Monthly Archives: February 2012

Minireviews: Tim Clissold, Pascal Bruckner, and Lilia Shevtsova

Tim Clissold - Mr China (2004)

Tim Clissold – Mr China (2004)

Clissold arrives in China at the time of Deng Xiaoping’s Southern Tour with one simple goal: To invest hundreds of millions of dollars in China’s least-broken businesses, so that everyone  can make lots of money and be happy. All that stands in his way is the small matter of reinventing capitalism in a country where managers don’t care about profits, power flows in unexpected patterns, and rule of law is an optional accessory.

Recommended: Yes. It’s hilarious, and the chaotic picture it paints is oddly beautiful. It’s like one of those Terry Pratchett novels where they invent the police force, or postage stamps.

Pascal Bruckner – The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism (2010)

Is there anything more boring than a French polemicist, even one you’re inclined to agree with?

Recommended: No. It doesn’t help that the translation is bad too.

Lilia Shevtsova - Yeltsin's Russia (1999)

Lilia Shevtsova – Yeltsin’s Russia (1999)

After the fall of Communism, Russia  introduced democratic institutions, but the opportunity to build an actual democratic culture was wasted by the democrats themselves, whose poorly thought out reforms succeeded only in discreding their ideals for the (so far) following two decades.

Recommended: Yes, although it loses focus, as all histories do, as it approaches the present time (1999).  Interestingly, there is not a single word about Vladimir Putin.

1950s movies marathon – part 68

Rock’n Roll Revue (1955, USA)

Well this isn’t quite rock’n roll. But it does have that swing, and it certainly makes me want to go out there and invent rock’n roll right away. Watched it all.

The French They Are a Funy Race (1955, France, Sturges)

It was sad the way Preston Sturges was forced out of the movie industry in the mid-40s, after making  the only funny movies of the entire decade. It’s even sadder to see that, by this point, his first movie in years, he has forgotten how to make them. A few years later, he would be dead – leaving behind a half-finished but enjoyable autobiography. Watched: 4 minutes.

A Kid for Two Farthings (1955, UK, Reed)

There are movies, very rare ones, that seem not like movies at all, but a rift in space, opening up to a purer, more distilled level of reality. This is one of them. Watched it all.

Age 13 (1955, USA)

There’s nothing wrong with a teenage boy that can’t be cured with a little bit of psychoanalysis: Insecurity, juvenile delinquency, even the horrible life-sucking sadness of a mother’s death. Watched: 10 minutes.

1950s movies marathon – part 67

The Night of the Hunter (1955, USA, Laughton)

This is the stuff that cult movies are made of: A rambling script, ambitious visuals, and Robert Mitchum as an evil preacher with “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles, chasing two children through Super-Depressed America. I’ve seen better, but this is so much more fun. Watched it all. Unforgettable moment: A dead woman sitting in her car under water, her hair waving alongside the seagrass.

Godzilla Strikes Again (1955, Japan)

In the dub vs sub debate, I favor subtitles, and, allthough everyone is entitled to their opinion, in the case of dubbing, that opinion happens to be EVIL. But today’s dubbers, at least, we know better than to dub a Japanese movies with actors whose stereotyped accents are so annoying that you start cheering for Godzilla as he razes their cities to the ground. Watched: 24 minutes.

Summertime (1955, UK, Lean)

A movie where the city of Venice itself is the story, reflected in the wide eyes of tourist Katharine Hepburn. We see it as she sees it, wandering randomly about. The entire movie is shot in Venice, much of it outdoors, and I can’t imagine anyone seeing not wanting to go there afterwards, and yet it doesn’t feel like a commercial. It feels like .. adventure. Watched: 43 minutes.

Minireviews: Benfey on Gilded Age misfits, Skirbekk on the nation state, and a Silverberg UFO story

Christopher Benfrey - The Great Wave

Christopher Benfey – The Great Wave (2003)

Stories about the first generations of westerners who fell in love with Japan, in the second half of the 19th century. Well told, but Benfey doesn’t answer the more interesting question: To what extent did these “Gilded Age misfits” see the real Japan, and to what extent did they see an exotic caricature?

Recommended: Yes.

Sigurd Skirbekk - Nasjonalstaten, velferdsstatens grunnlag (2008)

Yes I do want to read a book that uses historical, sociological and ideological approaches to argue how the welfare state grew out of and depends on the nation state, but this isn’t it. This is rather what happens when you set out to write an opinion piece, get distracted, and, by the time you’ve finished, find that you might as well publish it all as a book.

Read: 53 pages.

Recommended: No.

Robert Silverberg - Those Who Watch (1967)

Robert Silverberg – Those Who Watch (1967)

Then the stranger spoke and he said do not fear / I come from a planet a long way from here / And I bring a message for mankind to hear / and suddenly the sweetest music filled the air.

+ I don’t know what she’s doing to me / Is it a kiss? Is it supposed to be? / I wasn’t programmed for this, you see / I only know it in theory.

Recommended: Weakly. This UFO tale is a bit on the nice side, but also a bit on the short side, so it all evens out. It’s actually been sitting unread in my bookshelves for 15 years (!), and I only now got around to reading it.

Minireviews: Cas Mudde, Alfred Bester

Cas Mudde - Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (2007)

Cas Mudde – Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (2007)

I’m not convinced by Mudde’s classification system. He identifies radical right parties partly by features, such as populism, that may actually be consequences of the political landscape. (Ie. an army that finds itself in a good defensive position, is likely to defend, but this reflects the landscape, more than the army. Same with populism: It reflects a relative position as an outsider.) And some features he identifies with the “radical right” exist in parties of all types, such as their typology of enemies. The radical right itself, for instance, is the “within the state, within the nation” enemy of the mainstream parties, in the same way that the political elite is to the radical right.

Recommended: Strongly. Partly for what it reveals about the difficulty of classifying political parties from different countries, and partly for the specifics about these parties, which provide what is usually missing in discussions of the radical right: Perspective. (Amusingly, Norway’s supposedly radical right Progress Party is excluded for being too moderate.)

Alfred Bester – Who He? (1953)

Bester wrote two of the greatest SF novels of all time, but this isn’t one of them. It’s a mainstream novel, and, although less interesting, in its best sections it gives you the same feeling of sitting in the backseat of a manic driver’s car.

Read: 165 pages.

Recommended: No. It starts electric, like a non-absurd Steve Aylett novel, but goes flat, aiming towards an obvious multiple personalities gimmick.

1950s movies marathon – part 66

Richard III (1955, UK, Olivier)

Evil is such a generic word. It is its more specific forms that appall me, such as the bitter, lonely failure who has only one spark of brilliance in him: The ability to destroy good people, in order to prove to history that he was there, that he really lived. Watched it all.

Simba (1955, UK)

The Empire never played a big role in British movies, it’s almost as if it isn’t there, and when it is, the movies are rarely any good, (except for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). In this one, British colonists in Kenya face the Mau-Mau rebellion. The more liberal-minded of them believe that if only they treated the black Africans more kindly, the rebellion would lose its support, and the movie seems to take their side. But an old hard-line character is closer to the truth: The real choice they face, he says, is between showing who’s boss – or getting out of Africa. Liberal colonialism is a contradiction. Watched: 18 minutes.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955, USA)

Ladies and gentlemen, watch American-Japanese cultural exchange in action: First Ray Harruhausen creates the original giant angry dinosaur for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, then the Japanese reinvents it as Godzilla, and now here the Americans reimport and improve on the Godzilla formula. Voluntary cultural imperialism is such a beautiful thing to behold. Watched it all.

Moralsk fordømmelse

Har skrevet en artikkel om moralsk fordømmelse, ytringsfrihet og intoleranse.

Hvis du har dårlig tid, les VG-versjonen.

Hvis du har mer tid, les originalen hos Minerva.

Hvis du har hele kvelden, les i tillegg alle de 90+ kommentarene hos Minerva, som dekker mye interessant, bl.a. om “rasisme” i det hele tatt er et meningsfullt begrep, og et svar fra Dag Herbjørnsrud som opplevde seg misforstått.

Audhild Skoglund – Sekter

Audhild Skoglund - Sekter

I september 2003 ble det sprengt en bombe utenfor lokalene til menigheten Sannhetens Ord i Slemmestad. Vinduer 100 meter unna ble blåst ut, og bare tilfeldigheter gjorde at ingen kom til skade. Bak angrepet stod et søskenpar med nære forbindelser til menigheten. De anklaget Sannhetens Ord for å være en sekt, som drev med hjernevask og streng kontroll av livet til medlemmene.

Mediedekningen etter angrepet var sympatisk for søskenparet, og fokuserte på sektbeskyldningene mot Sannhetens Ord. Eksmedlemmer ble sitert på at de hadde full forståelse for angrepet, og sekteksperter brukte anledningen til å advare mot det omfattende sektproblemet i Norge. Angrepet ble ikke vinklet som et terrorangrep på uskyldige, men som et tragisk resultat av en fanatisk sekts overgrep mot egne medlemmer.

Men var angrepet egentlig så forskjellig fra det å kaste en bombe mot en synagoge? Det er et av spørsmålene Audhild Skoglund stiller i boken Sekter.

Les resten av anmeldelsen her.

1950s movies marathon – part 65

The Man from Laramie (1955, USA, Mann)

If 100 years of western movies have taught us anything, it is that when you’re the boss of a sleepy, isolated town, and a dangerous-looking stranger arrives, you should not burn his wagons, shoot his mules, drag him through the dirt, and then return his gun to him and hope he leaves town peacefully. Watched it all.

Bride of the Monster (1955, USA, Wood)

This Ed Wood movie is almost competent. The way he goes straight to the fun part – evil scientist! monster! giant squid! – makes me wish he had the abilities to match his vision. Imagine what a genuinely good screwy sci-fi-horror filmmaker could have done with Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson. Watched 14 minutes.

Violent Saturday (1955, USA)

The kind of caper movie where the team Assembles in the first part, Executes in the second, and Fails Tragically in the third. I’ve seen this story before, and will see it again. But for some reason that I can’t explain, this particular version of it feels epic, like a long train building up speed. Watched it all.

A Generation (1955, Poland)

I love the scene in every Communist propaganda movie where the young girl stands before the crowd and holds a stirring speech about the People, the fire of truth burning in her eyes, and also the scene where the wise old worker explains his Marxist faith in simple, folksy terms, like a Communist Jesus. It makes me want to have myself put up against a wall and shot. Watched: 30 minutes.