The Rear-View Mirror: Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

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 must have mentioned it before: I’m not a fan of film musicals. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t like the genre, but I don’t like something just because it’s a musical. At the same time, there are a lot of musicals that I do like a lot, and they generally find ways of elevating the material, of making it more effective, because the characters in them have this odd habit of breaking into song every now and then.

Fiddler on the Roof

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Godfather (1972)

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!

You could easily forget how reluctant Michael Corleone initially is to take over the family business. There are many reluctant heroes in the movies or in literature; reluctant villains are much rarer and often don’t see themselves as villains. They are set to do what seems necessary, blaming the times or the circumstances, acting for the greater good – and it’s their definition of ‘necessary’ that movies like Coppola’s The Godfather are really about. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Don’t Look Now (1973)

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!

DontLookNow1

There are many mysteries and unforgettable images at the heart of Don’t Look Now. The recurring motifs of falling, broken glass and the colour red. Getting lost. Not understanding each other, not understanding what is happening. This is the way the supernatural might infringe on the every-day.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Philippe Petit (1974)

He is up there in the air, 417 meters above ground, a mere speck to his random audience, so you could easily mistake him for a plane or a bird. He might appear semi-abstract to you. Legend has it that, as a Parisian teenager, he had to go his dentist, but found a picture of the not-yet-built World Trade Center in New York in a magazine and drew a line between the two roofs. He left, his toothache all but forgotten, and he perfected his considerable talent as a tightrope walker and waited for the towers to be built. Until then, Philippe Petit worked his way up, from juggling and unicycling in Parisian streets to walking the tightrope between the two towers of Notre Dame, to doing the same thing between two towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And then the Twin Towers got built, and in 1974, Petit was ready for them. Or they were ready for him. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Tommy (1975)

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!

Admittedly, I didn’t spend all that much time watching films, reading books or playing whatever games that were around in 1975. I had a good excuse: I was only born in June and thus missed half the year anyway, and  my reading, watching and, well, everything skills were decidedly underdeveloped at the time. Which is a shame, because 1975 was a great year, especially for cinema: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! Barry Lyndon! Jaws! I’m sure even infant me would have found it in himself to coo appreciatively over John Alcott’s sublime cinematography or Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech.

But no, I’m afraid this installment of the Rear-View Mirror will be about… baked beans.

Ever since I was a young boy/I ate the orange bean/From Soho down to Brighton/I must have ate them all

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The Rear-View Mirror: All the President’s Men (1976)

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 Watergate scandal and its complexities holds many stories worth telling. The story of how Martha Mitchell tried to blow the whistle and got ridiculed, or the story of democratic candidate Edmund S. Muskie who was undermined by the Nixon administration and lost his cool. Or the story of the hilariously monikered whistle-blower “Deep Throat” – yes, after the Linda Lovelace porno – who was finally outed in 2005 as Mark Felt, FBI associate director. All the President’s Men is the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), or “Woodstein”: two journalists who tried to make the public aware of the scope of Watergate, as if anyone at the time really cared. Later Gore Vidal would famously quip to Dick Cavett that he “…must get my Watergate fix each morning”.

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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

The Rear-View Mirror: Halloween (1978)

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!

Psycho never scared me. I think the main reason for this is that I came to it too late: by the time I saw Norman Bates dressed as his mother, stab-stab-stabbing his way through various cast members, I’d seen all the quotes, echoes, parodies. (You can’t be a teenager watching several seasons worth of The Simpsons without seeing an average of 17.3 parodies of Psycho. It’s a scientific fact.) To some extent, I ended up watching the film and feeling that, meh, it’s all been done before – which is unfair and inaccurate, because so often and in so many ways, Psycho did it first. I still enjoy the film for the sheer craftsmanship that Hitchcock and his collaborators put into the film, and for the impish glee with which they establish the female lead – only to kill her off. But no, Psycho never scared me.

Halloween, though? Halloween scared the living daylights out of me.

Halloween

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The Rear-View Mirror: Alien (1979)

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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Alien turns 40 this year, and due to (or despite of) its low-tech special effects, it has aged well. In 1979 the film was meant to benefit from Star Wars‘ success, and became a classic in its own right. Sticking with a female lead for a franchise is not unprecedented, but it was (and is!) rare enough for Alien to be studied for its feminist message. This is by no means the only subject which has been studied through (or sometimes projected onto) Alien. From post-humanism to themes of giving birth and even rape, the amount of scholarly and academic articles which have been written about this sparse sci-fi thriller is improbably large. For all the scholarly probing, though, Alien is an accessible film, and still an easy film to love. Scott says it was meant to be an “unpretentious, riveting thriller, like Psycho or Rosemary’s Baby”.

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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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