Filmmaker Jonathan Demme feeds Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter on the set of The Silence of the Lambs.
Filmmaker Jonathan Demme feeds Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter on the set of The Silence of the Lambs.

Surprised and saddened to hear that one of my favourite filmmakers, Jonathan Demme, has passed away. Demme is perhaps best known for his superb adaptation of Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs (1991), a film that received all five major Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally). His other works include Philadelphia (1993), Married to the Mob (1988), and Stop Making Sense (1984), the genre-bending music documentary about Talking Heads. Demme was not just a supreme talent but a humanitarian.

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Roger Luckhurst offers a critical and entertaining survey of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).

In the thirty-seven years since its premiere, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) has been the subject of heated debate. Based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King, the adaptation was dismissed by the author as ‘maddening, perverse, and disappointing’. His judgement was not unique. Critics and audiences alike found the film bewildering and strange, not knowing whether to take it as an art film or a low-brow horror shocker. Yet, as Roger Luckhurst points out in his excellent book, The Shining (BFI Classics, 2013), despite its chilly opening reception the film is now regarded as ‘one of the most admired horror films in cinema history’.

Luckhurst’s take on The Shining manages to pierce the lid on thirty years of critical discussion, and to yield a fresh perspective on one of cinema’s most discussed and perplexing films. The book addresses Stanley Kubrick’s status as a distinctive auteur filmmaker, but dismisses the tendency of critics to see deliberate intention in every move and gesture. Instead, Luckhurst reads The Shining within the broader cultural and historical context of late 1970s-early 1980s American culture. Insightful connections are made to films like The Amityville Horror (1979), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist and The Evil Dead (both released in 1982). Through its representation of prescient children, telepathy, and horror, Luckhurst reveals how The Shining expresses widely-held anxieties about traditional gender roles, the nuclear family, and histories of repressed trauma and violence. (more…)

Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs
Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs

Just read an interesting piece in The New York Review of Books by Ruth Franklin, author of the recent biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. (I was drawn to the sensationalist headline: ‘A Deep American Horror Exposed‘.) The piece is a review of Joyce Carol Oates‘ new work,  A Book of American Martyrs, a novel that explores the troubled inner life of an anti-abortion activist is driven to murder in the name of his cause.

This is not the first time that Oates’ writing has ventured into pressing contemporary issues. As Franklin remarks, “Oates’s fiction has confronted some of the most morally troubling episodes in the recent American past,” and cites Black Water (1992) and the recent Carthage (2014) as prominent examples. What is significant about A Book of American Martyrs, for Franklin, is its ability to frame social issues with an attention not just to their complexity, but to politically and economically disenfranchised groups: “Like much of Oates’s other recent work, it is clearly an attempt to speak for ‘those unable to speak for themselves’—the uneducated white working class.” (more…)

Celebrating the women’s civil rights movement

Today marks International Women’s Day, which has commemorated the struggle for women’s civil rights throughout the twentieth century. The day was originally known as International Working Women’s Day, and for most of its history has been connected with socialist movements and communist states such as China and Soviet Russia. In the mid-1970s, during the height of Second Wave Feminism, the UN recognised International Women’s Day and invited its member states to do the same.

Since the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year, there has been an increased level of vigilance on issues surrounding women’s civil rights in the United States. Many basic political, economic, and cultural entitlements have fallen under threat, and thousands of grassroots campaigns have mobilised all over the country to respond. To mark this year’s IWD, the Women’s March on Washington has called for A Day Without A Woman, a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity for ‘equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people’.

Reads for IWD 2017

Masthead Photograph: Artist Louise Bourgeois in her home studio

Peter J. Beck discusses the history of H.G. Wells’ iconic sci-fi novel, and how it continues to resonate in popular culture
Peter J. Beck, The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg & Beyond (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Peter J. Beck, The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg & Beyond (Bloomsbury, 2016)

What inspired you to write the book?

I have lived in Woking since 1971. Over time I became increasingly aware of the town’s links with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Woking is the place where he researched, wrote and set the book. My house is located within one mile or so of both Horsell Common, where Wells’ Martians landed, and 141 Maybury Road, the house where Wells wrote the story.  Apart from walking the trail of the story and reading his books, during the late 1980s I began researching Wells’ correspondence, most notably that held by archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and Yale University Library. This research was basically undertaken out of personal interest rather than with a view to publication, since as a professor of history my principal areas of research and publication were the history of British foreign policy and international organisation. RAE pressures – my membership of the RAE History panel for the 1992 and 1996 RAEs made me acutely aware of these – left no time for other research topics. However, I taught a course at Kingston University on ‘Literature, Art and War 1860-1920’, and introduced The War of the Worlds as one of the war scare set texts alongside The Battle of Dorking. I began to write up my research about Wells’ The War of the Worlds only in 2012 after finishing two contracted books: Using history, making British policy: the Treasury and the Foreign Office, 1950-76 (2006) and Presenting History: Past and Present (2012). A further source of inspiration was my membership of a Woking Task Group set up in 2013 to organise a programme of events celebrating Wells’ links with Woking in 2016, a year marking the 150th anniversary of his birth and the 70th anniversary of his death. I represented the H.G. Wells Society on this task group. (more…)