Americans, animals, but neither fish nor fowl

We’ve all been there. You find yourself in your late teens or early twenties with a profound sense of existential malaise. You’ve been to school for most of your life and you could go to school for a bit longer, but why? What for? To prepare for a job that, at best, bores you if it doesn’t outright depress the hell out of you? To lead a life of quiet desperation? Some try to escape by means of alcohol, drugs or sex, but not you. Oh, no.

Instead, you do you. You try to give your life a sense of meaning by organising an insane art heist with the aim of stealing the ultra-rare books on display at your university’s library. It’s obvious if you think about it.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

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!

thin blue line

If you have seen other Erroll Morris films (TabloidThe Fog of WarGates of Heaven), you will know that he likes for people to tell their own stories. At the time of its inception Morris was doing in investigation on Dr. James Grigson, nicknamed Dr. Death, a psychiatrist who invariably advised a death sentence, because defendants would “kill again”. During this research he stumbled onto Adams’ story. The Thin Blue Line is about the murder of a police officer, and in it Morris has access to seemingly all the players in the drama, and the subsequent court case. Through their own versions of what transpires, or what they think transpires, Morris makes an uncharacteristically solid case for the defense. It is not much of a spoiler that an innocent person was convicted. After all, Adams was not only acquitted (partly) due to the film, but subsequently sued Morris for the rights to his story. As is so often the case with Morris’ films, the fascination in The Thin Blue Line is for the viewer to be allowed to form their own opinion as to why and how an innocent man was convicted, a guilty man went free (at least for a while), and several witnesses testified to facts they could not possibly have seen or heard.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #16: 22 July by Paul Greengrass

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3In the November episode of the podcast, Mege and Matt are returning to the island of Utøya to take a look at Paul Greengrass’ filmic take on the massacre. How does Greengrass’ film compare to Erik Poppe’s interpretation (which we discussed last month)? What does it bring to the table? And can it do justice to the events that happened on Utøya on 22 July 2011? We also hear of a near-mythical face-to-face encounter in the Virtual Reality version of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and of the German documentary The Cleaners, which tells of the content moderators scouring social media for inappropriate content and the price their work exacts.

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Behind the scenes at the library

Frederick Wiseman has done it again. Two years ago, I wrote about National Gallery, a three-hour long documentary that brought us an all-encompassing view of the National Gallery in London. I’ve recommended it at the time, and I still recommend it. Now Wiseman has made an even longer movie about one of the best-known institutions in New York: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. I have to warn you: it’s 197 minutes long, and it turns Wiseman’s completist tendencies into a disadvantage. Continue reading

Paintings, People, Preservation

The worst thing I can say about National Gallery is that it is three hours long. It’s the latest documentary by Frederick Wiseman, a US filmmaker with more than 40 docs under his belt. It is my loss that I haven’t seen any of his work before.

National Gallery

The movie doesn’t have any red thread to follow; it shows you paintings, it shows you people looking at the paintings – two portraits in one, you could say. Passionate tour guides will tell you about a detail in a painting. A restorer reveals the picture underneath another one. Budget meetings. PR meetings. Back to the paintings. Another film crew. Opening night. Greenpeace protesters. Morning, noon, evening and night over Trafalgar Square. Then back inside. The point is that Wiseman knows exactly where to place the camera. He has nothing to prove, nothing to press upon us. With his all-access pass, he is there to show us around, and to make our stay as interesting as he can.


National Gallery relies entirely on its visuals: there are no title cards, no questions from the off, no introductions, no looks at the camera, and yet you can intuit what’s going on very quickly. Wiseman leaves staff and audience be, and just lets the camera roll. It’s all in the edit.

National Gallery

You cannot make a movie like this one in the Louvre because the Louvre would be too overwhelming, and any movie would have to decide on which part it wants to concentrate. The National Gallery is big, but not too big. General entrance is free. You can see all it has to offer in one day, and then you can go back the next day and have a longer look at those paintings you liked best. Every time I’ve been there, I left drunk on inspiration and with a smile on my face. This movie reminded me of that, and it made me want to pay a visit again.