Picks of the Week

“Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.”

— Paul Krugman

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Paul Krugman on Fox News and the current state of the American Republican Party. This is great, politically indignant writing from one of our great political and economical analysts.
  • Ward Sutton doing Tea Party cartoons. Chameleon-like, Sutton transforms the American comic strip tradition into reflecting the current political climate on the American right wing. It’s very well done plus funny!
  • Richard Brody on Claude Chabrol. A bit old, but very fine essay remembering the recently passed New Wave-filmmaker.
  • Right Thing the Wrong Way. On the occasion of the current show in Boston, ComicsComics is running excerpts from the catalogue, an oral history of seminal early naughts art comics publisher Highwater Books. It’s pretty great. Part 1, Part 2, ongoing…
  • Plastic Fantastic

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    The Cambridge Film Festival is on at the moment and last night I attended one of its main events — a live interview with director Stephen Frears, followed by a screening of his latest film Tamara Drewe, adapted from the graphic novel by Posey Simmonds. It was a good time — Frears mixed self-deprecation and common sense in his short but thoughtful answers to the questions posed and shared a number of fine insights on filmmaking.

    Particularly interesting was his observation of Hollywood filmmaking as a cinema of close-ups, something he realised on the set of Dangeours Liasons (1988). He explained how he had initially planned the film to include a number of full shot longtakes à la Max Ophüls, but decided against it once he realised the actors we much more proficient in close-ups. He also described John Malkovich as completely unschooled, which drew laughs. He very much confirmed the impression left by his films: a director of solid middle-of-the-road films with a certain social involvement; an inspired caster and director of actors attentive to good scripts, but without much vision as a film director.

    He described the art of adaptation as that of achieving a general fidelity, not a literal one, saying that he strove to avoid going against the spirit of the source. In the case of Tamara Drewe, he further noted that he thought Moira Buffini’s adaptation of the graphic novel was ‘an improvement.’ Watching the film, however, it was hard to find justification for these statements.

    Basically he and Buffini have turned Simmonds caustic social satire into a largely feelgood comedy, introducing romance where there should be none, exchanging her troubled Wessex idyll for soft-focus Dorset fairyland, and rewriting her perceptive dialogue to stilting effect. Most critically, they have softened radically the story’s denoument, essentially neutering the force of Simmonds pessimism and social critique, while keeping just enough of it to destabilise the film’s otherwise delightfully executed comedy. It’s by no means unwatchable–the actors are almost uniformly excellent, despite the script–and its all very professionally done, but it essentially it reduces an affecting, trenchant work to a piece of inconsequential fluff.

    Above: Gemma Arterton is excellent as the title character.

    Picks of the Week

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    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Ray Davis: “High, Low and Lethem”. Great essay about the continuing confluence of high and low culture and the transformation of that modernist dichotomy, which touches upon auteur theory, copyright issues and much more. (Thanks Tim!)
  • Comics! Ron Regé’s great “We Must Know, We Will Know” now available for free at What Things Do. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark or feed this site now. Oh, and there’s one of Shigeru Mizuki’s fun GeGeGe no Kitaro stories up here — check it out. It’s in a different tenor than the more realistic, later Shigeru books currently in the works for the English readership at D&Q (I wrote about one of them here). (Thanks, Dirk!)
  • What Is “Mutant Pop”?

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    When I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, I got the chance to cross the sound to Malmö and see the Dearraindrop-curated Mutant Pop show at Gallery Loyal there. I took a number of photos, which you can see here.

    It was fun, but I’m somewhat sceptical of this contemporary iteration of post-pop art. Here, it’s dubbed ‘mutant pop’, which according to Brandon Joyce, writing in the press material (and I assume the catalogue) is characterised as follows:

    “The image, the symbol, the icon — and the whole plane of pop-mythos — have power, dignity, and even a biology of sorts. Cartoons, afterall [sic], have cells [sic]. Scrawls and sketches serve as little anatomies and dissections of the living image. And like human and animal life, the image can even experience a kind of image-death. Or an afterlife, a creepy kind of undeath as zombie symbols, afterimages, ghost images, or what have you.

    Mutant Pop occurs whenever whenever these symbols and symbologies outgrow their sources. When they take root and incubate in impressionable minds. When they turn weird and grow tails and even get worked into a fullblown [sic] mythos by nice people such as yourselves. Happy, harmless spokesthings assume a self-consciousness. Fleeting-or-forgotten cultural moments, like Max Headroom, like Count Duckula, live on and haunt us through an infectious and hysterical freak culture. And the life-feeling in these images will even, at times, take on mystic or animistic dimensions; as a way of seeing God in the television, so to speak. It amounts, in a way, to a belief in a new, and somewhat noisier, mythos.”

    Hype: WSO!

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    If you’re in Copenhagen, I urge you to visit the grand retrospective on William Skotte Olsen opening today at Kastrupgårdsamlingen and running till 2 January. Skotte Olsen (1945-2005) is one of the great painters of his generation in Denmark, and anywhere really.

    While his oeuvre was plagued somewhat by overproduction, especially in the later years, his best work is amongst the most beautiful and affecting to come out of the 60s generation, merging expressive exuberance with spirituality affect in pictures of rare compositional acuity and deep colouristic sensitivity. A true original.

    Full disclosure: the show is curated by my father, who has also written the catalogue, but don’t let that deter you. Go — you won’t regret it.

    William Skotte Olsen, Figures and Birds with a Sunset, 1984, oil on canvas, 86 x 116 cm., Foreningen Kunst på Arbejdspladsen.

    Nikoline Werdelin at 50

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    The great Danish cartoonist and dramatist Nikoline Werdelin turned fifty today. Highly celebrated in her home country, her daily strip has chronicled the life and times of her countrymen since the mid-80s, with a distinctive voice blending quotidian realism with biting satire. Her plays supplement the ongoing narrative portrait of Denmark she has been building, making the oft-repeated claim that hers is the great Danish contemporary novel of the last 20 years seem less like hyperbole and more like fact with every year.

    She debuted as a strip cartoonist in the large, progressive daily Politiken in 1984 with Café, a satirical big city strip that caught acutely the Zeitgeist of those vainglorious boom years. The strip ended in 1988 but was essentially continued under a new name in 1994 with Homo Metropolis, also for Politiken where it has run intermittently ever since. Werdelin debuted as a playwright in 1997 with Liebhaverne, which she also directed, and has since followed it up with another six critically-acclaimed plays, mining the same territory as her strip.

    Although a couple of the plays have been performed abroad, she inexplicably is still virtually unknown outside Denmark. Only last year was a selection of her strips translated into English and published in the anthology of contemporary Danish comics, From Wonderland with Love. Universally (and unsurprisingly) singled out by almost every critic as the outstanding contribution to that book, her story “Because I Love You So Much” was nominated for an Eisner award.

    As a cartoonist, she is primarily distinguished for her sensitive ear for the vernacular of her time and her sense of spoken rhythm as broken down into four daily panels. Her drawing was always less assured, relying very much on a certain set of formulae refined over the years. Her cool, relief-like approach to design — almost deco in ambition — has invariably been hampered by the gelatinous inelegance of her linework, but with time she has made a virtue of these qualities, commandeering her line into remarkably expressive, ugly portraits of her fellow man, sometimes almost scabrous in their satire.

    And she is indeed merciless. A borderline if not full-blown cynic, her coldness is tempered by an exacting sense of humor that betrays her involvement. Plus it brings a rare clarity to her vision — she is a diagnostician rather than a nihilist. A refined observer of people, she has internalised the examples not only of such early cartoonist models as Claire Brétecher and Gérard Lauzier, whose work she has long since transcended, but more significantly the great 18th-century Danish playwright and satirist Ludvig Holberg and the modern tradition for urbane social comedy and satire he helped usher into European theatre and literature.

    A cartoonist for our age.

    Happy birthday Nikoline!

    Werdelin’s website. Fine recent interview (in Danish).
    From Wonderland with Love at Aben Maler and Fantagraphics.