The Best and the Brightest

(by David Halberstam)

Definitive parable of hubris leading to apocalypse. Whiz kids from the ivy-league encounter a Big Texas Democrat as their new boss; tragedy ensues in a companion piece to his earlier The Making of a Quagmire but which is wider in scope. Larded with mean detail, such as when LBJ enthuses to Sam Rayburn how brilliant all the new kids are, to which the paterfamilias of Congress replies that Lyndon might be right “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”


‘Son, in politics, never be caught in bed with a live man or a dead woman.’


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The Apes of God

(by Wyndham Lewis)

The best (and bitchiest) book of the art demi monde ever written.  As T. S. Eliot said of this masterpiece, “It is so immense I have no words for it.”

'He believes that every pretty boy of nineteen or twenty he meets is a "genius" as he puts it!'

‘He believes that every pretty boy of nineteen or twenty he meets is a “genius” as he puts it!’ (Photo of Lewis by George Charles Beresford)

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Animal Farm

(by George Orwell)

The best political allegory since Swift.  Venerable pig, Old Major (‘Willingdon Beauty’ as his show name), a Karl Marx figure, outlines an animal world of milk and honey and soft straw.

The animals rise up, kick out the nasty farmer, see off the counter revolution, and settle down to run the enterprise themselves, in a workers’ paradise of co-operation, truth and mutual respect.

But some animals are more equal than others…


Snowball or Napoleon?

Who would have thought Napoleon the Pig, circa 1940, would look so much like Vladimir Putin?  Sorry, I mean Josef Stalin. Don’t I? Our mild suggestion against the doctrinal revanchism expected to be abroad during this centenary year of the revolution is to re-visit this telling fable, and reflect upon the diverse ways in which human foolishness can lead to evil.


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Anna Karenina

(by Leo Tolstoy)

That part of this huge novel taken up with Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is a work of art, startling in its modernity. The bucolic pages concerning Constantine Levin, on the other hand, are the highest schlock. O for an editor with the spine to suggest to a nobleman the wielding of shears and a blue pencil!

Anna is a great flesh-and-blood character, in a situation not dissimilar to Madame Bovary or Hedda Gabler.  But being Tolstoy, the rich inner drama is cast on an epic scale.


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An American Melodrama

(by Chester, Hodgson & Page)

Definitive account of the 1968 Presidential campaign, written by three accomplished British journalists, manages to avoid the faux pomp of much American political writing; brilliantly covers the most critical election since 1932 with telling vignettes of key players, Democratic, Republican and independent. Pithy chapters on RFK‘s death in Los Angeles and Nixon working southern delegates at the Miami Hilton are classic.

(Photo of Nixon on the stump by Ollie Atkins)

(Photo of Nixon on the stump by Ollie Atkins)

At page 355, this passage appears, describing the aftermath of RFK’s wounding in the kitchen area of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles:

It was very claustrophobic , like an alleyway deep in a ship, with the same coarse paint, naked metal, cooking smells, and yellow light…It was quite easy to see where Kennedy had been when he was shot. It was exactly on the diagonal between the ice cabinet and a long steel-topped row of heating cupboards. It was opposite the entrance to a second passage, entering at right angles, through which they had carried him away. There was a good deal of blood on the floor, which seemed very dark in the poor light, and there was a KENNEDY-FOR-PRESIDENT hat lying in it. On the wall by the ice cabinet, perhaps five feet from where Kennedy had fallen, five words were scrawled in crayon, which have not yet been satisfactorily explained but which in their absurd appropriateness heightened the irrational sense of ritual symbolism: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING.”

(Photo of RFK in an urban setting by Dick De Marsico)

(Photo of RFK in an urban setting by Dick De Marsico)

(Photo of Governor Wallace by Marion S. Trikosko)

(Photo of Governor Wallace by Marion S. Trikosko)

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All My Sons

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

(by Arthur Miller)

Perhaps shaded by The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, this is Miller’s most nakedly and emotionally satisfying play, centred on a father’s guilt and a son’s retribution.

"Maybe they were all my sons."

“Maybe they were all my sons.”

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Alexander Hamilton

(by Ron Chernow)

Definitive biography deals comprehensively with the life and work of the highly contentious Treasurer of the early republic.  (It largely bears out Gore Vidal’s fictional portrait of him in Burr). Hamilton was fundamentally a pessimist in an optimist’s land, who wrote that its inhabitants were fit for chains, hoping only for gold ones.

[Update: In Vidal’s novel Burr, Hamilton, a powerful figure in the highly-charged early political days of the American Republic, is referred to as “that Creole bastard.”  The record is redressed, better late than never, by Chernow’s fine work and a new musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in part based on the biography reviewed above. It takes a certain chutzpah to construct a musical around a Treasury Secretary – imagine an opera based on Peter Costello, Nigel Lawson or Tim Geithner – but this sounds like it might work.  I’ve seen the extract of the show, linked above, and whilst I managed to squirm through “Cats” on Broadway many years ago, I must say that, albeit on the small sample shown, “I’m throwing away my shot” at an attendance. On the other hand, as our Guest Reviewer reports, Hamilton might be well worth while seeing.]


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Bigger Than Life

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

(dir. Nicholas Ray) (1956)

Uber-normal 50s family has life turned on its head when Dad gets hooked on cortisone and starts wearing robes and a crown.  It’s like The Brady Bunch meets Oliver Twist and it fairly crackles.  James Mason’s great performance is almost too big for the film – you want him strait-jacketed only after he stabs everyone in the cast.


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

Badlands(dir. Terence Malick) (1973)

Bleak and stark it may be but there is a fairy tale quality in this sanitized, loose but compelling adaptation of the Starkweather-Fugate crime spree in Nebraska and Wyoming in 1957/8.  Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) brilliantly capture the sweetest, stupidest and deadliest couple since Bonnie and Clyde.

Holly’s girlish internal monologues are laugh-out-loud, close to the style of Stephen Leacock’s Memoirs of Marie Mushenough.

This is Malick’s magum opus.

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October 21, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Film, Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Joseph Losey) (1967)

Harold Pinter scripted from the novel by Nicholas Mosley: Dirk Bogarde covets his pupil’s girlfriend but lacks the courage to close in.  Meanwhile his academic pal is already on the case.  Everyone deserves censure and they know it.  Moody, slow, richly complex, misanthropic and not-to-be-missed.

"Shall we go back now?"

“Shall we go back now?”

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