Shabbat Reading List
Sign up for our email newsletter, featuring exclusive original content

Jun
23
2023

Nathan Goldman (managing editor): After the recent season finale of Yellowjackets and series conclusion of Succession, I went in search of some new high production value drama to fill the void and happened upon From, a much-less-covered series currently streaming on MGM+. (If, like me, you didn’t know that was even a thing, you can get a seven-day free trial, or find the first season on Amazon Prime.) Despite its wildly inconsistent performances and consistently mediocre writing, the show masterfully produces an atmosphere of dread I’ve found absorbing and irresistible. From follows the population of an unnamed American town whose residents have gradually and mysteriously arrived from across the country—and are unable to escape. Continuing along the road that brought them there only leads them right back to the town in an inexplicable loop. To make matters worse, the area is plagued by nocturnal monsters who eviscerate anyone outside after dark. Kept at bay by talismans hung in all the buildings, the creatures, which assume human form until they attack, prowl outside windows and try to trick the townspeople into letting them in. (Warning for those with weak stomachs: When they succeed, the camera does not hide the gory results.)

This compelling but simple nightmare premise is just the beginning. As perplexing as its impossible-to-Google and so far unexplained title, From piles on layer after layer of mystery, from a supernatural force inciting intracommunal violence to trees capable of teleporting objects or people. The show, which concludes its second season next week, is much more interested in generating questions than answering them, prompting comparisons to Lost and fear among viewers that there will never be satisfactory explanations. (The shows share producers as well as one star, Harold Perrineau, who is excellent as the town’s self-appointed sheriff and de facto mayor.) It’s a fair concern, especially as the second season has lost some of the momentum of the first. But personally, I don’t really mind if the puzzles simply continue to accrue. Just keep the spooky vibes coming.

Arielle Angel (editor-in-chief): It’s been a huge month in UFOs. Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal, the team that brought military videos of UFOs to the front page of The New York Times in 2017, broke a story on June 5th in The Debrief about former intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower with top secret clearance named David Grusch who claims that covert programs within the Pentagon “possess retrieved intact and partially intact craft of non-human origin,” “based on the vehicle morphologies and material science testing and the possession of unique atomic arrangements and radiological signatures.” (!!!!!!!!) It is well worth reading this long article all the way through. (Kean says it was initially going to be in The Washington Post, but their vetting process was taking too long for Grusch, who was already facing threats and reprisals for his whistleblowing.) Grusch, backed up by a number of high level intelligence officials (some of whom speak on record in the piece), claims that these covert programs lack the proper oversight and are illegally keeping this knowledge from Congress. Another intelligence official with top secret clearance—whose work is so secretive he literally works under an alias at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC)—said: “The non-human intelligence phenomenon is real. We are not alone.” “Retrievals of this kind are not limited to the United States. This is a global phenomenon, and yet a global solution continues to elude us.” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

At this point, Grusch has provided hundreds of pages of testimony during a Congressional inquiry devoted to investigating the claims he made in Kean and Blumenthal’s article. In an interview on the Ezra Klein show earlier this week, Kean said that as a result of this testimony, Congress has access to details that Grusch could not release to the press because of national security concerns. Kean and Klein speculated about whether we might get this yet-to-be shared information as this investigation works its way through Congress, whose staffers are a bit more “leaky” than those at the Pentagon. The entire interview with Kean is also worth a full listen: Klein is intrigued but skeptical and asks Kean thoughtful questions. If all of this is really true, how have these programs been able to keep everything under wraps for so long? Why would the Pentagon sign off on Grusch revealing this information? Do the people who approved the publicity think the revelations are false? Do they even have full knowledge of the programs within their own purview? Indeed, this last question is key to their discussion, and what it suggests about the nature and structure of the intelligence apparatus is serious conspiratorial deep state shit right out of X-Files.

I love listening to Kean on this; she’s such a great representative for the rational UFO community. She never tries to undermine the legitimacy of Klein’s questions; she says straightforwardly what she does and doesn’t know—more often the latter. But what she does know is that these are real intelligence officials with high levels of clearance involved in super secretive programs dedicated to UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomena, the new “respectable” term for UFOS). “Maybe after it’s investigated it’ll come to light that none of it is true,” she tells Klein, but she wants that investigation.

Before you make a decision about what you believe, listen to Kean’s interview with Klein. Something is happening. Everyone publicly affiliated with these programs has finished their work convinced of that. It’s time to put away the idea that UFOs are just for kooks and listen to the experts.

Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): When Jean Eustache’s film The Mother and the Whore was released in 1973, it immediately became a defining work of post-1968 French and international cinema. In its sexual frankness, its unflinching portrayals of its main characters, and its refusal of high moral or political values, it set a new aesthetic template. But despite its acclaim and influence, it has been difficult to find and is seldom screened, due to problems with distribution and rights ownership. Now, in honor of its 50th anniversary, and thanks to the indispensable Janus Films, The Mother and the Whore has been restored and is headlining a Eustache retrospective at Lincoln Center, featuring the small corpus he left behind when he died by suicide in 1981.

The Mother and the Whore, which opens today and will be screened dozens of times between now and July 13th, is painfully autobiographical, based in part on Eustache’s relationship with actress Françoise Lebrun, who appears in the film as a promiscuous nurse named Veronika (the titular “whore”). French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud stars as Alexandre, who mooches off his lover Marie (the “mother”), played by Bernadette Lafont, another major New Wave figure. It is a very Parisian film, with Alexandre spending much of his time in the famed café Les Deux Magots reading Proust—which, he explains, he treats like a job—while friends recount cynical tales of stealing wheelchairs. It is precisely because the film avoids the political militancy of its time that it has aged so well: On this viewing, at least my tenth, I was still stunned by its genius.

While The Mother and the Whore is singularly revelatory, the other films in the retrospective fill out the picture of Eustache and his world. He was a child of small-town France (what’s known as “La France profonde”), and most of his works are accounts of life there. Numéro Zéro presents nothing but the filmmaker’s beloved grandmother, who partially raised him, telling her life story, a tale of sorrow and misery that mirrors France’s. Eustache made two versions of the documentary The Virgin of Pessac—one in 1968, the other in 1979—which are set in one of the towns he grew up in near Bordeaux and document an annual contest to name the “most virtuous” young woman. Viewed together, the films form a kind of history of France as it existed before, during, and after May ’68, and a look at the persistence of tradition. Eustache’s final major film, My Little Loves, is also set in Pessac, as well as his childhood town of Narbonne, and recounts his childhood discovery of desire, disappointment, and the love of cinema. The retrospective’s other offerings include two medium-length films being shown together, Robinson’s Place and Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes, which most plainly exhibit the cynical view of women and sexual relations that we can glimpse throughout Eustache’s oeuvre.

Eustache retrospectives are a rare occurrence—Lincoln Center last had one about 20 years ago—so this is an event not to be missed. Now that his films are in the hands of Janus Films, we can hope they will soon finally be available for home viewing and in cinemas across the country.

SubscribeWINTERWEB2024