peteg's blog

Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist.

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Kindle. His most-recent book was OK so I thought I'd give his earlier work a go. It's peak Egyptology just after the Great War: Carter is discovering Tutankhamen's tomb, and our historically minor figures are intriguing for an apocryphal king. Unfortunately the writing is again flabby and repetitive with too much foreshadowing; what seemed to be a promising premise devolved into a swamp of deluded characters with the exception of the knowing, mocking Marlowe and his Oxford set. Sometimes the Australian characters have the right tone and lingo, and perhaps the same is true for the boys who went up to the university. The epistolary format and heavy stereotyping made it hard to engage, and early on it was clear that the unreliability of the narrators was making a satisfactory ending impossible; the remains of these days don't amount to a hill of beans.

Tom Bissell observes this is a historical novel, of which Phillips apparently made a habit. I didn't enjoy much of the humour as I took the whole show to be a fiasco from the start; it's a farce not a comedy, not even a parody, just a dance with cliches. Bissell does not grapple with the themes of immortality, rhyming, repeating history, fakery and weak evidentiary bases. Goodreads was harsher.

The Night of the Hunter

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Some nights there's nothing for it but to revisit this Robert Mitchum classic. Roger Ebert deemed it not only a "great movie" in 1996, but "one of the greatest of all American films". Who am I to argue with that. Bosley Crowther liked it at the time apart from the ending.

Amor Towles: You Have Arrived at Your Destination.

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Kindle. A short written on commission for Amazon. This is one of those books that makes you wonder if the writer's editor isn't the magician, as for Shantaram / The Mountain Shadow. Clearly bashed out quickly and to spec; there's little of Towles's sophisticated remove here. I wasn't invested enough to divine the novelty or point of it all. Designer babies! In the USA! Ergo military-industrial complex conspiracy. It didn't smell truthy to me.

Goodreads has a range of opinions.

Walk the Line

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This was on the pile for ages. I'm not a fan of any of the actors or even Johnny Cash — he's mostly a legendary voice to me, and this movie doesn't really capture that. Reese Witherspoon got an Oscar for her efforts as Cash's eventual wife June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix is decent in the lead. Robert Patrick plays the unyielding father. There's not much of a story.

A. O. Scott was skeptical, Roger Ebert indulgent.

Amor Towles: Eve in Hollywood.

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Kindle. Offcuts from The Rules of Civility. Snapshots of the golden era. Eve befriends Olivia de Havilland, who passed only last year at 104. Eve is always perfectly appropriate to the moment, but also directionless and unmotivated. Eve would now be a chaos monkey at a startup a little further north. Yes, it's all about Eve.

The Rules of the Game

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A French upstairs/downstairs farce from 1939 in black and white. Not for me. It's more fun to read Roger Ebert's "great movie" review. Prompted by Ben Kenigsberg.

Red River

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John Wayne in black and white in 1948, just like Gil Scott Heron used to say. Overall he's a bit undermodulated as he drives a massive herd of cattle from deflated post-civil-war Texas to Missouri with pseudo-son Montgomery Clift who is actually quite decent here. It's not spoiling a thing to say that they don't make it. The cinematography is quite good and as you'd expect from Howard Hawks there's enough going on to keep things interesting. One of these years I'll make it all the way to Montana with Lonesome Dove.

Roger Ebert in 1998. Bosley Crowther at the time. Both are disappointed by the intrusion of women into this masculine fabulation.

Dennis Glover: Factory 19.

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Kindle. 14.99 AUD directly from the publisher Black Inc. Third time around with Glover; I remember his previous historical novel as better than his polemic on industrial society. Here we are at their intersection, and a contemplation of what the internet has done to things.

The premise is simple: 1948 was the peak of blue collar workers' communitarian welfare, so what happens if a billionaire tries to recreate it as a refuge for the disrupted in Tasmania in our year 2022? This adventure in bleached Australian utopianism (a field long in decline) wobbles between Animal Farm-like satire and Anglophilia/Europhobia. Halfway through it enumerates the joys of the time, just as Red Plenty did for 1950s Russia. The thin disguise draped over David Walsh seems like an appeal to him to give it a shot despite this paradise being, of course, lost.

Glover's essential desire is to undo the impact of the computer on society and industrial practice. Apparently without it the destiny of humankind is controllable by humans who will therefore be happier. He takes it as read that an industrialised society is inescapable, and that a service economy slakes no thirst — humans need to build stuff, to materially and personally disturb dirt.

The central disappointment of the book is the long list of present-day concerns that Glover either ignores or inadequately responds to. Greenies are supposed to be bought off/provoked/triggered/quietened by militant fantasy. Nothing is said about religion and sectarianism; terrorism with religious motivations had certainly arrived by 1948. So it goes for colonialism and nuclear technology. The sexism of the day is described (accepted?) but not defended. Aborigines, post-war non-Anglo migrants and people with disabilities do not exist (which is weird as he does include industrial accidents). Maybe that was the Australia of the 1940s but it doesn't fly to continue to ignore them in the second thread set in the 1970s. Glover need not have addressed every last thing but it grates that he acknowledges other flaws of those periods, including such superficialities as fashion.

Glover's contention that blue-collar workers are poor in present-day Australia is belied by the common epithet "cashed-up bogans" — many contractors, mine workers, tradies, builders, etc have never had it this good. He has no story about creativity, just contentment via consumption. To him the glorious 30 year post WWII Keynesian economy was destroyed by overreaching strikers in the 1970s, led by a caricature of RJL Hawke. Glover is too blinkered to integrate the innovations of that period from elsewhere in the world, such as Toyota's total quality management that reputedly encouraged, for a time, more engagement and satisfaction in factory work.

Overall it's not as well constructed as A Gentleman in Moscow (brought to mind by the quasi-involuntary incarceration/co-option of the non-working-class, cultured main character/narrator), often indulgent and less provocative than I hoped. For all that Glover writes engagingly and if you're sympathetic to his conceit there's some fun to be had.

Jack Cameron Stanton summarised it for the Smage. Jack Callil at the Guardian. In another Schwartz venue, Anna Thwaites observed the equivocating voice that obscured whatever point Glover was trying to make.

Last Tango in Paris

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Brando completism. He was all over the map here. Leading lady Maria Schneider had a difficult and often vacuous role. The main themes seem childish and exploitative. The Chekhovian device is annoyingly predictable and literal. The film-within-the-film is trite. It was on the pile for a very long time because it was and is very difficult for me to get excited about. Perhaps it speaks louder to Americans and French people as some sort of post-war (ma)lingering.

12 stars from Roger Ebert: 1972, 1995 (unexpected events?!?), 2004 (a revision of the 1995 opinions). Overall he views it, by channelling Kael, as some high point in art cinema.