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: Telegraph (UK) (10-27-06)
The SS officers, who were running a forced labour regime in southern Russian during the Second World War, are seen relaxing while troops make prisoners work.
Historians said the footage was highly unusual because it was taken in Russia, and shows informal scenes as opposed to the carefully-shot Nazi propaganda films.
The 10-minute black and white film has been stored at Cullompton Baptist Church for 20 years.
It was part of a collection of films left to the church by a worshipper, Reg Whitton, who died in the 1980s. Mr Whitton ran a foundry and a transport firm and employed several emigres and former German prisoners of war. Church members who remember him said he was probably given the film by one of them.
SOURCE: NYT (10-29-06)
One, Shirlyn Wong, 23, said she had barely learned about Hiroshima growing up, let alone about the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, and World War II just didn’t seem all that relevant now. Iraq is where it’s at, she said, and the images of carnage that she’s drawn to are the videos popping up on YouTube, despite what she and her friends see as the best efforts of the government and news media to suppress them.
“As soon as you hear something on CNN about a beheading, or a sniper video, the first thing we do is check on the Internet for it,” Ms. Wong said.
It’s been a long eight years since “Saving Private Ryan.” And the underwhelming turnout for “Flags of Our Fathers” so far — it made just $10.2 million its opening weekend, a third of the gross for “Ryan” — may drive home something that Clint Eastwood, the director, and Steven Spielberg, his producer, could not have guessed when they set out to make it: the phenomenon that took hold in 1998 with Mr. Spielberg’s re-enactment of D-Day in “Ryan” and the publication of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” may be, like that “last good war” itself, a thing of the past.
Demographics have a lot to do with this. Hundreds if not thousands of World War II veterans die each week, and those living aren’t so quick to rush to theaters. Indeed, the mortality of that generation was what drove a small army of writers like Hampton Sides, author of “Ghost Soldiers” (2001), about survivors of the Bataan death march, to get going before their sources all died, said Mr. Sides’s publisher, Bill Thomas of Doubleday.
Movies will always be made about World War II, just as there will always be westerns. But the dozens of projects in development include precious few intended mainly to honor the men who fought. Two in the works are about the same all-black 761st tank battalion.
But Douglas Brinkley, the historian and author, said “Flags” had missed its moment by at least five years. “This movie doesn’t fit into the zeitgeist of our times,” he said. A decade or two ago, “writers and filmmakers were honoring World War II veterans. Those mining that field in 2006 seem to be capitalizing on them.”...
SOURCE: Edward Rothstein in the NYT (10-27-06)
Now there is no avoiding that mystery because these buildings — the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center — were partly built to address it: what was Washington like, this most publicly celebrated and privately guarded of the founding fathers, and what is the scope of his accomplishment? In trying to answer those questions George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens must now engage in a delicate balance, combining its old tradition of historical curatorship with new traditions that try to wow visitors with sensations like a surround-sound theater in which cannon thuds can be felt in every seat and real snowflakes fall from the ceiling....
... there really is a mystery about Washington in a way there is not with other founding fathers. The historian Joseph J. Ellis said that Benjamin Franklin was wiser, Alexander Hamilton more brilliant, John Adams better read, Thomas Jefferson more intellectually sophisticated and James Madison more politically astute, yet each thought Washington his “unquestioned superior.” Why? And how, outside the realm of legend, is his career to be understood? As it turns out, the new exhibitions to do not succeed in shedding that kind of light; they simplify too much and, in some respects, make some things even more puzzling. But Mount Vernon has ambitions that reach broadly as well as deeply, and those are more effective. The average visit to Mount Vernon, now two and a half hours long, is expected to expand and incorporate a wider audience, which is just what is sought by many historical museums as they shift emphasis from objects to experiences....
There is a side to Washington that is missing. Why did Gilbert Stuart, who painted one of the most famous portraits, describe him as “fierce,” and why did Abigail Adams, the first lady, call him “very dangerous”? The sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, whose well-known bust of Washington is on prominent display here, followed his subject for two weeks and selected an expression for his face that (Houdon said) showed Washington’s indignation at the prices being charged for a pair of horses. Indignation mixed with ambition, pride and genius is a potent blend, particularly if combined, as they were in Washington, with realism, practicality and moral vision....
SOURCE: Newsweek (10-30-06)
Next month, New York's American Museum of Natural History's aptly named exhibit "Gold" will offer a comprehensive review of how different cultures have used the lustrous, malleable element and will feature artifacts that stretch from ancient times to modernity. Their common thread? Rank and privilege. "Societies that used gold as ornamentation, money ... were societies that had social stratification," says Charles Spencer, chairman of the museum's anthropology division. "Even in our own culture, that's how gold operates ... I think that may be the draw."
A draw indeed. At the Field Museum in Chicago, a largely golden collection of King Tut artifacts has sold nearly 800,000 tickets since May. The display is expected to draw 1 million viewers before it closes Jan. 1—triple the typical number for a seven-month exhibit there.
SOURCE: A.O. Scott in the NYT (10-27-06)
But “The Death of a President” doesn’t really deserve either response, even though its makers and distributors will no doubt be happy to exploit the brouhaha. The best that can be said about Mr. Range’s opportunistic little picture is that, at least in its first half, it faithfully recreates the tone and rhythm of a second-rate American television program.
For a while, this is actually pretty riveting. The film pretends to be a look back at the events of Oct. 19, 2007, when Mr. Bush was shot and killed after delivering a speech in Chicago. After-the-fact interviews with witnesses and participants — a Secret Service agent, a presidential aide, various members of the F.B.I. and the Chicago Police Department (all actors, of course) — alternate with hand-held video, security-camera feeds and mock news clips to recreate the chaos of the event. Snippets of an actual speech Mr. Bush gave to the Economic Club of Chicago are used, and later on Ronald Reagan’s funeral is used as a stand-in for Mr. Bush’s.
SOURCE: National Post (Canada) (10-27-06)
Les Bienveillantes, whose Canadian publishing rights were won late Wednesday by an "extremely strong" bid from McClelland & Stewart, has sold almost a quarter million copies since its French release in August, and already its author, Jonathan Littell, 39, is being spoken of in the same breath as Tolstoy and Flaubert.
Although there has been controversy over the subject matter -- Second World War French historian Peter Schoettler called it a "strange, monstrous book," and explicit to the point of "pornography" -- it has been roundly lauded as a deeply researched and humane treatment of a monstrous subject.
French newspaper Le Monde called it "a stunning saga in the tradition of the great Russians," and a British editor at this month's Frankfurt Book Fair described it as "a cross between The Oresteia [an ancient Greek trilogy of tragedies] and Forrest Gump."
From the very first line -- "Human brothers, let me tell you how it happened." -- Les Bienveillantes (literally "The Well-Meaning Ones) is presented as the memoirs of Dr. Maximilien Aue, an officer in the Waffen-SS.
"The basic thesis of the book, or rather its hypothesis, is that the barriers to mass killing are not individual but societal," Mr. Littell told Bloomberg News. "Once the state loosens the constraints against torture, there is never any shortage of torturers."
Mr. Littell, who grew up in France and lives in Barcelona, is a former aid worker who has worked in the Balkans, Chechnya and Afghanistan, mostly with the French NGO Action Contre la Faim. He was in a convoy that was attacked in January, 2001, during which a colleague was kidnapped but later released.
These experiences -- of seeing mass graves, dodging his own death and meeting war criminals -- led to his fascination with the "banality of evil."
Ellen Seligman, publisher (fiction) of McClelland & Stewart, said she first heard of Les Bienveillantes this month in Frankfurt, where it was the talk of the fair, and the subject of intense international bidding.
"I found out who the agent was, and I located him, and I sort of waited for him to finish his meeting, and attacked, asking if I could please see the book right away," she said.
Reading it over the course of a week, she said it elicits a feeling of "quiet horror" with prose that is "beautifully cadenced, luxurious and precise," but also "very dense."
"He writes about this without any sense of judgment or guilt... Because he is successful, what the reader inhabits is the consciousness of the character, not the consciousness of the author. So the author's presence is not felt in this book.... In a way, the character becomes a mirror-image of all of us," she said.
She said she does not think the fact of Mr. Littell's Jewishness gives him a special right to imagine the thoughts of a Nazi, although it might have been different if he were German.
"If this book were this book, but it was written by a German, I think it would be controversial in certain ways, but I think I would stand by it," she said.
Ms. Seligman said she is already pondering how to clear the "hurdles" of marketing a book on such a delicate subject to Canadians.
"We're not promoting the book as a potboiler 'memoirs of an SS,'" she said. "But there will be some readers who will close their mind because they don't want to read about bad things."
Books translated from English to French usually get 20% longer, so the reverse translation should reduce the hefty page count. It will also take time to get it right, Ms. Seligman said, so the joint Canadian-British-American release date is not expected until 2008.
SOURCE: CBS (10-25-06)
Clark is going to auction off years of memorabilia from "American Bandstand," "New Year's Rockin' Eve" and his other shows.
Among the items to be sold by Guernsey's is Clark's microphone that he used as host of "American Bandstand." Also up for sale is a bass guitar that Paul McCartney played when he was a Beatle.
The auction will be held December fifth and sixth at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, in Manhattan's Time Warner Center.
There will be no reserve set for the items, so they will all be sold to the highest bidder.
SOURCE: NYT (10-25-06)
Now a film starring Richard Gere as a journalist and partly shot in this city aims to tell a small chapter in one of those tales.
“Spring Break in Bosnia” is a black comedy loosely based on an actual attempt by a group of journalists to track down Mr. Karadzic. The filmmakers say they hope the movie, due out next year, will shame the international community into making his arrest a higher priority, so that he will finally go on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Some 100,000 people, a majority of them Bosnian Muslims, are estimated to have died in the war, which lasted from 1992 to 1995.
Many people in Bosnia have mixed feelings about Hollywood tackling such a fraught issue. Mr. Karadzic is the figure most reviled by Muslims and Croats, who are a majority of the population, yet many Serbs laud their former leader as a hero.
SOURCE: CBS News (Canada) (10-24-06)
The work by the Nova Scotia-based filmmaker is based mainly on Ken McGoogan's book Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin.
McGoogan credits Rae with, in 1854, finding evidence of a famous mystery — the disappearance of the British explorer Sir John Franklin and his 128 crew members.
But the writer also argues that Rae unlocked the last piece of the Northwest Passage puzzle, by discovering that King William Land was an island separated from the mainland by a navigable strait.
However, Rae's Arctic exploration efforts were dismissed because he reported the unpopular notion that Franklin's men had taken part in cannibalism to try to survive.
But the two-hour documentary will go beyond McGoogan's story, relying more on local knowledge to tell the tale, Walker told CBC News.
SOURCE: NYT (10-23-06)
An effort is being made here in the largest city in the world’s largest Portuguese-speaking country to remedy that situation. The Museum of the Portuguese Language, with multimedia displays and interactive technology, recently opened here, dedicated to the proposition that Portuguese speakers and their language can benefit from a bit of self-affirmation and self-advertisement.
“We hope this museum is the first step to showing ourselves, our culture and its importance to the world,” said Antônio Carlos Sartini, the museum director. “A strategy to promote the Portuguese language has always been lacking, but from now on, maybe things can take another path.”
The museum, which opened in March, has already become the most widely visited in Brazil, drawing schoolchildren and scholars as well as tourists from Brazil and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.
SOURCE: NYT (10-24-06)
By Monday morning, however, the studio and its partners found themselves facing a costly fight to save their showcase awards entry, as “Flags” took in just $10.2 million at the box office — a relatively tiny beachhead that did not match expectations or its mostly strong reviews. The picture had failed to excite enough older viewers who could remember, readily identify or relate to its subject, the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, to make up for its lack of appeal to younger audiences and paucity of recognizable stars.
For Paramount, which inherited the movie when it bought DreamWorks last year, the combination of a weak opening and good reviews made for a problem that has become all too familiar to major studios offering big dramas at awards time: it now will have to mount a costly Oscar campaign, but it hasn’t yet made the money to pay for it.
The fate of “Flags” in the moviegoing marketplace could also provide the clearest test yet of the DreamWorks-Paramount marriage. The movie’s marketing is being run by Terry Press of DreamWorks, overseeing a Paramount team, and its distribution is being overseen by Rob Moore, a top colonel to Brad Grey, Paramount’s chairman, relying on a staff of former DreamWorks employees. To complicate things further, Warner Brothers, which helped finance the film, holds international distribution rights, and is expected to release a companion movie depicting the battle from the Japanese point of view early next year.
SOURCE: Observer (10-22-06)
The new project will chart the composer of The Four Seasons' ordination as a priest and his life at a school in Venice, where he becomes a music teacher. 'We are setting out to make something that will last for generations,' said the film's director, Boris Damast. 'Amadeus is what we are going for. They set the template for this form, and there's been not much between then and now. That was a wonderful film. We want to make a film of that calibre. Maybe better.'
Vivaldi's plot begins with the composer entering the clergy. Fiennes' character soon realises he is not suited to the profession and is moved to a school for abandoned illegitimate daughters of Venetian courtesans, based on the Pio Ospedale della Pieta in the Italian city, which still exists today as a hotel.
SOURCE: Guardian (10-21-06)
"There were bodies bobbing up all around, all these dead men," said the former US marine, now 83 and living in San Diego. "Then we were crawling on our bellies and moving up the beach. I jumped in a foxhole and there was a young white marine holding his family pictures. He had been hit by shrapnel, he was bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth. It frightened me. The only thing I could do was lie there and repeat the Lord's prayer, over and over and over."
Sadly, Sgt McPhatter's experience is not mirrored in Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood's big-budget, Oscar-tipped film of the battle for the Japanese island that opened on Friday in the US. While the film's battle scenes show scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them are African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including Sgt McPhatter.
The film tells the story of the raising of the stars and stripes over Mount Suribachi at the tip of the island. The moment was captured in a photograph that became a symbol of the US war effort. Eastwood's film follows the marines in the picture, including the Native American Ira Hayes, as they were removed from combat operations to promote the sale of government war bonds.
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (10-20-06)
In a fraction of one of those seconds he produced one of the world's most admired, reproduced and imitated romantic photographs: a picture of two lovers kissing outside the Paris town hall in 1950.
The photograph - Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville - is tucked away casually amongst 280 other Doisneau images in a free exhibition which began yesterday at, appropriately, the Paris town hall.
Doisneau, who died in 1994, aged 81, would presumably have approved of the decision to treat his most reproduced image as just a small part of his work. He came to hate the "kiss" photograph, which caused him legal problems late in his life and (baseless) accusations of cheating by using actors. He made it clear from its first publication in Life magazine in 1950 that the picture was posed - but that the couple were genuine lovers who he had encountered on the street.
The Doisneau exhibition, "Paris en liberté", which lasts until 17 February, is laid out like an urban ramble through the Paris of the 1950s and 1960s (with some later shots). The show, the largest Doisneau retrospective for 11 years, has been curated by the photographer's daughters, Francine Deroudille and Annette Doisneau.
SOURCE: John Sutherland in the Guardian (10-19-06)
I watched the film in the Odeon, Camden Town. As readers of Bennett's diaries will know, it's home ground - opposite Fresh and Wild, where the playwright likes to shop. To say the audience was friendly to their Parkway Laureate would be an understatement. There were anticipatory titters as the credits rolled round. The aisles, thereafter, were scarcely wide enough for all the rolling around in them.
The plot of The History Boys is simple. It is 1983 - the Thatcher years, and the industrial north. Think Billy Elliot, think Full Monty. At a modest grammar school in Sheffield, a group of sixth-formers haul in a batch of unusually good A-level history results. They are streamed off as an elite set, to stay on an extra term and sit Oxbridge entrance exams. Not a route their predecessors have taken, apparently (and unconvincingly, if this is 1983, and this is a grammar school)....
The History Boys is a brilliant play, and a good film. It is also permeated with odious class prejudice. The tittering, at the Odeon, for example, reached gale force with every appearance of the headteacher, played in grotesque caricature by Clive Merrison - a portrayal which actor and dramatist seem mutually determined to steep in contempt.
An oaf, a bully (and, as we eventually discover, a groper of his secretary), the head stumbles hilariously when trying to join in suave French conversation that Hector is conducting with "his" boys. Ignorant buffoon. His English accent (scarcely better than his French) betrays vulgar origins. He believes in one thing only: "results". A philistine.
And then, the shameful confession. He "tried" for Oxford. But he has a geography degree from - wait for it - Hull. At this revelation, the audience exploded with mirth. Why? What's funny about that? Those who care to check will see the department which the headteacher attended was rated top in the official 2005 student satisfaction survey and, as its website proudly proclaims: "We are now ranked amongst the top 20 geography departments in the recent Guardian national league tables." Not Oxford, certainly, but neither the academic pits.
Is a geography degree from Hull an intellectually shameful thing? Should those who have earned one, and reached a top post in a grammar school, wear a scarlet "H" on their breasts, carry wooden clappers, and shout "Uneducated! Uneducated!" whenever Oxonians are sighted? It's not just Hull. The film is punctuated with sarcasms against municipal, provincial, and redbrick institutions. Loughborough (all those bone-headed rugby players) gets its sneer, as does Leeds (a scrap heap for those who fail Oxbridge entrance), Manchester and Nottingham....
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (10-19-06)
But the work that is absorbing devotees of Spain's greatest painter and pre-eminent exponent of baroque is to be found a short distance across London, in the former French embassy building which houses the Wallace Collection. Here resides Velázquez's work Lady with a Fan (c1630-1650), which has been the source of long arguments over the identity of the elegant sitter who betrays the faintest hint of décollete.
The received wisdom is that she is one of the many Spanish courtesans painted by Velázquez during his 43 years as court painter for King Philip IV of Spain.
But a British art historian, Zahira Veliz Bomford, has presented a robust challenge, claiming the subject is an intelligent and feisty French aristocrat, Marie de Rohan-Montbazon, the Duchess of Chevreuse who was forced to flee France on horseback over the Pyreneesdisguised as a man after her volatile clashes with Louis XIII's minister Cardinal Richelieu endangered her life.
SOURCE: NYT (10-20-06)
The film distills much of the material covered in James Bradley and Ron Powers’s affecting book of the same title about the raising of the American flag during the battle for Iwo Jima. Mr. Bradley’s father, John Bradley, nicknamed Doc and played by an effectively restrained Ryan Phillippe, was one of six men who helped plant the flag (it was the second planted that day) on the island’s highest point on the fifth day of the monthlong American offensive. An Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal, immortalized the moment, and American politicians seized the day, sending the three surviving flag raisers — Doc, Ira Hayes (Adam Beach, delivering heartbreak by the payload) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) — on a hugely successful war-bond drive.
SOURCE: NYT (10-15-06)
SOURCE: David Thomson in the Independent (UK) (10-15-06)
These deaths were a vital part of the calculation that a direct assault on Japan would result in as many as half-a-million losses. It was in July that the atom bomb would be tested for the first time. And by then, America had thrilled to a journalistic photograph of a group of Marines raising the American flag on the shattered peak of Iwo Jima. In the photo, the flag is not yet upright and the Marines are labouring over it. It looks like a Rodin bronze. The composition is "perfect" - but sometimes photographs are like that, aren't they?
This autumn that photo will live again in what may be not just the movie of the year, but one of those now rare occasions in which a mainstream entertainment picture captures the public spirit. Flags of Our Fathers may be a very important movie: only two weeks ago, with the opening and disappearance of All the King's Men in just a few days, official Hollywood was prepared to say no more "important" pictures, no more great novels, no more portraits of America. Just give the kids what they want. The re-make of Robert Penn Warren's novel, directed by Steven Zaillian, and with a dazzling cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson) was so complete and sudden a failure it left Hollywood power-brokers aghast at the condition of the audience.
But now people are seeing Flags of Our Fathers and beginning to marvel that Clint Eastwood, at 76, may have done it again. There have been books in recent years - by James Bradley and Ron Powers - that have reassessed the great photograph from the conclusion of the battle on Iwo Jima. I really don't mean to spoil the movie for you. Let me just say that there is a "great" photograph by Robert Capa of a Republican infantryman being shot and killed in the Spanish Civil War. It was a photo used to raise money and recruits in the war effort. It is a photo that has graced museum walls. But, over the years, under steady and tender scrutiny by scholars, it has been effectively proved as not a superb piece of journalism but an event staged for public consumption....
SOURCE: Guardian (10-15-06)