Christopher Stevens reviews last night’s TV: Raise a glass to the 79-year-old rock rebel still furious over Russian repression
The present history of Simon Schama
Kudos to the researcher for Simon Schama’s History of Now (BBC2), who realized that the best way to talk to the seasoned Czech rocker was to interview him in a pub over breakfast.
‘Morning beer, it’s very important,’ said disgruntled musician Vratislav Brebenek, aged 79, a founding member of The Plastic People of the Universe. The fast was a thorn in the side of the communist regime in the 1970s. He said, ‘I got jailed because I played the saxophone,’ and many would agree that sax players often deserve it – but The Plastic People’s crimes were political, not musical.
The band led the Moscow resistance, playing underground gigs at Refusnik and the house of playwright Vaclav Havel. He symbolized all things in this documentary, in which ‘history’ was less important than ‘now’. He delivers an impassioned denunciation of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, exploring how music, literature and art fought back against communist oppression.
Kudos to the researcher for Simon Schama’s History of Now (BBC2) who realized the best way to talk to the seasoned Czech rocker was to interview him in a pub over breakfast
Kneeling in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, he said, ‘I am deeply disturbed by what is happening now. Humanity cannot tolerate the liquidation of democracy. I read people saying that it is of no use to us. This is always our business. We don’t want to see democracy die: “Shut up, buy a new pair of sneakers and get on a plane to Ibiza, and who gives a toss?” I’m an old man and I don’t want to die with the world selling myself in that crummy river.’
His plea was apparently all the more heartfelt for being unapologetic, delivered with a smile of anguish and despair.
The event was also notable for an interview with exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, describing how Beijing’s autocrats ransacked her studio, and Russian performance artist Nadya Tolokonnikova, of the punk band Pussy Riot.
Of the brutal treatment meted out to her in 2012 after she was arrested for mocking Putin in song at a Moscow cathedral, she said, ‘Really nothing could be worse in my life than death.’
It was an urgent reminder that, nine months after the Russian invasion, Ukraine is still fighting for its existence – and we would be guilty of betrayal if we allowed ourselves to forget that.
Cinema historians discussing film noir (Sky Arts), including 90-year-old critic Derek Malcolm, reveal how early film directors also fought against political repression, including the rise of Nazism.
Excerpts from Fritz Lang’s 1933 film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, featured a crude but effective special effect intended to emulate Hitler’s hypnotic power over ordinary Germans. In a double exposure, a ghostly figure of a demon hovered behind a man and then became absorbed into his body.
The event was also notable for an interview with exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who described how Beijing’s autocrats ransacked her studio, and Russian performance artist Nadya Tolokonnikova of the punk band Pussy Riot.
After the film’s premiere, Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels called Lang to tell him how much Der Führer enjoyed his early work. , , The latter stuff, not so much.
Lang took the hint and fled to America. In previous editions of this series the critics have been portrayed by Neil Norman, Ian Nathan and Stephen Armstrong in stilted conversation around a table, or in leather armchairs like buffs in a gentlemen’s club. This time, his contributions were filmed separately and were meant to be explicit – though still very verbose.
His look at the history of noir is limited to a handful of seminal films. His central theory was that classics such as The Big Sleep and The Third Man owed as much to the silent expressionist films of Germany as they did to Hollywood gangster thrillers.
It made me impatient to go and watch all those great movies again.