Here’s looking at you, and you – and you, Agnès

It’s a comical image: the gigantic works of art, plastered on the side of buildings and in one case even a towering stack of shipping container, and looking at them, the tiny, old woman with her white-and-red hair who helped bring these gargantuan images about and document them on film… though while she may be tiny and old, she most definitely isn’t frail. In fact, she stands as tall as anyone and anything in the film.

Visages Villages

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Art vs. -ism

Reader, it’s not easy for me to describe why I like Never Look Away so much, so let me start with the title. The movie’s original title is Werk ohne Autor (Work without Author), which is much better, since it’s a movie about a fledgling painter who seems to see himself as a mere conduit for his paintings than an active artist. A title like Never Look Away suggests that it’s about the Holocaust, although that is not so wrong either. The movie was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who also wrote and shot The Lives of Others, an excellent movie, and the slightly disappointing The Tourist. Werk ohne Autor is loosely based on the life of German painter Gerhard Richter, who has seen the movie and disapproves of it. Continue reading

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 Compleat Ingmar #3: A Ship to India (1947)

Apparently Bergman wasn’t a huge fan of the first film he directed, Crisis (1946), which he called “lousy, through and through”. He wasn’t much kinder to his third, A Ship to India (1947), referring to it as “a major disaster” – except when his producer Lorens Marmstedt called to urge him to cut the worst parts, at which point Bergman rose to his film’s defense: “I informed him that I had no intention of cutting even one foot from this masterpiece.” Bergman may have been young and relatively inexperienced, but obviously he already had an ego to match a much more accomplished director.

A Ship to India

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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!

alien screenshot I

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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Boats and Borders

Markus Imhoof’s early feature film Das Boot ist voll (The Boat is Full) from 1981 was an immediate success. It won prizes at the Berlinale in 1981 and got nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a year later, but didn’t win. It made waves at the box office, and it still turns up on many top ten lists of best Swiss movies, and rightly so. The title is a cowardly statement by a leading Swiss politician about the refugee situation in Switzerland during the Second World War. The movie is about six refugees who jump off a train going to Nazi Germany, trying to find shelter and safety on the other side of the border in Switzerland. Three of them are children, but there is also a spirited woman named Judith Krüger who is looking for her husband who is in a detention facility somewhere in this country. There is an old man named Lazar Ostrowskij who has lost his wife during the escape attempt from the train, and since he can no longer be a husband, he is a grand-dad to the three children, although it’s hard to remember who is related to who. The sixth refugee is a deserting German soldier, and the other five are reluctant to be in the same room with him. Judith Krüger soon realises that they have to reshuffle their relationships in order to pass for a real family so they can either stay in Switzerland or get transit visas. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Housekeeping (1980)

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 no other year that has such a wealth of movies to choose from than the year 1980. I could fill the whole post just with movie titles, but I will give you only a short list to start from: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. Airplane!. The Blues Brothers. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Altered States. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Atlantic City. Friday the 13th. Used Cars. Shogun Assassin. Little Lord Fauntleroy. Le dernier mètro. Fame. Private Benjamin. American Gigolo. ffolkes. La Boum. And of course the immortal classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: TRON (1982)

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!

Like Wargames a year later, TRON tried to get behind that new and slightly unsettling thing called computer. And the more fearful among us somehow thought that that machine would treat us the same way that the first picture cameras would treat us: they would steal bits of our souls. Not that we told anyone that we were afraid of them, but hey, if you get sucked into them (by ways not quite clear), then the frisbee of death would kill you. Or you would get erased. A whole new world of danger. Continue reading

I’m talkin’ here!

Stop me if this sounds familiar, because I’m sure I’ve written it before: the thing that makes gaming in Virtual Reality fundamentally different from playing on a regular screen is that it removes a layer of abstraction. You don’t look around by moving the mouse, pressing a stick in a certain direction or pressing a button: you look around by looking around. It sounds like a small difference, but it feels entirely different whether you look up at an enormous, ominous gate covered with runes glowing red by moving the hand holding the mouse a few centimetres away from you or whether you lean your head back. You perceive size and scale entirely differently, and as a result things feel more intimate, more real, for want of a better word. Present-day VR aims at reducing abstraction even more by means of room-scale solutions (the virtual space is represented by the actual space, so you can walk around in-game by walking around in the available space – until you bump into the nearest wall or trip over the cat) and of controllers that replicate hand and finger movement, so you grab things in virtual space not by pushing a button but by using your actual hands.

Skyrim

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The Rear-View Mirror: The A-Team (1983)

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 A-Team

In 1984, when they visited The Netherlands, they were received like superstars. Dwight “Howling Mad Murdoch” Schultz, Dirk “Face” Benedict and Laurence “B.A. Baracus” Tureaud (a.k.a. Mr. T). The A-Team (Cue theme). They even met our Queen. George “Hannibal” Peppard was absent. According to Schultz and Benedict, because he considered himself too big of a star (he had, after all, been in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, opposite Audrey Hepburn). Continue reading