Michelangelo: His Epic Life

(by Martin Gayford)

Straightfoward but intelligent and informed biography of the world’s greatest visual artist, well sourced and well imagined.

Even when he ran out of puff, money or interest, he still managed to do great things; e.g. his incomplete (although officially deemed finished after 45 years of tinkering) tomb of Julius II, with its magnificent centrepiece of Moses.


Ridiculously prolific even though he could be a right sod in negotiating and delivering his famous services, as multi-talented as his rival Leonardo, as contradictory as all men, Michelangelo is still “the one to beat”.

“And who is He that sculptured in huge stone, 
Sitteth a giant, where no works arrive 
Of straining Art, and hath so prompt and live 
The lips, I hasten to their very tone? 
Moses is He—Ay, that makes clearly known 
The chin’s thick boast, and brow’s prerogative 
Of double ray; so did the mountain give 
Back to the world that visage, God was grown 
Great part of! Such was he when he suspended 
Round him the sounding and vast waters; such 
When he shut sea on sea o’er Mizraim. 
And ye, his hordes, a vile calf raised, and bended 
The knee? This Image had ye raised, not much 
Had been your error in adoring Him.”

[Robert Browning, concerning Michelangelo’s “Moses” (above)] [Incidentally, it was reported in early 2015 that two bronzes of men riding on the backs of panthers have been attributed to M. Buonarroti by experts – whilst Michelangelo famously declined to sign his work with one or two equally famous exceptions, TVC doubts these pieces are his work – they look like something done by a 16th Century Jeff Koons.]
(Portrait of the author by David Hockney)

(Portrait of the author by David Hockney)


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The Merry-go-Round in the Sea

(by Randolph Stow)

The great Australian family-at-war yarn. The scene of Rick and Jane on the beach is the literary high watermark of dates gone wrong.

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Memoirs of Hector Berlioz

Like Wagner, Berlioz was a pain in the neck, a necessary pain, the kind reminding one both of life and mortality.  There is still no agreement as to how good he was and a lot of his work has Wagnerian length without the same depth.

But check out his Faust, Trojans and Symphonie fantastique.

This autobiography, painstakingly translated by David Cairns, (who has also produced a massive biography) shows the composer kicking like a mule to get ahead, to get his way, to get some recognition, in a France that has always been indifferent to him.  A great work even for those with a tin ear.

Portrait of Berlioz by Courbet

Portrait of Berlioz by Courbet

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The Maybe

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


Tilda Swinton sleeps, encased in glass, at MoMA in Manhattan. The bed is cleaner than Tracey Emin’s but Tilda, with her death’s head and pale, slight figure, surely can find better roles than this pallid piece of modern confectionary. At least Marina Abramovic nudes up.

In a letter to The Australian, Mr Tony Hennessy of Casino, New South Wales, avers “Two people standing on a box may be difficult but it is not art”. This begs the old answer-less question ‘what is art?’ And the claim made by the pop artists ‘all art is already mediated’ surely confuses outcome with process. Perhaps we may say what we loosely call ‘performance art’ might be art, but art not for us.

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Lord Berners

(by Mark Amory)

It’s not possible to know what made Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners tick, but everyone seemed to like him and his eccentric acts were mostly harmless; dyeing animals, driving around in grotesque masks, hiding under a bearskin rug to ‘fool’ tedious guests.  A soft spoken flower with a small but keen talent justifies this very readable and accomplished bio.  And remember, ‘Red roses blow but thrice a year, in June, July and May.  But those who have red noses can blow them every day.’

James Gillray liked red noses

James Gillray liked red noses


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The Leopard

(by G. T. di Lampedusa)

The times, they are a-changing.  But the Prince of Lampedusa, understands that “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.”

Fragments aside, this is the only book the author, himself a Sicilian Prince, had in him and it is a jewel.  Clear, unhurried, conventional in structure, it shows all the hallowed power of the novel in evoking time, place and mild regret for things that pass.

202- The Leopard | 1001 Movie Nights


Its nostalgic pessimism skewers Italian politics and history, without being political or historical, which turned-off publishers in the author’s lifetime, and seemed to enrage the partisan literati at the time of its posthumous publication.  [See also the magnificent film version by Visconti.]


Nothing changing here

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The Last Confession

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born on May 18 (1920) and we take the opportunity to remember The Last Confession, a papal election drama that suggests mere mortals can somehow connive their way to the right result…

(by Roger Crane) (Australia, 2014)

The Pope is dead.  Long live the Pope.  And his election shall be the wish of God, even if the processes seem all-too awful and human.

This is a fascinating account of the serpentine path to that puff of white smoke which signals the supposed will of God.  These Cardinals are wily, sly, two-faced and yet somehow, they seem to genuinely believe in and fear their God, for the most part.

David Suchet overdoes the grin as wily Cardinal Bennelli, who in the end, forsakes faith for principle, but he is still very effective in what is a star turn.

This is a literate, amusing and overly expository work, a whodunit (or not) that entertains through dizzying scene changes and star power. The finale is a kicker as well.  Just when you are wondering who that crazy eastern European Cardinal is…..


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Language, Truth and Logic

(by A. J. Ayer)

It is a pleasure to read Ayer’s demolition of metaphysics, even though it leaves an arid philosophical landscape.

Written in 1936, a time when perhaps we might have done with a small dollop of silly spirituality, Ayer has the cracking lines:  ‘Our charge against the metaphysician is not that he attempts to employ the understanding in a field where it cannot profitably venture, but that he produces sentences which fail to conform to the conditions under which alone a sentence can be literally significant.  Nor are we ourselves obliged to talk nonsense in order to show that all sentences of a certain type are necessarily devoid of literal significance.’.

And yet, the sentence of a very different philosopher, ‘It loved to happen’, which to my narrow mind is devoid of literal significance, has equal value.

a j ayer

There was a young man who said “God must think it exceedingly odd if he finds that this tree continues to be when there’s no one about in the Quad.”

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

(dir. Alan J Pakula) (1971)

Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) aspires to act.  John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a hick who comes to N.Y. to find his missing friend, who may have availed himself of Bree’s services.  Together, they make a strange town-and-country team, each taming the other.

This very nifty thriller has a fine look and feel to it. The ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ is a (venerable) Hollywood cliché but Jane Fonda’s performance gives you a real person. Amongst the rest of a fine cast, Charles Cioffi as the sinister boss is a standout.


what a great boss

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I Shall Bear Witness

(by Victor Klemperer)

Despite some confusing Anne Frank with a Nazi (see: Rijksmuseum moments), her diary is mandatory reading and so should be this diary of German Jewish academic, Victor Klemperer. He lived in Germany throughout the Nazi reign and this volume, covering 1933 to 1941, reveals the incremental march to holocaust. Each little step led to the next and so on, quickening in pace: May ’33: Klemperer can still lecture in Romance languages and literature at Dresden but he complies with a ‘request’ to no longer conduct exams; by May ’35, he is dismissed from his post; by October 1937 he no longer feels German. By the time of the Führer’s birthday in April 1939, he expects war and fears being beaten to death.

His recourse: to bury himself in literature as much as he can and, when that will not suffice, ‘to bear witness to the bitter end’.

This diary of a great and modest scholar marginalized by evil clowns is breathtakingly well written and the courage shown in its pages (both on the part of the diarist and his loyal, Aryan wife Eva) makes the reader almost ashamed. The 2nd volume, “To the Bitter End” covers 1942 to 1945 and the last, “The Lesser Evil” notes up post-war East Germany from 1945 to 1959. All three volumes are commended.  They were abridged and translated by Martin Chalmers.

Zentralbild-Höhne-Pohl 2.10.1954 Professor Dr. Dr. Viktor Klemperer, Direktor des Instituts für Romanistik der Humbolt-Universität.

Photo of Dr. Klemperer by Erich Höhne

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