The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

I’ve been reading books about the 1950s and 1960s.


Among them is:

1959: The Year that Changed Everything (2009).

Chapter 20, “Seeing the Invisible,” concerns the work of the photographer Robert Frank, with a focus on the latter’s The Americans (2008).

Frank Kaplan, the author of 1959, has a Ph.D. from MIT in political science, which serves as good training for journalism.


Another book is:

The Long 1968: Revisions and New Perspectives (2013).

Chapter 3, “What’s Left of the Right to the City?” concerns gentrification.

The term gentrification has a limited meaning. The underlying (and wider) concept, on which the term is based, is addressed in books such as

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)

A May 11, 2012 New York Times book review offers a critical perspective, and an interesting back story, regarding The Social Conquest of Earth.

Other relevant resources include:

Germany, Hitler, and World War II: Essays in Modern German and World History (1995)

The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction (2015)

Alice Munro

A book – which occupies the borderland between fiction and non-fiction – that brings the past to life in a way that is memorable – is The View from Castle Rock: Stories (2006) by Alice Munro.

Munro addresses what the past was about, and how it differs from and is similar to the present moment.

If you haven’t read  The View from Castle Rock; Stories (2006), a good place to start is Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 (2014), which includes one of the stories from it. It describes a journey across a body of water.

We can’t experience what happened in the past except through what we picture in our minds – through what comes to life in our imagination – when we hear or read stories, look at artifacts, or visit historical sites. Stories by Alice Munro enhance a person’s capacity to imagine the lives that people lived in the past.

Updates (1)

Also of interest: Who Owns the Earth? A Review of Fred Pearce’s The Land Grabbers

Topics discussed at this post are elaborated upon in a subsequent post:

In standard usage, gentrification is a limited term; the underlying process is of a wider import

Also of relevance: An April 6, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “The System: Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked.”

Some book titles refer to a particular year, such as 1959 or 1995, as a point during which everything changed. A March 30, 2015 New Yorker article, that discusses the practice of specifying the significance of particular years, is entitled: “Thinking Sideways: The one-dot theory of history.”

Updates (2): Maysles films that focus upon the 1960s

With regard to the year 1968, referred to earlier in this post, an excellent film that came out in the 1960s is Beatles: The First U.S. Visit by Albert and David Maysles. Another first-rate film by the Maysles brothers that captures the feeling of the 1960s is Salesman. The latter documentary focuses upon the day to day life of a bygone era, of a team of Bible salesman travelling in their 1960s American automobiles, stopping at towns across America to sell their wares. The documentary work of the Maysles brothers adopts a “direct” approach to cinematography which stands in contrast to the style of messaging associated with National Film Board productions.

The first Maysles brothers film that I saw, recently, was Grey Gardens, which has become a cult classic.

In the late 1970s when I was writing articles and film reviews for Cinema Canada, and in the years that followed, I sometimes thought about the fact that all NFB films, regardless of the topic, always embodied the same look and feel.

When I recently began to view and read about the documentary films of the Maysles brothers, I came to understand at once why, indeed, all NFB productions are similar in their effect upon the viewer.

The early history of the Film Board accounts for the enduring look and feel of its films. Every NFB film embodies a carefully crafted message; such an approach accounts for the strengths – and the limitations – of this form of cinema. The question that arises is: “So, what if I don’t want to be subjected to a message? What alternatives are available for me, as a viewer of documentaries?”

Updates (3)

Additional posts highlight related, relevant topics:

Reinventing urban democracy in Barcelona – March 25, 2015 article

Driven from New Orleans (2012), Drug Wars (2013), On the Run (2014)

Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

A May 7, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: ” ‘Forbidden Films’ Exhumes Nazi Poison From the Movie Vaults.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“The Third Reich was not only a totalitarian state but also a total multimedia regime. Seven decades after its fiery collapse, the embers remain — including some 1,200 feature films produced under Joseph Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda. Are they historical evidence, incitements to murder, fascist pornography, evergreen entertainments, toxic waste or passé kitsch? All of the above?

“Those questions are raised by ‘Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film,’ a documentary essay by the German filmmaker Felix Moeller, opening May 13 at Film Forum for a weeklong, free-admission run.

“Mr. Moeller, born 20 years after Germany’s defeat, is concerned about what he sees as youthful disinterest in the Nazi period and the concurrent rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. He arrived at “Forbidden Films,” he said by telephone from Berlin, after making ‘Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss,’ a documentary about the family legacy of Nazi Germany’s most celebrated director, Veit Harlan. Harlan’s most notorious film, “Jew Süss” (1940) — a period melodrama in which a Jewish moneylender connives to take control of the duchy of Württemberg — is as incontrovertibly anti-Semitic as it was enormously popular.”

[End of excerpt]

A May 31, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Spike Lee Comes to Film ‘Chiraq,’ Unsettling Some Chicagoans.”

A July 2, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “The Man Who Saw America.”

A July 9, 2015 New York Times Review of Books article is entitled: “How You Consist of Trillions of Tiny Machines.”

A Feb. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘My family resisted the Nazis’: why director had to film Alone in Berlin.”

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”


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