Recommended Reading: Conan O’Brien, Oscar Villains, and the Fyre Docs


Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, a tale of two documentaries, the legend of the aged doctor-turned-rapper, some thoughts on the Oscar race, and an enlightening new interview with a comedy survivor.

Scott Tobias on the dueling Fyre Fest documentaries.

The massive boondoggle of the Fyre Festival, the 2017 promotional music festival/island getaway that turned into a Lord of the Flies for “influencers,” prompted plenty of fallout: a social media frenzy, charges for the fraudster in charge, and now, the oddest cinematic race-to-the-release-date since the great Lambada/Forbidden Dance Massacre of 1990. Netflix earmarked today for the release of their (very good) documentary Fyre, from American Movie director Chris Smith; on Monday, just as the review embargo for that one lifted, Hulu surprise-released Fyre Fraud, another documentary account of the disaster. And they are, unsurprisingly, going after each other a bit. Writing for The Ringer, Tobias talked to both filmmaking teams about their films and controversies:

Fyre and Fyre Fraud arrive at many of the same conclusions about what happened with the festival, and both documentaries place much of the blame on McFarland, a scam artist who was subsequently sentenced to six years in federal prison for wire fraud. However, the major difference between them is that the Hulu doc has an exclusive interview with McFarland and the Netflix doc does not. In the course of preparing a profile on Chris Smith (American Movie, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond) for The Ringer, coming later this week, I asked Smith on Monday about the Hulu documentary that was released earlier in the day. What he said wound up sparking a kind of ethics-off between the two camps.

Dave Itzkoff interviews Conan O’Brien.

Next week, Conan returns to TBS — but it’s perhaps more accurate to just say Conan returns to TBS, since the show carrying his name will be a different beast than the one that stopped airing in October. It will run half as long, at 30 minutes; it will dispense with late-night talk-show conventions like a desk set and a house band. At the New York Times, Itzkoff talks to O’Brien about what caused those changes, where he sees his career going, and how he’s come to terms with his own limited shelf life:

Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think’s that what separates me from the other hosts. I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.

Jeff Maysh on “Dr. Rapp.”

Dr. Sherman Hershfield was your average, over-worked California doctor, until a series of strokes rendered his speech slurred and stuttered. Yet he discovered a strange new gift for speaking in rhyme — and found that when he did so, his new speech difficulties disappeared. So he devoted himself to learning how to rhyme well, which led him to an unlikely hang-out for a white Beverly Hills denizen: “Project Blowed,” the notoriously heated open-mic workshop at Leimert Park in South Central. And, as The Atlantic‘s Jeff Maysh tells it, he became a legend:

Back at Project Blowed, Hershfield intensified his efforts to dominate the mic. But his double life soon became strained as his two worlds splintered. “His friends in Beverly Hills did not approve of this at all,” said Kaplan, Hershfield’s journalist friend. “They were so shocked. Let’s just say none of his friends showed up at open-mic night.” By choosing rap nights instead of night shifts, Hershfield soon fell into another financial crisis. “I think he was more obsessed with rapping than he was going to work,” his stepson, Scott, told me. Sometimes, Michiko told me, the guys from Leimert Park would lend Hershfield money for the bus. Soon Hershfield’s voice became hoarse from shouting rhymes over African drums and staying out all night. Then, during one particularly hot evening, everything went black. “Dr. Rapp had a seizure,” recalled Tasha Wiggins, who worked for kaos Network. “Other rappers caught him. Everybody stopped what they were doing, trying to nurture Dr. Rapp.” As Hershfield lay unconscious on the floor, the crowd started chanting his name.

Nate Jones on this year’s Oscar villains.

When Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody won the Best Picture prizes at the Golden Globes earlier this month, the online side-eyes and murmurs came to a roar; how were these two movies, out of all the movies of this extraordinary year, front-runners. At Vulture, Jones takes a look at how a musical biopic and a period race drama, the kind of movies that would’ve breezed through awards season not too long ago, became the year’s most controversial contenders:

I’ve also heard the complaints, less from voters than from pundits: Can we make any movies about white people these days? Does every Oscar movie have to be Moonlight? While I’m sympathetic to the point of view of the films’ defenders, I think these complaints miss the mark. The Favourite, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and The Wife all managed to have almost entirely white casts without any controversy. And while Roma and BlacKkKlansman certainly owe a bit of their Best Picture buzz to their contemporary resonance, the category’s current front-runner is A Star Is Born, a film that’s so old-fashioned it’s a remake of a movie from 1937. As long as a movie like Darkest Hour can still get nominated for Best Picture, I think old-school Oscar bait will be fine. What the two disparate reactions to Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody are really about is a dispute over the utility of pop-culture comfort food. Everyone agrees that the two movies are beige depictions of the real-life history, that they sanitize their subjects in ways that make them more appealing, but less specific. The question is, amid the trauma of the Trump era, is this kind of comfort a necessary balm, or a harmful distraction? Older Oscar voters have suggested to me that this divide is generational, and while that may be true in a broad sense, I suspect it’s as much a difference of philosophy and outlook as it is demographics. (Think of the way Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have more in common with each other than either does with Hillary Clinton.) It’s tempting to talk about the Academy as if it’s a singular body with singular tastes, but as my colleague Mark Harris reminds me, it’s actually a fractious group of 6,000 people who disagree with each other as much as you would expect a group of thousands of people who work in the same general industry to.