In 1967, the novelist John Barth wrote “The Literature of Exhaustion,” an essay arguing that unself-conscious storytelling was, well, exhausted. Henceforth, narrative art could only be self-aware, a sendup of itself. In 1971, NBC broadcast “Dead White,” an episode of the endlessly rewatchable TV detective show Columbo in which Eddie Albert kills a guy, and Suzanne Pleshette, passing by in her boat, sees him do it, so Albert shows up at her house with roses, asks her out, and gradually charms her into persuading herself of his innocence. Advantage: Unself-conscious storytelling.
Autumn De Wilde’s adaptation of Emma. was the last movie I saw in a theatre before the pandemic hit. The period is at the end of the title to signify that it is a period adaptation – an irksomely whimsical touch uncharacteristic of this superb movie, which finds a layer of melancholy in Jane Austen’s late masterpiece that I had never noticed there before. De Wilde insists on allowing dignity to the novel’s minor characters, those in whom “the good and the ridiculous are blended.” There’s a shot of Emma’s father right at the end that will change your whole reading of his character.
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These are atypical times, and we thought it fitting to publish an atypical review section in this issue. Instead of our normal format, we’ve gathered some reflections from regular contributors on what’s helping them through social distancing, social upheaval, and, well, just the strange state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Music, books, TV, and film are such great helps in trying times. They help us escape to new worlds and far-off places, while also offering wisdom and insight to help us understand this sad and beautiful world. All that and more. Maybe you’ll find something here that’ll help you, too! – Brian Bork, Reviews Editor