Film

We played with life and lost

Jeanne Moreau, one of the iconic French actresses of her generation, has died today in Paris. She had the fortune to be at the peak of her powers during one of the great ages of cinema. She acted in films made by some of the best post-war directors: Antonioni, Welles, Truffaut, Bunuel, Fassbinder. I want to write about three of her films (all shot in black and white): Lift to the Scaffold (1958, Louis Malle), Jules et Jim (1962, François Truffaut) and Diary of a Chambermaid (1964, Luis Bunuel).

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Books, Film, Rhetoric

Rats in a cage

Question: is it better for a human to choose to be bad than be conditioned to be good?

The American psychologist B. F. Skinner believed that human behaviour was determined by environmental variables rather than free will, and that by systematically altering those variables human behaviour could be modified. In this way humans could be conditioned to display good, rather than bad, behaviour. He developed his theory of applied behavioural analysis from experiments he conducted in the 1930s on rats. He invented and constructed an enclosed soundproof cage with food dispenser that a rat could operate by pressing a lever, called a ‘Skinner box’. Continue reading

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Art, Film

Barry Lyndon*

What is luck? The dictionary definition is “success brought about by chance rather than by ones own actions”. To the religious mind nothing can be occasioned by luck because all is within the compass of a providential God. In Christianity what others call ‘luck’ is instead called ‘grace’. The Greeks believed in the randomness and pointlessness of luck, but they ascribed it to the capricious will of the Goddess Fortuna. Fortune was experienced as capriciousness but lay ultimately in the lap of the gods. To the secular mind the possibility of chance is an affront. To surrender to the idea that life is underscored by meaningless, pointless contingency is, for some, too brutal to be contemplated. Therefore instead, for the secular mind, providence is smuggled back in and called behavioural determinism or karma or destiny or fate or some such retrospective self-deceiving comfort. Let us steel ourselves and remain with the definition of luck as nothing more than pure mundane chance. Continue reading

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Film, Photography

Faye Dunaway’s post-Oscar breakfast 29th March 1977

Faye Dunaway won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1976 film Network at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. This is her at the Beverley Hills Hotel at 6.30 in the morning of 29th March 1977, the day after the ceremony. With a doleful, faraway look of world-weary ennui, in silk gown and heels, she is breakfasting alone on fruit juice and Earl Grey tea, slouched poolside in the hazy Southern Californian dawn light. The morning papers are strewn about her and the Oscar is not far out of reach. She has recently risen from bed, or maybe she never went to sleep at all. This classic shot manages to capture the allure and loneliness of celebrity. Continue reading

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Film, Law

Bomb the ban

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic black comedy Dr Strangelove (1964) a US General is so upset about the fluoridation of water he starts a nuclear war and destroys the entire human race. It is on one view an excessive reaction. He could instead have petitioned the lawmakers to oblige suppliers to purify water. I see that Stop the Fluoridation of UK water supplies is one of the 4079 petitions currently open on the petition.parliament.uk website. The justification given is: “a study has revealed the dark relationship between lower IQ levels and sodium fluoride consumption”. There is no mention of General Jack D. Ripper so I have assumed that the petition is not ironic. At the time of writing it has 452 signatures. Continue reading

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