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Almost Exactly Five Things from 2011
by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

5: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is the best new series on television, of this past year or the prior. I desperately long to travel the seven kingdoms of Westeros, traverse Winterfell cloaked in furs, peer from the monstrous heights of the Wall into the whiteness of winter coming, ride a Dothraki stallion, punch a midget Lanister in the face, and hatch my own dragon eggs. And I don’t even like magical medieval fantasy epics. I can finally stop pretending to really be really into Lord of the Rings cause something way better has taken its place in my book. The story is enthralling, the cast perfect, the visuals dreamy, and the writing cut and refined to point of frequent crystallinity.
 William Leavitt, Spectral Analysis, 1977, mixed media. Courtesy the artist and MOCA.

4: William Leavitt

It’s crazy that MOCA’s William Leavitt: Theater Objects was the first solo museum exhibition and retrospective of the artist. Wandering through its galleries full of his tersely astute, eerily evocative, and dryly hilarious paintings, drawings, and installations, begs the exasperated question how it could possibly have taken this long and why in the world did this phenomenal show not travel?! Leavitt’s strange and understated brilliance—so thoroughly steeped in the resonance and possibility of his SoCal locale—sneaks up on you like a chill and, when it does, proceeds to knock your socks off.
[PS: The enthusiasm of everything said above about Leavitt’s long overdue retrospective could just as easily have been applied to the similarly belated Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective that came to the Hammer.]

3: The Skin I Live In

I tentatively assert that (in conjunction with Live Flesh, Broken Embraces, and few others) Pedro Almodovar’s latest twisted drama may be his best. I fully grasp the magnitude of this claim. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages to contort his usual array of gender-bending, trauma-laden fetishes into new and exquisite narrative form. As always with Almodovar, everything looks amazing, including Antonio Banderas.  The Skin I Live In puts Almodovar into further focus as the crucial and salient apex one could plot on a trajectory I would like to draw from Ingmar Bergman all the way to Dennis Cooper.

2: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary about France’s Chauvet Cave—among the most recently discovered and super pristine troves of prehistoric cave painting and (dating back 32,000 years) by far the oldest we know of—is totally incredible and transcendently soul-stirring if, that is, you care even the tiniest bit about art and culture or the beginnings of mankind. Herzog’s unprecedented footage of the cave’s basically impossible-to-view interiors left me silently shaking my head, stunned for days and awestruck for weeks, months, still deeply inspired at this moment by the mind-boggling beauty of the paintings contained there and the profound questions raised by the cave’s existence and Herzog’s thrilling curiosity.

1: Three Way Music Tie

The three best things that happened in recorded music in 2011 were Destroyer’s Kaputt, Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, and the emergence of Youth Lagoon with their debut album, The Year of Hibernation. The first two showcase established masters—genius lyricists and stunningly unique songwriters both—bravely traversing new ground. Dan Bejar and Callahan, each in their own way, open up whole new sonic realms that intrepidly leave behind the tried and true sounds for which they are beloved.  Both sing about coming apocalypse in cagey, cheerful, banal, reflective ways. Both experiment boldly, often with combinations of sounds that should seem ironic or absurd but don’t, they sound driven and beautiful and deliberate. Trevor Powers, on the other hand, is just beginning his journey in his Youth Lagoon and have embarked, full of synth-infused promise, with ample supplies of taste and restraint. I’d happily, gratefully, break a bottle of champagne on his ship any day.

Posted by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer on 1/3/12

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