Published on November 23rd, 2018 | by Padraic Coffey0
My Favourite Things – Hannah Woodhead
Hannah Woodhead is a film critic, essayist and the Associate Editor of the website Little White Lies.
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005, Panic! at the Disco)
I think A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out came out when I was about 14 years old. I remember that I was a very unhappy kid, and I made friends through listening to this album – some of my best friends in the world. It was very big at my school. Now, when I hear these songs, it takes me back 12 or so years. I have a lot of lovely memories, like going to see the band live, thinking it was the most magical experience of my life. The album itself has aged pretty well. I gave it another listen recently, and it’s still a solid emo pop album, something that I haven’t really heard since.
The other thing about A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out is that I went away and discovered things that had influenced the album. There’s a song called ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage’, which is a reference to Chuck Palahniuk. That got me into things like Fight Club, and introduced me to the kind of things I probably shouldn’t have been reading at 14, but were still hugely formative experiences and influences on me as a person, particularly as a writer.
I’d love to go with something more highbrow, and considered naming Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, which I think is probably my favourite album of all time, but if I were thinking of something that people might not have listened to, unless they were 14 at the same time as I was, or might have forgotten about, this is what came to mind. My favourite track is ‘The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage’. I was very into stupidly long song titles, which was a kind of a thing in the mid-noughties, especially with emo bands like Fall Out Boy and Say Anything. They seemed to compete for the longest song titles.
There are also a lot of baroque pop influences on the album, and electronica. Prior to that, I was listening to Britney Spears and maybe Eminem, and all the music my mom liked, so David Bowie and a lot of Bob Dylan. Panic! at the Disco felt like something I had ownership of. Something that felt like it was made for me.
Maus (1991, Art Spiegelman)
For the book, I went with something that was a very formative influence on me – Maus, by Art Spiegelman. It’s kind of a cheat, because it’s a book, but it’s a graphic novel. It was originally a comic that was serialised, but I first encountered it when I was studying abroad in Germany. I was doing a class on comic books as a literary form, and more than anything else, we studied Art Spiegelman. We studied a couple of other authors, but Maus was the one that I was most taken with. It’s a memoir, told in cartoon form, by the son of a Holocaust survivor. He interviewed his father over the course of a couple of years, and came to understand his father’s experience in the Holocaust through these conversations, which were then turned into a book. It goes back and forth between the events of the Holocaust and present-day New York, in the 1980s. It’s incredibly poignant.
I think it’s one of the most special and intimate examinations of the Holocaust, and also the inherited guilt that Art Spiegelman feels about being the son of a Holocaust survivor. For me, it was the perfect blend of historical text and narrative art-form, and I couldn’t see it working in any other form. When I look at books, I have a tendency to ask how it would work as a film. Maus is one of those rare instances where I don’t do that. It’s so beautifully contained as what it is. I love to revisit it, as the details in it are so rich, and there’s so much packed into every frame to get across the horror of the Holocaust. I hadn’t ever seen anything like that before in comic form, and I think it’s an incredible achievement. It also got me into comics more widely, which I’m grateful for. I saw Art Spiegelman when he came to the Barbican last year in London. He narrated a visual history of jazz live, with drawings that he’d done. He’s an incredible artist, incredible writer, but Maus is his finest work.
American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
I discovered American Psycho when I was about 14. I was big into Christian Bale, which was how I discovered it. Also, through reading Chuck Palahniuk, who I mentioned earlier, I discovered Bret Easton Ellis. I read the book first, and then I watched the film. Again, not something I would recommend that 14 year olds do! I was very taken with it. I actually think the film itself is better than book, because it’s one of those rare instances where the director is able to condense the narrative in such a way that it really benefits the story. Christian Bale, as Patrick Bateman, is probably one of the best casting calls of the the past 20 years. It’s his finest work, no matter what anyone says.
I was just getting into film when I saw it, around the time that Black Swan and The Social Network had come out – a very formative period for me, deciding that I wanted to be a film writer when I grew up. I was so transfixed by the cinematography, the score, the performances, the dialogue – it just seemed like the perfect story to me. Everything came together so beautifully, and I was so transfixed by it, and then to find out it was directed by a woman, Mary Harron, was incredible. Probably all of my favourite films at that time were directed by men, so Mary Harron was my gateway into this whole crazy world that I ended up deciding to work in.
I think it really stands the test of time. If someone made it now, people would say it was being too on-the-nose, or that it was a Trump allegory, or too far-fetched. It’s a very hard watch, and I can understand the reasons why a lot of people don’t like it. It is infinitely easier than reading the book, which is even more brutal somehow. I’ll revisit it every so often, and it’s still as engrossing and memorable as it always was. It’s one of the rare films where Willem Dafoe’s not playing a psychopath, and Jared Leto is horrible in it. It really captures something about New York as a place. I think there’s a reason it’s got the enduring pop-culture credentials that it has. It managed to capture something of that time, of the cusp between the nineties and the noughties. I think it’s a shame that Mary Harron’s never made anything quite as good as American Psycho, but if that’s your legacy to go out on, it’s a pretty good one.
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