Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tanz in den Mai

Happy Walpurgisnacht, everyone!

Les Rita Mitsouko, "Marcia Baila" (1985)

Jeunet, tout à fait

Andrew has kindly identified one of the discursive references of yesterday's video post. Thank you, Mr. Joyboy! I really ought to have thought of that myself .... Only my poor brain is too busy grappling with the Kafkaesque machinations going on at that old institution of mine, which is why The Wife's Rampant Associationism is currently in sleep mode.

So, with a day's delay I give you this:

New Order, "True Faith" (1986)

And this:

Oskar Schlemmer, "Triadic Ballet" (1927)

(Sorry 'bout the quality - it's still worth watching.)

Work it out for yourselves!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seul montagnard de tes monts blancs

Well, I'm truly shattered. All I can do is post a silly little clip from my age of innocence - when the term "chimpanzee politics" did not yet possess a meaning.

Julien Clerc, "Hélène" (1987)

Pity that Julien Clerc vaguely looks like Lothar Matthäus.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Does not compute

When confronted with stories like this... find your comfort where you can.

Friday film blogging, or "Du jetzt hol' aber mal Sekt"

At the end of what turned out to be another week from hell, here's a little comic relief: a scene from one of my favourite films ever, Helmut Käutner's Die Zürcher Verlobung (1954) - and a poignant one at that.

It is poignant, first of all, because of the many chairs with spindly legs and the exotic ear furnishings.

Secondly, it is remarkable for all the metareferential "blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality" stuff that is going on in the first part. Very postmodern.

But finally, the scene is educationally significant. Towards the end, the little chubby boy ("Pips") with his poodle ("Püppi") has to be coaxed away from his science project (dismantling the Volksempfänger radio) and up the wooden hill.

With what? A Play Station? A portfolio of blue-chip shares? A reefer?

No: This marvellous little brat only desires a banana or two!

Oh ye pitiable contemporary producers of greedy discerning, brand-conscious and peer-group-pressured baby consumers, those were the days!

Still keeping an eye on an eye for an eye

Having commented on Jared Diamond's New Yorker article on New Guinea tribal vengeance, I note the lawsuit it has apparently inspired with interest.

Not that the general conclusions about vengeance will be affected if it turns out that there are some inaccuracies here (similar patterns are well documented all over: I am currently reviewing a book on homicide in Europe over the last half-millennia that contains countless versions of the same thing); nonetheless, the truth needs to be either unearthed or defended in this case.

Any further insight/sources you might have, would be very welcome.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let them drive Renault

As a proud (or at least satisfied) owner of a French car, I found this story at Wired of an outpost of Francophile Fahrvergnügen in North America to be quite entertaining.

Sixteen miles off the coast of Newfoundland and just 800 miles from Boston lie the tiny islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, the last vestiges of the colonial empire of New France. Though these islands are 3,000 miles from Paris, they're French in every way. Residents celebrate Bastille Day, vote in French elections and pay for everything in Euros.

And, of course, drive French cars. That makes the Territorial Collectivity of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which has just 70 miles of paved road, the only place north of the Rio Grande River where you can still find Peugeot and Renault dealers.

Previous comments on related issues.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Turning our attention to the shag rugs...

What do you get if you take 1970s Danish porn, subtract the naughty bits and focus your attention on the Scandinavian design of the period?

I'm not exactly sure.

But Musselsoppans Vänner invites us to ponder the result. (SFW, assuming that your workplace has no objection to some pretty frightening wallpaper)

(Via Popcorn and Sticky Floors)

An interesting kind of crazy

One of the videos at Vimeo highlighted recently in an article at Der Spiegel was of, well, two guys skateboarding down a mountain highway.

That doesn't sound very impressive, I know.

But, it's actually pretty remarkable, once you get past the initial banalities. (Just skip ahead to about 2:18.)

It's best to go watch it at the Vimeo site, where you get a somewhat up-scaled, high definition video.

Adam Kimmel presents: Claremont HD from adam kimmel on Vimeo.

Then, at Mightygodking, I ran across this pretty outstanding collection of bicycle artistry from Danny MacAskill.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some shoe throwing might have been better...

...but this came across pretty well, I think.

(The walkout rather than the rainbow wigs, I mean.)

(German reporting via Spiegel Online.)

There are worse hobbies

(Click for larger image.)


Notes from the back garden

Just some meaningless fragments...and a nice photo series at the Guardian on J. G. Ballard.

I think my favourite two are the ones showing Ballard as an ordinary bloke in his garden.

Although often lionized as an avatar of the extreme, one of the things I've always found most intriguing -- and most appealing -- about Ballard was his rootedness in the normal and routine.

It was his ability to so effortlessly traverse this seeming chasm between the banal and the weird that makes him so interesting.

Perhaps perversely, he was a poet of the weirdly ordinary.

From Justine Jordan's review of Ballard's last book published during his lifetime, Miracles of Life:

His literary career has been conducted from one "warm domestic nest", the Shepperton house he declines to leave because it reminds him of the family room in Lunghua. After the destruction of the war and two years of dissection, procreation was a magical act for Ballard, and he writes movingly about his three children, "miracles of life" whom he brought up single-handed after the early death of his wife from a sudden bout of pneumonia.

Domestic confinement enabled his imagination to run wild: "My greatest ally was the pram in the hall." The fragmentary meditations on geometry, psychosis and "celebrity sex death" of The Atrocity Exhibition were composed between the school run and Blue Peter, while anatomies of solitude such as Concrete Island came from the man who could now say, "Thankfully, I had long forgotten what it was like to be alone."
From David Pringle's Guardian books obituary:

On a family holiday in Spain in September 1964, his wife contracted an infection and swiftly died of galloping pneumonia. As Aldiss was later to say: "It unhinged Jimmy for some while." He wrote nothing for about six months and drank too much. Nevertheless, resisting suggestions that he farm them out, he continued to care for his three children. "It was an extremely happy childhood," his daughter Fay said later. "Daddy sacrificed everything to bring us up. We had a lady who came in to change and wash the sheets every Friday, but apart from that he did everything, and he did it brilliantly. Our home was a nest, a lovely, warm family nest."

One doesn't have to be a parent, I think, to appreciate his comment that "My greatest ally was the pram in the hall."

There are many kinds of ways of anchoring oneself in domestic tranquillity and human ordinariness, and such regularised order can be a tremendous aid to creativity.

I think the notion that the artist must be a personal extremist is a very tired one.

Thinking along these lines brought an association with John Gray's description of Arthur Schopenhauer.

I wouldn't for a minute agree with much of Schopenhauer's philosophy (which, in any case, only has a tenuous relationship to Ballard, except perhaps for both men's appreciation of the animal nature of human beings) or some of his biography, but he was certainly a productive and imaginative guy.

Gray summarises his lifestyle as follows:

He had a love of habit. During his later life in Frankfurt he followed an unvarying daily routine. Getting up around seven, he would write until noon, play the flute for half an hour, then go out to lunch, always in the same place. Afterwards he returned to his rooms, read until four, then went for a two-hour walk, ending up at a library where he read the London Times. In the evening he went to a play or a concert, after which he had a light supper in a hotel called the Englischer Hof. He kept to this regime for nearly thirty years.

(John Gray, Straw Dogs, 2002, p. 40)
I may be a freak, but I find something tremendously appealing about this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Goodbye, JGB

We're both too sad to really express anything right now.

J. G. Ballard has died. (Telegraph. Boing Boing. Guardian. Independent. Times.)

As ever, the links to know are Simon's place, Rick's place, and Mike's place.


[UPDATE] Not long ago, Toby Litt expressed well that distinct feeling that emerges when reading the best of Ballard's fiction:

When I read JG Ballard, I go into a particular kind of trance. The effect of his books isn't comparable to those of any other writer. His prose, right from the beginning, has a mesmerising pace, rhythm and decorum all its own.

While I would agree with Toby about The Drowned World (which was the book that first turned me into an admirer after a difficult first-attempt at The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash), I think that of Ballard's mid-period work I prefer High-Rise.

Of the later stuff, I think Super-Cannes beats out Millennium People. They're difficult to compare, though, since the latter's tone is far more amused irony, even if it does--as ever--go to some pretty dark places.

But with Ballard, of course, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking favourites...


Some links from our archives dealing in one way or another with his writing:

"Seeing everything makes you sad": My translation of a Ballard interview with Welt am Sonntag.

Perchance to dream

Speaking in tongues

Handle with care

Home movies

That's entertainment

Dream the Unlimited Dream

A vision from the hidden side of the sun

Angry (but creative) old men

Matters of Honour(s)

More thoughts on rampant pathologies, modernist ziggurats and countless rabbits

Nightmares at noon

The revolting middle classes

Middle-class hero?

'Dangerous bends ahead'

Worth reading this weekend [Bruce Sterling on Ballard]

Designer food made in Germany

Even when inhabiting a machine for living, the humble human body needs to eat. To satisfy these overrated physical cravings, the Bauhaus movement suggested experimental dishes such as barley sausages:
Wasche Graupen in Sodawasser, koche sie weich und schrecke sie mit kaltem Wasser ab, sodaß jeder Kern wie Glas glänzt. Das gibt die Grundlage zu vegetarischen Würsten aller Art, mit denen man sich bei Muskelarbeitern einen unsterblichen Namen machen kann. Überall sollten vegetarische Wurstfabriken entstehen.
[Translation: Wash barley in soda water, cook till soft and then rinse with cold water until each pip shines like glass. This may serve as the basis of all kinds of vegetarian sausages and will immortalise you with physical labourers. Really, vegetarian sausage plants should emerge everywhere.]

I also like the recipes for "Nerven-Brot" and "Knoblauch Kaltschale."

On that note, here's a rather different bit of German experimental cuisine that would seem to support this philosophical frugality (and its utopian message): a food-related snippet from the popular documentary series "Die Ludolfs" (background information in German/English) - a charming scrapyard-owning band of brothers who, thanks to their philosophical outlook on things and loving relationship to the bits of gutted cars that they hoard in their labyrinthine Valhalla of spare parts, have wormed their way into the hearts of numerous fans.

Wanna watch more, click here.

Here's Peter, one of the bros, cooking pasta:

You might also like his scientific contemplations of the comparative virtues of canned (or frozen) vegetables over fresh. They "trap" the vitamins in the juice, you know!

Through the bright ringing drone of 8-bit choirs

My first computer was a Commodore 64, which I believe I received on Christmas 1983.

(That was a remarkably good Christmas, as I also received a stereo with, as I recall, a JCPenney brand name. It had a radio, turntable, cassette deck and 8-track player. Given that I had a lot of older siblings, that 8-track got some use, I tell you....)

When I think back, it seems like I spent hours every day with that primitive hunk of plastic and silicon. At the beginning I had only a 'tape drive', meaning that loading any game worth playing took about a half hour. The later addition of a model '1541' floppy drive made things (a bit) quicker.

I loved that machine.

Hence, I found Benjamin J. Heckendorn's recent creation of a unique Commodore laptop to be something magical.

And instead of a 5 1/4 floppy drive, it has an SD card port.


As long as it could handle some Simon's Basic, Geos, Ultima IV and Elite, I'd be all over it.

Sadly, it seems to be a one-off.

But if you feel up to it, Heckendorn has posted an explanation of how to make your own.

(NB: instructions best viewed with the accompaniment of music by Kraftwerk or Yellow Magic Orchestra.)

(Via Spiegel Online. Title reference)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Insurmountable cultural differences

I'm sorry, I don't get this article. This is not a German problem, I don't think. And truthfully, I'm kind of glad.

Friday Music

No comment, no regrets. This was, after all, my youth:

Run D.M.C. feat. Aerosmith, "Walk this Way"

On hegemony

Now there's someone who's learnt his poststructuralist lesson!

He'd have a field day with some of my subversive, hegemony-averse colleagues. Thesis topic: "Rethinking waterboarding through Foucault."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Welcome to London: fotographieren verboten

Ah, London. Where the law-enforcement fun never stops!

Today's Guardian brings the story of Austrian tourist Klaus Matzka and his son, who were visiting the world-class metropolis and, as one sometimes does, taking some snaps.

This fell rather afoul of a couple of super-vigilant members of London's finest:

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city's sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as "modern sculpture".

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was "strictly forbidden". The policemen also recorded the pair's details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

Matzka and his son, perhaps, stood out due to their unusual--indeed, vaguely Ballardian--tourist interests:

He said he and his son liked to travel to the unfashionable suburbs.

"We typically crisscross cities from the end of railway terminals, we like to go to places not visited by other tourists. You get to know a city by going to places like this, not central squares. Buckingham Palace is also necessary, but you need to go elsewhere to get to know the city," he said.

He said the "nasty incident" had "killed interest in any further trips to the city".

I'm not surprised. I know that feeling myself.

In a telephone interview from his home in Vienna, Matka said: "I've never had these experiences anywhere, never in the world, not even in Communist countries."
Anyway, this might be a semi-amusing anecdote if it weren't part of a broader problem, one that is symbolised by the the arrest around the beginning of the year of artist Reuben Powell, who was photographing an old building as part of an art project. As the Independent reported:

"The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act," he recalled.

For Powell, this brush with the law resulted in five hours in a cell after police seized the lock-blade knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. His release only came after the intervention of the local MP, Simon Hughes, but not before he was handcuffed and his genetic material stored permanently on the DNA database.

But Powell's experience is far from uncommon. Every week photographers wielding their cameras in public find themselves on the receiving end of warnings either by police, who stop them under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, or from over-eager officials who believe that photography in a public area is somehow against the law.

Which it's not.

And, as a service to our readers, we reprint in handy clip'n'save format, the following statement from the Association of Chief Police Officers, quoted in the Independent article noted above:

"Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places," a spokeswoman said.

Just in case, though, I offer you this image of the Vauxhall Bus Station, so that you don't need to take any unnecessary risks.

(Non-terrorist source)

First we take Berlin

As I mentioned recently, we spend too little time in Berlin, but I have always been thoroughly charmed by the place whenever we have been.

And, like our friend Andrew, I've constantly been impressed with German town and city planning since moving here eight years ago.

In his latest post at Click Opera, Momus considers some recent plans in various cities to help maintain urban landscapes during tougher economic times, and some of the measures sound like what Germany's capital did, with great success, during the 1990s.

Since it's a global recession, I also like to think Berlin has now become a sort of template for cities all over the world. Whereas we might once have looked like a museum of crusty subcultures past their sell-by date, this city now looks like the future of Tokyo, the future of London, and the future of New York. We're your best-case scenario, guys, your optimal recessionary outcome. Everything else is dystopia, Escape-From-New-York stuff.

Hmmm... decisions, decisions....

(The rest.)

All work and no play

This was apparently first making the rounds in 2005, but I somehow missed it then: a re-cut 'trailer' for Stanley Kubrick's horror film The Shining that re-casts the film as a heart-warming romantic comedy.


Background. Via.

Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free...

Speaking of cops...

Campeau-Laurion, the director of Web productions for a media company, attended the Aug. 26 Yankees-Red Sox game with a friend, who had a ticket package for 11 games at Yankee Stadium during the 2008 season. Campeau-Laurion had attended several of these games with his friend.

Campeau-Laurion quietly watched the game, ate a bag of peanuts and drank two beers. He decided to use the restroom at the start of the seventh-inning stretch – a period when fans often choose to use the restroom. He got up and made his way down the aisle as “God Bless America” began playing. A police officer blocked his path and indicated that he could not leave during the song. Campeau-Laurion explained that he needed to use the restroom and was not concerned about “God Bless America.” Then he attempted to walk past the officer.

Before Campeau-Laurion could take a step, the police officer grabbed his right arm and twisted it behind his back. A second officer twisted Campeau-Laurion’s left arm behind his back, and the two officers then marched him down several ramps to the stadium’s exit with his arms pinned behind his back. The officers refused to ease their grip, even though Campeau-Laurion was not resisting them.

The encounter ended with one of the officers telling Campeau-Laurion to leave the country if he didn’t like it.

The policy by the New York Yankees of enforcing attendance during the playing of 'God Bless America' was apparently enacted, 'to promote patriotism amongst those attending Yankees games.'

Well, mission accomplished there, I'd say...

(Via LG&M)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fighting the law...

With increasing age, I have noticed that, while I have somewhat more suspicion of the state, I have greater sympathy toward the police on an individual level. It's a strange feeling, and possibly a very idiosyncratic mix, I admit.

It so happens that I'm also currently working on a research project related to a rather heated debate about accusations of the misuse of police powers and allegations involving the erosion of civil liberties in an earlier period of British history. As a result of that combination, I have been following the recent accusations of police brutality surrounding the G20 protests in London a few weeks ago (my, how time flies) with some interest.

I should say the now expanding accusations of police brutality, as the Guardian has today offered a feature containing various videos of incidents of conflict between protesters and police.

Now, there are a lot of difficulties with interpreting some of these things: we only get snippets of information, we have only a limited view of the situation, a lot of context is missing, etc.


And, it should not be forgotten, there were a fair number of people out for trouble on that day -- am I the only left-of-centre person who's a bit tired of the 'black block' and their pointless destruction of banks and fast food restaurants? -- and that it is the police's job to keep a limit on that sort of thing.

I'm not exceptionally open to generalised 'fuck the police' kind of rhetoric.


And I'm also aware that 'police brutality' is a pretty relative term. Over the last few weeks, I've read a lot about American police methods in the early 20th century. Which has been...well, pretty chilling.

There are, also, some pretty extreme examples of that genre of behaviour around the world that make what happened (at least so far as we know so far) at the G20 look like playground fun.


But, still, I'm left wondering...

...what the fuck?

No, really: the Tomlinson case is bad enough, as were the attempts by a few tabloid papers to smear the man who was attacked -- from behind -- by police.

I don't care whether he'd had a few drinks or he hadn't taken the quickest route home, or wasn't getting out of the way of the police as quickly as they wanted him to.

I would see the right to have a few drinks and walk around the streets without being struck from behind by a state-sanctioned thug in a mask and body armour to be one of the essential things that is one of the great privileges of living in a Rechtsstaat and not some kind of hell-hole like...I don't know...Dubai. (Via Geoff.)

Had Tomlinson been attacking someone, ok.

Had he been seriously causing a danger to someone, ok.

However, and this sounds kind of obvious to me, the police should not have the power to beat us into acting according to their convenience. No matter how many annoying punk kids in hoodies they've had to endure on a given day.

Which brings me to the video released today (I think) of an encounter that occurred on the day after Tomlinson's death, apparently at some kind of memorial to him.

The Guardian doesn't seem to allow video embedding, but I'll wait while you go watch it. (I would suggest looking at it a few times to take in the details.)

If you read around the internet or look at the comments on YouTube videos of the event (which I'm not embedding because the quality isn't so good) you get a lot of the 'the bitch deserved it' kind of thing.

Which is pretty unpleasant. To say the least.

Watch it again: someone -- a guy with a newspaper -- tries to walk past the police cordon and is told he can't. He discusses the issue, seemingly, in a reasonable manner. The camera moves to someone else -- a guy with a camera -- who is also refused exit. (Presumably, this is the 'kettling' tactic that everyone is now talking about.)

The camera pans back and Man With The Newspaper, is now being shoved about by a few of the officers, for no good reason that I can see.

The crowd reacts as you might expect.

Then a short woman begins remonstrating with a police sergeant, who then backhands her, and the crowd reacts.

Again, as you might expect.

Or maybe you don't expect that.

Alright: maybe we're just different kinds of people with different kinds of attitudes to the arbitrary exercise of authority, but I have to say, there have been few times in my life that I have really wanted to hit someone, and one of them emerged in reaction to that cop's strike.

The police should not be authorised to respond to a some cheeky verbal bollocking by someone who is clearly not a threat to them by striking that person in the face and...then...batoning her in the legs after she, quite understandably, expresses (shall we say) her disapproval with the way she has been handled.

Even if you're of the persuasion to think that this screechy woman was an annoyance, think about this: how effective was the policing that you see on display in that video? Context is difficult, I know, and if new concrete evidence emerges, I'm happy to change my view.

But, please, those cops managed to turn what seemed to be a reasonably quiet protest into an enraged crowd in about thirty seconds through their physical overreactions to mild provocations.

And, in the end, dealing with being called a 'fascist' several hundred times in a day without striking out randomly is part of the job description. Being a public servant of this sort involves discipline, not the license to distribute some bruises wherever you happen to feel it worthwhile.

Of the various videos on offer at today's Guardian site (and, if I didn't know better, I'd be a bit disappointed at the fact that some of the other papers that go on about 'freedom' all the time when it involves health'n'safety regulations gone mad or a few too many EU regulations about banana shape have said little or nothing about this) I think one of the most telling involves no violence at all.

It's the one where (scroll down to '2 April, 3.46pm, junction of Royal Exchange Passage and Cornhill') a very friendly officer (at least initially, and, a confession: I've not been able to take British police entirely seriously since they started wearing fluorescent jackets all the time) tells a group of the press to leave the area for a while 'under section 14 of the Public Order Act' in order to help them 'resolve the situation'.

Questioned about what exactly it is they're going to do and how the absence of the press might make it easier, the officer turns to threats, suggesting that they could either follow his orders or 'spend the rest of the day in the cells'. When it is suggested that this just might constitute 'threatening the press' Officer Friendly offers sarcasm, and then further threats.

It's not a pretty scene.

But it's rather educational.

It's my humble view, perhaps not a widely shared one, that any policing in a free, constitutional state should be able to be done in the full light of day and press attention in order to remain legitimate. (With the possible exception of absolutely necessary undercover work required for dealing with, say, organised crime or terrorism, etc. I'm not naive.)

It strikes me that that is neither a controversial opinion, nor one that has much to do with 'left' or 'right'.

Or am I wrong?

I have to say, I'm not impressed with the Met and the City of London police on this occasion.

But I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of cheap and ubiquitous video cameras.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Britain: a land of Dichter und Denker?

From Tristam Hunt at the Times: some unexpected love from across the Ärmelkanal:

It wasn't just Manchester. J.B.Priestley would later describe his own prewar Bradford as “at once one of the most provincial and yet one of the most cosmopolitan of English provincial cities” celebrated for its German residents. “I can remember when one of the best-known clubs in Bradford was the Schillerverein. And in those days a Londoner was a stranger sight than a German... A dash of the Rhine and the Oder found its way into our grim runnel - ‘t' mucky beck'.” Indeed, much of Victorian Britain's commercial pride was built with German grit.


I mean...ja.

Houston, wir haben ein Problem...

Interesting -- though not really surprising -- poll results at Daily Kos (via Yglesias).

It's reassuring, as it seems Americans like Europe just fine. And, interestingly enough, very similar results appear for the cities of San Francisco, New York and France.

It's somehow good to know exactly who lies outside the mainstream on this one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

There's only one place this road ever ends up, and I don't want to die alone

Just because it's been a while:

The Mountain Goats, 'Dance Music', 25.09.2007


'Christmas in Prison', 2006

Kill da wabbit

He may be facing all kinds of crises that I'm glad I don't have responsibility for solving...but somehow it's images like this that make me feel most sorry for Barack Obama.

I mean...why?!

You don't see Angela Merkel having to do things like that.

Or at least (he said, pre-emptively covering his ass in case some smart person finds a rare counterexample) not so often...

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn

Another article about the male sex in crisis. Yawn ....

On Literature and History

In today's Independent, novelist Amanda Craig complains that too much contemporary fiction seems "stuck in the past."
Underlying the thirst for historical novels is perhaps a collective feeling that literary fiction and imagination are not enough in themselves to make a novel worth reading - there must be an element of self-education, too. So you're not losing yourself in an imagined world, you're learning about Holbein or Vermeer. If you write a novel about Mrs Dickens or Cromwell or other real historical figures, that becomes its justification for publication - and publicity.
Craig might be right when it comes to the kind of popular and highly filmeable novel whose view of history (or our ability to access it) can only be called naively historicist - such as Tracy Chevalier's The Girl With the Pearl Earring or Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever (both of which put me to sleep). I doubt, however, that these slim exercises in mistaken Burckhardtian historical empathy can be compared to the overt revisionism of such rich novels as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Sarah Water's Tipping the Velvet or John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman.

The same goes for Ian McEwan's Atonement, which the article's editors (not the author herself) use to illustrate the contemporary trend in historical fiction bemoaned by Craig (even adding, lo and behold, a picture of Keira Knightley as Briony Tallis in the film version of the novel).

Now, this kind of conflation of film adaptation and original text is of course a complete and utter no-no, and people who tamper with arts sections of major national newspapers for a bloody living simply should know better: adaptations are interpretations and not the same thing as the literary original! So there.

Moreover, Atonement is simply no historical novel at all, but - like Black Dogs, the novel by McEwan that in many ways can be seen as an earlier sketch for Atonement - a reflection of our relationship with history, including our falsifying appropriation of past events to suit our own purposes. If anything, Atonement supports Craig's point by confronting us with the uses to which we put history.

Want to know more? Check out our homepage for my/our publications on McEwan dealing with related points.

A Little Mixa(ed) Up

Occasional readers might have noticed that it's been a while since I've mounted any kind of windmill-tilting response to the theistic twaddle that surrounds us from day to day. It's partly because I've had other things to think about, but I suppose it's also because the arguments--though fun to dismantle--tend to remain the same.

But I didn't feel I could let one particular comment go by without raising a small, humble protest.

Now, I know that the fact that a Catholic bishop has opened his mouth and something ridiculous and offensive has crawled out of it is hardly news. (They've been on quite a roll lately.)

Still, I found a few sentences from the Easter sermon from Augsburg's bishop Walter Mixa particularly striking, the ones where he paints national socialism as a direct result of atheism.

'The inhumanity of atheism in practice has been cruelly proven in the last century by the godless regimes of national socialism and communism, with their prison camps, secret police and mass murders.'*

Mixa also emphasised that in these systems Christians and the church were singled out for persecution.

Now, the 'godless' character of communism isn't all that hard to prove, even if the extent to which that specific quality has motivated, say, the gulag, is more than a bit less clear. Anyone looking for cruelty at the hands of believers of all varieties, after all, doesn't have to look very hard.

Like...for example...oh, I don't know, the other ideology Bishop Mixa referred to as 'godless': Nazism.

Yes, that one stuck a bit in my ears when I heard it. Perhaps it's because I'm currently working my way though Richard Evans's excellent series of books on the Third Reich. Perhaps it's because I'd like to have thought that a German bishop wouldn't have gotten something like this so terribly wrong.

Now, the attitudes of the Nazis to religion and the attitudes of religious people to the Nazis are related, but they are not entirely the same thing. Both were complicated. I think this is important, since it's possible to find both anti-Christian beliefs in the party (not all of them by 'atheists' as such) as well as resistance to Nazism inspired by people's Christian beliefs.

Still, taking the first issue, while there were differences of opinion within the party about religion on the part of a few thoroughgoing atheists and (rather more) esoteric 'neo-pagans'...these are not the same thing, please remember...there were also plenty who had constructed a form of Christianity that they found perfectly compatible with the Party's ideology.

In his interesting book Hitlers Theologie, Catholic theologian Rainer Bucher examines the strange amalgam of beliefs that motivated the NSDAP's leader. Bucher observes,

As is well known, Hitler referred to himself as a 'theist', and no less than Cardinal Faulhaber attested to that after his visit to Obersalzberg on 4 November 1936: 'The Reich Chancellor is without a doubt a believer in God', wrote Faulhaber in a letter to the Bavarian bishops.**

Hitler's attitude to the churches was 'semi-instrumental', Bucher thinks, but points out there is much evidence suggesting he believed his oft-repeated references to God, providence, belief, predestination, etc.

There is also a difference between the Nazi party's view of belief per se, and its view of the organised churches, and the latter changed over time as the Nazis cemented their hold on power and influence over German society.

To the extent that churches acted as a potential alternative power base and source of ideology, they were seen as a threat.

But this was not, primarily, a debate about theology.

And while there certainly were individuals who resisted the regime based upon their deeply felt religious convictions, there were plenty of religious people were all-too-happy to give their allegiance to a party that they might even see as a vehicle for religious renewal.

On this point: some excerpts from Evans's chapter, 'Matters of Faith', which opens with some comments about protestantism and Martin Niemöller (yes, he of 'first they came for' fame):

Committed right-wing but populist pastors like Niemöller were particularly susceptible to the appeal of the Nazis, and Niemöller voted for Hitler in March 1933. In 1931 he had already delivered a radio broadcast calling for the emergence of a new national leader, and in 1933 he thought one had at last arrived in the shape of Adolf Hitler. His sermons of this period took up the Nazi call for a united, positive Christianity that would overcome the religious divisions that had plagued Germany for so many years. And he echoed the Nazi claim that the Jews had been unduly influential in the Weimar Republic. In 1935 he sermonized about the poisonous influence of the Jews in world history, the outcome, he thought, of the curse that had lain on them since the Crucifixion.

For nationalist Protestants like Niemöller, the enemy was Marxism, in both its Communist and Social Democratic variants. Its atheistic doctrines had been dechristianising the working class since well before the end of the nineteenth century. Many Protestants, including senior figures such as the Lutheran bishop Theophil Wurm, saw the advent of the Third Reich as an opportunity finally to reverse this trend, especially since point 24 of the Nazi Party programme presented the movement in terms of 'positive Christianity' and announced its fight against 'Jewish materialism'. And indeed, in the first months of the Third Reich, enthusiastic Protestant pastors staged a number of spectacular mass baptisms of children who had been left unbaptised during the Weimar years, and even mass simultaneous weddings of brownshirts and their brides who had only undergone a secular marriage under the old regime. The Protestant population, numbering about 40 million, almost two-thirds of the population of the Reich as a whole, had also provided the broadest and deepest reservoir of support for the Nazi Party in all social groups during its electoral triumphs of the early 1930s. (Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 222.)
Nazi-supporters within the Protestant clergy even formed their own pressure-group (the 'German Christians') in May 1932.

Nazi campaigning in Berlin during the 1933 church council elections
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

They were, Evans says, 'by no means a negligible minority': they numbered some 600,000 by the mid-30s and eventually came to dominate the centralised 'Reich Church' created with Hitler's support.

These moves brought to dominance Protestants whose declared aim since well before the Nazi seizure of power had been to oppose the 'Jewish mission in Germany', to reject 'the spirit of Christian cosmopolitanism' and to fight 'racial mixing' as part of its mission to establish a 'belief in Christ appropriate to our race'. Such views had wide support amongst Protestant clergymen and theologians. Already in April 1933 the Bavarian Protestant Church ordered flags to be flown from all its buildings on Hitler's birthday. By the summer, congregations were becoming used to seeing their German Christian pastors preaching in SA or even SS uniforms instead of surplices, and holding special services to dedicate flags and other emblems of the stormtroopers....(Ibid., 223)

Not all Protestants, of course, shared in the views of the 'German Christians', as Evans points out, and there was opposition to the complete Nazi takeover of Protestantism, including from Niemöller. Ultimately, those who resisted full Nazi control (the 'Confessing Churches', Bekennende Kirche) ensured that the creation of a unified Nazi Church in Germany failed.

But this was a disagreement among Christians about the role of their church in the new regime rather than a conflict between believers and 'atheists'. And it is hard to see that 'churches' in general or Christians as such (as Bishop Mixa put it in his Easter sermon) were singled out for persecution, although, yes, several individuals who resisted the regime did suffer.

This was more true for Catholics, and the Nazis did indeed engage in a broad attack on their organisations; but again, this was not about 'Christianity' as such, but about the Catholic church's anomalous position as a powerful, independent (and foreign-controlled) organisation within what was supposed to be becoming--from the Nazi point of view--a society unified according to 'nation' and 'Volk'.

The mixture of conflict and accommodation between Catholics and Nazis is too long to go into here, but Evans concludes:

For all the bitterness of the conflict, it did not result in any general alienation of the Catholic community from the Third Reich. Many Catholics were highly critical of the Nazi Party, and especially of zealots such as [Alfred] Rosenberg, but Hitler's standing even here was only mildly affected. The deep-seated desire of the Catholic community since Bismarck's time to be accepted as a full part of the German nation blunted the edge of its hostility to the anti-Christian policies of the regime, which many imagined were being pushed by radicals without the knowledge or approval of Hitler himself. (Ibid., 248)
In Hitlers Theologie, Bucher describes the way that the Catholic Church managed to largely escape Nazification and might even be said to have served as a 'rival centre of loyalty' ('rivalisierendes Loyalitätszentrum') and occasionally active protest; however, it never achieved 'open or subversive resistance activities that worked toward overthrowing national socialism' (22).***

Given that Catholicism found its way of coexisting (to say the least) with other fascist regimes, this shouldn't be surprising. As Bucher somewhat drily observes,

Additionally, there was in the 1930s a certain overall susceptibility in the Church to authoritarian regimes. In Italy and Spain, the Church was a partner of fascism or Franco, and in Austria served as the protector of--indeed, the source of ideas for--the authoritarian corporative state. (23)****

As an aside sparked by the reference to Spain, I thought I might mention a book I bought a few years ago on a used-book table at--coincidentally--a local convent.

Wir Funken für Franco ('We Broadcast for Franco', 1936), by Hellmut Führing tells the story of Heinz Oppermann, one of the members of the Condor Legion sent by Hitler to Spain in the mid-30s to assist Franco's military putsch against the Republic.

Spending his first Christmas away from home in far-off Spain, Oppermann--who was part of a communications unit--relates listening to a German radio broadcast on Christmas Eve.

I'm sure you'll agree that his atheist, anti-Christian attitudes shine through.

As Rudolf Hess finished his speech, 'Silent Night, Holy Night' chimed through the loudspeakers!...Over thousands of kilometres German broadcasting built a bridge between us and our homeland. (51)

Later, touring a church 'defiled' by 'reds', he finds the body of the local bishop and decries the viciousness of the godless enemy.

In any case, it is clear that the Nazis were adept at cynically adapting all kinds of symbols to their purposes (especially when things turned against them), and, as their power grew, so did the desire by some in the higher reaches of the party to replace traditional Christianity.

Noting that attacks on Christianity were nothing new by the late 1930s, Evans writes that 'what was new, perhaps, was the Nazi rejection of rationalistic secularism' as an alternative.

What would replace the Churches in Germany when they finally disappeared? Leading Nazis took a variety of positions on this issue. Hitler and Goebbels's religious beliefs retained a residual element of Christianity [Bucher calls Hitler and Himmler 'monotheists', though with different attitudes toward the occult], albeit an eccentric one that became notably weaker after the failure of the German Christian project in 1934-5. Even Rosenberg qualified his anti-Christian stance with support for the German Christians until their failure to take over the Evangelical Church had become clear. Initially at any rate, he admired Luther, adapted doctrines from the medieval mystic Master Eckhart and thought that a racially amended Christianity could be merged into a new Germanic religion.... (249)

Others tended toward a variety of pagan (especially Nordic, but sometimes Indian) and 'deist' beliefs.

As Evans sums up:

Nazi policy towards the Churches was thus in a state of some confusion and disarray by the eve of the war. The ideological drift was clearly away from Christianity, though there was a long way to go before the neopaganist alternative found general acceptance even within the Party. Yet for all the ideological in-fighting, one objective had remained clear from the very outset: the regime was determined to reduce, and if possible eliminate, the Churches as centres of real or potential alternative ideologies to its own. (254, emphasis added)

As I noted earlier, it is necessary when considering Bishop Mixa's comments linking 'aggressive atheism' to Nazism to differentiate two things: the Party's view toward religion and the views of religious people toward the Party.

While there is plenty of evidence in the former case of a hostility to Christianity among some party leaders, their alternative was hardly atheism but a mix of Nordic mysticism and esoteric paganism.

However, in the latter case, it is equally clear that the Nazis' road to power was paved by the best wishes of a significant number of observantly religious people who--regardless of what Himmler or Goebbels or Rosenberg might have had planned--saw no contradiction between their belief in a Christian God and their support for the regime.

Atheism, of course, is no more a guarantee of morality than is theism. But what the current 'aggressive atheism'--in the words of a press release put out by the diocese of Augsburg--has to do with the history of Nazism is a mystery to me.

(While there's probably not any God, there are some long German words.)


(All translations mine.)

*"Die Unmenschlichkeit des praktizierten Atheismus haben im vergangenen Jahrhundert die gottlosen Regime des Nationalsozialismus und des Kommunismus mit ihren Straflagern, ihrer Geheimpolizei und ihren Massenmorden in grausamer Weise bewiesen." In genau diesen Systemen seien "Christen und die Kirche besonders verfolgt" worden. (Via Spiegel online.)

**'Hitler hat sich bekanntlich selbst as 'gottgläubig' bezeichnet, und niemand Geringerer als Kardinal Faulhaber hat es ihm nach seinem besuch auf dem Obersalzberg am 4.11.1936 bescheinigt: "Der Reichskanzler lebt ohne Zweifel im Glauben an Gott", so Faulhaber in einem Schreiben an die bayerischen Bischöfe.' Bucher, 28-29.

NB: the word 'gottgläubig' has been defined as 'Deist', but our Oxford Duden dictionary offers either 'religious' or gottgläubig sein as 'to be a theist of no particular denomination'. Evans uses 'Deist', but I'm not sure, based on Bucher and other sources, that this accurately reflects Hitler's beliefs. 'Deism' is typically associated with an emphasis on reason and a rejection of the supernatural elements of faith. It is, moreover, related to Enlightenment approaches to religion. And this seems a far more specific meaning than that intended by 'gottgläubig' under National Socialism, i.e., rejecting the mainstream churches but asserting a belief in God. Hence, I'm going with 'theist'.

***'Im Sinne eines differenzierten Widerstandsbegriffs kann der katholischen Kirche als Ganzer also zugesprochen werden, in vielem ein 'rivalisierendes Loyalitätszentrum' geblieben zu sein; auch gab es regional mehr oder weniger spontan kirchlich organisierte Verweigerung und in seltenen Fällen auch aktiven Protest, nie aber offene oder subversive Widerstandstätigkeit, die auf den Sturz des Nationalsozialismus hinarbeitete.' Bucher, p. 22.

****'Es gab zudem in den 30er Jahren eine gewisse gesamt-kirchliche Anfälligkeit für autoritäre Regime. Die Kirche war in Italien und Spanien offen als Partnerin des Faschismus bzw. Francos und in Österreich als Protektorin, ja Ideen-geberin des autoritären Ständesstaates aufgetreten.' Bucher, p. 23.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

R.I.P. Nicholas Hughes

Of course I'm aware that - on this splendiferously sunny Easter Sunday, on which I succumbed (tut-tut) to the temptation to plant the tomatoes before the sacrosanct "Frost Saint" watershed (the cold snap that sometimes strikes in May, destroying the crop of all too optimistic gardeners) - you're all already slobbering to read a devastating deconstruction of the Easter message by clanger-dropping Mr. Godastic Walter Mixa (aka the Bishop of Augsburg) .

Well, I'm afraid you'll have to wait a day or so to get our take on "agressive atheistm" (though I can promise you that something substantial - involving hard historical data and quotes by Richard Evans and the likes - is brewing). These here avowed atheists are too busy having a peaceful and sunny spring holiday. I guess you could call that "practising atheism".

In the meantime, here's a belated tribute to Nicholas Hughes, son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who committed suicide on 16 March this year. The New York Times has a particularly evocative article about what seems to have been a lovely man:
[Nicholas Hughes] was possessed with an utter distaste for academic politics and a special gift for finding simple solutions to complex scientific problems, which he then translated into clear, clean prose for the most important publications in his field.
Well, that's one thing we have in common (guess which of the three it is), and two that I'm aspiring to. Given these dislikes and passions, it is hardly surprising that Hughes found life in a world of empty verbiage, professional obsfuscation and territorial megalomania too difficult to bear. I hope he's found peace.

And just to round off my commemoration, here's the poem that Plath wrote about him:

Sylvia Plath, "Nick and the Candlestick"

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish -
Christ! they are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses,
With soft rugs -

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"The hideous writhings and wigglings of the Huggie Bear or Argentine Tango"

Continuing the things-found-while-researching series (to see the others, click on the 'historical bycatch' tag), today's offering is a dispatch from a now-forgotten front in the War to Maintain Decency:




The advent of the ‘Turkey Trot’ dance has sounded the death knell of ballroom hooliganism, for hostesses are declaring war on freak dances.

For several months they have been watching the growth of the new style of dancing with suspicious eyes.

First the sinuous sway of the Boston supplanted the sober pleasures of the time-honoured waltz, and then came the kangaroo-like measures of the Argentine Tango and Dandy Dance, which turned the ballrooms into veritable bear gardens.

Hostesses suffered all these innovations in silence, but now the “Turkey Trot” has made its appearance there has been a general revolt, and they have declared that tangoes and trots alike shall be forbidden for the future.

“‘Beastly dances’ is the only suitable way of describing them,” said Mr. R. M. Crompton, vice-president of the International Union of Dance Teachers’ Societies, to an “Express” representative on Saturday.

“No words are too strong to condemn the hideous writhings and wigglings of the Huggie Bear or Argentine Tango,” he continued, “and to see our young people bouncing about imitating the cries of a turkey in the ‘Turkey Trot,’ is a deplorable spectacle.

“The reason these dances have become so popular is that they are so easy to learn. The one step, for instance, would be much more appropriately named if it were called the ‘no-step’ for the dancer can do almost any weird and unconventional steps he likes.”

The “Turkey Trot,” which was first introduced by Oscar and Suzette at the Hippodrome, seems to have few friends, for Oscar had nothing to say in its favour when interviewed by an “Express” representative.

“Personally I think it is a hideous dance,” he said: “in fact, I do not think it can be called a dance at all, but the public wish to see these extraordinary dances, so, of course, I dance them.

“I am inundated with letters from people who long to perform the Argentine Tango, and am giving lessons every day.”

“The Boston and one-step have undoubtedly affected the popularity of the two-step and waltz, but I expect freak dances will be short-lived.”

Inquiries at various dancing schools showed that the freak dances are being completely banned by most hostesses and the objectionable movements are never taught.



By Pearl Humphry

The new dances are an orgy of vulgarity, and will kill dancing in England if allowed to go unchecked.

If the London County Council were favoured with a private view of a modern dance they would be chagrined at being unable to refuse a licence.

Fresh young girls are taught a set of expurgated steps which high spirits and the example of their partners soon release from the slight restraint which the dancing master has thought well to lend them.

They swoop and curve their bodies about, clutch their partners in a close embrace, and allow themselves to be hauled about in a manner which would not only have startled our much-quoted grandparents, but even shocked the liberal minded chaperon of to-day.

The hostess of the moment is in a difficult position. What is a woman to do who invites her friends to a dance, provides them with waltz, two-step and one-step music, and then finds them indulging in all kinds of steps which at the best are ugly and eccentric, and at the worst make her blood cold and her cheeks hot?

Is she to say: “Stop! I will not have this”? Her interpretation of the laws of hospitality forbids this. She can only conclude that she had better not give another dance.

On even the most ordinary grounds the new dances are to be objected to, as they seriously inconvenience other dancers. A couple waltzing will find themselves sent flying by a clucking, swooping young woman or a young man who bears his body before him and his hands behind his head in an attitude which no negro could recognise.

Or a pair will step down the room opposite each other, staring in each other’s eyes with an expression of ferocious hatred. At the most unexpected moment the girl will fling herself bodily into the man’s arms; he clutches her round the shoulders—the movements are best described by any realistic French novelist.

A hostess sees some of her guests, perhaps even her daughters, light-heartedly behaving like a set of drunken women from Montmartre. What can she do but refuse to give any more dances? It seems the only remedy.

(Daily Express, Monday, 19 February 1912, p. 8)

And here, a related post from the archives.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Don't fence me in

Seeing that I have a both a (recently encouraged) irrational rage directed at immigration laws and a (far more long-term and stable) appreciation for wedded bliss -- especially of the trans-Atlantic variety -- I was struck by Cory Doctorow's recent Boing Boing post drawing attention to the plight of science fiction author Bruce Sterling and his wife, the writer Jasmina Tesanovic.

As Sterling explains in a post at Wired:

Surprising news has just arrived for us at our American home address. Although we have been married for four years now, the American Immigration services can't find any paper trail for the two of us.

We have no joint bank account, no insurance accounts and no joint children. The authorities therefore suspect that our marriage is a phony "Green Card marriage," and they would like to have Jasmina deported from the USA.

This is not too entirely surprising a mistake, since we're an Internet couple. By our nature, we just don't generate much paper.

We use electronic banking. Bruce uses American banks, while Jasmina uses Serbian banks. Why would anyone want to make his or her alien spouse use an American or Serbian bank?

There's no reason for us to jointly speculate in American real-estate, since we each already own places to live. No sane European would ever want American health insurance. And so forth.

Like a lot of geek couples, we live out of our cellphones and laptops. Furniture, wedding china, massive home improvement loans: we don't even go there. We have a light material footprint that'll generally fit onto a couple of rollaboards.

I don't know either of them (though I have very much enjoyed Sterling's books Holy Fire, The Difference Engine and Islands in the Net) and therefore can't offer any useful proof to the INS about the reality of their marriage, I can (and hereby do) offer that other commodity that they request: moral support.

Here's to love across borders.

Best of luck.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ménage à trois muscial

"P. J. Harvey - never got into her", says John. And I sort of agree: I find her to be one of those whimpering, simpering girls carrying the woes of the world on their bony shoulders (when they're not masochistically chasing some abusive Byronic Hero) - like Tori Amos.

So I'm not likely to find this new track as "hypnotising" as all the frenzied fans who have left their comments on YouTube:

P.J. Harvey, Black Hearted Lover

But what bothers me most about this song is that it sounds like stuff I've heard before. Don't you agree that towards the end (as from 2:40) it is a bit like a cross between this and this:

Franz Ferdinand, Take Me Out

NB: This is probably the only blog that boldly, indeed unflinchingly, dares to fuse Keane and Franz.

Having said that, from an evolutionary perspective my discovery of derivativeness of any kind is really a cognitive pleasure tickling my brain's instinctive need to make out patterns and find resemblances in the informative chaos around me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tom Cruise to play Charles Darwin in a film directed by Quentin Tarantino

Kudos to the Süddeutsche Zeitung for a very fine April Fool's Day story that had me going far longer than I would like to admit. (I was still a bit bleary eyed when I read it).

It's only in German, but for those of you who read the lingo, it's very entertaining. (No time for a translation at the moment, but if any of you find one, please let me know.)

The article 'reports' on an on-set visit to the Galapagos where shooting on the film -- working title, 'Shok da Monkey!' -- is wrapping up. The script (by Tarantino and T.C. Boyle) seeks to discover the 'man of God' in Darwin, highlighting a hitherto-ignored encounter on the islands between young Darwin and a Spanish nun (played by Anne Hathaway) living there in seclusion.

There is also much merriment with giant turtles.

"My opinion is, look, you're either on board or you're not on board, OK?
Which is it? If you're on board, you're on board, just like the rest of us. Period."

One of the high points is the description of Cruise's performance in depicting Darwin ('Like Stauffenberg with mutton chops!'):

Diese Rolle ist Cruise’ Zenit. Meisterlich verknüpft er die Meilensteine seiner Karriere: virilen Sturm und Drang aus "Top Gun", die sorgsam-aggressiv-ungeduldige Strenge im Umgang mit seinem autistisch-genialen Botaniker John Stevens Henslow (wieder ein starker Partner: Dustin Hoffman) aus "Rainman", die historische Präzision aus "Operation Walküre" und nicht zuletzt die sentimentalische Verletzlichkeit aus Kubricks "Eyes Wide Shut".

"Quentin bringt ihn endlich über die Grenze, an der Spielberg immer scheiterte", sagt Bob Stanford, zieht an seinem kleinfingerdicken Zigarillo und blickt auf den Pazifik. Aus den Lautsprechern am Strand dröhnt "Shock the Monkey" - Drehen mit Tarantino heißt immer auch: Party-Time. Die Herkulesaufgabe der Liebesszene liegt hinter ihnen. Das wird mit einem ausgelassenen Fest am Strand gefeiert. "Wir müssen die Schildkröten wieder umdrehen", wirft ein Regieassistent ein. "Damn it", zischt Quentin, "aber schließlich wollen wir ‚No animals were harmed’ in den Abspann schreiben."

Bob lässt versehentlich ein Streichholz-Päckchen fallen, die Zündhölzer verteilen sich als Mikado im Sand. Da steht auch schon Dustin Hoffman in Bermuda-Shorts, Hawaiihemd und Strohhut neben uns, legt den Kopf schief und sagt: "117!" Sein grandioser "Rainman"-Trick, er kann es nicht lassen. Dann werden wir von einem kehlig-hechelnden Lachen aufgeschreckt. Es ist Tom. Er hat, ganz Teamworker und Scientologe, mit angepackt und geholfen, die Schildkröten wieder vom Kopf auf die Beine zu stellen. Dabei hat er jeder einzeln auf die Nase gestupst und altpatriarchal gepredigt: "Bist du an Bord oder nicht? Denn wenn du an Bord bist, dann bist du an Bord. Mit uns. Punkt." Und immer das kehlige Hecheln.


Thank you, SZ.

And here's to April. Maybe it'll be better than March.

Bonus from the archives: another German mocks Tom Cruise.