The Culture Trip: March Newsletter

”Romy” by Marianna Gefen, an exclusive collaboration with Classiq Journal, available on shop.classiq.me

 

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

 
 
The arrival of spring comes with a new series of portraits of Romy Schneider. The two portraits (here is the second one) are part of our very own collaboration with Russia-born, Berlin-based illustrator Marianna Gefen and they are available exclusively in our shop, either separately or as a set. Here is what the artist says about her “Romy” portraits: “I was inspired by the mysterious aura, grace and charisma which surround Romy Schneider to this day. She is untamed beauty, determined yet fragile, flawed yet real. With different layers, colours, abstract shapes and transparency, I wanted to represent these aspects.”

Writer and illustrator Quentin Blake talks about bringing some of the most cherished children’s characters to life (Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox remains one of my favourite children’s books), about his new book, The Weed (out this week), about self-publishing a series of books, QB Papers – “an excuse for nonsensical drawing, really” – and about the most important book he bought as a teenager. “Reading is the only thing I’ve got a qualification for,” he chuckles (he studied English at Cambridge). “I like drawing for myself but all those books, they’re so different in character… People often ask me where I get my ideas from and I say: ‘I get them from writers.’” That’s why the children will be alright.

Todd Haynes talks to Edith Bowman about Dark Waters, one of the best and most underrated films of last year, inspired by the true story of Robert Bilott (played remarkably by Mark Ruffalo), the attorney who took on the DuPont company in an environmental suit exposing a decades-long history of chemical pollution in West Virginia. It’s stark, and realistic, a great piece of docu-drama. Todd Haynes also has a new film in the making, a documentary about Velvet Underground, which I am very much looking forward to. In the meanwhile, for a healthy dose of rock stories, you can read Nick Kent’s selected writings on rock music (he also writes about Lou Reed, the lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of The Velvet Underground, among many others), and watch Hayne’s Velvet Goldmine, his 1998 film set in Britain in the early rock days of the 1970s.
 
 

”My Mother Laughs” by Chantal Akerman | “Dark Waters”, directed by Todd Haynes, 2019 (Focus Features) |
Quentin Blake illustration for his book, “The Weed”

 

The entire board that oversees the César Academy resigned before this year’s César Awards held on February 28th, in response to the protests against Roman Polanski and his 12 César nominations for J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy). The Academy board declared they “should not take moral positions” in giving awards and that they took this decision because they wanted to “honour those men and women who made cinema happen in 2019, to find calm and ensure that the festival of film remains just that, a festival”. That film festivals and awards should not take moral stands, I completely agree with, and everything else I wanted to say about the enemies of culture and writing I already have in our previous newsletter. Polanski eventually won the César for best director and best adapted screenplay. Which brings me to the recently published book The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, by Sam Wasson, which tells the story of the making of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, one of the best films in the history of cinema.

In The Washington Post, Glenn Frankel, who is currently writing a book about New York in the 1960s and the making of Midnight Cowboy, says: “Wasson grounds his account in the intriguing people who made Chinatown: Polanski, Towne, Nicholson and the mercurial Robert Evans, who oversaw the making of the movie while head of production for Paramount. Using these four gifted and complicated men at the zenith of their talents and their egos, Wasson, in “The Big Goodbye,” weaves a tale in a voice that is intimate and sympathetic, yet critical.” When I laid eyes on the book, its title immediately made me think of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. I wonder if Altman’s film, also part of the revisionist films of the 1970s, which came out the year before Chinatown, is intertwined in the story.

This year’s César for best film went to Les Misérables, directed by Ladj Ly, which is not another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. It portrays life in a poor Parisian suburb where the police are corrupt and the residents are struggling just to get by. “People may not want to see certain parts of this film, but I’m going to make you see what real life looks like in this neighborhood. I’ve lived through this,” said the director.

In My Mother Laughs, released in the autumn of last year, “among the imperfectly perfect fragments of writing about her life,” Austrian filmmaker Chantal Akerman places “stills from her films. My Mother Laughs is both the distillation of the themes Akerman pursued throughout her creative life, and a version of the simplest and most complicated love story of all: that between a mother and a daughter.”

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