In each issue of the Brow, in the Middlebrow arts and culture lift-out section, we publish a handful of ‘recommendations’ from our favourite writers. It’s just people recommending you do/read/listen to/eat/experience something, but of course it’s much more than that. It’s life.
Here are four recommendations from TLB20, by Liam Pieper, Patrick Lenton, Dion Kagan, and Ellena Savage. If you had a wise cell in your head, you’d do as these people say.
Liam Pieper Recommends: Photographers
I’ve always been very vain, even though I’m not very good looking. I mean, I do okay, in a character actor kind of way, but I’m not what an objective witness would call handsome. A novelist friend, who once wrote a character based on me, described him as having “an alluring, bat-like grin”. Over the years, I’ve also been described as “interesting looking’, “crazy Nelsony”, and “jail-hot”.
On top of this, I’ve never been good at having my photo taken. When someone points a camera at me, I start to twitch. Disparate parts of my face, my jaw maybe, and perhaps an eyelid, begin to spasm and gurn in a spastic tarantella. It’s always been this way. When I look back at photos taken on the first generation of digital cameras, between my face pulling and early-tech shutter blur, I look like the doomed teenagers who have watched the videotape in The Ring.
So when I needed a professional headshot for a magazine, one which minimised my resemblance to the baby from Eraserhead, I called my friend Tara, who has a way with pictures and graphics, and asked her to take my portrait.
Tara is what you might call a triple-threat, in that she is at once charming, supremely talented and unsurpassingly kind. If she were heterosexual, I would have tried years ago to badger her into some kind of romantic entanglement, which would have, at best, ended with her patting me on the shoulder and reassuring me that women don’t always need to reach orgasm, that sometimes it’s nice just to be held and wept on a little.
She does the best she can, walking me around my home to try out different lights, the way the doctor of a terminally ill patient might experiment with anti-virals. Whenever she can find the raw material to fashion a makeshift compliment, she throws me a bone. “Gosh,” she says. “You cast a very interesting shadow,” or, “Your facial expression is very consistent.”
I’m not terribly optimistic, but when she mails through the portrait it is wonderful: a brilliant, soft-focus vanity pic taken at a Starshots in heaven. Her camera takes my squint and transforms it from awkward to searching; my smile from pleading to wry. I look almost professional, so I immediately upload it to LinkedIn, who promptly send out a couple thousand emails inviting loose acquaintances, to “Check out Liam’s new photo,” and I’m like, “Right on, LinkedIn. Right on.”
Patrick Lenton Recommends A Statue of a Dignified Dog
Over six years ago my girlfriend was picking me up from my weird job of the moment (creating mazes for toddlers) and as we drove along the wide, sad streets of Caringbah, I saw a small dog sitting on the side of the road. As we got closer it became extremely clear that it wasn’t a real dog, but a life-sized statue of a Dalmatian, sitting patiently on its haunches. Its proud head watched our car go by, and we both said something vague like, “Hey, look at that dog statue, man.” Both its front legs were broken, brutally snapped but still attached in some manner.
We drove on for a bit, before I whispered “Reverse the car.” My girlfriend was all “Yes, I already am.” So I jumped out of the car, cradled the dog-statue in my arms and carried him home. We named him “Leprosy-Boy” because he is made of a weird yellowish kind of porcelain and bits keep falling off him.
I thoroughly recommend every house having a Leprosy-Boy. He fulfils the following functions: surveying his domain like a dignified king, creeping my friend East out when he sleeps on our couch, filling the empty gap in our lives because we will never have children and replacing having a real dog because we live in a sharehouse. He is ace because he doesn’t poop and looks totally gnarly in various hats. Sometimes you come home from a hard day and you need to lavish your love on someone who not only doesn’t expect anything in return, but literally has no desires in any fashion or form because they are an inanimate object.
We moved house again this weekend, and when I put Leprosy-Boy up on the mantelpiece, I realised that it was his classy snout and broken feet that made our house feel like a home. It wasn’t our boxes of crap or my pant collection, but him. I patted him on the snout and asked “who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?” and our new neighbours watched me from their garden. I looked out the window, and pointed to my dog statue. “He’s a good boy,” I told them. He’s the best boy.
Dion Kagan Recommends the Films of Nicole Kidman
It is so abjectly unfashionable to praise Nicole Kidman that I may never again get laid or live this recommendation of her oeuvre down. More likely people will think twice about inviting me to dinner parties. But I’m unapologetic. That classy redhead is a very decent actor with a backlist of fascinating film choices.
1991, during her Aussie phase, pre-Hollywood Kidman totally nails stuck-up prefect Nicola Radcliffe in that sensuous examination of mid 60s Australian sexual and race politics, Flirting. Top of the hierarchy of starchy boarding school bitches in nylons, she flicks over the figurative house of cards with a confession of unseemly lust for the caretaker. It’s spellbinding. Is ‘Nicola’/Nicole riffing on Kidman’s uber white, North Shore elitist private school vibe? I think yes, so marks for reflexivity, Nic. See also: icy manipulator Suzanne Stone in To Die For (1995) and loveable narcissist, Margo, in Margot at the Wedding (2007).
In 1996, she’s beginning the masochistic phase, and she throws herself at the mercy of the ‘Moby Dick of the women’s novel’, Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, not to mention those other sadistically uncompromising geniuses John Malkovich and Jane Campion. A shitload of crying ensues. Kidman here is on the cusp of a career transition from Tom Cruise’s Pretty Beard to Screen Presence Commanding Our Attention. Campion wants to make literature’s Isabel Archer into a real embodied woman and Kidman does it all: sniffs her boots, struggles out of the grip of male suitors, runs awkwardly in crinolines, touches herself and cries bucket loads. See also: bravura encounters with other brutal auteurs, Stanley Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Lars von Trier in Dogville (2003).
Which A-lister would accept the role of a grieving widow gradually convinced that her deceased husband has been reincarnated as a 10 year-old boy? Nicole Kidman, that’s who. It’s 2004 and Nicole is in her I-could-do-blockbusters-but-I’d-prefer-to-stick-with-interesting-female-characters-that-challenge-me-as-an-actor phase. This phase’s signature film Birth was another critical polariser with more haters than defenders, but owing to the extremity of commitment from its female lead it is a lost work of genius. Forehead already suspiciously smooth, Kidman’s face is nonetheless the melodramatic canvas upon which every register of goddamn human heartache plays out. See also: mourning mother in Rabbit Hole (2010).
There have been some dogs, yes, but why do so many love to hate this precious artiste? Why do you hate her? Do you even have a real reason? Take a good hard look at yourself please, and then look at Nicole.
Ellena Savage Recommends Writing A Sadomasochistic Socratic Dialogue About Someone You Just Met
Sometimes in life you will break up with a person you used to be completely in love with but who you now hold in vague contempt. During these times in life you will look at yourself and ask, What kind of person do you even want to be, you goose?
Do you want to be the kind of person who falls desperately in love with someone because they’re handsome and smart, so much so that you grow blind to the fact that they are effectively stealing your youth and draining your emotional resources?
No. The person you will want to be is one with whom all others fall in love just because. The person who inspires the best in all people always, and who has the capacity for full, reciprocal love, friendship, and other such wizardry.
But in these times of crisis, it is unlikely that you will possess the emotional wherewithal to truly connect, or inspire in others even the most mundane levels of human inspiration. It is far more likely that you will find yourself stalking handsome strangers and then pretending that you are totally oblivious and cool if they ever pay you any attention at all.
But you will be sure you are still a creative person with a lot to give back to this world, even when you have lost the capacity to feel more than empty disappointment and general fatigue.
So when your life becomes a constant failure to connect with others, you think, what can you put out into the world that will allow people to see you as you see yourself: a bastion of cosmic love; a Madonna of divine proportions; also a whore (but like, a hot one).
You will write a play that is as sexy as it is dangerous—a sadomasochistic Socratic dialogue—about someone you just met, someone you maybe have a crush on. It will contain phrases such as: “Yes, well, literal phalluses are grossly superior to cultural ones”; “Can’t you see I’m trying to debase myself?”; and “I am the boss of emotional restraint! My ex called me a psychopath once.”
You will consider sending it to him, your subject, but will eventually decide that the play is more about your own process of becoming a person than it is a reflection of his unique subjectivity. Instead, you will email it to your perverted friends, and conduct readings of it on your back porch aided by whiskey and the thrilling new understanding that this is the person you want to be. This is it.
These pieces are from our most recent print issue, TLB20. You can grab a copy for yourself, if you like.