The Culture Trip: December Newsletter


 

A regular round-up of the latest talks, films, music, books,
interviews and cultural news that have caught my attention
and have myself experienced in one way or another. Stay cultured!

 
 
Our December newsletter doubles as both a conscience call and inspiration for the holidays. You can not have one without the other at the end of a year and especially not at the end of a decade.

We are often asked by many parents why we we don’t take our four year old son to the cinema to watch the latest Disney film. But we are never asked what our son’s favourite book is, or how come he is already inventing his own stories. I will leave you do the logic. The stories we like to read and tell this time of year are mainly winter-themed, but my favourite addition to our collection is The Rabbits, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. This rich and haunting allegory for all ages and all cultures is not only superbly illustrated – the power of images and illustration goes deeper than words – but also a tale of colliding worlds, technology and nature, “a story about a deep environmental crisis, a crisis of conscience, and a costly failure of communication”, as illustrator Shaun Tan describes it. The book was first published in 1998 and it is unfortunately more current than ever. If you find it hard to initiate a conversation with your children about the environment, nature and humankind, this book is a great place to start.

Greta Thunberg is Time’s person of the year. It was about time.

Following up on the subject of children’s books, did you know that a child from a poor family hears three times fewer words than other more fortunate children, than your child, for example? And that in books there are three times more words than in a usual conversation? Pay it forward with a book this holiday season and whenever you can.

Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt have met up to discuss, among other things, the beauty of embracing our mistakes.

Esquire Classic is the stunning archive where every issue from the entire 85-year history of Esquire magazine lives. Esquire’s first issue was published in the autumn of 1933 featuring a dispatch from Cuba by Ernest Hemingway. That story was the first of Hemingway’s many contributions to Esquire. Other writers, as in James Baldwin, Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Scott F. Fitzgerald, were regular contributors to the magazine as well, and you can find all their writing pieces, for free, here.

“When there’s no censor to fight against, dart around, and poke fun at, where’s the tension in the contemporary screwball comedy? […] It’s fair to say that since the golden age of the screwball, there have been admirable attempts and misfires and also-rans, with a few rare gems here or there. But generally speaking: screwball belongs to the thirties and forties; to Preston Sturges, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor. Why try to improve on perfection?” Here is why they don’t make screwball comedies, the most intractably specific to its era, the most impossible to recreate, of all Hollywood genres, like they used to.

Fred Kaplan writes up a list of his favourite jazz albums of 2019 and Joe Pesci’s Still Singing is among them. Yes, the best actor in Martin Scorsese’s recently released The Irishman, sings, too, and jazz no less.

What happens to the stuff you donate? Adam Minter’s book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, due for release in February, follows the multi-billion dollar industry of reuse, from the thrift stores of the American Southwest, to the vintage shops in Tokyo, the flea markets in Southeast Asia and the used-goods enterprises in Africa. “A history of the stuff we’ve used and a contemplation of why we keep buying more, it also reveals the marketing practices, design failures, and racial prejudices that push used items into landfills instead of new homes. Secondhand shows us that it doesn’t have to be this way, and what really needs to change to build a sustainable future free of excess stuff,” reads the description of the book. The author has talked about it with Terry Gross.

The Eloquent Screen, written by Gilberto Perez and published this year, is a closely studied collection of film moments. It is the work of a film lover, not a film critic, and every story is imbued with the author’s personal feelings. Again, it’s about a passion for movies, and it is an invaluable read.
 

Illustration by Shaun Tan from the book “The Rabbits”, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

 
One of the most valuable independent writer-director-producers in Hollywood, Samuel Fuller, made 29 films in his career spanning four decades, from 1949 to 1989. Starting out as a war journalist, Sam Fuller began to write screenplays for the big Hollywood names of the 1930’s. His films usually employ subjects that involve social aspects, capturing the truth of war, racism and human frailties. Maybe classics such as Pickup on South Street (1953) or Forty Guns (1957) are the first that come to the public’s mind, but one of his films that has impressed me the most was White Dog (1982). An uncompromising film that conveys a racial tolerance message through events that unfold in the eyes of a dog that was destroyed by a crippeled, twisted society when he was a puppy, having been trained to attack black people. Using a dog’s behaviour to emphasize the real human cruelty is the movie’s target and accomplishment. This may as well be the most original movie on American racism ever made. In his book, Samuel Fuller tells his story of writing, fighting and filmmaking.

Is there any more pleasant winter evening indoor activity than playing board games? Now that our son is four and a half, we have finally embraced playing board games as a family and we are happy to have something to alternate our puzzle games with. Our favourites right now are Jeu de l’oie – Goose Game and The Big Book of Christmas Games (only available in Italian at the publisher, but you can look for the English version at your usual book provider or, even better, in your favourite bookshop – because, in the age of e-commerce, it feels good to put a little thought and a little time into scouting an actual store and buying a beautiful gift).

Adrian Curry of MUBI picks the best film posters of the decade. But many of my personal favourites, among which Your Were Never Really Here and Ford v Ferrari, bear the signature of my favourite contemporary poster illustrator, Tony Stella.

A hearty conversation revolving around food that is bound to get you in the mood for Christmas.

This David Bowie box set of 7’’ singles vinyls had me at first sight. It feels more special even than a vinyl album – taking the time to put on and listen to every single song separately keeps you in the moment and immersed into the experience. And it makes a great gift for those who value the good things in life, not only good music.

My complete round-up of the best films of the year will be published next week and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is one of them. It is currently available on Netflix (but if you were able to catch it at the cinema, which I relentlessly support, good for you) and you can also listen to Alec Baldwin’s interview with the director here.

I am a fervent proponent of sports as a key element in the education and health of children – a running joke in our family whenever we hear about someone’s children’s science and maths accomplishments (and don’t get me wrong, I loved math) is: But can he/she run? Let’s foster an interest in sport to last a lifetime: winter is as good a time as any other to start. Let’s hope for many a powder days this winter!
 

Illustration by Shaun Tan from the book “The Rabbits”, by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

 

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