Chloe Gong, Student Novelist
Rian Johnson on 'Knives Out'
Streets Dept Murals
scene e h t d s
December 4, 2019 | 34st.com
december 44,,2019 3 WORD ON THE STREET Shaping My Own Judaism
EOTW: Eva Zhang, Chloe Gong
Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief Dalton DeStefano, Managing Editor Daniel Bulpitt, Audience Engagement Director Lily Snider, Assignments Editor Ethan Wu, Media Director Sophie Burkholder, Special Issues Editor Allison Wu, Long–Term Features Editor Ryan McLaughlin, Word on the Street Editor Katie Bontje, Ego Editor Sam Kesler, Music Editor Srinidhi Ramakrishna, Developing Features Editor Bea Forman, Style Editor Shannon Zhang, Film & TV Editor Sophia DuRose, Arts Editor Sophia Dai & Eleanor Shemtov, Photo Editors Tahira Islam & Katie Steele, Copy Editors Kira Horowitz & Sarah Poss: Copy Editors Alice Heyeh, Print Director
Glee Club Band, Bikini Kill, Favorite Albums of the Decade
Where to See Stars in Philly, New CookNSolo
The Grind at Williams Café
LOL 16 FILM & TV
Rian Johnson/Knives Out, Disney+, Ford vs. Ferrari
Streets Dept Muralists
LOL 23 OVERHEARDS 2
Ego Beats: Amanpreet Singh, Sonali Deliwala, Katie Farrell, Amy Xiang, Ananya Muthukrishnan, Margaret Dunn, Fernanda Brizuela
Sagner, Chris Schiller Style Beats: Diya Sethi, Karin Hananel, Sofia Heller, Mark Pino, Hannah Lonser, Hannah Gross Film & TV Beats: Shriya Beesam, Samantha Sanders, Anna Collins, Jonah Charlton, Aashray Khanna, Deren Alanay Arts Beats: Rema Hort, Sarah Yoon, Tsemone Ogbemi Design Editors: Gillian Diebold, Lucy Ferry, Jess Tan, Tamsyn Brann Design Associates: Isabel Liang, Ava Cruz, Joy Lee, Sofia Heller, Gebran Abulhai, Sudeep Bhargava, Rhys Floyd, Felicity Yick Staff Writers: Ana Hallman, Arjun Swaminathan, Tara OʼBrien, Hannah Yusuf, Jordan Waschman, Jessica Bao, Quinn Robinson, Layla Murphy, Anya Tullan, Hannah Sanders, Julia Esposito, Avery Johnston, Harshita Gupta
Music Beats: Mehek Boparai, Melannie Jay, Teresa Xie, Petyon Toups, Julia Davies, Keely Douglas
Illustrators: Brad Hong, Jake Lem, Christopher Kwok, Diane Lin, Jacqueline Lou, Isabel Liang, Sammie Yoon, Felicity Yick, Brandon Li, Allison Chen, Madonna Nisha Miranda, Cloe Cho, Sriya Choppara
Features Staff: Zoe Young, Hailey Noh, Katrina Janco, Chelsey Zhu, Katie Bontje, Isabella Simonetti, Denali
Staff Photographers: Hoyt Gong, Sophia Zhu, Diya Sethi, Adiel Izilov, Sally Chen, Mona Lee, Emma Boey,
Amanda Shen, Sudeep Bhargava, Adrianna Brusie, Kelly Chen, Eli Cohen Video Staff: Sam Lee, Megan Kyne, Morgan Jones, Mikayla Golub Copy Associates: Kate Poole, Serena Miniter, Erin Liebenberg, Lexie Shah, Carmina Hachenburg, Luisa Healey, Agatha Advincula Audience Engagment Associates: McKay Norton, Rachel Markowitz, Kat Ulich, Brittany Levy, Jessica Bachner, Maya Berardi, Stephanie Nam Cover by Ethan Wu & Ava Cruz "I would do [redacted] for Michael Solomonov."
Contacting 34th Street Magazine: If you have questions, comments, complaints or letters to the editor, email Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call us at (215) 422–4640. www.34st.com ©2019 34th Street Magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. No part may be reproduced in whole or in part without the express, written consent of the editors (but I bet we will give you the a–okay.) All rights reserved. 34th Street Magazine is published by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc., 4015 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19104, every Wednesday.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR F
or my entire tenure as its editor–in–chief, I’ve struggled to find a good answer to a very important question: what is Street? I started out in the negative. Street isn’t iced coffee. It isn’t high–, middle–, or low–brow. But you have to define something in the affirmative, and here’s what I’ve settled on, after a long year of sleepless nights and desk soup and Slack messages. Street is the lived, human experience of Penn. It’s what you’re listening to, watching, reading in the news, wondering about, filtered through an analytical, sharp perspective. Street is legacy. As of 2019, it’s more than double the age of the editors who run it, but it doesn’t show a wrinkle. Street is people. For me, it’s been Dalton, Daniel, Ethan, Lily, Sarah, Nick, Remi, Angela, Autumn, Dani, Sabrina, Isabella, and so many more. I think the reason I had trouble answering what Street is, the reason I dodged that question for so long, is that I thought Street was me. And it’s not—anymore. And that’s okay. I joined Street my freshman year. I needed it, because around that time, I was struck by a peculiar feeling. I felt that my life was truly, utterly worthless. I will spare you the details of that year; I relive them enough. What I will say is that 34th Street Magazine gave me a place to belong. It helped me find my voice as a writer, and gave me the confidence to find my voice as a person. It made me realize I didn’t need to be in Wharton, and gave
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Photo by Sam Holland me the tools to do what I’ve always wanted. It has been the honor of my life to lead this publication and to give to it some small fraction of what it has given to me. With the close of this letter, I turn Street over to new keepers—hopefully better ones. And they’ll turn Street over too, next year. We’re stewards here, each hoping to pass on something a little bit better than it was before. And, if we're lucky, we leave a little bit better too.
WORD ON THE STREET
Shaping My Own Judaism How I started practicing my faith à la carte
was around 12 years old when I was talking with my mother about what I had learned in Hebrew School that week. I was already descending down a path of total disillusionment with Judaism and religion as I knew it as she repeatedly joked that the issue with religion is that every other faith tries to tell you all the answers, while the Jews are the only ones asking all the questions. She said it often leads to more confusion with Jewish identity than clarity. Throughout my life, my questioning stemmed from the frustrations in defining my Jewish identity itself. I was conflicted because I hated services, was slowly losing my belief in the existence of god, and, eventually, was developing a complicated relationship with Israel as a liberal American Jew with Israeli family. I used to describe my sect of Judaism (Reconstructionist Judaism) as a decentralized anarchist religion – Judaism à la carte. One could pick what they wanted to do within it, and do away with the rest. But even it’s most casual form, I found my religion to be too ritualistic. All the things I loved about Judaism – the community, the questioning, the thoughtfulness – were overshadowed by a guilt for not loving every aspect and not totally subscribing to the whole faith. It was not as à la carte as I wanted it to be. I lost my Jewish identity for most of high school, but upon coming to Penn I was confronted with an active and, at times, domineering Jewish community. Being a pretty godless Jew at Shabbat dinner within my first weeks of school was a cul-
LEESI ISRAEL ture shock for me. Hillel did not feel like a community or place I belonged to. I didn’t know Hebrew or the prayers, nor did I know the customs or traditions I should have. I thought I was literally “not Jewish enough” to navigate the community. Because of that, I rarely went to any Hillel events and didn’t associate much with the organization or even being Jewish.
space where I could explore my own Jewish identity with all of the aspects of Judaism I loved. I feel comfortable being both goofy and extremely vulnerable: admitting how I really feel about everything, especially my uncertainty about my identity. I also was finally asking myself big questions again. We talked about topics of all kinds, such as whether we feel more like
focuses on Keva in ceremonious prayer, traditions, etc. but this can detract from the beauty behind the rituals. The actual spiritual enlightenment that arises when you aren’t caught up in the monotony of customs. Over time, I have discovered that my Judaism does not lie in services or Shabbat dinners, nor was it in weekly dreaded Hebrew School class. Instead,
ing the sun shine through and illuminate the leaves, lighting up the mountains just beyond. For absolutely no reason, I started singing a blessing, Dodi Li, that I had learned years ago at camp. I don’t know what the Hebrew blessing means in English, but I loved the melody and wanted to commemorate the little moment I had. The older I get, the more
Felicity Yick | Illustrator
To this day, I still feel like that sometimes. About halfway through my freshmen year though, I was introduced to an organization called Jewish Life Liaisons that gave me the community I was looking for at Penn. This year, I became a fellow and actually found a community of Jews on campus that felt similarly to me. Our weekly meetings became a
Jewish Americans or American Jews, and whether technology has displaced gratitude. I told my mom over the phone about a lesson our rabbi taught us one week: the relationship between Keva and Kavanah. Keva is the Hebrew word for ritual whereas Kavanah is the true meaning behind a ritual and the beauty of spontaneity. He explained that sometimes religion
it runs far deeper within me in the way I think and the way I am eager to question, and it is expressed not in tradition but in spontaneous bursts of my own form of Jewishness. To put it, my judaism is in Kavanah. My best example of Kavanah is a story I told my JLL group about when I was once enjoying the outdoors, surrounded by trees early in the morning, see-
complicated my relationship with Judaism grows. However, I am comforted having found a space and community on campus through JLLs to explore it, define it, reconcile with it, and endlessly question it. I have grown to understand my Jewish Kavanah, my Judaism à la carte, and could not feel more lucky to have found a place here to do so.
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Ego of the Week: Eva Zhang Meet the Penn senior whose work with the Assembly of International Students put her on the map.
Amanpreet Singh 34th Street: What was it like growing up in Beijing? Was it a shock to come to Penn? Eva Zhang: My family still lives there. I was born and raised in Beijing. I actually came to the US in high school, but a lot of international students come directly from their home country to college, which is a much bigger transition. It's even more dramatic. When I first came to the US, I think certainly there was a culture shock aspect, because people are much more direct and much more outgoing. When I first came, I would say the snack Snickers and the shoe sneakers so similarly a lot of times that it would cause confusion with my friends and roommate, or poodle and puddle. I was just really glad that I had friends who didn't take any of those seriously. I think those are so small that people don't think about it, but it's so different. And every international student is different. In terms of coming to Penn, I think I was really lucky that on the social and cultural aspect I had already adjusted, and so it was more a transition from high–school to college similar to everyone's experiences in that transition. I went to school in Connecticut, and I lived in the dorms. I think it kind of prepared me for college being away from home. I have to do my own laundry, manage my own time. It's a lot of taking care of yourself. Street: Do you get to go back home for break? EZ: I go back every break, like Christmas and summer. I think I'm just really lucky that I have the opportunity to be able to travel back. Cost is one aspect, but I think more importantly with a lot of visa restrictions, a big proportion of the interna4
tional population at Penn do not have the flexibility to travel out of the country. So how it works is that I have friends who are very affected by the visa bans, and when they came to Penn as freshmen, they had their visa and could travel in and out of the US. When the visa ban came out, I think that was 2017 or so, a lot of students could no longer go home because once they left the country they could no longer come back. You're at Penn, you're pursuing an Ivy League education, so the challenge you face is do you want to ever see your parents in the next four or five years, or do you want to complete your undergraduate education at a pretty prestigious university? That has been really hard on some of my friends, and the visa process itself is getting harder and harder. You have your acceptance from Penn in March and then you go on to apply for your visa over the summer in your home country, and then you get your visa denied. So they may have to wait for another year, but still you cannot come to Penn the year you want to come. It's a big disappointment. Street: Why did you decide to come to Penn? EZ: I came to Quaker Days, and I was just so sold. People that I met during Quaker Days that were both so similar to me and yet diverse. Similar to me in the sense that everyone has an extremely strong passion, whether that’s computer science or nursing or marketing or neuroscience, and everyone is able to speak on their passions with so much depth. I found that similarity very reassuring. It's also diverse in the sense of backgrounds whether that's cultural, socioeco-
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Hometown: Beijing, China Major: International relations in the College and Business Analytics in Wharton with a minor in History of Art Activities: President of the Assembly of International Students, member of Sigma Psi Zeta, member of Sphinx Senior Society, Oracle Senior Society nomic, academic, or anything. I really value the diversity at Penn in terms of the people and the resources that are being offered here. At the end of the day, that's why I chose Penn and that's what I found when I came here. I'm always so impressed with people here every day for four years. Street: What work have you done within the international community? EZ: IAA is more focused on the international relations aspect. The committee that I was a part of did a lot of teaching international affairs and events to local students in the Philadelphia area. But for the Assembly of International Students, I just came to the GBM freshman year. I got on the board freshman year, and it's been my home base all four years. We’re having the board transition elections this Sunday [November 24th] so I am feeling a lot of emotion right now about finishing three and a half years of commitment to one single club. It's been a place that I made a lot of connections, where I learned a lot from different people and from different cultures, where I met a lot of mentors, and hopefully where people saw me as a mentor as well. We are an affiliate group, so we have 29 affiliated cultural groups, so anywhere from the Hong Kong Student Association to Penn Nordic, which is one of the new affiliate groups. We're also doing advocacy a lot. We try to voice those opinions to University admin. Some of the things that I'm really proud that we are doing on the advocacy side, which is what I have fo-
Sophia Dai | Photographer
cused on as president, is addressing the demand for programming during school breaks. A lot of students can't go home during break, whether that’s fall break, Thanksgiving break, or winter break. Last year, I created two Thanksgiving programs. One of them is asking professors or University administrators to host a couple of international students at their home for Thanksgiving dinner, because it might be the first time that that student is experiencing American Thanksgiving with the turkey and cranberry sauce and everything. We're continuing that this year. Street: What would you like to see in the future in terms of international student advocacy? EZ: There's still a lot of room for growth. I would like to see more celebration of international diversity and culture, which
echoes why I came to Penn. It's for the diversity, it’s for the different aspects of the student body brings. Sometimes we always think that "Oh, Penn is such a bubble. Penn is so singular. Every Penn student looks kind of similar in the sense that we have the same personality." That’s obviously not true but it’s easy to come across that way. People tend to forget that there's such diversity among us and that's really where the value lies as a student club—to be able to celebrate that culture, working with admin, working with affiliates, and using the resources that we have to hold large–scale events or making people more aware of the diversity and cultural celebrations that we have at Penn. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
LIGHTNING ROUND Street: What is one thing you'll miss about Penn? EZ: The people. I am so attached to my friends. I will miss walking down Locust and bumping into people that I haven't seen and catching up. Street: There are two types of people at Penn… EZ: Those who always have time, and those who never have time. Street: And which one are you? EZ: Oh, this is bad. It really depends. I try really, really hard to be the people that always have time.
Junior Chloe Gong on 'These Violent Delights,' Her Debut Novel Reimagining Romeo and Juliet The Shakespearean story is a 'retelling by way of 'The Godfather' in 1920s Shanghai'—and there might be a sequel.
hen Twilight dominated the scene, she wrote two paranormals. During the Divergent and The Hunger Games era, she wrote a dystopian novel. Then she moved onto a murder mystery trilogy during her “edgy phase.” However, it wasn’t until she decided to “experiment” with fantasy that she finally got an idea that “didn’t resemble anything currently on the market.” For the first time, Chloe saw writing as more than just a hobby. She wrote with the possibility in the back of her mind that her books could be published. Now a junior double majoring in English and International Relations, Chloe has seen that dream through. These Violent Delights, set to come out in Fall 2020, is a “young adult historical fantasy” about two rival gangs that are being forced to work together by a monster in the city. She adds, “it's pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling by way of The Godfather in 1920s Shanghai.” The idea for the book came to her “relatively quickly” before freshman year, and she wrote the whole manuscript the following summer. Because she wanted to make the novel as historically accurate as possible, that often meant “writing with a textbook open” in front of her. She jokes that she was so invested in the historical aspect that it sometimes distracted from the plot. “I had to cut giant chunks of the very end and make sure
Amy Xiang I wasn’t being like: ‘now we briefly pause to recount all the strikes happening in the Communist Revolution,’” she quips. With her parents and “literally everyone who came before” her being from Shanghai, Chloe definitely took some inspiration for her novel from the city. But she says that most of the setting actually came from outside research or she “made it up.” But from her family, she did “get more of the cultural and social undertones” and also parts of the language. “I’ll randomly ring up my mom and ask, ‘so how do you say this in Chinese?’ Sometimes she’ll be like, ‘Why would you need that?’” Chloe says with a laugh. After writing, Chloe got an agent and revised for a couple months before going on submission, which is “when the agent sends it to publishing houses and they decide if they want to publish it.” Simon Pulse, the teen division of Simon & Schuster, picked it up. Getting to this point was no easy feat for the young author. Located in New Zealand when she started the process, she was “very isolated from the whole American writing scene,” which also meant fewer opportunities to attend writing conferences or workshops. “The US very much has dominance over book publishing, with all the big companies in New York and all the American literary agents,” she says. Her lifesaver? Google. To
Sophia Zhu | Photographer
find an agent, she says, “just reading other people's experiences on the internet helped me piece together what I was supposed to do.” Her biggest challenges, though, were the aspects she couldn’t control. “Honestly, writing query letters and sending cold emails to agents wasn’t as difficult for me because I could research what I was doing and I could confirm for myself that I was on the right path,” Chloe says. On the other hand, waiting on submission was “agonizing” for Chloe because she didn’t have control over it—“I think waiting is the hardest part of everything because everything moves so much slower than if you could be doing it by yourself.” Now that she's signed with a publisher, her writing process has changed quite a bit. Instead
of pumping out all her writing during breaks from school, she has to work on the publisher’s timeline. Finding the balance between classes and writing hasn’t been easy, but no matter how stressful, Chloe insists on remaining in school instead of focusing on writing full time. “I think the thing about being a writer is that it's not a stable career at all. I can't treat it as my plan A,” Chloe says. “The number one piece of advice they say to people just starting out in professional writing is to not leave your day job. And I guess college is my day job. I can't leave it.” Whether it’s a “Monsters and Literature” class that inspired her to add some new symbolism, an East Asian diplomacy class that covered how China interacted with various countries in the 20s, or a Russian literature class that
helped her write some Russian characters in her book, Chloe has found that many of her classes relate to and have inspired These Violent Delights in various ways. As for the possibility of pursuing writing as her full time career after graduation, Chloe has her reservations. “I think even after graduation I’ll need some sort of day job so I can constantly have pumping brain juices. I know that if I was a full time writer I would just sit in my bed all day and I'd probably run out of things to think about,” Chloe says. When asked if she has anything else in the works, Chloe reveals that she is writing a sequel to this book because she left it on a “cliffhanger,” she pauses. She laughs. “I actually haven’t said that yet. This is exclusive information.”
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A Spotlight on The
Penn Glee Club Band
The Penn Glee Club Band: talented instrumentalists, committed community members, and the winners of Street's Battle of the Bands Arjun Swaminathan
he Glee Club is a staple of Penn. Founded in 1862, it’s the oldest performing arts group on campus, with 150 years of history in singing a mix of classics, standards, and hits that showcase the talents of its members. Beyond its male singers, the Glee Club also includes a tech staff and a pit band, the latter of which often performs its own gigs in addition to supporting the semesterly shows. In fact, the Glee Club Band was one of the groups that performed at Street’s Battle of the Bands competition hosted at Smokey Joe’s in November—and they won. I had the chance to speak with a few members and learn about their experiences as a part of the group. One such member was Band Director and tenor saxophone player Chris Stanczak (C, E ‘20), who is in his fourth and final year on the band and served as its Coordinator last year. 6
“I saw the band perform during NSO freshman year and thought it would be a great way to continue doing music during college in a more enjoyable, low– intensity manner than I did in high school,” Chris said. As Band Director, Chris is responsible for scheduling rehearsals, picking songs and developing arrangements for gigs, and coordinating logistics for performances. This last task is done with the help of Band Manager and bassist Kathryn Wilson (N ‘20). “We’ve had a lot of fun performing at parties and formals, as the crowd is great and it’s exciting to have everyone enjoy the band playing in the middle of the crowd,” Chris said. “We’ve also played at multiple bars internationally as part of our tours, which have been a great experience as well.” Kathryn, who is in her third and final year with the band, was
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Photo courtesy of Blutt Band Slam. particularly proud of the group’s performance at Battle of the Bands. While it wasn't a fancy international tour, she stressed the value of the occasion. “We performed a few years ago and won it then, so we were excited when we heard Street was doing it again,” Kathryn said. “We like doing it because we reach an audience we don’t usually perform for, and we love performing so gigs are always fun for us.” Current Band Coordinator and drummer Brian Johnson (C ‘21) is responsible for regulating attendance at group rehearsals and working with Kathryn to ensure that members are available for gigs and aware of what they entail, including performance demeanor, song and set choices, and fashion styles. Speaking of the band’s victory, he espoused the importance of its musical context. “We feel great about it, since it’s really exciting for us to get
the opportunity to play alongside other groups and musicians there that we get to see around campus in other contexts,” Brian said. “They’re people we know and appreciate, so winning was very humbling and we’re all very proud of it.” When asked what he would say to convince new individuals to join the band, Brian explained that the opportunity to be in the Glee Club Band is a chance to have a diverse musical experience. “As a musician and someone who simply loves playing an instrument, you can seek various musical environments but you’ll usually end up specializing in one style,” Brian said. “This is not that—this requires growth and thinking, which is important for a musician.” As seniors with only a semester left before graduation, both Kathryn and Chris glowingly praised the Glee Club Band as
they reflected on their past experiences. “It’s been my favorite part of college for sure, since it’s continued to keep music in my life despite the academic pressures of Penn,” Kathryn said. “The people in it have become my best friends, and it’s just been a really positive experience for me and my life. Nobody else puts the amount of effort in preparing and arranging music the way they do—they’re some of the most talented people I know and it’s really cool to have had them as friends and spend time with them.” Chris echoed these sentiments. “It’s nice to have rehearsal on a Friday evening and go play music or do a gig with my friends, including as a nice escape from classes,” he said. “It’s great to play music and sound as well as we do, and as the director now I am proud and fulfilled to help lead the great things we do.”
Bikini Kill Is
A look back at the careers of these riot grrrl icons before they reunite On Nov. 6, riot grrrl band Bikini Kill announced a 2020 tour across the United States and Canada. Less than a week after the tour was announced, eight shows had sold out and several more dates were added to make room for the demand. This will be the first Bikini Kill tour in over 20 years, and in the time that they were gone, the band became the face and heart of the riot grrrl movement. Bikini Kill began in Olympia, Washington in 1990, when frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, bassist Kathi Wilcox, and drummer Tobi
Vail met. Billy Karren, the only male member of the band, joined soon after. Ian MacKaye produced the Bikini Kill EP, and Hanna struck up friendships with other punk and grunge icons. Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was named after a note Hanna scribbled on Kurt Cobain’s wall. For all of its underground attention, Bikini Kill never reached the same levels of fame as their male peers. In 1998, Rolling Stone reported that the band had officially broken up. Kill Rock Stars spokeswoman
Maggie Vail told JAMtv that the group had disbanded about a month before. The female band members kept busy. Although various members would team up for each other’s projects, there was no reunion until a performance at Pitchfork editor Jenn Pelly’s book release in 2017, when Vail, Wilcox, and Hanna performed “For Tammy Rae.” This Pitchfork event was presumed to be a one–time reunion, until the band announced a handful of shows in New York and Los Angeles at the start of 2019. All female founding members would participate, and Karren was replaced with Erica Dawn Lyle, who met Vail when they performed together in a short–lived band called Knife in the Eye. When asked to consider playing with Bikini Kill, Lyle told Pitchfork, “I felt like I was getting drafted or something.” After these performances, it was
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about your upperclass housing options:
LIVING FAIR Wednesday, December 4 8:30 PM – 10:00 PM McClelland Lounge (in the Quad) Come learn about the College Houses and Program Communities that welcome upperclass students! Meet with students, faculty and staff who currently participate in these living options. We'll have lots of College House swag, including a chance to win great prizes.
announced that Bikini Kill would headline the third night of Chicago’s Riot Fest. During her set, Hanna said, “I just wanted to say that we’re a feminist band and we’re headlining a festival." The upcoming tour will be the largest set of performances that Bikini Kill has played since the '90s. Many of the venues will be larger: When they pass through Philly in May, it will be at Franklin Music Hall, not a basement venue. The band went from a cult act to the face of a major movement. In 2015, Hanna told Portland Mercury that she wasn’t interested in a riot grrrl revival. Her advice to young punks wishing they had been part of her scene was to
“look at what punk rock feminism brought to the table and find the stuff that you can take into the future that's great, and throw the stuff that was stupid away.” This Bikini Kill reunion is part of a larger riot grrrl renaissance. The genre originated in response to the male domination of the hardcore scene, but it soon became a tool to decry misogyny. Bikini Kill's members have little interest in being the leaders of the scene. They want to play music that’s important to them. That enough people related to these songs to turn Bikini Kill into national icons, whether in the '90s or today, speaks to the power of the band and the revolution they created.
Live music • Film • Dance • Theater Art Education • Community Phila. Science Fiction Society hosts author Audrey Schulman Dec 6 @ 9:00 PM Social gathering at 7:30pm; Business Meeting at 8:00pm; Panel at 9:00pm. Admission is FREE. West Craft Fest: Holiday 2019 Dec 7 & 8 @ 10:00 AM Find local wares handmade with care. Admission is FREE. Event Horizon pres. Jeremy dePrisco, 4 Airports, Urban Shaman Attack Dec 7 @ 8:00 PM Jeremy dePrisco (aka Shivasongster) is a Pennsylvania musician and sound artist. 4 Airports is a collaboration between guitarist Craig Chin and synthesist Nathan Yeager. Urban Shaman Attack plays American Futurism, from Wilmington Delaware. 2020 Project Planning for Artists and Arts Producers. Facilitated by Oskar Castro Dec 9 @ 6:00 PM Identify your goals for 2020 and break them into achievable tasks. Admission is FREE. The Fables of Leonardo - Favole di Leonardo. Fairy tales, puppetry, and music in English & Italian Dec 11 @ 7:00 PM Fairy tales, puppetry, and music combine to create a dynamic theatrical experience inspired by the writings and observations of Leonardo da Vinci. Admission suggested $10 at the door. German thrillers Dead Eyes of London & Creature with the Blue Hand Dec 12 2019 @ 8:00 PM Admission is FREE As an alcohol-free/smoke-free venue, The Rotunda provides an invaluable social alternative for all ages.
4014 Walnut • TheRotunda.org
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Street's Favorite Albums of the Decade Fifteen albums that defined the 2010s
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West It’s almost impossible to describe the brilliance of Kanye West’s magnum opus without writing an entire essay. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy exudes the hallmark perfectionism of West’s career, from its breathtaking production to its biting lyricism. The album takes the listener from the peaks of the rapper’s persona and back over the course of 70 minutes, serving as a meticulously– crafted painting of his psyche. There’s no bad song, no weak feature, no boring bridge— there’s not a single mistake on
MBDTF. With such cohesion and clarity of vision, the record remains a masterpiece, even nine years later. — Arjun Swaminathan, Staff Writer good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012) – Kendrick Lamar As a feat of pure storytelling, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is unparalleled among records released in the 2010s. Diving into his experiences growing up in Compton, the rapper utilizes complex rhyme schemes and flows while unpacking similarly dense content regarding his upbringing and the obstacles faced by the black
community in America. On its own, that makes the album special, but it’s elevated even further by the ambient production that places the listener into Kendrick’s state of mind, from the thumping, stressful “m.A.A.d city” to the drunken vibes of “Swimming Pools.” — Arjun Swaminathan, Staff Writer Red (2012) – Taylor Swift Red showcases what is perhaps Taylor Swift’s greatest talent: her ability to write songs that are personal and specific, yet universally relatable. Dubbed a “canonical com-
ing–of–age album” by NPR, Red encapsulates exactly what it feels like to step into adulthood, all wide–eyed, excited, and easily bruised. Singles like “22” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” will forever be screamed at birthday parties, while slow burns like “All Too Well” and “The Last Time” drip with regret and fear so tangible they transport even the most hard–hearted of us back to our first heartbreak. Outside of sentimentality, Red foreshadowed today’s Taylor. A solid pop record, she breaks away from the acoustic guitars and twang of her prior releases to experiment with dubstep and dance–pop. But
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its breadth and depth of genre aren’t what make Red one of the decade’s greatest albums. The real accomplishment is the full–bodied lyricism, which makes the album feel like a world of its own. — Bea Forman, Style Editor Pure Heroine (2013) – Lorde Billie Eilish and King Princess would not exist without Lorde, who was just shy of seventeen years old when her debut album was released. Before her, music for teenage girls belonged largely to the realm of studio executives, who emphasized Auto–Tune, aggressive synth beats, and kid–friendly pop stars. Lorde purposely kept her instrumentation sparse, allowing her words and husky, entrancing voice to take over, and it worked: a single line of “Royals” still inspires listeners to sway in time. Lorde made the music that people like her wanted to hear, rallying cries for the weird girl, and modern music was never the same. — Melannie Jay, Music Beat Writer Currents (2015) – Tame Impala Crafted by Australian multi–instrumentalist Kevin Parker, Tame Impala’s 2015 album Currents ushered in the return of '50s/'60s psychedelic rock to pop music. Over spacey, disco–inspired synths and catchy basslines, Parker explores the process of personal transformation. From the hopeful “Let It Happen”
to the enlightenment of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” and the dread of “Eventually,” Kevin Parker welcomes candid introspection. The album fluctuates between bliss and mourning while maintaining a sound that is undeniably catchy and pleasant. Working solo, Kevin Parker creates a meticulous sound with his vocals and instrumentals, resulting in a cohesive and sublime album. — Julia Davies, Music Beat Writer
yoncé crafts an album best understood as a cultural artifact, in the context of her marriage, the press scrutiny, and her visuals — remember the yellow dress from the "Sorry" video? The images—and the album as a whole—stick in our collective memory, as indelible as the beats of "Formation" drum. — Annabelle Williams, Editor–in–Chief Blonde (2016) – Frank Ocean
ANTI (2016) – Rihanna What do you do if you're already a blockbuster pop/R&B artist and fashion mogul with one of the largest fanbases in the world, but have no clear direction for your next album? If you're Rihanna, you hole yourself up in Malibu and start writing one of the best works of your career so far. ANTI, in its resistance to easy categorization, has influenced everyone from Marilyn Manson, who cited “Love on the Brain” as a touchpoint for his last album, to Lorde, who wrote “Liability” after being “moved to tears” by “Higher.” ANTI stands apart from the rest of Rihanna’s discography in its idiosyncrasy, but established her as one of the biggest artists of the decade with its cultural impact. — Peyton Toups, Music Beat Writer Lemonade (2016) – Beyoncé When thinking about music this decade, not mentioning Lemonade feels ridiculous. Its drop was a cultural moment with a capital ‘m’. The sonic cohesion, the production value, the accompanying visual album—the case for Lemonade as the defining album of the decade, resplendent in its rage and packed around a soaring emotional narrative, is an easy one to make. From "Pray You Catch Me" to "Freedom," Be-
In 2012, Frank Ocean released the critically acclaimed album Channel Orange and
brought to life feelings that have resonated with many. His raw and mesmerizing vocals capture profound pain and longing, yet confer a sense of hope and empathy. — Julia Davies, Music Beat Writer Ctrl (2017) – SZA The debut album from SZA, Ctrl is an exercise in psychedelic soul as emotionally charged and gloriously reckless as the period in which it was created. SZA has said that, in creating the album, she felt she was accepting a lack of control. Ctrl feels like a breath of fresh air
naissance woman” in the 21st century like Michelle Zauner, the visionary mind behind Japanese Breakfast. Starting out as a solo artist based around a home recording project, she’s since gone on to become a world–class musician (with two albums under her belt and as the soundtrack composer for the video game, Sable), a budding music video director, an accomplished essayist, and soon–to–be author of her own book, Crying in H Mart. Her debut album Psychopomp, was written in the aftermath of her mother’s passing. On Soft Sounds, she looks outward, exploring new
to the ambitious, angsty “Remember My Name,” every track is filled with sadness and empowering helplessness. Mitski, a classically trained musician, insists that her music is technical rather than emotional, but it's hard to find a song on the album that doesn't evoke some raw visceral feeling. With Be The Cowboy, Mitski takes disparate elements and unites them in ways that make even the most antagonistic ideas into something harmonious. Every note, from the synth– filled opening of “Geyser” to the pseudo–acoustic beats of “Two Slow Dancers,” is tied together through the idea of eternal yearning. Each song speaks of desires that are at once unique and completely universal. It would be nearly impossible to not find some echo of personal truth inside them. — Keely Douglas, Music Beat Writer Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019) – Lana Del Rey
Illustrations by: Sammie Yoon, Anne Marie Grudem, Carly Ryan, Diane Lin, & Catherine Liang
quickly got attention for his ability to blend soul, R&B and hip hop to create emotionally vivid, story–like songs. Then, he disappeared from the public eye. Breaking his silence in 2016, Frank Ocean returned with the meditative and confessional album Blonde. Weaving in and out of music genres, the album represented a visionary form of pop from an elusive, new type of pop star. From the candid social commentary on consumerism and police abuse in “Nikes,” to his contemplations on loneliness in “Solo,” Frank Ocean
for not just SZA herself but for contemporary R&B as well, cutting through the static of most other music released at the time. Two years later, the album still stands out. Ctrl introduced an exciting new voice in R&B that is best understood when it is experienced, rather than described. — Peyton Toups, Music Beat Writer Soft Sounds From Another Planet (2017) – Japanese Breakfast Nobody embodies the “re-
lyrical themes and new sounds (from shoegaze to disco), all of which are given the sleek and futuristic air of Japanese Breakfast, while remaining entirely familiar. Fuck “It’s her world, we’re just living in it.” She’s got several worlds, and we’re going for a ride. — Sam Kesler, Music Editor Be The Cowboy (2018) – Mitski Mitski’s fifth studio album, Be the Cowboy, is a beautiful paradox. From the meditative yet danceable “Nobody”
Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! drips in the rough–edged melodrama of Americana. It feels like a resurrection of the American dream, a declarative statement in a tumultuous time. On “Venice Bitch” she outlines a love story, complete with images of neighborhood children, a drifting summer, and references to Robert Frost. The deep plunge into the artist’s intimate abrasiveness on “Cinnamon Girl” overlays the project with a sense of revelation. Paired with its transcendent piano melodies and precise lyrical craftsmanship, Lana has not only produced the next best American record, but one that will linger with the listener long after it has concluded. — Mehek Boparai, Music Beat Writer
D E C E M B E R 4 , 2 01 9 3 4 T H S T R E E T M A G A Z I N E
Here's Where You Can See the Stars in Philly Don't miss these out–of–this–world views! Hannah Lonser
Allison Chen | Illustrator
ity lights make for a great view, but they’re no match for the natural beauty of a starry night sky. Light pollution can make it difficult to stargaze in Philadelphia, but lucky for us, these spots offer visitors a chance marvel at the cosmos without leaving city limits. The Joseph R. Lynch Observatory— Drexel University
On the first Wednesday of every month during the academic year (weather permitting), the Joseph R. Lynch Observatory at Drexel hosts a public observing night. Stop
by roughly 30 minutes after sunset and take a peek through the lens of Philadelphia’s largest telescope. Light pollution from nearby buildings makes seeing star clusters difficult, but visitors can still check out views of Saturn, Jupiter, the moon, and Mars. Location: 32nd and Chestnut Streets The Joel N. Bloom Observatory— The Franklin Institute
The Joel N. Bloom Observatory is open to the public daily during museum hours. The multiple telescopes The
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Franklin Institute makes available for use provide views of planets, bright stars, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Visitors have even reported seeing sun flares and spots on clear days, making each trip to the Observatory unpredictable. The museum also hosts monthly Night Skies in the Observatory where visitors can stargaze (free star maps are provided for visitors seeking out specific constellations), attend astronomy presentations, and take part in hands–on astronomy activities. Location: 271 North 21st St.
Fels Planetarium — The Franklin Institute
Pay a visit to The Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium and check out one of their awe–inspiring astronomical presentations. During each show, the planetarium’s dome transforms into a view of the cosmos. Whether you’re hoping to travel to the surface of Mars, take a tour of the night sky, or re–examine questions like “Where did we come from?” and “Are we alone in the universe?” every stargazer can find a show they’ll enjoy at Fels Planetarium. Location: 271 North 21st St.
Located on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Fairmount Park is an optimal location to escape Philly’s light pollution. The wide– open views of the night sky provided by the park make this location a popular space for city–dwellers looking to lay out a blanket and see the stars. The front lawn of the Belmont Mansion is said to be a particularly useful spot, with unobstructed views and plenty of space. Location: 2000 Belmont Mansion Dr.
CookNSolo's Merkaz Still Has Some Soul Searching To Do The duo's latest project lacks ﬂavor, cohesion, and identity. Karin Hananel
hen Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook open a new restaurant, the Philly food scene goes nuts for it. With their fast casual spots, it’s always expected that there will be lines out the door and a sell out before closing time. It happened in 2011 with the opening of Federal Donuts and it happened again during Merkaz’s opening week. With all this hype comes the inevitable question: is it really worth it? Merkaz, which translates to "center" in Hebrew and alludes to a transit hub in Tel Aviv, focuses mainly on sandwiches, hummus, and small salads. They also serve locally–beloved Ox Coffee, teas, and "gazoz," which are Israeli soft drinks similar to the ones served at campus favorite Goldie. These menu offerings, coupled with the intimate yet airy space, provide all the makings for a cafe that is sure to be a neighborhood favorite, filling up with suits from the corporate complexes on the surrounding blocks. I tried two of the sandwiches on different days so that my impressions weren’t limited to the first two or three days of opening or a specific day if things were off. I started with the Schnitzel sandwich. Schnitzel is a staple in any Israeli household—the simplicity of fried, breaded chicken with some chopped salad and hummus is amazing and I expected no less of Merkaz’s take. Unfortunately, the only word that I could use to describe it is
AT Dim Sum House
Karin Hananel | Style Beat
underwhelming. No, it’s not bad by any means. It’s a perfectly good sandwich. But, it lacks any distinguishing flavor, which is surprising — considering the rest of the menu is punched up with an occasionally overwhelming amount of spices. The breaded chicken worked well with the freshly– chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and a slathering of tehina, but it still felt like something was missing. Why would anyone pay $12 for a chicken cutlet in a pita if it has no edge? It was thrown together sloppily and took a while to come out during non–peak hours. I went a second time and got the lamb sandwich, which was exponentially better. The lamb was well–cooked yet tender, perfectly seasoned with their shawarma spice, and accompanied by chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and slightly–blistered peppers and onions. All of the simple ingredients came together to make something both approachable and elevated, which was what was missing with the schnitzel. I wouldn’t write off Merkaz yet, but based on my experience and my very Israeli parents’ negative opinions on the Sabich (eggplant, egg, salad, amba, tehina) and Jerusalem Grill (turkey, chicken hearts, onions, tehina, pickles) sandwiches, Merkaz still has a little bit of soul searching to do. By no means do I think Merkaz is a total flop, but it’s clear that there’s ample room for improvement.
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F E AT U R E
Behind the Scenes at Wilcaf
At 1:10 p.m. on a Wednesday, Williams Hall is quiet. Noisy lunch dates over Magic Carpet and Lyn’s egg sandwiches have mostly subsided for the day, and you can hear keyboard clicks and wind rushing through the grey double doors. In the back corner of Williams Hall sits Williams Café, fondly known as “Wilcaf.” The line is short right now, and baristas hang around, leaning up against the counter, snacking, and scrolling through their phones while the quiet moment lasts. The back wall of the small café is covered with photos of Wilcaf baristas together, printed–out tweets and memes, newspaper clippings, and old holiday cards. The counter displays Polaroid photos of each of the baristas smiling. Amelia Galbraith (C ’21) clocks in at 1:15 p.m., preparing for her afternoon shift. She pops on a baseball cap, the baristas’ signature look, ties her hair back, and ditches her backpack behind the counter. The transition from student to barista is swift. She’s ready to serve coffee—lots of it. Amelia’s cheery and enthusiastic, brewing espressos like it’s her first week on the job, though she’s been with Wilcaf for almost a year. There are rushes at predictable times of the day, when long classes end or when people need a pick–me–up in the late afternoon. Right now, friends stop by to chat with
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familiar faces behind the café’s counter and catch up. Pieces of conversations float through the café, as does the smell of brewing espresso. In addition to being a food and drink destination on campus, Wilcaf has “turned into this social hub where different people meet up with each other or study together,” Amelia says. She adds that for her, it’s also become her own home base at Penn. Most other Penn students wouldn’t describe their job as their second home, but Wilcaf ’s tight–knit culture has given Amelia—and many other baristas—a family in addition to a place to work. After half an hour, shuffling feet and conversation pick up. Students drudge out of midday classes, and by the table of cream and sugar in the back of the café, two professors converse in another language, but are drowned out by the post– class rush. The fact that Williams Hall is the home of many language departments at Penn only adds to the charm: You’re just as likely to hear French or Arabic as you are to run into your freshman year hallmate. An older woman asks Amelia what dairy–free milk options Wilcaf offers. She initially opts for almond, but settles on oat milk after Amelia notes that “it’s very trendy.” Another customer with a cold brew asks if the café has oat milk, sheepishly adding that he doesn’t want “to be that guy.” Pulling a carton of oat milk out of the fridge, the
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What makes Williams Café, Penn's student run coffee shop, a community rather than just a business? Denali Sagner
barista reassures him that “everyone here is that guy.” Matt Rivas (C ’21), another member of the Wilcaf team, notes that the oat milk frenzy is part of the culture of the café. He jokes that he has to have a favorite dairy alternative. It seems cow’s milk is a thing of the past with this group of baristas. “Everyone’s like some sort of environmen-
“It’s like being in a club,” says Matt. “When people are like ‘What do you do on campus?’ it’s mostly this for me.”
talist, so everyone’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t drink dairy milk anymore.’ So now I can’t drink dairy milk in front of them, so I have to do oat milk,” he says. Amelia, now a junior, joined Wilcaf a year ago after being told by countless people that she fit the “vibe” of the business, though it’s
difficult to pinpoint exactly what this “vibe” entails. Many members of the team mention a passion for sustainability, an appreciation for alternative fashion and culture, and a solid sense of humor. They share a love of specialty coffee, and many are involved in arts and political groups on campus. Baristas and customers alike chat about politics and their favorite albums. Although three baristas are on shift at a time in the café, there always seem to be more Wilcaf employees hanging around on any given afternoon. They keep track of each others’ lives, checking in about classes and asking about papers and exams. Two baristas whisper on the side about a developing fling, unpacking drama in coded ways outsiders wouldn’t understand. “It’s like being in a club,” says Matt. “When people are like ‘What do you do on campus?’ it’s mostly this for me.” He adds that the baristas hang out outside of work, go to each other’s parties and shows, and study together. Jazzy Ortega (E ’20) mentions that the café has even informally spawned a Wilcaf “house,” where three of their baristas live together and others come to hang out. “It’s definitely a family as well as a part–time job,” she says. Wilcaf is a student–run café, where the baristas are students, the managers are students, and the customers are members of the Penn community. The café is a part
of Penn Student Agencies (PSA), a group of nine student–run businesses at Penn. In November, PSA announced the opening of Benny’s Diner, which will be the tenth student–run business and occupy the space on Houston Hall’s second floor that used to house Paris La Petite Creperie. Students manage Wilcaf ’s finances through the larger umbrella of PSA. Many students take up barista jobs in college, but not many coffee shops are run by the students themselves. PSA first appeared in 1933 with three agencies: the Dorm Laundry Agency, the Parking Squad, and the Trunk Moving Squad. Since then, Penn’s student run businesses have taken on many forms—running coat checks at the Palestra, opening a bartending school for students, and distributing class rings. Today, Wilcaf joins Penn Closet, a student–run thrift store, Penn Student Design, and PSA Bartending—along with five other agencies—to make up the larger umbrella operation of PSA. Jazzy, who currently works as Wilcaf ’s director, oversees day–to–day operations, manages twenty other Wilcaf employees, keeps track of sales and inventory, and represents Wilcaf within PSA. As director, Jazzy also runs the hiring process. She mentions that they don’t consider an applicant’s work experience as much as their “vibe,” a word that she, Matt, and
jazzy ortega Photos by Ethan Wu
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Amelia all mention while describing the café. Rather than just considering practical skills and experience, “It’s really how you get along, the camaraderie you have during the interview, if you seem personable, if you seem cheery and responsible, and we think you’ll get along with our group—that probably is the heaviest weight,” she adds. As a freshman, Jazzy submitted a job application through the Penn Portal to what she thought of as a random café, picking it out
matt rivas over a host of other boring jobs. She hadn’t heard of Wilcaf before sending her application in. “I thought it would be cool to work in a café, and I did catering in high school,” Jazzy says. “I just ended up falling into something really cool.” As the post–lunch rush progresses, baris-
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tas pick up the pace. A line forms. On one of the first chilly days of the semester, baristas lay out hot chocolates, lattes, and chai teas on the bar. The three baristas on the job move with ease even as the rush picks up, gliding between orders. They make it look easy. Some customers slide to the register comfortably, knowing exactly what their order is. “Double–shot.” “No foam.” “With room.” A middle–aged customer strikes up a conversation with an off– duty barista about the Rubik’s cube she’s solving in the back corner of the café. Two baristas plan a “lineage” pregame for the homecoming events of the coming weekend, and another compliments a woman, who carries herself like a regular, on her newly–dyed turquoise hair. A steady beat of alternative pop hums in the background. Baristas dance from the register to the refrigerator with cups in hand, weaving in and out of each other’s paths. Some even sing along, washing out cups used to froth milk, popping bagels in the toaster, and offering friendly greetings to passersby. “My greatest compliment that I’ve ever gotten from working at the café is that someone liked my playlist, and it literally made my life,” Amelia laughs. The baristas have a communal account on Spotify (@williamscafe) which follows dozens of specially–crafted playlists for the café. The coffee shop queues Frank Ocean, Glass Animals, and Fleetwood Mac. “I don’t know what it is, I couldn’t tell you, but there are certain songs I hear and I’m like, that is a Wilcaf song,” Amelia adds. Towards the end of Amelia’s shift, an
"It’s really how you get along, the camaraderie you have during the interview."
older professor strikes up a conversation about Kendra Brooks’ recent election to Philadelphia’s City Council. One of Amelia’s friends runs over to analyze a cryptic text she received last night. Amelia gives drink recommendations, washes dishes, and adds whipped cream to at least 15 hot chocolates. Baristas come and go, throwing on baseball caps, punching in their hours, switching on and off shift in between classes, and making themselves iced coffees, lattes, and cappuccinos on the run. Every shift brings new drinks, new music, and new customers. As a student–run business, baristas can take the time to engage with professors and students. “I know we have a lot of really interesting conversations with professors. We have a lot of regulars,” Matt says. “There’s the same like five or six people who are lined up there when I open.” The baristas have different tastes. Amelia and Jazzy swear by the oat milk dirty chai, but Matt would recommend a raspberry mocha. Whatever you choose to drink, there will be the same regulars awaiting the store’s opening and baristas already behind the counter, some of whom aren’t even on shift. That’s just the way Wilcaf does business.
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FILM & TV
'Knives Out' Reimagines the Star–Studded Murder Mystery Street sat down with director Rian Johnson to discuss his whodunit–meets–political–commentary Dalton DeStefano
owards the beginning of Knives Out, a detective (Lakeith Stanfield) remarks that Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a successful crime novelist and the patriarch of the Thrombey family, “practically lived inside a Clue Board.” The detective is referring to Harlan’s sprawling, mahogany–filled mansion that serves as the film’s primary setting. In some ways, though, the whole movie feels like Clue. The Miss Scarlets and Professor Plums of the board game are here replaced with equally colorful, one–dimensional characters. Toni Collette is a wellness guru, bursting at the seams with new–age cliché and vocal fry. Jamie Lee Curtis is a career woman, espousing a canned, corporate “#girlboss” mentality while stomping around in colored pantsuits. Chris Evans is a well–dressed, smug, trust fund baby. Don Johnson is that uncle who can’t help but start a debate about immigration at the dinner table. Nuance isn’t the goal here—writer and director Rian Johnson is using these caricatures to make a point about America today. The Thrombeys are a wealthy, sprawling family, all living off of the money from Harlan’s publishing empire. They gather together for his 85th birthday, and the morn-
ing after, he’s found in his study with his throat slit. Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, with a Southern accent so exaggerated that it teeters into SNL sketch territory) is brought to the scene to determine the culprit. And of course, as with every good murder mystery that takes place at a gothic New England mansion, the victim’s fortune hangs in the balance. When speaking to Johnson, it’s clear that he just wants this passion project to be enjoyed by the masses. “It’s fun seeing it with audiences,” he says; these are characters he conceived himself, and watching crowds so invested in the movie is a direct testament to his success. He wanted this movie to have “the engine of a Hitchcock thriller,” while still playing with the age–old tropes of a whodunit. And he did a good job—the movie knows its references, and feels right at home in the slick, satirical genre inhabited by the the cult–classic Clue. Craig and Evans both excel at a certain populist humor that had the crowd at my screening in fits of laughter in just about every scene. The plot seems straightforward enough: a closed–room murder case with a bunch of oddball suspects, all with different motivations and alibis. But the most ambitious bait–
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Photos: Claire Folger © 2018 MRC II Distribution Company L.P. All rights reserved.
and–switch that Knives Out pulls off is that it isn’t really a whodunit at all—we know the identity of the murderer by the end of act one. Knives Out instead spends its time making a political statement, which shouldn’t be surprising, especially for those who saw Johnson’s iteration of Star Wars. But as an unfortunate consequence of that, we spend most of the movie’s runtime with the least interesting member of the cast. Marta (Ana de Armas) is Harlan’s nurse. She is kind and sympathetic, with little complexity beyond that (except for the fact that she’s physically unable to tell a lie without vomiting seconds later—a bizarre
quirk that feels out of place and serves as a plot device on multiple occasions). She becomes our conduit into the Thrombeys’ world, and she eventually consumes the whole story. De Armas does a fine job in the role, but there’s nothing to her character beyond what the plot dictates. She’s a background character, until the movie demands that she step forward as the lead. She’s entirely guileless, until the movie demands that she be cunning. Johnson’s script is tightly wound, but the greatest challenge of writing a mystery is to keep a certain pace to ensure that—by the end—the audience is still clamoring for the
big reveal. Instead of keeping that rhythm, Knives Out falters in the third act, devolving into a series of clichés and red herrings, as we wait for Craig’s character to show up and explain everything. There are car chases, arson, anonymous blackmail, and at times it feels more like a middling crime TV show than a star–studded whodunit. Johnson, who found great inspiration in the Agatha Christie novels he read as a kid, wanted to follow in her footsteps. “She was writing characters who were very present types in British society at the time. She wasn’t being timeless, she was writing to her time,” he says. And Knives Out is a movie
FILM & TV
that could only exist in post– Trump America. In building his cast of characters, Johnson says that it was important that he “not let anyone off the hook.” Meg (Katherine Langford) leaves Harlan’s birthday party to hang out with her liberal–arts–major friends at Smith College and gets called an “SJW.” Then there’s a kid on the other side of the family who’s been radicalized by the alt–right after spending too much time on Reddit. The Thrombey’s are wealthy, privileged, unaware, and conniving, at a time when most Americans have little patience for that. Marta is the 99 percent, the girl just trying to do her job and make her way through an unfair world. The moral of the story writes itself and, by the movie’s halfway point, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where it’s going. Johnson deserves credit for building characters that are immediately compelling and jump off the screen. But the script sidelines them in favor of a message about American class relations that feels like half–baked wish fulfillment. As bizarre as this might sound, Knives Out feels like a companion piece to one of the most talked–about movies of the year, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. But where Parasite offers nuance, Knives Out leans into
razzle–dazzle. The movie suffers from an embarrassment of riches. It’s beer hard to root for Marta—to springfield even care about her at all— distributor when Collette is wandering in and out of frame in Gwyneth Paltrow–drag and stealing every scene she’s in. Every time she too hard? talked more about her Goop– adjacent lifestyle brand, or was ready to relish in a screaming match between any of the clashing relatives, it felt like the movie was tugging at my wrist and forcing me back onto a main plotline that just wasn’t as fun. Johnson keeps a firm hold on the steering wheel to propel the plot forward whenWE these DELIVER! Corner of 27th and South St. (215) 546-7301 characters so desperately want DIRECTIONS: East on Chestnut, springﬁeldbeer.net to careen off into absurdity. right on 23rd, right on Lombard None of this is intended to take away from what Johnson has achieved with Knives Out. It feels plucked from a genre of film that’s being lost today. It’s the type of movie that allows you to get caught up in the (215) 546-7301 | 22nd & Washington Hollywood of it all—the stars, the setting, the costumes, the tightly wound script, and the experience of laughing along with a bunch of strangers in a dark theater. In short: the movie is fun, especially when its ensemble cast is allowed to fully let loose. Exp.2/23/12 4/11/12 Exp. But when we get to the end, and to the predictable, utopian For Fast Delivery Call 215-386-1941 final shot—I couldn’t help but wish that Knives Out were a bit sharper.
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D E C E M B E R 4 , 2 01 9 3 4 T H S T R E E T M A G A Z I N E 17
Disney+ and the Power of Nostalgia FILM & TV
Disney is cashing in on the classics of your childhood.
f The Walt Disney Company had not already solidified itself as one of the most influential and culturally relevant media companies of all time, the buzz surrounding its streaming service, Disney+, has made us sure. Just a day after its release, they boasted over 10 million subscribers, and that number is only growing. The response to this new service, and the hundreds of movies and TV shows it contains, has been widespread and positive at every turn. The reason for this is two-
fold: first, it introduces a way for all of Disney’s content— which many adults grew up with and consider important to their childhood—to be kept in one place, and second, it introduces new content on top of Disney's already extensive collection. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is just one example—Lady and the Tramp has gotten a reboot with real dogs. Disney+ even got press for putting The Simpsons in its collection, because they apparently messed up its aspect ratio.
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At first, it's surprising to see that Disney+’s release has received so much hype—most people do not get excited about the prospect of paying for another streaming service. Disney+’s $6.99/a month fee isn’t outrageous, though, and there's a growing idea that Netflix shouldn't monopolize digital content. That Disney+ has gotten so much positive press shows that now, Netflix isn’t the only streaming service in town. While Hulu and Amazon Prime have certainly been
Chris Kwok | Illustrator
competitors to Netflix, and have carved out names for themselves within the world of just–for–streaming television, Disney+ has something that they don't: nostalgia. These new Disney properties might be boring, rehashed versions of classics, but the point of these films is not to be well–made—it's to tap into our childhoods and get us to sign up. Despite its lukewarm critical reception, The Lion King’s 2019 reboot made over one billion dollars at the box office. This can be a manipulative way to get people to buy into your content. Of course companies are going to try to get as much cash out of their consumers as they can, but repeatedly tapping into nostalgia is lazy. The fact that adults without children are purchasing Disney+ so that they can “relive their childhood” shows the degree to which nostalgia has played into their marketing—do we really want to rewatch Hannah Montana in 2019, or do we just think we want to for old time’s sake? Additionally, a particular issue with Disney as a company is that people often seek to personify it and make it seem like the victim. In the Sony vs. Marvel debates about Tom Holland’s Spider– Man, Marvel—a company which Disney owns—was made to seem like the hapless, injured victim of Sony’s greed. In reality, Disney is a multibillion–dollar opera-
tion that does everything it can to make a profit—nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps the excitement— rather than dread—in response to Disney+ has something to do with the fact that, above all else, people want to maximize efficiency when watching movies or television. Even though it’s very uncomplicated to pirate Peter Pan on the Internet and download an ad blocker, people seem to prefer to pay money to easily go back and access these movies. This has played perfectly into Disney’s marketing, and is responsible for at least a portion of its success. Disney+ shows not only Disney’s prominence in the entertainment industry, but also a shift in streaming services. While there have been competitors to Netflix, the widespread positive response from the public shows that we might just begin a new era of streaming where every large media company has its own service, taking away some of Netflix's novelty. How well all the other streaming services fare is still up in the air, but what's important is that Disney+ has made major waves in the entertainment industry, and the public is eating it up. Through all of this though, as you log in to watch an old Disney movie from your childhood, it's important to consider that the company has, in many ways, exploited your own nostalgia.
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FILM & TV
'Ford v. Ferrari' is More Than Just a Racing Movie
Merrick Morton and © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Don't care about cars? Don't worry—Matt Damon and Christian Bale make this movie worth a watch.
ord v. Ferrari is not just a racing movie. Yes, it has to do with racing— the first act is primarily about assembling a race car, its two main characters are well–known figures within the racing world, and the majority of the runtime is spent either on the track or in the workshop. But you don't have to know precisely what an RPM is, how races work, or what even goes into the construction of a race car to understand the movie. Ford v. Ferrari is about the true story of Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a temperamental mechanic from England, who ends up testing the first Ford race car in the 1960s under the supervision of his friend and engineer, Caroll Shelby (Matt Damon) (Ed. note: this is the second time Damon has played a man named Carol(l), if you count 30 Rock.) Miles is a talented, hotheaded driver who throws a wrench at Shelby in front of some of the most important men in the car industry, which cements his
reputation as “unstable.” Shelby, between Miles and Shelby is on the other hand, is a logical, Miles’ family: his wife Mollie charismatic manufacturer who (Caitriona Balfe) and son Peter has recently retired from racing (Noah Jupe). In a lesser movie, himself, but is still good at his these two may have ended up job. Shelby fights for Miles to being nuisances, or one–note be behind the wheel of the first secondary characters that do Ford race car, which Shelby has nothing other than cheer Ken been designing specifically with on. Miles’ suggestions. What makes Instead, both of them are Damon and Bale as good as they are in these You don't have to know parts is a chemistry that permeates every scene. precisely what an RPM is, Often, the two are at how races work, or what odds—Shelby insisting even goes into the that Ken listen to him, construction of a race car follow the rules, and to understand the movie. sit quietly so Shelby can get them better contacts—but beneath this tension is trust. The film’s fully human—Peter has taken climax, which involves Miles an interest in his father’s work, racing at Les Mans, seems like often following along with his it may be a major point of con- races. Mollie isn't the silent wife tention for Shelby—does he tell who's perfectly calm at all times. Miles to do one thing or the She questions Ken and calls him other? But ultimately, Shelby out. Neither of them is perfect, simply presents him with two but this film shows Mollie and options and lets Miles decide. Peter as actual people. It feels like Entangled in all of the drama a grand American success story
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is built into the very DNA of the film. The genuine, patriotic Ford seeks to bring down the snobby, arrogant Ferrari. Henry Ford’s son (Tracy Letts), now CEO of his father's company, even gives a speech encouraging the nationalist attitude of his workers to get them out of their marketing slump. A Ford executive goes to Italy and offers Ferrari a deal—a merger— only to get laughed at, sparking that desire for revenge in both Henry Ford II and the audience. But this patriotic enthusiasm is false. While Ford sells the narrative that they are the underdog to Ferrari’s all– powerful empire, they, too, suppress the voices of the actual men working on their project to beat Ferrari. Shelby is warned early on that Ford doesn’t actually care about the people working on the machine, just how it will look in the press—a moment particularly exemplified at the end of a race, when they insist that Miles slows down in
order for a picture–perfect finish at Les Mans. What holds the most poetic weight in this film is the car itself—not its literal parts, but the way it comes alive. The dialogue skirts around the obvious metaphors, but still, Miles monologues to his son about the feeling of the track, the transcendental state it puts him in, and how he becomes aware of the car and the world in slower motion. Luckily, none of these statements come off as cheesy. Every detail on the road and every roar of the car is carefully understood by Miles. It is not supernatural power that has made him so good, but attentiveness and drive. Ford v. Ferrari, overall, is a racing movie that even appeals to people who don't like racing. The plot is compelling and easy to understand, and its characters aren't overdone tropes, but rather unique depictions. Even if you don't care about cars, you might care about the people behind them.
FILM & TV
What Art Means to Philly–Based Muralists: The Streets Dept Walls’ 'Artist Talk'
Their murals—located at Fashion District Philadelphia—will be on display through January. Avery Johnston Ten artists sit in a line facing an attentive audience at Fashion District Philadelphia. They are here to discuss their artwork. One wears deep blue statement earrings, and another, cat– eye glasses—they all laugh over the holiday music playing in the background. Each of the artists is a contributor to the Streets Dept Walls, a collection of murals on temporary display on the Concourse Level of the Fashion District in Center City, which opened to the public on Nov. 18. The ten total murals are intended to celebrate Philadelphia and the artists that make Philly the “arts capital of the US,” according to project curator Conrad Benner. Benner is the founder and editor of Streets Department, a blog based in Philly that works to highlight local artistic talent and street art, in addition to creating exhibitions like the one currently on display at Fashion District. Benner says that “the idea of a temporary or rotating pop–up mural exhibition has been on my bucket list for years now.” So when given the opportunity to do so, he leaped at the chance. Benner is passionate about art’s role in the public space—he thinks this space should be used for “Philadelphians first.” He describes his motivation be-
hind curating this collection specifically—“These are our walls, these are our artists, let’s use these walls to sort of celebrate this really important, awesome part of local culture.” The evening of Nov. 18 was the “Artist Talk,” a night of conversation with the featured local artists. They explained their work, the circumstances in which they make their art, and how their art represents them. Manuela Guillén spoke about her painting, Set Them Free, Let Them Be with its gentle pinks and beautiful birds and butterflies. “My parents came from Cuba and from El Salvador … I wanted to make a piece that shows that migration is natural.” The free–flying birds and butterflies represent this movement—they’re based in part on the style of Salvadoran folk art. The surrounding artists nodded as Guillén told of the hope that she wishes to bring to the Latinx community in Philadelphia through her painting. Crocheter Nicole Nikolich explained the contemplative nature of crocheting for her. “I’ve been able to find a way to meditate and a way to deal with my depression and anxiety.” Her piece, I Change, is explicit in depicting Nikolich’s experience with seasonal depression— the center of the piece says,
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FILM & TV
“I change with the seasons.” Nikolich said that one of her goals with this publicly displayed piece is to “make crocheting cooler and more modern.” The epigram in the center of the piece is surrounded by crocheted feathers, and since the piece is in a very interactive space, Nikolich said that people often touch the crocheted feathers. ”I’ve never done a piece that’s touched so much that I’ve actually had to come and do touch–ups on it.” A’Driane Nieves’s abstract piece characterizes the way in which the extrinsic world influences our internal life. The painting’s colorful and abstract nature is significant to Nieves. She draws a comparison between bodily systems and the way in which abstract art helps her to analyze her experiences. “If figurative, portrait, and other representative visual works are the organs, muscles, and bones … then abstract is the marrow, the synovial fluid, the neural pathways, the central nervous system, the vitreous body through which we view and process experience.” The surrounding artists hummed and nodded in approval as she shed light on the vulnerability and intimacy of abstraction. She also described how painting is a therapeutic process for her as a survivor of abuse. This deliberate approach to making art is common to all the pieces on display. Other murals declare “YOU DESERVE IT!” in neon, depict a self–portrait, or display work from an artist inspired by the faded graffiti on the streets of Philly. All
of the murals are personal works of art in a very public space. They allow for reflection in a place that would otherwise be filled with advertisements. “All of the artists sort of came together, and it’s this cacophony of really great, thoughtful things in a public space,” Benner explains. “We’re celebrating Philly artists, so we want the murals to feel different from each other. We don’t want them to feel like necessarily they’re in the same bucket, because they’re not.” He hopes that the murals serve as a catalyst for thoughtful observation and an acknowledgment of artists in the city. As he asked each artist questions about their work at the Artist Talk, his care and admiration for their work was obvious. Following the talk, Benner led audience members on a tour of the murals, which occupy wall space near 11th Street and 9th Street in the District. Fortunately, the murals’ time at the Fashion District has been extended through January—there is ample time to see the exhibit for yourself. Art can be a tool for social change, expression, and a multitude of other things. The art that’s on display in the Streets Dept Walls exhibit certainly has the potential to inspire appreciation for the Philadelphia community that is represented through the artists’ work. Just as Benner says, “Art can connect us to ourselves, our communities, and our world in ways that few [other things] can. And art in the public space is a tool that’s well used when it reflects our humanity in all its beauty and complexity.”
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Photos courtesy of Streets Dept.
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