Reading and Screening

Here’s a reading list and a filmography for those lassitudinous days of summer.

Books I read Spring semester when I should have been doing other things:

David Peace, Nineteen Seventy-Four

I’d set this crime novel against anything written by James Ellroy or Massimo Carlotto in terms of its terse syntax and hardcore violence. The basis (with the other books from the Red Riding Quartet) for a series of recent film adaptations. Peace’s four novels have been celebrated as “an occult history of Thatcherism” (i.e. neoliberalism).

Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island

As you’d expect, a Positivistic adventure story, one loosely based on actual historical events, a kind of Robinson Crusoe for the late 19th century. This is a long book, but it makes few demands in terms of intelligibility. It is also the subject of a sustained critique in Pierre Macherey’s Theory of Literary Production.

Margrit Schiller, Remembering the Armed Struggle

An autobiography from one of the 1st generation of the Baader-Meinhof Group that, crucially, puts the phenomenon of political violence in West Germany in perspective. Schiller’s transformation was linked to her deepening conviction that the personal (sexual identity, depression, family conflict) is related to the political. Originally a member of the Socialist Patients’ Collective, she went underground, was arrested, and spent some time in the “dead section” of prison, where inmates were kept in extreme isolation.

Kim Chang Nam, K-Pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music

A primer for the K-pop curious that goes back to the era of Japanese colonialism. Much straightforward factual information, with a degree of emphasis on the Korean popular music as culture industry product.

George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle

A short roman noir about a small time gun runner. Fans of the film Killing Them Softly  (based on Higgins’s Coogan’s Trade) will likely appreciate the dialog, which has been described as bearing a resemblance to the plays of David Mamet.

Hillary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

A follow-up to the remarkable Wolf Hall (which also won the Booker Award, an unprecedented back-to-back coup for Mantel), this novel represents historical fiction at its most compelling. BUB follows the declining fortunes of Anne Boleyn and the political labyrinth of Tudor England filtered through the subjectivity of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right hand.

Films Watched During Spring Semester:


Unfortunately, this film is very topical given the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. It tells the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA soldier who sacrificed his life to gain recognition as a political prisoner.

Killing Them Softly

Based on George Higgins’s Coogan’s Trade.  70s atmosphere, an emphasis on dialog, and some highly stylized violence.

The Great Gatsby

Tobey MacGuire has the unenviable role of the narrator of Baz Luhrman’s tricked-out adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel. The best scenes occur in the wasteland separating West Egg from Manhattan.


Mike Leigh’s comic celebration of Gilbert and Sullivan with flashes of insight into the world of late-Victorian London.

Welcome to Nollywood

In terms of films produced, Nigeria has the second largest film industry in the world. This doc gives a sense of what it means to make a film with almost nothing to hand.

The Scapegoat

A muted British thriller (from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier). A chance meeting of doubles. The dwindling fortunes of an English manor. A cad. An honest man. Redemption and punishment.

Viva Riva!

From Congo, a brisk thriller that tells the story of a smuggler, a femme fatale,  and the shadow economy.

Police, Adjective

A deliberately-paced police procedural– no car chases or gun-play– that addresses issues of justice and law.

A Royal Affair

A film about love and Enlightenment values.

Reykjavik to Rotterdam

Not the best crime film I’ve seen lately, but it addresses the issue of smuggling– a form of economic activity that accounts for a sizable portion of global trade.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Can’t recommend this doc highly enough. An idiosyncratic and highly instructive tour through the history of world cinema.

Michael Clayton

Tilda Swinton excels as a morally-impaired yet very human corporate executive.


Margarethe von Trotta’s compelling film about Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century Benedictine nun.


An Austrian ex-con and a prostitute from Ukraine attempt a bank robbery.

If a Tree Falls

An interesting biography of a member of the Earth Liberation Front, whose conviction for the destruction of property led to “terrorism enhancements” which compounded his sentence. In a society obsessed with “security” matters, this documentary examines motives for direct action, police procedures, and draconian legislation.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

The abandonment of public housing in recent years can be traced, in part, back to the history of Pruitt-Igoe. Great documentary.

2 thoughts on “Reading and Screening

  1. Bob

    I remember watching TOPSY-TURVY at the Elmwood when it first came out. Great film. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with Ray Harryhausen’s version of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND from 1961. Probably beats reading the book.

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