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Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

Filmmaking legend Ken Burns says his new PBS documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, narrated by Tom Hanks, is unlike any he has made before. The 90-minute film, co-directed by Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, tells the story of an American minister and his wife who travelled to Europe in the lead-up to and during WWII to rescue dissidents and refugees.

Burns, who said he is working on “about eight films” told the Television Critics’ Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour the storyline, told cinematically through the Sharps’ letters and journals, was incredibly powerful. He added: “Out of 30 films in the last 40 years, this is different than any other. I didn’t shoot a single interview.

The price of an obscure, out-of-print history book has skyrocketed in the last few days—thanks to Elon Musk.

The 45-year-old Tesla chief executive recently said he was reading William Bolitho’s Twelve Against the Gods, describing it “really quite good.” Bolitho’s book explores the lives of 12 prominent figures from history—including Alexander the Great, Casanova, and Christopher Columbus—and how they overcame the conventional thinking of their time.

For those of you who’ve seen the trailer to Zhang Yimou’s latest, Will Hunting slays dragons and ensures the construction of the Great Wall of China… because white saviors.

Let me tell you about the biggest movie ever made in China, directed by China’s greatest living auteur, about one of China’s most famous historical achievements.

The Great Wall is set over a millennium ago in China, where several dynasties’ worth of soldiers and slaves spent their lives constructing 5,500 miles of stone and brick to keep invaders and enemies out. It took 1700 years to build, the trailer and poster for Universal’s 2017 blockbuster declare, and a few hundred more for Hollywood to teach us who really saved one of the oldest civilizations in human history: Matt Damon.

Yes, that’s right: Matt Damon saves ancient China.

The late German Dada artist Hannah Höch is best known as a founder of photomontage, or the photographic collage, which she helped develop during the Weimar Republic's reign. Often, she worked to overturn the era's idealized, dichotomous understanding of the "New Woman" (an independent professional, considered equal among men) while exploring social structures in intricate, layered photographs. Under Nazi rule, her work was condemned as "degenerate art."

The book Hannah Höch: Life Portrait, out today from the Green Box, traces the artist’s oeuvre with images from Life Portrait, an expansive autobiographical collage she created at age 83. The layered black-and-white family portraits and photographs capture Höch at various points throughout her life alongside unmoored objects: porcelain dolls, skeletons, seagulls. Together the montages comprise her life's tapestry, showing the collection and processing of memories.

Explaining her motivation behind Life Portrait, Höch once said: “If at all, I truly want to grasp everything that left its mark on my life as far as I can think back.”

By Tim Baker
385 pp. Europa, paper, $18.

By Simone Zelitch
320 pp. Tor/Tom Doherty, $25.99.

By Ben H. Winters
327 pp. Mulholland/Little, Brown, $26.

Spike TV’s elegiac documentary I AM JFK JR.: The Lost Contender? is a time capsule of the pre-9/11 era, when Americans still retained a small capacity for political hero worship. It had its premiere at a gathering hosted by Politico that was haunted from the opening shots by the beauty and lost promise of John F. Kennedy Jr., whose death in July 1999 eliminated the last star-quality progressive political contender…

CNN’s Chris Cuomo, a friend of JFK Jr., narrates, along with other friends including Christiane Amanpour. Robert DeNiro (who met Kennedy in a Tribeca gym) and Cindy Crawford (who met him when he put her on the cover of his magazine, George, dressed as George Washington) and Mike Tyson are among the celebs who make cameo appearances.

Long-lost film material reveals a remarkably "friendly" and "modest" side of Adolf Hitler at the Bayreuth Festival. The Nazi leader's connection to Richard Wagner has long been a thorn in the side of the festival.

The film footage of Adolf Hitler at the Bayreuth Festival, revealing Adolf Hitler as a welcome guest in the Wagner family circle, was turned over to the Bavarian State Archive in December 2015 and has now been made available on CD to researchers.

"Viewing the scenes is a slightly disturbing experience," said Sylvia Krauss, quoted in the German newspaper "Die Zeit."

What do Supreme Court justices do on their summer vacations? For Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — longtime liberal standard-bearer, recent Donald J. Trump critic — this year’s answer is: Go to Venice, watch your grandson perform in a production of “The Merchant of Venice” and preside over a mock appeal of the city’s most notorious resident, Shylock.

And so, on Wednesday afternoon, in the monumental 16th-century Scuola Grande di San Rocco, beneath ceiling paintings by Tintoretto, Justice Ginsburg and four other judges, including the United States ambassador to Italy, John R. Phillips, heard arguments on behalf of Shylock and two other characters, before reaching a unanimous ruling.

“I’d describe it as fun,” Justice Ginsburg said of the coming mock appeal in an interview on Tuesday, in which she talked about Venice, which she first visited on her honeymoon in 1954, and Shakespeare, whose work she loves — but not about Mr. Trump, weeks after she said she regretted her remarks criticizing the man who is now the Republican presidential nominee.

Of the many items in a new Radcliffe exhibit devoted to a family of social reformers, one in particular points to the attitudes and assumptions they repeatedly overcame.

It’s a brief, age-weathered letter from November 1869, in which Charles Darwin thanks the author and activist Antoinette Brown Blackwell for sending him a copy of her recently published book “Studies in General Science.”

The note begins “Dear Sir.”

Concorde's Last Flight documentary

Aug. 1, 1981, might not immediately come to mind as an important date in history, but to a generation of music fans, it was monumental. On that day, 35 years ago, a cable TV channel that played music videos around the clock made its debut.