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Robert J. Crawford RSS Feed (Balmette Talloires, France)

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Horror Castle
Horror Castle
DVD ~ Sinister Cinema
Price: $8.99
3 used & new from $7.00

4.0 out of 5 stars the ultimate horror film, October 8, 2015
This review is from: Horror Castle (DVD)
Like the other reviewers, I saw this as a child and its images were branded into my imagination for the rest of my life. Newlyweds are visiting the castle of the old family in Germany, which was the base of operation of a medieval fanatic and torturer. The wife hears screams in the night. Upon investigation, she discovers a woman in an iron maiden, her eyes gouged out. She screams and when she wakes up, no one will tell her what is going on, insisting it was just a bad dream. The servants are all bizarrely taciturn and unhelpful and there is a strange American seen on the grounds, watching and snooping around. Who is the perpetrator? Who can she trust? Even her husband is acting strangely. It is so scary, and the tortures so ghastly, that the viewer forgets the strangeness and plot inconsistencies. I will not reveal what is happening, but it is surprising and completely unforseeable.

Warmly recommended for nostalgia and as good for nightmares.

Citadel to City-State: The Transformation of Greece, 1200-700 B.C.E.
Citadel to City-State: The Transformation of Greece, 1200-700 B.C.E.
by Carol G. Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.09
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Greek dark ages, October 8, 2015
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This book covers the 500 years from the collapse of Mycenean domination of the Greek mainland, through the dark ages, to the beginnings of the polis, or city-state. Due to lack of sources beyond archaeology and the occasional reference in later literature, the treatment is of necessity academic and technical in detail. Thomas structures the book to cover a single city or geographical area in some detail as the embodiment of each of these stages.

The book begins with Mycenae (think Agamemnon), which dominated almost the entire Greek world during the Bronze Age. This was the time of the citadel, an elite administrative enclave of palaces, food storage facilities, and workshops with walls to bar commoners from access. Residences of the majority of the population (peasants and slaves, who doubled as cannon fodder) were outside and obscure. The workshops produced a wide range of goods, principally for export to the other elite enclaves of the Bronze Age, in such places as Egypt, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. There was a rudimentary system of writing, Linear B, for keeping accounts, though its inflexibility as a syllabic system made the composition of poetry difficult if not impossible.

For unknown reasons, this civilization completely collapsed some time during the 12C BCE. Thomas reviews the possible causes - invasion, revolt, climate change, natural catastrophe - and chooses the current consensus view that it was a "systems failure", whereby whatever it was sparked a self-reinforcing downward spiral. The result was a near-complete breakdown in trade (and artisanal production), the complete loss of literacy, and a precipitous decline in population, probably due to starvation and violence.

The middle of the book covers what happened in a variety of cities. While there are too many distinctions to cover in a review, it boils down to a subsistence economy, the renewed importance of an oral cultural tradition, and the reorganization of small groupings in isolated locales to marshal resources for survival and security. Mycenae remained a somewhat active urban center for much of the dark age, Athens rose as a relatively dynamic area, but most of the Greek cities sunk into near-oblivion. The settlements were run by "big men", anthropologists believe, who governed by competence and their riches rather than by hereditary rights of sovereigns; they could lose their status quickly if they did not deliver the goods.

Finally, we see the rise of larger agglomerations as precursors to the golden era of the city state. Corinth is the model in this section. As the "big man" organization no longer sufficed, a new socio-political organization began to emerge, i.e. as the population and trade revived, larger groupings came together for purposes of defense and resource management as they dealt with a wider world also in recovery. This sowed the seeds, according the to authors, of a unique political culture of duty and honor as a means to glorify the city-state, i.e. the well known traits of Classical antiquity, including in some places alternating leadership. Literacy was recovered and so many great oral poems were written down (i.e. Homer) in the easier alphabet that was adapted from the Phoenician system. There is also a wonderful chapter on Hesiod (of Ascra), the first Greek poet identified as an individual of the early city-state era.

While I think the book errs on the side of inevitability of the city-state culture - we are never told why it arose in Greece the way it did - it is an interesting review and solid argument. The polis emerged as self-governing, each with its own culture, and resulted in an era of prolific experimentation in all areas.

As a classics major who has dabbled in ancient history ever since, I found the book a treat, if occasionally dry, and very well written. Though there is nothing particularly original about it, the book offers a nice review as based on concrete evidence and inference from physical remains. Nonetheless, I would recommend the book only for serious history buffs or undergraduate students - it does not cross into the territory of popular history.

In a Savage Land
In a Savage Land
Offered by Outlet Promotions
Price: $26.40
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unique coming of age film, October 7, 2015
This review is from: In a Savage Land (DVD)
If you are looking for a film that projects you into an unusual setting in a realistic manner, you can't get much better than this one. In a pre-feminist era, a very bright and touch young woman comes to work as an anthropologist alongside her new husband. It is in the late 1930s, right before the start of the war, and the land she enters is largely unspoiled by contact with the West. The only westerners there are pearl traders, a colonial administrator, and a missionary.

The young lady is an extraordinary beauty, who is full of ambition and drive. Right away, there is conflict with her husband, who views her as subordinate and out of control, a threat to his work and perhaps to herself; he may have a point, given what she discovers. As the war develops, the tension between the 2 brews until there is a blowup and the girl heads out into the bush on her own, ferried by one of the traders. At that point, the Japanese threat becomes very real, necessitating change.

I don't want to give any spoilers, so will avoid further description of the plot. Though I know nothing of the culture she was investigating, her subjects appear authentically drawn, alien and not in the slightest embellished for Hollywood reasons of style or marketing. It is just a raw adventure in which an ingenue finds herself professionally and personally. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in these themes. The acting is also superb, especially Ms. Stange and Rufus Sewell, but also Martin Donovan.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, NTSC, All Region, Import)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, NTSC, All Region, Import)
DVD ~ Delphine Seyrig

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of mundane despair, October 7, 2015
This is a remarkable experimental film, shot with a fixed camera and dull tones that perfectly reflect the crushingly slow rhythm of a life. Jeanne is a widow and prostitute, bringing up a son with whom she has a strange and empty relationship. Her life is one of numbing routine, punctuated only by paying rendezvous with nondescript men. All the while, a terrible tension is building, or so the viewer suspects. I do not wish to reveal what happens, but the viewer must take it to the end.

This is arthouse cinema at it best. Seyrig does an incredible job of acting.

The Lifeguard
The Lifeguard
DVD ~ Kristen Bell
Offered by Lunch money
Price: $6.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good characters, realistically ambiguous message on the pain of growing up, October 6, 2015
This review is from: The Lifeguard (DVD)
This film, with its sexy cover, immediately surprises with its intelligence and depth. The protagonist has hit a rough spot for the first time in her life: New York and what she has achieved as a journalist are disillusioning, as is her truncated relationship with a man already taken. So she decides to chuck it all and return home to get herself back together. Upon moving back in with her parents and getting a job as a lifeguard, she reconnects with old friends and meets some local bad boys about to drop out of high school.

Emerging from a depression, almost an early mid-life crisis, you see flashes of how smart and tough she is, as when she confronts 2 cops who are harassing the students she has befriended. You also see how she was spoiled as a golden child, particularly when conflict arises with her mother, played to perfection by Amy Madigan. There is also her best friend, a high school counselor in a difficult patch in her marriage, perhaps on the point of split up.

The affair with the boy is beautifully handled, with all the moral dilemmas and difficulties that such situations summon in real life. They like each other, find some fulfillment, and offer emotional succor in a painful time for them both. You can debate about the rightness or wrongness of it, which is never resolved though it strains her old friendship. Once tragedy intervenes, it becomes very moving - and again, you see the strength of the young lady and how much she really has to give. The viewer senses that she can get back up and make it.

This struck me as emotionally real. It isn't for everyone because it is meant to be very serious. Recommended.

Creation of the Humanoids (1962) Classic Sci-fi and Horror Movie DVD-R
Creation of the Humanoids (1962) Classic Sci-fi and Horror Movie DVD-R
DVD ~ Frances McCann

3.0 out of 5 stars Static, with very little action, but interesting ideas, October 6, 2015
This film was playing the first time I was NYC and my dad took me to see it in Times Square. I have remembered it every since and was curious to how I would react today. The story is post-Apocalyptic, when human have created robots that are approaching sentience. Humans need the robots to work, given the devastation of the nuclear war, which has impacted birth rates to such an extent that the human race finds itself threatened. There is a group of humans who oppose the robot refinements, kind of vigilante terrorists who monitor the behavior of robots and challenge them whenever they can.

Something is clearly afoot, but the principal protagonist - one of the vigilantes - can't figure it out. He discovers that his sister has purchased a robot as a mate, which he vehemently opposes; at the same time, he meets a woman with whom he quickly falls in love, something he has seems never to have done. Programmed apparently in accordance with Asimov's 3 laws of robotics, they cannot harm humans and must work for the good of man. I do not wish to play the spoiler, but the resolution and explanation are quite surprising and interesting - it is true hard scifi.

The film offers an interesting take on how society is developing alongside the robots. The ethical dilemmas posed are similar to the ones in Ex Machina. Unfortunately, the pace of the film is very slow and the acting is mediocre.

The Angry Red Planet
The Angry Red Planet
Price: $2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad and defintely hard scifi, if dated, October 6, 2015
This is one of those films that I never saw on TV though wanted to after perusing its images in Famous Monsters of Filmland. In fact, it is better than a mere monster movie - there are details based on (50s) science and an overall message that is quite fun.

A spaceship comes back from Mars with only half the crew; one is stricken with some kind of disease, which they fear could infect the world. His lover, a tough doctor, can't remember what happened at first and then does after receiving a "memory drug". She tells the story of an exotic planet full of dangers and an encounter with a alien civilization as well as a giant amoeba, which infects her partner. Once she cures him, they find the alien message, which is more interesting than the normal good guy-bad guy stuff. It is truly on the level of, say, early Isaac Asimov, though in light of Mars science it makes a lot of laughable mistakes.


Day the World Ended
Day the World Ended
DVD ~ Richard Denning

5.0 out of 5 stars Corman's best, October 6, 2015
This review is from: Day the World Ended (DVD)
This was one of those films I saw late and night that scared the bejeezus out of me. I even had nightmares about it. Seeing it again, it still worked on me, recalling my fears of "radiation", nuclear war, hostile mutants.

As this is so old, I will not attempt to avoid spoilers, but give a review as hard scifi. The story begins in the aftermath of a nuclear, with a hard, taciturn man talking to his daughter. He is a survivalist with inside knowledge about what radiation exposure can do; his house was shielded from radioactive fallout by the lead in the surrounding hills. As other characters arrive, he at first wants to keep them out, but his daughter convinces him to share their provisions. One arrival has carried a man mutated by the fallout, who is the link to the world beyond the hills. Though the mutant seems to be losing his mind, it is clear he is evolving in a new direction - he prefers to eat raw meat and regularly goes hunting. There is also a criminal type (the Mannix actor) and his flouzy girlfriend.

As provisions start to run out, the occupants of the house grow desperate, fighting among themselves to the point of murder. There are also incursions from the outside, including a starving mutant who warns that there are many stronger than himself; their observations of him as he expires are horrible, such as his clawed hands, slimy "atomic" skin. The next day, his carcass is discovered eaten - whatever it is out there will not shrink from human flesh.

The daughter, who lost her fiancee but likes the good guy, feels she is being called by someone, perhaps someone she knows. In the climax, the creature comes for her, but dies when clean rain -washes the contamination away. The surviving couple walk over the hills into the regenerating world.

This is really good hard scifi with elements of horror as the radiation creates mutants. I was terrified at the mutant's monologue about "wonderful things are happening out there", as if an entire new, savage ecosystem was evolving.

Warmly recommended for the sake of nostalgia and diehard fans of scifi.

I Served the King of England
I Served the King of England
DVD ~ Martin Huba
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $4.79
72 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely tale of a middle aged man looking back on a tumultuous life in interesting times, October 3, 2015
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This review is from: I Served the King of England (DVD)
This is a very fun historical panorama, told from the point of view of an ambitious Czech everyman. It spans the year from the early 1930s to about 1965. In terms of the plot, he is released from prison, the reasons for his incarceration a mystery. He has to go to somewhere near the border as part of his rehabilitation, taking over a decrepit restaurant while paving a road. He is cheerful, thinking about this past and looking ahead, meeting interesting people and making friends. What follows is a wonderful interweaving of the past and present as he reviews his life. You see his rise from a hot dog salesman at the rail station to the owner of the finest hotel in the region. Intelligent and observant, in part because he is short, he learns the ropes of his profession, occasionally tasting of its fruits and eventually marrying a German girl he meets in the aftermath of the Sudetenland crisis. He then runs afoul of the communist putsch in 1947 and is imprisoned for nearly 15 years. During his time as an ex con, he seems to come to terms with his life and it is beautiful.

Warmly recommended.

Empire of Cotton: A Global History
Empire of Cotton: A Global History
by Sven Beckert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.25
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How slavery, colonialism, and strong states laid the foundations of modern prosperity, October 3, 2015
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This is a strong academic treatment of how the modern industrial economy was born: heavy in detail, clear in analysis, if somewhat dry at times. While much of the ground has been covered before, the synthesis, breadth, and grand themes that emerge are unavailable in a single volume anywhere else, to my knowledge. For me, it was a seminal reading experience, a necessary perspective that brought things together in a way that will influence my view of modern society for the rest of my life.

The principal idea of the book is that the cotton industry, which represented the first step in the development of the modern industrial economy, was created by slavery and brutal and ever-more-efficient state coercion in cooperation with private capital. Global in scale, this convergence of factors would re-fashion the everyday lives of a majority of people on the planet - subordinating their working days to the rhythms of machines, opening the way to unprecedented prosperity for many, and enabling decisionmakers far from their homes to control the lives of people they will never meet.

Beckert sees several steps in these developments. In the beginning, there was the development of "war capitalism". In a nutshell, this was the forcible appropriation of land and labor, with the cooperation of a primitive form of the state. While cotton had been in use for millenia, it was limited to small, very local, networks at this time. As demand grew and new forms of mechanized manufacture began to appear, war capitalism vastly increased the scale of cotton cultivation, employing slaves to undertake the backbreaking work of clearing the land and then the thankless task of harvesting the cotton - their utility was cheap labor that could be forced to work by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the state aided in the acquisition of land - because it exhausted the soil quickly, cotton required continual expansion - and the displacement or elimination of whomever was unfortunate enough to occupy that land, in most case Amer-Indians. For their part, capitalist traders emerged in Manchester, a mercantile capital that gained tremendous market influence and political power to bring the state into alignment with their interests.

The next phase opened with the invention of new means of production, in particular in the harnessing of chemical power in mills of ever-expanding scale and with elaborate forms of administrative innovation. At the same time, the state got involved with the protection and establishment of markets for their goods, both in supply but also for selling, i.e the distribution of goods. Industry was national and nationalistic. The natural culmination of this was the colonial enterprise. This was the second great legacy of the cotton empire: the de-industrialization and control of vast new territories. For example, the skills required for the production of the fine muslin of India were completely and forever destroyed. The native populations were subjugated to this order, fitting integrally into a hierarchy that exploited them while enriching captains of industry and politicians in colonial capitals. Meanwhile, manufacturing facilities became the source of massive employment, drawing people from the countryside to urban that grew to then-incredible proportions.

Furthermore, the state remained intimately involved in the development of the economy in the major colonial states, not only in the development of supporting infrastructure, but in the legal subjugation of workers for the protection of the evolving industrial practices. This was the crucial step in the virtuous circle that arose of self-reinforcing economic development, resulting in a far more intricate and complex industrial economy by initiating additional product cycles. It can only be described as a revolution that changed our lives so fundamentally that it is on a par with the neolithic revolution.

Of particular interest is the evolution of the political economy of slavery. It was seen as a necessity for cotton production in the American South - a phenomenally profitable enterprise that created capital for further industrial investment that benefited all free Americans regardless of location - and as a crucial basic resource for all the new manufacturing powers. When the American Civil War began, it severely disrupted the world economy, based as it was on cotton, and the industrialized nations desperately sought to increase the supply of raw cotton. After that war, it was proven that low-wage sharecroppers could be counted on to produce cotton in a profitable way, supported as it was by state and private repression of the newly freed slaves. The colonial powers took note of this. In the US South, this arrangement was to survive for almost a full century, when automated cotton picking was finally perfected in the 1940s.

The most recent phase of the industry is its globalization, a shift of manufacturing to the former colonies. The real power came to lay in transnational corporations - predominantly retailers like Walmart or Gap - that were no longer subject to coherent national legal jurisdictions, hence largely disconnected from nationalistic considerations. While this caused the precipitous decline of once-prosperous cities like Liverpool, it is part of the ebb of flow of capitalism. Organizational innovation extended to the development of massive logistical networks to handle getting cotton to manufacturers and then distributing their low-cost products in developed nations at a hefty profit. As this is so new, it is the least developed portion of the book. I suspect it decisively locks Third World producers and manufacturers into a lower-value added position, where design and brand generate greater profits for transnational corporations that no longer need to worry about so many employees in their home base of operation.

The implications of the book are of great interest and relevancy. First, it proves that the free classes all benefited directly and lastingly from slavery as an enabler of the first phase of industrialization. Without slaves (and subsequently share croppers or colonial serfs), both investment capital and the self-reinforcing and expanding product base of consumer capitalism would have accumulated far more slowly, perhaps over centuries rather than decades. This is the best argument for reparations that I have yet seen - the line from slavery and colonialism to prosperity for most of us is direct, while the descendants of slaves and serfs remain exploited and oppressed. Second, the state functioned as a crucial support for the development of private enterprise, from protecting nascent industries to enforcing laws that favored the manufacturing class. This flies in the face of neoliberal ideology, which argues for a "free trade" that locks the developing world into an inferior status.

This book is a wonderful intellectual adventure, its ideas are far more subtle than I could ever express here. It is a bit too academic for my taste, covering developments in exhaustive detail, but on the whole it is a page turner. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.

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