I have some artistic enthusiasms that I’m not eager to discuss in public. It’s not that I’m embarrassed. But I am afraid I will not be able to explain them, much less justify them, even to my best friends. I put in this category my attachment to the engravings of Jean-Émile Laboureur, who recorded the parks, streets, shop windows, pleasure seekers, working people, and lovers of 1920s and 1930s France in an immaculate Art Deco style. I know that Laboureur’s work, with its easy-on-the-eyes Cubistic stylizations and languid Roaring Twenties protagonists, can be more than a little programmatic.
2011 wasn't the most interesting year for film, but it did have its moments: The silent film reasserted itself while Scorsese went 3D, Terrence Malick recreated the genesis of the universe and Maya Rudolph got diarrhea in a wedding dress. But how will these ambitious projects fare at the 84th Academy Awards show this Sunday night?
Steve Jobs By Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $35) I. In 2010, Der Spiegel published a glowing profile of Steve Jobs, then at the helm of Apple. Jobs’s products are venerated in Germany, especially by young bohemian types. Recently, the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg presented an exhibition of Apple’s products, with the grandiloquent subtitle “On Electro-Design that Makes History”—a good indication of the country’s infatuation with the company.
The Sense of an Ending By Julian Barnes (Knopf, 163 pp., $23.95) Is it worth it? Life, I mean—is it worth it? Julian Barnes isn’t sure. “I am certainly melancholic myself,” he says in Nothing to Be Frightened Of, a memoir-cum-meditation-on-death, “and sometimes find life an overrated way of passing the time.” Martha Cochrane, in England, England, thinks about “the thinness of life, or at least life as she had known it, or chosen it.” “She had done little in her time,” Jean Serjeant thinks in Staring at the Sun, and Gregory, her son, had done less.
The other day, a friend and I were walking down a crowded sidewalk when we noticed a little boy of about three. We noticed him not because he was adorable (though he was), but because he was hitting his father with a giant stick. As they passed us—the boy hitting, the father ignoring—the boy’s flailing stick hit my companion. Only the boy’s mother, running after them, seemed to notice. “Sorry,” she flung out breathlessly, smiling. We were, of course, in Brooklyn, the epicenter of permissive parenting.
Crazy Horse Return The Hunter Where is Frederick Wiseman taking us now? Beginning in 1967, when our pre-eminent maker of documentaries brought us into a hospital for the criminally insane in Titicut Follies, Wiseman has shown us American lives in—among many other places—high schools, a hospital, a monastery, a welfare agency. Lately he has been drawn to France, to some Parisian institutions: the Comédie-Française and the ballet of the Paris Opera.
Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790 By Jonathan I. Israel (Oxford University Press, 1,066 pp., $45) I. There’s something about the Enlightenment. Today, few educated men and women spend much time debating whether Western civilization took a disastrously wrong turn in the High Middle Ages. They do not blame all manner of political ills on Romanticism, or insist that non-Western immigrants adopt Renaissance values. But the Enlightenment is different. It has been held responsible for everything from the American Constitution to the Holocaust.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. I. Last November a protester on the outskirts of Damascus held up to the cameras a placard that mocked the people of Aleppo: “URGENT! ALEPPO REBELS—IN 2050!” It was hardly heroic, the caution of Aleppo, particularly against the background of a rebellion that had scorched Deraa and Hama and Homs and Banias and so many unheralded Syrian towns.
With Hugo, Martin Scorsese reclaims some of Hollywood’s old power as the great unifier, uncomplicated and sophisticated at the same time. This hymn to the unfettered imagination—Scorsese’s first work in 3D—is terrific popular entertainment, a magnificent children’s adventure story, with heroes and villains so delicately drawn that even the melodramatic moments have a comic wit.
I adore Crazy Horse, Frederick Wiseman’s documentary about the Crazy Horse Saloon, the Parisian nude revue putting on a show called, appropriately, “Desirs.” Like many of Wiseman’s earlier films, this one uses shadows to illuminate its subject—in this instance, the intense anguish and the fantastical, melancholy, delicious illusions underlying carnal love.