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 (11-11-06)
The rector of the Mariners’ Church of Detroit, as well as families of the 29 men lost on the ship, say it is time to de-emphasize the wreck, particularly now that Canadian officials have put it off limits to divers, a goal of those who have helped keep the legend alive. So the service — this year’s is being held Sunday — will now remember all of the countless mariners lost on the lakes, as it once did, rather than just those on the Fitzgerald, as it has for three decades.
“I feel comfortable with this,” said Ruth Hudson of North Olmsted, Ohio, whose son, Bruce, was a deckhand on the Fitzgerald. “I think it’s time to do this. It’s time to let it rest.”
SOURCE: Telegraph (UK) (11-10-06)
Yesterday the Queen acquired her first Caravaggio, worth £50 million or more if she could ever sell it.
The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, owned by the Royal Family for almost 400 years, has lain unloved and seldom seen in a storeroom at Hampton Court for decades. Misattributed as a copy of a Caravaggio by an unknown hand, it was valued in thousands rather than millions.
The Royal Collection, whose experts have cleaned, restored and studied the picture for six years, declared yesterday that it is authentic and one of only around 50 surviving canvases by the Italian master. "I am convinced it is by Caravaggio," Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, said. "We are extremely excited, it's the most important discovery in the collection in the last decade."
SOURCE: Guardian (11-9-06)
Yet none of this has deterred a German theatre group from achieving the seemingly impossible: bringing the huge classic on economic theory to the stage.
Not since Proust was serialised has a dramatist faced such a gargantuan task - turning catchy topics such as "the production of absolute surplus value" into a crowd puller.
To that purpose, the stage of the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus is bedecked with bookcases and a bust of Marx. Eight people - selected from among the few who have read the book from cover to cover - tell their own stories, creating a theatrical collage where Marx forms the common thread.
SOURCE: Jonathan Jones in the Guardian (11-9-06)
I don't need to labour the vilification of the man, who died 40 years ago this Christmas. No other artist's signature appears on the products of an industry that is the cultural equivalent of Coca-Cola or McDonald's, and to many people, buying a toy Pinocchio is as bad as feeding your child burgers. Marc Eliot's 1993 biography branded Disney an FBI informant union-basher, and hints at worse. In a classic episode of The Simpsons broadcast shortly after Eliot's book came out, Bart and Lisa watch a corporate propaganda film at Itchy and Scratchy Land that says animation pioneer Roger Meyers Sr "loved almost all the peoples of the world" - an apparent swipe at Disney's alleged anti-semitism. Hating Disney has become a cliche. A few months ago, the over-rated guerrilla artist Banksy left a figure of a Guantanamo prisoner at Disneyland - where else? - as if Walt, who died in 1966, was directing the war on terror from his cryogenic vault.
When a long dead cartoonist and film-maker is reviled for the crimes of the present administration, something is out of whack. Walt Disney was one of the great American artists of the 20th century. This needs to be recognised. So here I am, Walt, coming to the rescue, aided by an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris that celebrates Disney's films as visual art.
Yes, I know: to call Walt Disney a great artist begs a couple of questions. Even his authorship of the mouse he drew in 1928 in his career-making cartoon, Steamboat Willie, has been questioned. As soon as Disney started making money, he hired teams of designers and animators. Obviously he wasn't Nick Park, doing it all himself. He never claimed to be. He was a modern artist, an American artist - and far from ignorant about the avant-garde. Salvador Dali's original paintings for an unfinished collaboration with Disney, a film called Destino, are on view at the Grand Palais. They point to a film that would have been as remarkable a meeting of Hollywood and the avant-garde as Dali's sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound.
This is not in the least surprising. Disney's films abound in stupendously imaginative metamorphoses, sublime fantasies to rival any surrealist painting. Disney anticipated - and surely influenced - Andy Warhol in turning his studio into a collective enterprise, a factory. He ruled over his cartoonists with an iron fist. Yet when it comes to authorship, the analogies with Warhol, or Marcel Duchamp, are not really necessary. You only have to watch a few Disney films, widely separated across the decades of his career, to recognise the consistent obsessions that can only have been the product of one man's mind.
In 1929, only a year after Steamboat Willie made Mickey Mouse a star, Disney created a cartoon that could not be more different. Skeleton Dance is American, deeply so, in the vein of Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe - a jazz-age honk of American gothic that brilliantly uses black and white silhouettes to create an archetypal midnight churchyard where the skeletons get out of their graves and dance. When Tim Burton does this sort of thing, it's hailed as a gothic subversion of the homeliness of Disney, but Disney subverted himself first. When later he came to make Fantasia, the skeleton dance was echoed in the march of the mops carrying their buckets of water until Mickey chops, chops, chops them up.
Walt Disney's imagination is macabre, as well as delighting in innocence. You could even say that far, from providing generations of children with innocent escape, he filled their minds with darkness - which somehow, in the hands of critics, becomes a fault. In fact, it proves that, beneath the all-American facade, Walt Disney had a terrible secret: he was a true artist.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-9-06)
But to go inside the doors of No 3, once you have passed underneath the small black sign that says Abbey Road, is to enter a place that is somehow more than just a crucial part of the history of popular music. Abbey Road proudly proclaims itself to be quite simply the most famous recording studio in the world. And for once, the hype may well be justified.
Here, inside these walls, which have heard and absorbed so many sounds, so many emotions, so many notes, is where, in 1931, an ageing Sir Edward Elgar recorded "Land of Hope and Glory"; where, on September 16 1944, the band leader Glenn Miller performed in a studio for the last time, just weeks before his plane went missing over the English Channel (the tapes remained unheard for 50 years); and, where, one June evening in 1962, George Martin, then head of EMI's Parlophone records, met four young men from Liverpool. He thought them "pretty awful", but, as they say, the rest is history, right up to and past That Album, the one with the cover.
SOURCE: NYT (11-9-06)
Yet negotiations have stalled with the very institution that has been Italy’s biggest target: the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, whose former curator, Marion True, is being tried in Rome. (The proceedings resume on Friday.)
Negotiations with the Getty have been “disappointing,” the Italian culture minister, Francesco Rutelli, said in an interview on Wednesday. “I don’t think they understand the gravity of the situation,” he said. “You have a major museum, and it is exhibiting dozens of stolen artifacts.”
At issue are 52 works in the Getty’s collection that Italy says were illegally excavated and spirited out of the country. People close to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern that their remarks could arouse personal antagonism and jeopardize the talks, say the Getty has made it clear that it is prepared to return about two dozen objects on the list. They add that the Italian government has struck 6 more from the original list of 52 because the evidence does not point definitively to an Italian provenance.
SOURCE: Edward Rothstein in th NYT (11-9-06)
But many who will visit this impressive complex — which will grow by another 80,000 square feet of exhibition, classroom and theater space in coming years — will be intimately familiar with its account of Marine culture, beginning with basic training so intense it is intended to strip the recruit of any hint of the individualism so deeply cherished on the outside.
That experience is evoked here by a model of a bus bearing hopeful young men to a Marine training camp. “Get off my bus,” the voice of a drill instructor would roar. “Stand on the yellow footprints on the pavement. Now!”
Those footprints are here, at the bus’s side. Nearby are two soundproof booths into which the museumgoer — having just begun this engaging, serpentine journey through recent Marine Corps history — seals himself to hear the disorienting shouts of the drill sergeant.
SOURCE: Salon (11-8-06)
Greek historian Giorgos Marcou's family donated the funds for the project, and bought documents and other materials from all five continents, hauled them to Greece, and conceived and built the facility to house them.
SOURCE: NYT (11-8-06)
Just 10 when a plutonium bomb exploded over that city on Aug. 9, 1945, Ms. Shimohira now devotes herself to disseminating her harrowing story to world leaders and schoolchildren alike.
A tiny, tireless woman reinforced by tragedy, she epitomizes the persuasive power of oral history, and the film uses her to frame a remarkable collection of declassified films and photographs. As a 1946 Mass in a bombed-out Nagasaki cathedral gives way to a United States Navy propaganda film, and horrific images of blast and radiation victims dissolve into a victory newsreel filled with cheering crowds, it’s impossible to remain detached. The film is an emotional sledgehammer but not a diatribe; its images speak for themselves.
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (11-10-06)
Photographs hold us in their spell. We stare and study and think, So this is what happened. But we know full well that a picture represents only an instant, and that it can misrepresent the event it captures, sometimes even become the event itself. Photographs not only tell stories, but they also have stories. And behind those stories, as Clint Eastwood reminds us in the latest film he has directed, there are other stories. Making and remaking memories is a continuing process.
The story of Joe Rosenthal's picture of six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, as the battle for Iwo Jima and World War II raged, has been frequently told, most notably by the scholars Karal Ann Marling and John Wetenhall in Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero (Harvard University Press, 1991), the historians Parker Bishop Albee and Keller Cushing Freeman in Shadow of Suribachi: Raising the Flags on Iwo Jima (Praeger, 1995), and in Flags of Our Fathers, by James Bradley, the son of one of the flag raisers, with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ron Powers (Bantam Books, 2000). Rosenthal's snap of time is the most recognizable and widely reproduced photograph in history.
It is also a visual masterpiece. The six faceless men work in unison, raising a pole that splits the sky as the flag unfurls, their bodies arrayed in near-classical form, bending with effort, maintaining the touch of connection as the last one strains toward the pole, his reach, at that instant, forever exceeding his grasp. The image defined heroism, for Americans fighting the war and ever since. The Pulitzer Prize committee suspended its rules and gave Rosenthal its award that same year, calling it "a frozen flash of history."
In narrating the story of Iwo Jima, the photograph, and the lives and deaths of the six men in the picture, Eastwood's newly released Flags of Our Fathers seeks to demythologize the image. The movie's screenplay, written by William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis, hews closely to its source, Bradley's book, which had been rejected by more than 20 publishers before it shot to the top of best-seller lists. Steven Spielberg bought the rights and is credited as a co-producer of the film.
The battle scenes in Flags are every bit as jarring as those in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998), perhaps even more so because Eastwood presents many of them as flashbacks. We are deposited into the chaos of war again and again, just as veterans carry memories of battle their entire lives. However inured we have become to severed limbs and eviscerated bodies in war movies, Flags shocks us anew with the juxtaposition of the horror of battle and the courage of men to keep going. The assault on Iwo Jima left more than 6,000 Americans dead and 19,000 wounded. Easy Company, the flag raisers' unit, suffered 84 percent casualties.
Rosenthal took his photograph on February 23, 1945, five days into the battle that would rage for another month. The film depicts the deaths of three of the men in the picture — Mike Strank, Franklin Sousley, and Harlon Block — who were killed at Iwo Jima and the later lives of John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who, in the photograph, is the last man in line.
As with the book, the movie explains what Rosenthal's picture was — and what it was not. It was a photograph of the second flag raising that morning (Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal wanted the flag from the first one). But it was not posed, and had Rosenthal not gotten the one shot he did, the event would have been largely unnoticed and certainly forgotten. As Eastwood shows, the photograph had a profound impact, offering hope to a nation at war, but shadowing the lives of the three surviving Marines it depicted. Brought home to be feted in a continuing rally of patriotism, they never wanted to be celebrated as heroes.
The heart of Flags is its meditation on the meaning of heroism — how heroes are created and exploited, and how they make sense of their experiences. Eastwood not only brings to life the struggles of Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes, but he also plumbs the ways the government used and misused them (in, for example, the seventh war-bond drive that put them front and center and raised billions of dollars). The film also quietly and effectively addresses such issues as racism, the mendacity of politicians, and the impact of war on the parents of soldiers.
Hayes had the worst struggle. He despised the bond tour, drank heavily, and died at age 32 in 1955, just months after attending the dedication of the Iwo Jima memorial. Gagnon, who died at age 54, was not yet 20 when he helped raise the flag. He is depicted in the film as someone who initially enjoyed the celebrity, hoped to profit from it, but learned soon enough that yesterday's heroes quickly become today's relics. Bradley, who passed away in 1994, is portrayed in the film, as in his son's book, as the one survivor who managed to have a successful career after the war.
But that is not to say that he did not suffer. It is Bradley's story that frames the opening and closing of the film. After Iwo Jima and the bond tour, Bradley refused to talk about the war — he had his children tell reporters who called that he was away fishing in Canada. Following his death, his son James discovered personal letters written by his father and the Navy Cross awarded for heroism, and he set out to learn all that he could about the flag raisers....
SOURCE: NYT (11-8-06)
It’s called “Dogfight Over Guadalcanal,” and it features some dandy re-creations of an aerial duel fought in August 1942 during that World War II battle. Two hotshots chased after each other in the sky: Saburo Sakai, a Japanese naval pilot from a squadron sent to try to stop the American offensive, and James Southerland, who was among the Navy pilots dispatched to intercept the Japanese.
Each man was among the most skilled and daring pilots his side had to offer, but “Dogfight” doesn’t merely let the two blast away at each other. The program first gives a succinct assessment of the differences between the two planes involved, the Japanese Zero and the Navy Wildcat, and then weaves that knowledge into the description of the battle, in which Mr. Southerland’s plane was eventually shot down.
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-06)
And here, at the Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage) in Griffith Park, nostalgic film buffs and aficionados of cowboy culture will find it all, much of it associated with an entertainer whose reputation was made with a guitar and a saddle, but whose greatest hit was a 1949 rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that sold more than 30 million copies.
That is why it seemed so bizarre when, in 2003, the Autry Museum, with its $100 million endowment, absorbed the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, with its neglected world-class collection of 250,000 objects associated with once-flourishing tribes. This takeover caused much consternation. It wasn’t just the old cowboy-versus-Indian battle recurring in modern commercial form. It was the triumph of the phony cinematic West over its authentic past, with Hollywood’s stage sets winning out over relics so neglected through the decades that many had been assaulted by mold, mildew and insect infestation.
SOURCE: NYT (11-7-06)
Mr. Burns has maintained all along that his seven-part series of “The War” would be shown at 8 p.m., particularly because he wants it to be seen by young people who did not live through the war and its aftermath. But some in public television expressed concern over the summer that even the minimal use of obscenities would cause stations to run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission’s tightened policies against indecency, unless the series was broadcast after 10 p.m., when the F.C.C.’s “safe harbor” period for children ends. Some episodes are likely to include viewer discretion warnings because of grim war images.
In an interview from his New Hampshire office, Mr. Burns said last week that there were three clear-cut uses of obscenity in the series’s 14½ hours, and that those words, which were used in voice-over, have in the past been granted exceptions by the F.C.C. He called their use “so minor and so appropriate to the story.”
SOURCE: New Republic (11-4-06)
These are the first minutes of Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood's new film about the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. When word came of an Eastwood film on this subject, the blood didn't exactly freeze, but it did become tepid. Did the twenty-first century really need another gung-ho tale of World War II? Eastwood's reply is no. His film is crammed with physical horror and courage in crisis, but the intent is not mere replication of battle. Under the carnage, Eastwood is searching for something deeper than details.
What is collaterally almost as interesting as the film itself is the fact that this searching is going on. This picture about the effects of war, short and long range, comes from an actor-director who earned a large part of his reputation by killing. Yes, he made The Bridges of Madison County and Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby and other exceptions, but the Eastwood persona grew through those Westerns in which his quasi-mystic figure settled people's hashes, as well as through the Dirty Harry series. The man who fixed his Magnum on a crook as he incised the phrase "Make my day" on American fantasy is the man who directed Flags of Our Fathers.
The battle for the island of Iwo Jima is a prime site for Eastwood's concern. One island after another--including Midway and the Solomon Islands--had been secured as stepping-stones toward the invasion of Japan. By February 1945, the United States Army Air Forces argued that Iwo Jima, only eight square miles in size but situated just 760 miles from Tokyo, was essential as a refueling station for bombers. Well aware of this, the Japanese forces fought even more fiercely. There were 22,000 Japanese soldiers on this little patch of ground--which, as the film says, was considered part of Japan itself and therefore holy--and they had been ordered to die rather than surrender. In a month of intense fighting, 18,000 Japanese and 6,000 Americans were killed. Out of this massive slaughter arose an incident that Eastwood uses as a speculum for moral inquiry. But before he gets to it, he gives us the invasion itself. ...
SOURCE: Richmond Times-Dispatch (11-5-06)
The Surry County resident discovered a wealth of items after his father, a Marine who served in France during World War I, died in the early 1970s. He donated his father's garrison cap, binoculars, original-issue razor, uniform leggings, medals, ribbons, dog tags and more to the museum.
"It's a way to honor him, his memory and all the Marines that have fought in every war," said Zartman, 68, also a retired Marine. "Personally, it means a lot."
Jennifer Castro, the museum's collections manager, said individuals and families are responsible for a majority of items in the collection, which includes about 1,000 swords, 3,500 medals, 4,000 small-arms weapons, 20,000 uniforms and more.
SOURCE: NYT (11-6-06)
But now close to 800 new images from the period by the photographer Dorothea Lange have been unearthed in the National Archives....
SOURCE: Observer (11-5-06)
But he grins with pride at the laughing children playing in the dirt with a little Oscar statuette and a snowstorm paperweight containing a plastic White House. 'You should have seen me in New York,' he says. 'I had my own car and driver! The Four Seasons Hotel! But that is not true life. This is my home and working with these children is what makes me happy. That is not going to change.'
But however reluctant a hero, Chamusso is about to find fame; the remarkable story of his life in apartheid South Africa has been made into a film already being tipped for an Oscar. When The Observer tracked him down to the home he runs for children orphaned by Aids, he had just returned from a tour of North American premieres - Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Atlanta - where his infectious, unaffected spark made him as sought-after on the red carpets as the stars.
Catch a Fire - shown last week at the London Film Festival and which opens in the UK next year - is set to turn this unassuming, unknown man into an international inspiration. 'I'm an ordinary man,' he says. 'I only did what was right in fighting for South Africa's freedom. Now I am living where I want, here in this township.'
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (11-5-06)
Root around the history of Hollywood, and you won't find many too stars with a cleaner, more wholesome reputation than Jimmy Stewart. But that, hasn't stopped his latest biographer from digging up the dirt.
Marc Eliot, author of a previously acclaimed biography of Cary Grant, says the notoriously tyrannical MGM boss, Louis B Mayer, was so concerned about the young Stewart's apparent lack of interest in ladies he forced him to visit a brothel so people wouldn't start gossiping that he was gay.
The episode may say more about the glorious clash between Hollywood licentiousness and American puritanism than it does about Stewart. But it also opens a window on an era when actors and their reputations were effectively owned by the studios that held their contracts, and subject to extraordinary manipulations....
SOURCE: AP (11-4-06)
But Christensen, a retired rear admiral who went on to command the Navy's Top Gun fighter school, said flying with the Blue Angels was sometimes more demanding than combat.
"In your last 30 seconds coming aboard a carrier, you have levels of concentration, and in combat there are those few moments of stark terror when you have intense concentration, but with the Blues you have intense concentration the entire time," he said.
Christensen and dozens of other former Blue Angels will gather for a Nov. 10-11 reunion and air show to mark the 60th anniversary of the Navy's elite aerial-demonstration team at its home base of Pensacola Naval Air Station.
SOURCE: AP (11-4-06)
No one was inside the house and no injuries were reported, said Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor.
The wood frame building had been undergoing renovation, he said.