Jean-Luc Godard RIP

The Grim Reaper has been busy in the last few weeks, claiming some genuinely significant figures; first Mikhail Gorbachev, now Jean-Luc Godard.

You may not be surprised to learn that I watched a lot of Godard’s Nouvelle Vague films when I was a student, but I have to admit that, À Bout de Souffle, Bande à Part, and Alphaville apart, they have pretty much merged in my mind into one long, disjointed montage of coolly alienated young garçons et filles pursuing doomed relationships in a monochrome Paris. Of his later work I’m fairly sure that I’ve seen Prénom Carmen, but I can’t recall much about it.

When it comes to cinematic milieus, I probably lean more towards 70s New York than 60s Paris (while recognising that without the influence of Godard it’s unlikely that Scorsese would have made the films he did) but, that said, I still think that Michel Poiccard makes a infinitely more appealing role model than Travis Bickle, so there’s no doubt that Jean-Luc’s reputation as a genius auteur is fully justified.

Fifteen Years Ago

Second Life Shrink made its debut on May 26th 2007, an exciting time when technology promised a future of unlimited opportunity. The must-have communication gadget was a BlackBerry, all the cool kids were on MySpace, and it was still possible to dream of making a living by blogging.

A decade and a half later, after nearly 700 posts, we’re still going strong, or still going at least. This would seem like a good opportunity to reflect on how the dream of internet liberation degenerated into the post-truth social-media dystopia that we live in today, but that sounds like hard work, so in true SLS slacker style I’ll just do what I did on our fifth and tenth birthdays, and list my favourite posts from the past 5 years:

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Perhaps this review will inspire me to post a bit more frequently again; we’ll see. In the meantime I’ll revive a favourite feature that has lain dormant since 2017, the post-title-related music link.

Oscar predictions 2022 revisited

So, I was 2 for 7 in my Academy Awards forecast, and the 2 both related to films I hadn’t actually seen, just read about, so I guess I’ll have to admit that I haven’t really been in touch with the cinematic zeitgeist over the last 12 months. I’ll try to do better in the year ahead…

Oscar predictions 2022

Much like last year, I haven’t seen many of the movies up for an Academy Award in March, but I do read enough reviews to have an opinion, on the main categories at least, so here are my forecasts:

  • Best Actor – Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Best Actress – Olivia Colman
  • Best Supporting Actor – Jesse Plemons
  • Best Supporting Actress – Judi Dench
  • Best Director – Jane Campion
  • Best International Feature – Drive My Car
  • Best Picture – The Power of the Dog

There’s still a month until the ceremony, so I might update this list if I get around to actually watching some more of the nominated films.

Dishonourable member

I watched the film Munich – The Edge of War at the weekend. Although it has had some good reviews I was rather unimpressed; for a supposed thriller the pace is painfully slow, and the central premise – that bourgeois liberal democracy, personified by Neville Chamberlain, defeated fascism by revealing Hitler’s lack of honour – is somewhat fantastical, to say the least.

Interestingly, today’s liberal press and opposition seem to be adopting a similar approach in their efforts to topple Boris Johnson, with equally uninspiring results. While it would obviously be ridiculous to equate Boris with Adolph, the common theme is the liberals’ complete inability to understand that their opponents are no longer playing by the rules of the game. Loudly denouncing Johnson’s transgressions, then waiting for him to do the decent thing, doesn’t look like a winning strategy. Relying on the Conservative Party to depose him is an equally forlorn hope, as Tory MPs seem increasingly willing to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to reconcile whatever high-minded ideals they might profess with their desire to remain in power (see also: Donald Trump, the GOP).

As ever, liberals shy away from the conclusion that the behaviour of the likes of Johnson implies; that the problem lies not with one or another disreputable politician, but with the system itself.

I guess it’s possible that Johnson may eventually push his luck too far, and precipitate a Tory revolt, or perhaps he will grow weary of all the drama and quit. If so, his successor may placate bourgeois sensibilities by displaying a more refined sense of decorum, but fundamentally things will remain the same. Capitalism produces the inequalities in wealth and power that allow the ruling class to live in a different world from the masses, and as long as that state of affairs persists then nothing will really change.

2021: The year in review – Part 1: Culture

According to the meticulous record I keep on our Tumblr, my consumption of Serious Cultural Experiences was up 17.46% over the course of 2021. This may or may not be related to a loosening of my criteria for what constitutes a Serious Cultural Experience; I’ll let you be the judge…

Television – This year saw me watch a lot more TV than I had for ages, partly because other entertainment options were somewhat limited, but mostly because I had signed up for several streaming services, and was determined to get my money’s worth. I have to admit that I sat through a lot of late-night junk, but I did follow a few of the series that received more positive critical attention, like The Queen’s Gambit, and WandaVision. My favourite was Pretend It’s a City, in which Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese trade anecdotes about life in New York, evoking the kind of classy intellectual milieu that I can only dream of being part of.

Film – I enjoyed WandaVision, but for about 90% of the time I had no idea what was going on, so, since I had already shelled out for the Disney+ subscription, I set out to fill the gap in my pop-culture knowledge by watching all the Marvel movies in timeline order, starting with Captain America: The First Avenger in May, and wrapping up with Avengers: Endgame just a few days ago. I’d hesitate to say that it was the most productive use I could have made of my time, but it was diverting, and there were some interesting themes explored, though personally I preferred the entries that stuck to the comic-book spirit over those that aimed for a more serious tone. I thought the best of the bunch was Captain Marvel, but that might just have been due to the grungy 90s soundtrack. I did go back to the cinema once it reopened, but I stuck to fairly undemanding entertainment rather than anything more heavyweight. I expect that The French Dispatch would have been my movie of the year if I had been organised enough to buy a ticket while it was still playing; since I wasn’t my vote goes to Last Night in Soho, with honourable mentions for Dune and House of Gucci.

Books – I didn’t read much fiction this year, or much non-fiction, or much of anything longer than a magazine article to be honest; too much TV I guess. Of the books I did manage, mostly old ones, I liked Balthazar, the second volume of the Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, Nixonland, Rick Perlstein’s biography of Richard Nixon (obviously), Will Self’s thinly-fictionalised autobiography Will, and, my favourite, John Updike’s The Centaur.

Music – I bought a lot of records in 2021; music is the one area of culture where I try hardest to keep up the pretence that I am somewhat in touch with the zeitgeist, albeit within the narrow parameters of my long-established taste. Here are ten albums I particularly liked:

  • The Shadow I Remember – Cloud Nothings
  • Flock – Jane Weaver
  • Electrically Possessed [Switched On Volume 4] – Stereolab
  • epic Ten – Sharon Van Etten
  • Bodies of Water – Moontype
  • Chaise Longue / Wet Dream – Wet Leg
  • Long Time Coming – Sierra Ferrell
  • Astral Spectra – Piney Gir
  • The Umbrellas – The Umbrellas
  • Sympathy for Life – Parquet Courts

I didn’t go to any concerts, even though the music scene did start to tentatively open up towards the end of year. I have tickets for a couple of shows next month, here’s hoping they go ahead.

So that was 2021 in culture; no big surprises, which is only to be expected at my age I suppose. Next up: the year in blogging.

Oscars 2021

Around this time last year I was congratulating myself on having been to the cinema frequently enough over the previous twelve months to have an opinion on who was going to win what at the Academy Awards. In the event my predictions were well off, but I felt at least a little more in touch with the zeitgeist than usual.

This year though, despite there being little else to do for entertainment, and my subscription to three separate streaming services notwithstanding, I’ve watched hardly any new films, and only one with any Oscar nominations; The Trial of the Chicago 7, which I thought was OK, but not brilliant. I have read enough reviews to guess that Nomadland might do well, but otherwise I’m pretty much clueless. Perhaps if I cram a year’s worth of cinephilia into the next ten days I’ll be able to watch the ceremony without feeling like a complete philistine.

2020: The year in review – Part 1: Culture

2020 has, for obvious reasons, been the sort of year when I might have expected to have had plenty of time to watch all the movies and read all the books that I had been meaning to catch up on for ages. Sadly, that has not been the case, partly due my work schedule actually being busier than it has been for a long while, but mostly because any downtime I did have was spent trying to keep up with the latest news, then attempting to distract myself from the latest news with undemanding entertainment.

That said, the year wasn’t a complete wash-out, culture-wise; the complete list is on our Tumblr, and here are the highlights:

Film – Towards the end of 2019 I got back into the habit of going to see a movie on the big screen most weeks, and I kept this going into 2020, alternating between the multiplex and the arthouse, right up until the cinemas were shut down. Of the mainstream films I saw, my favourite was probably Parasite, though The Lighthouse and Little Women get honourable mentions. I did sign up for a Netflix subscription after lockdown kicked in, but I haven’t really made much use of it; my pick from that service would be Uncut Gems. My personal Oscar for 2020 goes to an independent movie screened during our local film festival; Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway, a delightfully surreal Spanish-Estonian-Ethiopian-Latvian-Romanian co-production, concerning secret agents trapped in a VR dystopia, featuring Batman, ninjas, Joe Stalin, the titular Saviour, 8-bit computer graphics, and much more. If if wasn’t for the evidence of its existence on the internet, I might suspect that I had just dreamt it.

Books – I got through shockingly few full-length books this year; my reading time was consumed by keeping up with political developments, and trying to stay on top of the professional updates I needed to do my job effectively. I didn’t manage much recent fiction, but I did finally complete Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, roughly 30 years after my first reading of Swann’s Way, and started on another classic series, Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, by revisiting Justine, which I had first read when I was 15 (though I didn’t really appreciate the work’s psychosexual depth at that tender age). In the current circumstances I could hardly avoid returning to the plague-haunted Oran, vividly described by Camus in La Peste, and my literary travels also took me to pre-revolutionary China, in the collected works of Lu Xun. In non-fiction, I explored cosmology and quantum theory with Dan Hooper and Sean Carroll, and the origins of consciousness with Daniel Dennett. My favourite book of the year was another old one; Anna Kavan’s 1967 novel Ice, an unsettlingly phantasmagoric evocation of impermanence, loss, and gendered violence, set amid a world succumbing to a creeping environmental catastrophe – just the kind of cheery tale we need in times like these.

Music – I may not have had the cognitive bandwidth to fully engage with serious literature and cinema in the last 12 months, but I did listen to a lot of new music; here’s a fairly arbitrary top ten:

  • If You’re Dreaming – Anna Burch
  • Devotion – Margaret Glaspy
  • Song For Our Daughter – Laura Marling
  • Jetstream Pony – Jetstream Pony
  • The Black Hole Understands – Cloud Nothings
  • The Making Of You – Snowgoose
  • Ballet Of Apes – Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network
  • Consummation – Katie Von Schleicher
  • It Will Come Easier – Emma Kupa
  • Honeymoon – Beach Bunny

I didn’t see much live music this year; I did have tickets for a few shows, but most of them ended up being cancelled. Of those that did go ahead, I enjoyed a recital of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, and a very rare trip to the opera house, to see a revival of John Adams‘ Nixon in China.

Television – For the first time in more years than I care to remember I followed a TV series in its entirety; Mrs. America, an examination of the political struggles in the 70s around gender and race, which gave a human face to the history underlying today’s culture wars. I have a few other shows bookmarked on Netflix; we’ll see if I ever get round to watching them.

Last December I resolved to spend more time on cultural pursuits, and less time obsessing over the news. I guess, with the year we’ve had, I can be forgiven for falling a little short of that goal. We’ll cover some of what distracted me in our next post.

Trump Rex

I went to see Parasite this week, and, fair play to the Academy, it is a better film than Little Women. I still think Saoirse Ronan should have won Best Actress though.

In other class-struggle-related news, it looks like Donald Trump is determined to live up to accusations that he is a fascist, by openly comparing himself to a king, and loudly proclaiming his belief that he has the right to use the supposedly independent Justice Department to persecute his political enemies. This latter boast has prompted much hand-wringing among liberals, who seem to have forgotten that selective prosecution on ideological grounds has a long history in the US – just ask the Black Panthers.

Now that Trump has upped the stakes by going after people who would consider themselves part of the establishment, it’s likely that there will be some sort of institutional response that he will be able to characterise as a deep-state backlash, of the kind existing in the fevered imaginations of Q-Anon enthusiasts, thus furthering his narrative that he is on the side of the ordinary man in the battle with unaccountable elites, and boosting his chances of re-election.

Tempting though it is in these circumstances to cheer on whatever elements of the government machine Trump is taking aim at, that would be a bad mistake – the FBI are not our friends. Getting involved in the internal squabbles of the ruling class can only be a distraction; we need to remember that all of them are our enemies, and concentrate on building a movement that can sweep aside the whole rotten system, liberating us from the leech of capitalism once and for all.

Oscar predictions revisited

So, how accurate was my forecast?

For the films and actors I thought should win, I scored 3/10, and for those I reckoned would win I got a slightly better 5/10. I evidently liked Little Women a lot more than the Academy did (though it did get the award for Costume Design), and they had a better opinion of Parasite than I, which I guess might be because I haven’t actually seen it yet. We did agree on the brilliance of Laura Dern at least.

I’m not sure if my interest in this is a sign that I’m getting back into tune with popular culture, or if I’m just paying more attention to the review section of the newspaper, in a probably doomed attempt to maintain the illusion that I’m still in touch. Either way, I’m going to try to keep up my weekly trips to the matinee show, at least until the weather gets a bit better.

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