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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The Rear View Mirror: My Cousin Rachel (1951)

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!

Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, published in 1951, seems to exist in the spot where the universes of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie touch. On the one hand, the tone of the book is well-mannered, and its characters are not allowed to flat-out say what they passionately would like to say, but have to hide behind the mores of the era. On the other hand, someone dies, and another character is in danger to meet the same fate, so whodunnit? Continue reading

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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The Rear-View Mirror: Asterix (1961)

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 didn’t come to Asterix on my own – someone at my school must have introduced me to the series when it was already 15 years old and several volumes long. Of course, I got hooked on it immediately: a period of history that wasn’t too hard to learn, and now it was even fun, with battles, quests, betrayals, and a great many fistfights and chases that almost always ended well for the little Gaul with the large moustache and his friends.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #23: The Lives of Others

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For the June episode, join your cultural baristas as they discuss The Lives of Others (2006), the Academy Award-winning drama about East Germany in the 1980s, Stasi surveillance, the redemptive power of art and its tragic limitations. When not listening in to the artist couple in the apartment on the floor below, we also talk about Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the near-apocalypse, Good Omens, Béla Tarr equine mood piece The Turin Horse and Richard Powers’ 2003 novel The Time of Our Singing.

P.S.: In keeping with the thwarted surveillance motif, Matt’s recording equipment wasn’t quite up to the task this month. We apologise for any problems with the audio quality and promise to do better in July.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Dispatches (1977)

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!

Michael Herr’s Dispatches is a slim book, but it’s so densely written that I couldn’t get through it in one day. It’s his own personal diary from the Vietnam war, condensed into such sparse prose that you will have to set it down eventually. Herr throws you into the the mess of war and explains only what is crucial for the rest of the text so that the reader is set to feel very much like a newly drafted soldier joining the conflict – you have basic training, but no clue about the area they drop you in. The reason for that immediacy might be that Herr is not really a novelist, but a journalist. He volunteered to go to Vietnam, joined the reserve there in 1967, returned to the US, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t write anything for five years and finally published this book in 1977.

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Exit, pursued by a spy

It is strange that while there are various great John Le Carré films – such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), A Most Wanted Man (2014, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films) and of course Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – the author’s novels may be better suited to the longer format of the TV miniseries. Their stories benefit from being given the space to breathe, and their characters, especially those in the spy trade, could usually not be more different from the more cinematic likes of James Bond or Ethan Hunt. They are more likely to sit over a set of letters, recordings, photos or other documents for hours than to kill the villain, foil their plans and bed the lady.

They are also more likely to end up betraying those they care about most.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Housekeeping (1980)

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!

There is no other year that has such a wealth of movies to choose from than the year 1980. I could fill the whole post just with movie titles, but I will give you only a short list to start from: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. Airplane!. The Blues Brothers. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Altered States. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Atlantic City. Friday the 13th. Used Cars. Shogun Assassin. Little Lord Fauntleroy. Le Dernier Mètro. Fame. Private Benjamin. American Gigolo. ffolkes. La Boum. And of course the immortal classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Midnight’s Children (1981)

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 have this thing where I sometimes prefer a later, arguably derivative variation on a theme to the original. I enjoy Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead considerably more than the Beckett plays it is clearly, heavily inspired by. I find Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns grating and much prefer some takes on Batman that take their inspiration from Miller but do their own thing with it.

Midnight's Children

Similarly, although in so many ways it looks to Günther Grass’ seminal The Tin Drum (1959), at times almost to the point of plagiarism, I would choose to re-read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, over Grass’ novel any day of the week. Have at me, German Studies PhDs!

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The Rear-View Mirror: 253 (1994)

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!

Geoff Ryman’s novel 253 was published in print in 1996, but it saw daylight on the internet in 1994. It’s about a London tube train on the Bakerloo line, travelling southbound from Embankment to Elephant & Castle. It’s a seven-minute ride, with stops at Waterloo and Lambeth North. This is from the foreword: “There are seven carriages on a Bakerloo Line train, each with 36 seats. A train in which every passenger has a seat will carry 252 people. With the driver, that makes 253.” And this is the novel for you: it contains 253 characters, each of them travelling on the train for those seven minutes. There are 253 entries in the book, each 253 words long. Repetitive? Well, yes, but boring? Not to me.

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