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  • Originally published 07/26/2013

    Bruce: Every Historian's Favorite Rock Star

    Where this summer can you see a man just dumped by his girlfriend receiving a consoling ovation from 20,000 people? Or where can you find video footage of a street musician jamming with an international rock star? And where can you eavesdrop on a working class couple dancing to a CD in their kitchen, possessing few creature comforts but happy in each other’s arms?Only in the just released documentary film Springsteen and I, directed by Baillie Walsh and produced by Ridley Scott.

  • Originally published 05/27/2013

    "The Great Gatsby's" Historical Razzle-Dazzle

    F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is a wafer thin book about the 1920s Jazz Age, long lost love and the intrepid chase of the American dream. It is considered the best novel ever written by an American not because of what it says, but because of what it implies. A hundred stories drift lazily between the pages, and over the water from Gatsby’s swimming pool to the green light on Daisy’s dock.In Baz Luhrmann’s new movie The Great Gatsby, the sixth film retelling of Fitzgerald’s tale, the story is inflated and expanded, as if it were based on a 700 page Herman Melville work. Everything you wondered about the story and characters is spelled out and everything you wanted said is spoken. Luhrmann and screenwriter Craig Pearce left no stone unturned, and no glass of champagne from one of Gatsby’s wild parties unfinished in the new Roaring Twenties epic.

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    Charles Walton: The Missing Half of Les Mis

    Charles Walton is Associate Professor of History at Yale University.Before there were blockbuster films, there were blockbuster books. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, published in 1862, was one of them. Thanks to a market-savvy publisher, this monument of French romanticism, which was serialized in ten installments, became an immediate bestseller across Europe and North America. Demand was so great that other authors, notably Gustave Flaubert, postponed the publications of their own books to avoid being outshined. On days when new installments went on sale in Paris, police were called in to stop impatient crowds from storming the bookstores. Some high-minded critics, not unlike those who spurn sensational Hollywood films today, found the hype distasteful. Edwin Percy Whipple, in a review for The Atlantic, referred to “the system of puffing” surrounding the book’s release in terms worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge: it was “the grossest bookselling humbug,” a spectacle “at which Barnum himself would stare amazed.”

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    Aux armes, citoyens!

    Illustration from an 1886 edition of Les Misérables. Credit: Wiki Commons.To the barricades! Les Misérables is back again, this time on the movie screen.Victor Hugo's Les Misérables is a thrilling, violent, enthralling historical story about men and women caught up in a failed political uprising that swept through France in 1832. The original novel, published in 1862, took the world by storm.This latest Les Misérables -- which has earned a tremendous amount of money in the three weeks since it premiered and last week was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture -- has somehow turned into a debate on whether singing the music live is better or worse than the standard recorded music and whether Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway look properly movie star-ish in the close-ups that are used throughout the movie. One critic sneered that Hathaway, who plays Fantine, can’t sing and another howled that she looks anorexic. A third was ecstatic because Hathaway died off at the forty-third-minute mark.

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