You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Culture Briefs

- - Monday, September 27, 2010

Not the Duke

"During the making of 'The Shootist' (1976), Don Siegel's rich, elegiac western about an ageing gunfighter dying of 'a cancer,' its star John Wayne became too ill to film. The actor had had a lung removed twelve years earlier and was now struggling with the stomach cancer that would eventually lead to his death in 1979.

"A few days later, when Wayne bravely returned to the set, he picked a quarrel with the director, who had carried on filming a gunfight scene in his absence, over the way his character was shown killing a villain.

"He forced Siegel to redo the scene, declaring: 'Whatever the cause, I would never shoot anyone in the back. It's unthinkable for my image. … I spent many years in this business building up my image.'"

Philip Horne, writing on "John Wayne: One last shot before the final farewell," on Sept. 20 at the Daily Telegraph

Sci-fi science

"If we count things like time travel, I've long said that (the actual device and the whole traveling nude thing aside) the original 'Terminator' handles time travel better than any other movie I've ever seen. The entire thing is a completely self-consistent time loop, from John Conner's parentage and survivalist training, to the picture of Sarah Conner that finds its way to Kyle Reese. No grandfather paradoxes at all, but there are information paradoxes.

"'2001' does a great job dealing with things like how long it would really take to get to another planet, and especially with the artificial gravity aspects of things. For that matter, I was kind of surprised to note that if you pay attention to the details, the trip to Pandora in 'Avatar' seems well thought out. They mention (in an off-handed sort of way) how long the trip takes and why the soldiers need to be kept in cryo. It sounds like they're taking a trip to Alpha Centauri. The whole thing about magical trees and unobtanium, not so much."

Physicist David Goldberg, quoted by Analee Newitz in "Six scientists tell us about the most accurate science fiction in their fields," on Sept. 22 at Mad Science

End of Tolstoy

"This year is the centenary of [Leo] Tolstoy's death. The anniversary was marked by the UK release of the film 'The Last Station,' based on the novel of the same name by Jay Parini, which depicts the last months of Tolstoy's life as the chronic tensions in his relationship with his wife Sophia came to a head. …

"Yet by the time of Tolstoy's death in 1910 the international movement he inspired was in decline and many former Tolstoyans had turned to other socialist or cooperative enterprises. There are well-rehearsed reasons for the failure of individual initiatives. Disagreements over publishing enterprises or within colonies tested the concept of brotherly love to its limits. In several cases the doctrine of nonresistance was put to the test when individuals claimed the right to land or property. At the Christian Commonwealth a small group of members filed for receivership of the corporation, obliging the majority either to abandon their principles and resist the application, or to lose their land altogether. Many Tolstoyan publishing enterprises struggled for funds; Ohne Staat closed for this reason in 1899.

"Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams, a prominent Russian liberal, wrote: 'For a whole week, from the day of Tolstoy's departure to the day of his death, people talked, and many thought, of nothing else.' Yet the writer's actions still divided opinion. The proprietor of the Morning Post, Lady Bathurst, wrote to her paper's St. Petersburg correspondent to remonstrate with him over the sympathetic tone his telegrams on Tolstoy had been taking. She had no time for such cranks."

Charlotte Alston, writing on "Tolstoy's Guiding Light," on Sept. 23 at History Today