John Wyver writes: to start the new year after the holidays, don’t forget my review of the year, and here’s another selection of articles, videos and more that engaged or interested me over the past 10 days or so, beginning with pairs of essays amnd a related Twitter thread, about two recent releases, both of which I enjoyed enormously, that have prompted critical controversy:
- What Is West Side Story without Jerome Robbins? Chatty: Gia Kourlas for The New York Times and…
- Down with West Side Story: … Odie Henderson for Slate.
- Why sneering critics dislike Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, but climate scientists love it: David Vetter for Forbes and…
- I’m a climate scientist. Don’t Look Up captures the madness I see every day: … Peter Kalmus for Guardian.
… and this from Paul Poast, political scientist at the University of Chicago and a dab hand at Twitter threads tackling complex issues of international relations.
• The ten best films of… 1931: one of the great pleasures of each new year is Kristin Thompson’s choice of great movies from 90 years ago, and here she’s on sparkling form with capsule reviews of, among others, Fritz Lang’s M (above), G.W, Pabst’s Kameradschaft, René Clair’s Le Million and a John Ford film I have to track down, Arrowsmith, plus links to all the previous columns from 1917 to 1930.
• In Our Time – Fritz Lang: the essential Radio 4 strand hosted by Melvyn Bragg this past week devoted its first-ever edition to the cinema, and to the work of the German master, including M; the participants in a pacy and wide-ranging discussion are Stella Bruzzi,, Iris Luppa and and Joe McElhaney.
• The case against the trauma plot: Parul Sehgal for The New Yorker is really good on a dominant strand in recent literature, film and television.
• The Tragedy of Macbeth (dir. Joel Coen, A24 Films): the ever-excellent Pete Kirwan responds to the latest Shakespeare screen adaptation from the States with such intelligence and acuity that he almost persuades me to change my pretty much entirely negative opinion of the film. Almost.
• The best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2021: for Sight & Sound, Kieron Corless pulls together the choices of a group of makers and critics; lots of good things here, but interestingly there’s relatively little consensus, so that the individual lists highlight a really wide range of discs (which is all to the good).
• BBC 100 – Voices of the BBC: a great new collection drawn from the corporation’s oral history interviews, co-ordinated by David Hendy and colleagues at the University of Sussex. There will be much more to say about this and related projects in this BBC centenary year, but here’s an initial pointer – and an encouragement to explore.
• Welcoming recorded music to the public domain: from Internet Archive Blogs (with a host of wonderful links)…
• My god wears a durag: there are few writers on popular music better than Ian Penman, and the LRB gives him the space to write at length about his enthusiasms, in this case singer Solange, prompted by Stephanie Phillips’s study Why Solange Matters:
In her videos Solange is often accompanied or surrounded by other bodies: a group of female friends, powerful looking elders, itinerant Black cowboys. Her music, like gospel, has an implied or embodied community behind it.
• Diet Coke and a game of chess – the radical work of Eve Babitz and Joan Didion: lovely writing for LA Review of Books from Nikki Darling.
• Walter Benjamin’s Berlin: lovely from Slow Travel Berlin – Sanders Isaac Bernstein visits some of the great German critic’s former Berlin homes…
• The light fantastic – the 1930s building as billboard: this is from exactly a year ago, but I only just read it, thanks to Modernism in Metroland highlighting some of their favourite posts of the year – and it’s terrific.
• Churches could double as banks, or even serve beer. We can’t leave them empty: for the Guardian, Simon Jenkins is very good on ‘the greatest challenge ever to face cultural conservation in Britain’.
• Is the human impulse to tell stories dangerous?: Timothy Snyder’s comprehensive takedown for The New York Times of Jonathan Gottschall’s The Story Paradox is a joy to read, and has a killer closer.
• Hope can rise from this Ashes debacle, if the ECB stops choking the golden goose: in my review of 2021 I hymned the Guardian sports desk, and here’s another fine Barney Ronay piece about the debacle down under – and the need for radical change back home.
• English cricket is in disarray – and it’s a metaphor for the whole country: And this is another exceptional Guardian Ashes-prompted article from Martin Kettle.
• Culture wars aren’t a distraction, they’re a battle over everything: the first of a four-part series by Adam Ramsay that draws together a great deal of sensible, deeply concerning analysis of the current state of things; the other parts are here, here and here, and are strongly recommended.
• Speaking truth about British power: pithy and productive end-of-year thoughts from historian David Edgerton, the conclusion of which runs as follows:
Reality is teaching important lessons about the limits of British power, the nature of the British economy and society and state. It is from understanding these realities that a new progressive politics needs to be built. A politics of real transformation needs to start from what we are: a large Canada, a small Germany, a tiny China. It will seek to address big issues which require structural change to solve: grotesque inequality, the need to transform the economy to constrain climate change, and dealing with this pandemic and preparing for future ones. It will be largely a matter of imitation, not innovation, and much will be driven by the rest of the world. Bigging up Britain, wrapped in the comfort blanket that is the Union Jack, will not help one bit.
• The U.S. Is naive about Russia. Ukraine can’t afford to be.: for the most cogent, well-informed analysis of Russia and eastern Europe always read Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic.
• Thinking about the digital public sphere: excellent from Bill Thompson – clear-sighted, realistic, a touch regretful, but ultimately optimistic; here’s the abstract:
This paper questions: how public democratic discourse can be established in an increasingly digitized world; how European values such as openness, transparency, data sovereignty and collaboration, as well as fundamental rights, diversity, pluralism, quality and freedom of expression, can be represented online; which policies would be necessary to build an independent European infrastructure; and how the digital public sphere can be subjected to democratic control.