November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Film, Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Roman Polanski) (1974)

Superior latter-day film noir, replete with sophisticated non-plot (something about diverting public water for private purposes), has Faye Dunaway getting away with scenery-chewing, due no doubt to difficulties with character (‘She’s my daughter! She’s my sister! She’s my daughter…’).


Faye emoting in a ravishing kind of way

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The Cantos

(by Ezra Pound)

The commonplace book of a madman, lines of breathtaking beauty (e.g. Canto IV, LXXIV, the closing fragments) jostle with crude, didactic ravings against usury and Jews. A pox on he who gave Pound an economics book! Or convinced him to attempt a poetic epic without structure, a theme or any cohesive idea at all. Still, it’s a lunatic mess well worth skimming.


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(by Gore Vidal)

A knowing, rollicking account of the early Republic. Vidal smashes the Jeffersonian myth but creates a more interesting figure of history in lieu. Burr’s uneasy, half-respectful relationship with Alexander Hamilton, whom he ultimately killed in a duel, is particularly interesting, although contentiously handled.

Jefferson in yet another unfinished building

Vidal paints a vivid, unflattering portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate effect of which is to confirm his stature.  But it’s a close-run thing: here is Burr reflecting on the 3rd President:

He was the most charming man I have ever known, as well as the most deceitful. Were the philosopher’s charm less, the politician’s deceit might not have been so shocking…Had Jefferson not been a hypocrite I might have admired him. After all, he was the most successful empire-builder of our century, succeeding where Bonaparte failed. But then Bonaparte was always candid when it came to motive and Jefferson was always dishonest. In the end, candour failed; dishonesty prevailed. I dare not preach a sermon on that text…Later Madison tried to explain Jefferson to me. ‘Politically, he thinks you too independent. Personally, he fears a rival.’ ‘He does not fear you.’ ‘Because I am part of him, and no rival.’ ‘I am?’ ‘He thinks you are, and so he is afraid of you.’  ‘What should I do?’  Madison simply grimaced. Obviously there was nothing to be done with such a man. I shall never know – who will ever know? – what Madison really thought of his remarkable friend.”

(image of THE duel - Henry Davenport Northrop)

(image of THE duel – Henry Davenport Northrop)

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Burial Rites

(by Hannah Kent)

Once the reader accepts the book as a claustrophobic minuity, s/he will find this wintery Icelandic saga is worth the solitary confinement; a lucid and authentic small tale of murder and retribution, with as much cause for optimism as in a Ken Loach film. Ken Loach should buy the film rights.

[Update note: Ms Kent’s second novel is due out.  No pressure, but….] Continue Reading →

Brother’s Keeper

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | CRIME, Documentary, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. J. Berlinger & J. Sinofsky) (1992)

A great, ambling account of a yokel murder case. One of the Ward boys (farmers with arrested development, putting it mildly) ups and dies; the State thinks one of the other Ward boys dun it.  Film-makers get an extra half-star for inhaling near the Ward boys. Note to DA’s pathologist and the defence attorney: never appear on film again.  It’s all a little exploitative, but unmissible all the same.

O, brother...

O, brother…

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Breaking Bad

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(created by Vince Gilligan) (2008-2013)

A high octane, cold-sweated, overheated, pretzel-plotted, prodigious, ragged and pitiless low tragedy, the best thing on television for years.


“So…there’s THAT.”

LESLEY ADDS.  No-one is redeemed.  No-one is spared.  It’s all a murky brown and very, very nasty.  Crime pays.  No it doesn’t.  Maybe it does.  No, probably not.  Oh I don’t know.  Second only to the greatest TV drama series of all time – Edge of Darkness. (Note: see also the prequel, Better Call Saul)

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Touted as Australia’s premier blues and roots festival, Bluesfest is really an eclectic gathering of the available great and good. The Varnished Culture only made Monday’s gig and a list of acts enjoyed will give you an inkling of the variety: Joss Stone, Michael Franti & Spearhead, War, KC & the Sunshine Band, Booker T Jones, the Beards, Chain and climactically, Elvis Costello & the Imposters. When Booker T recalled how young he was in 1962 when he wrote ‘Green Onions’, it occurred to the V.C. that he was not only older than most of the crowd but most of the crowd’s parents as well.

Pleasant surprises were Michael Franti, the Beards (although they really must expand the subject matter of their songs beyond the hirsute) and Cambodian Space Project (which combines a tight bunch of pub rockers with an Asian Lolita who warbles 60s bubblegum pop style songs).

Weather lovely this year but as it tends to be variable, the Varnished Culture recommends shelling extra $ on the V.I.P. tent, so one can use a lavatory fit for humans. Moreover, we choose to stay, when in or near Byron Bay, at Azabu. It is a bit out of town but that is a relief in that the town itself is a lot like Victor Harbor invaded by hippies, only worse.

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Blood Meridian

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Fiction, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (by Cormac McCarthy)

The Addams Family out in the Old West have adventures of the type conceived by the bastard child of Hunter S Thompson and Zane Grey.  This windy road will have gratuitous blood, is not for old men and weirdos ride the pretty horses…

Apparently multiple attempts to wring a film from this book have failed, which is not surprising, as it is heavy-handed, ludicrously-praised nonsense.


“Don’t worry, son, the judge will be along soon.”

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The Black Spider

(by Jeremias Gotthelf)

This highly effective creepy morality tale would (and may) have made Poe crap his britches.




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The Big Air Package

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TRAVEL |

(by Christo) (2013)

We all went to the gasometer near Duisberg to check out Christo’s installation, ‘Big Air Package’. We were sceptical about this Bulgarian wrapper but it was wonderful, a 90m high white balloon that cast an eerie, snow-like glow inside. Afterwards, we had German super-hospitality at dinner and beyond, salted with pessimism about Ms Merkel and the future of the Euro.





We agree that the Reichstag would best have been hermetically sealed, c. 1933-1945, but whilst Christo is ahead of his time, in this case, he was late:

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