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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Master and Commander (2003)

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!

My enjoyment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe notwithstanding, I’m not the kind of moviegoer who regularly thinks, “When are they doing the sequel?” A film first and foremost has to be a world unto itself: before you can start to think about creating a universe, tell a good story. World building is fine, but as far as I’m concerned a movie is best served by being self-contained.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Road (2006)

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’s utterly puzzling to me that Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road was published only in 2006. It feels older. Sometimes you open a novel and you can sort of guess the decade, at least roughly. I had read The Road twice until I realised it was not from the 1980s, but only six or seven years old. Maybe that’s because it tells such a timeless story. Of course, an apocalypse where everything is covered in grey ash and food, and shelter and friendly people are in short supply can take place anytime. Or maybe my mistake was that I didn’t know that its author was an octagenarian. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #14: The End is Nigh

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3It’s September, and the world is coming to an end on this month’s episode. Join Mege and Matt as they talk about the post-apocalypse in pop culture, from Obsidian’s epic role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas via Mad Max: Fury Road to – bear with us on this one – the HBO series The Leftovers. We also discuss Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, and talk about Sarah Vowell’s book Assassination Vacation.

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