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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOURCE: NYT (2-22-07)
“He’s nothing more than a draft-dodger to me, and I’d say that’s the consensus around here,” said Wayne Love, 61, who tends bar here at the Veterans of Foreign War post in a mostly white neighborhood where racial tensions flared recently over a proposal to rename a city street for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ali, 65, the former three-time world heavyweight champion boxer, has changed in 40 years. His fiery language about racial injustice has been replaced by a quieter message about peace, and Parkinson’s disease has slowed his once-graceful gait.
But some here who welcome his return say the city itself has changed much less markedly. They point to police shootings involving white officers and unarmed black citizens in the last few years, and Louisville’s often segregated housing patterns, in which the mostly black neighborhoods are also among the city’s most distressed.
SOURCE: NYT (2-23-07)
Serious-minded and squeaky clean, “Amazing Grace” is an imperfect look at an imperfect soul. It has been confidently directed by Michael Apted, who invests Wilberforce’s fight with a strong sense of conviction, and written by Steven Knight, whose other credits include “Dirty Pretty Things.” The overall effect is part BBC-style biography, part Hollywood-like hagiography, and generally pleasing and often moving, even when the story wobbles off the historical rails or becomes bogged down in dopey romance. Wilberforce often comes across as too good to be true, which may be why the fine Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, doubtless with the encouragement of his socially minded director, plays him with a hint of madness in his eyes....
... In some quarters, “Amazing Grace” will succeed better as a diversion than as a nuanced record of Wilberforce’s life. Historians have been divided on his legacy, with one damning him as “the mouthpiece of the party of order and of the business world.” A contemporary asked Wilberforce, after he introduced a law that set back the cause of trade unions, why he paid more attention to African slaves than to Britain’s working poor, whose interests he probably helped obstruct for years. Religious writers, not surprisingly, are more charitably disposed toward him....
SOURCE: NYT (2-23-07)
Claire Gibson, who has tended Andy Warhol’s grave since he died 20 years ago Thursday, said she has never figured out who is leaving the items at this Byzantine-Catholic cemetery alongside Route 88 just outside Pittsburgh. “I have my theories,” she said, “but we don’t know.”
The silk-screens, Brillo pads and boxes of crayons are occasional homage. The can and coins, however, are as consistent as the sun, Mrs. Gibson said.
A colorful man buried in this bland place, “Andy,” as people here call their native son, as opposed to the “Warhol” favored by New Yorkers, founded a genre of art that reveled in the temporary and the superficial. But the loyalty of local admiration could hardly be more enduring.
SOURCE: http://www.news-record.com (NC) (2-22-07)
They're made of cloth, with porcelain heads and porcelain hands. Displayed behind a pane of glass, near a wall of Shirley Temple dolls, they represent a forgotten form of entertainment that feels as antiquated as an eight-track tape.
Yet, these 16 dolls inside High Point's Angela Peterson Doll & Miniature Museum mean much to Chris Greene.
She's a guidance counselor at High Point Central. And six years ago, she helped the museum acquire the dolls.
These days, she'll pick up a few from the museum, cart them into a classroom and talk to students young enough to be her grandchildren about the struggles of a different America.
She'll tell students about the importance of a baseball player, a Georgia preacher and a petite Alabama woman who refused to give up her bus seat more than a half century ago.
She did that Wednesday for Danielle Crosby's social studies class at High Point Central. She brought dolls of baseball player Jackie Robinson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., talked about their fight for equality and asked students to write about what they learned.
"It's all races for all people,'' student Keival Kittrell told Greene. "Blacks. Whites. Chinese. Hispanic. It's all people. That is what he fought for.''
If it were only that easy. Race is active in almost everything we do in our corner of the world, and in some cases, charges of racism continue to fester like a wound that can't heal.
SOURCE: Wes Enzinna in the Nation (2-21-07)
The confrontation will come as no surprise to anyone who sees Ghosts when it premieres on HBO February 22. Shot between February and December 2006, the film, in which Karpinski plays a leading role, documents the now-infamous torture of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and raises pointed questions about who was ultimately responsible for the abuse. Through extensive interviews with nine military police and military intelligence corpsmen and five Iraqi prisoners involved in the torture, Kennedy asks: Was this a case of grunts gone wild, an "animal house on the night shift," as former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger claimed? Or was it something more systemic, spurred on by post-September 11 Bush Administration policy?
I recently spent more than an hour with Kennedy in the back seat of a taxi-- caught in rush-hour Manhattan traffic--talking about her film, the soul of America and the ghosts of US foreign policy.
What was a typical day at Abu Ghraib for the Iraqi detainees you interviewed?
Well, one of the things that struck me was that this type of abuse was an everyday thing, it was occurring day in and day out. Sleep deprivation, stress positions--they were constant. Any notion that this was just "happening on the night shift," or that it was a case of a few bad apples, was immediately dispelled by the Iraqis themselves, as well as the overwhelming amount of evidence that suggested that wasn't the case.
The use of family members was also horrific--the guards would make constant threats that they would bring the detainees' children in and sexually and physically abuse them. In one case, a man was made to watch his brother being physically abused. There was also some suggestion by some of the Iraqis that they experienced sexual abuse.
Then there was what we saw in the photographs, being put in stress positions for hours and hours, with your arms handcuffed behind your back, tied up high, with underwear over your head, women watching the men take showers, laughing at them. Encouragement to sexually humiliate the prisoners was pervasive. The humiliation factor was horrendous and disturbing.
Was the abuse at Abu Ghraib worse than you'd expected?
I found that, particularly when I was interviewing the detainees, the photographs were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the extent of the abuse at Abu Ghraib that occurred in the fall of 2003. We talked to one man, one of the Iraqi detainees we interviewed, who told us a story of how his father was tortured over and over again. Later, this man became sick, and the son said he begged the Americans for medical attention. His father was getting sicker and sicker, he couldn't walk, he was feverish and getting worse. [The son] was really desperate to get help for his father. The American response was to threaten the son, and they ultimately pointed a gun at him and said, "If you ask us again we're going to kill you." And shortly after, his father died in his arms.
There are also a number of cases of people who were tortured to death by the interrogators. I think that what we saw in the photographs involves the military police who were preparing the detainees for interrogation by "softening" them up. We don't know exactly what happened in the actual interrogation rooms, but in talking to interrogators, the level of the abuse and the torture that occurred in those rooms was almost certainly much more extreme.
Unfortunately, it seems, from as much information as we can gather at this point, those types of abuses continue to occur today.
Do you think there were any heroes in this story?
There are some heroes in this story, people like [MPs and MIs] Israel Rivera, Ken Davis and Joseph Darby who stood up and said, "We're not going to take this, this is wrong," and saw it for what it was, and went against the grain. But unfortunately, people like Joseph Darby, as a result of being whistleblowers, have been isolated, and many people now are not considering them heroes.
And of course I have so much respect for the Iraqi detainees who were involved. They had fears about filming in Iraq, so we originally tried to fly them to Jordan, but when they got to the airport they were on a no-fly list and were not allowed to board. So then we got them visas and tickets to Turkey, but when they arrived they were immediately detained. By some miracle, we got them out of detention and filmed the interviews in a hotel in Istanbul.
The dignity with which they presented themselves and their stories, despite the horrific humiliation they suffered, really humbled me. The fact that they were willing even to speak to me, let alone so honestly and in such great detail, an American, given all that America has done to them, was really powerful.
Why were they afraid of being filmed in Iraq?
They were afraid of Americans, of an American retaliation.
Eleven low-ranking soldiers have been court-martialed and sentenced for their roles in the abuse--has justice been done?
To me, given all the evidence, what happened at Abu Ghraib is absolutely indicative of a systemic policy that has been put into place and authorized by people very high up the chain of command.
And not only was the kind of abuse we saw at Abu Ghraib clearly standard operating procedure--we have a huge amount of evidence that this was standard throughout many prisons, in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo. When you have it coincidentally happening in all these prisons at the same time it indicates that you don't have a bunch of rogue soldiers bizarrely operating in the same way, making prisoners be naked, depriving them of sleep, putting them in stress positions, [but rather] operating according to procedures that have actually been authorized and that we have memos documenting.
When I was doing the interviews with the Iraqis, I remember thinking, I cannot believe that America did this to these guys, how could we have gotten to this point in our country that we would allow this to happen? I've done a number of projects that deal with human rights abuses that have taken place in the worst dictatorships you can imagine, and what I heard from these Iraqis was on par or even worse than any of that.
And the people who created these policies have almost all gotten off scot-free or been promoted.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
SOURCE: NYT (2-19-07)
That is because the heroic and stupendously popular 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” familiar to generations of schoolchildren, is one of the largest paintings in the museum, measuring 21 feet wide and 12 feet high.
It is heavy too, and will be getting heavier, because curators are currently assessing the best way to carve an elaborate new 3,000-pound basswood frame that would replicate the original, missing for more than a century. After years of detective work, an image of the frame was recently discovered in a 143-year-old Mathew Brady photograph.
SOURCE: NYT (2-18-07)
With similar ambivalence an announcer delivered an introduction written by the comic himself: “And here’s the young man who has to account for this half-hour — Johnny Carson!”
Less than a year later “The Johnny Carson Show,” a weekly live comedy and variety series, would be canceled, and its host would not get another crack at a national, post-dinnertime viewership for six years. Carson came to view this 39-episode series as a kind of instructive failure, an opinion he held right up until his death in January 2005.
Yet to Joanne Carson, the second of Carson’s four wives, the rare films are much more: they are documents of a nascent but remarkably poised talent, as well as a memento of Carson’s courtship of her in the early 1960s and a portent of how their relationship would ultimately break apart. And on Tuesday Shout Factory is releasing a DVD of 10 of the show’s episodes, kinescopes of which she kept after the couple’s divorce in 1972.
“This is a part of him that nobody knows about but everyone will appreciate,” Ms. Carson, a slender, sprightly woman of 75, said over tea at her home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles. “The American public saw Johnny as a good and decent man, a little boy from the Midwest who never completely grew up, and I want them to know they were right.”
SOURCE: Alan Riding in the NYT (2-18-07)
Now, two centuries later, the story of how William Wilberforce and a handful of other Quaker activists persuaded a reluctant British Parliament to abolish the slave trade is retold in Michael Apted’s new movie, “Amazing Grace,” which will be released in the United States on Friday. It is a story of good versus evil in which, after endless setbacks, the world ends up a better place.
Yet the question remains: Can a film on such a weighty topic connect with today’s filmgoers?
In Britain, where “Amazing Grace” is set to open next month, this should be possible: not so much because audiences are used to seeing British actors in whiskers and waistcoats re-enacting historical dramas, but because the British government is using the anniversary to promote high school courses, exhibitions and debates about the slave trade.
“You can’t go anywhere in Britain without hearing about racism,” Mr. Apted said. “I think people are ready for the film.”
Elsewhere, however, 1807 is less significant. In the United States, for instance, the watershed date in the fight against slavery is of course Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Every country once involved in trafficking, importing or exploiting slaves — and there were at least a score — remembers its own moment of moral reawakening. And outside Britain, Wilberforce is hardly a household name.
Still, the makers of “Amazing Grace” say their movie raises broader issues.
For Steven Knight, the film’s British screenwriter, public opinion was for the first time mobilized to press for social reform with the campaign for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In that sense the use of petitions (including one carrying 390,000 signatures), public meetings, books and pamphlets heralded the birth of modern democratic politics.
Mr. Apted saw an opportunity to emphasize the importance of politics, then and now. “I wanted to do a story about the corridors of power,” he said by telephone from Washington, where he was promoting “Amazing Grace.” “I am trying to shine a light on the value of politics.”
For its part Bristol Bay Productions, which financed the $28 million production and favors, in its own words, “uplifting stories,” is looking to communicate a more urgent message. Coinciding with the movie’s release the company, owned by the American billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, has started a campaign called Amazing Change to raise awareness of the continuing existence of slavery around the world.
SOURCE: Columbus Dispatch (2-18-07)
Unless you are a student of British history or are aware of Ohio’s Wilberforce University, the first private black college in the United States, you aren’t likely to be familiar with the British member of Parliament who led a 30-year struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade.
That might change in the coming months with the nationwide release of the movie Amazing Grace. (The film was to have been shown Friday, a week ahead of the official release, at Wilberforce University.)
Starring Ioan Gruffudd in the title role, the film is directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, The World Is Not Enough, 49 Up) and features an esteemed cast — including Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds and African singer Youssou N’Dour — as real-life characters taken from the history books.
How far the film’s distributors will have to go to build an audience for Amazing Grace can be seen by the fact that even Gruffudd, who grew up in Wales, admitted in a recent phone interview that "I was sort of ignorant that Wilberforce was the reason why the Slave Trade Act came into fruition. I was educated myself by reading the script and going on to play the part."
But, added the actor — who is probably best-known to American audiences for his starring role as Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, in Fantastic Four and as Horatio Hornblower in a series of imported TV movies — "I’m sure (the film) will be educating a whole new generation of people toward this subject."
That subject is the effort by British abolitionists from the late 1780s through the first decades of the 19 th century to persuade the British public — or at least the male property holders who were the only ones allowed to vote — to end slavery in the British Empire. For tactical reasons, they decided to first attack the slave trade and then take on the issue of slavery.
Wilberforce, the son of a wealthy merchant, was already known as a brilliant orator and deeply pious man when radical abolitionist Thomas Clarkson (Sewell), a former African slave named Oloudah Equiano (N’Dour) and others approached him about joining their cause and leading the fight in the House of Commons. According to the movie, Wilberforce was encouraged in this endeavor by his good friend, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his minister, John Newton (Finney), a former captain of a slave ship who had renounced slavery and entered the ministry. It was Newton who wrote the famous hymn Amazing Grace, which is featured in the film....
SOURCE: WaPo (2-17-07)
The bowl, which dates to 770 B.C. and was used in an ancient Chinese hand-washing ritual, is one of dozens of artifacts on loan from the famed Shanghai Museum for a six-month exhibit at the Bowers Museum. The show will trace 5,000 years of Chinese history when it opens Feb. 18 and marks the first time in two decades that the prestigious Chinese museum has opened its collection for use by a U.S. institution.
Seventy-seven objects guide visitors through the evolution of China's history, from the simple pottery of the Neolithic cultures to the intricate miniature bamboo panoramas and colorful scrolls of the Qing Dynasty, which ended less than a century ago.
"This is a very comprehensive exhibit from one of the most famous Chinese institutions in the world," said Peter C. Keller, president of the Bowers. "Each dynasty is known for something outstanding, and by choosing the iconic objects from each dynasty, you can tell the story of China."
Securing "Treasures of Shanghai: 5,000 Years of Chinese Art and Culture" was a coup for the Bowers, a small but growing institution in Orange County, about 35 miles south of Los Angeles. The opening coincides with the addition of two new wings there, one of which will remain dedicated to Chinese art after the Shanghai collection leaves on Aug. 19.
SOURCE: WaPo (2-17-07)
But does that tell the whole story of art in the 20th century?
That's the question animating an exhibit of 20th century art, "Biblical Art in a Secular Century: Selections, 1896-1993," at New York's Museum of Biblical Art.
The show features artists whose work was often expressly religious in theme -- such as Marc Chagall and Ben-Zion -- as well as such artists as Andy Warhol whose work is rarely linked to religion.
Curator Patricia C. Pongracz said she hopes the exhibit helps counter the "broadly held notion" that 20th century artists had little or no interest in biblical or religious themes. It's a "rediscovery," she said, "a more nuanced approach to the 20th century."
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (2-17-07)
These are the opening stage directions of La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Prima Donna) by Eugène Ionesco. The play has been performed in the tiny Théâtre de la Huchette, with the same scenery, the same director and, intermittently, three of the original cast, since 16 February 1957. This is, according to Guinness World Records, the longest continuous run of a play in one theatre, anywhere in the world.
The only possible rival is The Lesson, also by Ionesco. This short play has been shown immediately after La Cantatrice Chauve in the same small theatre every night (except Sundays) for the same period of time. Both plays are now recognised as masterpieces of the theatre of the absurd, shown all over the world in dozens of languages. The Huchette versions are the original productions, first directed by Nicolas Bataille in 1951 with the assistance of the playwright himself.
They moved to the Rue de la Huchette in the fifth arrondissement in 1957 and have been performed there ever since. The street was then a quiet alley in the student-infested Latin quarter. It is now a street crammed with tourists, kebab houses and trashy souvenir shops.
SOURCE: NYT (2-18-07)
On Saturday, none other than Forest Whitaker, a leading contender for best actor, parted a crowd of paparazzi in front of a chic hotel here in Uganda’s capital, and then strutted down a stretch of genuine red carpet for the official opening of “The Last King of Scotland.”
Official being the key word. Because the movie, about the blood-soaked reign of Uganda’s mercurial dictator, Idi Amin, actually arrived a few weeks ago, via shrink-wrapped, bootlegged DVDs shipped in from China. Already, it has created quite a stir in Kampala’s tin-roofed video halls.
Ugandans, struck by Mr. Whitaker’s likeness to Amin, are moved by the scenes of an era they would like to forget. Above all else, they are proud that one of this past year’s surprise Hollywood hits was about their country and filmed in their country. Now, nearly five months after its release in the United States, it has finally landed here, and landed in style.
SOURCE: Gary Kamiya at Salon.com (2-13-07)
Barthes' essay helped me understand why I'm addicted to HBO's series "Rome."
SOURCE: Andrew Purvis in Time (1-12-07)
Even before the film opened in Berlin this week, it had sparked a huge debate in the German commentariat. Critics attacked it for making light of Germany's past. They questioned the idea of humanizing Hitler, even as a pathetic loser, and of treating the Holocaust in a comedy. Rolf Hochhuth, 75, the prominent German dramatist who , coincidentally, is now staging his own play about Hitler, condemned the movie for "tampering with history." Even the film's lead actor, the popular comedian Helge Schneider, admitted he now regrets doing the film. Adjustments in the editing suite focused the film too much on the portrayal of Hitler as a weakling, which he said he finds "profane." Many Germans appear to agree. In one poll conducted before its release, 56% said they disapproved of Germany making a comedy about the dictator, while only 30% said they thought it a good thing to do. "I come from a Holocaust family," Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said in one interview. "It makes me feel queasy if someone is making fun of Hitler and the Holocaust."
The film's director Dani Levy, who is Jewish, said he had fully expected a "tsunami of controversy." But he said he was also tired of seeing Hitler depicted only in grainy documentaries whose visual language, he argued, has become "routine."...
SOURCE: The Pinocchio Blog (2-9-07)
In terms of form, The Witness is a thoroughly mainstream film, skillfully directed, but in no respect avant-garde or experimental. This, in fact, is part of the film’s interest. For one thing, it is what allowed The Witness to gain its massive popularity at home. For another, usually in the US (and, I imagine, more generally in “the West”) we generally only get to see art films from Communist Eastern Europe. As far as I know, there was a massive popular film industry in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary; but almost none of these films are available subtitled in English, and on VHS or DVD. (All I know about Communist popular cinema comes from the wonderful 1997 documentary East Side Story).
So an additional benefit of seeing The Witness is that it gives us a sense of the stylistics of Communist Eastern European popular film: and in fact, this stylistics seems very close to its Hollywood counterpart. The Witness is in color and wide screen. Its production values are a bit more modest than those of standard Hollywood films of the same period. But its invisible editing style is entirely familiar (Bacso favors broad shots, and expression through mise en scene more than through montage — but not any more so than was typically the case in Hollywood from the 1950s until the innovations of the “New Hollywood”). And Bacso works his sight gags pretty much the same way as Hollywood studio comedy of the time did. (Though, alas, there is nothing as visually outlandish as some of the things we get in Frank Tashlin’s or Jerry Lewis’ comedies)....
SOURCE: NYT (2-15-07)
Scholarship of the Nixon years, beginning with “The Time of Illusion,” Jonathan Schell’s brilliant 1975 account of the 37th presidency, has hardly suffered from insufficient attention, but this latest History Channel effort is no less gripping for its reliance on the well-known details of Nixonian pathology. Richard M. Nixon was, in the most superficial terms, a celebrity gone wild, who has provided the American public with mesmerizing television ever since the famous “Checkers” speech of his vice presidential candidacy in 1952, cunningly orchestrated to preserve his precarious place on the Eisenhower ticket in the midst of financial scandal.
“Nixon: A Presidency Revealed” retains the same perverse pleasure of an “E! True Hollywood Story,” on, say, Ryan O’Neal, one you may feel inclined to watch even if you happen to be well versed in all of his misbehaviors.
Such a comparison is not meant to suggest that “Nixon: A Presidency Revealed” lacks thoughtfulness or sobriety, because it is steeped in both.
SOURCE: International Herald Tribune (2-14-07)
Now, in a somewhat daring attempt to combine education and entertainment, the story of how William Wilberforce, along with a handful of Quaker activists, persuaded a reluctant British Parliament to abolish the slave trade is retold in Michael Apted's new movie, "Amazing Grace," which will be released in the United States next week and in Britain next month.
It is a story of good versus evil in which, after endless setbacks, the world ends up a better place. But will today's filmgoers care? The movie is not, after all, another bloody Mel Gibson-style revisitation of history: the backdrop to its plot is the battle between conscience and profiteering.
Still, Britons, at least, may be ready for this: not so much because they are used to "talking heads" in costume dramas, but because the government is promoting a yearlong program of high school courses, exhibitions and debates about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Further, Britons are more than ever aware that theirs has become a multiethnic country.
Elsewhere, the March 25 anniversary is less significant. In the United States, the watershed date in the fight against slavery is, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. And every country once involved in trafficking or exploiting slaves — and there were at least a score — remembers its own moment of moral awakening.
Yet the makers of "Amazing Grace" believe their movie raises broader issues.
Steven Knight, the film's British screenwriter, noted that, with the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, public opinion was for the first time mobilized to press for social reform. In that sense, the use of petitions (including one carrying 390,000 signatures), public meetings, books and pamphlets heralded the birth of modern politics.
Apted, whose recent credits include "Enigma," in turn saw an opportunity to emphasize the importance of politics, then and now. "I wanted to do a story about the corridors of power," he explained. "I am trying to shine a light on the value of politics."...
SOURCE: BBC (2-14-07)
Access to the museum was made free for visitors after strikers blocked access to ticket desks, reports say.
The Musee d'Orsay was also shut after attendants there stopped work.
Attendants are demanding a bonus they say other categories of staff have been offered, and because they suffer more stress being on the floor.
"The stress is clearly linked to the number of visitors", one Louvre attendant, who did not want to be named, told the AFP news agency.
SOURCE: AP (2-14-07)
The statue is intended to commemorate the King's historic 1973 concert "Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii."
The concert was the first musical event ever sent around the globe by satellite.
Fifty-one percent of T-V-viewing households tuned into the concert, which raised 75-thousand dollars for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund.