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: Guardian (11-15-06)
Now two of Latin America's female literary giants, Laura Esquivel and Isabel Allende, have come to the rescue by writing novels casting them as misunderstood heroines who could be role models for today's women.
Some critics have balked at the revisionism, saying the novels gloss over the rape and savage subjugation that accompanied the 16th century colonial invasions of central and south America.
Allende, 64, whose Inés of My Soul is published this week by HarperCollins, depicts the seamstress as a warrior, adventurer and founding mother of Santiago who built hospitals, dug wells and fed the poor - in addition to beheading enemies.
The author of The House of the Spirits said male perspectives had dominated the history of the conquests and that in four years of research she had learned to appreciate Suárez and her rise from a humble birth in 1507.
SOURCE: San Antonio Express-News (11-15-06)
Q. The late historian Stephen Ambrose said, "More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source." What makes your work so popular?
A. I think that the word "history," when you say it to most people, it's homework. To me, the word "history" is mostly made up of the word "story." If there is an explanation for why the films are so successful, it's that we're telling stories, which is how human beings at their essence relate to one another.
I also think that we're interested in not just excavating the dry bones, the pottery shards of the past, but are interested in pursuing a deeply emotional story that reminds people, without kind of consciously engaging any politics or contemporary commentary, imbues people with a present. Paradoxically, by understanding the past you have a sense of where you are, too.
Q. Because many of your documentaries deal with subjects before the invention of movie film and video, much of your work utilizes old paintings and photographs. How will future filmmakers use e-mail letters, digital photos, YouTube videos and other electronic data?
A. A lot of stuff will be lost in the ether. There will be too much stuff and not enough. Just as there is, in the past, not enough stuff. Here, there will be too much and not enough, because you'll be almost drowned under a tsunami of choice. But at the same time, sometimes those things that we can count on, say a diary from the 19th century, even if there's an e-mail trail, it might not be accessible. It might not be retrievable. We may be on such different systems that it may be impossible to read information that we made in the '70s and '80s.
I think it provides all of us storytellers with daunting challenges. Basically, you have to work with the tools that you have, whatever they may be, to try and tell a story.
Q. What is the best documentary you've ever done?
A. Up until now, I've steadfastly, like a good parent, said, "I love them all the same," and that's still true. Another way of doing it is, when I was working on the jazz film a few years ago, Duke Ellington was once asked what was his most important composition. He said, "The one I'm working on now."
Q. What will capture the imagination and attention of documentary storytellers a century from now? How will they interpret the impact of 9-11?
A. I'm finishing the biggest work of my life right now on the Second World War. Of course, that has as its sort of signal moment, Dec. 7, 1941. I think Sept. 11 will be kind of that all-encompassing date that everything that came before it is before and everything after it is after.
As we look back on the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War, we might be saying that this was the period of the petroleum wars. We might have a perspective and an honesty and a self-critical ability to say, "Perhaps that's what this whole thing was about." We hopefully will be looking back from a position of having not ruined ourselves with it, as so many other great empires have done out of hubris and arrogance.
Q. Give us a sneak preview of "The War" series.
A. It's a bottom-up look at the American experience in the Second World War. We don't have any experts in the films. They're all people who lived through it, about 40 of them. They are so-called ordinary people whose tales are interwoven, kind of like a complicated Russian novel. The intertwining of these ordinary lives allows us to not be distracted by celebrity, which is the new replacement for the great men theory of everything.
In point of fact, in all wars, it's the privates that do the fighting and the dying. So we have ball turret gunners in B-17s and grunts landing at Omaha Beach and Marines landing on a whole host of Pacific islands and the pilots and the nurses and Navy men and you name it. We spend about 20 percent of the film in the homefront and the other 80 divided horrifically between the European and the Pacific theaters.
This is no longer the good war of our imagination and subsequent public relations, but in fact the worst war that ever happened. It happened to be unambiguous in its size and in its raison d'etre. But everything else about it was the worst of all possible wars. We have not blinked or flinched from showing that.
SOURCE: Times Online (UK) (11-14-06)
Milan Kundera’s book, which is set during the 1968 revolt in what was then Czechoslovakia and was made into a film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche, was banned by the communist authorities.
The first edition was published in French, and Czech readers have had to wait until now to read the book in its original Czech.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-13-06)
The discovery has been hailed as one of the most exciting for a generation
The paintings of the Dominican saints, which are expected to fetch a combined total of more than £1 million at auction, belonged to a 77-year-old spinster who died earlier this year.
The discovery, hailed as one of the most exciting for a generation, has solved a 200-year-old mystery.
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (11-13-06)
The "Howl" that was heard around the world wasn't seized in San Francisco in 1956 just because it was judged obscene by cops, but because it attacked the bare roots of our dominant culture, the very Moloch heart of our consumer society. At the end of World War II, I came home feeling disconnected from American life, like multitudes of Americans uprooted by military service. And we didn't stay home long. With new larger perspectives of the world, many of us soon took off for parts unknown. And the "white arms of roads" beckoned westward. I didn't know the actual demographics of it, but I had the sense that the continent had tilted up, with the whole population sliding to the west. It was a time of born-again optimism, but there were also new elements in the smelting pot of postwar America. There was a sense of great restlessness, a sense of wanting more of life than that offered by local chambers of commerce or suburban American Legions, a vision of some new wide open, more creative society than had been possible in pre-war America. And -- as an idolizer of James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus -- I even envisioned myself articulating "the uncreated conscience of my race."
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (11-3-06)
Sixteen millimeter short films like " Telezonia <http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5844452338623457489> ," once used to educate American schoolchildren and workers, are now reappearing in art-house theaters and online. Time and technology have transformed earlier generations' lessons into a younger audience's entertainment. But beneath unbelievably campy surfaces, these vintage films encapsulate a sort of lay anthropology, a window onto the collective fears and convictions of past generations that is as illuminating as any documentary - and far more droll.
SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle (11-13-06)
The Star of India, a 283-foot-long survivor of another time, sailed on the Pacific just off San Diego this weekend as it does once a year.
The Star, pride and joy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, was launched on the Isle of Man 143 years ago Tuesday and is the oldest active sailing vessel in the world, the last operating survivor of the great age of sail.
"We see this as an old ship,'' said Jerome Hall, a professor of marine archaeology at the University of San Diego. "But this was on the cutting edge of technology in the mid-19th century.''
It is hard to believe the Star was ever modern; it is built of iron, not steel, and has no engine. But it sailed from the British Isles to New Zealand, made passages to India and California, and sailed 21 times around the world. For 23 years, it was in the Alaska salmon trade with its home port in Alameda.
"This vessel was part of one of the great events of history,'' said Raymond Ashley, executive director of the San Diego Maritime Museum. "It was the great ocean migration from Europe to Australia and New Zealand that transformed those countries. It is the last ship from that age still sailing.''
SOURCE: Stephen Bates in the Guardian (11-13-06)
The Creation Museum - motto: "Prepare to Believe!" - will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct, and its mission is to convince visitors through a mixture of animatronic models, tableaux and a strangely Disneyfied version of the Bible story.
Its designer, Patrick Marsh, used to work at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and then in Japan before he saw the light, opened his soul to Jesus, and was born anew. "The Bible is the only thing that gives you the full picture," he says. "Other religions don't have that, and, as for scientists, so much of what they believe is pretty fuzzy about life and its origins ... oh, this is a great place to work, I will tell you that."
So this is the Bible story, as truth. Apart from the dinosaurs, that is. As you stand in the museum's lobby - the only part of the building approaching completion - you are surrounded by life-size dinosaur models, some moving and occasionally grunting as they chew the cud.Beside the turtle pool, two animatronic, brown-complexioned children, demurely dressed in Hiawatha-like buckskin, gravely flutter with movement. Behind them lurk two small Tyrannosaurus Rexes. This scene is meant to date from before the Fall of Man and, apparently, dinosaurs.
Theological scholars may have noticed that there are, in fact, no dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible - and here lies the Creationists' first problem. Since there are undoubtedly dinosaur bones and since, according to the Creationists, the world is only 6,000 years old - a calculation devised by the 17th-century Bishop Ussher, counting back through the Bible to the Creation, a formula more or less accepted by the museum - dinosaurs must be shoehorned in somewhere, along with the Babylonians, Egyptians and the other ancient civilisations. As for the Grand Canyon - no problem: that was, of course, created in a few months by Noah's Flood.
But what, I ask wonderingly, about those fossilised remains of early man-like creatures? Marsh knows all about that: "There are no such things. Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? ... they could have been deformed, diseased or something. I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York."...
SOURCE: NYT (11-14-06)
The colossal Haida canoe populated with 17 painted plaster Northwest Coast Indians had been a fixture of the museum’s West 77th Street halls for so long — almost a century — that the life-size Indians themselves acquired their own kind of historical significance.
But this year, workers removing decades of grime from the canoe discovered just how much a good cleaning enhanced the beauty of its original paintings, of an eagle and a killer whale.
So now the 63-foot-long canoe will be exhibited as it originally was in 1883: hanging from the ceiling. The paintings will be in full view 15 feet from the floor, but up in the air, the Indians would be barely visible. So they are not coming back.
The Indian sculptures “were accurate,” said Peter M. Whiteley, the museum’s curator of North American ethnology. “But the figures were composites of different tribes. We thought it was time to celebrate the beauty and ethnographic value of the canoe itself.”
The restored canoe will be revealed to the public on Friday, as a symbol of the $37 million restoration of the southern facade and entranceway of the museum. The canoe will henceforth be the ornament of the museum’s new 77th Street entrance, to be known as the Grand Gallery, a gateway to the museum’s 1877 Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the oldest of the building’s 25 interconnected structures.
SOURCE: dpa German Press Agency (11-11-06)
Five months before his November 1963 assassination, Kennedy visited West Berlin and gave a speech on June 26, 1963 in which he proclaimed his unity with the people of Berlin in the struggle against the communists.
The city, secured by US, British and French troops, was surrounded by communist East German territory.
Anthony Kennedy Shriver, who attended the opening, is the nephew of John F Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.
SOURCE: Guardian (11-13-06)
McQueen, nicknamed the King of Cool, was one of the biggest box office draws of the 1960s and 1970s and was as famous for his racing as he was for his acting.
SOURCE: Times Online (UK) (11-11-06)
The paintings are from the Age of Discovery when naturalists sailed the world to explore newly discovered lands and unearthed tens of thousands of species of animals and plants.
Many are the first-known images of newly discovered plants and animals and were the means by which previously unknown species were introduced to the public in Britain and Europe.
They come from an era when wildlife was first studied in detail and include species, such as the passenger pigeon, that have become extinct.
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-12-06)
Now, the Empire is being brought out of the shadows by the people who were once its subjects.
So great is the interest from Commonwealth subjects keen to know more about their heritage, that the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol is to put the private photographic collections of hundreds of former British colonists on line as part of its new Images of Empire exhibition.
From Thursday, 6,000 never-before-seen images of colonial life, as well as 100 films, will be available online, in a move that — according to the museum's experts — would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago.
The first pictures include the incredible scene of the rhino in the living room, an orphan rescued during Operation Noah to save animals stranded as the newly built Kariba Dam flooded the Zambezi valley in the early 1960s. The creature was called Rupert. The name of the boy sharing the lounge is not recorded.
SOURCE: AP (11-12-06)
Wearing their loss on T-shirts, scarves and buttons, families clutching red roses and photographs gathered on a foggy beachfront to look up the names of 265 loved ones killed when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed five years ago.
"It's something that we can come to and pray," said Ana Lora, who placed a model car near the name of her brother, Jose Francisco Lora, who collected cars. "This is something that, really, we need."
The memorial marks years of effort to create a tangible remembrance of the crash, which killed all 260 people on board and another five in the quiet Queens neighborhood where the jet fell. The National Transportation Safety Board eventually determined that the tail of the Airbus A300 had fallen off, and the agency blamed pilot error, inadequate pilot training and overly sensitive rudder controls.
The disaster jarred a city still raw and fearful after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center two months before. The loss was also felt heavily in the Dominican Republic, where Flight 587 was bound from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Many passengers were of Dominican heritage.
Designed by a Dominican artist, the $9.2 million memorial is a curved wall inscribed with the names of the dead. Cutouts, where weeping relatives placed roses, wreaths and photographs, provide a view of the sea.
"Your ideas and your memories have been woven into it," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told those gathered Sunday.
But the memorial also was shaped by tensions over its location _ a seaside park, rather than the residential street where the plane crashed _ and some victims' relatives were still coming to terms with the outcome Sunday. After the city-sponsored ceremony, mourners flocked to an impromptu memorial around a tree at the crash site.
SOURCE: NYT (11-12-06)
Acquired by the fledging distribution company Miramax, the film, made with a reported budget of $1.2 million, went on to gross almost $25 million in the United States, a spectacular figure that put Miramax on the map and established American independent film as a force to be reckoned with. As they watched their ancient hegemony crumble away, the studios rushed to establish their own “independent” divisions.
Now, 17 years later, Mr. Soderbergh is back with a movie that means to make amends. “I often think I would have been so happy to be Michael Curtiz,” Mr. Soderbergh said. Mr. Curtiz, the contract director, made more than 100 films for Warner Brothers, including “Casablanca” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” between his arrival in Hollywood from Hungary in 1926 and his death in 1962. “That would have been right up my alley,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “making a couple of movies a year of all different kinds, working with the best technicians. I would have been in heaven, just going in to work every day.”
“The Good German,” which Mr. Soderbergh directed for Warner Brothers, reimagines what it would be like to make a movie under the studio system of old. Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon — a thriller with a conscience about an American war correspondent (George Clooney) who returns to the rubble of postwar Berlin to find the German woman (Cate Blanchett) who was once his lover — the movie, which opens in limited release on Dec. 15, is both set in 1946 and, in a sense, filmed there as well.
SOURCE: LAT (11-12-06)
And just like in the old days, the bands they've come to see — a heavy-metal triple helping of Goatwhore, High on Fire and Venom — might trigger a few tsk-tsks from the over-30 crowd.
Goatwhore? Whatever happened to bands with class, like Foghat?
There are differences, to be sure — rock fans in 2006 carry cellphones — but entrepreneur Bill Sagan sees the similarities and is capitalizing on them.
Nearly 40 years after the Woodstock era, its music is enthralling legions of high-school and college-age fans who have Jimi Hendrix on their iPods and Neil Young T-shirts on their backs.
The leftover garments, concert posters and ticket stubs from rock's heyday are bringing top dollar, as a quick spin on EBay will attest.
Though scores of merchants and collectors are selling these remnants, Sagan has an inventory of unmatched provenance — the posters, T-shirts, photos and paraphernalia amassed by the late Bill Graham, rock's leading promoter from the 1960s until his death in a 1991 helicopter crash.
Three years ago, Sagan launched a San Francisco-based company called Wolfgang's Vault to sell over the Internet the multitude of items Graham squirreled away over the years. Sagan used Graham's given name for the company to avoid confusion with evangelist Billy Graham.
Now, Sagan has something fresh to offer: thousands of hours of unreleased audio, video and film recordings from concerts Graham staged at the Fillmore and other venues as well as an archive of King Biscuit Flower Hour concerts broadcast on the radio.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-10-06)
In the shadow of one of the structures stands the terraced house where Richard Burton was born. Two tiny plaques record the fact of his birth inside a recently built glass porch at the front. One, barely visible, pays tribute to a "world star".
It has been an unprepossessing, unsatisfactory memorial to one of the greatest actors - and Hollywood hell-raisers - of the past half century, a man whose on-screen performances and off-screen love affairs kept millions in thrall. But yesterday, at last, Burton's family attempted to give a focal point for the hundreds of fans who make the pilgrimage to the village every year.
A new stone in black marble, etched in Welsh, was laid on the family grave commemorating not only Burton's parents, but the great man himself, who is buried at Celigny, overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where he had made his home. Among the 100 or so friends and family who attended a memorial service amid gentle drizzle on a hillside cemetery at Jerusalem chapel in Pontrhydyfen yesterday, one person was absent.
Thousands of miles away in California, as the male voice choir sung Welsh hymns, the ailing 74-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, one of the greatest Hollywood stars of all time, would have been thinking of events in the Welsh village.
SOURCE: Roderick Conway Morris in the International Herald Tribune (11-10-06)
By the time she launched herself as an artist at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1922, Tamara's married name had gained the aristocratic-sounding French particle "de," and she was signing her works Lempicka, or sometimes in the masculine form Lempicki, which left the first critic ever to mention her in print under the impression that she was a man.
"Italy gave me a lot," Lempicka told a Polish journalist in 1932. And despite her tireless networking in Paris, where she built up excellent contacts in the artistic and literary worlds, it was Italy that provided her with the opportunity for her first one-woman exhibition, in Milan in November 1925. The Palazzo Reale is now the venue for an enlightening, entertaining, well-researched reassessment of her life and works, curated by Gioia Mori (until Jan. 14).
Rewriting of personal history, self-aggrandisement, sexual ambiguity - she was a dedicated, indeed voracious bisexual - economy with the truth, the birthdate she claimed would have made her younger than her younger sister, were to characterize her long life. Her pyrotechnic career as a painter burned brightly for scarcely more than a dozen years.
But for the Bolshevik revolution, Lempicka would probably never have become a professional artist. She fled Russia in 1918, and she, Kizette (her daughter born shortly after her marriage) and Tadeusz were reunited in Paris later that year. The family, like many other refugees, found lodgings in a cheap hotel. Initially a low-level existence was sustained by the sale of her jewelry, but this was decidedly not the kind of longer-term lifestyle that Lempicka had in mind.
At the prompting of her sister, by then also in Paris, Lempicka, who had shown natural artistic talents since childhood, set about transforming herself into a portraitist. The principal bankable asset she had was her fortuitously acquired knowledge of Italian art, ancient, Renaissance and modern. She drew on some aspects of other modern movements, notably Cubism and Picasso's monumental figures of the early '20s. She had been taken on regular visits to the peninsula since at least 1907, expanding her familiarity with its art in the great collections of St. Petersburg, London and Paris.
The contemporary Italian scene Lempicka found herself being measured against at her first solo show in Milan was undergoing its own version of what Cocteau had styled the "return to order," the going back to classical forms after what had come to be seen as the excesses of certain kinds of modernism....
SOURCE: WaPo (11-11-06)
"This is the most important sale of a 19th-century American painting ever," said Marc Porter, president of Christie's Americas, which facilitated the sale. He said the previous records for Eakins paintings were $5.4 million in 2003 at an auction and $10 million in 1990 in a private sale.
Bought for $200 in 1878 by Thomas Jefferson University, a medical and health sciences school in Philadelphia, the 8-by-7-foot painting is a dramatically shadowed depiction of surgery on a boy whose mother cringes in the background.
SOURCE: Jennifer Percy in the Atlantic (11-7-06)
In “Among the Mormons” (April 1864), Fitz-Hugh Ludlow declared Brigham Young’s polygamous community to be “anomalous” and “one of the greatest psychological problems of the nineteenth century.” On meeting a polygamous family for the first time, Ludlow’s reaction was shocked and bewildered: “I stared,—I believed I blushed a little,—I tried to stutter a reply; ‘How can these young women sit looking at each other’s babies without flying into each other’s faces with their fingernails, and tearing out each other’s hair?’” The Mormons said nothing in response except that, perhaps, it was “a triumph of grace.” Ludlow observed that these polygamists believed, with worrisome determination, that they would soon take hold of the United States:
Before I left Utah, I discovered that, without a single exception, all the saints were inoculated with a prodigious craze, to the effect that the United States was to become a blighted chaos, and its inhabitants Mormon proselytes and citizens of Utah within the next two years,—the more sanguine said, “next summer.”
In the late nineteenth century, however, polygamy became punishable by law. No one practicing polygamy was allowed to act as a juror, hold office in courts, or vote in elections. Unfortunately for existing polygamists, the law lacked a grandfather clause that would allow them to maintain the families they’d already created. Those unwilling to give up their families were to be arrested or banished from their communities. But as Rollin Lynde Hartt noted in his article “The Mormons” (February 1900), Mormonism continued to thrive even in the face of such difficulties, and its adherents continued to practice polygamy....