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The Way we Are

Classical Sounds Invade Country Music Capital

January 30th 2013

Nashville Symphony

Nashville, Tennessee, home to the famous Grand Ole Opry, is perhaps best known as America's country music capital. But you're just as likely to hear the sounds of a violin as a fiddle because the world’s largest classical music label has its North American headquarters right on Nashville’s doorstep.

Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. The label has more than 7,000 recordings in its catalog, and stores more than four million CDs in the warehouse. Shrink-wrapped CDs and music DVDs are stacked on row after row of shelves 10 meters high and 100 meters long.

Naxos ships 1,000 customer orders from its Tennessee warehouse every day. It’s quite an accomplishment for a 25-year-old company that began life as a budget label with a reputation for recording minor works by obscure orchestras. Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, stores more than four million CDs in its North American warehouse alone. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black at Florida Atlantic University-Jupiter Chronicles How British Petroleum Made the Modern East

January 29th 2013

Edwin Black

Bestselling author Edwin Black will chronicle the complex saga of how the oil giant British Petroleum invented the modern conflict-ridden Middle East at a Florida Atlantic University presentation 7 PM, February 5, at the Elinor Bernon Rosenthal Lifelong Learning Complex, John D. MacArthur Campus, Florida Atlantic University. The event, Petropolitics, Oil and the Middle East, caps a day of "oil and history" events with the author who first coined the term "petropolitics" in 2005. 

The author says the lynchpin of BP’s statecraft in the Mideast was the legendary but secret pact known as “The Redline Agreement.” Black was the first to publish the secret agreement in his recent critically acclaimed book, “British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil.” The author was granted extraordinary unrestricted access to BP’s corporate archives where he uncovered the documents.

“The story of the Redline Agreement, the West’s secret pact to get Mideast oil,” says Black, “is a tortuous international escapade that travelled through World War I, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and a tense story of greed and personal conflict to secure control of Mideast oil fields, and the pipelines to carry the crude that were laced across Palestine and Syria.” The Washington Post, speaking of his historical research, said, “Black’s impressive analysis, which included looking at more than 50,000 original documents and hundreds of scholarly books and articles ... explains why the West's record in the region so complicates nation-building there today ... Many readers may find the breadth of analysis too ambitious.” See more information about the Redline Agreement here, and a the book trailer here.

The main evening event follows two campus sessions for students. A morning session "The History of Oil Addiction and a Plan for Interruption" is based on the award-winning bestseller Internal Combustion--How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. Internal Combustion won four major editorial awards: Best Book by American Society of Journalists and Authors, a Rockower, the Green Globes, and the Thomas Edison Award. See more information about Internal Combustion here. Read more ..

Book Review

The Anarchist Odyssey is a Cleared-Eyed Volume

January 28th 2013

Sasha and Emma

Sasha and Emma. Paul and Karen Avrich. Harvard University Press. 2012. 528 pp.

Years ago Paul Avrich, my high school classmate and later a colleague in a college where he was a professor and I an adjunct, invited me to spend an evening with an aging group of Jewish anarchists. At the gathering a woman told me that other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s most remarkable woman had been Emma Goldman. Ahrne Thorne agreed. He was the last editor of the anarchist “Freie Arbeiter Shtimme” (Free Worker’s Voice, it was closed in 1977 after 87 years of publication when it had 1,700 subscribers). He said he had met Alexander Berkman and knew Emma Goldman well. It was hard for me to imagine these elderly men and women as threats to the Republic. They were also despised by Communists because anarchists had the temerity to reject their Soviet paradise.

These old men and women had devoted their lives to an unachievable, impractical utopia where governments would play minimal roles and be supplanted by voluntary communes or, as an old anarchist tune went, “there is no supreme savior, neither god nor king nor leader.” On that long ago evening they reminisced about strikes, picket lines, prison terms and battles against an oppressive American state as well as Soviet Russia, which had betrayed their long sought for “revolution.” The names of Goldman and her occasional lover and lifelong friend Berkman, known as Sasha, were lovingly recalled. “Red” Emma as her critics called her, loved America but was deported and died in exile in Canada. Ironically, her family needed governmental permission for her body to be returned and buried in the same Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago as the executed late nineteenth-century Haymarket anarchists. Sasha, seriously ill, committed suicide in France and was buried there. Read more ..

Film Review

Zero Dark Thirty: Morally Troubling Questions in the War on Terror

January 26th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty. Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Egerton, Chris Pratt. 157 min.

Judging by the reactions to it that I have read, the question about Zero Dark Thirty isn't so much whether it must be discussed or evaluated solely in terms of its scenes of CIA-conducted torture but whether it can be discussed or evaluated in any other. When Naomi Wolf can compare it to Triumph of the Will and its director, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), to Leni Riefenstahl, then you know that the possibilities for civilized discussion are already at evaporation point. Yet, whatever you think of the torture scenes, you should recognize that that comparison is wide of the mark, even apart from its shameful rhetorical excess.

For Leni Riefenstahl was a propagandist, someone with an ideological parti pris which she sought to impose upon her material. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it is Miss Wolf and her fellow opponents of torture who are the ideologues and Miss Bigelow who is defying ideology for the sake of art. A reasoned moral opposition to torture, that is, must begin from the premise that it is wrong even if it "works" - that is, even if it produces the possibly life-saving or otherwise vital information for whose sake it is administered in the first place. Read more ..

Book Review

Petropoly Drills Deep Into Our Oil Addiction

January 25th 2013


Petropoly--The Collapse of America's Energy Paradigm by Gal Luft and Anne Korin. Createspace. 2012. 178 pages.

Those worried about the perilous state of our energy dependence, addiction, and insufficiency are confronted by a vast array of plans, treatises, predictions, and solution road maps to guide future thinking written by an army of experts both battle-tested and self-proclaimed. However, few authors possess the deeply-drilled depth of knowledge and understanding of both energy history and petropolitics as do Gal Luft and Anne Korin. Both Luft and Korin are two well-known warriors at the tip of the spear in the crusade for sensible energy policy. Their latest book, Petropoly--The Collapse of America's Energy Paradigm, tackles the world's energy predicament with a fresh viewpoint crafted for the present year and, indeed, for the present era of roiling Mideast upheaval and a paralyzed Washington establishment—all with rising seas, warming temperatures, and plummeting economies in the background.

Petropoly paints the big picture for the reader--not with broad strokes, but with laser-beam efficiency. The authors firmly understand the inner workings of the recent history of transportation, from the early nineteenth-century dependence on horses to the emergence of the tinker toy automobile. They confront the avaricious enterprises that make up the petroleum industry. These multiple wisdoms come together in a Braque-built expertise, making their sage insights so valuable in Petropoly. The book is brimming with high-octane brilliance and coherent thought.

With the benefit of hindsight, insight, and foresight, Luft and Korin trace our post-World War II oil policy from the contemporaneous context of Ike Eisenhower to the contemporaneous context of Jimmy Carter and on to the mispractices and malpractices of both Barack Obama and his "Drill, Baby, Brill" Republican opposition. With their keen understanding of commodities and cartels, from salt to cocoa to OPEC, the authors have successfully distilled America's own willingness to endow OPEC and the cars it supplies with a symbiotic global dynasty that they call 'Petropoly.' Their new nymic stands for more than a monopoly. It is, in fact, more than a cartel. Petropoly represents the collision and collusion of society’s moment-to-moment fuel addiction with the moment-to-moment supply and demand manipulation of the nationally endowed and enabled OPEC grand masters. Read more ..

Film Review

Anna Karenina: A Visual Feast and Moral Reasoning

January 24th 2013

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina. Director: Joe Wright. Writer: Tom Stoppard. Starring: Keira Knightlley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. 117 mins.

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.

It is engend'red in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it. Ding, dong, bell.

The Joe Wright-Tom Stoppard production of Anna Karenina certainly agrees with Shakespeare's opinion, in The Merchant of Venice, about where sexual passion comes from. "Fancy" in the sense of sexual longing - still the word's most common semantic association in the United Kingdom - is indeed bred in the eyes, both those of the characters and those of the audience. Accordingly, the film-makers offer us a visual feast of glittering surfaces to match the beauty of the actors playing its adulterous lovers, poor doomed Anna (Keira Knightley) and her ardent Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Perhaps by way of further stressing the superficiality as well as the fatal allure of this surfeit of beauty, they also set the whole drama in a theatre whose painted backdrops and backstage machinery are placed periodically on view, before dissolving into more realistic settings, in order to complement the highly-wrought artifice both of the 19th century Russian social context and, more surprisingly, the passion that beats itself to death against its constraints. Read more ..

Edge of Film

What's Right, and Wrong, about 'Zero Dark Thirty'

January 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

The critical commentary about the Bigelow-Boal movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden, is wrong. The chief criticism is that the movie condones torture. I think its portrayal of torture is likely to repel most viewers, to force them to look away from it. How is that condonation? As director Bigelow remarked, a movie’s showing something is not necessarily endorsing it. Exposure in drama is often, in the best cases, the best argument against it. Think of “Gentleman’s Agreement” or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Portraying cultural anti-Semitism or racism did more to condemn it than condone it. The brilliance of “Dead Man Walking” was that it even-handedly dramatized both sides of the death penalty issue. It isn’t clear in this movie, or in any accepted historical evidence, that torture led to Osama bin Laden’s assassination. Read more ..

Book Review

Beyond Global Crisis: World Peace through Human Solidarity Rights

January 22nd 2013

Beyond Global crisis

Beyond Global Crisis: Remedies and Roadmaps by Daisaku Ikeda and His Contemporaries. Terrence Paupp. Transaction Publishers. 2012. 455 pp.

Terrence Paupp’s book, Beyond Global Crisis, is an important work not only for students, scholars, and academics, but for all those who should be interested in examining global issues from an East-West, as well as from a North-South perspective. Paupp addresses the issues of nuclear abolition, climate change, the role of the International Criminal Court, the need for a thorough reform of the United Nations, and the importance of human rights to peace and development.

In assessing these various challenges and the crisis associated with each of them, Paupp’s work stands in the intellectual tradition of F.S.C. Northrup (1893-1992). Northrup was a professor of both law and philosophy who was acquainted with many of the leading figures in philosophy, politics and science, including Bertrand Russell, Ludwign Wittigenstein, Mao Tse Tung, among many others.

Northrup engaged in comparative philosophy in order to analyze and solve the problem of world peace controversies by providing a method of philosophical anthropology to solving global problems which neither capitalist nor socialist economists were able to finish because of their failure to combine intuition with postulation. Northrup combined the two—as has the Japanese peace philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda. It is for this reason that Paupp chose Ikeda and the methodology employed by Ikeda to address the global problems and challenges that stand in the way of achieving peace in the 21st century.

Ikeda’s methodology employs three distinct but strongly interrelated concepts: (1) inner-transformation; (2) dialogue; (3) world citizenship. By using these categories—all from an Asian perspective—Ikeda postulates that we can develop the capacity to re-conceptualize the problems that beset the world and its dynamics which transpire both within and between people. It is through this methodology that Ikeda postulates, as did Northrup, that we can know whether the world in its universality and necessity, and work with predictability. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Continues Slow Slide to Extinction as Experts Predict the Worst

January 21st 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Wharton Marketing Stephen J. Hoch guru was blunt: "I don't think Barnes & Noble has a prayer," Hoch says. NY Racked wrote: "One of the few remaining Barnes & Noble bookstores downtown has abruptly shuttered, and it did so in the most depressing way possible. A sign on the doors of the Sixth Avenue location reads 'Closed Forever,' and there's a stack of Nooks sitting by a trash can. As far as Manhattan is concerned, there are still six stores in business—including the Union Square and Tribeca outposts. The other sign on the window doesn't say much, except that the location is dunzo (our words, not theirs), and offers a thank you for the last 12 years of patronage. That same sign also suggests customers shop online on the bookstore's website, though that might not bode to well for the other brick-and-mortar locations."

Barnes and Noble should have grown due to the bankruptcy of Borders, the expansion of Internet buying, and the explosion of e-books. Instead the dysfunctional book chain recorded an approximate 12 percent drop in all three areas--its retail stores, its BN.com website, and its Nook e-reader. The end is being predicted by critics and experts, and being hammered into reality by millions of Americans who are voting with their wallets and turning away from the collapsing giant. Read more ..

Book Review

Book Was There: The Tactile Dimensions of Book Reading in a Digital World

January 20th 2013

book was there

Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Andrew Piper. University of Chicago Press. 2012. 208 pp.

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a dilemma: a lover of books, she received a Barnes & Noble Nook for Christmas. She was intrigued by the prospect of dipping into the world of e-books, but somehow felt it would be an act of disloyalty -- or, at any rate, a prescription for a messy bibliographic life. I replied by telling her that having both kinds of books was akin to having running shoes and boots in your closet: each has its advantages. A bound book is still my default setting, all things being equal. But if the reading in question is highly disposable, or is most cheaply and/or rapidly acquired electronically, I go that route.

Andrew Piper, who teaches German and European literature at McGill University, has clearly been thinking longer and harder about such things. The conclusions he reaches in this evocative little book are similarly pragmatic -- his analysis toggles between cold type and hot type, refusing to condemn the former to oblivion or the latter to inferiority, attentive to their convergences as well as divergences -- but he has a remarkable feel for the textures of reading as an experience, and the ways it has, and hasn't, changed over the centuries.

I choose the noun "feel" advisedly. The first of the seven essays that comprise Book Was There -- the title comes from the ever-quotable Gertrude Stein -- focuses on the tactile dimensions of reading, the way it literally and figuratively becomes an object of our attention. Interestingly, Piper shows that this is no less true of electronic reading, which is always delivered to us in some form that engages our hands (think of the swipe or tap as the digital analogue of turning a page). Reading is not only intensely tactile; it's also deeply visual in more than a lexicographic way; another chapter, "Face, Book," shows how a fascination with faces in the print medium long preceded Mark Zuckerberg's innovations in social networking. Read more ..

Film Review

Django Unchained: Otiose, Distorted, and Anachronistic

January 19th 2013

Django Unchained

Django Unchained: Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Leonardo DiCarpio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington. Length: 165 mins.

Beginning with the opening screen card, which informs us that people in Texas in 1858 were living "Two Years Before the Civil War," the historical errors and anachronisms in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained come thick and fast. As in Inglourious Basterds (2009) there is even an orthographical mistake inserted into the title to indicate the author's contempt for conventional ideas of, well, convention, at least as it relates to linguistic or historical accuracy.

In the film we are told that the "D" in the name of the film's ex-slave superhero, Django (Jamie Foxx), is silent. But the spelling of the name, presumably taken proleptically from the great French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) of the Quintette du Hot Club de France by way of Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western Django (1966), was invented in the first place in order to signal to French speakers that the name was to be pronounced not in the usual French way but comme en anglais, avec un "D" avant (like Jim of Jules et Jim). In other words, the D is not silent but otiose. So, too, we have ante-bellum Klansmen and Jim Crow laws out of their time, an account of Wagner's Siegfried eighteen years before its premiere, and a lurid amalgam of "Mandingo fighting," Wild West-style six-gun shootouts and "Wanted, Dead or Alive" bounty-hunting all taken straight from the movies. Furthermore, we must listen to an elaborate theory of "scientific" racism based on an idiosyncratic version of phrenology from a slave-owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) - the sort of thing that really belongs to the 20th century eugenics movement which did so much to launch the "progressive" era in America. Read more ..

Book Review

'Exit Zero': America's De-Industrialization and Class Inequality

January 18th 2013

Exit Zero

Exit Zero. Charles Walley. University of Chicago Press. 2012. 240 pp.

In March 1980, when the industrial firm Wisconsin Steel abruptly closed its main mill in southeast Chicago, longtime employee Charles Walley was among 3,400 people who lost their jobs. The plant closure — which led to protests, controversy and lawsuits — had an enormous impact on Walley, a third-generation steelworker. He found intermittent employment as a tollbooth attendant, a janitor and a security guard, among other things, but never landed a better job, and remained bitter and depressed about his situation until his death in 2005.

“Yeah, we thought we were middle class there for a while,” one of his daughters once overheard him musing aloud. “We were almost middle class.”

The daughter who heard that comment, Christine Walley, is now an associate professor of anthropology at MIT and author of a new book, “Exit Zero,” about the impact of deindustrialization on the lives of blue-collar workers in Chicago. In the book, published this month by the University of Chicago Press, Walley explores the lasting economic and psychological toll of such plant closings on her father and other working-class people like him. In the book, Walley also builds an argument that rapid deindustrialization in the United States was not simply the result of seemingly inevitable shifts in the global economy, but a consequence of corporate-friendly policies, and a new emphasis on raising short-term share prices, that pitted the interests of management against the long-term interests of companies and their workers.

“If you really want to understand why there is this expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization,” Walley says. “We have to think historically about how we got into this position and how we can come out of it.” Read more ..

The Edge of Film

US Officials Criticize Film's Torture Scenes

January 18th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Book Review

Fateful Lightning Overturns the "Lost Cause"

January 17th 2013

Fateful Lightning

Fateful Lightning. Allen Guelzo. Oxford University Press. 2012. 592 pp.

As we mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the publication of Allen Guelzo’s magisterial new account of that conflict is most timely. But given the fact that, by even the most conservative estimates, some 60,000 books and pamphlets have been written about what was once called the War of the Rebellion, the question naturally arises: Why do we need another one?

A very compelling reason is that Guelzo is one of our most accomplished Civil War historians, and one of the country’s foremost Lincoln scholars. He is the first two-time winner of the Lincoln Prize—in 2000 for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and in 2005 for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, the definitive treatment of that document. In addition, Guelzo’s prose is graceful and erudite—indeed, almost poetic. He is as comfortable with military topics as he is with the political, social, and economic aspects of the war and its aftermath.

But the most important reason for embracing Fateful Lightning is that it continues an important trend regarding how we understand the Civil War, by overturning the “Lost Cause” school of historiography. As Edward A. Pollard wrote in the 1867 book that gave this interpretation its name, “all that is left in the South is the war of ideas.” The Lost Cause thesis is neatly summarized in an 1893 speech by the former Confederate officer Col. Richard Henry Lee: "As a Confederate soldier and as a Virginian, I deny the charge [that the Confederates were rebels] and denounce it as a calumny. We were not rebels, we did not fight to perpetuate human slavery, but for our rights and privileges under a government established over us by our fathers and in defense of our homes." Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black at Fordham University Traces Farhud and the Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust

January 15th 2013

Edwin Black

Award-winning, bestselling author Edwin Black will chronicle the centuries of intersection between Islam and Jewry that led to the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad in 1941 and the ensuing Arab-Nazi alliance in the Holocaust in a major address at Fordham University 6 PM January 31, 2013. Black's presentation is based on his recent bestselling and critically acclaimed book, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. The event at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham is sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Black's presentation will be followed by a 28-minute filmed testimony by actual victims in the documentary "The Farhud," screened by Professor Haim Shaked.

Dr. Shaked is flying in from Miami for the special event. He is the director of The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami. Black's presentation and the film are predicted to "completely re-define people's perception of mideast history, the Palestine conflict, and the basis for the robust international Arab alliance with the Nazis," said author Black.

Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad and Fox TV Terrorism Analyst, declared the book was "monumental in scope. The Farhud sheds light on the under-researched, 14-century-long confrontation between the Caliphate and the Jewish communities, and offers new exhaustively documented details of exactly how the Pan-Arabist and Jihadist movement of the Levant, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husseini, partnered with the Nazis during the darkest days of the Holocaust." Lyn Julius of the London-based Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa wrote, "As with other Black books, The Farhud is exhaustively researched ... Black takes his time setting the scene, not sparing the reader the graphic details. Graphic detail is what Black does best ... He also surprises us with little known facts ... Edwin Black’s The Farhud should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Arab-Nazi alliance at the root of conflict in the Middle East."

Black is best known for his award-winning bestseller, IBM and the Holocaust, as well as his eugenic chronicle War Against the Weak. Read more ..

Book Review

Howard Zinn Bio Finds Career as Contested as Legacy

January 11th 2013

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn. Martin Duberman. New Press. 2012. 400 pp.

Howard Zinn’s academic career was as contested as his legacy. While teaching at Spellman College and Boston University, Zinn was in constant conflict with university administrators, pursuing an activist role with the civil rights and antiwar movements. Beloved by his students, Zinn attempted to model a relevant history which employed the past to shed light upon the present and promote a progressive agenda that would foster a more equitable society. Blending activism with scholarship, Zinn produced such books as SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964), Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967), and The Politics of History (1970), but he is best known for A People’s History of the United States, which was originally published in 1980 and has sold over two million copies. A People’s History is employed by many teachers as an alternative text and has helped launch the Zinn Education Project, which develops lesson plans based upon Zinn’s concept of viewing American history from the bottom up and privileging the working class, labor, racial minorities, and reformers. On the other hand, many professional historians denigrate Zinn’s history, noting, as Stanford’s Sam Wineburg argues, that A People’s History is based on secondary sources and projects an ideological approach which undermines creative thinking in the history classroom.

The conclusions of Wineburg and the historical profession in general -- in a 2012 survey by the History News Network, A People’s History was selected as the second least reliable history book in print -- is challenged in a new biography of Zinn by Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Paul Robeson’s biography in addition to pioneering work in gay and lesbian history. As an activist on the political left, Duberman concedes that he tends to agree with Zinn’s historical and political perspectives. However, Duberman’s biography, while generally sympathetic to Zinn, is certainly not uncritical when it comes to analyzing Zinn’s scholarship. Duberman also laments that he is not better able to present Zinn’s personal life. Zinn was more comfortable discussing political rather than personal issues, and in this vein before his death Zinn went through his archival material located in New York University’s Tamiment Library and removed most sources relating to his personal life. Accordingly, Duberman has attempted to fill in the gaps through interviews with Zinn’s family, friends, and colleagues, who were also willing to share with Duberman their personal correspondence from Zinn. Read more ..

Book Review

All in the Family Sheds Light

January 11th 2013

All in the Family

All in the Family. Robert O. Self. Hill and Wang. 2012. 528 pp.

Contemporary liberal commentators and politicians often lament that conservative interests employ cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage to convince working-class Americans to vote against their economic interests. However, Robert O. Self, associate professor of history at Brown University and author of the prize-winning American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2003), perceives this conventional political wisdom as a false dichotomy. In All in the Family, Self presents a complex and nuanced argument, tracing how breadwinning liberalism, focusing upon economic issues and the safety net, transformed into breadwinning conservatism with an emphasis upon the traditional family and cultural issues. This transformation, argues Self, explains contemporary political dialogue dominated by social conservatives and neoliberals.

Self asserts that President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expanded to incorporate the black freedom struggle by bringing black Americans into the New Deal Democratic consensus. Drawing upon such sources as the 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action prepared by then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Johnson administration believed that “ending racial discrimination and embarking upon on an ambitious antipoverty and affirmative action program would allow heretofore marginalized black men to become productive workers and heads of families” (19). This government effort to promote black masculinity through such programs as affirmative action, however, evoked a reaction by white males who perceived their status and families as under siege. This debate upon the nuclear family and male breadwinners failed to recognize the increasing number of households, both black and white, headed by women. Read more ..

Film and Politics

'Promised Land' Doesn't Energize Moviegoers

January 8th 2013

promised land

Fracking gets natural gas out of the ground, but it isn’t bringing people into movie theaters. Big stars and political controversy didn’t translate into a significant box-office haul as “Promised Land,” a new movie exploring environmental concerns about the gas-production method known more formally as "hydraulic fracturing," fared poorly in its nationwide opening.

The film, which Matt Damon co-wrote and stars in, took just 10th place at the weekend box office, with $4.3 million in ticket sales, according to The Los Angeles Times. The top weekend spot, with $23 million, went to the slasher flick “Texas Chainsaw 3D.” “Promised Land,” which cost $15 million to make and was directed by indie pioneer Gus Van Sant, delves into fears about water pollution from fracking.

Fracking is the increasingly common gas development method that’s fueling a U.S. production boom. It involves high-pressure underground injection of water, sand and chemicals to liberate oil and gas trapped in shale rock formations.

The movie stars Damon as an energy-company representative dispatched to a struggling farm town to convince residents to sell drilling rights on their land — an exchange in which they'll be paid handsomely. But he runs into moral dilemmas and an environmental activist played by John Krasinski, who co-wrote the movie with Damon. Environmental groups are using “Promised Land” as a platform for criticism of fracking, while some conservatives are attacking the film. Damon has noted that fracking is only a backdrop for the story.

“We went to the studio saying, ‘Who f--king wants to go see an anti-fracking movie?’ and were all in agreement,” Damon said in an interview with Playboy. “To us, the movie was really about American identity. We loved the characters because they felt like real people making the kinds of compromises you have to just to live your life,” he said.  Read more ..

Book Review

David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Renaissance

January 8th 2013

David Ben Gurion and the Jewish Resistance

David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Resistance. Shlomo Aronson. Cambridge University. 2010. 476 pp.

Historians of the past decades have looked at the legacy of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, in a less than flattering key: a utopianist turned statesman, a ruthless leader and, at times, tyrannical pragmatist, whose political failures—and successes—have frequently been interpreted as seeds of contemporary conflict.

In his recent book, Shlomo Aronson, an eminent Israeli historian, whose previous scholarship includes important works on the history of Nazi Germany and on the politics of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, turns to the figure of Ben-Gurion to offer a thoughtful and richly nuanced reassessment, even "rehabilitation," of his leadership. Ben-Gurion, Aronson argues from the start, was no ordinary leader, but embodied a particular type of "leader-intellectual," a "statesman-scholar," whose political and philosophical selves were so intimately entwined that one cannot be explained without the other. In itself, this observation, presents, of course, no radical revision, considering that scholars have long portrayed Ben-Gurion as a passionate disciple of Spinoza and Nietzsche, an intellectual kinship of epidemic dimensions among his generation.

To Aronson, however, this intellectual kinship was by no means one-dimensional. Rather, it must be viewed as emblematic of a state of mind Aronson describes as "renaissance." To understand the mind and statesmanship of Ben-Gurion requires us to understand him as a "self-proclaimed Renaissance man," whose affinities with the historical Renaissance were as deep as with the renaissance as an idea. Renaissance, for Aronson, is defined as "an extraordinary historical trend of thought, of psychology, and of behavior that allowed its adherents intellectual freedom of a kind not experienced before and after, a freedom that doctrinarians—both religious and secular—later present as heresy". Indeed, it is against doctrinarians— of any kind—that Aronson writes his portrait of the legendary Israeli prime minister, and it is the idea of the renaissance as a mindset of hybridity, "synthesis and renewal" that enables us to think of Ben-Gurion as anything but a doctrinarian. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Digital Music App That Turns your Page

January 7th 2013

Girls playing piano

Israel’s Tonara flips sheet-music pages automatically, and offers many other features to make learning an instrument easier. When Yair Lavi was a child, he dreamed of a way to automatically transcribe the music he was composing for the piano onto sheet music. Thirty years later, that technology remains elusive, but his new startup, Tonara, does something equally impressive: Its interactive iPad app tracks a musician’s playing in real time and flips the digital “pages” automatically.

Migrating sheet music from paper to tablet computers is nothing new – there are at least 20 other apps that do the same thing. But the others mostly require the performer to use a foot pedal to signal the device when to turn the page, Lavi, Tonara’s CEO, stated. “We’re the only app to actually interact with the performers by listening to what they’re playing.”

Tonara is smart enough to follow you even if you speed up or slow down, make mistakes, or play in a room full of other musicians. Tonara’s engineers are working on being able to track such musical intricacies as going out of key or “breaking” a chord. For now, piano is among the best instruments to use with Tonara. Read more ..

Film and Politics

'Promised Land': Hollywood's Intromission into the Politics of Natural Gas

January 6th 2013

Matt Damon in Promised land
Matt Damon in 'Promised Land'

The new Matt Damon film “Promised Land” is giving voice to critics of natural gas production, but the film faces opposition too as “fracking” goes Hollywood. The movie arrives in the middle of political and regulatory battles over fracking, the controversial oil-and-gas development method that's enabling a U.S. production boom. The Beltway has taken notice as green groups highlight the movie and conservatives attack it.

"Promised Land," which opened nationwide Friday to mixed reviews, boasts an all-star pedigree: Damon and John Krasinski (who plays Jim in the hit TV show "The Office") wrote it and star, while indie film pioneer Gus Van Sant directs. Damon plays an energy company representative dispatched to a struggling farm town to convince residents to allow development on their land, and get paid well for it. But he runs into opposition from an activist played by Krasinski, who sounds the alarm about water pollution from the technique called hydraulic fracturing. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Controversy Dismissed Over 'Zero Dark Thirty'

January 5th 2013

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) doesn't see why there's so much fuss around the film "Zero Dark Thirty." The film tells the story of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have criticized the film for its depiction of torture, and for depicting torture as helpful in tracking bin Laden. Chambliss — who could face a primary challenge next year — said the film didn't bother him.

"Congressional criticism of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ from both sides of the interrogation debate strikes me as odd—it is entertainment, not a documentary. What’s next—a Senate inquiry of the ‘Bourne’ trilogy or ‘24’?" Chambliss asked in a statement. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Remembering US Pop Superstar Patti Page--Gone at 85

January 4th 2013

Patti Page

Patti Page, the top-selling female artist of the 1950s with more than 100 million records sold, has died. She was 85. In addition to her hits, Page is believed to be the first artist to overdub her voice in the studio, long before it became a standard part of the recording process. Page was one of the most beloved singers of the post-war era.  Her biggest hit, the "Tennessee Waltz," sold more than 10 million copies, and is considered to be the first true crossover music hit. It spent months on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts. In a 1990 interview, Page explained that her hit was a happy accident. 

"Actually it was a second side [flip side] and an afterthought really because we were having high hopes for 'Boogie Woogie Santa Claus' [because] it was coming out at Christmas time and the record company didn't think anything would sell but a Christmas song," she said.  "So, we put it on the B side of that great Christmas song thinking it would be so nondescript that no disc jockey would pick it up." Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Estranged Family Gets Sports Fix in 'Trouble With The Curve'

January 3rd 2013

Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood finds a new curmudgeon to play in a film set behind the scenes of professional baseball.

In Trouble With The Curve, Gus Lobel knows more about scouting new talent for baseball teams than anyone else in the business; but his failing eyesight and old-fashioned attitudes may end his storied career. "You're talking about one of the best scouts baseball has ever seen," the character Pete tells the team manager. "With all due respect, Pete, the game has changed. We need somebody to keep up with the times," the manager responds. "Gus couldn't even turn on a typewriter, let alone a computer. Look, we all hate to think it, but he may be ready for pasture [retirement]."

Thanks to a longtime ally in the front office, Gus has one more chance to prove his value; but he is surprised when his daughter Mickey, an attorney, shows up on the scouting trip. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

No End in Sight for Movie Mayhem

January 1st 2013

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

The recent school shootings in Connecticut have again raised questions about the role of violent media in mass shootings. People in Hollywood are asking the same questions, but they say that violent action films are a staple in Hollywood and are not likely to disappear anytime soon. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the kind of film that earns money for Hollywood by appealing to teenage boys with its action, fighting and explosions.

Tim Gray of the entertainment business publication Variety said the debate over violent entertainment goes back to the paper's founding 100 years ago, and even further. “It actually goes back 2,000 years, if you look at the plays that the Greeks wrote, the Greek tragedies, if you think about the gladiators in the Coliseum, violence and entertainment have always gone together, but it's so pervasive now. That's the big difference,” said Gray.

The famed shower stabbing scene from Alfred Hitchcock's film, Psycho, shocked viewers in 1960, but it was one short segment in a highly crafted film that relied on dialogue to tell its story. The upcoming Sylvester Stallone film, Bullet to the Head, uses action to hold the viewer's attention. Read more ..

China Rising

Chinese Movie Industry Debates Proposal to End Censorship

December 31st 2012

The East is Red

For a country that wants to project "soft power," China is wrestling with how to reconcile its censorship system with the need to create films the world will want to watch. Xie Fei, a professor at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, recently sparked a debate on government control over the film industry when he called for abolishing the country’s censorship procedures in favor of a movie rating system similar to that used in the United States.

“In the past few years, there were so many unwritten laws when censoring movies,” Xie wrote in an open letter that was reposted tens of thousands of times online. “Unwritten laws such as: ‘ghosts are not allowed in contemporary settings,’ ‘extramarital affairs are not allowed,’ ‘certain political incidents are not allowed,’ etc. The censorship system [in China] is not defined by law, but done according to individuals.” Read more ..

Film Review

Hyde Park On Hudson

December 30th 2012

hyde park on hudson

Hyde Park On Hudson. Directed by Roger Michell and Richard Nelson. Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Sam West.

That Roger Michell’s and Richard Nelson’s Hyde Park On Hudson opened on December 7th could be said to add a new dimension of meaning to Franklin Roosevelt’s dictum after Pearl Harbor that it was "a date that would live in infamy." Certainly, he would not have been pleased by the film’s portrait of himself — assuming it were possible (as, of course, it wasn’t) that any such film could have been made in his lifetime.

Yet in our 21st century world it will doubtless come across to many as an effort to "humanize" the great man — who will, accordingly, shed some of the characteristics of historical greatness and take on some of those of the celebrity, that new thing in the world which, since Roosevelt’s time, we have learned to desiderate in our presidents and even in lesser politicians. FDR’s "star power" or "charisma" can only be retrospectively enhanced by this movie — though it is, as I say, more than doubtful that he himself would have valued any such commodities.

The movie is, as Mark Tooley has pointed out on the American Spectator’s website, a "tall tale" which imagines the aristocratic FDR’s behaving more like such low-life successors as Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton than there is any historical warrant for believing he actually did. Yet I would disagree with Mr Tooley’s characterization of the movie as "trash." Trash is, in any case, today’s cultural currency.

There is scarcely anyone now left alive who knew Roosevelt the man, so that if he is not yet he soon will be as much a subject for literary reinterpretation as the Plantagenet kings of England were by Shakespeare’s time, a century after the last of them had died. Shakespeare’s kings were probably as much at variance with their historical counterparts as Mr Michell’s FDR, but we may find an unexpected delight in what his picture has to say about the meaning and desirability of the celebrity culture which, as some of us believe, has had such a lamentable effect on our politics since Roosevelt’s time. Read more ..

Film Review

'The Impossible' Brilliantly Revisits Devastating 2004 Tsunami

December 29th 2012


The Impossible. Director: Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor. Length: 107 mins.

Eight years after the Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed 230,000 lives, a new film  depicts the trauma and devastation left in its wake. Based on a true story, The Impossible focuses on a vacationing family which is caught up in the chaos after the mammoth wave hits. Graphic images make the suffering and loss difficult to watch, but the film also depicts the triumph of the human spirit.

Juan Antonio Bayona's cinematic rendition of the gargantuan wave crushing everything in its path is neither entertaining nor escapist. It's a reminder of that horrific moment in 2004, the day after Christmas, when the tsunami snuffed the life out of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. The film focuses on an upper class family of tourists facing nature's wrath.  Swept along by the waves, the mother, Maria, and her oldest son, Lucas, are separated from the rest of the family.  Read more ..

The Edge of Photography

The Eyes Have It: The Work Of Suren Manvelyan

December 29th 2012

Human Eye by Suren Manvelyan

Manvelyan, 36, is an Armenian photographer who's attracting quite a bit of attention for his sumptuous macro images of the human eye. The photos, which reveal intricate contours and ridges and complex weblike structures, don't so much resemble eyes as they do images of extraterrestrial worlds taken by the Hubble telescope. "We see thousands of eyes in our life but never suspect about the structure of the iris," Manvelyan says. "It is very beautiful and astounding. The surface resembles the surface of other planets, with craters, rivers, and valleys. It looks like something from another world. Every time I photograph the eye, I feel myself traveling through the cosmos."

Manvelyan, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics, won't reveal his technique, saying only that "maybe every photographer tries to shoot eyes -- the windows of the soul. I am not an exception to this rule, but I was lucky enough to find an interesting way to do that."

Manvelyan has also focused on the eyes of animals, which he says pose particular difficulties. "Sometimes I need to work for an hour trying to catch the still moment," he says, stressing that no animals (or humans) are ever harmed during his studio sessions. (A few of his animal eyes are included in this gallery.)

As for his next project, Manvelyan says he'll continue with his eye portraits but is interested in exploring the more down-to-earth world of wedding photography. Read more ..

Film Review

The Central Park Five: Racial Injustice and Media Hype

December 29th 2012

Central Park Five

The Central Park Five. Directors: Ken Burns and Sarah Burns. Length: 119 mins.

Ken Burns’s documentary, The Central Park Five, based on a book by his daughter, Sarah Burns, tells the by-now pretty well-known story of the false conviction of five New York teenagers for the brutal rape in April of 1989 of a woman who for years was known only as "the Central Park jogger."

Subsequently we learned — her own book, I Am the Central Park Jogger (2003) spilled the beans — that her name was Trisha Meili and that, having made a recovery from her injuries that was little short of the media’s favorite epithet, "miraculous," she might as well join in the public discussion that had surrounded her horrible experience from the beginning and that had during the same period, especially in the media, insisted on seeing it as somehow emblematic of all that was wrong with America.

In this respect, if in no other, Mr and Miss Burns are carrying on in the same tradition, except that it is now the fate of the five not-guilty teens rather than that of the poor jogger which is significant, and racism rather than crime and social breakdown what it is significant of. "Oh," as Homer Simpson says: "that."

The film rounds up the usual suspects, too, focusing on the fault of the police and prosecutors who brought the case against the teens, on the gap between rich and poor in New York in the 1980s and the fear of crime that gripped the city in the period between the coming of crack to the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem in 1984 (I would argue much earlier than that) and the crackdown on crime under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a decade later — which, so far as the film-makers are concerned, may or may not have had anything to do with the relative peace and safety in which New Yorkers live today. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Talented Youngsters Going to School to Become DJs

December 28th 2012

DJ woman turntable

From hip hop parties in the suburbs to dance clubs in the cities, DJs are spinning and mixing music for audiences young and old. In recent years, some DJs have become international superstars - better known than the groups whose music they play! Those who aspire to a career in this growing field can now learn and hone their skills at DJ schools. One of them is called the Beat Refinery, the first such school in the Washington area.

"What I am doing is called beat juggling. Essentially you are taking one record and putting it on both turntables, so while this one plays I am getting this one ready to start back of the beginning of the loop," said Sean Johnson, who is in an advanced mixing class, his final course at the Beat Refinery. He's been taking evening classes at the DJ school outside Washington for about two years. By day, he works as an audio engineer. "I don't do that full-time anymore. I am slowly working on my way to be a full-time DJ. It is really just kind of making a dream come to life," Johnson said. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Navigating Iran: A Clear Picture of How Iran Views the United States

December 28th 2012

Navigating Iran

Navigating Iran: From Carter to Obama. Ofira Seliktar. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. 230 pp.

Israeli-born Ofira Seliktar, former professor of political science and current head of a conservative-leaning think tank dealing with matters Middle Eastern and African, is no stranger to controversy. Among her recent books are a study of American Jewish attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli peace process and others detailing American intelligence failures regarding the Soviet Union and Iran. Neither of these preached the conventional wisdom; rather they were organized around the central theme of what might be called willful blindness.

Now, in her latest book, "Navigating Iran: From Carter to Obama," Seliktar meticulously details American foreign policy and decision-making from Iran of 1979 all the way to the environment we find oursleves in under the Obama administration.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 is not only one of the main turning points in America's war on terror; in contemporary Middle East politics, it reflects the beginning of American foreign policy toward Islamism and Islamist thought at large. One of the major phenomena that the author skillfully dissects is how disciples of the late Palestinian advocate Edward Said and the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) at large misunderstood and consequently misguided American policy-makers under the false belief of an "Islamic reformation" or democratization. In contrast, others, like Bernard Lewis, had serious reservations about Khomeini especially after finding a printing of the "Welayat el Faqih," the theory of the Absolute Guardianship of the Jurist notion, which included Khomeini's lectures from the 1970s and now forms the basis for the Iranian constitution. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Are Violent Games Linked to Violent Crimes?

December 27th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

As video game images become increasingly more realistic and graphic, policy makers are debating if there is a link between the violence depicted in those games and violence in real life. 

A 20-year-old gunman's shooting spree at a school in the northeastern United States this month has reinvigorated discussions about violence, prompting lawmakers to call for greater examination of brutality in video games. But evidence does not suggest violence in games causes violence in life, says Virginia Tech's James Ivory, a professor in the university's department of communication who researches the effects of video games.

"The agreement is pretty well universal among social scientists that there is not a clearly established link between actual violent crime and violent media usage," says Ivory. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

'Mr. Cao Goes to Washington' Film Recounts an American Dream

December 24th 2012

Congressman Joseph Cao goes to Washington

One of the key parts of the immigrant experience is the journey itself. For two Asian-American filmmakers, moving to the United States provided them both opportunity - but under very different circumstances. Mingh Nguyen, a 40-year old filmmaker based in Los Angeles, arrived in the US from Vietnam in 1982 when he was nine years old. His travels began a year earlier as one of the Vietnamese boat people. Nguyen’s parents lost their business and home after the fall of Saigon. The decision was made to flee and done in secret. “Somebody would get a boat, and would calculate how many people would be on it, and at night you kind of sneak out and get on that boat,” Nguyen said. “You get out to sea and you try to reach one of the refugee camps in Thailand, the Philippines or Malaysia. We actually got to Thailand.” Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Mass Murder in Newtown Renews Concern About Movie, Game Violence

December 23rd 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

he shooting of 20 young children and seven adults has renewed discussions about gun control in the United States. Many say the availability of guns, however, is not the only factor that could trigger a deadly act. Though the industry disputes it, some experts say films glorifying violence and video games rewarding death can be equally lethal, especially in the hands of people with mental health issues.

When "The Dark Knight Rises" opened in July, the on-screen carnage served as the backdrop to a mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, theater. The shooter, James Holmes, 24, had dyed his hair red to resemble the Batman character, the Joker. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.

Hollywood violence
Production of violent films continued after the massacre. ​​The graphic drama, "Killing Them Softly," about a hired gun with feelings, was released in late November.

The Edge of Film

Senators: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Film a ‘Dangerous’ Mix of Fact, Fiction

December 21st 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is a combination of “fact, fiction and Hollywood” that dangerously links the use of torture with the killing of Osama bin Laden. Feinstein and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are sending a letter to Sony Pictures, the film studio distributing the Oscar contender, to make their complaints known. “I thought it was terrible," said Feinstein, one of a handful of lawmakers to see the film ahead of its limited release this week. “It is a combination of fact, fiction and Hollywood in a very dangerous combination.”

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Tuesday that he was “sickened” by the film when he saw it, according to The Associated Press, saying the filmmakers fell hook, line and sinker for the torture storyline. “Zero Dark Thirty,” which has already been named the film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, opens with an extended waterboarding scene. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Hip Hop Artists Decry Honor Killings

December 21st 2012


In cooperation with U.N .Women, a Palestinian hip hop group known as DAM, released a music video last month about the brutal reality of honor killing in Palestinian society. Entitled, “If I Could Go Back In Time,” the song describes the life of a young woman murdered by her family for refusing to go through an arranged marriage.

Suhell Nafar, a member of the Lod-based hip hop group, which has performed internationally, explained that “the song is not a specific incident but it describes the phenomena of honor killing in general,” as reported by WAFA news agency at a Ramallah press conference held for the music video in November.  According to the WAFA news report, 12 women were murdered by male family members in Judea and Samaria between January and August of 2012 in “honor” crimes.

Soraida Hussein, the general director of the Women’s Technical Affairs Committee (WATC) based in Ramallah and Gaza, stated that “we live in a society that is allowing its members to kill each other.” Read more ..

Film Review

Sinister: A Jump-Out-Of-Your-Seat Thriller

December 19th 2012


Sinister. Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance. Length: 110 mins.

Sinister? Definitely. As a reviewer who rarely really jumps at films (after all, ‘it’s only a movie’!), I will confess to jumping any number of times during Sinister - even at the last image. Not only the jumping, but frequent peculiar feelings of spine-tingling. It was the succession of things that were banging and bumping in the night, the eerie atmosphere from the opening shot of four hanged people, through the sense of ghosts and the mystery of why this was all happening. And the synthesizer score, the percussion, the pounding.

Which means that if you are prone to be unsettled during a film, you perhaps should be alert to the effects of this one.

Actually, the plot is well worked out and all explained (well not explained but story lines logically followed through. Perhaps another reason for the atmosphere is that it is all played straight, no winking at the audience or tongue-in-cheek ironies. And one can identify with the family at the centre of the story, ordinary enough but the victims of sinister powers.

Basically, it is the story of a writer who moves house so that he can do a true crime story on the spot. He does research, finds a mysterious box of old film which shows the family who have been killed, except for a missing daughter. Most of the action takes place inside the house, especially at night as the writer looks at the films and asks questions of himself. Then the bangs begin, boxes fall, loud sounds (quick cut editing with the synthesizer sounds) and he (and we) begin to be really jumpy. Read more ..

Film Review

Seven Psychopaths: The Potential of a Movie within a Movie

December 18th 2012

Seven psychopaths 2

Seven Psychopaths. Director: Martin McDonagh. Starring: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson. Tom Waits. Length: 90 mins.

Two people in the audience, sitting side by side in the cinema, could well be having opposite experiences. One might be thoroughly amused by the bizarre plot and characters as well as the black humour. The next might be finding it quite distasteful, a lot of violence, random and planned, too silly to enjoy. A bit of checking on the film is necessary to decide which seat one wants to sit in.

Martin McDonagh had a great hit with In Bruges. It was bizarre and funny, oddball criminal characters, black humour and wordplay - and the beauty of the city of Bruges. This time he is in Los Angeles, not so beautiful.

Seven Psychopaths is not only the title of the film, it is the title of the potential film within the film. It is being written by Irish screenwriter, Martin (Colin Farrell, this time rather quietly subdued). He is desperate to find some psychopaths to fill out a plot for his title, and he certainly finds them, especially among his friends.

The most psychopathic is actor, Billy, played cleverly with general nonchalance and an amoral outlook on life by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell can take on any kind of role with flair. He does so here. Although rivalry for the title of most psychopathic comes with thug, Charlie, Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is devoted above all people and all things to his pet dog, Bonnie. Billy teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken at his best) to abduct dogs and turn up for the reward. You can see the set-up when Bonnie is dognapped. Meanwhile, Billy offers all kinds of suggestions for Martin’s film - many played out on screen for the audience. Hans also has suggestions. In the meantime, we see Charlie’ search for his dog who scares the walker who lost his dog by shooting at her, then racially hostilely shooting someone for revenge (real killing, not a scare). It all builds up to a shootout climax, contrived by Billy. Read more ..

Film Review

Wuthering Heights: A Puzzling and Challenging Version of a Classic

December 17th 2012

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights. Director: Andrea Arnold. Starring: James Howson, Solomon Klave, Kaya Scodelario, Shannon Bear, Lee Shaw. Length: 129 mins.

Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte’s 19th century literary classic. There have been a number of versions, especially the romantic doom and gloom of William Wyler’s 1939 version with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. In a cinematic sense, Olivier with his theatrical delivery became the visual equivalent of the Bronte prose and Merle Oberon’s classic beauty was that of Catherine Earnshaw. The Internet Movie Database lists 15 version since 1920. Luis Buñuel made a version in Spanish (Abismos de Passion). Keith Michel and Claire Bloom in 1962 and Ian McShane was Heathcliff on television in 1967. Anna Calder Marshall teamed with Timothy Dalton (also a smouldering theatrical presence) in 1970. In the 1990s, Ralph Fiennes was Heathcliff to Juliet Binoche’s Catherine. Tom Hardy, who has proven himself a strong and versatile actor, was Heathcliff in a British television in 2009 with Charlotte Riley. Read more ..

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