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: Observer (UK) (1-21-07)
The portrait by Rembrandt, dated 1661, comes from the final decade of the painter's life, when he was facing penury in Amsterdam. It is one of a mysterious group of works that has intrigued art historians for many years. They are all sensitive character studies of predominantly New Testament figures, but it has remained unclear why they were painted.
This portrayal of Saint James the Greater is the only one of Rembrandt's late religious pictures to remain in private hands and, during preparation for its sale as the jewel in the crown of Sotheby's Old Masters auction, the close study of its surface has shed new light on both the life of its creator and on the group of paintings to which it belongs.
SOURCE: Weekly Standard Scrapbook (1-15-07)
For those younger readers who don't know what we're talking about, here's the AP's description of this national treasure: "With a jug of LSD-laced juice in the refrigerator, clean-cut Kesey pals known as the Merry Pranksters on board and Neal Cassady, the driver in Jack Kerouac's On the Road at the wheel, the bus crossed the country from California to New York"--a journey made famous in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968).
As you might imagine, restoration efforts have not gone smoothly. To begin with, when he purchased a new bus 15 years ago, Kesey dumped the old one into a swamp--a storage venue not recommended by preservationists. A restaurant owner in Hollywood thought he had an understanding with the Kesey family to raise $100,000 to shine the 1939 International Harvester model until it sparkled; but they seem to have encountered creative differences--you know how that works in Hollywood--and now Kesey's daughter-in-law is reluctant to continue work until a documentary film deal can be worked out.
"I want to make sure we do this right and get involved with the right people," she told the AP. "This involves the memory of my father-in-law, and I take that very seriously. We just want to work with people with the same ideas about the bus as we do [sic]. We want to be sure it's on display for the most people possible."
Thus far, the bus has been hauled from the swamp, scrubbed a little, and Willie Nelson has kindly offered to install a new biodiesel engine. But that's about it. Alas, documentary filmmakers are not exactly besieging the Kesey homestead, and frankly, the whole project taxes THE SCRAPBOOK's customary support for historic preservation.
"This is an icon of America," one ex-Merry Prankster said to the AP. "It would be nice to see it back out on the road again to bring the reality of the '60s into the 21st century." In which case, in THE SCRAPBOOK's considered opinion, Willie Nelson should save his biodiesel money and help that Hollywood restaurant owner push this icon of America safely back into the swamp where it belongs.
SOURCE: Times Online (UK) (1-19-07)
Their collaboration was a surrealist dream come true, but financial problems after the war forced the studio to close down work on the production.
Destino, a six-minute animated cartoon that shows a woman dancing through surreal scenery inspired by some of Dalí’s most iconic imagery, will be screened at Tate Modern in London.
It has been reconstructed from more than 100 storyboards, drawings and paintings that were created over nine months in 1945 and 1946.
The images were unearthed by Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy, from an archive of millions of other pieces of art relating to films of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
He assigned a team of about 25 top animators to the project.
Destino will be seen as part of a ground-breaking exhibition, Dali & Film — an unprecedented exploration of the central role of cinema in Dalí’s art — for which The Times is the media partner.
SOURCE: Janet Maslin in the NYT (1-19-07)
All this bee talk crops up in “The Castle in the Forest,” Norman Mailer’s zzzzz-filled new novel about Adolf Hitler’s tender, metaphor-fraught and (in this book’s view) literally bedeviled boyhood. So it is not a stretch for the book’s jacket copy to insist that “now, on the eve of his 84th birthday, Norman Mailer may well be saying more than he ever has before.” More about beekeeping — absolutely.
Seldom is the banality of evil made this literal. In his first novel in a decade, Mr. Mailer has undertaken the ostensibly tough job of explaining Hitler’s origins, then narrowed his attention to the nuts and bolts (talk about Freudian! And this book loves exclamation points!) of fractious family life.
He spies on the Hitler household by inserting a pantingly nosy narrator who poses as a Nazi Intelligence officer but claims to have been sent by the Devil. This observer, stiff and Viagran in prose style, is always eager to witness “the most agreeable work of all — that hard-breathing, feverish meat-heavy run up the hills of physical joy.”
Part demon, part actuary (or so it sounds when he speaks of his clients and budget), this narrator painstakingly analyzes Adolf Hitler’s origins. He examines the implications of a doubly incestuous bloodline (which is not new speculation and is knottily complicated: it makes Adolf “a First-Degree Incestuary One Step Removed.”) He leaves no stage of toilet-training unplumbed, finding much to work with in “excretory dramas.”
As he puts it: “As a devil, I am obliged to live intimately with excrement in all its forms, physical and mental. I know the emotional waste of ugly and disappointing events, the sour indwelling poison of unjust punishment, the corrosion of impotent thoughts, and, of course, I also have to engage caca itself.”...
SOURCE: Larry Portis at Counterpunch.com (1-18-07)
The slogan “never again”, as used in relation to the Nazi genocides during the Second World War, and those which have succeeded, seems empty when we consider the ethnic cleansing carried out in Palestine after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and after the Israeli occupation of the remains of historical Palestine beginning in June 1967. How can the “Western democracies” continue to participate in the genocidal punishment of a population while proclaiming the purest of intentions? One of the reasons is the power of Zionist propaganda over those who lack alternative information and the political fear and hypocrisy that it can inspire in those who understand what is happening. Of the modern means of communication and the formation of consciousness, the cinema is pre-eminent and, in the case of the Zionist state of Israel, one film in particular has been remarkably influential.
Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, Exodus was released in 1960, and had enormous success. In evaluating this success, we are helped by the release in 2002 of another film, Kedma, directed by Amos Gitaï, and, to a lesser extent by Elie Chouraki’s film, O Jerusalem, released in Fall, 2006. The first two films treat the same subject—the clandestine arrival of Jewish refugees in Palestine in 1947 in the midst of armed conflict. This was the eve of the partition of Palestine, proposed by the United Nations Organization but rejected by the non-Jewish (or, rather, non-Zionist) population and states of the entire eastern Mediterranean region. Following the British announcement of their withdrawal from the protectorate established in 1920 by the mandate system of the treaty of Versailles, the stage was set for a defining event of the short, brutal twentieth century: the creation of the state of Israel and the population transfers and ethnic conflicts that accompanied it.
Comparison of the two films, both in terms of their genesis as artistic creations and as political statements, elucidates aspects of an interesting process of ideological formation. Seen as depictions of the birth of the Israeli nation, the two films are extremely different. Exodus is a glorification of a certain type of leadership, at a certain level of decision-making. It works only at the level of strategic and tactical Zionist command within Palestine, immediately before, during and after the war, for the creation of the state of Israel. The film is discreet in its treatment of international diplomacy. Although decisions of the British military administration are implicitly criticized in the film, such criticism is not allowed to call into question Britain itself as an actor on the international stage. When either the British or the United-Statesians (and the French and Italians) are referred to, it is always as individuals, not representatives of overall national sentiments.
In Kedma, Amos Gitaï was concerned to present an historical situation by depicting a single incident, the origins of which are not explained directly and, in the course of which, individuals are shown to be subordinate to developments over which they have no real control. The incident in question is the illegal arrival of a ship, “Kedma,” on the coast of Palestine....
SOURCE: AP (1-17-07)
Jay Richardson, who performs tribute shows as "The Big Bopper Jr.," hopes an examination of his father's remains will settle rumors a gun might have been fired on board the plane, and tell whether the Big Bopper might have survived the crash impact and died trying to go for help.
"I'm not looking for any great bombshell, but then again you never know," Richardson said in a recent phone interview from his home outside Houston
[Jennifer Schuberth is a PhD candidate in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.]
"Pan's Labyrinth," Guillermo del Toro's fantastical allegorical film about fascists in 1944 Spain, has been hailed as one of the best movies of the year -- "movingly honest"; "a one-of-a-kind nightmare that has a soaring, spiritual center"; and a film in which "violence is used not for titillation but to create a world we can be fearful about." It is also a film in which the logic of redemptive violence -- violence necessary for the creation and maintenance of an ethical order -- rules. And while mythical resonances give this movie a religious cast, it is the images of violence, and in particular torture, that call forth comparisons to Mel Gibson's magnum opus of carnage, "The Passion of the Christ." While not gratuitous, these images nonetheless demonstrate how visual representations of intense violence can be harnessed to provide a form of ethical and even theological certainty that resists moral questioning -- even when such questioning issues from characters within the films themselves.
From the sounds of the American reviews, the art-house crowd has been given the gift of excessive violence that precludes merely passive titillation -- the kind of thing that certain viewers of "The Passion" might feel, but not these skeptical and more ethically astute liberals. "We" understand the oft-repeated moral of the story: do not be passive, always question, never obey for the sake of obeying -- because following orders is what fascists do. However, the film's violence, which is inflicted on and by people on both sides of the moral divide, seems set on disallowing precisely this kind of viewer disobedience.
A. O. Scott's review in the New York Times provokes the questions that need to be asked. He writes: "A child could grasp [the movie's] moral insights ... while all but the most cynical of adults are likely to find themselves troubled to the point of heartbreak by its dark, rich and emphatic emotions." So it would seem that the movie's moral is simple, but its emotions troubling. Perhaps this is because these emotions are so emphatic that the moral imperative -- "don't obey" -- becomes almost impossible to follow, that is, to obey. The politics of identification and the portrayal of redemptive violence in this filmic fairy tale are much more effective in directing its audience's moral compass than is a talking faun rewarding a little girl for questioning authority.
The scene that follows the revelation of this "moral insight" is just one example of what might trouble the less cynical viewers that Scott addresses. (Spoiler alert: I'm about to discuss the movie's predictable ending.) After murdering the young Ofelia, the evil Vidal emerges from a labyrinth holding his newborn son. His fascist army has been destroyed and the resistance fighters are waiting for him. Upon handing over his child, Vidal is informed that his son will never know his name and is shot dead.
This scene is extremely satisfying; evil has been vanquished, and this new hope in the form of the infant will never know of the violence his father inflicted on others, nor the violence that ensured his own life. This latter violence -- which included blowing up trains, slicing cheeks, and shooting an unarmed man -- was necessary and performed by good people, not evil fascists.
Of course, the movie would have lost some of its punch if, instead of shooting the torturer, they had taken him into custody and tried him over a period of months or even years. His son would know his name, his country would know his crimes, and his violence would be met not with violence, but with questions that upend the logic of redemptive violence -- the logic with which this film, rather than challenging, only makes its audience more and more comfortable.
Perhaps fascists are evil enough so that scenes of torture provide no more or less certainty of their moral character. Yet what this film so elegantly demonstrates is how violent images work to disengage the critical faculties that wrestle with uncertainty. More broadly speaking, we can see how scenes of torture in "The Passion of the Christ" provide not only moral or epistemological, but also theological certainty. Those who torture are monsters; therefore those who are tortured are good -- and if the good perpetrate violence or it is committed in their name, it stems not from evil, but from the need to restore moral or theological order. Watching torturers at work makes this economy of violence unquestionable; good and evil people exist, and these images let us know for sure who's who.
In watching "Pan's Labyrinth" I could not help but hear Marshall McLuhan whispering, "the medium is the message" -- no matter what "moral insight " is being repeated over and over again in words. It is hard to hear characters saying "question!" when the images are screaming "obey!"
The following reviews were cited in this article:
SOURCE: China Daily (1-17-07)
My Fuehrer The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler by Swiss-born, Berlin-based director Dani Levy shot to first place ahead of a raft of Hollywood blockbusters and the latest James Bond film Casino Royale.
Audiences have responded enthusiastically to the picture which sends up the genocidal Nazi leader as an impotent, bed-wetting, whimpering drug addict who just wanted his father's love.
It has enjoyed massive coverage in the German press, which has focused on the question of whether it is acceptable to laugh about Hitler six decades after World War II.
Hitler, as played by comedian Helge Schneider in the film, sneaks drugs from a stash in the giant globe in his office, proves a flop in bed with his mistress Eva Braun and wrestles with his German shepherd Blondi, outfitted with her own tiny SS uniform and able to perform the Hitler salute.
My Fuehrer hit German cinemas Thursday with an initial run on 250 screens.
The hit came as Germany used its EU presidency to move to ban Holocaust denial, racist speech and Nazi symbols across Europe.
At a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers in Dresden, eastern Germany, the German delegation called for jail terms of up to three years for the offences.
A European commission official noted that had the practices been outlawed earlier, Britain's Prince Harry would have been in breach of the law in 2005 when he was photographed in a Nazi swastika armband.
Europe-wide criminalisation of Holocaust denial would also have meant that David Irving, the discredited British historian recently released from a Vienna jail after being found guilty of denying the Holocaust, could have been imprisoned in Britain.
The proposals are supported by Franco Frattini, the EU commissioner for justice, said a commission spokeswoman, although she added that detailed definition of the proposed offences should be left to EU countries to decide individually and that there would be guarantees that "personal freedoms will not be violated".
SOURCE: AP (1-15-07)
However, with the new session of the Texas legislature now under way, Republican State Rep. Betty Brown has proposed a resolution declaring Athens, Texas, is the original home of the hamburger.
Brown, an Athens resident, says that a long ago resident of the town, Fletcher Davis, had a luncheonette in the late 1880s and sold the first burgers there.
A magazine article also suggests that Davis not only created the hamburger, but sold it from a booth at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. A spokeswoman in Brown's office said she is proposing the resolution on behalf of the Athens Chamber of Commerce,
Those claims are not sitting well with Ken Lassen Sr., 89, the third-generation owner of Louis' Lunch, where he says his grandfather came up with the first hamburger.
Lassen said it happened in 1900 when a man rushed into Louis' and asked for something he could eat on the run. Louis Lassen, Ken Lassen's grandfather, grabbed a broiled beef patty and put it between two slices of bread. ...
SOURCE: Richard Dowden in the Independent (1-16-07)
[Richard Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society.]
The first time I saw Idi Amin was when - as in the film - he leapt on to a platform in my local town to address the people. He used much the same words as he does in the film. "I am one of you, I know you, we are going to make life better..." And, like Nicholas Garrigan, the film's young Scottish doctor, I was swept along by Amin's ebullient enthusiasm, joining the crowd to shout a huge "O ye" in answer to his. He then picked us white muzungus out of the crowd and praised us, telling the people we had come to help Uganda, and Ugandans should welcome us and respect us. We got a huge cheer too. If he had offered me a job at that moment...
Forest Whitaker is a brilliant Idi Amin. The voice, the stance but most of all the eyes flicking this way and that until he chooses his mood: smile or smite. Seconds tick by as he weighs the choice, and then the huge smile lights up his face; or the storm breaks, menacing, murderous.
My challenges to the film are factual. The first concerns who put Amin in power. There is a moment when he confides in Garrigan: "Who put me here? - It was British." The assertion is repeated by Stone, a British diplomat, who says: "Given we were so intimately involved in him coming to power..."
Most Brits in Uganda believed their government organised the coup in 1971. Amin had been a loyal sergeant in the King's African Rifles, doing Britain's dirty work against the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s. It was assumed he was still "their boy". I too believed it was the British, until I read papers concerning the coup at the Public Record Office at Kew in London.
If the British did have a hand in the events of 25 January 1971, the plotters neglected to tell the British high commissioner in Kampala, Richard Slater. Foreign Office telegrams reveal a man shocked and confused at reports of shooting in the streets. As the day rolls on, Slater reports that the man who knows all about the coup is Colonel Bar-Lev, the Israeli defence attaché - the ambassador was away. Quoting Bar-Lev as the source, Slater reports: "In the course of last night, General Amin caused to be arrested all officers in the armed forces sympathetic to Obote ... Amin is now firmly in control of all elements of [the] army ... the Israeli defence attaché discounts any possibility of moves against Amin."...
SOURCE: Philip Hensher in the Independent (1-16-07)
Not everyone, however, is very keen on the prospect. The Close Preservation society disapproves of the building being turned over to non-residential use, perhaps envisaging crowds of Sir Edward's admirers arriving in hired coaches to shatter the peace. Perhaps they hadn't read the details of the proposed museum's highlights. They include two vases given to Sir Edward by Chairman Mao, two portraits of Churchill and, oh, ever so many other things.
Sir Edward Heath was a great one for "letting it be known" and beginning letters "My attention has recently been drawn" - translations, "going about telling people" and "I've just read". He was not known for a lack of a sense of his own achievement. Even so, one could not have predicted that he would seriously think it worthwhile leaving a museum commemorating himself to the nation. I can console members of the Close Preservation Society; their tranquillity will surely go undisturbed by mobs of Heathite fanatics.
Heath forged links with Mao, and will be remembered as the prime minister who took Britain into Europe, but otherwise ran a fairly disastrous administration from 1970 to 1974. He instigated one of the most catastrophic policy U-turns in history, and allowed his government to collapse in shame and disgrace. He was legendarily rude in person, ended his career in a three-decade sulk, was almost always wrong about everything, and lost three out of the four general elections he contested. One might think the record was one to inspire a posthumous silence.
What he must have been thinking about, however, was the habit of American presidents of endowing presidential libraries after they step down. The libraries, often with a reverential museum attached, contain the president's papers and can be useful centres of research, or not much visited. Every American president since Roosevelt has done this, even Nixon, although his papers are in the national archives for obvious reasons.
That has never been the British practice. ....
SOURCE: NYT (1-16-07)
SOURCE: UPI (1-14-07)
Andrew Gallimore, author of "Occupation Prizefighter: The Freddie Welsh Story," has found an odd link between Welsh and Jay Gatsby, The Times of London reported. Not long before Fitzgerald submitted the manuscript to his publisher, Welsh was involved in a car crash in New Jersey, injuring a woman named Myrtle Wilson.
In the novel, Gatsby's old flame Daisy Buchanan is driving his car when she hits and kills a woman named Myrtle Wilson.
Welsh and Gatsby were both self-made men who changed their names.
SOURCE: Boston Globe (1-15-07)
Bertis Post, 70, of Atlanta said a prayer as she waited to be admitted into the dimly lit exhibit hall. The retired nurse said she marched with King in Alabama and Atlanta, and the exhibit brought back many difficult memories.
"I remember a lot that I don't care to say," she said. "I always wanted to see the papers in person -- just to be here and be around what you believe."
Post said she was especially happy to see the many parents who brought young children to the exhibit.
One such parent was Mekia Gravett, a 25-year-old mother of two from Villa Rica, west of Atlanta. She said she wanted to teach her children about King so they would understand that things weren't always as easy as they are today and would appreciate those who helped pave the way.
"I want them to know where they come from; now it's just part of history books," said the dental student. Gravett said she especially wanted her 8-year-old daughter to see all the books King read, and appreciate the importance of education.
Nearby, Derrick Byrd, who brought his 8-year-old twins to the exhibit, was entering some of the titles from King's collection into his BlackBerry so he would remember to add them to his reading list.
One of his daughters, Moriah, said she wanted to read a book that King read: "To Be Equal" by Whitney Young.
The exhibit, which opened on what would have been King's 78th birthday, includes King's letter from Birmingham jail, an early draft of King's famous speech "I Have A Dream," his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, and more than 600 of his other personal documents.
The exhibit is a glimpse at a portion of the collection of more than 10,000 King papers and books that Mayor Shirley Franklin helped acquire for the city for $32 million from Sotheby's auction house last summer. More than 50 corporate, government and private donors pitched in to give the papers to Atlanta's Morehouse College, where King graduated in 1948 with a bachelor's degree in sociology.
The exhibit will remain at the history center through May 13. The papers will then be housed at the Robert W. Woodruff Library on the campus of the Atlanta University Center, which includes Morehouse College.
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle (1-15-07)
Burns, essentially the nation's highest-profile documentarian since his series The Civil War created a sensation, has agreed to air his work exclusively on PBS until 2022, the network said. Burns is 53 now.
"What it represents is an extra commitment from Ken that he's planning to spend the rest of his professional life working with public television," Kerger said.
Burns has projects in the works about the National Parks system and Prohibition, she said.
His film The War is "going to be one of those seminal events, not just in public broadcasting history, but in broadcast history," she said.
Burns was reluctant to take on another war, particularly since he's so identified with The Civil War project. But he realized it was important to capture the memories of the people who fought World War II before they die, and that many students today don't understand what happened, she said.
Kerger said PBS is hoping for clearer direction from the FCC about language issues, since some obscenities are used by former soldiers interviewed by Burns to describe their experiences.
She said she's committed to airing the documentary as Burns has made it. The fact that a handful of swear words in the documentary are an issue is an example of an unintended consequence of the government's crackdown on the coarsening of TV, she said.
It's possible, however, that an edited version of the documentary will be sent to PBS stations not wishing to risk an FCC fine, she said.
The War is set to begin on Sept. 17. PBS will air it in different fashions, both once a week and daily, in order to give it greater exposure.
Still, Kerger faced heat from television critics at a meeting Saturday for scheduling it on the same week that broadcast networks will be debuting their fall series. Some critics wondered whether PBS wasn't unnecessarily reducing the amount of attention the series will get.
John Boland, PBS chief content officer, said PBS didn't want to "go into hibernation" just because the commercial networks were starting a new season.
SOURCE: NYT (1-12-07)
Did it have 16 sides or 8, 20 or 24? The argument swirls with all the passion of Stratfordians versus Oxfordians, who each claim the playwright as their own.
Over the last 200 years, attempts have been made to reconstruct the Globe on almost every continent. And the theater’s basic design elements, such as they are known, have inspired loose architectural interpretations that range from the polygonal Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, to a Globe made entirely of ice hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle in Sweden.
The continuing fascination with Shakespeare’s theater and the myriad efforts to replicate its spirit — and, in many cases, its actual form — is the subject of “Reinventing the Globe: A Shakespearean Theater for the 21st Century,” an exhibition that opens on Saturday at the National Building Museum here as part of the city’s six-month Shakespeare in Washington festival.
SOURCE: AP (1-10-07)
The local council says it is interested in buying Bran Castle, but a government minister criticized the price tag, calling it too expensive.
SOURCE: NYT (1-11-07)
What is more surprising and revealing, perhaps, is the nature of the critiques, which have lambasted the movie but not the idea that Hitler could be the subject of a comedy.
The advance buzz about “Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler,” which opens here Thursday, has been almost uniformly negative, with German critics and commentators proclaiming the film naïve, bizarre, vulgar and — most damning of all — not funny.
“One laughs about two and a half times during the film,” Michael Althen, a critic for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote, comparing it unfavorably to classic Nazi satires like Charlie Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” or Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not to Be.”
SOURCE: Yahoo (1-9-07)
Local sculptors and artisans will restore the main gate and southern entrance to the 17th century architectural wonder in the northern city of Agra, about 400 Km (some 250 miles) from the capital.
"The work involves restoration of stone inlay that has naturally got decayed and weathered out over the centuries," said K.K. Sharma, an official at the Archaeological Survey of India, the official custodian of heritage sites.
Started earlier this week, the work will take around three months.