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What to read, watch and listen to in May

A woman sits alone in a darkened cinema.
Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash

And so we find ourselves nearing the half-way mark in 2020, and what a year it’s turning out to be. The blog is also nearing its first birthday, and there will be more on that later, when the Broad will mark the first anniversary of the site with some self-congratulatory fanfare.

But this week the Broad has for you the usual monthly round-up of TV, film, book and podcast recommendations plus some articles and other things you may find worthy of a read.

A Note on TV

It’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to TV, but the Broad has two new series you may want to put on your watch list. But before getting to the TV discussion, a couple of things to put your way. Inside Story, which is a cultural, historical and political-themed online magazine, has compiled what it says is some of the best TV for watching while we’re in lockdown over two different articles. The Broad will admit she can’t cover everything; therefore, if you’re still lost for inspiration after reading the blog, there are plenty of suggestions in these two articles. Personally, the Broad is considering buying a DVD player and getting her movie and TV series collection going again after reading this list.

Reprisal

Years after a woman is left for dead by her brother and his murderous gang she re-emerges and is after revenge. This series is produced by the team that gave us The Handmaid’s Tale and Fargo and promises a dark tale of revenge and empowerment in the American South in a near-present past that also takes aim at male privilege and fraternity. If you like your dramas dark and little violent, with a side of criminal, that could be one to watch. Reprisal is on SBS in Australia, plus YouTube, GooglePlay, Hulu and Apple TV.

The L Word – Generation Q

The L Word was a unique and in some ways ground-breaking TV series that ran for five years from 2004. It was about a group of lesbians and bisexuals living in Los Angeles and their loves, lives and everything in-between. By all accounts, the season ended with a huge letdown for the loyal audience and so this re-boot should provide a welcome return and a chance to update some of its limitations (privilege bubble and lack of authenticity with its trans and diverse characters).

It’s updated subtitle ‘Generation Q’ is intended to signify the awareness the cultural and political landscape it now enters has changed. It doesn’t have the singular place it once did in providing a voice and characters for non-straight storymaking, but this also relieves it of this singular responsibility. The cornerstone characters are back with new ones in the mix as they tangle and tango through the new queer landscape a decade on. The Broad can also recommend several other series, perhaps sharper and more darkly comedic, such as Vida, The Bisexual and One Mississippi.

A Note on Film

Blow the Man Down

The small fishing village and the secrets it hides is the setting for Blow The Man Down. Reminiscent of E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, this darkly comedic story starts with the shock murder of a dangerous man, which is quickly covered up by two sisters. As police attempt to investigate the gruesome crime, the two sisters confront the elder women of the small town and the criminal shadow side that threatens to break out exposing hidden agendas, unlawful operations and dark secrets.

The Conversation

Surveillance is almost ubiquitous in our lives today. We carry a tracking device with us in our pockets, there’s CCTV recording in many public spaces, our every click online is recorder and tracked. And now, in Australia at least, the government will soon be asking us to download a coronavirus tracing app that should help stop the spread of the disease, but it involves more tracking and storing of our personal information. Surveillance of some kind has been with us for decades but never on the scale that it is today, extending from real world to digital. The Conversation, a 1974 film made by Francis Ford Coppola, follows surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) covertly recording a couple’s conversation, but he becomes troubled and disturbed by what he may be deciphering in his recordings. It’s a pared-back, taut and intimate drama where the audience takes the privileged position alongside the private investigator and witness how he devolves in the process.

A Note on Books

The Dictionary of Lost Words

History may be written by the victors, but the victors are once always men. And so it once was with the first dictionary, written by men and missing many words that related to women’s experiences. Pip Williams’ new novel The Dictionary of Lost Words is the fictionalised story of the creation of the first Oxford English Dictionary and Esme, the daughter of one of the lexicographers, who collects the words discarded or left out of the great book. She creates a companion book, the dictionary of lost words, which is only discovered during the women’s suffrage movement and reveals a missing thread in the history written by men.

The Animals In That Country

A pandemic-themed novel arrives with uncanny timing in 2020. In Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals In That Country a strange human flu is sweeping the country that sees infected people start to understand the language of animals. Yet this affliction doesn’t bring them closer to animals – instead the animals voices start to overwhelm people and they begin to be driven mad by it. Jean, the anti-hero of the story, has been working as a guide in an outback animal park when she learns her son is infected and sets off to find him and her beloved grand-daughter who he has taken off with. But while Jean might have an affinity for animals, she’s never been much good at getting on with humans.

A Note on a Podcast

99% Invisible

We live in a world of built environments, yet most of us probably don’t stop and spend time considering how the design of our buildings and spaces affects how we live. This podcast delves into the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. It started as a project of KALW public radio and the American Institute of Architects by host and creator Roman Mars and is independent production funded by listeners and supporters. It covers architecture and cities along with objects, sounds and technology. Recent stories include a look at the history of toilet paper, map design, treadwheel and a look at fold-down furniture.

Some Other Notes

Finally this month, a collection of notes on things the Broad wants to bring to your attention. And first up is Breaking Glass, a virtual concert from the Sydney Chamber Opera that brings together four new operas created by women composers and inspired by works of literature from Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood and Homer’s Iliad.

This rather depressing story from The Illy reports that female academics appear to be submitting fewer articles to journals than their male academics during the Covid crisis. It’s a gender gap opening right before our eyes.

Radio station Double J has this list of music docos for those home times when we can’t get out to concerts.

Mrs America is the new TV series featuring Cate Blanchett and a host of other wonderful female actors dramatising the US women’s movement in the 1970s. This article from W magazine celebrates the glorious Mad Men-quality costumes in the show. Look out for a rundown on the new series next month.

Still in the world of fashion, this New York Times article asks the somewhat controversial question of whether fashion magazines have suddenly passed their use by date given the disconnect between fashion fantasy and Covid reality. Probably not, but it seems Instagram influencers are suddenly on the nose. That can only be a good thing. More Celeste Barber and less Kardashian please.

Who is Eve and why is this female figure so dominant in storytelling from the Bible’s Garden of Eden to TV’s Killing Eve? This essay in Art UK takes a look at the history of the figure of Eve that dates back to prehistorical pagan goddesses and the Bronze Age. It argues these tales are framed by patriarchy which puts the blame on Eve for the male’s downfall or corruption. Now re-consider a show like Killing Eve and how it takes the two forms of femaleness – corrupting desire in Villanelle and compliance in Eve Polastri – and has some wicked fun with it.

Film buffs come in many varieties, from those who love a certain genre or director to those who like to seek out obscure films or just have a passion for film making itself. Isabel C is a film buff who celebrates her love of film while casting a critical eye across the artform in her YouTube video essays on her channel, Be Kind Rewind. She explores Hollywood history, awards ceremonies, women in film and studies of particular actor. One of her recent videos explored the career of Toni Collette and how she’s missed out on the big awards, despite being such a varied and skilled actor.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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