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: AP (1-29-07)
School officials still believe their decision to ban Patrick Agin's photo was correct, but they face a $600,000 deficit and couldn't afford the legal fight, said the district's attorney, Stephen Robinson.
''It was strictly a cost-benefit analysis in the matter,'' he said.
Agin, 17, dressed in costume for his senior photo. He belongs to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of 35,000 dues-paying members who stage mock battles, learn arts like calligraphy and conduct demonstrations in shopping malls.
SOURCE: Mark Rahdert at the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education (1-29-07)
The series, directed by Thomas Lennon, produced by Mark Zwonitzer, and narrated by David Strathairn, features interviews with court historians, legal scholars, lawyers, former court clerks, journalists, and even some of the justices themselves, notably Roberts and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The result is a rich tapestry of commentary on the court and its development that should be edifying to the general public and may hold a few discoveries for those already familiar with the institution's history.
One of the program's commentators, Jeffrey Rosen, of George Washington University, wrote the companion book, The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America. It covers the same territory as the documentary with an even sharper focus on the role of judicial personality in shaping the court. Rosen argues that the court's rulings in each major period of its history can be explained by the interplay between contrasting temperaments among justices, or between justices and figures in other branches of government. He selects four periods of court history (roughly coinciding with the four episodes of the series) and in each describes two contrasting temperaments, one praiseworthy and one vulnerable to criticism, that influenced the trajectory of the law and shaped the court as an institution.
SOURCE: Boston Globe (1-29-07)
Boston novelist Michael Lowenthal faced the question with his new book, "Charity Girl." He stumbled on its little-known background and knew he wanted to spread the word. Only gradually did he realize that it had to be a novel, and that he couldn't let his attention to historic facts overwhelm his art.
"I'm waiting to see what people think," he said during an interview at his Roslindale home, "whether I went past that line." Complicating matters further, even his publisher is making as much of the history as of the fiction. " 'Charity Girl' examines a dark period in our history," the jacket copy begins, "when fear and patriotic fervor led to devastating consequences."
The facts are that during World War I the US government arrested 30,000 young women suspected of having venereal disease and locked at least 15,000 of them in detention centers, without recourse to courts, as part of a campaign to protect the armed forces from disease. Some were arrested just for wearing "provocative" clothing or being near troops. Though not unknown to historians, it appears that no books have been written about the program , and none of the women ever told their stories in public.
Author of two contemporary novels, Lowenthal was researching a freelance travel article in 2001 when he came across Susan Sontag's book "AIDS and Its Metaphors," which he had always wanted to read. "Flipping through this book," he said, "I saw a sentence about a proposal to quarantine people with AIDS, which she compared to the detention of girls who had venereal disease in World War I. I was thunderstruck. I had never heard of this." He asked others who had studied history, and they had the same reaction.
"It was like this little secret that I had stumbled upon," Lowenthal said.
Fired with curiosity, he dived into the subject, and eventually found journal articles, and chapters within books, that dealt with the program, but no separate book. He hunted for specific detainees, to read their stories, "but couldn't find one. I might find a reference to a girl with the first name and last initial, but all the writing I could find was by government officials."
In a sense, it was his own book that was eluding him. "I kept thinking, 'Where am I going with this? What am I looking for?' " said Lowenthal, who is 37. "At first I thought I should try this as a historical work, but I'm not trained as a historian. Then there was one of those daydreaming moments when I started to imagine a girl. Rather than trying to find a real one, I began to create one, and in that strange novelist's way, the girl I imagined became more real to me than those I had been reading about."
The girl is Frieda Mintz, 17 and Jewish, from Boston's West End. She moves out of her widowed mother's house to escape a coerced marriage, takes a room in a boarding house and a job wrapping packages at Jordan Marsh, the department store. Naive, lonely, and passionate, she is infected by a soldier and abruptly finds herself fired from her job, then locked up in a Fitchburg detention center by the Committee on Prevention of Social Evils Surrounding Military Camps.
SOURCE: LAT (1-28-07)
Roy's atomic-age neon sign was a beacon of civilization to weary travelers rocketing along America's Mother Road, a sign of hope to motorists whose cars had croaked in the desert heat.
Amboy was the domain of Buster Burris, a rough-hewn entrepreneur with strong opinions about bikers and men with long hair. Burris and his father-in-law opened Roy's in the 1930s and for decades did brisk business selling tires, malts, and gas.
Today, Amboy and Roy's are the only tourist stops for about 100 miles that didn't disappear after the interstate shut off customers in the 1970s. The town's population is approximately 4, the school closed years ago, birds have turned the church into a feces-caked aviary, and the post office barely survived.
Roy's, shuttered for about two years, is a mess of peeling paint, rotting floors, and broken glass. Each windstorm takes another piece of the sign with it. Burris, who sold Amboy before he died at 92 in 2000, would have been heartbroken.
But for fast-food chicken baron Albert Okura, Amboy was love at first sight.
"I believe in destiny, and I believe my destiny involves that town," said Okura, 55, who got rich by founding the Juan Pollo restaurant chain in the Inland Empire, a region encompassing eastern Washington, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, and northeastern Oregon . "It's hard to explain. How many people can say they own a whole town?"
In 2005, Okura bought Amboy from Burris's second wife, Bessie, 90, who regained ownership of the property after the previous buyers lost it to foreclosure. Okura persuaded her to sell him the town because he pledged to restore and reopen Roy's -- and because he had $425,000 in cash.
For that, Okura got the motel and cafe, the church and post office, four gas pumps, two dirt airstrips, and a variety of scattered buildings.
Okura also got several hundred acres of adjacent desert that he believes could skyrocket in value if development in the Inland Empire continues its push .
SOURCE: NYT (1-28-07)
This is the Robert Moses most of us know today, courtesy of Robert A. Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography from 1974, “The Power Broker,” which charts Moses’ long reign as city parks commissioner (1934-60) and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1946-68). A 1,286-page book that reads like a novel, it won a Pulitzer Prize and virtually redefined the biographical genre by raising the bar for contemporary research. Today it remains the premier text on the evolution of 20th-century New York, a portrait of a man who used his power without regard for the human toll.
But according to the Columbia University architectural historian Hilary Ballon and assorted colleagues, Moses deserves better — or at least a fresh look. In three exhibitions opening in the next few days — at the Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art and Columbia University — Ms. Ballon argues that too little attention has been focused on what Moses achieved, versus what he destroyed, and on the enormous bureaucratic hurdles he surmounted to get things done.
With the city on the brink of a building boom unparalleled since Moses’ heyday — the reconstruction of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, an overhaul of the Far West Side, sweeping redevelopment downtown — Ms. Ballon and other scholars argue that his legacy is more relevant than ever.
SOURCE: NYT (1-28-07)
“He wrote a song about this,” said Charles A. Reid Jr., a funeral director and a lifelong friend who is holding Mr. Brown’s body while his survivors and the trustees of his estate squabble over control. “ ‘Papa Don’t Take No Mess.’ That’s what he’d be hollering now.”
The six children Mr. Brown acknowledged in his will want his body placed in a mausoleum on his 60-acre property just across the South Carolina state line near the Savannah River, an estate they hope will become a museum and memorial park akin to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley in Memphis, which has long been a lucrative tourist attraction. But the children are in a financial dispute with the trustees of the Brown estate, and it is possible Mr. Brown will not be laid to rest until it is settled.
SOURCE: USA Today (1-26-07)
Chicago officials shun any association with the world's most famous gangster, whose Prohibition-era exploits made his name synonymous with the city. But 60 years after his death, they still can't run him out of town.
Visitors from all over the world come searching for anything to do with Capone, who died Jan. 25, 1947.
They drive by his house. They leave flowers, coins and cigars at his grave. They take pictures of places associated with him — never mind that everything from hotels where he ran his criminal empire to the garage where his henchmen carried out the St. Valentine's Day massacre are long gone.
SOURCE: Guardian (1-28-07)
So reads the epigram carved into a commemorative stone, appropriately spartan, on a Greek hill. The tale behind it thrilled generations of schoolchildren educated in the classics. Hollywood is now praying it can breathe new life into the genre of the ancient historical epic with the help of a British-led cast.
The Battle of Thermopylae is regarded as one of history's pivotal moments, a doomed yet heroic last stand in 480BC with nothing less than Western civilisation at stake. Led by King Leonidas, an elite force of 300 Spartans, backed by around 7,000 Greeks, was vastly outnumbered by King Xerxes' invading Persian army, which has been estimated at between 80,000 and more than a million. For three days the Spartans stood firm at the 'Hot Gates', the main pass into central Greece, and inflicted appalling losses before being outflanked and killed. The sacrifice inspired all of Greece to unite and drive out the Persians and is therefore seen as enabling the seeds of Western democracy to flourish.
The story has faded from the school curriculum along with Greek and Latin, but a dark and violent £30m film dramatisation, named 300, receives its world premiere next month at the Berlin Film Festival. British actors take leading parts, with Gerard Butler, who played the title role in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera, as Leonidas, rising star Lena Headey as his wife, Queen Gorgo, and Dominic West as the warrior Theron. But cinema-goers will also be assailed by computer-generated special effects featuring monsters, battlefield carnage and superhuman acrobatics - this is no literal interpretation.
SOURCE: LAT (1-27-07)
But today, months before its grand opening on a remote plain in Riverside County, the water museum is drowning in multimillion-dollar debt.
Next month, the MWD board will be asked to spend $4 million or more to save the Center for Water Education from bankruptcy. Several contractors who have worked on the project, near the Diamond Valley Reservoir in Hemet, have filed liens saying they haven't been paid.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (1-28-07)
The home of the prince, a professor of international law, has a swimming pool and tennis court, and the estate is comfortingly buried in dense woods.
But perhaps what really keeps the Prime Minister coming back are the enigmatic yet strangely familiar smiles radiating from the prince's two charming daughters, Natalia and Irina. Because now an Italian genealogy expert, Domenico Savini, has revealed that the Strozzi family descends directly from Lisa Gherardini, otherwise known as Mona Lisa.
"It's a matter of great emotion and great pride to learn that we are descended from La Gioconda," said Natalia Strozzi, 30, an actress. The subject of Leonardo's most famous painting is known as "La Gioconda" in Italy. "We had a vague knowledge of this family story, but the fact that it's been documented proves that it is true, which makes us take it more seriously." And what about the celebrated smile? "Yes," she went on, "once in a while a smile like that flits across our father's face, and that's the most convincing proof there is."
Italian researchers have been closing in on Mona Lisa in recent weeks. Not only have her descendants (by the female line) been identified in the Strozzi family, but one of the most tenacious Leonardo researchers, Giuseppe Pallanti, claims to have unearthed church documents proving beyond doubt where she lived and died.
SOURCE: NYT (1-27-07)
None of the other authors represented in “Victorian Bestsellers,” a new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, had much reason for complaint, either. Organized by John Bidwell, who oversees the Morgan’s department of printed books and bindings, this exhibition of manuscripts, first editions, drawings, posters and prints is not a typical bibliophilic display of rare esoterica. Indeed, its focus is rare exoterica: these books publicly erupted onto the 19th-century English scene. Apart from the Bible’s privileged monopoly as a must-read, these best sellers were among the first cultural products for a broad public, breaking down boundaries of class and caste; they also created new audiences, inspiring spinoffs and extravagant commercial enterprise.
SOURCE: A.O.Scott in the NYT (1-24-07)
The filmmaker’s father, Hanns Ludin, who served as the Third Reich’s ambassador to the Nazi vassal state of Slovakia, and who in that capacity signed deportation orders sending thousands of Jews to Auschwitz, was executed for war crimes in 1947. He left behind a wife, Erla, and six children.
Malte, the youngest (born in 1942), waited until his mother died before embarking on this film, though it includes earlier interviews he did with her. The title, apart from its distracting and irrelevant nod in the direction of Jean-Luc Godard, suggests that Hanns Ludin remains, in his son’s eyes, a mysterious, unknowable figure, and the younger Mr. Ludin’s interviews with other family members contribute to the blurriness of the picture.
SOURCE: PBS NewsHour Interview (1-25-07)
History tells another story, much of it now on view at the New York Historical Society in the exhibit New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War. The exhibit showcases the contributions of more than 200 scholars, historians, and academics. And it continues through next September.
James Oliver Horton, a professor of American studies and history at George Washington University and historian emeritus at the Smithsonian, is this exhibit's chief historian. He joins me now.
Welcome, professor Horton.
JAMES OLIVER HORTON, Historian Emeritus, National Museum of American History: Well, thank you.
GWEN IFILL: So, it turns out slavery was actually abolished in New York City in 1827, but it took many more decades for that to be real.
JAMES OLIVER HORTON: No, actually, the first gradual emancipation law went into effect for New York in 1799. That law said that a person born after the 4th of July in 1799 had to spend a number of years in slavery. And it differed, depending upon whether you were a male or female, but in the 20s, 20, 25 years in slavery.
But, then, in 1827 -- again, on the 4th of July -- a law went into effect that said, slavery is over. So, as of the 4th of July, 1827, slavery was officially abolished in New York City and State.
GWEN IFILL: So, if it was abolished, if it was over many years before the Emancipation Proclamation, when people think of the end of slavery, what was the division in New York over slavery?
JAMES OLIVER HORTON: Well, of course, slavery was ended in New York State, but it was very much alive in the American South, and even in some, what we think of today as Northern states. Delaware, for example, had slavery well until after the Civil War.
And the last 16 slaves in my home state of New Jersey were freed by the 13th Amendment in 1865, so that there were still some slaves scattered in various places in the North, but that the stronghold of slavery was obviously the American South.
Now, New York was involved, in many ways, with the South, but, most importantly, economically. I mean, New York really provided much of the capital that made the plantation economy in the South possible. It not only bought the cotton. It loaned money for the growing of cotton. It handled the foreign distribution of cotton. It was very much involved in cotton -- in the cotton production.
GWEN IFILL: And the cotton -- and king cotton was the big commodity at that time. It was, like, oil is today?
JAMES OLIVER HORTON: Absolutely.
On the eve of the Civil War, the American South produced seven-eighths of the world's cotton. And, when we think about how powerful that made the South, because it was in control of this cotton economy, you realize, in the 72 years between the election of George Washington and the election of Abraham Lincoln, 50 of those years sees a slaveholder as president of the United States, and, for that whole period of time, there was never a person elected to a second term who was not a slaveholder, it gives you some idea of how powerful cotton and the cotton South was.
GWEN IFILL: So, because of that, you're saying that, even though slavery was abolished, the slave economy, as it -- as it was practiced in the docks of New York, flourished?
JAMES OLIVER HORTON: Absolutely, the slave economy, and as the slave economy affected New York's economy.
Now, so, you had a substantial proportion, especially the business interests in New York, focused on Southern plantation society. But, at the same time, you had an important anti-slavery movement which was growing in New York. The foundation of that movement was the Free Black Society in New York, that is, in New York City and in New York State.
But there were a substantial number of white allies who were part of the anti-slavery movement. And this integrated movement in opposition to the institution of slavery was very important. And that's the thing which made New York a divided place, with anti-slavery on one side and pro-slavery on the other....
SOURCE: Reuters (1-24-07)
Little is known of many of the famine victims but a new documentary is hoping to put names and faces to some of those who died and highlight the plight of more than 38,000 migrants who poured into what was then a town of just 20,000 people.
A recent archeological dig has helped shed more light on their fate, uncovering remains of the hospital and artifacts from the period when an estimated 1,100 Irish migrants died.
"When they left Ireland, their journey had only just begun and some of the worst terror was yet to come," said historian Mark McGowan, principal of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto.
McGowan is historical consultant to the Ireland Park Foundation, which is building a memorial to the famine victims on the waterfront where they arrived. It is due to be opened by Irish President Mary McAleese in June.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (1-24-07)
The files, stacked on desks in a former garage for SS guards at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp museum in Germany, provide evidence about one of the most sordid but least known aspects of Nazi rule. They recall how hundreds of women, written of as "antisocial elements" by the Hitler regime, were arrested, dispatched to camps and forced to work as prostitutes for slave labourers during the Third Reich.
The plight of the hundreds of women who suffered this fate is the subject of an exhibition which opened last week at the former Ravensbrück camp's museum, north of Berlin. It breaks a taboo on an issue which has remained a virtual secret since the end of the Second World War.
"Hardly any other part of concentration camp history has been so repressed and so tainted with prejudice and distortion," said Insa Eschebach, the museum's director. "The women prisoners who were forced to work as prostitutes remained silent after 1945. Hardly any applied for financial compensation because talking about their experiences was too degrading for them."
Yet with the help of testimonies by former Ravensbrück prisoners, excerpts from Nazi SS files and accounts by camp guards, the exhibition manages to capture the horror and degradation suffered by the Third Reich's sex slaves.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Education (1-24-07)
The film's first sequence briefly recounts Nader's much-maligned independent campaign for president in 2004. Although it shows him defending his candidacy as a principled liberal's attempt to make the two major parties "pay attention to the needs of the American people," the opening consists mostly of sound bites by liberal critics lambasting Nader for running.
"No one in the history of the world is on a bigger ego trip than Ralph Nader," charges the political consultant James Carville.
"I think [Nader's candidacy] borders on the wicked," adds Todd Gitlin, the Columbia University journalism professor.
The basis of the animus, of course, is both Nader's 97,488 votes in Florida in 2000, enough of which surely would have gone to the Democratic nominee Al Gore to overcome George W. Bush's 537-vote margin of victory and give Gore the presidency, and Nader's willingness to place the Democrats' 2004 nominee, John F. Kerry, in similar jeopardy.
"Thank you, Ralph, for the Iraq war ... ," sneers the Nation magazine columnist Eric Alterman. "Thank you, Ralph, for the destruction of the Constitution."
In contrast, An Unreasonable Man's second sequence is an entirely positive flashback to Nader's 1966 David-and-Goliath confrontation with General Motors over automobile safety. ...
A star was born. ...
SOURCE: AP (1-22-07)
Promoters are looking for people who helped lower the car into its crypt in 1957 to perhaps shed some light on what to expect when the car is unearthed.
There's speculation the car may have turned into a pile of rust. Or that it's in pristine condition and worth thousands of dollars.
Sharon King Davis, who has chaired Tulsa's centennial efforts, looked at photos of the people responsible for burying the car in 1957 and found her grandfather.
"I wish grandpa had left me some instructions," she told the Tulsa World.
The car had been largely forgotten until Davis and her group started work on the centennial. Files on the car have vanished, so it's not clear what to expect when the lid is lifted.
What's known is that the car is on a steel pallet with jacks under the axles. Efforts were made to preserve it, but it's unclear if moisture has gotten to the metal and caused rust.
SOURCE: NYT (1-21-07)
Glenn, who spent 10 seasons in the N.B.A. and is now a television analyst for the Atlanta Hawks, has been an avid collector of African-American literature, a part of it relating to sports, for about 10 years. His library has more than 3,000 items, many of which he displays at exhibitions.
He will hold an exhibit on black athletes from Feb. 10-24 at the African American Museum of Southern Illinois University, his alma mater, in Carbondale.
Glenn said he hoped to bring more attention to the often untold history of black athletes.
“I am on a personal tour to integrate sports history,” Glenn, who played with the Knicks from 1978-81, said in an e-mail message.
Glenn’s interest in literature and history began as a curiosity about the quotations he used to recite in grade school. In 1997, when he was writing his first book, “Lessons in Success From the N.B.A.’s Top Players,” Glenn wanted to surround the players’ advice with some of those quotations. So he searched books for their origins.
Glenn found himself immersed in literature of the Harlem Renaissance, with books by Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson. He then took an interest in slave narratives, something that led him to what he now calls his favorite book, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”
It was not until about three years ago, Glenn said, that he became interested in sports literature.
“I, kind of like a lot of scholars, thought that sports was not that important,” Glenn said in a telephone interview. “I underestimated the value of sports in our culture.”
SOURCE: Reuters (1-19-07)
Following a flurry of bidding at a Phoenix resort, well-known Houston lawyer John O'Quinn took home the brick-red, black-upholstered car that was one of the first three sold by newly incorporated Ford Motor Co.
Pre-auction estimates had pegged the sale price at between $400,000 and $800,000.
"History, history, history," O'Quinn told Reuters, when asked why he bought the vehicle. "There are a lot of great cars in the world, but Ford is the basic car of America."
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (1-21-07)
The night of 4 June was one of triumph for Bobby and his supporters. Five years after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, his younger brother Bobby had assumed the political mantle. He had just won the Californian primary for the presidency. He was on his way to the White House.
But at 12.15am, just after he had given a victory speech, he was shot at close range by a 24-year-old Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan, in the kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
America was plunged into mourning. The actor Emilio Estevez remembers hearing about the assassination on the news, aged six. He rushed to wake up his father, the actor Martin Sheen - Sheen had worked as a campaign volunteer for Bobby in 1965. The memory stayed with Estevez and, nearly 40 years later, he has written and directed a film, Bobby, out on Friday, which relives the senator's last moments.
Bobby is part fact, part fictional account. Estevez tells the story through the eyes of the "little people" who were there that night. It reminds us of the five by-standers who were shot alongside Bobby, and whose lives were changed irrevocably (see box).