Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
(by Robert Conquest)
It is hard to understand why so many intelligent people admired the socialist experiment of Soviet Union c. 1934-1940. These useful idiots defended and lauded systematic mass slaughter on an industrial scale. Conquest’s book, originally appearing in 1968, helped convince those still impervious to, inter alia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The case is made, with solid and well sourced evidence, that Stalin basically topped anyone who looked at him sideways, or didn’t look at him, or whatever.
Nor were the good and great spared: my battered 1971 Pelican edition has, as Appendix D, a list of Full and Candidate Members of the 1934 Central Committee and of those, I have made notes that 49 of them were shot, mostly in the 1930s and 7 of them died in prison, under interrogation or by suicide. Osip Mandelstam died in the Gulag in 1938, largely because of a poem he wrote about Stalin, containing the lines : “the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, the glitter of his boot rims. Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses he tows with the tributes of halfmen…He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries. He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.”.
Vale Conquest (15 July 1917 – 3 August 2015) – he was someone who followed facts, not ideology. Facts led him from an early flirtation with communism, and he learnt not only from his own mistakes, but, impressively, from those of others. One imagines him in a celestial library, gazing out of golden windows down at Stalin’s useful deniers, the whole gang of them floating in a sea of burning pus. Appropriate Conquest footnotes..
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(dir. Baz Luhrmann) (2013)
We were in glamorous Station Street, Birmingham, which turned out to contain “The Electric”, the UK’s oldest cinema. So The V.C. went to see Gatsby in 3D. Looked great but Baz has not nailed the brief: who could? Joel Edgerton looks like Tom Buchanan but talks like Ron Burgundy…Jordan Baker, Meyer Wolfsheim, Owl Eyes, have walk-ons and nothing to do. Gatsby is played like a sad sack with Asperger’s…Luhrmann should take a tip from Visconti when he filmed “Death in Venice”: forget revision, in fact, forget a script – just film the book.Continue Reading →
(by Beryl Bainbridge)
An odd, slight, oddly touching and slightly naff story of a road trip to oblivion, culminating in the death of RFK; but is the dysfunctional, libidinous Rose ‘the girl in the polka dot dress’ who exclaimed, ‘We shot him!’ as reported in the LA Times on 6 June 1968? Bainbridge’s last, almost finished novel is, unlike The Original of Laura, worth reading.
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(by Julian Symons)
13 May 1926 – the General Strike in Britain ended this day. People thought Marxism was through in Britain as a result but like Mao in exile, it would return.
Calling a strike requires keen judgment because the reaction of the public as a whole might be sympathetic, hostile, or mixed. One example is the pilots’ strike in Australia in 1989, which resulted in the pilots, and their union, being blown out of the sky. Another famous campaign was the Miners’ strike of the mid 1980s in England, when organized labour found out that the majority of the country thought they were the pits.
For 9 days in 1926 a number of sections of the British working classes engaged in a general strike, initially in sympathy for underpaid coal miners. This grew into a national civil war, without the blood, and citizens divided into broad groups; those who supported the strike, those in bitter opposition, and those who sympathised with the workers but disagreed with the strategy.
It galvanised a reaction that polarized the kingdom while unifying the various classes within it. Stanley Baldwin PM played the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party like a harp, stoking fears of anarchy, and the whole thing fell dismally flat, with miners generally worse off than before.
Symons’ book is a fascinating portrait of a revolution that (almost but) never was, brilliantly analysing the various forces at play; it is venerable but still the best account.Continue Reading →
(dir.Santosh Sivan) (2001)
Surreal Bollywood biopic of the great Indian King who eschewed violence after his campaign to conquer Kalinga in Madras, circa 250 B.C. Shah Ruk Kahn as Asoka smoulders, swivels eyes and bleeds from the nose with all the subtlety of Rudolph Valentino; vivid scenes of robust battles (of conquest, family strife and romance); not a lot of H.G. Well’s Outline of History.Continue Reading →
(dir. Bob Rafelson) (1970)
The great American film about class, a road movie with style and not much plot; towering performance by Jack Nicholson, and others. Jack is from a high-born musical family but he is on the run from them, marking time as a blue-collar guy, spending his beer money on sweet but simple girlfriend (a sublime Karen Black). Then his Dad gets badly ill, he has to head north, and all his class consciousness comes embarrassingly to the fore. Along the way, they pick up two hitch-hikers who act their way into film legend. And remember: “No substitutions”.Continue Reading →