The Rear-View Mirror: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

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!

It’s easy to miss, but Edwin S. Porter’s short movie The Great Train Robbery from 1903 combines some original movie-making features as well as some first-time ideas for a rather young art form that are still in use today. It starts, innocently enough, with a title card, then a first stage set, where a station agent is bound and gagged by two robbers. There is a lot of overacting because there are no other title cards for the rest of the movie, so gestures and movement must express the characters’ inner lives. There isn’t even a cast list.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Rilke’s Panther (1907)

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!

Everyone has a Rilke story, whether they realize it or not. How could it be otherwise that mine starts with that Panther behind bars. I swear, it must be a staple of a lot of movies and series just like the story of the scorpion and the frog, or the Wilhelm scream. Rilke’s Panther a story of entrapment: the panther paces back and forth, back and forth behind bars in its own hospitalistic way, because that is all it knows. It is one of many poems published in Rilke’s New Poems, published in 1907, although that specific poem might have been written as far back as 1902, when Rilke had a look at the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where there was a real black panther in a cage.

Painters in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
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The Rear-View Mirror: Clyde Barrow (1909)

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!

Somehow, I’ve forgotten that Clyde Barrow was a real person. Born in 1909 and shot dead in a hail of bullets only 25 years later during the Great Depression, an era that is not short of gun-wielding criminals, he is one of the prototypes of the bad boys I’ve written about some time ago. Together with his partner and lover Bonnie Pointer, he robbed more than a hundred stores, banks and gas stations. Although most of the violence came from Barrow, who shot at police officers as well as innocent bystanders, Parker never wavered in her complicity.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Bernard Herrmann (1911)

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!

You don’t have to be into movies all that much to have been scared by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975). He started composing when still a teenager and also worked as an orchestrator and conductor later on. One of his first notable contributions was for Orson Welles’ original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds. Hermann’s music must have had a hand in the fact that so many listeners thought that the Martians were really coming.

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Gambling away your credit

Villains are interesting because we cannot believe what they are prepared to do and then get away with their crimes while we keeping looking on, appalled, but also slightly amazed. With unsympathetic characters, it’s slightly different. My guess is that we are caught in the dilemma of not condoning their actions or beliefs, but somehow understanding them. We wouldn’t act their way because we are not them, but if we were, maybe we would make the same choices. The main character in Pablo Larraín’s Ema (2019) makes no effort to win our sympathies, but we get why she does what she does. To a lesser extent, we might also understand Francis’ decisions in Burhan Qurbani’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (2020), but chances are that we will never have to risk our lives crossing the Mediterranean, or deal with the violent antics of an adopted child.

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The Corona Diaries: Drunk on Déjà-Vu

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A month ago, most stores and businesses have reopened around here. That includes movie theaters, many of which show the films they were showing the day they had to close. Those films are also already out on DVD and BluRay, so you are in the luxurious position to be able to choose whether you would like to watch 1917, Onward or Once Upon A Time in Hollywood at the movies or at home. There are movie drive-ins and movie open-air festivals, the closest of which will open tonight and last until Sunday. Better times, for now.

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The Rear-View Mirror: James Joyce, Dubliners (1914)

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!

Now that most of us have so much time to read – did you pause and think about Bloomsday the other day? That’s June 16, and it’s the day that James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. The whole weighty tome is set on less than 24 hours. Every year, there are people who walk the city of Dublin on that day, novel in hand, and go from one location to the next.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Spanish Flu (1918)

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!

No-one who consciously experienced the year 1918 is alive anymore, but if you ask the old folks around here, sooner or later you will encounter someone who knows about someone who died from the Spanish Flu. The might be puzzled by your question, they might be reluctant, but some of them will remember the dead. It might even be someone from their family, one or two generations back. You could even go all morbid and count the headstones in a graveyard and calculate if the year of death 1918 seems overpopulated. There is hardly any male dead from the First World War around here in Switzerland, so if 1918 is a peak year, you will know why.

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The Corona Diaries: I’m up and dressed, what more do you want?

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Since Monday 11th, this country of ours has opened some of the restaurants and selected stores and businesses under certain conditions, but not my daughter’s school. As before, capitalism trumps education. And I still have to work from home, which doesn’t half work. I don’t mean to say that we should open up everything, and unconditionally. I mean the opposite: when someone is down with the flu, we recommend that they stay at home until they are fine again, plus one day, just to be safe. Can we not do that right now as well, seeing as the new freedoms are grossly abused? We are risking an absolutely unnecessary second wave these days, and what should have been a mild second wave when every public pool, every fitness room, every brothel will open again, will be a third wave.

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Vikings in the Rear-View Mirror, Humming from the Back Seat

There’s this man, Bill Drummond, who tells us to Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared. All instruments and all recording devices, too. We wouldn’t even know what music was, and we would have to re-invent it by using our voices. That is Drummond’s mission. He has fun with the concept, but he is also utterly serious – driven, almost. He gathers people all over the world (prayer groups, schoolkids, construction workers) and tells them that they are part of a choir called ‘The17’. He tells them what to sing and records them. He arranges people in a huge circle, for instance in Berlin, calls the project ‘Surround’, and has them shout at each other like in Chinese Whispers. He has become a performance artist, using print, graffiti and paintings in his latter years, but music and sounds are at the center of what he does, at least in this documentary.

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