The Sorrow and the Pity

(dir. M Ophuls) (1969)

A leisurely pace prevails, as diverse men chat about France under German occupation.  This casual approach belies the serious and vital theme that slowly works into the brain and heart:  courage and conscience under duress and in crisis.

Un collaborateur

Un collaborateur


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Something Happened

(by Joseph Heller)

The best review of this amusing, desolate book was by Kurt Vonnegut in the NYTRB, reproduced in his collection, Palm Sunday, where he nails the essential bleakness of Heller’s worldview: “that many lives, judged by the standards of the people who live them, are simply not worth living.”

'Everyone seems pleased with the way I've taken command.'

‘Everyone seems pleased with the way I’ve taken command.’


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Snooty Baronet

(by Wyndham Lewis)

Lewis was an incendiary hater and this savage and hilarious trifle is worth a read for his acrid scenes involving his literary agent, ‘Humph’, including the delightful dispatching thereof.

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The Sistine Chapel

November 5, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TRAVEL |

Unless you have some Papal credentials, see the Vatican City with a proper guide. Not merely to jump queues but to navigate the treasures within. Giotto’s triptych; Caravaggio’s Entombment; the Laocoon; Raphael’s Transfiguration, Liberation of St Peter and School of Athens…some of the greatest mythical painting ever made and there it all is, before you, towering over the tourist hurly-burly, busy taking selfies.

Alternate Universe: panel display

Blessed with a bit of height, the Varnished Culture could stake out some wall space and gaze over the sea of baseball caps. Down sparse casements and through subterranean galleries of truly hellish ‘modern’ art, up a noisy narrow stairway and finally into the Sistine Chapel. You first see these unexpected transept frescoes by the likes of Botticelli, fresh and dazzling. Then, follow the celery-stalked necks of the throng, the washed out colours of the ceiling.

Finally, amid the ‘shooshing’ of the attendants and surreptitious photo snaps that will never be worth downloading, your sight is drawn to the wall with The Last Judgment, which Michelangelo did a generation after he completed the ceiling. Goethe said in a letter that until you have seen the Sistine Chapel, you can have no adequate conception of what one man is capable of accomplishing. In a gloomy mood one might say that of Michelangelo’s á Pieta, in the interior of St Peter’s, with its arm hacked off by a madman. Just when wounds from the colourisation war over Michelangelo’s frescoes have been licked clean, the Vatican offers The Vatican Museums 3D.  TVC advises art lovers to go to the source instead.


Judgment Day

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Silver Linings Playbook

November 5, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir.D.O. Russell) (2012)

Mad boy goes home to live with Mom and Dad (Jacquie Weaver and Robert De Niro, with little to do) finding love with a fellow screwball.  You shouldn’t bet, but you can bet on this – the outcome is a fix from go to whoa.

TVC saw this with mother. For a film about mental illness, it would have been nice to feature some authentic craziness but nooooo. Not a trace of subtlety or credibility – but Mum liked it!

'This is as bad as "The Fan", isn't it?'

‘This is as bad as “The Fan”, isn’t it?’

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The Screwtape Letters

(by C.S. Lewis)

Lewis was unsurpassed in winkling out a small dark corner of the soul and blowing it into toxic glasswork.  Here we have one-way correspondence from a demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood: a how-to manual for those who would catch our souls.  Exquisite, even for those without the gift of faith.

My favourite lesson concerns the lady who quails at that offered, wheedling for “all I want…”.  Screwtape’s comment: “Because what she wants is…less…than what has been set before her, she never recognises as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others.”

This delicious little book is now adapted as a short theatrical two-hander, to be reviewed here.

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Der Ring Des Nibelungen

November 5, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, MUSIC, Opera, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WAGNER |

(Melbourne, 2013)

As Barry Millington observed, it’s “the story of a man who buys a house and can’t keep up the payments.”  But it is so much more of course.

The greatest music-drama yet concocted was staged by Opera Australia in late 2013, as well as could be done outside of one’s own head (save for Adelaide 2004). At the cycle’s end, you had the same feeling as when leaving the Sistine Chapel – that of awe and exhaustion. It was directed by Neil Armfield, conducted by Pietari Inkinen.  Kudos all round.


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Rijksmuseum Moments

November 5, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, LIFE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TRAVEL |

We spent the better part of a day drinking in the marvels contained in this lovely Dutch pile of bricks.


A Franz Hals portrait of a couple reminded me of Rose & Freddy West. We didn’t think much of the Night Watch, we have to admit, preferring Rembrandt’s Denial of St Peter with its third-degree searchlight from nowhere. Rembrandts in wonderful abundance, recalling Wyndham Lewis’ observation that “No serious artist thinks or propagates the notion for his own use that anything better can be done than such works as hang above Rembrandt’s name in Amsterdam or the Hermitage.”

Corot never sold a painting. I wonder why? He spent two years getting the light right. It explains the trees. His use of mauve has been corrupted beyond measure; in his case, first was best. Then we took a canal cruise past Anne Frank’s house. There were folks from the West Country, who asked among themselves ‘Who’s Anne Franks?” in rich, mellifluous tones and gave the answer that she was some kind of Nazi. ‘He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it…..’ On a roll, TVC saw the Van Gogh museum and then smoked crack with some hookers.

File:Simon Maris 001.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

[Update: “The Times” reports that Rijksmuseum has airbrushed some of its inappropriate titles and descriptors, so that Young Negro-Girl by Maris becomes Young Girl Holding a Fan and “negro” becomes “black” in notes to the paintings.  The Dutch of the golden age were not so sensitive but ’tis a different world now, of course.  Whether effecting changes in mores retrospectively is to the good can divide opinion.  Micro-aggression is (by definition) a small thing, but work at it and watch the growth.] Continue Reading →

Recollections of a Bleeding Heart

(by Don Watson)

A portrait both affectionate and sharp, of Paul Keating, Australia’s Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996, beautifully written and constructed by his ‘bleeding heart’ speechwriter (scribbling for him 1992-96).  For all his faults, Keating was a remarkable polemicist and his panache, once he had got to grips with a concept, or a slip by the enemy, was extraordinary.

Best example: turning John Hewson’s budget reply charge that Keating would “pull everyone down to the lowest common denominator” into a lethal riposte: “Nothing Keating said in 1992 was as good as this. John Hewson had defined himself as Gordon Gecko. The Prime Minister would never quote it back in the awkward form of the original. He would say, ‘John Hewson says if you reach back for them, they will drag you down.’  Six months later he had developed such a way with the line you could sense a surge of shock and anger in the audience. Just as remarkably, you could sense it in yourself.”

Bill and Paul, the comeback kids (White House Archive, 1993)

Bill and Paul, the comeback kids (White House Archive, 1993)

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The Problem of Knowledge

(by A.J. Ayer)

Ayer is a blind alley, albeit a convincing one.  Yet logic and semantics will take us only so far and reading him, one thinks, “you’re too clever by half…..too clever for our good.”

asked and answered

asked and answered

We recently had a comment (by someone with the nom de plume “Butt Books”, has commented fit for posterity: “True – logic and semantics will take us only so far. The analytic tradition won’t venture into the realm of speculative metaphysics, obscurantism, and autofellatio. One must turn to the continental tradition for that.

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