Bridging the Gaps

Maybe I am not the ideal audience for Martin Witz’ Gateways to New York. On the one hand, it’s a documentary about some of the bridges of New York. Since I have absolutely no spatial orientation, I was at a loss as to where these bridges are and which two areas they connect. Here’s an easy question: what does the George-Washington Bridge connect? I only faintly remembered that the answer is New York and New Jersey, maybe because of The Sopranos. And what does the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connect? Aha, see? I have no clue, and if you are not from the Eastern Seaboard, or an acolyte of architecture, you might be as lost as me. There are maps in Witz’ documentary, but they are gone before you can really grasp which bridge we are talking about now. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Great Escape (1963)

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’s favourite movie genre was war movies, in particular old, English ones. My uncle would send us Betamax tapes with titles such as Battle of Britain, Sink the Bismarck!, Reach for the Sky or The Longest Day scribbled on the side, films about (usually) heroic Brits fighting Jerry. I was never all that much into those, but there’s one that I remember loving from the first time I saw it, and that’s The Great Escape.

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All the Roads Lead Elsewhere

Road movies are, in a way, like interconnected short story collections, no? You learn of a reason to take to the road – first story. You get to another place because it’s the way to get to your destination – second story. And another place, and another, a seemingly random sequence of loci, until you reach your destination, which makes for your last short story. Yeah, I know, my analogy holds up only roughly, but my point is: there should be an arc from the first to the last story, otherwise you get accused of fillers. And no-one, no filmmaker, no author, wants to get accused of producing fillers. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #24: Psychopaths (1)

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3From the Weimar Republic child murderer of Fritz Lang’s M (1931) via Reverend Harry Powell from the dark fairy tale The Night of the Hunter (1955) to Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho (1960) and its twitchy Norman Bates: what better way to celebrate summer with your cultural barristas than with a chat about some good, old-fashioned classic films with and about psychopaths?

We will return to the psycho well to discuss more modern movie psychopaths for our 25th episode, coming to your earbuds this August.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Woman in the Dunes (1964)

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 that insect collector on holiday who misses his last bus home and so is stuck on that sandy beach, and then he climbs down into that pit where the young widow’s house stands and asks her if he can stay the night while the other locals pull up the ladder so the collector has to stay down there. He thinks he is going home the next day. The widow knows different. She has to shovel sand every night or her house will be filled with it. Continue reading

What is the man in the moon afraid of?

Damien Chazelle likes protagonists who have one defining goal. They are driven and they are ready to sacrifice in order to achieve their goals. Their ambitions are jealous gods and don’t allow for any other gods beside them. Relationships? Happiness? Love? These take a backseat. Chazelle’s characters’ pursuit of excellence requires them to be singleminded. You don’t get there by being good at many things, you get there by being excellent at the one thing that gets you there. And there’s a price to singlemindedness.

Looking at it differently, you could also say this: Damien Chazelle’s protagonists are frightened, of their feelings and responsibilities – and if you want to run away, what better destination than the moon?

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The Rear-View Mirror: For A Few Dollars More (1965)

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!

In the opening sequence of For A Few Dollars More, a man rides a horse along a canyon in long shot, while we hear musical whistling. A shot rings out, and the ant-sized man drops off his horse, dead. During the entire opening the man lays there, dead-on centre screen, while the credits roll.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

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!

Please don’t think less of me, but my introduction to Westerns was Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Not only was the peak of the western genre, if not over by 1966, then at least in decline, but this one here also got not made anywhere near the New World, but mainly in Spain, and by an Italian. In a way, it’s a western twice removed, but it uses some set pieces and arrays them into a three-hour spectacle that seems to know exactly how much it can stretch any kind of suspense without actually reaching breaking point. Continue reading

El Royale, Come Down in the World

I recently read an interview with a game designer. Among other things, she talked about how, in many computer games, your avatar is often in mortal peril, and how such a situation is not only an option, but the very point of many computer games. You might die, so your main goal is to survive. She called that the stress of dying. I am very much a non-gamer, but I know what she means. Although the drama of life vs. death, whether it be your avatar’s or any other character’s in a game, is higher in a potentially fatal scenario, it might take your attention away from the intriguing story, the elaborate graphics or the well-written characters themselves. Sometimes it’s about exploring and going places, about living in a new universe, not just surviving it. Or about admiring the craft. Continue reading