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.

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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard (1950)

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!

As someone once said, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. I know which side of that particular divide I’m on, but I sometimes get the impression there’s a similar divide among some movie critics and fans. Which of the two eviscerations of aging actresses is your favourite: Billy Wilder’s genre-busting, darkly comic Sunset Boulevard, arguably one of the director’s best films, or the sharp, witty, but stylistically relatively tame All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankiewicz?

Continue reading

Remember When, 2019 edition: El Camino

And hot on the heels of one (to my mind successful) exercise in pop culture nostalgia comes another. Remember how at the end of Breaking Bad you were left wondering what happens right after Jesse, free from his neo-Nazi captivity, speeds into the night in a stolen car, screaming and crying in catharsis? Well, wonder no more: we now know exactly what happens a few minutes later. Has there even been any other six-year wait this filled with trepidation?

Continue reading

Remember When, 2019 edition: Veronica Mars

Have we always been this nostalgic about our pop culture? It seems that we live in a golden age of TV revivals, from David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks to David Milch finally having been allowed to finish the story of Deadwood. How much longer until David Simon is allowed to revisit the streets of Baltimore? And does Joss Whedon have to change his first name to David for us to get a continuation of Firefly?

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #8: Dreams (1955)

Before getting Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman set, I don’t think I had heard of Dreams, a 1955 drama directed and written by Bergman. Certainly, it doesn’t have the striking, dreamlike imagery of Wild Strawberries or the sexual frankness of Summer with Monika, but I was still surprised to read on Wikipedia that “Dreams is one of the few Ingmar Bergman films to have received lukewarm reviews”. It should come as no surprise that the performances are consistently strong, and especially the female leads make it well worth watching.

Continue reading