The Signal’s brief theatrical run was met with lukewarm critical reaction and scant box-office business, which I think is mostly due to the fact that viewers felt a little burned by its twisty ending. But going into the science-fiction thriller—which was just released on DVD—knowing that it doesn’t stick the landing actually makes it easier to enjoy the 85 tense, weird minutes that lead up to it. Three MIT students on a cross-country road trip decide to take a detour to locate a hacker who’s been baiting them; their skills lead to a cabin in the woods and eventually some sort of creepy, Twilight Zone-esque observation facility, manned by Laurence Fishburne. From there, The Signal gets stylish and dreamlike, and you’re never sure which one of a hundred directions it might take. The one it chooses is a little silly and convenient, but the journey is intriguing enough to mitigate the destination. [Josh Modell]
I’m not totally sure why I picked up Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin the last time I was at a used bookstore—certainly, it’s a slim volume, and that’s appealing when I know I’m going to be carrying something in my bag while commuting, or trying to finish a book in the 10-minute increments I get a chance to read before I have to do something else. But I’ve also been interested in stories from the Weimar Republic era in Germany after reading The Artificial Silk Girl, which I picked up on a trip to Chicago well before I realized I’d be moving here. Both Goodbye To Berlin and The Artificial Silk Girl are narrated with a distinct sense of sadness, as they’re looking back on a period of cosmopolitanism and cultural vigor that would be utterly destroyed by the rise of the Nazi movement and the subsequent carnage of World War II.
Isherwood’s Goodbye To Berlin is the basis for Cabaret, perhaps the most well-known story about losing Berlin. The play and then film is based on his sketch “Sally Bowles,” and most cover designs for this book have some interpretation of Sally on the cover (here’s the one on mine). Cabaret has long been one of those cultural artifacts that seemed to affect other people differently than it did me, but “Sally Bowles”—and the entirety of Goodbye To Berlin—does a lot more for me. Some of that comes from Isherwood’s narration, which is beautiful and lost, as so much writing is from the ’30s—and some comes from what Isherwood won’t say, too. Though he later came out, Isherwood was only out of the closet in an implied way on the page in 1939—nobody every says “homosexual,” but it’s a crucial part of every story. Isherwood is the inspiration for Clifford Bradshaw in Cabaret, though it might be more fair to say that Isherwood is both retiring Cliff and the flamboyant, grasping Emcee at the same time. After the Nazis took over Germany, homosexuality became a crime, thus destroying the fragile world that Isherwood and his companions lived in. Goodbye To Berlin, indeed. [Sonia Saraiya]
Like just about everyone else under 65 living today, I grew up loving the Beatles. They were my first favorite band (tied with The Monkees, maybe), and I spent my lonely adolescent years reading Beatles biographies, histories, and track interpretations. And while, like any good Beatles completist and record nerd, I had copies of the Beatles LPs before last year’s The Beatles In Stereo LP box set came out, I still picked it up when it hit stores. But now there’s The Beatles In Mono, a box set featuring monophonic copies of every single damn Beatles record, and hot damn, it’s nerdy. The theory behind the box is pretty simple: Most of the Beatles’ catalogue was mixed and recorded in mono, with stereo recording only becoming popular in the late ’60s. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for instance, was mixed in mono by the Beatles themselves, and only later mixed in stereo by George Martin. And while stereo recordings are great and everything—especially for modern ears that are used to the dual-speaker sound—if you want to hear Sgt. Pepper’s how the band originally intended (and I do), then you need that monophonic recording. (George Harrison has famously said that Martin’s stereo mixes sound “naked.”) It’s a nitpicking and totally ostentatious set to have, of course, but it’s also a must for all real audio nerds. [Marah Eakin]