May 2014



USA, 2013

This site serves as a strange, provocative portal into the underside of New York City's history. The homepage is a panoramic view of a slightly surreal NYC, backdropped by twenty photo-shopped skyscrapers, each colorful and much taller than the Empire State Building. The music that begins playing automatically (Future Song by Curtis Mayfield) is beautiful, and feels appropriate when you scroll all the way to the right of the panorama and see a massive peace sign emblazoned in the sky. To the right of this peace sign you see two options: History and Info. The History section tells the story of twelve victims and their fatal encounters with the New York Police Department. The Info section presents you with linked addresses in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and by clicking these links you take a sort of virtual tour through the boroughs of New York City, and see people, both famous (Cornel West and Kool Herc!) and not, brandishing the same t-shirt with each of the names of the twelve people killed by the NYPD. 

This site is, in a way, a tangle of contradictions, as is the city it portrays. There is the beauty and otherworldliness of the manipulated skyline; the tragedy of those needlessly killed by the infamous NYPD; the eclectic group bringing attention to the fatalities; and the shirt itself, ostensibly the site's centerpiece, a simple, resonant black tee with the twelve victims' names listed in white lettering; and all of this with Curtis Mayfield singing his somber refrain over and over in the background: Heavenly Father, Heavenly Father. 

© 2014   Erica Hernandez  ,  "Untitled"

© 2014 Erica Hernandez, "Untitled"

>>The Complete Stories

USA, 1971 | Flannery O’Connor

When O’Connor first came to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1946, she met with a Mr. Engle. After listening to her speak for some time, the professor was embarrassed to admit that he couldn’t understand her thick southern accent and asked her if she could just write down whatever it was she was trying to communicate. She wrote, “My name is Flannery O’Connor...can I come to the Writers’ Workshop?”

O’Connor’s often hard-to-understand dialect permeates each of her writings. She writes about the American South using characters with voices that are uncompromisingly southern, and with prose that forces the reader to contemplate the world, in all its beauty and terror. The stories, 31 in total, all take place in the 20th century American South, but O’Connor is much more than a courier of culture: this Pulitzer Prize winning collection offers some of the the most honest literary efforts to deal with religion, race, and the interplay between society and personal torment. And not just that: she is hilarious. Each story is funny and provocative, and, for the time-crunched reader out there, they are short (about fifteen to twenty pages a piece).

The first piece in the collection and her first piece to ever be published, "The Geranium," is available online here.


>>Proletariat Trilogy

Finland; Shadows in Paradise (1986); Ariel (1989); The Match Factory Girl (1990) | Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

The films in Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s Proletariat Trilogy were not made consecutively and do not share characters or plot with one another. In this sense, the term is a bit of a misnomer. But the retroactive distinction refers to the films’ thematic and visual content, and, considered this way, it’s hard to imagine the films existing apart from one another.

The term “gritty” is thrown around a lot in film writing, but in the case of Shadows in ParadiseAriel, and The Match Factory Girl, the term is more than earned. The films all take place, at least partially, in Helsinki, Finland’s urban center, and are unsparing stories of working class struggle and love. In Shadows in Paradise, a lonely garbage man, after the death of his working partner, falls in love with a grocery store clerk; in Ariel, a young man moves to the city after the mine where he worked for years closes and his father commits suicide, and struggles to make ends meet, while a woman he’s seeing juggles three jobs and raises her son on her own; and in The Match Factory Girl, a young woman with abusive, deadbeat parents works various jobs at a Match Factory and falls in love with a man above her social class.

If this all sounds pretty dour, that’s because it is; Kaurismäki is unflinching and unsentimental. In Ariel, the best of the three, the young miner moves to Helsinki with a few thousand Marks, a shabby white convertible, and no contacts or prospects for employment. He finds work as a day laborer on the docks, but the job isn’t steady, and without enough money to pay for an apartment or establish any kind of life in the city, he goes on a slow and steady decline into criminality. Where Hollywood would glamorize and fetishize this trajectory, Kaurismäki simply tells a human story. It’s this quality that makes these films so poignant and subversive — though his is an adroit and important social critique, the humanity of the characters is always what drives the story.

But, even in the face of all this, Kaurismäki’s films are always funny, in an extremely deadpan sort of way. And with his deliberate use of color, he sometimes comes across as a kind of Nordic, working-class precursor of Wes Anderson. A sensitive humanist and a biting satirist, Kaurismäki is also a gifted stylist, and these films bear the mark of a true cinematic artist. The Finnish director is an important figure in world cinema, and this trio of films is an excellent introduction to his work.

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