How to sum up a Surrealist's autobiography? I haven’t the slightest idea. Luis Buñuel's just-republished My Last Sigh contains, as you might expect, few concrete explanations of anything, but countless provisional manifestoes, an index of cinematic inspirations of bewildering range, more anecdotes than any human has a right to own (he narrowly missed that orgy organized by Charlie Chaplin, but did dismantle a Christmas tree at another party attended by Chaplin—other guests were not amused), and a surprisingly elegiac tone of melancholy. This provides a partial overview, but what else? There’s the family’s pet, an "enormous rat" that accompanied them on trips in a birdcage. This was presumably toted [...]
Tom Stoppard has likened screenwriting to writing left-handed, and while by this standard we have plenty of ambidextrous playwrights, few have displayed such a versatile command as he has. Stoppard's screenwriting credits have ranged from prestige adaptations of Nabokov, Graham Greene, and Tolstoy to writing several drafts of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and much of the dialogue in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Tony Kushner hasn't done that.)
Stoppard's latest project is Parade's End, a BBC/HBO 5-hour miniseries airing this week (it began yesterday) starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall. The series is based on a quartet of novels by Ford Madox Ford set in the years surrounding the First [...]
To attempt any ranking of David Bowie's work in movies on a scale of strangeness seems a fool's errand; there's no computer on earth that can tally up respective curiosity points for playing both Nikola Tesla and Pontius Pilate, Andy Warhol and The Snowman, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and The Man Who Would Be Goblin King. That said, it's difficult to find a Bowie performance more abjectly forgotten—and yet so wonderfully bizarre—than the Weimar-set 1978 black comedy Just a Gigolo. Perhaps, you ponder, it was just a cameo? Nope, he's the star and the rest of the cast is filled out by—get this—Kim Novak, David Hemmings, Curt Jurgens, [...]
The House of Soviets in Kaliningrad. Photo by Frédéric Chaubin, from "CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed."
The architecture of the Eastern Bloc—a conundrum of impossible complexity, or at least that's what it looks like judging from the daily view of my collection of coffee table books. Yes, that's right, coffee table books. The recent glut of art volumes devoted to Soviet architecture may be surprising to anyone who previously thought "Soviet architecture" had about as much to do with "art" as "Soviet leaders" had to do with "glamour." Yet here is a whole bookshelf to contradict that view. There's Taschen's CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, Hatje Cantz's [...]
Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago
Updating a cultural canon, in any form, is an endless battlefield due to our persistent tendencies, 1. to create ever more art and 2. to fail, just as rapidly, to agree on its value. Witness debates about revised editions of any literary anthology, or, say, the National Film Registry. At times worthy works receive just recognition; other times, age seems all that’s required to give mediocre works the gloss of historical grandeur. But let’s not get off track discussing Sex, Lies and Videotape vs. Forrest Gump. Rarely is the navigation of this question of aesthetic value more difficult and commercially charged than in architecture. After [...]