Ninth Floor (Mina Shum, 2015)

Ninth Floor is a documentary film about an incident in 1969 at Sir George Williams University (now part of Concordia University) in Montreal that began with six black Caribbean students charging their professor with failing them systematically, continued through endless delays and refusals by the university administration, and ended with arson and riot police dismantling an occupation of the Hall building. A lot of value has been placed on the fact that this film has been made and is making this shameful moment in Quebec and Canadian history known to a larger audience. I don’t want to take away from the film’s value in that regard, but I also don’t want the film’s value to excuse its shortcomings, which are both narrative and political.

The film is half a documentary composed of archival footage of the incident and interviews with the original complainants, other protesters, and descendants of those involved in the incident, and half an experimental art film about isolation and surveillance, using the interviewees as its cast. They come and go from empty buildings for mysterious reasons, are seen through the windows of other buildings, silently listen to public payphones. You can sense what Shum was going for: something beyond just a dry TV-style talking heads documentary, something with more artistic heft. The shots are very beautiful, with the snow-covered, brutalist concrete locations precisely framed to emphasize the sense of isolation and alienation the Caribbean students talk about feeling in Canada. (The terrifyingly symmetrical Hall building has never looked more like a dystopian detention centre than it does here, and this is coming from someone who had to take classes in it.)

But when combined with the film’s Important Documentary aspect, these shots become distracting, even irritating. The interviews are filmed in an unnamed cold, beat-up concrete space, often through glass with secondary recording equipment visible in the shot (surveillance camera output on a TV, analog tape recorders, etc.). This distancing is a great aesthetic effect, but the visuals get in the way of hearing what is actually being said by the interviewees. The archival footage of student protests and contemporary news coverage, with its clear, direct style made fuzzy by time and technological advancement, is the most compelling part of the film, visually and content-wise.

The film makes many attempts to build a larger narrative out of the incident. That persistent surveillance motif is a part of this, building on the fact that the black student activists at Sir George Williams were watched by the RCMP, and in part by a black agent carrying out the Mounties’ orders. It’s an alarming part of the story, and important to the film’s exposure of state racism in Canada, but not a big enough part (and introduced too late in the story) to justify making it the film’s central visual conceit.

More successful are interviews with Nantali Indongo, daughter of original complainant Kennedy Fredericks, which show how trauma has generational repercussions; and with Marvin H. Coleby, then president of the Concordia Caribbean Student Union, where he talks about how there’s been a shift from “explicit racism” to something less visible and more sinister. These are both intriguing threads that lead out of the story. But the film is content to say, “Here are the threads,” without continuing to follow them. This could just be my political bias, but given the increasing overtness of racism and xenophobia in Quebec, I would have preferred for a stronger connection drawn between that and the Sir George Williams incident. The surveillance could have been left as a shocking anecdote, rather than being the way we’re guided to view the whole story.

This is the crux of the film’s political failure, in my opinion: it is unadventurous, and thinks it is doing more than it is. The time is long past when for this simply to exist as a document of the government’s misbehaviours created with government money would be a radical act. In a time of carding, in a time of black people regularly being detained and killed by the police not just in the United States but here in Canada, this film’s message is, “Canadians can be racist too,” and, “We should be better humans to each other.” That’s it. The film ends with Indongo and a band composed of musicians both black and white performing “Redemption Song”, alternating with stark close-ups of the interviewees’ faces, asking us to find humanity in all of them, or something. There was something stylistic in the film that irked me already, but the Q&A afterward confirmed what I was feeling. A black person asked what was being done to ensure this film would be shown to black communities — “not ‘communities of colour’, black” — across Canada, and was told by the Asian-Canadian filmmaker and Caribbean-Canadian producer that this was “not just a black story, but a Canadian story”. The person who asked the question walked out after that, and I don’t blame them. It was frustrating.

“Frustration”, I think, is the keyword of this film. It characterizes both the events that it documents and the feeling I had when I left the theatre. It is good that this film exists and that its existence has led people to learn about the incident in the present day, and it feels unfair to charge it with not doing enough. But it does not do enough. “Look past skin colour and see humanity” is not a moral for 2016; in 2016, these are words that are used by racists to silence others, not used in order to fight them. In 2016, Ninth Floor is not a radical film. This subject deserves more.


Fireworks (Archives): Impressions

Madeleine Wall: After some time, I’m quite certain the best thing I saw at TIFF was Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation Fireworks (Archives). I saw a lot, and, to be honest, too much, but this was the only piece that I was excited by.

After being told by the ticket vendor that it was “very dark, very scary, and that people are going to get hurt,” I met up with Maddie, and knowing only that warning, entered the installation. The vendor wasn’t wrong — we had trouble orienting ourselves in the space, and only after some time did we realize there were chairs, and that they already had people in them. This difficulty in situating ourselves didn’t change in regard to the video piece. An inaccurate summary of it would be a man and a woman wander around a statue garden, which is sporadically illuminated by fireworks or the flash of a camera. The subjects, whether the moving people or the many statues, are only ever seen briefly and partially by these lights, and the sound of fireworks turns into the sound of gunfire.

For me, this piece is very much engaged with the sleight of hand that is inherent to cinema. We believe, when watching a film, we can see it all, that we are presented with an authentic, as close to reality as possible, picture, and that sound functions to reinforce that illusion of reality. In actuality, light, darkness and sound are three separate parts that work together, in ways that are not perceptible to the human eye, to create the illusion of the moving picture. Light becomes something we take for granted, and we trust in its abilities completely.

Here, on the other hand, the light only partially illuminates, and is meant to function as such. Fireworks are a spectacle, meant to distract rather than illuminate. The flash of the camera and the click of its shutter only provides a brief glimpse of what is going on, and the image it takes the audience does not see. It is a film of mostly darkness, with the light adding to the disorientation rather than clarity. When we see fireworks going off as they should, there is silence, and the sound we expect is replaced with gunfire, but at times it is difficult to tell the difference.

On a technical and aesthetic level I loved it, but lacking any context, I knew this was (pun not intended but I’m keeping it) only part of the picture. The statues in the garden were such a mishmash of figures that its reason for existence remained unclear. If this is an archive with gunfire, there’s a history and politics here that I’m missing.

Madeleine Lee: A few hours before I met Maddy, I went a few floors down from where Fireworks (Archives) was playing to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul in conversation with critic Dennis Lim, where they discussed both Fireworks and Apichatpong’s new film, Cemetery of Splendour. I hadn’t yet seen Fireworks in motion, so my initial contact with it was the opposite of Maddy’s — I only had the context.

Fireworks (Archives) is an offshoot of Cemetery of Splendour in that both works were shot in the northeast of Thailand, the area where Apichatpong was born, and the two actors who appear in Fireworks are also the main actors in Cemetery of Splendour, more or less as they appear in the full-length feature. The major context of Fireworks, however, is the location: the Sala Keoku Temple, founded by a handsome, charismatic mystic who had fled from Laos and established himself as a guru of sorts back in Thailand. He covered the walls of the temple with his portrait, and designed all of the sculptures in its garden. The sculptures draw on images from multiple religions (including Buddhism and Hinduism) as well as contemporary culture, giving them a primal, pantheistic look.

Apichatpong also explained that the northeast of Thailand has been traditionally a marginal area of the country both economically and politically. An audience member who had seen the piece asked about the photographs of people that are shown at the beginning and end of the film without commentary or labels. The filmmaker identified them as people who had been executed in uprisings against the government. He had included their images in the work so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Given all this context, I couldn’t help but come to Fireworks already viewing it as a heavily political and intellectual work.

At the same time, I kept thinking of one of my favourite moments in the Q&A session earlier: An audience member had asked Apichatpong about his intent in using black and white versus colour in a different short film, and what kind of statement he was trying to make by choosing one or the other (for instance, evoking a certain sense of time). The filmmaker’s response was, “I choose according to what looks right to me” – not an evasive answer, just a simple one.

From its historical context alone, Fireworks is a political work. But it is also a very visually and aurally striking one, and by its creator’s own admission born as much of experiments with capturing different sources of light on camera as it was of historical research into the location. In Fireworks, the political and the aesthetic are not two different layers or different readings of the piece, because both are located in one place, in one person: the work’s creator, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. If Fireworks has a political viewpoint, it is the political viewpoint he expresses; if it has aesthetic value, it is the value of the creator’s instinctive choices, “what looks right” to him. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his aesthetic choices are subconsciously informed by his politics, because he is the one person making both decisions. And I don’t think it’s much more of a stretch to say that his taste for formal experimentation and fascination with the images found at the Sala Keoku Temple might come from a similar place as his political leanings.

MW: It’s interesting, because without the context I assumed that the photos of the men were those of the perpetrators. There is an overwhelming sense that something is not right in this garden, and beginning the film with the photos of men does alert one to some historical event. (Though since we walked in half way through the film, we didn’t see their photos until the end, so our time line was off, or at least mine was.)

I suppose it was a kind of Act of Killing syndrome, where I assumed the only evidence we have of any crime in the non Western world is only of the perpetrator, and most certainly they were not punished. Here, these men become part of this archive, and though what happened is never explicitly stated, we still understand it, predominantly because of the aesthetic/political alignment you were talking about.

ML: I think your initial impulse raises an interesting point, which is that despite designating this work as “Archives”, the photos are not labelled, and there’s no designation given to the exact location within the work itself. In the Q&A, his insistence that his purely aesthetic choices be recognized as such also leaves them open for alternative interpretations (or shuts out the possibility, depending on how much authorial intent matters to you).

I think the ambiguous identities of the people in the work for anyone unfamiliar with them works into the overall theme of ambiguity in the piece that you mentioned in your initial impression — the firework noises that become gunshots, the parallel drawn between the flash of a camera and the lights given off by fireworks, the part where the two actors hold hands and are conflated with a statue in the temple of two skeletons holding hands. Even just the fact of all the lighting being done by a single source in each shot confuses the concept of an archive: rather than preserving these things in their whole form, only their impression is preserved, if that makes any sense. I think this plays into the photography as well, then: the people in the photographs are presented not with biographies and history, but only as impressions.

The artist’s statement is here:
fireworks (Archives) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul


We sneak in at the very end for what we loved in May.


I recently rewatched Cabaret (1972), and it was a really good decision. I first saw it at age twelve and again in my teens, but it’s easily been a decade since I watched the film. I loved it even more than I did ten years ago, possibly due to the fascination with Weimar Germany that I nursed throughout college. A lot of movie musicals age terribly but Cabaret remains exciting due to the brilliant use of diegetic music, the dark and stylized costume and set design, and the poignant yet energetic performance of Liza Minelli. The movie is so enticing that you only notice how bleak and chilling it is until the breathtaking spectacle ends.

Please enjoy the opening number:

Our very own Maddy mailed me a copy of Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey in the winter, but I only got around to reading it in the last two weeks. I finished it a few days ago, and I’m still pretty speechless. Nobody Is Ever Missing reminds me a lot of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. The reasons for that are hard to articulate, though they share a violently disaffected female narrator, which sets the tenor of both books. One of the most wonderfully unsettling things about reading it was narrator Elyria’s idea of her “wildebeest,” a dark and unsettled presence inside her. The notion puts words to something that I am beginning to suspect is present in most women.

I’ve had two lovely cocktails with Pimm’s No. 1 this May. One of these cocktails was an exceptionally gingery and cucumbery Pimm’s Cup. I don’t need to discuss it, except to say that it convinced me to invest in a bottle – even after an astounding number of mediocre Pimm’s cocktails.  The other cocktail was a punch called “God Save the Queen” that was dreamed up and served at the incomparable Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg, WA. I had two cups of it on my birthday, and I can’t stop thinking about it! The punch was composed of black tea, gin, simple syrup, citrus juice and peel, cucumber, and Pimm’s, garnished with lovage and pomegranate seeds. I haven’t yet experimented with making my own version, but I do have huge lovage bush in the yard and cocktail-making always seems like a worthy summer project.


mul naengmyeon

1. Mul naengmyeon was my last “scared to try” Korean food, which is weird considering how tame it is even from a non-Korean perspective. Something about the concept of tart, icy beef soup, esophagus-searing gyeoja (Korean mustard) and buckwheat noodles seemed like I wasn’t going to like it. Maybe it was just the word “buckwheat”. I tried it for the first time last summer at Hwang Kum in Montreal, and I’ve been obsessed ever since, even more now that the weather in Canada is finally appropriate for it again. Of course, the weather doesn’t matter — I even ordered this in the winter once. (My mom: “And they let you?!”)

contouring2. Contouring my cheeks. Over the past month I’ve devoured four out of seven seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s finally turned me on to the idea of contouring makeup. Not the careful Sephora-presented shapes tailored to my generic face shape; I tried that for a bit (I think I’m a square), but then I realized that I didn’t want to use it to look normal, but to look abnormal. Lately I’ve enjoyed taking a break during work to draw on some giant sunken cheeks and blend them in. On the recommendation of the internet, I use a CoverGirl TruBlend FixStick in D1-4. It’s not really dark enough, certainly not enough for the dramatic shadowing used by the queens of Drag Race, and if I get into this enough I might switch to powder or something more professional, but for now it’s like drawing with a very soft crayon, and it feels soothing for both my face and for any nervous tension I may have built up during the work day.

3. James St. James’s “Transformation” videos, another gift to me via Drag Race. My mom always used the expression “putting on my face” for putting on makeup to go outside, and this is what the “Transformation” videos are about, too, only in a more literal way. Each video opens with James St. James greeting the viewer: “Welcome to my face!” Hairless and pasty, with an angled bone structure underneath, his head is basically a dummy’s head, the ideal blank surface for the drag queens and makeup artists that come by to do him up; that said, the whiteness-as-default of his face is deemphasized in the videos in favour of the democratic magic of makeup. He’s been made into Divine, Jessica Rabbit, and an evil scarecrow, but my favourite videos are when drag queens come by and do their own signature makeup on him, like Bianca Del Rio and her “40 pairs of eyelashes”. James St. James is also a charming interviewer, and the conversations he has with each guest are as nice to listen to as the transformations are amazing to watch.



Last weekend I was in Kingston, Ontario to dogsit a very particular dog. Though at his beck and call for his various needs, we did briefly go out on Sunday to Kingston’s antique fair. The military stuff wasn’t really my jam (and I don’t know why I was surprised to see it there) but I did manage to find one of my best postcard hauls in a while. I never want to spend too much (my rule is that the postage should cost more than the card unless the card is amazing) so finding so many for so little was exactly what I needed. The man at the booth asked what kinds of postcards I collected, and realizing that the inside of churches, blues and greens, and rocks were too weird an answer, I mumbled something about a certain kind of technicolor, where they almost bleed into each other. I get a lot of slack from friends about sending postcards from places I haven’t been, but I picked up a bunch of Scenic Northern Ontario ones, which I’d not only been to, but was pretty perturbed to find on a postcard. Hopefully my parents appreciate those, and everyone else likes pictures of trees.


On that same weekend I read Jane Unrue’s Love Hotel. I give things the term “favourite” when they’re something I wish I’d made, but also makes me want to create. Unrue’s book felt like something pulled out of a long forgotten nightmare that’s been chewing on the edges of me for years. The book has a few vague plots, searching for someone missing, investigating a hotel, piecing together what happens, but each one is undermined and tangled up in each other. A bit like House of Leaves, the sparse text and use of spacing on each page reflects what is happening to the characters, causing the reader to read the book as if they too were fleeing through these hallways. Unrue’s book has sunk into me and I’m trying to think of the best way I can honour it.


A few weeks before dogsitting I read The Place of Scraps by Jordan Abel which was brilliant & devastating. Erasure poetry is a field that is often a better concept than practice, but Abel knows exactly what he’s doing. Mixing personal history and Marius Barbeau’s writings on Nisga’a Nation, of which Abel is a descendant of, Abel weaves together the burden of a history placed on a people, and the difficulty of building from it. The history of First Nations since colonization has been a genocide, and Abel’s work takes the personal in contrast to the ethnographic, and all that remains are empty spaces. Abel turns Barbeau’s ethnography into a kind of violence, whose only result are the spaces where the people once were, and a totem pole on the wrong side of the country.


The end of April finally (finally!) means the beginning of spring, and we have lots of love for lots of things.


Unbecoming: A Novel by Rebecca Scherm is a novel about identity with the trappings of a heist thriller. We meet the protagonist, Grace, living in Paris and restoring antiques several years after a robbery gone wrong. Grace is unreliable and elusive and part of the pleasure of the book comes in part from teasing out her authentic self from the various roles she fills in the lives of the men around her. Some of the other great joys in reading Unbecoming are the descriptions of the restoration process. Reading about Grace painstaking cutting bite marks into tiny wax peaches is the closest I’ll ever get to an ASMR experience.

Espiral Vinho Verde is slightly effervescent “medium dry” wine from Portugal that is so unbelievably refreshing that I swear it’s like drinking sparkling water. This particular bottle is $5 at Trader Joe’s and I think it’s exclusive to that grocery chain. Despite living smack in the middle of an American Wine Destination we’ve stocked up on 4 or 5 bottles of this cheap and delicious wine every time we’ve made it out to Seattle in the past couple months. I have yet to try making a mimosa with the Vinho Verde but I suspect it would be perfect!

♥ Sunsets are kind of a boring example of nature’s majesty, which is probably why I was totally indifferent to them until I moved west. I don’t know that sunsets are somehow more beautiful in WA than in OH, but my view is less impeded by buildings and I find myself checking out the back window every evening to see if there is a radiant explosion in the sky bathing the yard in golden light. My favorite is a sunset on a slightly rainy day; the clouds filter the light into these eerie rosy dapples up and down my street. IMG_6654

Unreal sunset in late September


♥ Ruth – Polaroid/Roman/Photo

Around this time last year I was in Montreal staying with Maddie for a couple of weeks. I heard part of this song in two bars and needed to hear more, but never got the chance to ask. After a month or so of searching (and I’m willing to admit my keyword selection wasn’t the best, but there are also a surprising amount of songs that “man woman saxophone talking french song” apply to) I found it by accident. Now that it’s warmer out I find myself listening to it with the windows open. Hopefully my neighbours like it as well.
♥ The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre

I read this book in one sitting (which is easy to do with an 80 page book) but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Lefebvre crafts an incomplete list of missing works, diaries, paintings, letters, ropes to hang oneself, by various artists. Decidedly white, male and Euro-centric (with some painful exclusions) it’s still a marvel. Did you know we have no idea what the Marquis de Sade looks like, since all his portraits were destroyed or lost? That Decartes wrote a book about his dreams, called Olympica? I am constantly interested in the smaller personal items of famous people, and have the utmost respect for every act of destruction one takes towards their work. To have a grouping of them creates a space of impossible dreams and works that get the mind reeling.

 ♥ It Follows Soundtrack
It Follows has already made an appearance on our “Things We Love” posts, and there may be more to come. I’ve had the soundtrack on loop, which isn’t particularly good for my mental health as this perfect tweet sums up. Still, the older I get the more I want to listen to synths, and this strikes the chord (the pun wasn’t intended but I’m keeping it).
Things have not been very good but I’ve been reading some very good things.

♥ Susan Sontag – Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963, edited by David Rieff I first came across this book in photograph form. I first came across a quote, or a photograph of a page, via Durga Chew-Bose (who you should be following on Twitter and Tumblr if that is not already the case). Here it is, I’ve found it. The photographed page, underlined by/picture with the manicured hand that held the pen and turned the page. Now, that photograph of a page of a diary written in the fall of 1957 has been reblogged or liked by 948 people in the winter of 2015. (Am I still writing about the book?) I’m not underlining pages in my copy because it is from the library and also because it is hard to underline things in books when you read them in bathtubs. Her words burn hot on my skin and it feels perfect to be in a steaming bath while reading them. I read excerpts out loud, the echo in my tiny white-tiled bathroom heard only by my black cat. I’m not done yet. It is one of those books you want to savour, namely because you know it has to end at some point. I haven’t been using a bookmark, and have re-read passages purely for the pleasure of it all. I debated sharing a favourite part but there are too many.

♥ Sauna by Mount Eerie This record! It feels like a record that has always been in my collection, that I know off by heart without knowing the track titles already. It comes in waves, waves of beauty and terror. Take the 13-minute track Spring, for example. It begins with peels of bells, dramatic dongs, then centers itself with falsetto choirs of disembodied angels… all while singing you existential words about how nothing is impermeable or real. It is just BEYOND. To top things off, the record as an object itself is fucking gorgeous. You should buy it. (Par rapport a rien, it’s also the 2nd album I’ve listening to in the last month that mention the tides when the album was recorded? What’s up dudes?)

 The Real Image by Esmé Weijun Wang in the New Inquiry This was written back in February but I only got around to it now! Worth the wait. I first crossed online paths with Esmé six or seven years ago, when we both faithfully documented our wardrobes and shared them online. She co-ran Fashion for Writers with Jenny Zhang, and I am so fucking glad she is still sharing her photographs, thoughts, and wisdom online. This piece explores madness and myth making and the cinema. Cinema as an experience, not necessarily simply as images on a screen, if you get my drift. For us who love film and thinking about what film does/can do, it is fascinating. For anyone who has dealt with mental health issues, it is extra insightful and eye-opening. So you should read it.


♥ I’ve been in sort of a reading slump lately – in 2014, I did a reading only women authors project, which gave the year a structure that I don’t have this year (although I am still only reading female authors!) – but I recently read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has me excited about books again. A pre-, during-, and post-apocalyptic novel all at once, Station Eleven weaves together the stories of several Canadians at the end of the world. Arthur Leander, world-famous actor (I was thinking of him as a Michael Caine-type), dies onstage during King Lear; Jeevan, a paparazzo-turned-EMT with a history with Arthur tries to save him; while Kirsten, a child actor in the pay and friend of Arthur’s, watched in horror. This is the last day before the world ends – literally, for Arthur, and both literally and figuratively for Jeevan and Kirsten, who both finds ways to survive in a new world. It’s refreshingly non-depressing for a novel about the apocalypse – of course, there are momets of deep tragedy, but there is also a lot of beauty to still be found in the world, and each other. My favorite part of the book is Miranda’s illustrations of her graphic novel (within the novel) Station Eleven – I would love to see a printed version of the comic!!

♥ This is probably more of a shameless self-promotion than anything else, but for the past six months I’ve been contributing to Screen Slate, a daily, absolutely invaluable resource of all repertory/gallery/special event screenings in NYC. It’s given me the opportunity to write about, and, more importantly, point interested viewers’ eyes towards, films I think are important, particularly within the male-dominated NYC film scene: The Last MistressThou Wast Mild and Lovely, and Immoral Tales, to name a few. Now, in order to make the site even better (the things the team is imagining are amazing, to say the least), Screen Slate has started a Kickstarter. I know there are tons (and tons) of crowdsourcing campaigns you can (and should!) contribute to, but Screen Slate has been a lifesaver for me, even before becoming a contributor – the site makes it so easy to find screenings you otherwise might never have known. Those kinds of things are my favorite part of living in New York.1429801403_kim-kardashian-467

♥ Lately, Kim Kardashian’s fashion game has been even more on-point than usual: she’s really embracing her gothic witch side. Her dress to the Time 100 gala is really off the charts – all sheer and dark and sleek and voluminous. Even better is the outfit at right, which she wore to a casual night out, apparently. When I saw this picture, I couldn’t not imaging Kim as the lead witchy-vampire queen in a nouveau Jean Rollin film. Can someone please make this dream a reality!

Femina Ridens Round Table: Kamome Diner (2006)

Kamome Diner 1 Kamome Diner 2

Where are we welcome? On a quiet street in Helsinki, Sachie has opened a diner featuring rice balls. For a month she has no customers. Then, in short order, she has her first customer, meets Midori, a gangly Japanese tourist, and invites her to stay with her, and meets Masako, a formal and ethereal middle-aged woman whose luggage has gone missing. The three women work in the diner, interact, and serve customers. A somewhat brusque man teaches Sachie to make delicious coffee, then he returns under other circumstances. Three neighborhood women inspect the empty diner every day; will anything bring them inside? We learn why Sachie serves rice balls; but why Finland?
– IMDb plot summary

Maaike: Hi everyone! I’m super excited to discuss Naoko Ogigami’s Kamome Diner (aka Kamome Shokudo, aka Ruokala Lokki) with you all. It was hard to come up with discussion questions other than “Isn’t this film amazing?” (isn’t it, though?) but I’ve done my best to formulate a few. I’d love to hear about anything else that stood out to you or interested you about the film, too!
Continue reading


Since it’s Valentine’s Day, what could be a more stereotypically perfect date to introduce a semi-regular feature: Things We Currently Love! It’s a little peek at the things, from the superficial to the serious, that ring our bells.


♥ TV shows that aren’t about white people. Like most media-oriented young Asian-Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks anticipating, worrying about, reading up on, finally watching, and worrying about ABC’s new sitcom Fresh Off The Boat. At the same time I’ve gotten into Fox’s record label melodrama Empire, which is both nothing like Fresh Off the Boat and an interesting complement to it. fresh off the boatThere’s the hip-hop component of both, yes, and I loved David Turner’s point that there are two shows on American TV right now about rap music through a non-white lens. But the more deeply felt link between the two shows is family, with kids stumbling to find their own ways in the world and strong, complex, wickedly funny moms at the centre of both shows. (Constance Wu, who plays Fresh Off the Boat’s mom Jessica Huang, had a great interview with TIME last week about her character.) And another thing I love in both shows is the unspoken details: the shorthand in Empire of New York neighbourhoods and “the Nation” and gatherings full of aunts that give depth to the world the characters live in, and the set dressing and throwaway lines of Fresh Off the Boat that make me laugh not because they’re funny, per se, but because I can understand them right away.

milktea dessert

♥ Even though it’s winter, I’ve been drinking as much cold milk tea as I can: meeting friends after work for roasted oolong with tapioca pearls, no ice; picking up impractically-sized bottles of Kirin milk tea at the Korean grocery store, the brand of tea I would buy cold whenever I passed a vending machine in Tokyo two years ago; and daydreaming about the giant pile of milk tea shaved ice with grass jelly and tapioca I had on a really cold day in North York.

dikiThe work of Diki Tattooer, a Seoul-based tattoo artist whose artwork recalls Art Deco, stained glass, 50s cartoons, and high school notebook doodles. I love his minimalist line art works, most of which seem to be no larger than 1cm by 1cm on an otherwise blank stretch of skin, like a little decoration. Their flippant placement (and sometimes content) undermines the scary permanence that Getting A Tattoo still holds, in my mind anyway. (P.S., if my mom is reading this: I’m still not getting one!)


Frozen spinach: I’ve been trying to eat healthier, which so far has manifested in reading many, many articles and blog posts about superfoods. When it comes to actually purchasing, I’m overwhelmed at the grocery store (which would happen regardless of blog posts) and whatever I buy ends up going bad before I can eat all of it. Frozen spinach is the miracle – keeps forever, inexpensive, and very good for you. It’s often in a weird place (frozen food? vegetables? next to the Popsicles?) so it is a quest to find it, but I have. And I will again.

Lush’s dry shampoo: I don’t blow dry my hair, so whenever I wash it, it’ll take the whole day to dry. This is fine, but with winter finally arriving in Toronto, wet hair ends up limiting my days. So for those inbetween days I use a lot of dry shampoo. Lush is too white-savioury for me to be a regular customer, but their dry shampoo is the best. I’m able to have clean hair and go outside in -22 temperatures immediately (not that I want to). My boyfriend also enjoys it.

That weird sandwich my boyfriend makesRye bread, pate, cheddar, salami and bread and butter pickles. You would think it’s disgusting, but you would be wrong.


♥ I read The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai in almost one sitting on a weekend in early February. This book is a ghost story but it isn’t really about the ghost, who amounts mostly to shattered glass and blown lights. The novel focuses instead on the living people that populate Laurelfield, the haunted house and former haunted artist’s colony, throughout its titular hundred years. Perhaps my favorite thing about any book is the slow uncovering of secrets and The Hundred-Year House has its fair share of mysteries. Each revelation raises new questions as the narrative jumps backward through time, from 1999 to 1955 to 1929 and finally to 1900 (a “prologue” of sorts). This book is about both transformation and the cyclical nature of family histories and owes a lot to the English country house genre, though it is unique enough to hold the attention of any veteran of the haunted house novel.

♥ I am unrepentantly vain about my luxuriously thick head of hair and, aside from argan oil and air-drying, I am completely dependent on Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask to get me through the winter. Unlike most other hair masks I’ve tried, it is applied on wet hair after shampooing and only worn for 5-10 minutes as opposed to an agonizing 20-30 minutes of waiting around to shower with your dry hair saturated with something akin to mayonnaise. The result is soft, smooth hair that isn’t weighed down by any excess oil. It’s a little pricey so I use it only weekly, but it is by far the best hair mask I’ve ever used and it smells like coconut!

♥ I discovered Veronica Falls a little late (they formed in London in 2009) but just in time for my first foggy winter in the Pacific Northwest. Self-described as “horror rock, ” creepy lyrics combined with brooding, sometimes retro, indie pop makes them perfect for wandering in the unseasonably warm but maddeningly grey Washington winter; the deeply unsettling surf rock track “Beachy Head” in particular makes me wish I lived closer to the ocean just so I could die in it at night. If you like guitar-driven jams, The Cranberries, graveyards, Romanticism, and classic twee (think Black Tambourine) you will like Veronica Falls.

Maaike:eline vere

♥ The biggest thing of the past month for me was Harry Kümel’s serialised adaptation of Eline Vere (a classic of Dutch literature, which to be honest I’m only now finally reading). It has its flaws, but overwhelmed me completely with its visual beauty and its engagement, in different ways and on different levels, with so many things that are important to me (not the least of which are my love of opera, of my hometown, in which Eline Vere is largely set, and of uncompromisingly excessive women).

mahal♥ I’ve also been immersing myself in classic Bollywood films recently. I’m really enjoying exploring beyond the (so so good) masala films of the ’60s I was already more familiar with. Last month’s highlight was the eerie Mahal (1949), starring megababes Madhubala and Ashok Kumar; currently watching and loving Madhumati (1958), a very different film on similar themes. I also finally remembered to find compilations of songs from one of my favourite Bollywood voices, Shamshad Begum; this one is my current favourite.


♥ Having recently switched bedrooms with my flatmate, I’ve been working on making my new room look nice, a process that tends to take me absolutely forever but which I really enjoy. Taking the time to go through all of my favourite things, finding out how they change the room and how the room changes them, is really calming and satisfying, plus a good excuse to put the Shamshad Begum mix on repeat and sing along (badly).


♥ Alice Coltrane, A Monastic Trio:

I’m still adjusting to winter in the midwest, where the sun goes away for weeks on end. Those long, grey days–I forget how to be a person, how to talk and laugh and be around people. I need sun. That’s when I put on some Alice Coltrane.

A Monastic Trio was jazz harpist Alice Coltrane’s first solo record, made the year after her husband’s death. It’s not an elegy, though: Trio is celebratory, weird and gorgeous. Coltrane’s harp pirouettes like a cartoon ballerina, playing against the clarinet, thrumming bass, and drones. Every track is gold, but I’m obsessed with “I Want to See You,” Coltrane’s piano concerto. Its bright notes remind me: soon we’ll have light and warmth again. (Take that, Illinois!)1525904_orig

♥ Queer Zine Archive Project: As I wrap up my last semester in library school, I’ve been thinking a lot about archives and the ways they tell certain (read: white/cis/heteronormative/capitalist) stories about the world.  Suffice it to say, that’s tremendously shitty. Thankfully, there’s a growing number of projects devoted to making sure marginalized voices (including POC and/or LGBTQ folks) find their way into the archives. Exhibit A: the Queer Zine Archive Project. QZAP is an amazing volunteer-run online archive of queer and trans zines, all freely available to read and download. Where to start? I loved Trans Rentboys, an important anthology featuring stories from trans sex workers across the world.

Screenshot at Feb 14 15-57-42

♥ Mastering my Sophia Loren cat eye: The number of Q-tips I’ve lost to Youtube cat eye tutorials is legion. It’s embarrassing. On the plus side, being a winter recluse gives me lots of time to practice my Sophia Loren-inspired cat eye. It’s not perfect, but I’m getting there! Thanks, Stila liquid eyeliner and repeat views of Prêt-à-Porter.


♥ “Before July: Demos and Unreleased Songs” by Marissa Nadler: This 5-song set from Massachusets native Marissa Nadler is a real gem. While each track is fantastic, I find myself most drawn to the demo version of “Dead City Emily” (another version of the same song is featured on July, her full length album released in February of last year) and “The Rose City.” “Leave The Light On” is stellar as well, and reads to me like a bleak tale about intimacy, departure, and cautious optimism.

♥ Talenti Gelato and Sorbetto: I have always avoided traditional ice cream in favor of sorbet, but Talenti’s line of delectable gelato is making me reconsider my once firm stance. In the age of deeply personal and lengthy Yelp reviews, it is very easy (and tempting!) to discuss and describe food 11006073_10108139832272764_337335844_nin an  exhausting way, but I don’t know enough about this ice cream’s chemistry to do that comfortably. However, I do know that it is delicious and offers a diverse range of flavors, including but not limited to: German Chocolate Cake, Caramel Cookie Crunch, Tahitian Vanilla Bean, and Sicilian Pistachio.

As a bonus, its packaging has great utility for future uses; its plastic container can be used again for snacks, paint, coins, and much more.

 The “Nightshift” dance scene in 35 Shots of Rum:

35 Shots of Rum (dir. Claire Denis, 2008) explores the relationship between widower Lionel (Alex Descas) and his daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop), as they adjust to the minor and major changes in their lives. The entire film is a stunning, unassuming study of love, disappointment, and grief, but one moment stands out to me in particular — the “Nightshift” scene.

Lionel, Josephine, and their neighbors Noé (Grégoire Colin) and Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue) encounter a rainstorm while driving at night and seek refuge in a restaurant. After a brief dance with his daughter in the middle of the restaurant, Lionel silently transfers his daughter to Noé, as the soothing Commodores classic, “Nightshift” plays in the background.

Josephine’s dance with Noé is much more than “friendly swaying” amongst neighbors, and one soon realizes that Lionel has let his daughter go in more ways than one. The moment is wordless, but not quiet.


♥ I came across this musical project by Geneviève Castrée and was gobsmacked by the fact that it had taken so long for me to hear about this artist! Her earlier incarnations as Woelv went entirely unnoticed by me, but thanks to this tweet by the always-weird Phil Eleverum, I started listening to this new album and could. not. stop.

She also did the album artwork – appropriate since I only knew of her because of her graphic novel, published by Drawn & Quarterly. It features the two bridges which link Quebec City to the south shore, Lévis. She sings about names of streets and highways I walk past every day, about the ugliness of the endless winters and gravel and ice, about teen angst. Musically, hints of Julie Doiron, Scout Niblett and even a little bit of death metal bleed through this album. If you only listen to one song make it Boue/Fleuve II.

It’s also stemmed some amazing discussions with my Quebec City friends who are 35 and older, who ended up telling me all about the bands who used to play at a bar in the old city which was called “Les Fourmis Atomiques.” Punk bands with names like Les Marmottes Aplatis (the flattened marmots), Les Soeurs Volantes (The Flying Nuns) and WD-40. Amazing!

Galentine's Day

Galentine’s Card from BroodX, Tattooed lady from Crankbunny

♥ Subverting/Repurposing Valentine’s Day

Whether it be a friendly shifting towards Palentine’s Day, or the much more serious invitation to donate to local women’s shelters instead of buying roses, I love the way people are increasingly invited to make Valentine’s Day whatever the fuck they want it to be. I also think it’s a great occasion to revisit what our own perspectives on love and relationships are. This quote has resonated with me for years, and I tend to think back to it around this time of year.

Few people realize how sadly appropriate it is to use Valentine’s Day as a moment to reflect on domestic abuse and violence against women. Since 1991, activists in Canada have used February 14 to mark a National Day of Action for missing and murdered Indigenous women, hosting candlelight vigils, marches and protests. This year, February 13th marked one year since Loretta Saunders was last seen alive. Since her death, there have been other “flashpoint” deaths (Tina Fontaine), violent assaults and attempted murders (Rinelle Harper) that have raised more awareness around this issue in a Canadian political context. Today, the hashtag #HowWeDisappear is shining a light on missing and murdered women, about how specifically Indigenous women are rendered invisible by the mainstream media. Slowly but surely, it feels like a shift is happening, and that gives me hope.


♥ When I’m having a bad day at work, my favorite thing to do is to take a little break, walk around the corner to the nearest Duane Reade, and spend a few minutes in the fake nail aisle. It’s so soothing to me, as I forget about whatever bullshit is waiting for me back at my desk, and imagine myself with long, well painted, glittery nails. My favorite brand is Kiss’ Gel Fantasy nails, which are generally outrageously sparkly and wonderful. Occasionally I buy some, too, because what else is worth $9 than being able to have the most beautiful hands?

♥ I’ve been aware of Sam Smith for a while, because it’s currently pretty hard to avoid him even if you really wanted to. But I had never given his music a real chance; sure, “Stay With Me” and “Money On My Mind” are both catchy ear bugs, but I finally listened to Smith’s album In the Lonely Hour recently, and it’s hitting me right in my current sweet spot of earnest, high-emotion, almost melodramatic pop songs (see also: “Pills N Potions” by person-I-always-love Nicki Minaj).

I listen to “Like I Can” on repeat as I’m walking around NYC in the bitter cold and snow, and picture myself on a mountaintop, arms outstretched, yell-singing this song to the world.

♥ A problem I often have with repertory programming in New York is that it’s too serious-minded. Film Forum’s recent Orson Welles 100 program was wonderful, but it left out such highly entertaining, but perhaps not weighty enough, films as Harry 31284_2015_CTEK_Carpenter_Series_Image_613x463Kümel’s Malpertuis, or Bert I. Gordon’s Necromancy, or even The Transformers Movie! Welles may be a serious figure in the history of film, but he was not a self-serious person at all. Which is why I’m really loving BAM’s John Carpenter retrospective. Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite directors; his horror films are truly scary, his action films truly thrilling, and much of his film work is imbued with a humor that is actually funny, but never takes away from the action. This past week, I caught In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter’s Lovecraft tribute, in 35MM, and it gave me nightmares that night – something that doesn’t happen often to me, a hardened horror film vet. Carpenter is truly a master (and I hope he gets well soon!). I can’t wait to catch Assault at Precinct 13 (that score!!), The Ward, and Escape From New York/Los Angeles on the big screen.