The Rear-View Mirror: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Bear with me, even though it’s still a few weeks before Christmas, but there’s no way we can’t talk about Frank Capra’s eternal holiday classic now that the Rear-View Mirror is reflecting the year 1946 back at us. When Frank Capra is mentioned, it’s easy to think of a certain kind of corny sentimentality, doubly so when the film in question is It’s a Wonderful Life. The fairy-tale ending, the song about lassoing the moon, the twee story about how an angel gets his wings whenever a bell rings, and Zuzu’s damn petals: it’s easy to be dismissive of the film. Easy and wrong.

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Women of Dakar

There is a gigantic supertower in Dakar, Senegal, and it is almost complete, and the men who work construction there soon have to find other jobs, especially because they haven’t seen their wages for the last three months, but work is scarce, so most of them will pay their passage on a boat for Europe. One of them is Souleiman, and he falls for a young woman named Ada, who is promised to a rich guy named Omar. Next day, word on the street is that Souleiman has left. There is that memorable scene where the women are wearing their best dresses and go to the beach hut where they hang out – and there are no men. Many of them are gone, and most of the women already know they will stay behind. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #28: Werner Herzog

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3It is finally time for us to talk about the Grand Old Wild Man of German cinema, the director who made Klaus Kinski drag a boat across a mountain, the man who directed a film where all the actors were under hypnosis and another film where Nicholas Cage may have been one of the more normal parts of the whole. Join your cultural baristas for a conversation about Werner Herzog and his films, ranging from Nosferatu the Vampyre (1978) via Grizzly Man (2005) to Encounters at the End of the World (2007).

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The Rear View Mirror – L’écume des jours (1947)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Boris Vian was a polymath, a writer, actor and inventor, but he is most remembered nowadays for his novel L’écume des jours (literal translation: froth of days), published in 1947. To say that it is a weird read is an understatement: there are eels clogging water pipes and peeking out of faucets, only coming out of there if you lure them out with pineapple. There are naked men lying on mounds of earth hatching gun parts, a job for the war effort that cannot be done by women because their breasts make even body warmth distribution impossible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Girl, Incandescent: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

The painter’s job is clear: she must paint a version of the young woman that her potential suitor in Milan will treat like the 18th century version of Tinder, except for ‘swipe right’, read ‘marry the young woman you have never met in person, and she doesn’t have a choice in the matter’. The painter’s job is less that of producing enduring art than it is to advertise a product to be sold: the young woman is a commodity and the painter is there to make her into the most alluring commodity possible. Except, in the process of observing the young woman, the painter begins to desire her. The young woman is no longer an object of art, she is the subject of the painter’s longing. But if the painter fails to complete the portrait that will lead to her losing the woman she has fallen for, someone else will be called in to paint the young woman instead. They will lose one another either way – but, in painting the young woman, she can show her for what she truly is. For the painter, loving her subject finally entails the act of relinquishing her.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Easter Parade (1948)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I’ve written about my ambivalent relationship to the musical genre before. It moves beyond ambivalent into downright ignorance when it comes to the musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sure, I’ve seen Singing in the Rain, but I have failed so far when it comes to other classics, such as An American in Paris. And if you were to ask me about Fred Astaire… well, it’s better not to ask me about Fred Astaire, unless you enjoy the sound of silence. It’s not that I dislike him, it’s more that I simply don’t know him.

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They create worlds: Disco Elysium

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

The moment I wake up, I know that something is amiss. My reptilian brain and my limbic system talk to me, one in a snarling, jagged voice, the other in a hoarse, high-pitched whisper. They urge me, mock me, lead me astray – but who is this “me” they’re talking to? I drag my sorry body to the bathroom and look at myself in the fogged-up mirror – and there is no moment of recognition. I see my face, and it could be anyone’s. I’m a blank – and like a blank, I’m there to be filled with personality and meaning and purpose.

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BoJack Horseman: Because Everything Ends

There’s this theory in psychology called the Hedonic Treadmill. In broadly simplified terms, it says that all of us possess a base level of happiness, an innate set point: regardless of how many good or bad things happen to us, our dispositions tend to regress towards this baseline given enough time. So it doesn’t matter how much fortune or fame or friends you have, or how little: at some point you’ll habituate to your circumstances and settle back towards your earlier levels of happiness, and you’ll need something more to be happier.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Adam’s Rib (1949)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

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Adam’s Rib is a George Cukor comedy or, if you take into account the amount of doors slammed, a farce. It is about married couple Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) an assistant district attorney, and Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) a lawyer. It relates how they cope and bicker in a marriage where Amanda is a “modern woman”, which is to say a kind of (shorthand) feminist.

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They create worlds: Outer Wilds

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

One of the biggest differences between computer games when I first started playing them, back in the 1980s, and modern computer games is scope. Open worlds of the kind that we’re used to nowadays didn’t exist on the 8-bit and 16-bit computers of yore, but these days it’s not rare for a game to feature a world many square kilometres in size. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III let us rampage in a Liberty City that measured 9 km2 in real-world terms; Grand Theft Auto V, which came out in 2013, covered an area of 127 km2. Things get even more insane with the possibilities of procedural generation, so that we got a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy in Elite Dangerous (released in 2015). As game worlds get bigger and bigger, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill them with meaningful content, and arguably Elite‘s in-game universe is several light years wide and a nanometre deep. Which is one of the reasons why the toy-box solar system of Outer Wilds is so engaging.

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