Blog Archives

The Reader, Mr. Rosenbaum

October 28, 2010
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The Reader, Mr. Rosenbaum

If you watch movies and read blogs about watching movies, or blog with movie-like aplomb and thus spend your days (sort of like I do) plaintively “watching” the Internet, then Jonathan Rosenbaum is a man who needs no introduction. He certainly deserves a better one, no? Preeminent critic, global film connoisseur, former bandmate of Chevy Chase, opiner of Dead Man and op-ed penner upon the death of Ingmar Begman, Rosenbaum has been one of the most important figures in American film journalism for more than a quarter of a century. His most recent book Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition collects fifty pieces of his astute criticism from the past four decades, each of which showcases his passion for the way we view movies, as well as how we write about them. The book and its author have been receiving quite a bit of attention lately from outlets as varied as the films Rosenbaum engages, like the Onion‘s A.V. Club: Ceaselessly prolific, frighteningly well-informed on seemingly every detail of film history, and well ahead of the technological curve, Jonathan Rosenbaum has championed and contextualized many films in his 40 years as a critic. When print film criticism flourished, . . .

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Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club, in memoriam

October 21, 2010
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Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club, in memoriam

Oh, the British Invasion! It’s nearly fifty years later and moony Keith Richards’s mug, cigarette dangling, is still greeting visitors to the New York Times’s homepage. What Stone is left unturned? But seriously: what else could possibly make aficionados of this particular Glimmer Twin all (ahem) a-Twitter? Plenty, says Janet Maslin, in her review of Richards’s new autobio Life, one of many pieces on the book that dot the web today. In ironic contrast to the title of Richards’s tome, however, the Guardian broke some sad news this morning: the death of Ari Up (Arianna Forster), lead singer of the celebrated British post-punk band, the Slits. Ari Up embraced the potentials of her name: as a vocalist and songwriter, her chaotic and high-energy performances in the late ’70s helped to redefine what was possible for women in music. She confronted norms with vocal guns ablaze: ferocious under her bow-tied and stiffed-up hair, Ari looked like a mad electrician’s daughter, with ripped tights and a nod to the Rastafarians. The Slits only made a few albums (’79’s Cut and ’82’s Return of the Giant Slits, some demos, and a later reunion EP), but their combination of reggae-infused rhythms and avant-garde experimentation . . .

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The Bourgeois Virtues of Mario Vargas Llosa

October 7, 2010
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The Bourgeois Virtues of Mario Vargas Llosa

Writing a pithy sentence about winning the Nobel Prize in literature is an exhaustive experience—what more can be said about this accolade of accolades whose booty (ten million Swedish kroner, or roughly 1.4 million dollars) could alter the life of even the most penniless penner of tales? The background story is well told: nineteenth-century arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel, for whom the prize is named, had the opportunity to read his own obituary, the unfortunately titled “The Merchant of Death is Dead,” eight years before his own death (the piece was meant for his deceased brother Ludvig). This transformative experience of embracing one’s own remembrance spurred Nobel to bequeath his assets via a series of prizes to those organizations and persons “who confer the greatest benefit on mankind.” One hundred and ten years later, here we are. This morning, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in literature to Mario Vargas Llosa (odds embraced by L Magazine), Peruvian novelist, journalist, and statesman whose playful approach and political engagement helped him to become one of Latin America’s most acclaimed modernist-realist writers. In recent decades, Vargas Llosa was perhaps most noted for his staunch neoliberal views, including a run for the Peruvian presidency . . .

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Our Bodies, our Ack?!

October 4, 2010
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Our Bodies, our Ack?!

The halls of feminist pop culture were a-chorus with their final “Ack!” this past Sunday, when long-running comic strip Cathy ran its final installment. Illustrated and created by Cathy Guisewite, the strip and its single everywoman heroine capped off a thirty-four-year run, departing a world noticeably different from that of its November 1976 debut (though the passage of time in semi-ageless Cathy’s world had a tendency to be marked by promotions and new boyfriends, and of course, evolution of the four “guilt groups”: food, love, Mom, and work). In many ways Cathy aspired to be the archetypal late-twentieth-century career woman, less eye-candy than Transparent Eyeball for a generation that grew up with Jane Fonda, Our Bodies, Ourselves, and society’s changing pressure on and opportunities for working women. In a fitting end, the strip finished with Cathy announcing her pregnancy to her parents and tech-geek partner Irving, who quipped about viewing the sonogram on his iPhone. Love or hate Cathy, closing shop with an iconic pregnancy helps us remember something important about the comic’s origins. For ordinary women like Cathy, who came of age in the ’70s and ’80s, access to information about issues related to their own health—contraception, pregnancies, abortion—helped . . .

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The Golden Arches of Health Care Reform

September 30, 2010
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The Golden Arches of Health Care Reform

The Wall Street Journal leaked a story this morning quickly picked up by the folks at Gawker about a warning McDonald’s Corp. has issued to federal regulators: waive the U.S. health care overhaul’s new premium requirement or else 30,000 hourly restaurant workers might find themselves without insurance. The requirement in question? A “mini-med” plan clause that offers limited benefits to over 1.4 million American low-wage workers. More specifically, McDonald’s is up in arms about the percentage of premiums that must be spent on worker benefits: Last week, a senior McDonald’s official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain’s insurer won’t meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care. McDonald’s and trade groups say the percentage, called a medical loss ratio, is unrealistic for mini-med plans because of high administrative costs owing to frequent worker turnover, combined with relatively low spending on claims. Democrats who drafted the health law wanted the requirement to prevent insurers from spending too much on executive salaries, marketing, and other costs that they said don’t directly help patients. The article goes on to mention dozens of other low wage-providing companies likely . . .

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IP in Alphaville?

September 16, 2010
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IP in Alphaville?

Debates over fair use, free culture, illegal downloading, and copyright protection have been simmering since the dawn of the digital era. Intellectual property is a hot-button topic, as the Atlantic’s technology blogger Nicholas Jackson points out, and every once and a while a story breaks that positions a major cultural figure at the center of the IP wars. Today’s news stars New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who recently donated 1,000 euros toward the legal defense of James Climent, a French citizen accused of downloading 13,788 MP3s. Godard’s pithy rationale? “There’s no such thing as intellectual property.” Whether or not you share Godard’s position, Adrian John’s Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, is a vital history worth consulting. Piracy explores intellectual property wars from the advent of print culture in the fifteenth century to the reign of the Internet in the twenty-first, ultimately arguing that piracy has always stood at the gateway between creativity and commerce. Be sure to take a timely glance at an excerpt from the book here before reading the full account of Godard’s donation at internet technoculture site Boing Boing, the first to translate the news. . . .

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The Grand Poobah of Them All

September 13, 2010
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The Grand Poobah of Them All

Roger Ebert is a man who needs no introduction—though clever pundits across America are certainly debating new taglines in light of his growing culinary expertise (from The Wind that Shakes the Barley to The Pot and How to Use It?). Early respondents to “Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies,” a new series from Chicago’s own WTTW, seem to agree on one thing: we want more Ebert! In the new show, Ebert takes a backseat to other critics—NPR’s Elvis Mitchell and the AP’s Christy Lemire, among them—introducing their views and serving as executive producer to the dueling critics format he made famous with Gene Siskel more than 35 years ago. Phil Rosenthal has a great piece in a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune that pines for a more Ebert-centered review program and gushes about the Great Movies series of columns and books, the most recent of which was published by the University of Chicago Press: Ebert is interesting, insightful and entertaining on almost any subject. But anyone who has heard his DVD commentary tracks for films such as Citizen Kane and Casablanca will attest to how it enhances the viewing experience. Were Ebert to adapt his “Great Movies” series of . . .

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The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

September 9, 2010
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The Ideology of Evolution, or the Evolution of Ideology

Press author Denis Alexander, director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, has a piece up at the Huffington Post, as part of their new series of op-eds and commentaries, Religion and Science: A Contemporary Discussion. In considering the ideological uses of science, Alexander makes a striking point about how certain biological ideas have been put to quite opposite ideological tasks throughout history, by different nations and at different times. As he explains: The ideological uses of science very often become tangled up in the debate between science and religion. Theories that for the scientist do practical work in the laboratory to make sense of certain data, and help map out the direction for future research, can be deployed in the world outside for or against various political, social, religious or anti-religious agendas. In the process the science becomes socially transformed, the original meanings of words in scientific discourse conveying quite different connotations. Though Alexander makes use of the example of evolution, the world wide web has been agog with recent instances of this intertwining: philosopher Tim Crane’s post on The Stone blog at the New York Times, biologist Ursula Goodenough’s review of Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design at . . .

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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

September 2, 2010
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Jonthan Franzen, Political Scientist?

For those geeked on all things IT or your favorite ’90s aficionado, the big news is that 90210 Day has finally arrived—but we’re busy ringing in 09-02-10 at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. A big part of scholarly publishing focuses on the conferences, colloquia, and symposia whose panels and poster sessions are a rite of passage for academics—and a captive audience for booksellers and acquisitions editors alike. The Wardman Park Marriott is aflutter with bow ties and smart suits and I’m trying to sneak away private moments with my copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (purchased during a mechanical flight delay at O’Hare—how many times can a writer described as our modern day Tolstoy refer to War and Peace in his own book, I dare to ask? But I kid, I kid—this one’s a keeper!), which has turned out to be perfect reading. Franzen’s hot in pursuit of the ghostly affective presences of globalization, consumption, and stewardship that hang, specter-like, over our contemporary moment. It turns out that the theme of this year’s APSA—”The Politics of Hard Times: Citizens, Nations, and the International System under Economic Stress”—couldn’t be more pitch-perfect for the concerns of current political science studies or . . .

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

August 27, 2010
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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

John Simon is off and running in the New York Times with a review of Czech novelist-in-exile-now-French-citizen and perpetually rumored Nobel Prize nominee Milan Kundera’s new “essayistic” book Encounter. The collection of 26 pieces, ranging in size, provides commentary on the twentieth-century artists, writers, philosophers, filmmakers, and other cultural luminaries that Kundera champions—those who “keep beauty alive,” as Simon aptly states. The review includes some juicy bits from the book itself, including reference to the great Czech writer and advocate of the long sentence, Bonhumil Hrabal: “A world where a person can read Hrabal is utterly different from a world where his voice could not be heard! One single book by Hrabal does more for people, for their freedom of mind, than all the rest of us with our actions, our gestures, our noisy protests!” Kundera’s lingua franca has always been, well, a lingua franca (albeit one of disappearance and return, both somberly and stubbornly poetic in its redefinitions)—Alfred Thomas, author of Prague Palimpsest: Writing, Memory, and the City, captures Kundera’s reinvention of Franz Kafka as the prophet of a city of political forgetting in his magisterial tome The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979): “The point is that Kundera . . .

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