Monthly Archives: April 2011

1950s movies marathon – part 32

Children of Hiroshima / Genbaku no ko (1952, Japan)

A woman returns to the ruins of her childhood home in Hiroshima.  Watched it all.  One of the odd things about this marathon is to experience the contrast between two familiar but exclusive points of view: The American view of Japan during the Second World War, and Japan’s view of itself immediately afterwards.  There is hardly any overlap, and yet they’re both partly valid.  To be honest, I love such moments, when I find myself holding multiple incompatible views in my head.  I actively seek them out.  It’s a rush.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, USA)

I wouldn’t say it’s that great.  But the circus acts are okay.  And Charlton Heston looks like you will have to pry that Indy hat out of his cold, dead fingers.  Watched: 8 minutes, then fast forwarded to see an impressive but not entirely plausible (model) train accident.

Clash by Night (1952, USA, Lang)

The Barbara Stanwycks of the world are doomed to choose between stupid, kind men and charming douchebags.  No matter what they choose, it turns out wrong.  Watched it all.  This is the first movie where I’ve actually liked Marilyn Monroe.

Les Miserables (1952, USA)

Since the purpose of movies based on famous novels is to save those who haven’t read them from feeling left out of Culture, and I have already seen a Les Miserables, I don’t think I’ll bother with this one.

Book roundup: Mikael Jalving, George Sutherland, Jo Benkow

Mikael Jalving - Absolut Sverige

Mikael Jalving – Absolut Sverige (2011)

When it seems that the Norwegian multiculturalism debate is stuck in an unproductive track, flirting nervously with a reality we fear does not respect our ideals, trying to see how few concessions to it we can get away with accepting, I do as the sport fans do, and take comfort in knowing that at least we’re better off than the Swedes.

Recommended: Yes.

George Sutherland – Twentieth Century Inventions: A Forecast (1901)

You do know that all predictions are worthless, right?  I see you nodding, and yet afterwards you go off and predict stuff.  Ah well.  Behold George Sutherland, ye haughty, and despair.

Recommended: Some of it, while other parts are too technical. The chapters on road and rail and warfare alone should suffice to prove that you’re being an idiot by even trying to forecast the future.  (Again I see you nodding, and then you think “well, he doesn’t mean the kind of predictions I make”.  But I do.  I do.)

Jo Benkow – Fra synagogen til Løvebakken (1985)

An account of Benkow’s life in the Norwegian Jewish community before and after the Holocaust.

Recommended: Weakly, for its perspective, not for its writing.

1950s movies marathon – part 31

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952, UK)

The thing about Oscar Wilde plays is that I always feel certain that I’ve already seen them, but then it turns out that I don’t recognize a single scene.  Surely I must have seen Earnest before, but who are all these people?!  Watched it all.

Invasion USA (1952, USA)

How to do a war movie on a shoestring budget: 80% military stock footage, 20% some guys hanging around in a bar listening to a newscast about the invasion.  Watched it all – with MST3k commentary.

Kvinnors vantan (1952, Sweden, Bergman)

I remember having seen some good Ingmar Bergman movies, but there certainly are a lot of bad ones, and there is something uniquely annoying about a bad Bergman movie.  Watched: 7 minutes.

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice (1952, USA, Welles)

This edition comes with an updated, partly electronic, stereo soundtrack.  This is possibly a travesty, or at least very very odd.  As for the rest, I have the sense that I’ve been beaten over the head with dramatic shadows.  Watched: 17 minutes.

To Live / Ikiru (1952, Japan, Kurosawa)

Bureaucrats are unloved zombies who follow pointless rules for decades, and then they die, just at the point of discovering that it has all been in vain.  Watched: 14 minutes.

..and on arrival at the Euphrates he asked permission to drown himself

Whilst I was Kaimakâm of the district of Kiakhta, in the Vilayet of Kharpout, I was acquainted with an Armenian Notable of that place, named Barsoum Agha. He was a worthy and courageous man, dealing well with Kurds, Turks, and Armenians, without distinction; he also showed much kindness to officials who were dismissed from their posts in the district. All the Kurdish Aghas thereabouts kept close watch over him, hating him because he was their rival in the supremacy of the place. When, after my banishment, I arrived at Sivrek and heard what had befallen the Armenians, I enquired about him and his family. I was told that when the Government disposed of the Armenians of Kiakhta he was summoned and ordered to produce the records of moneys owing to him (Kurds and Armenians in that district owed him a sum of 10,000 liras); he replied that he had torn up the records and released his debtors from their obligations. He was taken away with the other Armenians, and on arrival at the Euphrates he asked permission to drown himself. This was granted, and he endeavoured to do so, but failed, as he could not master himself. So he said to the gendarmes, “Life is dear and I cannot kill myself, so do as you have been ordered,” whereupon one of them shot him and then killed the rest of the family.

- Fa’iz El-Ghusein, Martyred Armenia (1917)

..visions of air-ships hovering over a doomed city

Military aeronautics, like submarine operations in naval warfare, have been somewhat overrated. Visions of air-ships hovering over a doomed city and devastating it with missiles dropped from above are mere fairy tales. Indeed the whole subject of aeronautics as an element in future human progress has excited far more attention than its intrinsic merits deserve.

A balloon is at the mercy of the wind and must remain so, while a true flying machine, which supports itself in the air by the operation of fans or similar devices, may be interesting as a toy, but cannot have much economical importance for the future. When man has the solid earth upon which to conduct his traffic, without the necessity of overcoming the force of gravitation by costly power, he would be foolish in the extreme to attempt to abandon the advantage which this gives him, and to commit himself to such an element as the air, in which the power required to lift himself and his goods would be immeasurably greater than that needed to transport them from place to place.

The amount of misdirected ingenuity that has been expended on these two problems of submarine and aerial navigation during the nineteenth century will offer one of the most curious and interesting studies to the future historian of technological progress.

- George Sutherland, Twentieth Century Inventions: A Forecast (1901)

1950s movies marathon – part 30

Viva Zapata! (1952, USA, Kazan)

Marlon Brando is the Mexican Moses, who leads the slaves out of Mexico into, well, Mexico.   Watched it all.  As biopics go, this one seems to be not intolerably inaccurate, although at the price of confusing viewers who have not made it a purpose of their life to study every twist and turn of the Mexican Revolution, which seems to have had an above average number of twists and turns.

Phone Call From a Stranger (1952, USA, Negulesco)

One thing I can’t tolerate in a movie is intentionally annoying characters.  They’re just too annoying.  I want to punch them.  I want to get away.  And then I remember – I can.  Watched: 10 minutes.

Captive Women (1952, USA)

1000 years in the future, Earth is a battlefield, and John Travolta stalks the land.  Watched: 10 minutes.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952, USA)

Make them laugh, make them laugh, make them laugh.  Watched it all, many times before, and again now.  Partly because it’s fantastic, and partly because for the first time now I understand the context it was made in.  This is MGM’s goodbye to old Hollywood, a response to Sunset Boulevard, and its exact opposite in every way: Cheerful where Sunset was dark, naive where it was cynical.

Kid Monk Baroni (1952, USA)

Hey, it’s Leonard Nimoy, as an angry young punk off the streets!  I love first sightings of famous actors, (although Nimoy is arguably more famous as a poet).  Watched: 5 minutes.

Audiobooks and LibriVox

For someone who loves books, I find it unbelievably depressing to buy them sometimes.  It’s fun when I can follow some stranger’s breathless recommendations, or there is some other element of serendipity involved.  It’s less fun when I browse the bestsellers and new releases section of a book store, and have to face the fact that what most readers want from a book, or at least what publishers think readers want, is Hitler and Gladwell.

With paper books, the fun discovery methods provide me with more books than I could possibly ever read, so there’s no problem.

Audio books are trickier.  Audible, the big boy of audiobooks, has the inventory of a bland medium-sized chain store.  It’s economics: Audiobooks are expensive to make, so one invests in the potential bestsellers.  Which doesn’t mean they’re bad, just that browsing through them is depressing as hell.

Enter LibriVox, which I’ve written about before, where volunteers make audiobooks of works in the public domain.  Think about that: It means that every book on LibriVox is an old forgotten book that some book fanatic loved so much that they spent months making an audio recording of it.  Recommendations don’t come stronger than that.

There’s now also a commerical offshoot of LibriVox, Iambik, which takes the same “read the books you love” approach to lesser-known copyrighted works.

Projects like these are the audiobook equivalent of a dusty, second-hand store, full of surprises of the best kind: Ideas, perspectives, fantasies.  The people behind this are clearly insane, but bless them! of those basking hamadryads of the State Department

Stanley Hornbeck was one of those basking hamadryads of the State Department who, having reached a place in the sun, lie coiled in wait for any creatures that might disturb its repose.  He had spent only four years of his life in China, teaching in government colleges at the time of the 1911 Revolution. He had scant knowledge of the language, even less of the country or its people. What little he knew he published in 1916 in an opaque book titled Contemporary Politics in the Far East, which quickly found its way to oblivion. Hornbeck got a job as a lecturer on Asia at Harvard in the twenties, published another book that did not stand up to serious scrutiny, and parlayed the book and his Harvard position into an appointment in 1928 as chief of Far Eastern Affairs at the Department of State.

This incredible stroke of misfortune for the nation gave Hornbeck control of the flow of information from Foreign Service officers to policy planners at State and to the presidential Cabinet. He withheld cables from the Secretary of State that were critical of Chiang, and once stated that “the United States Far Eastern policy is like a train running on a railroad track. It has been clearly laid out and where it is going is plain to all.” It was in fact bound for Saigon in 1975, with whistle stops along the way at Peking, Quemoy, Matsu, and the Yalu River.

- Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty (1985)

1950s movies marathon – part 29

The Thief (1952, USA, Rouse)

I think this is the only movie I’ve seen that has no dialogue whatsoever.  It’s not something I want to see emulated too often, but it’s perfect for this tense thriller about a spy who steals nuclear secrets for the Communists.  Watched it all.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952, USA)

The best moment in any Deborah Kerr movie is when she wrinkles her nose at all the unseemly business she finds herself involved in.  Which is pretty much all the time.  But in this case you have to suffer through two copies of Stewart Granger, early 50′s MGM’s idea of movie star material.  Watched: 6 minutes, (plus the occasional nose wrinkle scene).

Monkey Business (1952, USA, Hawks)

Marilyn Monroe billing watch: Fourth.   Watched: 4 minutes, then fast-forwarded to see if Marilyn’s voice has become less annoying. Not really.

Stars and Stripes Forever (1952, USA)

A biopic of John Philip Sousa. Which means you get to spend one and a half hour listening to music by .. John Philip Sousa.  Whoever thought this was a good idea?!  Watched: 4 minutes.

Above and Beyond (1952, USA)

I have nothing to say about the movie, but listen to this music, by Hugo Friedhofer.  If anyone wonders why I keep up this marathon,  it’s because it allows me to stumble unprepared into moments like these.

..transcending the need for facts, experience, and details

FDR was recklessly predisposed to help China. Because of his family’s old ties to the Shanghai opium trade, which his relatives never tired of ressurecting as evidence of their worldliness and sagacity, the President seemed to think he had a comprehension of China transcending the need for facts, experience, and details. Like many other Americans who imagined themselves to be old China hands, not least among them Henry Luce, FDR had a highly colored and idealized image of the Orient.  Knowing this through their diplomatic representatives in Washington, both T.V. Soong and H.H. Kung had taken advantage of their government posts in Naking over the years to write letters to Roosevelt, cultivating him, sending him gifts of tea that – with shrewd calculation – were not sufficiently ostentatious to be turned down as a bribe. T.V. had also sent Roosevelt the wooden model of a Hainan junk. These contacts had had the desired effect. T.V. was a foreign identity that the White House recognized. Now that he had adopted FDR’s cronies as his own, and was cultivating them shrewdly and lavishly, T.V. had a direct pipeline into the Oval Office.

- Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty (1985)