost, but to someone else growing up now, it’s their home. It was a small factory town (that old cliché, but it was). Now it’s an international city, probably not that different from New York or Tokyo. Although you still can’t surf in those places.” — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

Charles Bronson in The Valachi Papers

Quite accidentally, I keep encountering Charles Bronson. Within the last month or so, I’ve seen his marvelous turn in Hard Times at the Quad, the complicated performance that gave way to decades of sleepwalking in Death Wish at Film Forum, and his terrific work in this gangster picture, also new on Blu from Twilight Time. Released late in 1972 by ever-industrious producer Dino De Laurentis, it was clearly meant to capitalize on the success of The Godfather earlier that year; the knock-off element is apparent, as is the rushed production (it’s fun to spot contemporary cars and buildings in the backgrounds of this period movie, including a hilarious late appearance by the just-completed World Trade Center towers). As far as competing with Coppola’s classic, Valachi knows the words but not the music – but that takes nothing away from the skill of Bronson’s portrayal of a (real-life) mob enforcer-turned-informant. The film burns with his charisma, intensity, and personality, and serves as a reminder of what was really lost in the success of Death Wish two years later: the possibility of more work as finely-tuned as this, rather than films that merely required him to scowl and shoot people. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts

The Argonauts is a book that, as I’m sure many are aware (yeah, I was late to the game), is attuned to the fluidity of the theoretical and the personal and makes it manifest on the page. With each passage presented in tiny fits of vivid experience, Nelson weaves theory in as seamlessly as a more straightforward memoirist might a sensory description — but then she also interrogates it, again, often not just through analysis, but rather experience. What’s so beautiful about the book is that, while critical theory can often unmoor the visceral and sexual aspects of human experience from what makes them feel immediate and, well, human, Nelson often uses theory as a way to burrow deeper into her own fervent desires and affections. In discussing queerness, she dismantles some of the binaries and more calcified ideas of identity that an identity/movement with such an anti-binary approach has created for itself — “it’s the binary of normative and transgressive that’s unsustainable, along with the demand that anyone live a life that’s all one thing” she writes. And reading that passage — and most of her passages challenging assumptions about the idea of motherhood and queer radicalism being mutually exclusive — was refreshing and even oddly relaxing.

This is a book that takes abstractions and brings them down to life, rather than making abstractions out of life. “I am not interested in a hermeneutics, or an erotics or a metaphorics, of my anus. I am interested in ass-fucking,” she writes. Her rejection of some of the pretensions of theoretical abstracts — coupled with her effortless invocation of them to understand her relationship to love, fucking, and motherhood, and the specificity in her, and everyone’s, relationship to all of the above — is among what makes the book just as soul-opening as it is mind-opening, what makes it more than a book that makes you “think” about the fluidities of life and love, but also love them in so doing. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor