Six Damn Fine Degrees #22: Ultima VIII

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Imagine a game that set you loose to roam a mediaeval world under the influence of a shadowy religious cult, that let you discover how to bake bread or milk cows while trying to save the world just because you could, a game that was dead serious yet could look upon itself with the wryest of smiles, a game that was shot through with a sense of familiarity and wonder in equal measure.

Now imagine a game that has none of that at all.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: WE DIG THESE TRAILERS, BY A LOT!

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Rilke’s Panther (1907)

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!

Everyone has a Rilke story, whether they realize it or not. How could it be otherwise that mine starts with that Panther behind bars. I swear, it must be a staple of a lot of movies and series just like the story of the scorpion and the frog, or the Wilhelm scream. Rilke’s Panther a story of entrapment: the panther paces back and forth, back and forth behind bars in its own hospitalistic way, because that is all it knows. It is one of many poems published in Rilke’s New Poems, published in 1907, although that specific poem might have been written as far back as 1902, when Rilke had a look at the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where there was a real black panther in a cage.

Painters in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
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The Rear-View Mirror: Akira Kurosawa (1910)

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!

Those of you who’ve been following this site for a while will know that when Criterion brought out a complete collection of Ingmar Bergman’s films, I was there pretty much immediately. I got the collection, a gorgeous collector’s item filled with existentialist Swedish goodness, and since then we’ve been watching an instalment in the ongoing Bergman saga on a more or less monthly basis. What better way to start your weekend than by watching a marriage crumble into acrimony and psychological cruelty? Criterion’s since announced another similar set – The Complete Films of Agnès Varda – and chances are I won’t be able to resist… but really, what I’ve been hoping for ever since the Big Box of Bergman is an announcement that Criterion is doing the equivalent for another one of the greats of world cinema. I am, of course, talking about Uwe Boll.

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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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How to recognise Star Wars from quite a long way away

This may sound a tad hypocritical after my critique of Rise of Skywalker a few days ago, but I don’t envy J.J. Abrams. In fact, I don’t envy anyone engaged in delivering new Star Wars content to a 2020 audience, a task that I imagine to be very similar to feeding the hungry inhabitants of a lion pit while dangling from a slender, fraying rope. The problem is this: what is Star Wars, what constitutes proper Star Wars? These are questions that a vast number of fans with different levels of zealotry and entitlement will answer very differently – but when George Lucas released his prequels to, let’s say, mixed results, the megaphone/Death Star combo that is Twitter didn’t yet exist. These days, creating, or even just acting in, a Star Wars thing that some people dislike can pretty much result in this:

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Fear is the path to the dark side: Rise of Skywalker (2019)

We get it, Disney: a lot of very vocal fans didn’t like The Last Jedi. We don’t even have to call all of the dislike of Episode VIII an expression of toxic fandom; Rian Johnson’s stab at Star Wars was designed to be something of a slap in the face of business as usual, and while I loved the daring of many of its ideas, they weren’t always executed altogether well. At times I could see what Johnson was going for but felt that he was doing so in ways that were clunky or at odds with other things the film was trying to do.

Nonetheless, The Last Jedi had ideas, it had a vision, it was interested in doing more than being the Star Wars cover band that The Force Awakens was, even if that one delivered its version of A New Hope‘s greatest hits with panache. If Rise of Skywalker wants to do something, it’s kowtowing to the loudest and most toxic critics of The Last Jedi. It doesn’t have a vision other than that of apologising loudly and unthinkingly for the perceived mistakes of the previous episode. In short, Rise of Skywalker may just be the most cowardly expression of fan service I have ever seen.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast Christmas Special 2019

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The festive season is upon us. Turkeys are being defrosted, eggnog is being whisked, and your cultural baristas have brought along presents for everyone. It’s a surprise, really, and we don’t want to spoil anything, but here are some hints: Matt asks you to unwrap a strange, tasty treat filled with choices, strangeness, the debris of failed revolutions and potentially lethal ties, while Mege promises a hangout to remember over Earl Grey with some of the most memorable actresses of the last few dozen years, and Julie has prepared a double bill of big egos, dirty dishes and culinary hijinks. Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the very best for what remains of 2019 – be safe and see you in 2020!

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The festive season is upon us. Turkeys are being defrosted, eggnog is being whisked, and your cultural baristas have brought along presents for everyone. It’s a surprise, really, and we don’t want to spoil anything, but here are some hints: Matt asks you to unwrap a strange, tasty treat filled with choices, strangeness, the debris of failed revolutions and potentially lethal ties, while Mege promises a hangout to remember over Earl Grey with some of the most memorable actresses of the last few dozen years, and Julie has prepared a double bill of big egos, dirty dishes and culinary hijinks. Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the very best for what remains of 2019 – be safe and see you in 2020!

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That Was The Year That Was: 2018

In past years I always forgot about doing a look back at the year that was until my friend and co-blogger Mege did his own retrospective – and by that time it was too late. This year I come prepared and bearing not just one or two but eight awards. Enjoy!

A Damn Fine Cup

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My God, it’s Full of Stars

We have been to the edge of the cinematic universe together more than once, haven’t we? We have pinched shut our noses against the stench and filth of Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God with its very own weird cinematic language and drab medieval sci-fi outlook on life. We have waded through the seven-hour long Satantango, Bela Tarr’s masterpiece, puzzled by the fact that we didn’t know what the hell was going on. Both movies might take huge liberties in storytelling: they seem to redefine or even abuse the notions we have of plot, story, or dialogue. German’s movies pretend that they have never heard of a reaction shot.  There are whole takes that seem to go against anything that we seem to have learned about cinematic grammar, but no matter how shrewd or outlandish those movies might get, they still are – movies. Continue reading