Staff Picks: Gasps, Giant Cubes, Gay Bars

Toshio Matsumoto’s masterly 1969 debut about queer life in Toyko, Funeral Parade of Roses, has been playing in a beautiful new restoration this week at Quad Cinema; I walked down from our office just a few days ago to see it. Funeral Parade follows Eddie, a small-framed, sensual, nonconforming bar hostess, whose job at a gay bar is complicated by a troubling love triangle and traumatic memories she can’t forget. Late-night rousing with her pot-smoking leftist friends doesn’t alleviate her anxieties. Much of the movie leaves us in Eddie’s head as she relives a cluster of agonizing recollections from childhood: her mother laughing at her when Eddie asks about her father; Eddie finding her mother entangled with a lover on the floor; the first time her mother caught Eddie putting on lipstick (also the first time Eddie herself experimented with a woman’s mask). That these three memories focus on Eddie’s mother should alert you to the Oedipal themes that thunder throughout this heated and beautiful spectacle. Funeral Parade of Roses is, as BOMB says, a “gallery of masks, ones that people wear and occasionally let slip.” —Caitlin Love

Early in his one-man show Secret, the English magician and mentalist Derren Brown tells the audience not to divulge any part of his act. I will only say that it was, literally, incredible—the first time I’ve heard a theater full of adults gasp in disbelief. Brown specializes in old-fashioned hypnotism and mind reading, including the oracle routine (magician puts sealed envelope to head, knows contents), but he weaves his tricks into a finale so complex, baffling, and surprising that one wouldn’t know how to describe it, even if it were allowed. —Lorin Stein 

Someone should organize an annual Father’s Day recitation of Donald Barthelme’s novel The Dead Father, or at least its most famous passage, “A Manual for Sons”—as savage a satire of toxic masculinity as has ever been written. In its twenty-three sections (“Mad fathers,” “leaping fathers,” “Sexual organs,” et cetera) Barthelme mounts a funny but supremely disturbed case for fathers as society’s ultimate obstruction, the root of despairs both individual and cosmic. “Fathers are like blocks of marble,” he writes, “giant cubes, highly polished, with veins and seams, placed squarely in your path. They block your path. They cannot be climbed over, neither can they be slithered past … If you attempt to go around one, you will find that another (winking at the first) has mysteriously appeared athwart the trail.” In his introduction to the 2004 reissue I have, Donald Antrim wrote of the novel’s “obligation to freedom”: “a permission to reshape, misrepresent, or even ignore the world as we see it.” That spirit gives the book a pungent power today, when misandry has (justifiably) garnered cultural cachet and the left has made #NoDads a trending topic. The Dead Father feels eerily of the moment. Send it to the new dad in your life. —Dan Piepenbring

What do you get when you put a retired federal judge in a crowded bar in Netanya, Israel, with a self-effacing comedian at the microphone? A Man Booker International Prize—at least that’s what David Grossman got. His novel A Horse Walks into a Bar is the transcript of a crude and aging comedian’s stand-up set, which promptly devolves into a 191-page nervous breakdown in which the comedian, Dovaleh, recounts his early life, including the death of a parent (he omits which one until the end). Further complicating the matter, the aforementioned retired judge was invited to the set by Dovaleh personally—in fact, they’re childhood acquaintances who haven’t been in touch since they were teenagers, when the judge witnessed a traumatic, formative event in Dovaleh’s life. Did Dovaleh invite him for an appraisal of his comedy routine? To get even, in some way? Or is this some kind of perverse exercise in karmic justice? And, wait, does everyone in this bar know Dovaleh personally? Grossman’s writing is dark, hilarious, and assured. —Jeffery Gleaves

If you missed it in theaters, Showtime recently brought Maisie Crow’s award-winning documentary Jackson (2016) to television. Centering on three women, the film examines the antiabortion movement’s mission to shut down the Women’s Health Organization in Jackson—Mississippi’s sole surviving abortion clinic. Shannon Brewer, the director of WHO, is contrasted against Barbara Beaver, the executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Choices (an organization ironically aimed at counseling women into committing to their pregnancies). Meanwhile, April Jackson, a twenty-four-year-old mother of four, lives on food stamps as she confronts yet another unplanned birth. Resonant of both the person and the place, Jackson embodies the issues at stake in a debate too often waged in the name of those it doesn’t care to face. Tackling the tensions beneath bloated rhetoric, Crow’s film offers a fresh perspective on an all too relevant issue. —Madeline Medeiros Pereira

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