The Great Gatsby

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

(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.

"The Electric" in Birmingham

“The Electric” in Birmingham

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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

(dir. Sergio Leone) (1966)

The western as grand opera, with a poke at the Civil War thrown in. See in particular the late Eli Wallach scrambling about for the grave with the buried treasure.


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God’s Funeral

(by A.N. Wilson)

A beautiful & rich review of Victorian and Edwardian thinking, as God’s life support was unplugged and how later generations may come, in time, to feel the need to apply resuscitation. As Kenneth Clark observed, heroic materialism and Marxism aren’t enough. We need something more.

Not the Hand of God, the hand of Nietzsche

Not the Hand of God, the hand of Nietzsche

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The Glass Bead Game

(by Hermann Hesse)

Hesse’s ideation of his own life as a monk is a heavy but worthwhile read.

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The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

(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.

The famous horrific photo of the dying RFK by Bill Eppridge of 'Life' Magazine

The famous horrific photo of the dying RFK by Bill Eppridge of ‘Life’ Magazine


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The General Strike

(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.


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

(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.

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Franny and Zooey

(by J.D. Salinger) (1961)

This perfect little novella (actually, a short story published in The New Yorker in 1955 and followed by another a couple of years later, then combined as a diptych) is a personal favourite. One would not wish to go on a houseboat holiday with any member of the Glass family (maybe Les) but their mood storms are always worth getting caught in.

Frances Glass, the baby of the family, has discovered a little book called The Way of a Pilgrim (in real life purchased from Brentano’s by Salinger’s bride-to-be and reputed Gestapo staffer, Claire) which she carries about like a talisman.  She’s sick of liking people, and that presumably includes likable people, which boyfriend Lane Coutell, so full of himself as to be almost a churl, is not (Zooey calls him “a charm boy and a fake.”). But young Frances is also a little too full of herself: college girls aren’t generally world-weary, at least in the books I’ve read. Yet here she is:

I know when they’re going to be charming, I know when they’re going to start telling you some really nasty gossip about some girl that lives in your dorm, I know when they’re going to ask me what I did over the summer, I know when they’re going to pull up a chair and straddle it backward and start bragging in a terribly, terribly quiet voice – or name dropping in a terribly quiet, casual voice.”

Over an untouched chicken sandwich, Franny describes The Way of the Pilgrim to a skeptical Lane. It promotes prayer without ceasing* that brings a physiological and ultimately transcendental effect. En route to the powder room, she faints, is revived, and we leave her, for now, on a couch in the office of a restaurant, silently mouthing “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

Cut to her slightly older brother Zooey, a TV actor not quite ready for prime time. He dispenses mercy, after a fashion, inspired by the oldest surviving sibling, Buddy (he uses an old letter to formulate a script) and hectored by his mother. He suggests to Franny, now convalescing at the family seat in NYC’s East Seventies, that she is “beginning to give off a little stink of piousness” and selecting the most comfortable and convenient place for her nervous breakdown.  After something of an explosion, he departs the field, “Always the heavy.” But then their mother, Bessie, tells Franny that Bessie’s hermit-like son Buddy is on the phone and wants to talk to her.

Richard Dreyfus, our casting choice for Zooey (retrospective)

Richard Dreyfuss, our casting choice for Zooey (retrospective)

After complaining to him about Zooey and the horrible circles in which he turns (including the one where Jesus asks an eight-year old Zooey for a small glass of ginger ale), Franny realises that she is, in fact, speaking to Zooey.

Most critics were unhappy with F & Z when they appeared, finding them sloppy and self-indulgent. Anthony Burgess later commented: “It required boldness to present an attempt at solving the world’s problems through a positive creed of love, though Salinger’s crime is to close in, depicting a family of the elect (the Glass family) who are doing two things – ritually washing away the world’s guilt; practising a synthetic religion that has elements of Christianity and Zen Buddhism in it. Holden [Caulfield] at least confronts the dirty mass of sinning humanity, though it drives him to a mental home; the Glass family confronts only itself.“**

Yes, the Glass kinder are special and know all about it, but we can’t agree that they have nothing to offer. Their discursive confessional style leads one to conclude that “the thing to listen for, every time…is what [they’re] not confessing to“^ but when F & Z agree on the importance of doing something, and something well, or kind (even though no one sees it) for the benefit of the Fat Lady, the reader as well as the characters receive something beautiful if not necessarily revelatory.

I can’t talk any more, buddy.”


[*Thessalonians 5: 17.] [**Ninety-Nine novels (1984), pp. 53-54.] [^ Seymour: An Introduction (1959) p. 125.] Continue Reading →

Five Easy Pieces

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

(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”.


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Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans Visage)

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

(dir. by Georges Franju) (1960)

Necrotic facial tissue was never so fascinating.  Brilliant (well, in theory) plastic and reconstructive surgeon wants to fix his daughter’s face, ruined in an accident – but he needs replacement skin. That does not bode well for the the pretty young students of Paris….

The plastic and reconstructive surgery one waits years to avoid...

The plastic and reconstructive surgery one waits years to avoid…

TVC knows of no scene more chilling than when the callow student is treated to a handkerchief soaked in chloroform…


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