In & Out is W‘s guide to what’s hot and what’s not each week. Subscribe here and stay up to date by getting the newsletter delivered early to your inbox each week.
“If you understand what you’re doing, you’re not learning anything.”—Karen Finley.
Artistic Freedom on Instagram?
“Female-Presenting Nipples,” Still
Steve Jobs once infamously argued that the Apple App Store’s strict content guidelines weren’t about censorship, but rather about liberties like “freedom from porn.” Not everyone quite understood when he meant then, and the Internet is still struggling with the parameters. Many apps institute their own guidelines, lest they risk getting kicked out of the marketplace. Take Instagram, for example, where a bonanza of bare butts await those who know where to find them, but controversy abounds when it comes to the simple nipple (the app controversially bans portrayals of “female-presenting nipples”—something that Amber Heard protested against this week by posting a nipple shot of her male costar Jason Momoa). The issue gets exponentially more complicated when it comes to art. The image-driven social network is a natural destination for artists, yet content guidelines can be more zealous than even the most conservative of museums. Just this April, Instagram disabled the account of the feminist artist Betty Tompkins after she uploaded cropped images of her seminal “Fuck Paintings” series, and regularly removes the work of younger artists who dare to cross the lines even slightly. So maybe it’s overdue that the social media platform finally held a roundtable in New York with a group of artists and curators to discuss the impasse. In an email to ARTNews, Marilyn Minter said that it was “an exchange of ideas from forward-leaning people trying to do the right thing” but admitted that the discussion was a “work in progress,” so it’s unclear if any immediate changes will be made. Sure, society has always grappled with where the line between art and obscenity should be drawn, but while we think of technology as synonymous with progress, it’s telling that Silicon Valley’s ideals of hard rules and governance by algorithm can manage, sometimes, to hinder it.
Award Winning-Directors Slamming Marvel Movies
Theme Parks and Hamburgers
Martin Scorsese apparently opened a release valve earlier this month when he unloaded his less-than-favorable opinion on Marvel movies. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks,” the Oscar-winning director said in an interview with Empire magazine. Half a film studies syllabus–worth of revered directors soon followed suit in bashing Disney’s blockbuster superhero franchise. Scorsese’s New Hollywood peer Francis Ford Coppola actually thought Scorsese was being rather charitable with his “theme park” description, and told France 24 that he considered the movies “despicable.” Ken Loach, the two-time winner of Cannes’s Palme d’Or, called them “commodities like hamburgers” and “cynical exercises” in profit-making. Pedro Almodóvar quickly pointed out that they just weren’t sexy enough. Soon the question wasn’t which blue-chip director would take the next shot at Marvel but rather who would take the hardest one. If only Orson Welles were still alive to proclaim that his fish sticks commercial had more artistic merit than Avengers: End Game. The avalanche of the auteurs’ anti-Marvel sentiment has led to heated online debate as well as some carefully worded rebukes of the directors’ takes from those who have worked with Marvel. Guardians of the Galaxy’s director, James Gunn, took to Instagram to write, “not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay.” Much of the Twitter discourse has been predictably less measured.
The question surprisingly few people are asking: Why would anyone assume that Scorsese and his ilk would be Marvel movie fans in the first place? Sure, we live in populist times and most people have a mix of high and low interests, but someone out there has to take the risk of coming off as a snob to protect the integrity of the artistic mediums they hold dear, don’t they? It’s not like eating a hamburger at a theme park isn’t enjoyable, but let’s not pretend it’s the same as going to Bemelmans Bar after a trip to the Met.
It’s hard to say what’s a more interesting story in regards to The Current War: the story in the script or the backstory of why the film, which originally premiered on the festival circuit back in 2017, is only now getting a wide release. The film was originally set for distribution by the Weinstein Company, but was shelved after the company imploded. The private equity firm that bought up TWC’s assets is now rereleasing it with a new director’s cut, and the critical reaction is much warmer than the original Weinstein-controlled version (Harvey Weinstein’s downfall not only revealed his personal evils but also the fact that his increasingly out-of-touch film instincts regularly harmed the films he produced). As for the actual plot itself, well, it’s both a period piece and a tech thriller. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Thomas Edison battles against George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla (Michael Sheen and Nicholas Hoult, respectively) to bring differing versions of electricity to America. Tom Holland and a pre-Succession Matthew Macfadyen costar. Elsewhere in the multiplexes: Black and Blue, a Naomi Harris–fronted police drama with mediocre reviews, and Countdown, which proves that a horror movie about a killer smartphone app was inevitable. In the art house cinemas, we get Frankie, an elegant little film with a characteristically strong lead performance from Isabel Huppert as a matriarch who secretly harbors the knowledge that she’ll soon pass. It’s beautifully shot, but critics don’t seem to think that the director, Ira Sachs, managed to string together the story satisfyingly enough. Maybe one day Huppert will get the late-career English-language showcase she deserves, but apparently not this weekend.
If you’ve been waiting for Kanye West to emerge as a full-on contemporary-Christian artist, you have something else to look forward to. West’s earnestly titled album Jesus Is King is expected for a Friday release, and a visual component—directed by the photographer Nick Knight and filmed at the artist James Turrell’s mystifying Roden Crater complex, in Arizona—is set for release in IMAX theaters as well. While the culture used to hold its breath waiting for the release of a Kanye project, it seems that the mixed reception to Ye and West’s still-baffling overtures to the MAGA crowd have largely exhausted us all. Perhaps it’s telling that, in the days leading up to King’s release, the Internet is buzzing more about his sister-in-law Kylie Jenner’s accidental viral bop, “Rise and Shine,” than at the prospect of new Kanye songs.
The small screen this week is mostly dominated by returning faves (everything from Netflix’s BoJack Horseman to Hulu’s Castle Rock), so we turn to HBO for something new. The premium cable network’s miniseries Mrs. Fletcher gives the scene-stealing comedy actress Kathryn Hahn a proper showcase. She plays a divorcée who has a sudden sexual awakening, and it’s certainly notable that all seven episodes were directed by women (including Nicole Holofcener and Gillian Robespierre). In fact, critics’ most frequent lament seems to be that they wish it was more than just a miniseries.
The former Disney Kid Debby Ryan has a Netflix hit thanks to Insatiable, and, as we found out recently while going shopping with her, a serious taste for thrift-store finds.