The Rear-View Mirror: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

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 mother was an emigrant from England. Since both my parents were from countries other than the one where I was born and where I’ve always lived, I always felt to some extent that wherever I was from, it was elsewhere – and if pressed on the matter, I would have said that I felt a connection to England and to the UK that I didn’t feel to the place my father came from. However, over the last few years I’ve very much had both an opportunity and a reason to re-examine my feelings towards the UK. Probably it started before then, but ever since the summer of 2016 it’s been impossible to avoid the escalating conversation/shouting match/toxic circle-jerk that, at its core, seems to be about identity: what does it mean to be British? What does the UK want to be? What does it want to represent in the world? Does it want to look forward or backward, outward or inward?

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Toxic Digitality

I am writing this on a laptop with internet connection. I’ve got another laptop without internet that I use for writing because if I have to research something, it might lead to unbridled surfing. You know how it is. I have owned four or five laptops before, and maybe seven or eight cellphones until now. Then there is all that hardware at work that got upgraded regularly. That must be thirty to fourty units of hardware just because of me. I am a moderate user because the digital superhighway is not my preferred means of communication, but not using laptops or cellphones makes you a hermit without wanting to be one. Even my daughter gets her homework online. So yes, I have my hardware needs, and so have you. But where do our machines go after we dispose of them? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Brief Encounter (1945)

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!

David Lean is best known for movies that were anything but lean. Lawrence of Arabia, his longest feature, clocks in at 3 hours and 48 minutes, and Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India are significantly longer than your two-hour standard feature. These movies, however, are from the second half of his career; from 1940 until 1955, he was perfectly able to keep it brief, bringing in two Dickens novels (Great Expectations in 1946 and Oliver Twist in 1948) in well under two hours. He was an editor on much more movies than he was a director, so he knew how long a story had to be in order to be told well. Continue reading

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.

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Women of Dakar

There is a gigantic supertower in Dakar, Senegal, and it is almost complete, and the men who work construction there soon have to find other jobs, especially because they haven’t seen their wages for the last three months, but work is scarce, so most of them will pay their passage on a boat for Europe. One of them is Souleiman, and he falls for a young woman named Ada, who is promised to a rich guy named Omar. Next day, word on the street is that Souleiman has left. There is that memorable scene where the women are wearing their best dresses and go to the beach hut where they hang out – and there are no men. Many of them are gone, and most of the women already know they will stay behind. 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).

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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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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.

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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.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Adam’s Rib (1949)

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!

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Adam’s Rib is a George Cukor comedy or, if you take into account the amount of doors slammed, a farce. It is about married couple Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) an assistant district attorney, and Amanda Bonner (Katharine Hepburn) a lawyer. It relates how they cope and bicker in a marriage where Amanda is a “modern woman”, which is to say a kind of (shorthand) feminist.

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