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: LA Times (8-1-12)
Toyo Miyatake was an accomplished Los Angeles photographer in the 1930s and '40s. The immigrant, who had come to the United States at age 14, was among the more than 110,000 Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II.
In 1942 when he and his family were forced to move to the military-style Manzanar relocation camp near Lone Pine, Calif., Miyatake used his skills to tell the story of day-to-day life for these displaced families -- no easy task considering cameras were not allowed in the camp.
Seventy of the black-and-white photographs he took are now on display as part of an exhibition at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, Calif., not far from what has become Manzanar National Historic Site. The photos document aspects of the camp and the people who endured the harsh climate in the Sierra foothills that could be searing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter...
SOURCE: NYT (7-16-12)
The 175-year-old National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md., is best known these days for its PubMed database, the pre-eminent digital catalog of the biomedical literature. But like many digital giants, the library has its dusty analog past — otherwise known as a closet full of stuff....
Many of the 450 color prints in “Hidden Treasure” record the efforts of generations of anatomists to recreate the body in two-dimensional printable form. In 1543, the great Vesalius thought a pair of statuesque paper dolls might do the trick; his readers could cut out little paper organs and paste them in the right places. An 1835 British obstetric text used paper flaps instead, with one set coyly tracing the progress of a pregnancy under a woman’s dress; at the end of the volume, a pair of pop-up hands performs a forceps delivery....
SOURCE: The New Yorker (7-30-12)
David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since July 1998
Nearly half a century ago, when Elvis Presley was filming “Harum Scarum” and “Help!” was on the charts, a moody, father-haunted, yet uncannily charismatic Shore rat named Bruce Springsteen was building a small reputation around central Jersey as a guitar player in a band called the Castiles. The band was named for the lead singer’s favorite brand of soap. Its members were from Freehold, an industrial town half an hour inland from the boardwalk carnies and the sea. The Castiles performed at sweet sixteens and Elks-club dances, at drive-in movie theatres and ShopRite ribbon cuttings, at a mobile-home park in Farmingdale, at the Matawan-Keyport Rollerdrome. Once, they played for the patients at a psychiatric hospital, in Marlboro. A gentleman dressed in a suit came to the stage and, in an introductory speech that ran some twenty minutes, declared the Castiles “greater than the Beatles.” At which point a doctor intervened and escorted him back to his room....
Many musicians in their grizzled late maturity have an uncertain grasp on their earliest days on the bandstand. (Not a few have an uncertain grasp on last week.) But Springsteen, who is sixty-two and among the most durable musicians since B. B. King and Om Kalthoum, seems to remember every gaudy night, from the moment, in 1957, when he and his mother watched Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show”—“I looked at her and I said, ‘I wanna be just . . . like . . . that’ ”—to his most recent exploits as a multimillionaire populist rock star crowd-surfing the adoring masses. These days, he is the subject of historical exhibitions; at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, in Cleveland, and at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, his lyric sheets, old cars, and faded performing duds have been displayed like the snippets of the Shroud. But, unlike the Rolling Stones, say, who have not written a great song since the disco era and come together only to pad their fortunes as their own cover band, Springsteen refuses to be a mercenary curator of his past. He continues to evolve as an artist, filling one spiral notebook after another with ideas, quotations, questions, clippings, and, ultimately, new songs. His latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” is a melodic indictment of the recessionary moment, of income disparity, emasculated workers, and what he calls “the distance between the American reality and the American dream.” The work is remote from his early operettas of humid summer interludes and abandon out on the Turnpike. In his desire to extend a counter-tradition of political progressivism, Springsteen quotes from Irish rebel songs, Dust Bowl ballads, Civil War tunes, and chain-gang chants....
SOURCE: WSJ (7-13-12)
'I hereby resolve to kill every vampire in America" writes the young Abraham Lincoln in the best-selling 2010 novel "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." Honest Abe doesn't quite make good on his promise, and the grim results are all around us. Today, vampires spring from the shadows of our popular culture with deadening regularity, from the Anne Rice novels to the Twilight juggernaut to this year's film adaptation about the ghoul-slaying Great Emancipator. Lately we've also endured a decadelong bout with the vampire's undead cousin, the zombie, who has stalked films from "28 Days Later" to "Resident Evil" (the next sequel of which is due out this fall) and the popular TV show "The Walking Dead."
Purists will hold forth on the differences between vampire and zombie, but the family resemblance is unmistakable. Both are human forms seized by an animal aggression, which manifests itself in an insatiable desire to feed on the flesh of innocents. (Blood, brains, whatever; it's a matter of taste.) Moreover, that very act of biting, in most contemporary versions of both myths, transforms the victims into undead ghouls themselves....
Known and feared for all of human history—references to it survive from Sumerian times—rabies has served for nearly as long as a literary metaphor. For the Greeks, the medical term for rabies (lyssa) also described an extreme sort of murderous hate, an insensate, animal rage that seizes Hector in "The Iliad" and, in Euripides' tragedy of Heracles, goads the hero to slay his own family. The Oxford English Dictionary documents how the word "rabid" found similar purchase in English during the 17th century, as a term of illness but also as a wrenching state of agitation: "rabid with anguish" (1621), "rabid Griefe" (1646).
The roots of the vampire myth stretch back nearly as far. Tales of vampire-like creatures, formerly dead humans who return to suck the blood of the living, date to at least the Greeks, before rumors of their profusion in Eastern Europe drifted westward to capture the popular imagination during the 1700s.
In its original imagining, though, the premodern vampire differed from today's in one crucial respect: His condition wasn't contagious. Vampires were the dead, returned to life; they could kill and did so with abandon. But their nocturnal depredations seldom served to create more of themselves.
All that changed in mid-19th century England—at the very moment when contagion was first becoming understood and when public alarm about rabies was at its historical apex. Despite the fact that Britons were far more likely to die from murder (let alone cholera) than from rabies, tales of fatal cases filled the newspapers during the 1830s. This, too, was when the lurid sexual dimension of rabies infection came to the fore, as medical reports began to stress the hypersexual behavior of some end-stage rabies patients. Dubious veterinary thinkers spread a theory that dogs could acquire rabies spontaneously as a result of forced celibacy....
SOURCE: Irish Times (7-7-12)
No Irish event of such consequence is more powerfully symbolised by a single object than the 1798 insurrection and the pike. Pikes had been a standard weapon of medieval and early modern armies, but by the 18th century they were much more strongly associated with revolutionary violence. Every village had a blacksmith, and pikes were cheap to make. So symbolic of popular insurrection has the weapon become that it is generally forgotten that crown forces in Ireland in 1798 used pikes as well.
The first seizure of hidden pikes was in Dublin in 1793. Four years later the directory of the United Irishmen ordered all members who could not afford firearms to equip themselves with pikes. They were made in vast numbers: more than 70,000 were found in government searches in Leinster and Ulster in 1797 alone. When fighting finally began, charges by massed ranks of pike-wielding men were the main rebel tactic. The rebel leader Joseph Holt claimed that “the pike, in a charge, was much superior to any other weapon”. Jonah Barrington, an independent observer, noted “the extreme expertise with which the Irish handled the pike”. But even this expertise was seldom sufficient for very long against trained troops....
SOURCE: CSM (7-14-12)
Google adorned its homepage today with a Doodle commemorating the 150th birthday of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, known for his elaborate and beautiful Art Nouveau paintings, his rejection of the prevailing conservative art styles of the day, and his sometimes controversial, frank depictions of eroticism.
Most of Klimt's best-known work, and the inspiration for today's Doodle, come from his so-called "Golden Phase," a period marked by Klimt's extensive use of gold-leaf, and his greatest career successes. Google has incorporated into its logo a detail of The Kiss (1907-1908), a gilded square painting that depicts a couple embracing, entwined in decorative yellow robes, inspired by the 19th century's Arts and Crafts movement, as well as the newer Art Nouveau style.
In 1897, Klimt resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists along with several other painters, sculptors, and architects, forming the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession), a movement crystalized not around one style, but rather around a rejection of the traditional Historicism of the Association. He also served as the organization's president. Members strove to create new styles independent of historical tradition. Many members produced highly decorative works, and the group's exhibitions helped to familiarize Austria with innovative new works, including the paintings of the French Impressionists...
SOURCE: AP (7-14-12)
An exhibition on the history of lunch in New York City over the past 150 years serves up some delicious tidbits.
But don't rush to see it on your lunch hour. You'll want much more time to digest all the visually appetizing props and displays at the free exhibition at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.
"Lunch Hour NYC" transports visitors back in time with sections and artifacts from the library's vast collection on street foods, home lunches, school lunches and the once popular Horn & Hardart Automats. The first gallery sets the stage with a wooden cart filled with white (faux) oysters, an aluminum 1960s hot dog stand with a red-and-blue umbrella, a basket piled high with pretzels and a delivery bicycle purporting to carry Chinese takeout...
SOURCE: NPR (7-12-12)
The sleuths at PBS' History Detectives show think they've had their hands on the guitar Bob Dylan played when he famously (or infamously?) "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
Dylan, though, says otherwise. According to his lawyer, The Associated Press reports, the singer-songwriter says he still has the Fender Stratocaster he played on stage that day.
The story doesn't end there, though. The guitar that History Detectives is going to report about on Tuesday reportedly was left on a plane Dylan sometimes flew on between gigs back in the '60s (though Dylan remembers driving, not flying, to the '65 festival). The pilot, Victor Quinto, is long dead. It's his now-adult daughter, Dawn Peterson, who brought the instrument to History Detectives' attention....
SOURCE: The New Republic (7-11-12)
David Hajdu is the music critic for The New Republic and a professor of arts journalism at Columbia
...R&B, a music that’s for and about romantic seduction, tends in its lyrics to trade in the corny formulas of hetero sex roles, though the groove and the atmosphere of the music carry far more weight than the words, which, one assumes, the listeners are too busy at romance to listen to. Hip-hop, wrapped up as it is in tropes of male prowess, conquest, domination, and acquisition, has never been particularly gay-friendly. Yet, the music that both R&B and hip-hop grew from, the blues of the early 20th century, was far from homophobic. In fact, it's probably accurate to say that the breakthrough blues of the 1920s, the material that established the blues in the public consciousness, was the gayest music in America.
A good 15 years before Robert Johnson did his first recording, the blues were well established by a group of early innovators: women such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ida Cox, and Sippie Wallace, among many others. Through both the content of their music and the content of their public images and performance styles, they presented radically potent messages of sexual disconformity and womanly independence of mind and body. Their music was widely popular—Mamie Smith's record of “Crazy Blues” sold more than 100,000 copies to white and black listeners in 1920, when Robert Johnson was probably four years old—and it was profoundly, but entertainingly transgressive. In a broad sense, the “blues queens” and their work embodied big, bad challenges to the Victrola-era image of women as pretty little objects of male desire. Further, the music was sometimes an outlet for subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) expressions of female same-sex desire....
SOURCE: Asia Society (7-9-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is author of China in the 21st Century (2010) and co-editor of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (2012). He is an Asia Society Associate Fellow.
The Revolutionary, a new documentary that has begun showing on university campuses and at cultural centers, looks at the life of Sidney Rittenberg, a 90-year-old man who has had an extraordinary variety of experiences. Born into a well-to-do South Carolina family in 1921, he became a labor organizer while in college, began to study Chinese during a stint in the army, traveled to China soon after World War II — and didn’t come back to the United States for 35 years.
During his long sojourn in China, Rittenberg got to know Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other top Communist leaders and was granted the very rare distinction, for a foreigner, of being made a full-fledged member of the Chinese Communist Party. He also endured two long stints in prison, the first time (from late 1949 until 1955) as an alleged foreign spy and the second time (from 1968 until 1977) as a “counter-revolutionary,” the all-purpose charge against anyone targeted for criticism or punishment during the Cultural Revolution era (1966-1976).
Since returning to the United States in 1980, he has worked as a consultant to American businesses trying to understand what makes the giant and still nominally communist country across the Pacific tick, taught courses about China at various colleges and universities, and become a frequent media commentator on Chinese politics and culture. He also wrote an autobiography focusing on his China years, The Man Who Stayed Behind, which was published in 1993....
SOURCE: WaPo (7-1-12)
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — Colombians have wanted to forget Pablo Escobar since his reign of terror in the 1980s.
But in what some are calling a form of catharsis, a Colombian television network is examining the darkest episode in the country’s tumultuous history with a true-life series about the flamboyant drug lord’s rise and fall.
“Pablo Escobar: Boss of Evil” is mesmerizing television viewers in this country of 46 million. But it is sparking a debate over whether the series does too much to humanize Escobar, who won legions of admirers by building homes for the poor but also blew up an airliner and coolly ordered the killings of thousands....
SOURCE: NYT (6-14-12)
MICHAEL ARENELLA is at an open-air flea market in Lambertville, N.J., his fedora-topped head leaning over a gramophone. He winds the crank, lifts the arm and places the needle on a 78. Out of the old oak box comes a voice from the past: Arthur Fields singing “In My Tippy Canoe” in 1921. Mr. Arenella stands silently, hands in his pockets, taking in every crackly note.
Other shoppers stop to figure out where the music is coming from. To their delighted surprise, they see Mr. Arenella, a 34-year-old jazz musician and bandleader from Brooklyn who looks as if he had stepped through some wormhole in the space-time continuum. He is 6-foot-1 and dressed in windowpane-checked pants, a blue paisley ascot, a red-and-white checked shirt, a herringbone vest, a blazer with a blue pocket handkerchief, cap-toe faux-crocodile ankle boots, a pinkie ring and a brown fedora. A few people wander over to check him — and the gramophone — out. But most just stare, smile and walk on, this vision of the ’20s brightening a mundane, modern New Jersey day.
“I need to buy this,” Mr. Arenella says, laying down $375 in cash for the gramophone, making it the third in his collection....
SOURCE: NYT (6-27-12)
Teenagers are still reading the classics. They just don’t want them to look so, well, classic.
That is the theory of publishers who are wrapping books like “Emma” and “Jane Eyre” in new covers: provocative, modern jackets in bold shades of scarlet and lime green that are explicitly aimed at teenagers raised on “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”
The new versions are cutting edge replacements for the traditional (read: stuffy, boring) covers that have been a trademark of the classics for decades, those familiar, dour depictions of women wearing frilly clothing. In their place are images like the one of Romeo in stubble and a tight white tank top on a new Penguin edition of “Romeo and Juliet.”...
SOURCE: NYT (6-26-2012)
A lot was riding on the new production of Berlioz’s epic opera “Les Troyens” that opened at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, on Monday night. This staging by the director David McVicar is a co-production with the Vienna State Opera, Teatro Alla Scala in Milan and the San Francisco Opera. The Royal Opera’s “Troyens” is also a major event in the London 2012 Festival, and it will be shown in movie theaters worldwide in November.
Getting this sprawling, five-act opera on the stage has both inspired and confounded some of the best directors in the field. Mr. McVicar’s production, with sets by Es Devlin and costumes by Moritz Junge, uses updated imagery to tell the story, drawn from Virgil’s “Aeneid.” Here are the valiant Aeneas, his pivotal encounter with the prophetic Cassandra and his consuming love affair with Queen Dido in Carthage. The look of the production suggests mid-19th-century Europe at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution....
SOURCE: NYT (6-8-12)
The orotund proclamations will be unavoidable at the new exhibition “Churchill: The Power of Words,” at the Morgan Library & Museum, because at the center of the gallery is a semi-enclosed theater. And from it, however muted, will emerge recordings of Winston Churchill’s voice, speaking to Parliament, to British radio listeners and to American audiences, breaking on the ear like waves, rising and falling with every breath, sometimes suspended unexpectedly in midair, other times rushing forward with renewed vigor.
If you enter that small theater to hear excerpts from eight of his landmark speeches more clearly, you will also see the words on screen, laid out in poetic scansion (“The whole fury and might of the enemy/must very soon be turned on us”), just as Churchill wrote them, to match the rhythms of his voice.
But ignore the sound, if you can, and leave it for last. For it is best first to be reminded just how important those speeches by a British prime minister really were, and what difference they made....
SOURCE: NYT (6-8-12)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND — “The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China” on view at the Fitzwilliam Museum through Nov. 11 is one of those landmark shows that shed new light on a crucial historical period in one of the world’s great civilizations.
The discoveries made in the past three decades by Chinese archaeologists have yielded so much datable evidence that books dealing with Han China must be rewritten.
The tour de force achieved by the curator of the show, James Lin, with the backing of the director of the museum, Timothy Potts, is to have brought to the West some of the art treasures that lay the foundations on which our understanding rests of the Han age in the second and first centuries B.C....
SOURCE: NYT (6-2-12)
The Cambodian government is convinced that two life-size 10th-century statues that have anchored the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Southeast Asian galleries for nearly two decades were looted from a jungle temple and plans to ask for their return.
“The government is very serious about moving this forward, and we are getting much legal advice,” said Im Sokrithy, a director of Apsara, the Cambodian agency that oversees heritage and land management at the sprawling temple complex where, archaeologists say, the statues stood for centuries. “We are taking a forceful position, and we hope they can be returned.”...
SOURCE: OUPblog (5-28-12)
Mary L. Dudziak is Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law School. Her books include War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences; Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall’s African Journey; and Cold War Civil Rights.
Toni Morrison’s new novel Home about a Korean War veteran’s struggles after the war might seem perfectly suited to an impending cultural turn. The close of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq and an anticipated draw-down of American troops in Afghanistan, might signal the end of a war era and a renewed focus on what we now call the homeland. Perhaps we can turn to Morrison’s beautiful and brief narrative to understand the journeys of our generation’s soldiers as they, like Frank Money (the protagonist), try to find their way home.
The message of this novel is sobering. Whatever home might be for Frank, it is not a place where war is absent, as he brings Korea along with him as he travels. If peace is thought of as an absence of war, it is a state that Morrison’s character is unable to experience. War memories, psychological injury, and loss have become a part of him, so that his wartime and peacetime selves have become one. His army jacket and dog tags are outward signs of an inner melding. Home for this soldier/citizen cannot be a place apart. And so a central theme in the novel is the kind of space home can be for a broken veteran like Frank....
SOURCE: A.V. Club (5-22-12)
Civilization: The West And The Rest With Niall Ferguson debuts tonight on PBS. It will air at 8 p.m. Eastern in most markets, but you should check local listings.
Niall Ferguson is public television’s idea of a party reptile: a good-looking bloke with a full head of dark hair and an air of solemn glibness. Ferguson entertains interviewers by talking about how he chose his political leanings on the basis of what side he thought would be more fun to piss off, and how he likes working in the United States because that’s where the money and star power are. If he thought he could swing it, he’d probably have his agent insert a clause into his contract with Harvard stipulating that roadies have to remove all the brown M&Ms from the candy dish in his office, so that he can trash the faculty lounge in the event they ever forget. His new two-part, four-hour PBS series allows him to take 500 years of history and wedge as much of it as he can into a mold designed to flatter his neo-imperialist worldview. It’s a public service: The show is airing at a time when, with the 2011-2012 TV season coming to a wrap, some people may be tempted to find out what public broadcasting looks like on days when Downton Abbey’s not on. Five minutes of Ferguson should send them scurrying away in search of something more intellectually and spiritually rewarding, such as a Mixed Martial Arts tournament....
SOURCE: Salt Lake Tribune (5-10-12)
Provo right-wing painter Jon McNaughton is truly national news now - so much so that he was satirically "praised" by Stephen Colbert.
On "The Colbert Report" Wednesday, Colbert played clips from cable TV -- both Sean Hannity on Fox News and Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC -- talking about MacNaughton's works.
Colbert then used his artistic expertise to decipher the hidden meaning of McNaughton's painting "One Nation Under Socialism," which shows President Barack Obama holding up a flaming copy of the U.S. Constitution....