EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Arguably America’s favorite film, as measured by various polls over the years, Casablanca turned 75 in November. Special screenings have been held across the country. Encomiums have appeared in periodicals. But perhaps it’s time to take stock of this fan favorite.

Its appeal is well earned. The plot is full of surprising twists and tense moments. The story is uplifting: a cynical, bitter American expatriate running a nightclub (called “Rick’s Café Americain”) in Vichy-controlled Casablanca is inspired by the reignited love of a woman to take incredibly brave steps, including renunciation of future bliss with his lover, to help a great resistance leader escape his Nazi pursuers. Its leads, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, have two of the most cinematic faces in the history of the medium. Claude Rains, perhaps a more skillful actor than both of them, has a strong secondary role. The cast includes the great character actors Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, and lesser-known but excellent ones such as John Qualen and S.Z Sakall. The director, Michael Curtiz, knew how to use the camera to underscore emotions. There are some great laughs. The film’s setting is exotic, reeking with promise of intrigue and adventure. In essence, it is a film about moral redemption, regained love, courage, and personal sacrifice for the greater good. What’s not to like?
More… “Taking a Hard Look at You, Kid”

D.B. Jones is a retired Drexel professor of film and the author of three books on Canadian documentary film.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson went before the United States Senate and asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Central Powers. The impetus for this declaration was Wilhelmine Germany’s return to unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. Wilson, who had a year earlier campaigned on a promise of keeping the United States out of war, now, in April, asked to send American boys to Europe in order to

fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.

More… “Mist, Mountains, and Men”

Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer based in Boston. He is the author of Hands Dabbled in Blood.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

The 1920s in Shanghai enjoyed a period exactly like the hedonistic ’20s in the United States, or so I understand. I wasn’t around at the time, though my mother told me all about it. A Chinese woman with bound feet, she and my Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father foxtrotted and stomped on the Palace Hotel’s fabled floor, a structure braced on springs that tilted this way and that with its cargo, and drank champagne and other imported wines. Actually, all wines had to be imported. And today, despite their industrious bent to beat the West, the Chinese have begun growing grapes for distillation but fail to achieve any kind of quality. My parents’ circle of friends was multinational, typical of Shanghai then. My father, an importer-exporter who owned a freighter, had a lively hobby, a kennel of greyhounds that he raced on the Shanghai Greyhound Race Track. In Macau, the Portuguese territory, he built a dog track. More… “Drinks to Shine the Moon”

Lucille Bellucci grew up in Shanghai with an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. After exile from China, the family sailed to Italy, where they lived five years before immigrating to the United States. Lucille has also lived 15 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She has five novels and has won many awards for her short stories and essays.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Rudolfo Botelho must have been about 65, perhaps younger, though of course to a 15 year old he appeared ancient. His white moustache bristled on an otherwise mild beige-skinned face. You didn’t much notice his small size; it was always the moustache you saw. And the twinkle — there was the twinkle. I lived in Shanghai, 15 years old in 1948, a Eurasian child of an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. My parents knew him back in the golden days of Shanghai’s roaring ‘20s like those in America. I met him when he became the accompanist for the choir at St. Columban’s, a church run by Irish priests. More… “Bottles & Me”

Lucille Bellucci grew up in Shanghai with an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. After exile from China, the family sailed to Italy, where they lived five years before immigrating to the United States. Lucille has also lived 15 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She has five novels and has won many awards for her short stories and essays.

EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

On May 11, 1960, the man who had been living in Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement was coming home from his job at the Mercedes-Benz plant when he was abducted by two Israeli operatives. “What’s your name?” they asked him. “Ricardo Klement,” he answered. The next time he was asked, he offered up the name Otto Heninger, a false identity he’d used in the past. The third time, he told the truth: He was Adolf Eichmann. One of the most elusive participants in the Final Solution was finally in custody.

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt. 336 pages. Penguin Classics. $16.

The fact that Israel circumvented extradition law by drugging Eichmann and flying him out of the country under an assumed name meant that the trial for his war crimes —… More…

The station wagon is dead — again — and like the many demises it has already suffered in its long fruitful life, this one comes with an asterisk. The reason for the asterisk is that there are still dozens of vehicles on the market that answer to the name “station wagon.” The reason for the declaration of death — and subsequent obituaries — is Volvo’s recent announcement that it will soon stop selling station wagons in the U.S.

 

In 1999, the niche purveyor of sensible transport for NPR-Americans sold 40,000 station wagons and felt its fortunes were on the rise thanks to the quirky, post-ironic aesthetic sensibilities of a new generation of car buyers. “It used to be that when you were married and expecting your first child, it… More…

So 271 “new” Picassos have been discovered. They were living with a former electrician of Picasso’s, who claimed that, near the end of his life, the artist gave the works to him as gifts and as payment. Picasso’s heirs, of course, are suing and charging the man with theft.

Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow. 256 pages. Vendome Press. $40. The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. 368 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

Two hundred seventy-one new works by Pablo Picasso, ranging from 1900 to 1932. New works from his blue period, a new portrait of his first wife, Olga. You can hear the auction houses warming up their gavels, can’t you? Scholars lining up… More…

 

The Naked and the Dead is an enormously long novel, washed up by the choppy waters of disillusionment, leaving nothing to the imagination.” That’s what David Dempsey had to say in a review on the novel for The New York Times in 1948. Dempsey went on to say that The Naked and the Dead revealed a great new talent in American fiction, Norman Mailer, but that the book was “not great.” A half-century after the publication of The Naked and the Dead and two years after Mailer’s death, it’s clear that Dempsey was both right and wrong. He sniffed out the general talent, but whiffed on the specific work.

No matter. The special risk of criticism is to be wrong in print, wrong for eternity. It is hard to blame Mr. Dempsey. The Naked and the Dead was… More…

 

The plot of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is ridiculous. A group of Jewish American soldiers are recruited by a Tennessee mountain man played by Brad Pitt to kill Nazis during the Second World War. Along the way they discover a plan to screen a new propaganda film by Goebbels at a cinema in Paris. All the top Nazis will be there, Hitler included. Exterminating them in one fell swoop will end the war. A few twists later, that is exactly what happens. So what’s the point? What is it about this counterfactual and openly farcical scenario that so intrigued Mr. Tarantino?

It must have something to do with the relationship between film and reality. The fate of Europe hangs, in this case literally, on a movie. Directors, actors, and even film critics are central players in events of… More…

 

Leszek Kolakowski died a couple of weeks ago. He was a philosopher, a man of letters, historian of ideas. He lived the 20th-century life. It sucked. But like many a Pole, he made the best of a bad situation. The opening lines of the Polish National Anthem are, after all, “Poland has not perished yet.” Poles know that everything will turn out for the worst. It always does.

Kolakowski grew up during the Nazi occupation of Poland and came of age when the Nazis were exchanged for the Soviets. Liberation, in Poland, is the name for a short period of chaos between oppressors. Kolakowski did his best to think with the times. He started out a Marxist — not a ridiculous position for a young anti-fascist to take in those days. It was not, however, a position that… More…