John Wyver writes: after nearly a week of not posting to the blog, here’s the reading and viewing that has caught my attention over the past week, with just a few elements of Covid-19 related media.
• Why the coronavirus crisis should not be compared to the Second World War: exemplary analysis, for New Statesman, from historian David Edgerton, author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nation, the best history book I’ve read in years….
• The real lessons of the Blitz for Covid-19: … and this is a remarkable, detailed, rigorous History & Policy paper drawn from a virtual roundtable held on 25 March, with convenor Henry Irving, Rosemary Cresswell , Barry Doyle, Shane Ewen , Mark Roodhouse, Charlotte Tomlinson and Marc Wiggam – brilliant to see such responsive, informed historical discussion.
• Appeasing Brexiteers: while we’re in historical mode, this is a fascinating comparison, published on 26 February, by Dr Andrew Black at The Federal Trust of Chamberlain’s Munich moment in 1938 and recent events among the Tories.
• Why this crisis is a turning point in history: John Gray, also for ‘The Staggers’, with perhaps the most thoughtful “what next?” piece I’ve seen:
An advantage of quarantine is that it can be used to think afresh. Clearing the mind of clutter and thinking how to live in an altered world is the task at hand.
• How to set up an ICU: my goodness, this is good (and scary), on the demands of setting up NHS Nightingale and the like, for LRB by Lana Sprawls, a junior doctor training in paediatrics:
We don’t know what is about to happen. But we can be sure that the question will be asked whether, if we had done more to increase bed and staffing numbers (known to be dangerously low for many years), we would have been better equipped to fight the pandemic.
• What we pretend to know about the coronavirus could kill us: Charlie Warzel essential, from New York Times:
A pandemic seems like a unique opportunity to set aside our differences and focus on the facts. After all, we’re in this crisis together. And we need to trust experts — epidemiologists, doctors and scientists — because they’re all we’ve got. But in crisis situations — especially early on — our desire for information exceeds our ability to accurately deliver it. Add to this the complexities of epidemiology: exponential growth; statistical modeling; and the slow, methodical nature of responsible science. Together, they create the ideal conditions for distrust, bad-faith interpretations and political manipulation, the contours of which we’re only beginning to see.
• The world’s great photographers, now insiders, are posting quarantine pics: inspiring by Peter Libbey and Jason Farago, also for New York Times — responses to the crisis by photographers around the world, including Stephen Shore, Catherine Opie and Todd Hido.
• Self-isolating photographers are making Red Dead Redemption 2 art: this makes a nice complement to the NYT piece above, from Cian Mayer for Wired.
• Stuck inside these four walls – chamber cinema for a plague year: David Bordwell on films set almost exclusively in a single space, including early films by Carl Dreyer (although not exactly his Gertrud (1964), but the image above is so wonderful and pertinent); as with so many of Bordwell’s essays this is a terrific piece.
• Themed playlist: a self-isolator’s silent film festival: there are a whole bunch of mainstream sites recommending what and how to watch online in these dark days, but this is something a bit different – from the Centre for Screen Cultures at the University of St Andrews, this is one of a group of playlists of links to stuff you might otherwise miss; in parallel with a playlist for ‘Embodying capitalism and its abuses’, Patrick Adamson assembles a wonderful list of available silent rarities, including Maurice Tourneur’s exquisite The Broken Butterfly (1919), preserved and made available by The Film Foundation.
• Sunrise in the dark: a nostalgic essay by Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot about memories of the now-empty screening rooms of Manhattan.
• Who’s that man? Mifune at 100: a totally delightful tribute to the great Japanese actor, best known for his appearances in the films of Akira Kurosawa, by Moeko Fujii for Criterion:
My education on Toshiro Mifune began, naturally, with his ass. As a teen, I’d prematurely decided that one could be a Kurosawa girl or an Ozu girl—Kurosawa’s films were all about the butt and legs, Ozu’s the neck and eyes—but you couldn’t be both at once. I dismissed Kurosawa’s movies as too sweaty, a parade of testosterone with far too many swords… One winter break, during a bout of flu, I let Toshiro Mifune wander into my life—he turned his back to me and said, “abayo”—and I felt myself changed.
• Five shots of Tarkovsky: for Criterion, Michael Almereyda, Peter Strickland, Shirin Neshat, Geoff Dyer, and Colm Tóibín pick a moment from the films of the great Russian director (who would have been 88 on 4 April); each of the scenes is excerpted on the page.
Dorothea Lange, Berryessa Valley, Napa County, California, 1956, gelatin silver print, printed 1965, 11 1/8″ × 11 1/2″. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
• Dorothea Lange’s angel of history: a gorgeous short text by Rebecca Solnit about the image above from Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, a catalogue produced to accompany the exhibition of the same name at New York’s (shuttered) Museum of Modern Art; online courtesy of The Paris Review.
• Hamlet (Schaubühne Berlin) @ Avignon Festival Theatre (webstream): an exceptional critique by Peter Kirwan of the one-night-only stream of the legendary Thomas Ostermeier production of Hamlet, filmed at the Avignon Festival in 2008:
… throughout the production, the camera’s fast edits and surprising reverse angles work to respectively ramp up the action and frame the company against the cavernous auditorium of the Festival Theatre, cast and camera repeatedly making offers to the live audience as part of the production’s interest in public representation.
• Richard III (Schaubühne) @ L’Opéra Grand Avignon (webstream): … and in an impressive double-bill of detailed, insightful responses, Peter also takes on Ostermeier’s Richard III, recorded for broadcast in 2015.
• Palermo Palermo – a piece by Pina Bausch: here’s another exceptional performance rarity now online, courtesy of Tanztheater Wuppertal – a recent digital restoration of video from 1989 of this profoundly influential dance work (running 2 hours and 23 minutes), with direction and choreography by Pina Bausch, set design from Peter Pabst, costumes by Marion Cito, and musical collaboration with Matthias Burkert.
• The Mother of Us All: … and one more remarkable streamed performance, this from New York’s Metropolitan Museum, an opera aboutSusan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, realised in the Met with The Juilliard School and the New York Philharmonic.
• Take a virtual tour of New York’s museum district: New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman walks part of Fifth Avenue in the company of architecture historian Andrew Dolkart – especially when travel is impossible it’s rather wonderful to look (virtually) at buildings through their pairs of eyes.
• Sade, too – a new moment for a complex monster: a fascinating article about contemporary resonances of the Marquis de Sade’s life and ideas, written for LA Review of Books by John Galbraith Simmons, who with Jocelyne Genevieve Barque has newly translated de Sade’s 1795 novel Aline and Valcour.
• Television (1939): and finally, a remarkable 8-minute curiosity, courtesy of the Library of Congress, which has RCA/NBC promoting the new medium.