The Culture Edit: December Newsletter

Left: Light and Shadow, by Nadya Zim. Photographic print available in the shop.

 
 

“It’s like all our lives are in winter season, but for almost
a year now. We’re taking a step back and rethink, reflect and
take time again. My eyes were always beyond the horizon,
but never on my own heritage and culture. I rediscovered
the richness of my own past and the nature around me.”

Frederique Peckelsen

 
 
It’s game time. Winter, especially this time leading up to Christmas, is best enjoyed through a child’s eyes. Especially those eyes fired with imagination from books, from play, from exploring a forest. A forest is not just a forest, but an enchanted forest. A walk in the forest is not just a walk, but a world of possibilities and discoveries. Freedom and freedom in creation bestow joy and awaken inventiveness. It’s so easy and so important.

How bookstores are not deemed an essential service, I can not understand. And children should be instilled the liberty of choosing a book whenever they enter a bookshop. Books are unrivaled for children’s well-being and for molding their characters. It’s unfortunate that we are living these times when we have to choose for them. I hope we all resist the urge to browse online together for books (it will not be long until they realise they can search not only for books online, but for any answer they might otherwise find only in books)(and that we will also resist making “screen time” gifts) and rely on our local bookshops to send us recommendations.

It’s time for play and time for stories of one hundred acre woods, of enchanting but troubled worlds of Fantastica, and of lost boys who can teach children to fly. It should always be the time for play and stories, but in December adults seem more willing to succumb to their childhood selves. And those books, of one hundred acre woods, of enchanting but troubled worlds of Fantastica, and of lost boys who can teach children to fly, those are the books that present adventure to children as an aspiring way of living and nurture their wonderment for the world. So what are we waiting for?

 

Right: Rush hour on the Grand Canal, by David C. Phillips, a photograph that is both
timeless and speaking of another time that seems so far away now.
Photographic print available in the shop.

 
 
The Classiq Journal newsletter goes out the first Sunday of each month, but this month is one day late because of this beautiful tradition. It’s a culture trip.

Reading

Books
Quentin Tarantino has announced he will release two books rooted in the 1970s. The first one* is a novelisation of his Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, to be published next summer and which will breath new life into the characters and story of the film by the same name. The second one is called Cinema Speculation and “it is a rich mix of essays, reviews, personal writing and tentalizing ‘what if’s’, from one of cinema’s most celebrated film-makers, and it’s most devoted fan”, according to the publisher Harper Collins.

Until Tarantino’s books however, I have another book about film I have been revelling in. Once Upon a Time in the West, with forward by Quentin Tarantino. It’s a grand book.

Captains of Illustration – 100 Years of Children’s Books from Poland is a fascinating tale of children’s stories illustrations from last century in Poland. Almost all the film poster illustrators I have interviewed, from Tony Stella to Akiko Stehrenberger, have mentioned the mid-20th century Polish film posters as an inspiration. The illustrations for children’s books by Polish artists of decades past are equally dazzling, creative and imaginative. How wonderful that art and storytelling have no age, that art and storytelling have a universal language.

The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future, by Jon Gertner. A book that makes you curious about the world you live in, the pursuit of science and our future on earth.

I like to browse through Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles from time to time. Even more than his photographs, I like his pen portraits of actors, artists and social figures that shaped the 20th century. I like how piercing, personal and witty his observations are. I love leafing through all kinds of books and magazines, especially not brand new ones, not just because they present a fresh perspective on things and a different aesthetic, so different from the current Instagrammable publications, but also because I use books and magazines as a more authentic resource for work. Relying less and less on the internet is refreshing.

Online
The best discussion that touches on the subject of fashion I have read in a long time, and, as usual, another Wes Del Val great interview. Because “the real problem, to me, is that, for some strange reason, fashion is, deep down, scared by culture, and so it uses it in ways that project superiority—the case for Prada, whose rather patronizing attitude I find a bit classist—or taking actions that would need some further rumination, like the aforementioned Valentino.” And because I like that question about the personal style of writers which might influence one’s opinion about their writing. And because the interviewee knows the name of his first bookseller. And because he mentions Emil Cioran.

The interview
Richard Dreyfus is interviewed for The Talks. “Did I ever really doubt that I would make it? No. And no one else felt that way.”
 
 

Left: Jan Marcin Szancer illustration for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” (the illustrator is featured
in the book Captains of Illustration) | Right: “Reflections” photographic print available in the shop.

 

Viewing

We watched Mary Poppins (1964) in November and we are planning to watch it again. It has the right mood for December. I personally loved the feeling that Mary Poppins has a secret life, that she’s someone different than her prim appearance. And my son, as all children, loves something and someone different. They are drawn to her because she is real yet capable of all those magical things, maybe even hinting at something dark underneath. When all is cheesy and cheeky all the time, how can you know the meaning of magic? And I also believe they have to discover these worlds (through books, films and play) when they are young enough to still have that sense of wonder intact. And, as I was expecting, there is new meaning to be found in the song Chim Chim Cher-ee in the bittersweet time of the end of year.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Robert Altman’s revisionist take on the western. “Romantic” or “poetic” is how Julie Christie has described the film. But it certainly eschewed the romanticism of the traditional western. From the haunting, bittersweet soundtrack of Leonard Cohen which pervades the film even when there is no music, and the grainy, faded-out cinematography that gives the story such an authentic feeling (you get the sense this must be something that had happened, but that it had never been told in this way), to the snow-ridden, lurking with violence frontier town and its refreshingly flawed characters, it is one of the most visionary westerns ever made, a tragically beautiful tale of the American dream.

Another 1970s Warren Beatty-Julie Christie Film, Shampoo. Although it was released in 1975, the story is set in 1968. The 1960s were the twilight of the Old Hollywood, the decade when the tastes of the American movie-goers changed radically and suddenly. There was less restraint, more freedom. Nothing was toned down anymore, nothing was polished, nothing was washed up with political correctness. That’s what I liked about Shampoo. It holds nothing back. It’s a great portrait of the times, of the sexual politics and self-involvement of the 1960s.

Mangrove** (2020). One of my favourite movies of the year. Steve McQueen’s first release from his Small Axe series that focuses on a black people-owned restaurant in London in the 1960s which becomes the target of police harassment. It resulted in a historic court battle and a mass movement. But what impresses the most is the vivid storytelling, the cultural background of the black community that powerfully and beautifully comes to light, the intensity of the actors’ performances. Such a great film.

Lovers Rock** (2020). The second Steve McQueen film from the aforementioned Small Axe (I haven’t yet watched the other three) is centered on a house party in 1970s London. The black community, of West Indies descent, is again at the forefront, but the framing of the story and style of filming are so different here, a very intimate approach to dance and music and the unique emotions that result from it.

Mank** (2020). David Fincher’s film about how Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) wrote Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. Orson and Citizen Kane are left in the background. I liked that. The film deals with a man who couldn’t come to terms with the way Hollywood put business before filmmaking, money before art. I reckon nothing has changed. Creative frustration and media conglomerates are too damn current. The filming, in striking black and white, comes through as daunting. It doesn’t have to do with nostalgia, but with the fact that this digital crispness feels and looks made-up unfortunately. Whether that was intentional or not, it fits the film well.

The Crown, season 4. They over-dramatized this season, but if it were only for the cinematography and I still would have watched it. It’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to this series in the first place (one of the only two series I have watched in recent years), besides Claire Foy’s extraordinary performance and how incredibly well built the story was.

I am not the greatest fan of Christmas movies, so I will always go for one of these instead.

 

Left: “Into the Mist” photographic print available in the shop. | Right: One of my current readings.

 

Listening

Music
My Soul Cake December soundtrack that gets revised every year. Rest assured, you will hardly find any Christmas songs here, let alone any jolly and triumphalist Christmas songs. Darkness begets light.

Podcast
From one of my favourite podcasts, Terra Incognita, an interview with Sophy Roberts (part one and part two). I loved Sophy’s book and I am fascinated whenever I read or hear an interview with her.

Exploring

The Nara of Pico Iyer. “If, when you think of Japan, you imagine bullet trains and capsule hotels and narrow lanes ablaze with winking lights, then replace those images with empty space. Put aside every dystopian thought you’ve ever collected from Blade Runner or Lost in Translation and, instead of yellow-haired punks and gothic Lolitas, picture heaps of autumn leaves. Bundle together the din of J-pop, baseball fanatics, and the world’s most crowded train stations and superimpose upon them pure silence.”

Navigating life right now through the stories of travel writers and photographers.

Making

Every month I highlight a lifestyle brand that I believe in 100%. Having talked about Polish children’s illustration, we’ll remain in Poland for Wooden Story. A three-generation-old family business that creates toys and games for children in the Beskidy Mountains. A brand created from love to nature, for the happiness of children.

On an end note

When you think of a happy place for children, how often do you associate it with a school? This is the idea of Green School, a different kind of school that opens children’s hearts and minds, where children “come alive”, in close relationship with nature. “For some reason, schools are often built by the same companies that build prisons,” says Chris Edwards, CEO of the Green School New Zealand. “We didn’t want a school with long hallways and rectangular rooms. It had to be inspired by nature in a New Zealand context.” By playing and learning in an imaginative-designed space and in nature, by encouraging them to use their hands, wits and creativity in a real environment and in real situations, the children become a very significant part of this world in a very natural way.

Because of the current situation and because I don’t believe in online schooling for four and five year olds and any pre-school child, we have personally taken our creative and educational activities into nature, safely, as often as we can. Play is the greatest tool for learning.
 
 

 
*Note: For an easily accessible, official synopsis of the books recommended here, I have linked to the respective publishing house or author. However, in these trying times, our intention is to support artists and small businesses of any kind, especially bookstores, therefore I will not link to global online book chains or corporations, leaving you to make the choice of helping your favourite independent bookshop and placing your order with them. If you don’t have a favourite indie bookstore, here is how to find one you can support.

**Update: “Mangrove”, “Lovers Rock” and “Mank” were added to this article after the initial release of the newsletter, as I have decided to recommend them before my final list of best films of the year, to be published in the coming two weeks.

This entry was posted in Books, Culture, Newsletter . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.