The Rear-View Mirror: Takashi Shimura (1905)

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!

When people think of Akira Kurosawa, many of them will think of samurai fighting first and foremost, and the face that they will think of most likely is that of Toshiro Mifune. It’s no surprise – Mifune was an actor of tremendous charisma, he had a crackling, mercurial quality that makes it difficult for the audience to take their eyes off him.

Mifune and Kurosawa were frequent collaborators, making sixteen films together. Which sounds like a lot – but Mifune wasn’t the actor that Kurosawa worked with most often. That honour goes to Takashi Shimura (1905-1982), who co-starred with Mifune in Seven Samurai. Mifune’s character and acting were more immediately noticeable, but Shimura and his character Kambei were as key to the film’s success.

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Anyone you can be, I can be better: All About Eve and The Talented Mr Ripley

I must have seen All About Eve at least half a dozen times so far. Its writing retains the sharp wit it had when I first saw it, its performances still shine: Bette Davis is perfect as Margo Channing and delivers Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ lines with relish, but the rest of the ensemble, just as central to the success of the film, is also top-notch. As a piece of filmmaking, All About Eve may not be as audacious as its contemporary Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s 1950 caustic tale of an ageing actress, but its appeal has not diminished. I had the opportunity to see it again a few days ago – while cinemas are open again in these parts, you’re more likely to find them showing older films rather than new releases – and it remains a delight.

It has taken me these half a dozen viewings, however, to come to the realisation that All About Eve shares some striking similarities to Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Talented Mr Ripley (and, to a lesser extent, the film versions made of Highsmith’s novel) and that the title characters of the two works can be seen as mirror images of each other.

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The Rear-View Mirror: James Stewart (1908)

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!

When I think of James Stewart, I think of his everyman persona, not too dissimilar to that of, say, Tom Hanks. I think of him as the perennial regular Joe, the guy next door. A decent man. Exasperated, perhaps, but fundamentally good. So it always comes as something of a surprise when I watch one of his films – Vertigo, obviously, but even Frank Capra’s Christmas evergreen It’s a Wonderful Life – and find something more interesting, more complicated.

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The Compleat Ingmar #15: Shame (1968)

The cliché of an Ingmar Bergman film seems to be that of a melancholy, existentialist treatise on the meaninglessness of life and of relationships, most likely in black and white. You know the kind of thing: people standing at the beach, being depressed. I’ve said so before, but that’s not the Bergman I’ve found, even in films such as The Seventh Seal, and most definitely not in Fanny and Alexander (both of these are yet to come in our journey through Criterion’s amazing box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema). Look at something like Scenes from a Marriage and alongside the acrimony, emotional cruelty and existential despair that doubtlessly fuel the conflict between Marianne and Johan, you’ll definitely also find warmth, humaneness and humour.

I rather wish there had been more of the latter in Shame, a film that, while recognisably Bergman in its concerns – and obviously in its cast -, reminded me of Michael Haneke in its relentless grimness. It is perhaps telling that one of the rare scenes where the film displays a sense of humour shows one of its characters to be such a bad shot that he fails to kill a chicken that’s barely half a metre in front of him.

By the end of the film, the chickens have lost their lives nonetheless and that character has become both able and more than willing to use his gun on a human being.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #35: Soderbergh’s Schizopolis, Schizopolis’ Soderbergh

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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Mad Men: Mindhunter (2017-2019)

There was a time when I thought that movie and TV storytelling should just keep away from serial killers for the next, oh, several decades? It’s not because of the horrific subject matter, it’s more that serial killers had become stale in the decade following Silence of the Lambs. The writing was usually lazy, the performances showy but empty, the genre as flat as a glass of Chianti left out in the open overnight. Every return to the psycho well brought with itself diminishing returns, to the point where even the Chef of them all, good old Hannibal Lecter, had been turned into a camp ham, barely any more frightening than the third rubber skeleton from the left in a tacky haunted house ride.

It was David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac (2007) that changed my opinion: here was a film about a serial killer that didn’t rehearse the same tropes. Instead, it told a different story, about the people who, looking for some sort of meaning, for the solution to what they think of as a puzzle, are sucked into the emptiness at the centre of these crimes – and, in some cases, consumed by it. A story where the serial killer isn’t the only one who is obsessed.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Akira Kurosawa (1910)

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!

Those of you who’ve been following this site for a while will know that when Criterion brought out a complete collection of Ingmar Bergman’s films, I was there pretty much immediately. I got the collection, a gorgeous collector’s item filled with existentialist Swedish goodness, and since then we’ve been watching an instalment in the ongoing Bergman saga on a more or less monthly basis. What better way to start your weekend than by watching a marriage crumble into acrimony and psychological cruelty? Criterion’s since announced another similar set – The Complete Films of Agnès Varda – and chances are I won’t be able to resist… but really, what I’ve been hoping for ever since the Big Box of Bergman is an announcement that Criterion is doing the equivalent for another one of the greats of world cinema. I am, of course, talking about Uwe Boll.

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The Corona Diaries: It’s a small world after all

I felt a range of different emotions when the COVID-19 crisis began, and a lot of different thoughts went through my head. One was a profound sense of unreality: this kind of thing happens in movies, not in real life, and definitely not here, in Switzerland, in one of the wealthiest, most privileged countries in the world. Another was constant, low-level stress and the feeling that my brain and its usual processing power was off, somehow, that my thinking was constantly woolly and my ability to remember things (never exactly my strong side) was pretty much shot.

However, not all of what I was feeling was confusing, confounding or plain bad. There was also a sense that for the first time in my life we were experiencing something as the whole world. Even if we were stressed, anxious and confused, we were sharing this. No other event I’d ever experienced felt as truly global, and that was a good feeling: we were all in this together.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1912)

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 Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect… ‘What has happened to me?” he thought. It was not a dream.”

When I read Kafka’s classic novella The Metamorphosis (written in 1912, first published in 1915) as a teenager, that first, audacious sentence grabbed me – but it’s the one that comes a little later that punched me in the gut. Kafka’s story about a man who finds himself turned into a beetle should be dreamlike, but the telling is deadpan, if at times a little droll, and it never once allows the reader to go for that easiest of interpretations: it’s a dream, it’s all metaphors, it’s one big symbol. Certainly there is symbolism there, but as we’re reading Kafka’s story, he doesn’t grant us that facile emergency exit of consigning it all to the realm of unreality. Kafka’s prose makes it seem, and feel, all too real.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #34: Xeno-who? The Alien franchise

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our July podcast, we’re heading to space, where no one can hear you podcast: join Julie, Matt and special guest Alan for a chat about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien and all the wacky hijinks that ensued, with a special focus on James Cameron’s space marine extravaganza Aliens and the much maligned third film and David Fincher’s motion picture debut, Alien³. Strap in and get ready for incisive, acid-dripping, chest-bursting discussion that will wake you from hypersleep in a jiffy!

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our July podcast, we’re heading to space, where no one can hear you podcast: join Julie, Matt and special guest Alan for a chat about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien and all the wacky hijinks that ensued, with a special focus on James Cameron’s space marine extravaganza Aliens and the much maligned third film and David Fincher’s motion picture debut, Alien³. Strap in and get ready for incisive, acid-dripping, chest-bursting discussion that will wake you from hypersleep in a jiffy!

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