What to read, watch and listen to in March
The title may not have been particularly inspired, but there are many who consider Jackson Pollock’s “Mural” to be among the most important American paintings ever made. (The wall-size work marked the point when Pollock began to adopt his epic maniacal flick-and-flail style.) It was commissioned in 1943 to brighten up the Manhattan apartment of socialite Peggy Guggenheim, who donated it to its current owners, the University of Iowa, in 1951. This month, the painting—which Pollock described as “a stampede” of “cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes”—goes on display at Los Angeles’ Getty Center following an extensive restoration that should bring some clarity to the chaos. Or not… (March 11–June 1)
JAMES MINOR IS in the running for guy with the coolest job in the world. As general manager of the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin (the film and interactive festivals are produced separately), he and his nine bookers trawl music events and dive bars around the globe for the next hot act. “I honestly have no idea how many shows I see a year,” he says. “I do a lot of traveling.”
It’s work any music lover would kill for—discovering the next Strokes or John Mayer, both of whom got their big break at SXSW. This year, Minor is plumping for Kirin J Callinan, an Australian he describes as “a modern-day David Bowie,” along with ’80s-inflected alt-pop band Ballet School and The Mary Onettes, a Swedish group he likens to “a cross between Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure.”
So which artists will Minor watch out of the 2,000-plus milling around SXSW this month? “Honestly, the stuff that I get the most excited about are the small bands,” he says. “But I can’t say that I saw a full show by anybody last year. There’s a lot of popping in and out.”
Metronomy: Love Letters
(March 10) Metronomy returns from a three-year hiatus with Love Letters, their fourth studio album. Catchy and dance-y, and with signature bouncing basslines and synths, Love Letters seems set for success on a small, hip scale.
Most likely to be played: on the iPods of Angeleno record producers
Imogen Heap: Sparks
(March 3) Heap’s latest offering features 14 tracks that layer fan-produced “sound seeds” (short, mundane recordings of a dishwasher, a door and a burning match, for instance) and Heap’s breathy vocals. The album will find an audience among those who pride themselves on their sonic sensitivity.
Most likely to be played: at Brooklyn dinner parties
(March 3) Foxes—aka Louisa Rose Allen—has attracted lots of buzz following her appearance at last year’s SXSW and her single “Youth” being played on “Gossip Girl.” With its lively electro beats and soulful vocals, her debut studio album has the most mainstream appeal of the lot.
Most likely to be played: during cross-country road trips
“It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in the summer when you wonder if the Earth has stopped revolving … Cars trickled past in the streets below the dusty window of my office, and a few of the good folks of our fair city ambled along the sidewalk, men in hats, mostly, going nowhere.”
—From The Black-Eyed Blonde, a Philip Marlowe novel by Benjamin Black, the pen name of Man Booker–winning novelist John Banville (March 4)
According to IMDb, four of the five Twilight and all eight Harry Potter movies, as well as both Hunger Games films, are among America’s 100 highest-grossing movies of all time. No surprise, then, that the adaptation of the novel Divergent (March 21), which adds a sci-fi spin to the “girl who doesn’t fit in” story, is No. 5 on Fandango fans’ Most Anticipated Movies of 2014 list (the new Hunger Games film is No. 1).
With box offices increasingly dominated by adaptations aimed at young adults, the studios have started snapping up the rights to teen novels before they’re even published. This month, Half Bad, a Harry Potter–esque character study, hits shelves. So does The Finisher, David Baldacci’s debut teen story about a village no one ever leaves. They’ve already been optioned by Fox 2000 and Sony Pictures, respectively. All of which is to say, it’s finally a good time to be 13.
If the current interest in satirical sketch comedy is any indication, the modern world is ripe for parody. And few have mastered the dark art of lampooning modern living as well as Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, who have spent the last three seasons of their IFC sketch show “Portlandia” sending up urban sentimentality.
Though the show is shot on location in, and is ostensibly about, Portland, Ore., there are elements familiar to anyone living in a place where people fret about carbon footprints and/or the provenance of their mushroom soup. “I think the reason people relate to the show is that it’s more about a mindset than a specific place,” says Brownstein. “Part of the satire comes from the fact that you have to have a certain level of privilege to be worried about those kinds of problems. If you’re worried about local versus organic or artisan versus farm-fresh, those are not problems that a lot of people would have. So there’s a certain kind of questioning that we have about our own lives—whether it’s even worthwhile to be living like this.”
For Armisen, much of the humor in “Portlandia” arises from the piety of America’s neo-hippies. “Causing a little bit of difficulty somehow gives you a feeling of being special,” he says. “Like, my car is diesel. And there’s something about having to find a diesel gas station that, for some reason, makes you feel there’s something glamorous about it.”
When “Portlandia” last left us, Armisen and Brownstein’s Fred and Carrie had just reunited after their city barely escaped a permanent blackout. But it’s safe to say the twee metropolis will soon be back to its old tricks. The fourth season, which premiered at the end of February, features guest appearances from musicians, actors and comedians, including Michael Nesmith of The Monkees and sex columnist Dan Savage, and will include a skit about the celery business.
“It was just something from this season that I really enjoyed,” Armisen says. “It’s about the commerce of celery.” (Out now)
How a chance friendship planted the seeds of “Portlandia”
Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are the Bert and Ernie of satirical comedy. Longtime friends, they met in 2003, when Armisen invited Brownstein’s then-band, Sleater-Kinney, to an SNL afterparty. (The two had been traveling in the same circles for years, thanks to Armisen’s past life as a drummer in the ’90s indie-rock band Trenchmouth.) “I think Fred had a video that he needed to do for the John Kerry campaign, and he asked if I wanted to be part of it,” says Brownstein. “I said sure, and he flew to Portland and we filmed something. It was very improvised, and I don’t know if the video ever even ended up being used for anything with the campaign. It really had nothing to do with it—we never even mentioned the presidential candidate. But that was kind of the beginning.”
Also out this month
TV The cream of Hollywood society clumps at the Dolby Theater for the 86th Academy Awards, presided over by Ellen DeGeneres and aired live on ABC // Season two of the contemporary Psycho prequel “Bates Motel” stumps continuity sticklers on A&E BOOKS Chelsea Handler tries her hand at witty travel essays (and terrible puns) with Uganda Be Kidding Me // George F. Will releases his love letter to Wrigley Field, A Nice Little Place on the North Side FILM Every actor who ever lived appears in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel // Fans of the cruelly canceled teen detective drama “Veronica Mars” can now see Veronica Mars the movie (same star, slightly older)