The Rear-View Mirror: W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

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!

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Lucky Dog (1921)

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!

Four and a half minutes into 1921’s “The Lucky Dog” comedy short, cinematic history is made. The film’s hero – a penniless young man with a surprisingly emo take on eye make-up – is chasing the eponymous lucky dog when he embroils himself in a mugging. As this is the knockabout world of early film comedy, the hold-up does not go according to plan, and the intended victim ends up racing off with more money than when he started, the oversized brute (do brutes come in any other size?) in hot pursuit.

What makes this particular moment historic is the identity of both mugger and muggee. The former is played by Oliver “Babe” Hardy, already a veteran with over a hundred comedy shorts under his belt. His intended victim, a relative newbie to Hollywood but already in leading roles, is Stan Laurel.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Häxan (1922)

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!

Häxan, a Swedish-Danish silent film from 1922, is a fascinating cultural artifact in so many ways, even before you get to the bit where witches kiss the devil’s behind. Historically, culturally and cinematically, it constitutes a trip to a very different time and place – both in terms of its depiction of medieval Europe and of when and where it was made. There is a strangeness to the film that is intriguing, but at the same time its format is oddly familiar – more so now, perhaps, than it would have been ten, twenty years ago. Because, essentially, Häxan is an extended video essay.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Benny Hill (1924)

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!

1924 was a good year in culture. James Baldwin was born, author of the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), the collection of essays Notes of a Native Son and If Beale Street Could Talk, which Barry Jenkins adapted into a beautiful movie in 2018, and much, much more. So was Marcello Mastroianni, the archetype of the disaffected Italian playboy, and Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall. The composer Gabriel Fauré died (you’ve certainly heard the sublime “In Paradisum” from his Requiem), as did Franz Kafka – and indeed Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) was published, as well as E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India.

In other words, there would be a lot to write about with respect to 1924, so honestly, there is little excuse for… this.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

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 has rarely been a story as good at portraying the conflict between belief and organised religion as that of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans, the peasant girl that believed to have seen archangels and saints and whose fight for her king and her god finally led her to a martyr’s death at the stake.

And while I haven’t seen any of the more recent cinematic takes on the story, I doubt that any of them are as harrowing as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Un Chien Andalou (1929)

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 still gets me, that scene. I think I must have been ten or so, and there was nothing to prepare me for what would come on the telly. No-one in my family was any kind of art-house movie nut, so it must have been a coincidence that Buñuel’s short Un Chien Andalou was on. And then that razor cuts through the woman’s eye. It took me days to recover. Not many other movie moments have stayed with me because of their violence, and none as long as this one. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Dracula (1931)

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 am entirely the wrong person to write this entry. It should be Julie. It should be anyone other than me, really. Because I’ve tried, I really have. I went and got the Universal Monster Box set of Blu-rays. I don’t have any problems with black and white. I don’t mind melodrama or cheese. Horror doesn’t have to be gory for me. Vampires haven’t altogether lost their glitter, as far as I’m concerned.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Nina Simone (1933)

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 was in Berlin last summer, getting my bearings back, and I walked past a bar where someone played a live version of Nina Simone’s take on Sinnerman. Honestly, my friends, there cannot be many more songs such as this one getting under my skin like that. She wants to make light because the rhythm of the song wants to sound so jolly, and it does, but then that voice comes in and puts a damper on the cheer, warning about what is going to happen, turning the rhythm from jolly to urgent. And yet there is hope somewhere, not much, but just enough. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Isao Takahata (1935)

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 are no two ways about it: Hayao Miyazaki is a great filmmaker who has created many fantastic worlds that are both breathtakingly new and grounded in very human realities. His films are epic yet intimate, they deal with serious topics but Miyazaki never loses the whimsical twinkle in his eyes. It’s clear why Miyazaki would be seen by many as the face of Ghibli Studios.

Nonetheless, it is sad that Miyazaki’s fame tends to eclipse the other great creative mind at Ghibli: Isao Takahata (1935-2018).

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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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