Khartoum (1966 Britain)

This has to be one of the most splendid films ever to come out of Pinewood Studios. Khartoum depicts the last chapter in the remarkable life of Gen. Charles “Chinese” Gordon; another one of those larger-than-life-personages seemingly produced uniquely by Victorian England; such as Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) or T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). To that last personage is the best comparison as they were both considered the best commanders of “irregular” forces of their respective times. And like Lawrence of Arabia this film barely scrapes the surface of the man’s life but they couldn’t make it three times longer could they? [Read more…]

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (Joan Aiken)

 

Set in an alternative 1832 where the monarch is James III (implying that the House of Hanover never came to the throne) and wolves have entered England during a bad winter by crossing the Channel Tunnel (not opened in our reality until 1994). Unlike the children’s books of today – this was first published in the early 1960s – the whole thing proceeds at a rip-roaring pace with very little build-up. There are a number of other books in the series, all set in the same alternate history but I don’t know if all the characters are the same in each. [Read more…]

Ludwig’s The Man

My first classical music posting and its one of the big guns. Art has certain high aims: to sublimate, to uplift, to expand the human consciousness, and to create harmony and certainty. And if this doesn’t do the trick, nothing will. Modern “music”, eat your heart out!

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

This is probably the greatest work of fiction a human could achieve. Dostoyevsky bares his soul in this novel. He doesn’t hide behind irony, which allows an author the ability to maintain distance and ambiguity. And perhaps it is irony that separates the great novels of the past from the many contemporary novels that lack equivalent passion, honesty, and heft. The themes Dostoyevsky tackles along the way are significant and weighty. One thing that can overwhelm the modern reader is the morality here. The energy of it so intense. [Read more…]

Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Thomas Hughes)

book-coverUnless you’re an Anglophile, you might prefer watching one of the dramatizations of this story. The films tend to have more plot than the book, which is more a series of chronological anecdotes set amidst statements of philosophy than it is a novel. “Character” and “fair play” are much emphasized but remain fuzzy concepts, which rather deflates its moral purpose. Jolly great fun is had by chucking stones at Irish labourers and otherwise tormenting the lower classes. “Fagging”–the practice of young boys having to fetch and carry for the older boys (and yes, that’s where the word comes from)– is an accepted and honoured institution.  [Read more…]

Walden (Henry David Thoreau)

walden-henry-david-thoreau-hardcover-cover-artAah, the passing of time in a natural environment. Usually I’m in too much of a hurry to really look, listen, smell and savour every word or sentence of a book. But when I am able to I’m aware of the little things around me and thinking about a certain pond…Mr Thoreau wasn’t just the original hippie, circa 1845. He was that most annoying beast: a practical hippie. A hippie with the skill to rustle up a meal from whatever he could find, forge or forage in the woods. Or build a glorious shack from a cow pat or the bark of an elm tree.
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The Lonesome Gods (Louis L’Amour)

1983thelonesomegodspb1984Quintessential “guy-lit” (or whatever is the opposite of “chick-lit”). This is a long book for L’Amour. He spends some time getting philosophical – a boy on his own living in the desert, communing with nature, learning and such.  This is a book about being a man. And becoming a man. All those things a man gotta do. The main theme is Self Reliance. There are also some great descriptions of the California/Arizona desert around the time of the Gold Rush. [Read more…]

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

darknessLegendary novella by a Ukrainian-born British subject. He took a fateful steamship voyage into the deepest jungles of Africa, an experience which forever changed him and this literary classic was the result. Marlow, the seaman narrator, tells the story of his journey into the heart of the African interior and his encounter with the natives and most notably, Kurtz, the ivory agent, a much revered white man. To me, the journey into the heart of darkness is the unraveling of what is inscrutably at the core of human nature. [Read more…]

The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

dorian-grayFrom Wilde’s shockingly outrageous preface to the fantastic conclusion there is a sense of beauty and exploration in this unique piece of prose. Touching on subjects that were taboo at the time of writing, he had to be subtle. Dorian’s exploration into the world of pleasure is filled with numerous metaphors for risqué acts. Both Dorian and the novel turn strange. You’d think the life of a young handsome sensualist would consist of orgies and opium, but Gray is more obsessed with perfumes, tapestries, jewels and world music. Don’t ask why. [Read more…]

Moby Dick (1956 USA)

moby dick 1956I declare war on all the remakes. To you teenyboppers wondering which version – this is the best. And if anyone is still smirking at the title they can leave this blog now or I will smite thee! (Don’t laugh) Supposedly Herman Melville’s masterpiece was impossible to turn into a film script. Supposedly director John Huston was too tyrannical and stubborn during the filming and spent a lot more time and budget than he was allowed to. Supposedly none of the actors playing the most crucial roles deliver good performances and don’t bring any justice to their characters as described in the book. I say tish and pish to all of these objections! [Read more…]

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