The Rear-View Mirror: Lolita (1955)

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 took me ages to read Lolita. No, that’s not quite correct: it took me ages to get around to reading Lolita. I avoided the book for a long time because it sounded offputting: an older guy lusting after a young girl. You don’t need to read literature, you see that everywhere, every day already. In the end, my first encounter with Lolita was, well, not even the 1962 adaptation by Stanley Kubrick but the glossy, shallow film version by Adrian Lyne. It’s a miracle I ever did get around to reading Vladimir Nabokov’s novel after that.

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A Hooplehead Reunion

The first half-dozen years or so of the 21st century saw some of the strongest arguments that a Golden Age of Television had arrived. Many of those were produced by HBO, from the New Jersey mobscapades of The Sopranos to the sprawling social canvas of The Wire. While it was cancelled after three season, the Western series Deadwood stands tall among the standouts of that time. Even thirteen years after its cancellation, it’s difficult to find a series as accomplished, with an ensemble cast as strong, and with writing as distinct.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #26: In the Mood for Love

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After spending much of our summer looking into the abyss with our two episodes on cinematic psychopaths, A Damn Fine Cup of Culture is heading for British Hong Kong, 1962: we’ve rewatched Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and we’ve got some things to say about it, from commenting on the echoes to Billy Wilder’s The Apartment to discussing the film’s sartorial choices. On our way there, we also touch upon the Elton John biopic Rocketman, the Nazi-shootin’ B-movie thrills of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus and the grandpappy of silent Soviet cinema, Battleship Potemkin… set to a live orchestra’s renditions of Shostakovich. How better to finish a summer of culture?

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Americans, animals, but neither fish nor fowl

We’ve all been there. You find yourself in your late teens or early twenties with a profound sense of existential malaise. You’ve been to school for most of your life and you could go to school for a bit longer, but why? What for? To prepare for a job that, at best, bores you if it doesn’t outright depress the hell out of you? To lead a life of quiet desperation? Some try to escape by means of alcohol, drugs or sex, but not you. Oh, no.

Instead, you do you. You try to give your life a sense of meaning by organising an insane art heist with the aim of stealing the ultra-rare books on display at your university’s library. It’s obvious if you think about it.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Dumb Waiter (1957)

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!

GUS: What do we do if it’s a girl?
BEN: We do the same.
GUS: Exactly the same?
BEN: Exactly.

Pause.

GUS: We don’t do anything different?
BEN: We do exactly the same.
GUS: Oh.

GUS rises, and shivers.

Excuse me.

He exits through the door on the left. BEN remains sitting on the bed, still.
The lavatory chain is pulled once off left, but the lavatory does not flush.
Silence.

What a scorcher: bearing the brunt of Harold Pinter’s temper was one of life’s central experiences
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The Compleat Ingmar #7: Summer with Monika (1953)

Summer with Monika (1953) is an odd yet fitting film with which to continue our Tour d’Ingmar. Like Crisis, A Ship to India, To Joy and Summer Interlude, its protagonists are flawed young characters in the process of becoming adults, though unlike many of the Bergman films earlier in the collection, the young man, Harry (Lars Ekborg), is selfless and arguably the more mature one, while Monika (Harriet Andersson), the female protagonist, is self-serving and at times downright unpleasant.

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Crass warfare

You have to give it to them: the Kims, the protagonists of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, are nothing if not resourceful. At the suggestion of a friend, the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) pretends to be a student in order to get a position as the English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple, complete with photoshopped diploma. It doesn’t take long and he’s introduced his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-Dam) to the Park family and she takes on the job of being the youngest child’s art therapist. It’s amazing how you can fake expertise with little more than Google skills and a knack for improvisation. Before long, the entire family – Ki-woo, Ki-jeong and the parents Ki-taek (Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho) and Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) – are in the gainful employ of the Parks, one recommending the other, as that’s how the Parks work: they only trust employees that come highly recommended by another trusted employee. Oh, my father has a friend who used to work as a chauffeur. Oh, I know of this housekeeper who’d be just perfect for you. And the rich, friendly (if patronising), gullible Parks eat it all up. They get the domestic help they want and the Kims get the gainful employment they need, so it’s a win-win situation, right?

To cut a long story short: no. Parasite isn’t a story about the joys of sucessful social mobility. It isn’t a hymn to faking it till you make it. No, Bong’s latest is a caustic comedy that turns into a war movie – the war in question being that between the classes. And as another war story set in Korea used to say: war is hell.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Time Machine (1960)

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!

In Switzerland, where I live, this happens once a year, in early February: all public sirens across the country are tested, sounding the signal for ‘general alert’. When I grew up, in the last dozen years of the Cold War or so, most people would have associated the signal with their fears of nuclear war. If we heard these sirens on any day other than the first Wednesday in February, we’d most likely have to head for the nearest shelter because some hot-headed madman in Moscow had pushed the big red button.

For me, though, that’s not what the sirens meant. For me, they always meant this: the Morlocks are coming.

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Seeing, being seen

When They See Us, the Netflix limited series directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay, is about the Central Park Five, the five kids, African American and Latino, who in 1989 were accused of assault and rape and sentenced to maximum terms based on nothing more than coerced false confessions, when they hadn’t been anywhere near the scene of crime. The series is about racism and about a legal system designed not to find the guilty but to fabricate them. It is about how a deeply broken system failed the five accused. In telling a story about the late ’80s and early ’90s, it is also very much about present-day America and about how the system is still just as corrupt in many ways. The law may be many things, but if you’re black, don’t expect it to be just.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #25: Psychopaths (2)

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Sometimes they come back: since our last episode, where we discussed black and white movie psychopaths, couldn’t contain all the cinematic psychoses, we’re dedicating a second episode to our favourite psycho killers. Starting from the question what we consider the archetypical pop culture psychopaths, our three intrepid pop culture baristas embark on a journey, beginning with the capo of New Jersey from HBO’s The Sopranos. Is Tony Soprano a narcissistic psychopath or does he really care about those ducks? We then move on to ’60s and ’70s San Francisco and gaze into the absence at the centre of David Fincher’s Zodiac, before the episode finally ends on American Psycho and the dark, cold, empty heart of Wall Street psychopathy.

If you haven’t already done so, make sure to check out episode 24, where we talked about movie psychopaths and psychopath movies, from Night of the Hunter via Fritz Lang’s M to the psycho granddaddy of them all: Norman Bates and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

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