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: 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: 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 #30: Watchmen (HBO)

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Don DeLillo (1936)

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!

Two weeks ago, I sang the praises of Raymond Carver’s short stories, their lean, almost terse language. If that is way, way too short for you, then you might feel right at home in some of the novels by Don DeLillo (born in 1936), the longest of which is a weighty tome called Underworld, published in 1997 and clocking in at a whopping 827 pages, something that some of my university tutors called a two-hander. It’s true, you can’t read it in bed, holding it over your face, because if you let it fall, you die.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Hobbit (1937)

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!

Honestly, I don’t envy the job that Peter Jackson ended up with when he became the director of the film adaptation of The Hobbit. From what I’ve read and heard, he famously didn’t want the job, having already spent years and years of his life on The Lord of the Rings, he was hired after Guillermo del Toro left the project and given relatively little time to get the show on the road, and he was told to change a two-film plan into another big fantasy trilogy. Never mind that The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, is a slim volume that cannot really be compared with the big, fat doorstop that is The Lord of the Rings.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Raymond Carver (1938)

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!

The most grassroots definition of a writer’s writer, I guess, is one whose writing you love to bits and immediately want to tell your friends about. In other words, somebody really good but still undiscovered. Katherine Dunn. Marisa Matarazzo. Esther Morgan. Sofi Oksanen. Greg Hollingshead. Rick Bass. Please feel free to add your own favourite obscure authors, and you will never run afoul of the definition above. Another, slightly looser definition might be that there is a lot you can learn from a writer’s writer for your own writing, such as dialogue from Elmore Leonard, or cliché-free sci-fi from China Miéville. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Waste Land and other poems (1940)

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 just finished Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a book I would have stopped reading if I’d had to carry it around with me, but there is an excellent audio-book, read by Wolfram Berger, thanks to which I somehow made it through. Did I understand all of the philosophical, political and social musings in there? Of course not – not even half. That is the advantage of novels: you can delve into certain sections and figure them out and read on later, and you can skip other parts. Novels must have some kind of plot, or they are barely novels. There is an obvious red thread, however spurious, that we can figure out and follow. Continue reading

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