The Culture Trip: January Newsletter


 

A regular round-up of the latest talks, films,
music, books, interviews and cultural news.

 
Playing football. That’s how our entire family, gathered for the holidays, spent the first day of the new year (no snow this year). Get out, get moving, get on with it. I love Mondays (and dislike Sundays), therefore I love new starts, but loathe New Year’s Eve fancy celebrations (unless they involve a film premiere and a jazz club – any La La Land fans out there?) and love being active while the rest of the world has a hangover. Out with the old, in with the new.

Or so they say. But this does not quite stand for at least two things, as far as I’m concerned. Books and movies. I still struggle with contemporary fiction and call myself lucky that I got to have Philip Roth as a contemporary and rejoice whenever Patti Smith publishes a new book. Will, for example, any author’s work of the last two decades be adapted to films with the same fervent dedication as the classics? One of the presents my son got for Christmas is a shortened version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. We’ve been reading every evening from it and the awe I see in his eyes when he hears the story is simply flabbergasting, to see how this visionary mind of the 19th century exerts this kind of fascination over a child of the digital age. Because, see, there may be good writers today, and there are, and they, as well as we all, have to adapt to the changing concerns of our history, of our society, of different cultures, of our times, and that each decade is an opportunity to broaden our perspectives and sensibilities and to adapt to our contemporary world. But does good writing truly have an age? And where is the imagination? The creators who sense things in advance? That lust for discovery, the curiosity of the mind, the thought-provoking turn of the phrase? I am at a loss.

In the Bright Lights Film Journal, Matthew Asprey Gear writes about how Orson Welles found in Joseph Conrad’s stories a creative source and a lifelong literary touchstone. Welles considered himself “made for Conrad” and wrote screenplays for never-realized adaptations of three Joseph Conrad novels. In Heart of Darkness, which the filmmaker turned into two separate radio plays, “Welles seems to have found what would become one of his archetypal scenarios: an everyman’s quest for the truth behind an enigmatic “great man” who has succumbed to moral corruption, megalomania, and fascistic abuse of power. It isn’t surprising that Welles eventually elected to play both Marlow and Kurtz on radio and screen, as the story allowed him to simultaneously explore his conflicting identifications with the democratic and aristocratic man.” Will any book published in the last decade ever represent this kind of well of inspiration for other artists? And how will cinema further be transformed in the face of online streaming?

Happy New Year!
 
 
 

1. “New Path: A Window on Nenets Life”, by Alegra Ally (Schilt Publishing) | 2. Children, Outskirts of Comacchio
Emilia-Romagna, 1955, by Enrico Pasquali, from the book “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy”, by Enrica Viganò |
3. “Our House Is on Fire”, by Malena and Beata Ernman and Svante and Greta Thunberg (Particular Books)

 
 
 
Elizabeth Avedon gives the best insight on photography books and exhibitions and her interviews are no less insightful and interesting.

Documentary photographer and anthropologist Alegra Ally travelled to the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia to study and document the Nenets way of life. For thousands of years, indigenous Nenets have lived nomadic lifestyles herding reindeer across the Yamal Peninsula in the Russian Arctic. Ally’s book, New Path: A Window on Nenets Life, follows the Khudi family, one of 12,000 Nenets of northern arctic Russia still migrating along the same routes as their ancestors did for centuries. Ally lived for two months in the Arctic tundra with Lena, nine-months pregnant, Lyons, her husband, and their daughter Christina, as they prepared for their annual winter migration. New Path opens a window onto Nenets life today, highlighting the adjustments they have made to modern life, and the challenges they now face in the light of expanding resource extraction in the Arctic, globalization, and climate change.

Ten ways to travel more sustainably. Because when in comes to doing, not talking, there are actually very few people who are willing to limit their travelling and their boasting about it on Instagram. That’s why I appreciate when travel photographers raise up the issue of traveling responsibly.

When I am talking about very few people who are actually doing something, I am specifically talking about Greta Thunberg. The book Our House Is on Fire, by Malena and Beata Ernman and Svante and Greta Thunberg, which will be published in March, tells the story of the Swedish environmental activist and her family, involving Greta’s awareness as an eight-year-old of the climate crisis, her diagnosis of autism and selective mutism, and a family who becomes aware of their new life, which is further imperilled by a rapidly heating planet. “Steered by her determination to understand the truth, the family begins to see the deep connections between their own and the planet’s suffering. Against forces that try to silence them, disparaging them for being different, they discover ways to strengthen, heal, and act in the world. And then, one day, fifteen-year-old Greta decides to go on strike.” If Greta and her actions are not one of the most inspiring ways to enter this new year and decade, then I don’t know what is.

 

 
Let’s talk movies.

NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy 1932-1960 is a collection of photographs, film stills, posters and essays edited by Enrica Viganò, with forward by Martin Scorsese. “The NeoRealismo style became a call for economic justice as well as an artistic movement that influenced the modern world. The achievements of that movement are celebrated in this book with more than 200 illustrations, including exquisitely reproduced photographs and magazine images as well as film stills and posters.”

Michael Wood looks at Fritz Lang’s use of sound in his first two films, M and Der Testament der dr. Mabuse, for the London Review of Books podcast.

Annie Atkins, who has designed props for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story, Todd Phillips’ Joker and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, and whom I have recently interviewed, has a book coming out in February, Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps.

Jazz and Cocktails: Rethinking Race and the Sound of Film Noir, by Jans B. Wager, offers close readings of such films as Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959), with insightful analyses of the contributions of jazz composers such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Chico Hamilton, and John Lewis, and it considers the complex roles of jazz and race in classic film noir.

With the first trailer of the upcoming new Bond film, No Time to Die, Josh Sims breaks down Daniel Craig’s sartorial legacy, making the case for a more dressed-up Bond than this latest outing as 007. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the film, especially that I am afraid that the post-Daniel Craig Bond and Bond movies will become too politically correct.

I couldn’t end this January newsletter without a few words about some of the most promising films of 2020. The French Dispatch is the latest from Wes Anderson and is “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th century French city”. Paul Thomas Anderson has an untitled new project, about a child star attending high school in Southern California in the 1970s. Laurent Cantet (his film, L’Atelier, 2017, impressed me even more than his 2008 Palme d’Or winner, Entre les murs, especially after attending a Q&A with the director and hearing how he started to write the script after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as he wanted to make a film about a new way of seeing the world, about the new violence that’s in the world, Internet technologies, and all that stuff that’s come into the way of the young people, and how we can address all that) will also have a new film out, Arthur Rambo. Oskar Roehler is making a movie about Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Enfant Terrible. David Fincher will direct Mank, based on the months-long period that screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz spent with Orson Welles working on the screenplay of Citizen Kane (1941). Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island, set on Fårö, where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot some of his movies, is about a couple who travel there and try to finish their respective screenplays. Wendy, directed by Benh Zeitlin, is a spin on Peter Pan: “All children grow up, but some, the wild ones, the ones with a light in their eye, escape.” Imagine.
 

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