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Are You Not Entertained? Books, TV, Movies

Always on the quest for excellent entertainment, here continues a series of a quick report of above-average finds.

BOOKS

 

The German Girl (2016) by Armando Lucas Correa. Historical Fiction. A fine opportunity to tell the story of the plight of the passengers of the St. Louis, when in 1939, 900 passengers sailed from Hamburg to Havana. They were mostly German-Jewish refugees escaping from the Nazi regime. The protagonist is a 12-year-old girl named Hannah Rosenthal. Her wealthy family hoped to start a new life in Cuba. Her best friend Leo and her father are refused entry. The ship leaves without Hannah and her mother who are forced to live in Cuba. After failed attempts to disembark in Canada or the United States, the St. Louis is forced to return to Germany where the passengers meet their demise. There is a duo narration between Hannah the girl who grows and ages in Cuba and her eventual grand-niece, who pieces together the mysterious puzzle of her aunt’s life.  It’s a good story but falls short at times. Hannah’s life in Cuba is glossed over. It would have been better had Correa devoted more time to the challenges facing the Jewish pair living in Cuba. 4/5.

Lilac Girls (2017)  by Martha Hall Kelly. Historical Fiction. A fascinating topic concerning the Rabbits, the female concentration camp victims at Ravensbrück, who suffered medical experiments. The POV alternates between three characters based on real people. It’s sophisticated, interesting and a gripping account of WWII and the aftermath. Set in New York, Paris, Germany, and Poland, Caroline the New York sophisticate and survivor Kasia bring justice to those that time has forgotten. 4.2/5

MOVIES

A Fortunate Man (2018)2018 Danish drama film directed by Bille August. Starring Esben Smed Jensen, it’s an intellectual film about a nineteenth-century ambitious young man named Lykke-Per who escapes his strict Lutheran family in remote Denmark and becomes an important engineer in Copenhagen. He is a man who seeks opportunity and advances himself in any way possible. He’s a flawed character which makes him interesting to watch and Jensen gives a fine performance. It’s a beautiful film about the possibilities of technology from the 1880s and Lykke-Per is complex and likable despite poor decisions. Equally important is the role of Katrine Rosenthal, the spinsterly oldest daughter of a Jewish family who sponsors Lykke-Per’s projects. The actress who plays the progressive feminist is Jakobe Salamon. She is marvelous. It’s long with a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. If you have time to kill and want sumptuous scenery and fine acting with interesting ideas and a convincing protagonist, you can find it on Netflix. 4/5

The Professor and the Madman (2019). Great fun seeing Mel Gibson and Sean Penn give convincing performances depicting the making of the OED. The irony does not fail me — how odd that a Scotsman and an American would have a huge influence over the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I loved it. The story, the acting, the story-line. I don’t know how authentic this film is based on “the incredible true story”, but I was greatly entertained. Check out the trailer. 4/5

TELEVISION

So as I was preparing to go to Scotland and London this summer, I watched a lot of United Kingdom storylines. Purely to get me in the mood.

Outlander (2014 -) At first I thought it was a Harlequin Romance put to television, but I did have to concede how historically interesting and the culture of the highlanders were displayed to my utter satisfaction. Details were accurate and the setting was absolutely what I was looking for. Of all things, my mother (at 78) recommended it to me. I was shocked at the graphic sex in the first season. I blushed. Now I understood what my young colleagues were talking about when they mentioned how exquisite Jamie Fraser was played by the buffy actor Sam Eughan. I offhandedly heard of the novels written in the 1990s by the author Diana Gabaldon but I was unaware Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. I am growing restless at the end of season two and might switch to Reign. It is about Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart. My mom says it’s better. We’ll see. 4/5

Luther (2010-)  This was easy to binge on. My blogging buddies, Pete and Abbi O, raved about it so I gave it a go. I got through a few seasons easily. Idris Elba plays Luther, a brilliant but emotionally impulsive detective who is tormented by the dark side of humanity while hunting down murderers. The cat and mouse plots are top-rate albeit gory. The best part of the series is the unusual relationship he has with psychopath Alice Morgan played to perfection by Ruth Wilson. 4.5/5

DOCUMENTARY

May it Last (2017) The Avett Brothers are refreshing because they don’t follow the pattern of a band rising up to stardom via sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I love their music and their relationships are heartwarming. Authentic and beautiful, their story will move you to tears in parts. 4/5.

This is the prettiest, astute song I’ve heard in ages. “No Hard Feelings”

culture, education, history, History in Films, In My Opinion, inspiration, movies

WWII: Nazism

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Demonize the enemy–a trick of propaganda. Even beloved icons are guilty of it like Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. Dr. Seuss was a prolific political activist during WWII and created hundreds of political cartoons for New York newspaper PM (1940-1948). He criticized the U.S. for its lethargy for entering the war. He criticized racist, anti-black labor practices in U.S. industries. He criticized regimes in general. His anti-Japanese caricatures prompted an apology later with Horton Hears a Who Atlantic Monthly, Seuss Takes on Hitler. I invite you to explore the University of California San Diego library which features Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons.  UCSD Dr. Seuss Goes to War Special Collections

This ten minute Walt Disney film parodied and simplified the complex issue of Germans embracing Nazism. Mixing facts with hasty generalizations, the format of the cartoon made it easier to swallow in the guise of education.

In history class the other day, students annotated a scholarly article for homework. I selected a half-dozen to lead a discussion. At the end of the article, students were asked to answer several questions. Susie, one of my “very” students–very dedicated, very charming, very smart, very ambitious–confidently described the article. Then it came time to share the answers at the end of the article. I told the class to listen to their peer leaders and fill in any gaps they had missed. It they didn’t have the answer, now was a good time to get the information.

Outraged, Susie yelled, “Why should I tell them the answers? I stayed up late last night to prepare for today. Why would I help out those who didn’t bother to do it? That’s not fair!”

Red warning flags flapped. Ghosts from the Holocaust nudged me to handle her outburst promptly. No, Susie is not a Nazi, but her attitude reeked of it.

Many know the secret of manipulation lies in the power of propaganda; nations around the world used it to influence their citizens in WWI and WWII. For example, you might have heard of the George Creel Committee established during WWI to create propaganda posters to persuade the nation to enter the war. Eugenics was a global phenomenon, and a philosophy embraced in the 19th and 20th centuries for establishing a racial superiority.   NARA power of persuasion  Propaganda sets up an elitist, “It’s us against them” hierarchy. Propaganda simplifies complex issues and fosters a black and white mentality. Propaganda is a biased attempt to persuade and shape public opinion.

“The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced –and unchecked, propaganda can have negative consequences.” United States Holocaust Museum

An interesting aspect of Nazism was the expectations placed on women. Wife/mother schools accepted Arian pure bloods and encouraged athleticism. Healthy mothers were essential for producing a brood of Nordic-looking children. The Fatherland rewarded you with a house and accolades. The opportunity for financial stability and affirmation enticed many women in Nazi Germany.

Women of Nazi Germany, was a British documentary produced by Dunja Noack and directed by Cate Haste and first broadcast in 2001. Surviving SS and Nazi women gave their historical account including Hitler’s last personal secretary, Traudl Junge. She was a principal character played by Alexandra Lara in the critically acclaimed film, Downfall (2004).

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Bruno Ganz gave an electrifying performance. It was a film that succeeded in showing the cult of Adolf Hitler. The extent to which Mrs. Goebbels honored the Fatherland and Hitler chilled me to the bone. Hitler’s perverse ambition to create an Aryan, 1000-year-old German Reich ruined countries and murdered millions. Similarly, in the Pacific Theater, the Japanese emperor demanded absolute obedience from all citizens. Both countries expected the great sacrifice–death than defeat to the Allies. WWII baffles my mind. It always depresses me.

Back to Susie.

In my opinion,  when one meets a new person, the mind clicks “yes”, “maybe”, or “no” with a snap decision. Take that impulse and what will you do with it? If you listen to the influences of your culture, it will shape that first impulse. I think humans are malleable. We want to feel accepted and loved, and we succumb to instant gratification–that is, we feel first and think later. Generally speaking. An ideal, a better way of life, a promise–these are the instruments of the demon as well as the angel.

Who knows why some of her classmates didn’t do their homework? There have been good and bad excuses since there have been students and teachers. When Susie felt contempt for her classmates, when she felt superior and brazenly rejected them, I felt fear. People weren’t born Nazis. It took years to cultivate that hateful ideology. Susie was not racially but intellectually contemptuous. Still, once one starts believing they are better than another, it’s a dangerous journey. Intolerance and malignity are ingredients; if fed, they grow into a cancer.

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I told Susie she would feel satisfaction if she shared her strengths with her classmates. Her “very” gifts gave her an advantage; she was certain to become a leader. I told her true leaders embrace compassion, not contempt. I don’t know if she heard me, but I hope so on behalf of the multi-millions who had no voice in WWII and perished because of malignity and intoleration.