Here are some films and books I consumed this semester that might be worth your time.
Psychological thriller based on the novel by the same title.
Once Upon a Time In Anatolia (Turkey)
Honestly, a brilliant bit of film-making. The cinematography is exceptional, especially in terms of framing, camera movement and lighting. Ostensibly a police procedural, OUTIA is actually about Turkey itself– it’s aspirations, limits, and melancholia.
I’ve already forgotten most of this film except for Idris Elba attempting a “country” accent and Charlize Theron’s alluring space suit.
The Edge (Russia)
You will want to ride a train after seeing this film. The complexity of the postwar USSR– particularly the lingering animosity against Germans– make this quite compelling
Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel of the same name. Rufus Sewell plays a singularly odious ne’er-do-well.
If you like Tim Roth, you’ll probably enjoy this claustrophobic film which takes the form of the interrogation of a suspected murderer.
The best adaptation of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. Really.
Cold War spy games, though not of the arrogant, triumphalist sort we’re generally used to.
An often absurd, hypertrophied action flick set on an orbiting penal colony. Guy Pearce was the main reason I watched it.
The Grey (US)
A plane full of oil workers crashes in Alaska. The survivors find themselves in the hunting grounds of massive grey wolves. Inevitably, they’re picked off one by one. Yet the most compelling scene of this film, for me, was when Liam Neeson’s character gently helps a man to die.
My Perestroika (Russia)
Fascinating documentary of the the generation who came of age just as the Soviet Union began to change and, finally, disintegrate.
A glib thriller that might not be as clever as it would like. Still, there ease with which this slick film is consumed recommends it for its entertainment value.
The Alien Girl (Russia)
A brutalized young woman uses manipulation and violence to destroy her enemies and rise to the top.
One of the creepiest psychological thrillers I’ve seen in years.
A slow, deliberate story that may come the closest of any film to what it was actually like to trek across the hardpan west.
A harrowing narrative of official complicity with human trafficking in the Balkans based on actual events. From the postscript: an estimated 2.5 million people– overwhelmingly young women– are enslaved each year.
Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics
A great place to begin the study of semiotics.
Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
Bears little relationship to its many film adaptations. Deeply reactionary in its assessment of the French Revolution, but a very influential text in terms of the adventure genre.
Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics
A bit drier than Chandler’s book, though even more concise. From Russian Formalism to Derrida.
Bennett, Havoc in Its Third Year
An outstanding historical novel of 17th century England with clear parallels to the present.
Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios
One of the great British thrillers. Notable for its cosmopolitanism and its quirks of chance.
Kiernan, Colonial Empires and Armies
From one of the great Marxist historians, a history of European military domination of the globe.
de Groot, The Historical Novel
A solid introduction to the genre.
Exquemelin, The Buccaneers of America
A 17th century personal account of piracy and privateering on the Spanish Main.
Hughes, Culture of Complaint
When I heard of Hughes’s death I decided to read this book, one of his most widely cited. Modest in comparison to The Shock of the New, Culture of Complaint is an earlier (mid ’90s) intervention into the coruscating banality of the contemporary Culture Wars.
McCulley, The Mark of Zorro