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Culture Briefs

- - Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still relevant

"As I teach it, 'The Iliad' is primarily about a fundamental choice Achilleus must make … what kind of life is best for human beings, or, at least, what kind of life is best for him. Given the constraints of Homeric society, he sees his choices as either a short life crowned with immortal glory arising from extraordinary exploits on the battlefield at Troy, or else a long life of quiet enjoyment with wife and family back in his homeland. The decision is greatly complicated by the fact that one alternative — the life of heroic deeds and immortal glory — is the one that the conventional morality of Homeric society categorically commends. …

"Read in this way, 'The Iliad' is an ideal text to help young people begin thinking about the central philosophical and moral questions about the good life for human beings and the relation of these questions to the conventional morality of our society. Students taking core courses like Columbia's Literature Humanities or Villanova's Augustine and Culture Seminar are generally only eighteen years old (about the same age as Achilleus, incidentally), and, self-consciously or otherwise, almost all of them are asking themselves for the first time the same kinds of questions that Achilleus is asking: they want to know what makes for a good human life, what kind of life is worth choosing, which things are good and should be pursued, which are bad and ought be avoided. They want to know how they should live … Read in this way, 'The Iliad' is very much their book."

Robert T. Miller, writing on "Achilleus Now: Core Texts, the Good Life, and Democratic Society," in the fall issue of Dappled Things

Back story

"An interesting background story on that memorable song ['Movin' on Up']: If you remember the series 'Good Times,' you may recall Ja'net Dubois being cast as Florida's friend and neighbor, Wilona.

"What most don't realize is that Dubois was an accomplished musician and singer. When she learned that 'The Jeffersons' would be spinning off from 'All in the Family,' she asked producer Norman Lear if she could write the theme song. Lear was not interested and gave her a flat-out "no." He had used known composers for other sitcom themes and wanted to stick with what he knew.

"The persistent Dubois nagged at him, again and again; finally, just to get her off his back, Lear agreed that she could at least submit a theme for his consideration. She co-wrote "Movin' On Up" with composer Jeff Barry and then sang the theme herself, backed by a gospel choir.

"The rest, as they say, is history."

Elizabeth Scalia, writing on "'Movin' On Up'; the Background!" on Dec. 7 at her First Things blog, the Anchoress

From the past

"The list of talented directors bringing European films to America is staggering: Italian neo-realists such as Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti; in France, the new wave of Truffaut and Godard among others; Bunuel from Spain, Kurosawa from Japan, the British high art of Lawrence Olivier and David Lean, followed by the bitter, gritty realism of 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,' 'Room at the Top' and 'Look Back in Anger.' And towering over them all was Ingmar Bergman. … A middle-brow culture maven of the 1950s and '60s could easily name more than a dozen European directors. Today I doubt that a comparable person could name even three.

"But if these auteur giants gave foreign films their cachet and more than the patina of intellectual substance, they were all trumped by Brigitte Bardot … . Starting with 'And God Created Woman,' which became the most successful foreign film up to its day, Bardot's movies created a close (and not incorrect) association of sex with foreign movies."

Harry Chotiner, writing on "European Invasion" on Nov. 30 at the New Republic blog, the Book