Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ...
Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits
This page features links to reviews of movies, documentaries and exhibits with a historical theme. Listings are in reverse chronological order. Descriptions are taken directly from the linked publication. If you have articles you think should be listed on the Pop Culture page, please send them to the editor email@example.com.
SOURCE: WaPo (3-2-11)
As she lay in a crate, surrounded by an astoundingly rich trove of cultural objects from the Tarim Basin, the Chinese government refused to give the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology permission to unload her and put her on view in its "Secrets of the Silk Road" exhibit. In early February, one of the most ambitious, expensive and time-intensive exhibitions the museum had ever planned looked in jeopardy.
It was a major blow for the Penn Museum and scholars such as University of Pennsylvania professor Victor Mair, who has for decades been studying these mummies and the astounding collection of textiles, funerary objects, domestic articles, jewelry and religious pieces found in a region that became crucial to the Silk Road. As the museum scrambled to mount the exhibition without the objects - producing models and photographs to take their place - Mair made an impassioned plea to the Chinese. Speaking the language flawlessly probably helped. In the end, the Chinese gave limited permission for the show to go forward....
SOURCE: NYT (3-2-11)
The new book is 1,000 pages long — enormous by most standards, but cruising length for Mr. King — and is apparently a “counterfactual,” a novel that imagines what would have happened had history turned out differently. It’s the story of a Maine high school teacher named Jake Epping who discovers a portal back to 1958 in a storeroom at a local diner. He travels back there and, while enjoying some sex and rock ‘n’ roll, finds himself with a chance to thwart the assassination of John F. Kennedy....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (2-27-11)
The twice-rescued young man greets you at the start of Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, the British Museum's compelling new show. There's no mistaking the beauty of this alabaster nude, who would be arresting even without his story of survival. The history of Afghanistan, this exhibition hints, is vast, complex and astounding. Its epic nature is shown by the fact that this show covers just a few ancient centuries, ending in the first century AD. But what centuries they were.
One of the most remarkable things about the youth carved in alabaster is the fact that he's an ancient Greek. How did he end up in Afghanistan? Well, he was found at an ancient Greek city discovered near the Oxus by French archaeologists in the 1960s. They partially excavated the city, clearly Hellenic in its art and architecture, until the Soviet invasion drove them away in 1979, leaving the site to be torn apart by looters.
Locals called the city Ai Khamun, Lady Moon, from a legend about a princess who lived in a fortress on the site. The remains of Lady Moon city, on show in this exhibition, are as stupendous as they are delicate. The huge flowery bloom of a Corinthian capital (the decorated top of a column) stands next to leaf-like terracotta ornaments overlooking a sundial shaped into a hollow sphere. A bronze Heracles, musclebound and fierce, is powerful proof that the Greek gods and heroes penetrated this far into Asia....
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (2-25-11)
With difficulty the first heavy safe was opened, and within were seen piles of plastic bags with old labels attached. The first was unwrapped. The Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi, then in his seventies, examined several items. Then he smiled. On one piece he recognised a repair he himself had made a quarter of a century before. Rumours had circulated, suggesting that these things had been stolen, sold on the black market, the gold melted down. Here was absolute proof they were intact.
Indeed, astonishingly, and against all odds, these marvellously beautiful and evocative works of art were still in excellent condition. Some of the most spectacular will go on show next week at the British Museum in Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World....
SOURCE: The New Republic (2-24-11)
For a while in this awards season, The Social Network seemed to be the favorite for the Best Picture Oscar. But the later opening of The King’s Speech has served it well. In the crucial nomination and voting period, The Social Network’s domestic box office slowed down, and it has earned less than $100 million. The picture has been hard to find in theaters, in part because it appeared on DVD in January. But, in the Christmas and New Year period, The King’s Speech picked up surprising momentum—because of the royal family angle; because stuttering has led to several background stories; but chiefly because Colin Firth has been such a charm in publicity events. So The King’s Speech has now gone over $100 million, and its presence in theatres (and press advertising from the Weinstein Company) has probably impressed voters. It has also picked up crucial awards along the way: the Directors’ Guild award; the Screen Actors’ award; and a Golden Globe for Colin Firth....
Who cares about 1937, you ask. It’s a long time ago when people were still pretty scared of the telephone as well as looming political figures in the world. But entertain this thought: The large audience knows very little about stammering or stuttering (the Atlantic changes the word itself), and modern Americans are happy to be tourists when it comes to royalty—they’ll give an amused glance, and they may raise their hats, but they don’t take the thing seriously. Yet they do still enjoy movies in which they are able to like some of the characters and say, “Well, sure, I can understand that.”...
No matter that a lot has changed since 1937, and much of it for the good (though there is still no cure for stammering, feeling insecure and lonely, or even for unemployment), the public—ourselves—have not lost the pleasure in following stories and identifying with characters we like. They don’t have to be Shirley Temple or Lassie. But they have to nurse enough hope or energy or good will to bring us out at night. The King’s Speech takes due advantage of punctured pomp, period clothes, and British supporting actors (shameless attributes of cultural tourism), but it is written, directed, and played as if personal unhappiness matters and stimulates the attempt to get better. That is actually as much an American tradition as it ever was alive and well in Britain....
SOURCE: NYT (2-23-11)
As a form the teleplay is mired in its own noble pedantry, which is why the arrival of “Thurgood” on HBO on Thursday initially seems dubious — especially so, perhaps, because it is a one-man enterprise even more heavily prone to the sensibility of tutorial. Starring Laurence Fishburne, “Thurgood” is the filmed version of the play by George Stevens Jr. that appeared on Broadway three years ago as a chronicle of the life and legal career of Thurgood Marshall. The HBO production was taped at a live performance at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, an incongruity given President Eisenhower’s ambivalence about the decision handed down in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark desegregation case in 1954 that made Marshall one of the most important lawyers of the civil rights movement....
SOURCE: La Times (2-20-11)
In the fall of 1973, a package arrived in a Rome newsroom. Delayed by an Italian postal strike, its contents had begun to spoil. Inside were a lock of red hair and a piece of rotting flesh. It bore a telltale freckle. The flesh was an ear belonging to the grandson of J. Paul Getty.
One of the richest men in the world, Getty had publicly refused to negotiate with the men who had kidnapped the younger Getty in Rome three months before. Now the oilman agreed to pay $2.2 million, the most he claimed could be deducted from his taxes as a theft loss. Getty lent the rest of the nearly $3 million ransom to his son, the teenager's father — at 4% interest. Released, the grandson called to say thanks. The oilman refused to come to the phone.
The story of the severed ear made the rounds again last week in the obituaries for J. Paul Getty III, the grandson, who died Feb. 5 at age 54 after spending the last half of his life paralyzed and nearly blind from a 1981 drug- and alcohol-induced stroke. Even in death, the grandson's travails were overshadowed by his infamous grandfather's reputation as a hard-hearted patriarch....
SOURCE: Lee P. Ruddin (2-17-11)
This is unfortunate since the story revolves around the fact that Islamic militants wage a war against a secular, military-backed government after it cancels a general election fundamentalists are poised to win. What is more unfortunate, however, is director Xavier Beauvois does not tell you this in, what The Telegraph refers to as, his "monastic murder mystery." Granted, the cinemagoer does not necessarily pay his/her money for a tutorial on post-colonial Algeria with a view to forecasting post-Mubarak Egypt. But he/she deserves context as to why a Cistercian abbey, a vestige of French colonialism high up in the Atlas Mountains about 100 kilometres from Algiers, comes under threat, and how, after three years of living in fear, seven monks are beheaded in 1996. These omissions are all the more depressing given that the movie's "subject matter is", as Philip French, The Observer's celebrated film critic, points out, "urgently topical, the themes raised eternal and universal."
While the recent declassification of French secret service documents (which point to a military blunder by the Algerian army, a theory previously advanced by author John Kiser in Passion for Algeria -"Passion pour l'Algérie : Les moines de Tibhirine", and a hypothesis supported by the director) only add to the controversy surrounding the massacre, there is incontrovertible material not included in the script. Given that history does not occur in a vacuum, an overview of the conflict that the monks are caught up in - between Algerian nationalism and the legacy of French colonialism - would prove helpful, as, too, would a fleeting reference to the rise of jihadism in Algeria, more generally, if only because the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) has been eclipsed by a splinter group, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, now called Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.
As Randall D. Law, author of Terrorism: A History (what I consider to be "an error-free and well-presented book", according to my 2009 History Today review), informs us, "One of the GIA's most important influences was bin Laden, who, in 1993, sent an emissary and a small amount of cash. Anywhere from several hundred to several thousand Algerians who had gained experience fighting in Afghanistan", the Associate Professor of History at Birmingham-Southern College writes, "took part in jihad back home." Mahmood Mamdani, author of Good Muslim, Bad Muslism: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, thinks likewise, quoting as he does Mahfoud Bennoune on the nature of the 'Afghan Legion'. "[T]he nucleus of the terrorist movement in Algeria had combat experience in Afghanistan," the late professor of anthropology illuminates. Of Gods and Men, on the other hand, keeps you in the dark as to the genesis of the Islamist insurgency.
No wonder Steven Erlanger, Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, says what he does: "While the murder of the monks hangs over the tale, and the monks themselves talk about the meaning of the sacrifice they sense is coming, the film is idyllic and bizarrely apolitical. It seems strangely ignorant of the colonial implantation that the monastery represents, so many years after Algeria won its independence, and that a proselytizing Roman Catholicism itself represents. It is an odd obliviousness in a poor, divided country where jihad is on the rise as the political response of the very peasantry among whom the monks live so blissfully, and apparently blindly."
This is not to say, however, that Beauvois completely misses the politico-religious side of things. Luc, for instance, an elderly Catholic monk played by Michael Lonsdale, quotes a pensée of Pascal: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." A police chief, meanwhile, irritated by the monks' decision not to seek safety and return home despite being in jihadist crosshairs in Tibhirine, tells Brother Christian, played by Lambert Wilson: "I blame French colonisation for not letting Algeria grow up."
Aside from having the film's best line, the veteran French actor is as magisterial as ever and truly worthy of a Best Actor nomination if not an award; the 79-year-old is, to be sure, as mesmerizing as Colin Firth is as wooden playing King George VI. Lonsdale plays his part in the movie's stand-out sequence, too, in which the monks sip wine as they listen to a cassette of Tchaikovsky's Grand Theme from Swan Lake on an old tape machine. It is at this moment - when the camera pans around the table and zooms in on grey-haired monks as they contemplate imminent death - that you can forgive any of Beauvois' earlier omissions. "It is", as The Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw writes, "an overhwelming fusion of portriture and drama," and is the most sensational of scenes you are ever likely to witness. Even those familiar with the events of the mid-1990s cannot fail to be blown away; this heart-rending segment more than makes up for what some might consider Of Gods and Men to be a predictable narrative.
Rest assured, by this stage, you have already warmed to each of the eight monks - immersed as you are in their rituals (singing), tasks (selling) and dilemmas (spiritual), if not their lives in France. This is no mean feat and Etienne Comar, co-writer and producer, deserves considerable praise for sketching such wonderful portraits. Luc, the monastery's resident medic, and Christain, the prior of the community, may take all of the credit (and deservedly so, it must be said), but Christopher (Olivier Rabourdin), the youngest, and Amédée (Jacques Herlin), the oldest, also hold their own, performing admirably.
The "Last Supper" sequence is not the only affecting scene, though; so beautiful is the ending that it, too, could be the stand-out piece for any other motion pciture. When terrorists slay Croation construction workers near the monastery and rumour has it is that Catholic monks are next in line, Christian pens a letter in which he forgives his putative killers. Therein, he cautions readers against judging one of the great religions by the standards of the fundamentalists who so brazenly abuse it. His letter is read out and becomes the voice over as the monks trudge through the snow after being taken hostage.
It is the monks' trudging off to meet their fate in a snowstorm, however, fading from view, which is pure genius. I say genius since I have not seen such a poetic final scene like it elsewhere, save Blackadder, which is errily similar, in fact, but with which the French film team probably have little if any familiarity. (For those unaware of the concluding episode of the fourth and final series of the BBC One historical sitcom, it ends with the main characters going 'over the top' to their deaths in the fog of 'no man's land' during the Great War.)
If Beauvois and Comar were aware of it, I am confident they would have acknowledged such a fact given the lengths to which the pair went to ensure accurcay; the cast were sent to live in an a Moroccan monastery to prepare for monastic life. It comes as no surprise, then, that Of Gods and Men has received plaudits from both the Bishops Conference of France and the French Council of Muslim Faith as well as by one of the survivors of the tragedy (a visiting brother had arrived just days earlier from another North African abbey and lived to tell the tale). Let us hope Christian's message is the one cinemagoers, too, take away and that Christians and Muslims continue to coexist peacefully.
SOURCE: Time.com (2-6-11)
The spectacular stone sculptures were discovered by explorer Max von Oppenheim, who had abandoned his job as a diplomat in Cairo to dedicate himself to archaeology. "He had a real passion for the Middle East and was absolutely fascinated by the basalt sculptures at Tell Halaf," says Lutz Martin, one of the curators of the exhibition, which runs until August. "He was an optimist and never gave up." Oppenheim's optimism paid off in November 1899, when, following a tip-off from a Bedouin tribal leader, he stumbled across Tell Halaf buried in the northeastern region of what is now Syria. Some scholars believe that Tell Halaf was a trading center for ivory during the time of the Arameans, a nomadic people who settled in the area from around 1200 BC and developed an urban civilization. From 1911 to 1913, Oppenheim's team of excavators carefully unearthed what turned out to be parts of a royal residence from the 10th and 9th centuries BC, replete with basalt sculptures and relief slabs.
After the excavations, Oppenheim settled in Berlin and his finds were put on display at the Tell Halaf Museum in 1930. But on the night of Nov. 23, 1943, the museum fell victim to the bombing raids of World War II. The building was reduced to cinders and the precious artifacts inside were consumed by fire that reached 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Fragments of the damaged sculptures were salvaged from the ruins and were stored in the underground vaults of the Pergamon Museum. "How wonderful it would be if all the smashed fragments of the sculptures could be gathered up and taken to the National Museums of Berlin and there, eventually, reassembled," Oppenheim wrote in a letter in 1944....
SOURCE: The Atlantic (2-14-11)
On a quiet Friday morning, my wife and I came face to face with history.
The face was a portrait, painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907, of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the spouse of a wealthy Austrian businessman. It is one of the iconic paintings of the 20th century.
A heavy-lidded, red-lipped, enigmatic 26-year-old woman is sheathed in a body-hugging gown of gold leaf punctuated by blue triangles and emblazoned with obscure Byzantine, Greek, Egyptian, and modernist symbols. She merges into darker gold leaf with swirling designs, and her long fingers are delicately intertwined below a shimmering necklace.
Klimt was a leader of Vienna's art nouveau movement (or jugendstil, "youth art," in German). His unique decorative style and his erotic sensibility made him a controversial painter of the time and a widely popular artist as sexual mores changed. Although he painted portraits of wealthy women to earn a living, even those works had strong hints of sensuality. And, although he touched on a variety of subjects, many of his best known works were quite explicitly sexual. Reproductions of "The Kiss" decorate dorm rooms of college students everywhere....
SOURCE: NYT (2-14-11)
Early in Eugene Jarecki’s documentary, “Reagan,” you hear the voice of Ronald Reagan saying, “Someday it might be worthwhile to find out how images are created — and even more worthwhile to learn how false images come into being.”
Indeed. The image that many, perhaps most, Americans have of the nation’s 40th president is largely manufactured. Reagan has become this larger-than-life figure who all but single-handedly won the cold war, planted the Republican Party’s tax-cut philosophy in the resistant soil of the liberal Democrats and is the touchstone for all things allegedly conservative, no matter how wacky or extreme.
Mr. Jarecki’s documentary does a first-rate job of respectfully separating the real from the mythical, the significant from the nonsense. The truth is that Ronald Reagan, at one time or another, was all over the political map. Early on, he was a liberal Democrat and admirer of Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan’s family received much-needed help from the New Deal during the Depression....
What we get with Reagan are a series of disconnects and contradictions that have led us to a situation in which a president widely hailed as a hero of the working class set in motion policies that have been mind-bogglingly beneficial to the wealthy and devastating to working people and the poor....
SOURCE: Collider.com (2-9-11)
The Scott brothers plan to use re-enactment footage alongside CGI in order to tell the story of the soldiers on the ground. Gettysburg will be one part of a week-long theme event dedicated to the Civil War on The History Channel. This commemoration will be an annual event on the channel for the next four years. Hit the jump for more on the project, including what Ridley had to say, as well as what other programs The History Channel has in store for their Civil War-themed week. [Update: We've added the official press release to this story. You can read it after the jump.]
Ridley Scott commented on Gettysburg thusly:
“History is the perfect partner for us to tell the epic true story of Gettysburg. We are excited to bring this battle to audiences in a powerful new way.”
A play that peels back the myths and metaphors, then, to peer into the personal would be welcome. Too often the legend wins out, starting with the notion that Galileo, having renounced his belief that Earth moves, muttered, “But still, it moves.” (There is no evidence that he did.) Brecht’s famous drama “Life of Galileo” buys into that rumor and goes even further, painting a harsh portrait of a sly self-promoter who turns cowardly when it counts most.
Ira Hauptman’s “Starry Messenger,” now at the Theater for the New City, sketches a more sympathetic Galileo, one who glories in his science and his status but who is also worried about his three children. Born out of wedlock, his daughters, Virginia and Livia, live in a convent, while his son, Vincenzio, craves to be legitimized so he can become a lawyer. In this play (if not in history) how Galileo navigates this trial will affect not only science’s future but also theirs....
It is very much a work in progress, full of bugs and information gaps, and sometimes blurry, careering virtual tours. But it is already a mesmerizing, world-expanding tool for self-education. You can spend hours exploring it, examining paintings from far off and close up, poking around some of the world’s great museums all by your lonesome. I have, and my advice is: Expect mood swings. This adventure is not without frustrations.
On the virtual tour of the Uffizi in Florence the paintings are sometimes little more than framed smudges on the wall. (The Dürer room: don’t go there.) But you can look at Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” almost inch by inch. It’s nothing like standing before the real, breathing thing. What you see is a very good reproduction that offers the option to pore over the surface with an adjustable magnifying rectangle. This feels like an eerie approximation, at a clinical, digital remove, of the kind of intimacy usually granted only to the artist and his assistants, or conservators and preparators....
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (2-2-11)
A magnificent array of objects, from intricate golden crowns to finely sculpted heads, will travel to the Ashmolean in Oxford this spring, for the first major archaeological exhibition to be held in the museum's newly expanded galleries.
The exhibition, Heracles to Alexander the Great, will show the fruits of recent excavations in Aegae, the ancient capital of Macedon. Artefacts in the exhibition will include objects from the burial tomb of the powerful King Philip II, Alexander's father, and his son, Alexander IV – and splendid jewellery and ornaments from the tombs of various Macedonian queens.
Some of the most revelatory objects in the exhibition are portrait heads. Unlike the idealised faces of classical Athens, they show furrowed brows, wrinkles and laughter lines and may transform understanding of the history of portraiture. "The Macedon of Philip II is the birthplace and birth-time of realistic portraiture," said Dr Angeliki Kottaridi, the lead curator of the exhibition and the director of excavations at Aegae....
But in 1957, when this mezzo-soprano from a small East Texas town was cast opposite a white male student in a University of Texas, Austin, opera production, that was just as controversial. Suddenly Ms. Conrad was thrust into the drama of the larger struggle for civil rights. Her story is now the subject of “When I Rise,” a documentary scheduled to have its national television premiere on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on Tuesday night. (Check local listings.)
Objecting to Ms. Conrad’s casting, segregationists in the Texas Legislature threatened to withhold state financing from the university. University officials yanked Ms. Conrad from the production — Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” — replacing her with a white student. After the incident made headlines, Harry Belafonte stepped in, promising to pay for Ms. Conrad’s music education anywhere in the world if she chose to leave Texas. Instead, she stayed....
The real thing is suggested in the exhibition’s subtitle — “How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment” — because the music that was made at that relatively nondescript 1,500-seat theater on 125th Street in Harlem really did transform American popular-music culture in the 20th century. A habitat and an incubator, the Apollo has also been one of the few institutions in which black American musical culture was consistently nurtured over the course of 75 years.
Carnegie Hall achieved its stature through architectural beauty; its warm, revealing acoustics; and a growing heritage of magnificent performances. The Apollo achieved its stature because of where it is — on the edge of one of America’s great black urban neighborhoods — and because of who appeared there during an era that went from vaudeville to hip-hop, from racial segregation to economic gentrification....
SOURCE: Newsweek (2-1-11)
When Nixon in China premiered in Houston in 1987, few knew what to make of this first stage piece by composer John Adams (yes, a namesake of the president, but no relation). With visions of Rich Little’s Nixon impersonation dancing in their heads, half the audience was expecting a shallow, satirical hit job against the 37th president. The other half was probably wondering whether an American composer steeped in minimalism could do justice to the operatic form....
Adams’s Nixon is finally about to get the respect it deserves. On Feb. 2, the original Peter Sellars production of Nixon will debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, with Adams conducting....
SOURCE: Lee P. Ruddin (1-27-11)
I have always considered Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’s Diary) to be an uptight, repressed Englishman. British film director Tom Hooper (John Adams) must think similarly otherwise he would not have chosen Firth to play the part of, well, an uptight, repressed Englishman in his period drama, The King’s Speech. Granted, the former Mr. Darcy pulls off the role as the ascendant King George VI. Yet it is Geoffrey Rush, cast here as Lionel Logue, the stuttering monarch’s Australian speech therapist, who deserves all the plaudits; he remains engaging throughout. The same, alas, cannot be said for the Queen Mum-to-be (Helena Bonham Carter); viewers no doubt would have preferred more of King George V (Michael Gambon) or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).
As disappointing as the marginalization of Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) is, it is the omission of Franklin D. Roosevelt which leaves this particular cinema-goer speechless. Fair enough, the foundation of the movie is the relationship between master and mentor. (Even then, though, it has been claimed that the film team overlooked the key one: Sir Louis Greig.) That The King’s Speech airbrushes out of history such an historical figure as FDR, however, is perplexing at best and unforgivable at worst.
Since you need only refer to Will Swift’s splendid book, The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, the King and Queen of England, and the Friendship that Changed History, to understand the effect FDR’s private encouragement had upon someone overcoming a physical handicap. “The support that George VI received from the president”, writes the American royal-watcher, “was psychologically crucial as the King grew from an insecure, self-doubting monarch into a masterful world leader.” Robert Rhodes James, author of A Spirit Undaunted: The Political Role of George VI, says likewise: “It was not until the triumphant [visit] to the United States in the summer of 1939 that doubts about the King’s physical capacity to hold the job were finally allayed.” Their Majesties’ pioneering 1939 North American tour is not even mentioned in the movie, and yet, chronicles James, “After sailing back, [George VI] spoke in the Guildhall with a new authority and eloquence that surprised his distinguished audience.”
Highlighting the marginalization of the 41st Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and omission of the 32nd President of the United States might appear trivial to some, but these oversights form part of David Seidler’s larger historically inaccurate script. Take the representation of Churchill as a supporter of George during the Abdication Crisis, for instance. Standing tall in his older brother’s corner, as many a historian knows, proved near-fatal for the man who would be voted the Greatest Briton in 2002. As I all too vividly recall from my days reading biographies of the great statesman at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, Roy Jenkins remarks that “had Churchill succeeded in keeping Edward VIII on the throne he might well have found it necessary in 1940 to depose and/or lock up his sovereign as the dangerously potential head of a Vichy-style state”.
It is pretty incontrovertible to say that Christopher Hitchens has been the film’s most vocal critic, attacking the political aspects of the plot as “riddled with gross falsifications of history.” Notwithstanding Churchill’s support for what the Slate columnist calls a “pro-Nazi playboy on the throne,” the Member of Parliament for Epping is (falsely) portrayed as favoring abdication in favor of Edward VIII’s younger brother. “The private letters and diaries of the royal family demonstrate a continued, consistent allegiance to the policy of appeasement and to the personality of [Neville] Chamberlain,” Hitchens reminds us. And yet, the film continually and consistently suggests otherwise. The final scene, which portrays “Churchill and the King at Buckingham Palace and a speech of unity and resistance being readied for delivery,” is a case in point. (The Royal Family, for the record, did not appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the outbreak of World War Two.)
Even though Seidler and Hooper worked together for four months on the script to ensure its authenticity, their end product bypasses Queen Elizabeth’s pro-appeasement stance, quickly skating over the years 1936-1939. Even Tory historian Andrew Roberts, whom, according to Independent columnist Johann Hari, defends “the crimes of a white man’s empire,” cites fellow scholar John Grigg in his essay ‘The House of Windsor and the Politics of Appeasement’ (in Eminent Churchillians) in support of his thesis that by sticking with Chamberlain, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth “committed the most unconstitutional act by a British Sovereign” in the twentieth century. (It was greeting Chamberlain on the balcony of the Palace after the prime minister negotiated the Munich Agreement in 1938 that the court historian was referring to.)
But as Ted R. Bromund, the Margaret Thatcher Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, points out, “If George had a bad peace, he had a good war.” George VI, to be sure, was anything but irrelevant during the years 1040-1945, holding luncheons with members of his government as well as offering counsel to Prime Minister Churchill. “The political influence of the King”, James reiterates, “was transformed from being virtually non-existent to becoming a major element in government.”
Whether or not Madonna’s forthcoming feature film, W.E., will present a more historically accurate take on the whole Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson affair is anyone’s guess; according to early press reports, though, the so-called Queen of Pop is to portray Queen Elizabeth in a brutal new light. Meanwhile, despite The King’s Speech being based on Logue’s letters and diaries--published in full for the first time only recently, but available to Seidler and Hooper a couple of months prior to filming--it adds comparatively little to our portrait of George VI the man. Make no mistake about it, The King’s Speech tramples on the historical record. Firth may have been robbed of an Academy Award last time out in A Single Man while Hooper’s 2009 sports drama, The Damned United, may not have received the recognition it ought to have done, but there is something of a royal scandal about the way their latest outing is, as Hitchens so eloquently remarks, “gliding unopposed toward a baptism by Oscar.”
SOURCE: Tablet Magazine (1-26-11)
“Carlos the Jackal,” as the press fawningly called Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, was the first modern terrorist superstar. For nearly 20 years beginning in the mid-1970s, he staged or masterminded spectacular, made-for-the-media attacks, initially for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical splinter of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. Then, after becoming a radical superhero on a par with Che, he took refuge in the Eastern Bloc and ended his career as a thuggish, bloated egomaniac paid to kill on a fee-for-service basis by some of the Mideast’s most odious regimes.
Now the attention he so fiercely coveted has finally been paid with Carlos, a five-plus hour French film that won acclaim at Cannes last spring. But he is still not satisfied. The film is not accurate, he recently complained in a jailhouse radio broadcast from Poissy high security prison, in France, where he is serving a life sentence for the 1976 murders of two French secret agents and an informer. His commando team, for instance, was not a bunch of “hysterical men waving submachine guns and threatening people,” as the film suggested, he said. They were “professionals,” he declared, “commandos of a very high standard.”
French filmmaker Olivier Assayas evidently disagrees. His bio-epic of the life and times of the Venezuelan-born revolutionary—brilliantly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez, another Venezuelan who is not related to his namesake—depicts Carlos as a brutal, charismatic narcissist who pleasures himself through violence. Members of his band of international revolutionaries are portrayed as vicious, fanatical amateurs.