The Rear-View Mirror: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

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!

Trouble in Paradise might be, in the words of film historian and podcaster Karina Longworth, the “pre-codiest of pre-code movies”. Before the Hays code came in to effect, filmmakers took full advantage of the lack of regulation surrounding topics of sex and morality in American movies. In the case of Trouble in Paradise, a film by the much beloved Ernst Lubitsch, it results in a surprisingly adult movie about, well, sex. But not in the way we, modern audiences, are used to. No soft-focus from-the-hips-up shots of people doing the actual deed. But the implications? They’re spicier than that.

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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

Oscar Omissions: Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

After the Oscar’s celebrations and upsets, and they are all incredible films, let’s focus on a film which wasn’t nominated, although it should have been. 2019 was a wonderful film year after all, and extremely competitive in terms of awards. But for those focusing on the Academy Awards, some treasures might be overlooked...

Dolemite Is My Name is essentially a film about the passion of making film. It is, essentially, a biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, as played by Eddie Murphy in an authoritative performance. The film also sports a fantastic supporting cast with, among others, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson and Wesley Snipes.

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The Compleat Ingmar #11: Scenes from a Marriage (1974)

The film version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is almost three hours long, but watching it roughly one month after finishing the TV series, my first and foremost impression is this: the film feels fast. Not rushed, necessarily, but watching it is a sharper, more focused experience than watching the six episodes of the series, but also one that feels strangely breathless. It makes me wonder why Criterion decided on that particular sequence; my recommendation would probably be to watch the film first and then the TV series. I am curious, though, what the experience would have been like the other way around, something I’ll never know now.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Thin Man (1934)

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!

When MGM got William Powell on loan from Warner to make The Thin Man with Myrna Loy, the studio anticipated they had just green-lit a quick B-movie. Director W.S. Van Dyke was known to be able to keep to his deadlines and they managed, incredibly, to shoot the film in two weeks, with only a few days’ extension. Perhaps it was due to the spontaneity of Loy and Powell, the cinematography by James Wong Howe, perhaps is was partly because it was a passion project for Van Dyke. But far from being a throwaway comedy, it went on to secure four Oscar nominations and spawn five sequels, three of which were directed by Van Dyke himself. (MGM was never a studio to give up a lucrative formula).

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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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The Rear-View Mirror: Raymond Carver (1938)

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 most grassroots definition of a writer’s writer, I guess, is one whose writing you love to bits and immediately want to tell your friends about. In other words, somebody really good but still undiscovered. Katherine Dunn. Marisa Matarazzo. Esther Morgan. Sofi Oksanen. Greg Hollingshead. Rick Bass. Please feel free to add your own favourite obscure authors, and you will never run afoul of the definition above. Another, slightly looser definition might be that there is a lot you can learn from a writer’s writer for your own writing, such as dialogue from Elmore Leonard, or cliché-free sci-fi from China Miéville. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: La Règle du Jeu (1939)

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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!

If you are fond of lists, you may have seen La Règle du Jeu (or The Rules of the Game) on several of those “best films of all time” lists. If you are not, let me be the one to tell you: it firmly belongs with the best films of all time.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Waste Land and other poems (1940)

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 just finished Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a book I would have stopped reading if I’d had to carry it around with me, but there is an excellent audio-book, read by Wolfram Berger, thanks to which I somehow made it through. Did I understand all of the philosophical, political and social musings in there? Of course not – not even half. That is the advantage of novels: you can delve into certain sections and figure them out and read on later, and you can skip other parts. Novels must have some kind of plot, or they are barely novels. There is an obvious red thread, however spurious, that we can figure out and follow. Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #9: A Lesson in Love (1954)

A Lesson in Love doesn’t exactly start very well, at least from a contemporary perspective: after an arch voiceover telling us to prepare ourselves for a comedy for grownups, we first meet a comely but angry young woman, Susanne (played by Yvonne Lombard), listing the failings of her older lover, the gynaecologist David Erneman (Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrand). The lines are sharp, even witty, but it still seems that we’re watching what is essentially a male fantasy: obviously the young, attractive patients of a middle-aged, jaded gynaecologist would fall over themselves to undress for him in private as well as in his practice. It’s not that Bergman spares his protagonist, but whatever criticism is leveled at David, in the end it doesn’t matter. Young women seem magically attracted to him, and even as Susanne berates him for his cynicism, she still can’t help begging him to continue being her lover.

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