Recommendations include Stay On Board: The Leo Baker Story, The Forgiven, and “Karma Police” by Radiohead.
A little over 20 years ago, I worked as a doorman at a bar. This might be somewhat hard to believe if you know me, as it’s not the kind of work that suits me at all. I wasn’t good at it, really, but also I didn’t have much trouble to deal with.
One night, the band that played at the bar covered “Karma Police” and the singer left out the word ‘phew’—he might have replaced it with ‘just’ or just not used any word there at all. Anyway, in my opinion it totally wrecked the song, showing how some very small difference can have a large impact. There’s a lot of meaning in that particular ‘phew’ in my opinion.
Anyway, I’m glad Tim wrote an entry on the song, which came out 25 years ago if you can believe it. Also this week we have Christopher claiming that Stay On Board could change your life, and Paul digging The Forgiven‘s portrayal of Morocco and interrogation of Western morality.
This is what you’ll get if you mess with us (but in a good way): recommendations of things out there in the world that we think are worth your time.
See you next week. – Caemeron
Documentary Recommendation — Stay On Board: The Leo Baker Story
Christopher Lieberman: Being a skateboarder and being transgender are two huge parts of my identity, so forgive me if I sound biased…but this documentary rocks. Following legendary skateboarder Leo Baker at the start of his social and medical transition, it gives insight into the anxieties of gender transition. The concept of living a split life is blown up to a global level—how do you begin to become who you really are, when who you pretend to be is so well known and well loved? Leo faces an impossible choice between his career and his transition (“you’re a skater and a punk, but don’t be that weird”).
The documentary is also a very insightful look at the culture of skateboarding on the threshold of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Skateboarding has gone from the fringe to the mainstream—is there a space for queer people in the mainstream? Time and again the answer has been no. The Olympics has a binary: there is a male team and a female team. Freedom from this binary means rejection from the mainstream, but as a skateboarder, rejection from the mainstream might not be such a bad thing. The most wonderful moments of this documentary were shared between Leo and other queer people, and had nothing to do with trophies and sponsors. In this way, queerness is shown to be a virtue.
For skateboarders who know nothing about the trans experience, and trans allies who know nothing about skateboarding culture, this documentary is immense. Leo invites us to do away with other people’s expectations, and to stop putting ourselves on hold; there are so many good things awaiting us that we didn’t think were possible. I really believe that this documentary could change your life.
Music Recommendation — Radiohead, “Karma Police”
Timothy Glaraton: There’s something about “Karma Police” that makes me tear up a little bit every time I hear it. Somewhere between Thom Yorke’s ever cryptic falsetto and the jaunty, almost Beatlesesque melody, it’s the one song that just always seems to nail the peculiar anxieties of life in…whatever this era of American history is.
Lyrically, the song is a particular variety of ominous that borders on prophetic: the first half sees Yorke calling for punishment for everyone around him for seemingly minor offenses, warning that “this is what you get…when you mess with us”—one can almost see the BuzzFeed headline now: “Did Radiohead predict cancel culture in 1997? It’s more likely than you think!”
Then, at about the midway point the melody suddenly shifts and Yorke’s voice turns almost apologetic (“Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself…”) as though waking up from a trance or a dream. It’s a disorienting, haunting end to a disorienting, haunting tune that still resonates 25 years later.
Film Recommendation — The Forgiven
Paul Keelan: John Michael McDonagh (Cavalry, The Guard, War on Everyone) has added another effective deconstruction of Western “morality” and classism to his resume. This may be his best film yet. I must admit I was primed to like this—having spent a month circling the salty ramparts of Essaouira, the opulent bazaars of Marrakech, the Saharan sands of Merzouga, the labyrinthine medinas of Fez, the baby blue corridors of Chefchaouen, and the tattered Interzone of modern day Tangiers. That said, my firsthand familiarity with the topography, the tensions between local vendors and the petite bourgeoisie, the contrasts between dusty encampments and elaborately palatial/arabesque riads, the stringent customs of nomadic Berbers, the soothing mint teas/hearty tajines, and the subtle exploitations by the French and English aristocracy meant I’d be more discerning about the film’s accuracy than many.
For what it’s worth, I felt that The Forgiven captured the complex dynamics and textures of the country with precision—detailing the messy sociopolitical landscape with cutting scrutiny. Morocco has long been a nation where the artistic pariahs, pederasts, and pessimists of the West sought refuge. It has served as a haven for William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, Yves Saint Laurent, André Gide, Oscar Wilde, and countless other cultural outsiders. These outlaws tend to favor the anonymity of the country—using their money to seek out hedonic pursuits behind compounds and bribes. And the juxtaposition between this transgressive Western culture, not to mention the immense disparity in wealth and resources, and the indigenous (Islamic fundamentalists, Berbers, impoverished Arabs) cultures creates a uniquely fraught ecosystem.
The Forgiven unabashedly examines this confrontation of cultures with candidness and scrupulousness. It is a caustic parable that looks at the intricate hypocrisies and toxicity of Western prejudice and privilege. And it offers a darkly ironic lesson on traveling—namely, that you must submit yourself to the land and the locals to unlock the transformative power of empathy. Most tourists, sadly, simply hole up in a foreign fortress—isolated by guards, servants, and comfortable debauchery. These prototypes simply relocate their hermetic bubble abroad—leaving as ignorant as they arrived. To transcend one’s solipsistic tendencies, one must become embroiled in the landscape—vulnerably abducted by the Other, who may be amicable or hostile. The thin, inscrutable line that divides a friend and a foe blurs the deeper one enters into the desert—making the gesture of yielding to the Other so mortally perilous and yet spiritually rewarding.
You can rent The Forgiven on multiple platforms or find it in select theaters across the country.