This summer, Randal Myler’s off-broadway hit, “Love, Janis,” seared the national stage for the first time, presenting the meteoric rise and fall of iconic 1960s rock vocalist Janis Joplin based on letters that Joplin wrote home to her parents. In the two-actor set, singer-actress Katrina Chester (“Sex and the City”) portrayed Joplin as she lived hard and drank hard, convincingly mimicking Joplin’s raspy singing voice and incendiary stage presence in the live performance of 19 Joplin classics. Meanwhile, actress Morgan Hallett, delivering most of the spoken script, embodied a reflective Joplin as a doting and guilt-racked daughter. Summer audiences and critics lauded this play’s summer run, perhaps recognizing their own selves in the singer’s conflicting identity as a daughter and a worldly adult.
Ben B. Chung:
Amy Adams in “Junebug”
The most striking performance I saw this summer was “Junebug”’s Amy Adams, an actress who, like Virginia Madsen before her, dragged herself up out of slasher movie purgatory into a film in which she so fully embodies her character that the two may forever be inextricably linked. Adams is Ashley, the pregnant North Carolina native and self-appointed welcoming committee for her new, blue-state sister-in-law into their small town. With those impossibly doe-like eyes and confident drawl, Ashley is a woman satisfied because she fully understands everything in the world around her, and happy because she understands just a little bit more (her favorite animal is, she exclaims matter-of-factly, the lemur). And when a long-foreshadowed tragedy strikes, she gives a 10-hanky breakdown as spiritual questioning comes crashing into her carefully structured worldview. Runners-up: hormones gone wild in the “Half-Blood Prince,” Jeremy Piven’s scenery devouring on “Entourage,” and Sara Ramirez pushing her diaphragm a lot in “Spamalot.”
Daniel J. Hemel:
“The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of writer Ayn Rand. Her first—and best—novel, “The Fountainhead,” published in 1943, tells the story of an independent-minded architect, Howard Roark, who rebels against the collectivist ethos of New Deal America. The sex scenes between Roark and his on-again-off-again lover, journalist Dominique Francon, are so violent that Roark could probably be charged with rape today. And, post-9/11, readers may be less tolerant towards Roark, who has a disturbing propensity to blow up architecturally-unsound buildings in New York City. Nonetheless, Rand’s pulpy prose still proves riveting. And her philosophy—which extols the virtue of selfishness—remains strangely compelling. But be forewarned: if you read this book, you might never give a dime to charity again.
Kristina M. Moore:
“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”
I originally was going to be artsy and mature and say “Broken Flowers” was the best film of the summer. And while it was fantastic, I have to honestly say “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” was the best time I had at the movies this summer. Steve Carell’s performance is so sincere and cute; maybe more so because I know quite a few (Harvard) guys reminiscent of his character. Anyone who’s gotten her legs waxed can’t help but appreciate his entirely unscripted chest-waxing scene. I think it’s one of the few recent comedies that is consistently and unfalteringly funny from beginning to end.
Will B. Payne:
“The Now Sound Redesigned” by The Free Design
From the lilting Afrobeat groove of Madlib’s take on “Where Do I Go,” to the soaring heights of Styrofoam and Shannon’s “I Found Love” remix, this album is high concept to the fullest–a collection of remixed tracks by the Free Design, a ’60s psychedelic folk family band whose records are highly sought after in the collecting world. The collaborative approach highlights the talents of some of the most innovative producers out there (including Danger Mouse, Caribou, Koushik, Kid Koala, Belle and Sebastian’s Chris Geddes, and Def Jux rapper Murs), while maintaining a sense of cohesion and respect for the original material that is unprecedented in remix projects of this ilk. Part of the success on this front must be attributed to Nobody (known for his work on the L.A.-based Plug Research), who curates the whole project with a light touch, weaving interstitial instrumentals (also composed from Free Design sources) between the major songs, and crafting a listening experience that recalls the best music of both eras.
Emer C.M. Vaughn:
“Indecision” by Benjamin Kunkel ’97
The novel “Indecision” (Random House) by Benjamin Kunkel ’97 taps into the vague terror that hits many Harvard upperclassmen after the bright-eyed optimism of freshman year begins to fade. In the person of Dwight Wilmerding, Kunkel spars with the “What should I do with my life?” question, indulging in semi-tongue-in-cheek references to German philosophers (in German), extended drug-induced hallucinations in South America, and an excess of anthropologists eager to offer social insight. “Indecision” is appropriate both for procrastination and for meditation on the general state of the world. Kunkel is also the founding editor of the new literary magazine, n+1.
Scoop A. Wasserstein:
“Henry and June” by Anais Nin
The film version of this collection of Anais Nin’s diaries was the first movie to receive a NC-17 rating. But that was the sex without the pathos and the writing. In 1931, Nin meets exuberant masculinist writer Henry Miller (“Tropic of Cancer”) and his bisexual spitfire of a wife June, and Nin immediately falls for her beauty and his writing. June soon leaves, allowing the married Nin to begin an affair with Henry, which leads to her complete sexual awakening. It is an emotional and captivating true narrative matched perfectly by Nin’s prose, which has a Hemmingwayian sparseness and raw force, but is directed within to her own emotional life. A must read for boys and girls of all ages, particularly during the perpetually confusing college years.