Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, December 31, 2023

The General - A1927 Silent Movie - Directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman- 1 Hour 15 Minutes

 Available on YouTube In a beautifully restored version 

Director: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

Producer: Buster Keaton, Joseph M. Schenck

Writer: Clyde Bruckman, Al Boasberg, Buster Keaton, William Pittenger, Charles Smith, Paul Smith

Release Date (Theaters): Feb 5, 1927

"The General” was voted one of the 10 greatest films of all time in the authoritative Sight & Sound poll. Who knows if it is even Keaton's greatest? Others might choose “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” (1928). His other classics include “Our Hospitality” (1923), “The Navigator” (1924), “Go West” (1925) and “The Cameraman” (1928), in which he played a would-be newsreel photographer who lucks into his career.......

Today I look at Keaton's works more often than any other silent films. They have such a graceful perfection, such a meshing of story, character and episode, that they unfold like music. Although they're filled with gags, you can rarely catch Keaton writing a scene around a gag; instead, the laughs emerge from the situation; he was “the still, small, suffering center of the hysteria of slapstick,” wrote the critic Karen Jaehne. And in an age when special effects were in their infancy, and a “stunt” often meant actually doing on the screen what you appeared to be doing, Keaton was ambitious and fearless. He had a house collapse around him. He swung over a waterfall to rescue a woman he loved. He fell from trains. And always he did it in character, playing a solemn and thoughtful man who trusts in his own ability" Roger Ebert

Set during the American Civil War, "The General" follows Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves two things: his sweetheart Annabelle Lee and his locomotive, "The General."

When Union spies steal "The General" with Annabelle aboard, Johnny embarks on a daring solo mission to rescue both his love and his engine.

The film is a mix of slapstick comedy, action sequences, and even some pathos, as Johnny faces danger and heartbreak in his quest.

The film is known for its innovative stunts and gags, many of which Keaton performed himself without the use of special e

While "The General" was not a commercial success upon its release, it has since gained widespread acclaim and is now considered one of the greatest silent films ever made.

The film is often praised for its humor, action, and technical mastery, as well as its surprisingly nuanced portrayal of the Civil War

Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Navigator - A 1924 Silent Movie - Directed by and Starring Buster Keaton- 59 Minutes

 The Navigator - A 1924 Silent Movie - Directed by and Starring Buster Keaton- 59 Minutes

Roger Ebert celebrates the wonderous work of Buster Keaton 

Available on YouTube In a beautifully 
restored version.

The Plot: Wealthy Rollo Treadway (played by Keaton) plans a romantic cruise to propose to his neighbor Betsy. But things go awry, and he ends up on a different ship, leading to comedic adventures on the high seas.

Buster Keaton's Brilliance: The film showcases Keaton's signature style of physical comedy, with incredible stunts, deadpan expressions, and ingenious gags. From navigating a moving staircase to battling a mischievous cow, he keeps the audience in stitches.

Critical Acclaim: The Navigator was a huge success, both critically and commercially. It was praised for its originality, humor, and Keaton's performance. It's even preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress

The scenes with the cannibal islanders might  be considered racist today.

I loved the underwater scenes.

The Navigator is a showcase for Keaton's mastery of physical comedy. He performs incredible stunts and gags, often defying gravity and logic with his deadpan expression and impeccable timing.

Remembered scenes include him nonchalantly swinging from the mast of a storm-tossed ship, trying to catch a hat that's blown away by the wind, and even using a live cow to churn butter.

The film also showcases Keaton's inventive use of props and sets. The dilapidated freighter becomes a playground for his comedic genius, with every corner offering new opportunities for slapstick and visual humor.
Legacy and Impact:

The Navigator was a critical and commercial success, solidifying Keaton's position as one of the greatest silent film comedians. 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Mr. and Mrs. Smith - 1941- Directed by Alfred Hitchcock- starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery- 1 Hour 34 Minutes

 Available on YouTube 

Carole Lombard starred in one of my all time favourite movies, To Be or Not to Be, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. 

Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery in Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941- directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a delightful romantic comedy with witty dialogue, slapstick humor, and plenty of physical comedy. Lombard and Montgomery are perfectly cast as the playful and bickering couple, and their chemistry is undeniable. Hitchcock's signature visual flair is also present, even in this lighthearted film, with clever camera angles and editing techniques adding to the humor.

While not Hitchcock's most typical film, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a charming and entertaining screwball comedy that offers a welcome change of pace from his usual thrillers. It's a timeless classic that's sure to please fans of romantic comedies and classic Hollywood cinema 

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941) is a classic screwball comedy film directed by none other than the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. It stars the glamorous Carole Lombard and the charming Robert Montgomery as a married couple whose seemingly perfect life gets turned upside down when they discover their marriage is actually invalid.

Image of Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941 movie posterOpens in a new window

Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941 movie poster

The film follows David and Ann Smith, a wealthy New York couple whose relationship, while loving, is prone to playful bickering and elaborate rules for resolving arguments. One morning, a seemingly innocuous question from Ann about whether they'd get married again if they had the chance throws their world into chaos. David's honest answer, that he enjoys the freedom of bachelorhood too much, leads to a major fight. This, in turn, triggers a chain of events that reveals a shocking truth: due to a technicality, their marriage license is invalid.

Suddenly single, Ann decides to explore the dating pool once more. She quickly starts seeing Jeff, a handsome colleague of David's, leaving David feeling jealous and determined to win his wife back. The film then takes us on a hilarious journey as David employs increasingly outlandish tactics to recapture Ann's heart, from serenading her with a mariachi band to pretending to be a spy.

Image of Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery in Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941Opens in a new window

Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery in Mr. and Mrs. Smith 1941

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a delightful romantic comedy with witty dialogue, slapstick humor, and plenty of physical comedy. Lombard and Montgomery are perfectly cast as the playful and bickering couple, and their chemistry is undeniable. Hitchcock's signature visual flair is also present, even in this lighthearted film, with clever camera angles and editing techniques adding to the humor.

While not Hitchcock's most typical film, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a charming and entertaining screwball comedy that offers a welcome change of pace from his usual work.

It was Hitchcock's only pure comedy film during his American career.

It was made shortly before Lombard's tragic death in a plane crash in 1942.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction

Mel u 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Japanese Girls at the Harbor - 1933- A Japanese Silent Film Directed by Hiroshi Shimizu. It is based on the novel of the same name by Toma Kitabayashi .- 1 Hour 11 minutes..

 Available on YouTube with Captions in several languages 

• The story follows Sunako, a mixed-race teenager living in Yokohama, Japan, in the early 1930s. Sunako attends a Catholic school and navigates the complexities of friendship, love, and betrayal. When a charming playboy named Henry enters their lives, he disrupts the dynamic between Sunako and her best friend, Dora. A passionate, yet short-lived affair with Henry leaves Sunako heartbroken and consumed by jealousy. This emotional turmoil culminates in a tragic act of violence that forever alters the lives of all involved.

Themes: The film explores themes of love, loss, jealousy, redemption, and the societal challenges faced by mixed-race individuals in Japan during that era. Shimizu masterfully utilizes visual storytelling techniques and innovative camerawork to convey the characters' inner turmoil and the emotional weight of their actions.

Critical Acclaim: "Japanese Girls at the Harbor" is considered a masterpiece of Japanese Silent Film.

Cast: The film stars Michiko Oikawa as Sunako, Yumeko Aizome as Dora, and Ken Uehara as Henry.

• Cinematography: The film's cinematography is notable for its use of close-ups, expressive lighting, and dynamic camera movements.

"If you're interested in delving deeper into Shimizu's filmography, here are some recommendations:

Four Seasons of Childhood (1939): A heartwarming collection of four interconnected stories about children, showcasing Shimizu's talent for capturing the magic of childhood.

An Inn of Tokyo (1935): A charming comedy of errors set in a bustling Tokyo inn, offering a slice-of-life look at pre-war urban Japan.

The Loyal Wife (1953): A historical drama based on a kabuki play, showcasing Shimizu's ability to adapt traditional stories for the screen." From Bard

Russia : Revolution and Civil War, 1917–1921 /by Anthony Beevor - 2022 - 576 Pages

 Russia : Revolution and Civil War, 1917–1921 /by Anthony Beevor - 2022 - 576 Pages is a highly informative well documented history of a shape shifting era in not just Russian History but that of the world.  

"Riveting . . . There is a wealth of new information here that adds considerable texture and nuance to his story and helps to set Russia apart from previous works.”—The Wall Street Journal

An epic new account of the conflict that reshaped Eastern Europe and set the stage for the rest of the twentieth century.

Between 1917 and 1921 a devastating struggle took place in Russia following the collapse of the Tsarist empire. The doomed White alliance of moderate socialists and reactionary monarchists stood little chance against Trotsky’s Red Army and the single-minded Communist dictatorship under Lenin. In the savage civil war that followed, terror begat terror, which in turn led to ever greater cruelty with man’s inhumanity to man, woman and child. The struggle became a world war by proxy as Churchill deployed weaponry and troops from the British empire, while contingents from the United States, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Czechoslovakia played rival parts.
Using the most up to date scholarship and archival research, Antony Beevor assembles the complete picture in a gripping narrative that conveys the conflict through the eyes of everyone from the worker on the streets of Petrograd to the cavalry officer on the battlefield and the doctor in an improvised hospital." From the publisher 

Beevor details how White Russian force, dedicated to the restoration of the monarchy, were animated by extreme hatred for Jews who they saw as behind the revolution.  This hatred fed that of the Germans and other European countries and directly contributed to the start of World War Two and the Holocaust. There is not a terrorist organisation existing today that does not share extreme Anti-Semitic ideological views.

"The Whites lost the civil war largely because of their inflexibility, including their refusal to contemplate land reform until it was far too late or to allow any autonomy to the nationalities of the Tsarist Empire. Their civil administration was so useless that it barely existed. Paradoxically, they also lost for reasons very similar to the way the left-wing side lost the Spanish Civil War less than two decades later. In Spain, the fractious anti-fascist alliance of the Republic could not hope to prevail against Franco’s disciplined and militarised regime. In Russia, an utterly incompatible alliance of Socialist Revolutionaries and reactionary monarchists stood little chance against a single-minded Communist dictatorship. Extremes fed on each other in both cases, and the vicious circle of rhetoric and violence was a major factor leading to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War itself. For far too long we have made the mistake of talking about wars as a single entity, when they are often a conglomeration of different conflicts, mixing national resentments, ethnic hatreds and class warfare. And when it comes to civil wars, there is also a clash of centralism against regionalism and authoritarianism against libertarianism. The idea of a purely ‘Russian’ civil war is another misleading simplification. It prompted one historian recently to describe it instead as ‘a world war condensed’." From Beevor's conclusion 

The author's website details his many accomplishments, awards and other books.

 Russia : Revolution and Civil War, 1917–1921 /by Anthony Beevor is history at its highest level.

Mel Ulm 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Adventures of Prince Achmed -A 1926 German Animated Movie - Directed by Lotte Reiniger

 Available on YouTube with English Captions 

The Adventures of Prince Achmed -A 1926 German Animated Movie - Directed by Lotte Reiniger

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the oldest surviving full length animated movie. Some older silent films are of interest historically, others of intrinsic value for their artistic achievement.  The Adventures of Prince Achmed is, to me, both.

This silent masterpiece, directed by the pioneering animator Lotte Reiniger, takes us on a magical journey with Prince Achmed, a handsome young prince who stumbles upon a flying horse and embarks on a whirlwind of adventures.

Here are some key points to remember about "The Adventures of Prince Achmed":

Groundbreaking animation: Reiniger's signature silhouette animation technique, using meticulously crafted cardboard cutouts, is a marvel to behold. The graceful movements and expressive figures create a unique visual style that's both timeless and captivating.

Enthralling story: Based on elements from "The Arabian Nights," the film weaves a fantastical tale of love, loss, betrayal, and redemption. Prince Achmed encounters witches, demons, beautiful princesses, and even Aladdin himself, as he navigates treacherous lands and faces impossible challenges.

Silent film charm: The absence of dialogue adds to the film's dreamlike quality, allowing the animation and music to tell the story. The original score, composed by Friedrich Hollaender, perfectly complements the visuals and enhances the emotional impact.

Here are some additional things you might find interesting:

The film's production was a labor of love, taking Reiniger and her team over two years to complete.

The film was originally released with intertitles in German, but later versions have been dubbed in various languages.

"The Adventures of Prince Achmed" has been praised by animation legends like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki, who credit it as a major inspiration for their own work.

"Lotte Reiniger was a German film director and the foremost pioneer of silhouette animation. She was born in Berlin in 1899 and began her career as a puppeteer and set designer. In 1923, she made her first short film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which was a critical and commercial success. This film was the first feature-length animated film ever made and is considered a masterpiece of silhouette animation.  

Reiniger went on to make over 40 films throughout her career, including The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1931), Papageno (1935), and The Flying Dutchman (1952). Her films were known for their intricate detail, beautiful cinematography, and whimsical stories.

Reiniger was a groundbreaking figure in the world of animation. She helped to establish silhouette animation as a legitimate art form and her films continue to be enjoyed by audiences around the world.

Reiniger was also a pioneer in the use of multiplane animation. This technique, which uses multiple cameras to create a sense of depth and perspective, was first used in her 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Multiplane animation is now a standard technique in animation, but it was groundbreaking at the time that Reiniger used it.

Reiniger was a gifted artist and storyteller. Her films are both visually stunning and emotionally moving. She was a pioneer in the field of animation and her work continues to inspire and delight audiences today." From Bard

Please share your experiences with other films by Lotte Reiniger 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Frankenstein- A 1931 Movie Directed by Directed by James Whale - Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and Mae Clark - 1 Hour Ten Minutes

Frankenstein- A 1931 Movie Directed by Directed by James Whale - Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive and Mae Clark - 1 Hour Ten Minutes

The film was based on the 1818 novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

The film shows how Doctor Frankenstein created the monster. He succeeds in animating his monstrous creation, but the creature is soon rejected by society and driven to violence. Frankenstein is forced to confront the consequences of his actions as he tries to stop the monster from wreaking 

Here are some of the things that make Frankenstein (1931) so special:

Boris Karloff's unforgettable performance as the monster: Karloff's portrayal of the creature is both terrifying and sympathetic. He creates a character who is both monstrous and human, and who is ultimately a victim of circumstance.

The film's groundbreaking special effects: Frankenstein (1931) was made at a time when special effects were still in their infancy, but the film's creators were able to create some truly groundbreaking visuals. The scene of the monster's creation is still iconic today.

I really liked the scenes in the home of Baron Frankenstein, father of Doctor Frankenstein, the mobs of villagers, and the creation of the monster 

Sunday, December 24, 2023

"The Masterpiece" - A Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb- Included In The Land of the Postscript: The Complete Short Stories of Chava Rosenfarb Translated and edited by Goldie Morgentaler-2023

 The Masterpiece" - A Short Story by Chava Rosenfarb- Included in  The Land of the Postscript: The Complete Short Stories of Chava Rosenfarb Translated and edited by Goldie Morgentaler-2023

Originally published in English under the title “A Cottage in the Laurentians” in the Exile Book of Yiddish Women Writers, ed. Frieda Forman. Exile Editions, 2012. Pp. 

"The great Yiddish writer Chava Rosenfarb’s unforgettable short stories are all about afterlives. Most of her stories take place a decade or two or three after the Holocaust, in the seemingly neutral and snowy terrain of Montreal, Canada, where survivors have come to start over, to make new lives in a place far away from the crematoria of Europe. Among Rosenfarb’s unforgettable characters are a former kapo who befriends the only woman whose life she ever saved and a baby kidnapper. But even a writer of Rosenfarb’s ability probably could not have imagined the incredible afterlife of Rosenfarb herself. 

This year, the city of  Lodz, Poland, declared 2023 the year of Chava Rosenfarb — shocking considering that Rosenfarb was once imprisoned in the ghetto there, after which she was deported to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. Had she lived to see it, Rosenfarb, a daughter of  Lodz, would have been 100 years old this year, but she died in 2011. She is best-known for her novel The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the  Lodz Ghetto, and she also received acclaim as a literary translator of Yiddish. Her work was most recently translated by her daughter Goldie Morgentaler for In the Land of the Postscript: The Complete Short Stories of Chava Rosenfarb."  By Aviya Kushner, December 22, 2023 in The Tablet -

"The Masterpiece" focuses on a couple who met briefly when both were prisoners in a Concentration Camp, the man gave a woman unknown to him half his bread ration, and met again after the war in a displaced persons camp.

"Sonia and Victor were born in Lodz, the Polish Manchester. Both were concentration-camp survivors who had lost their families, friends, and neighbors during the war. They had arrived in Canada carrying the substantial psychic baggage of horrific nightmares and tragic recollections, but aside from these, they had—in a manner of speaking—nothing else to declare." 

15 years have gone by, they are married with five children both working as teachers living in Montreal.  They are still very much in love. The husband focuses his outside of work energy on writing a book he is convinced will surprass the work of James Joyce.  Joyce never experienced the horrors that define for him the modern world.  The wife is interested in numerous topics, trying to make up for her lost years in the camps.

His wife does something that hurts him more than the Nazis did.  Rosenfarb brilliantly shows us his feelings:

"Writing was his destiny, his assigned function in life. This was how he was meant to contribute to the singing of the birds, to the slashing hum of waterfalls, to the howl of the wind and to the soundless fall of the snowflakes. It must be so! It was for the sake of his calling that he had needed this tremendous crash in his life. What a wealth of suffering he had discovered in the dark abyss of his soul! Too soon had he forgotten the suffering that he had endured in the depths of a former horror. He had abused the entire supply of knowledge he had gleaned from his former trials. He had squandered it almost entirely with a naivete of heart that bordered on stupidity! Only now, enriched by a completely new kind of torment, did he see himself standing one rung higher on the ladder of experience. Now he had a better view of the panorama of human fate, of the human comedy. During the time between that other storm and this new one he had become fossilized, stagnant in his fool’s paradise; he had lost contact with reality."

There is much more in this amazing story than I have mentioned as I hole others will experience her stories.

CHAVA ROSENFARB (1923 - 2011)Prize-winning writer of fiction, poetry and drama, Chava Rosenfarb was born February 9, 1923 in Lodz, the industrial centre of Poland before the Second World War. She completed Jewish secular school and gymnasium in this community where several hundred thousand Jews lived —nearly half the population of the area. The Holocaust put an end to one of the richest centres of Judaism in all of Europe. Like many Jews of the city, Rosenfarb was incarcerated in the infamous Lodz ghetto. She survived there from 1940 to 1944, when she and her sister Henia became inmates of the concentration camps of Auschwitz, then Sasel and Bergen-Belsen. Even in the ghetto Rosenfarb wrote, and she hasn’t stopped since. Her first collection of ghetto poems, Di balade fun nekhtikn vald [The Ballad of Yesterday’s Forest] was published in London in 1947. After the liberation Rosenfarb moved to Belgium. She remained in Belgium until 1950, when she immigrated immigrated to Montreal. In Montreal, Rosenfarb obtained a diploma at the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary in 1954. Rosenfarb has produced a prolific body of writing, all of which speaks from her experience during the Holocaust. Her work has been translated into both Hebrew and English. Rosenfarb has been widely anthologized and has had her work appear in journals in Israel, England, the United States, Canada and Australia in Yiddish and in English and Hebrew translation. Among the many prizes awarded her work, she has received the I.J. Segal Prize (Montreal, 1993), the Sholom Aleichem Prize (Tel-Aviv, 1990) and the Niger Prize (Buenos Aires, 1972). She has travelled extensively, lecturing on Yiddish literature in Australia, Europe and South America as well as in Israel and the United States.

Mel Ulm 

Ernst Lubitsch 'A Biography Laughter in Paradise Scott Eyman- 2015- 662 Pages

Ernst Lubitsch : A Biography Trouble in Paradise by Scott Eyman - 2015 is
The only full-length biography of legendary film director Ernst Lubitsch, the director of such Hollywood classics as Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, and The Shop Around the Corner.

 Ernst Lubitsch 

Born: January 29, 1892, Berlin, Germany - produces 65 silent films before moving to America

1922 Moves to Hollywood- Warner Pictures Signed him to a three year six picture contract

Died: November 30, 1947, Los Angeles, California, United States

Lubitsch directed two of my favourite movies, Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.

"Born in Berlin and transported to Hollywood in the 1920s with the help of Mary Pickford, Lubitsch brought with him a level of sophistication and subtlety previously unknown to American movie audiences. He was quickly established as a director of unique quality and distinction. He captivated audiences with his unique “touch,” creating a world of fantasy in which men are tall and handsome (unlike Lubitsch himself) and humorously adept at getting women into bed, and where all the women are beautiful and charming and capable of giving as well as receiving love. He revived the flagging career of Marlene Dietrich and, in Ninotchka, created Greta Garbo’s most successful film. When movie buffs speak of “the Lubitsch touch,” they refer to a sense of style and taste, humor and humanity that defined the films of one of Hollywood’s all-time great directors. In the history of the medium, no one has ever quite equaled his unique talent."  From the publisher 

My bottom line, if you love the movies of Lubitsch you will be very grateful for the comprehensive insightful biography that Scotf Eyman has written.

Scott Eyman takes readers behind the scenes of such classic films as Trouble in Paradise (1932), The Merry Widow (1934), Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop around the Corner (1940), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and Heaven Can Wait (1943), which together constitute one of the most important and influential bodies of work in Hollywood. Eyman examines both the films Lubitsch crafted and the life he lived―his great successes and his overwhelming anxieties―to create an indelible portrait of Hollywood's Golden Age and one of its most respected artists.

Eyman begins with Lubitsch's grandparents.  He details his education and his dislike of working in his father's clothing business. The family were not extremely observing of Jewish orthodoxy but they were proud of their heritage and aware of the way others felt about Jews.

Eyman explains a lot about the German movie industry and then the flight of many to Hollywood.  Once in Hollywood Lubitsch begins to earn significantly more than in Germany.  Some of his films were commercial successes others were flops.  I learned a lot about the business side of Hollywood.

Eyman talks about the numerous romantic relationships of Lubitsch with actresses.  He was a central figure in the Los Angeles area European film community.  He was a loyal friend and inspired this in others.

I highly reccomend this book.

"Scott Eyman was formerly the literary critic at The Palm Beach Post and is the author or coauthor of sixteen books, including the bestseller John Wayne and Pieces of My Heart and You Must Remember This with actor Robert Wagner. Eyman also writes book reviews for The Wall Street Journal, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune. He and his wife, Lynn, live in West Palm Beach."
From his publisher 

Mel Ulm 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

A Page of Madness (狂った一頁, Kurutta Ichipeiji) is a 1926 Japanese silent experimental horror film directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa


Available on YouTube 

A Page of Madness (1926)

Written by Yasunari Kawabata & Teinosuke Kinugasa & Minoru Inuzuka & Banko Sawada

Based on the short story by Yasunari Kawabata

Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa

Starring Masuo Inoue, Ayako Iijima, Yoshie Nakagawa

Released September 24, 1926 (Japan)

RT 78 min.

This is a very strange movie. I was fascinated by the bizarre images from the start. There are no Subtitles. In Japan in 1926 silent films had in theater narrators who would have explained the actions on screen. I confess I could not very much follow the plot but I loved this unique movie.  Once I read the Bard post it all made sense

"The film is set in a mental institution in  Japan and tells the story of a man who takes a job as a janitor there in order to be close to his wife, who is a patient. He becomes increasingly obsessed with her and attempts to break her out, but his plans are thwarted by the asylum's staff. The film is notable for its use of innovative cinematic techniques, such as double exposure, superimposition, and rapid editing, which create a disorienting and dreamlike atmosphere.

• Lost and Found: The film was lost for 45 years until it was rediscovered by Kinugasa in his storehouse in 1971. It has since been restored and is now considered one of the most important silent films ever made.

• Avant-garde: "A Page of Madness" was created by a group of artists known as the Shinkankakuha, or School of New Perceptions. This group was dedicated to pushing the boundaries of film and creating works that were both experimental and emotionally resonant.

• Critical Acclaim: The film has been praised for its originality, its visual style, and its performances. It has been cited as an influence on a number of filmmakers, including David Lynch and Akira Kurosawa.

Here are some additional details about "A Page of Madness":

• Cast: Masao Inoue, Yoshie Nakagawa, Ayako Iijima

• Music: The film was originally accompanied by live benshi narration and music. A number of different scores have been composed for the film since its rediscovery." From Bard

Friday, December 22, 2023

Orochi- A 1925 Japanese Silent Film - Directed by Buntarō Futagawa - 1 Hour 5 minutes

 Available on YouTube 

Orochi is one of the earliest surviving Japanese films from 1925. At almost a hundred years old the film is significant as a piece of history. The film is directed by Buntarō Futagawa and stars Tsumasaburō Bandō, as a disgraced samurai who is shunned from society and seen as a villain. The film was originally called ‘Outlaw’, which was blocked by censors due to not wanting to make an outlaw seem like a hero and then changed to Orochi, meaning Serpent. Thankfully the moral ambiguity of the characters is still evident in the final film.

Story and Significance:

A compelling anti-hero: The film tells the story of Kunitomi, a skilled but ostracized samurai wrongly accused of a crime and cast out from his clan. He descends into the criminal underworld, but despite his circumstances, retains his strong sense of morality and loyalty. This focus on a flawed and complex protagonist challenged the typical samurai narratives of the time, making "Orochi" a groundbreaking and insightful film.
Social commentary: The film weaves a powerful critique of feudalism and its rigid social structures. Kunitomi's downfall is not just due to personal misfortune, but also a result of the corrupt and unjust system he's trapped in. "Orochi" resonated with audiences facing similar societal struggles in the Taisho era, a period of modernization and political upheaval in Japan.
Masterful action and drama: Despite being silent, "Orochi" delivers thrilling sword fight sequences and emotionally charged scenes. Bandō's charismatic performance further elevates the film, showcasing his incredible skills as a swordsman and actor.
Legacy and Influence:

Critical acclaim: "Orochi" was a critical and commercial success upon its release, solidifying Bandō's stardom and establishing Futagawa as a leading director. It gained international recognition as well, garnering praise for its technical prowess and powerful storytelling.
Preservation and restoration: Sadly, like many silent films, "Orochi" was considered lost for decades. However, fragments were discovered in the early 2000s, and a painstaking restoration effort brought the film back to life. 

Inspiration for future generations: "Orochi" continues to inspire filmmakers and film scholars today. Its innovative narrative, social awareness, and stunning visuals have cemented its place as a classic of Japanese cinema.

"Buntarō Futagawa: A Pioneering Figure in Japanese Cinema
Buntarō Futagawa (1899-1966) was a trailblazing Japanese film director and writer who left his mark on the silent era of Japanese cinema. Known for his innovative narratives and powerful social commentary, Futagawa's films continue to be celebrated and studied today.

Here are some key points about Futagawa:

Early Life and Career: Born in Tokyo in 1899, Futagawa started his career in the film industry in 1921. He worked as both an actor and director, often collaborating with renowned actor Tsumasaburō Bandō.
Orochi and Beyond: Futagawa's most recognized work is the 1925 film "Orochi" ("The Serpent"), a silent samurai drama that captivated audiences with its action-packed sequences, complex protagonist, and critique of feudalism. Other notable films include "Shisen ni tateba" ("Standing by the Abyss", 1924) and "Ekisutora gâru" ("Express Train", 1925).
Style and Impact: Futagawa's films were known for their dynamic camerawork, innovative editing techniques, and focus on social themes. He explored the lives of marginalized individuals and challenged traditional narratives, paving the way for future generations of filmmakers." From Bard


Domestic Monsters - A Short Story by Fereshteh Ahmadi - Translated from Persian by Caroline Croskery - 2019 - included in Book of Tehran: A City in Short Stories introduced by Orkideh Behrouzan

 Domestic Monsters - A Short Story by Fereshteh Ahmadi - Translated from Persian by Caroline Croskery - 2019 - included in Book of Tehran: A City in Short Stories introduced by Orkideh Behrouzan  

The Guardian has a very informative article focusing on the literary career of Fereshteh Ahmadi under the restrictions of the laws of Iran.

"Domestic Monsters" by Fereshteh Ahmadi, 15 Pages, is the life story of a woman raised by an indifferent at times cruel mother who she came to hate.  Her only friend was her tutor.

This is a very powerful unflincing look at how women struggle to exercise a measure of freedom in a repressive society that values their opinions much less than those of men.  

I do not wish to give away the developments in the woman's life.

I will just share a bit about what she says about living in Tehran.

"A city like Tehran; a remote city where they couldn’t reach me. A city big enough for me to get lost in. And I did. I was able to get lost in there and at the same time, find myself. Standing where I am now, I am strong enough these days to turn around and look at how far I’ve come, and to write this letter without my hands shaking. I owe it to this city. A lot of people think Tehran is a place where innocence is lost, but it woke me from a very long sleep. Your daughter also wanted to find refuge here. She wanted to lose herself in the halls of the university dormitory. I didn’t teach her these things."

Fereshteh Ahmadi is a novelist, short story writer, literary critic and editor. After studying architecture at the University of Tehran, she became a journalist in the late 1990s, and has since gone on to publish three collections of short stories: Everyone’s Sarah (2004), featuring ‘Television’, selected by the Hooshang Golshiri Foundation as one of the best short stories of the year; Hyperthermia (2013); and Domestic Monsters (2016). She has also published two novels: The Fairy of Forgetfulness (2007), finalist of the Mehregan Award and the Rouzi-Rouzegari Awards for the Bookseller’s Choice of the Best Novel, and Cheese Forest (2008), as well as a children’s book: Nameless. She works as an editor for several publishing houses and is a member of the jury of the Golshiri and Rouzi-Rouzegari awards. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Neighbour- A Short Story by Amirhossein Khorshidfar- Translated by Niloufar Talebi from Persian - 2019 - included in Book of Tehran: A City in Short Stories introduced by Orkideh Behrouzan

"The Neighbour" by Amirhossein Khorshidfar was first published in 2002, selected for Sadegh Hedayat literary award.

(Sadeq Hedayat Literary Awards was initiated in 2003 in honor of the 100th birthday of the great writer of The Bind Owl and since then it has been awarded to the Best Persian Short Stories.

The annual Sadeq Hedayat Literary Award is organized and sponsored by the Hedayat Office and the Sokhan Website. Jahangir Hedayat, the nephew of Sadeq Hedayat, as the head of the Hedayat Office in Tehran, has made an enormous contribution to promoting Sadeq Hedayat’s work, both inside and outside Iran. He has personally helped many scholars around the world, in person or via correspondence, with his great knowledge and library of Sadeq Hedayat’s literary works.

The competition for the award is now very well known and very well respected. The aim of this award is to encourage young writers to write and to have the chance to take part in a respected literary contest.

The competition is for all Persian-speaking people. So writers of Persian from other countries) from Parsagon - The Persian Literary Review)

The Neighbour, five pages, does have what you could call a plot line.  A woman in Tehran forgets to bring a key and when her husband went out he locked the door.  A neighbour invites her to wait in her apartment.

Here is a sample of the story:

"I didn’t bring a key,’ Sima laughed. She heard footsteps. Still smiling at the neighbour’s wife, she stood up and looked down the stairwell. An Afghan boy was climbing up them. As soon as he turned the corner on the landing, he greeted the neighbour’s wife, carrying a broom in one hand and a big bucket in the other.  ‘Come in. Come in and make yourself comfortable at mine,’ the neighbour’s wife said. ‘No,’ she said, ‘he’ll be home soon, I just don’t know where he’s gone.’ The Afghan boy was standing at the top of the stairs staring at them with a perplexed look. The neighbour’s wife said, ‘Come on in. I’m on my own as well. Assad needs to wash the stairway and is about to start running the tap.’ Assad grinned. He put the bucket down and scratched his neck. ‘Come in, let’s have some tea together,’ the neighbour’s wife insisted. ‘Let’s not do the ta’arof dance.’1 As Assad continued to scratch behind his ears, Sima picked up her shopping bag, swung her purse round her shoulder and walked into the neighbour’s apartment – a more expansive one than hers which, being on the other side from it, faced the sunlight with its pale grey walls that verged on blue."

Born in Tehran in 1981, Amirhossein Khorshidfar is an award-winning Iranian writer, journalist, translator and literary critic. While studying industrial design at University of Tehran he wrote four children’s book: The First Days on Earth, The Day the Sky Broke, The Son Who Had No Star and The Rain Story. His short story ‘Neighbour’ received the Sadegh Hedayat Literary Award Letter of Honor, and his debut short story collection, Life Goes on According to Your Will (2006), received the Golshiri, Mehregan and Rouzi-Rouzegari awards. His other works include the short story collection, Betting on a Race Horse, and a novel, Tehraniha. He was jury member of the Roozirozegar and Golshiri literary awards from 2008 to 2011, and has also worked as Editor at Ofoq Publications and as a journalist for progressive newspapers such as Bahar, Shargh, Etemad, and Roozegar from 2006 to 2015. In recent years he has led various creative writing courses in institutions such as Rokhdad Taze, Baharan, Maktab-e-Tehran and Tehran Universities. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

"How Would You Like to be Born" - A Short Story by Nancy Hale - first published 1955 - Included with WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS: SELECTED STORIES OF NANCY HALE Introduction and volume compilation copyright 2019 introduction by Lauren Groff

Born: May 6, 1908 - Boston, Massachusetts 

Died: Sept 24,1988 Charlottesville, Virginia 

My first encounter with the work of Nancy Hale was over three years ago.

There are 25 stories in The Selected Short Stories of Nancy Hale. I was at once so intrigued by today’s story’s title “The Most Elegant Drawing Room in Europe” that I decided to start there. I loved this story. I liked How Hale played with our perceptions of the American mother and daughter making their first visit to Venice and their relationship with The Italian Countesa in whose Mansion on The Grand Canal they find what they see as the most elegant drawing room in Europe.

From opening lines we see How in awe of the Countess and Venice is

““THE CONTESSA doesn’t seem entirely real, she’s so exquisite,” wrote Emily Knapp to her friend and fellow-librarian Ruth Patterson, at home in Worcester, Massachusetts. “I wish you too might have seen her in her tiny jewel box of a palazzo yesterday, as “THE CONTESSA doesn’t seem entirely real, she’s so exquisite, we did! She’d lent us her gondola for the afternoon. (I can’t tell you how super-elegant we felt, or how much attention we attracted on the Grand Canal.) Persis Woodson, the artist I wrote you about meeting on the Cristoforo Colombo coming over, remarked that all over America next winter people will be showing home movies with us prominent in them, pointing us out as aristocratic Venetians lolling in our private gondola!”

Today's story, "How Would You Like to be Born" centers  a 30 year old unmarried woman New England woman.  Her older sister, who ran everything, has recently passed away.  We do not learn of her parents.

 "Yankee sisters in “How Would You Like to Be Born . . . ,” who restrict their meals to cheap organ meat they don’t even enjoy so that they can give money to their progressive causes. As a child, she felt that she was destined to admire but never own the beautiful things of life," From the introduction 

She has been left comfortable but not rich.  She was raised to be charitable.

I do not want to say much at all about the plot.

Here is a sample of  the exquisite prose of Hale:

"Then downstairs some one began to play the piano, and you listened to the muted music. What was it that you did not know about, what was it that the music had known and wept for, something that was over and could never be forgotten, but for you it had never been begun. You felt so sad, so happy and so sad, because something that was all the beauty and the tears in the world was over, because something lovely was lost and could only be remembered, and still you knew that for you the thing had not yet started. Perhaps you were sad for the regret you knew you would feel some day for this sadness."

I hope in 2024 to read all 25 stories in the collection 

Monday, December 18, 2023

"The Children’s Game" - A Short Story by Jean Stafford - included in Jean Stafford: Complete Stories and Other Writings- published by The Library of America - 2021

This story is my second venture into the work of Jean Stafford.  It will, I hope, be far from my last. 

  I was stunned by the magnificent opening sentence of my first encounter with Jean Stafford in Maggie Meriwether's Rich Experience” - A Short Story set in Paris first published June 17, 1955 in The New Yorker.

"There  was a hole so neat that it looked tailored in the dead center of the large round beige velours mat that had been thrown on the grass in the shade of the venerable sycamore, and through it protruded a clump of mint, so chic in its air of casualness, so piquant in its fragrance in the heat of mid-July, that Mme Floquet, a brisk Greek in middle life, suggested, speaking in French with a commandingly eccentric accent, that her host, Karl von Bubnoff, M. le Baron, had contrived it all with shears and a trowel before his Sunday guests arrived at his manorial house, Magnamont, in Chantilly."

Now that is an opening sentence!

A gambling casino in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, a grubby down-scale version of Monte Carlo, nonetheless exerts an almost preternatural spell on a young woman named Abby in “The Children’s Game” who succumbs to the hypnotic frenzy of roulette: She was still ahead when the wheel was spun for the last time; and when everything was finished she was giddy as she struggled out of her cocoonlike trance. The croupiers’ fatigue humanized them; they rubbed their eyes and stretched their legs and their agile hands went limp. Abby was a little dashed and melancholy, let down and drained; she was, even though she had won, inconsolable because now the table, stripped of its seduction, was only a table. And the croupiers were only exhausted workingmen going home to bed. So appalled is Abby by the “monstrous” Belgian town, her appalled fascination inspires Stafford to a tour de force of description as charged with kinetic energy as Dickens’s most animated city scenes: [Knokke-le-Zoute] possessed houses that looked like buses threatening to run them down and houses that looked like faces with bulbous noses and brutish eyes … The principal building material seemed to be cobblestones, but they discovered a number of houses that appeared to be made of cast iron. In gardens there were topiary trees in the shape of Morris chairs and some that seemed to represent washing machines. The hotels along the sea were bedizened with every whimsy on earth, with derby-shaped domes and kidney-shaped balconies, with crenellations that looked like vertebrae and machiolations that looked like teeth, with turrets, bow-windows, dormers and gables, with fenestrations hemstitched in brick or bordered with granite point lace. Some of the chimneys were like church steeples and some were like Happy Hooligan’s hat. The cabanas, in the hot, dark haze, appeared to be public telephone booths. Even the flowers dissembled and the hydrangeas looked like utensils that belonged in the kitchen … The plazas were treeless plains of concrete where big babies sunned … There was an enormous smell of fish.

There are 65 stories in the Library of America volume. I do have in mind reading them all in 2024 and posting on some

Wikipedia has a good account of Stafford's Life


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Fellini Satyricon - A 1969 Italian Movie Directed by Frederico Fellini - 2 Hours 9 Minutes

Available on YouTube with English and Russian Captions 

"I am examining ancient Rome as if this were a documentary about the customs and habits of the Martians."

-- Federico Fellini in an Interview, 1969

"Federico Fellini describes his "Fellini Satyricon" as a science-fiction film, but one in which we journey to the past rather than to the future. Directors are notoriously unreliable as sources of opinions about their own movies, but in this case I think Fellini is dead right.

His film is a fantastical journey to a pre-Christian Rome that resembles no civilization that ever was, in heaven or on Earth. And it is a masterpiece. Some will say it is a bloody, depraved, disgusting film; indeed, people by the dozens were escaping from the sneak preview I attended. But "Fellini Satyricon" is a masterpiece all the same, and films that dare everything cannot please everybody." Roger Ebert 

From Roger Ebert's illuminating review

The film follows the adventures of Encolpius, a young poet, and his companions, Ascyltus and Gitone, as they navigate the bizarre underbelly of Roman society. They encounter everything from orgies and feasts to gladiatorial battles and mythological creatures. The film is visually stunning, with Fellini creating a world that is both beautiful and unsettling. His use of costumes, sets, and special effects . Released in 1969, it's a loose adaptation of the Roman satire of the same name by Petronius, set in the decadent days of Emperor Nero. Fellini's take on the story is anything but conventional. It's a surreal, episodic journey through a world of hedonism, grotesquerie, and mythical encounters, all filtered through the maestro's unique and fantastical 

Here are some of the things that I find most interesting about Fellini Satyricon:

The film's visual style: Fellini's use of color, lighting, and composition is truly masterful. He creates a world that is both dreamlike and nightmarish, and it's impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

The film's humor: Satyricon is a very funny film, even though it deals with some dark subject matter. Fellini's use of slapstick and satire is always on point, and he has a knack for finding the humor in the most unexpected places.

The film's meaning: Satyricon is a film that is open to interpretation. There is no one right way to understand it. But I think it's a film that is about the human condition, about our search for meaning and pleasure in a world that is often chaotic and absurd.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

"Segue" - A Short Story by Carol Shields - included with The Collected Short Stories of Carol Shields - 2013

 Today's story, "Segue" by Carol Shields, can be read in full, along with the illuminating introduction by Margaret Atwood, in the Kindle edition of her Collected Stories.

"This ability to strike two such different chords at once is not only high art, it’s also the essence of Carol Shields’ writing—the iridescent, often hilarious surfaces of things, but also their ominous depths. The shimmering pleasure boat, all sails set, skimming giddily across the River Styx. Carol Shields died on July 16, 2003 at her home in Victoria, British Columbia, after a long battle with cancer. She was sixty-eight. The enormous media coverage given to her and the sadness expressed by her many readers paid tribute to the high esteem in which she was held in her own country, but her death made the news all around the world. Conscious as she was of the vagaries of fame and the element of chance in any fortune, she would have viewed that with a certain irony, but she would also have found it deeply pleasing. She knew about the darkness, but, both as an author and as a person, she held on to the light. “She was just a luminous person, and that would be important and persist even if she hadn’t written anything,” said her friend and fellow author Alice Munro." From the introduction by Margaret Atwood 

Next year Buried in Print, a marvelous blog I have followed for over ten years,will be doing a read through of the short stories of Carol Shields. After reading and personally relating to "Segue" I hope to participate fully in this event.

The story takes place in Chicago. The narrator is a 67 year old woman, a minor poet, married for forty years to a highly regarded novelist. They have a daughter but no grandchildren.

"Our Sunday self-consciousness, the little mid-morning circle around Max and me, was bisected by light and dark. The day bloomed into mildness, October 7, one year and one month after the September 11 tragedy—event, spectacle, whatever you choose to call it. Max is a well-known Chicago novelist—he both loves and hates that regional designation—and he was, of course, spotted by other Sunday morning shoppers. That’s Max Sexton. Where? Over there. Really? A little buzz travels with my husband, around him and above him, which, I believe, dishes out the gold dust that keeps him alive. To be noticed, to be recognized. With his white beard, white swifts of soft hair swept backward, his old-fashioned, too-large horn-rimmed spectacles, he is a familiar enough sight in our immediate neighborhood, and—allow me to say—in the national journals too, even to the point that he has been mentioned once or twice in the same breath with the Nobel Prize (as a dark horse, the darkest of horses). Not that we ever speak of this. It does not come up, we forbid it, the two of us. He has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer—we don’t speak of that either."

Mary Sarton, as one would expect, loves literature, Flaubert, Wordsworth and her thought processes are intimately involved through decades  of reading.  She is the director of a Chicago society that meets monthly to discuss sonnets members have written.

The story took me deeply into how the couples mutual entery into their late sixties has impacted their mutual and self-perceptions,

"Segue" is a beautiful story. I look forward to reading many more of the author's stories next year.

The Carol Shields Literary Trust Website has an excellent biography

Mel Ulm

Friday, December 15, 2023

Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire Kindle Edition by Katja Hoyer - 2021 - 255 Pages

Five years ago, in consultation with Max u, it was decided every December there should be a post in Observation of the Birth Anniversary of our father, born on December 2, 1918 in a small then very undeveloped tiny town in south Georgia, Cairo.

Our Father served four years in the United States Army during World War Two.  He was a junior officer serving under General Douglas MacArthur.  He was stationed in New Guinea and shortly after the war in the Philippines.  For the initial observation in December of 2018 I posted on a wonderful book, Rampage MacArthur, Yamashita and The Battle of Manila by James M. Scott .  Shortly after I posted, the author, a great speaker, did a book tour in Manila.  My wife and I attended one of his talks. Afterwards we had a lovely conversation with Mr. Scott.

In 2019, I came upon a perfect book for the second annual birthday observation, War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight For New Guinea, 1942-1945 Book by James P Duffy.  

Two books on Georgia history have also been featured.

This year I decided to go in another direction, exploring the history of Germany. Our last name comes from a very ancient pre-Roman City Ulm Germany.  (The City has a very famous cathedral and is the birthplace of Albert Einstein).  Because our last name is relatively uncommon we have been able ascertain when and where our first American ancestor bearing our Last named arrived in tbe colonies, Savanah Georgia in 1755.

Katja Hoyer is a German historian, and her book explains German politics between 1871 and 1900. Modern Germany came into existence in 1871 after its victory over France, but it suffered defeat and humiliation in 1918. Hoyer provides a clear narrative of what happened in between. When Wilhelm II became Kaiser, Germany began to antagonize its neighbors and this would eventually lead to a major war. Its generals wanted a preemptive war with Russia, but they declared war on Russia, France, and Belgium in 1914. They also ended up fighting Britain, United States, and Italy. Hoyer does not really explain what Germany was thinking or trying to achieve. It seemed on a suicide mission. Everybody else in 1914 wanted peace. 

Bismarck was a Prussian aristocrat who was chancellor of Germany from 1871-1890, he died in 1898. Until 1871 Germany consisted of 39 separate states. It would have been better for Europe had it remained that way. Bismarck had two objectives: to unite Germany and bring Germany under Prussian control. Between 1864 and 1871 Bismarck organized three successful wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. These wars helped create a German national identity. Hoyer claims that the new Germany’s “only binding experience was conflict against external enemies.” Bismarck later found new internal enemies and targeted Catholics, socialists, and ethnic minorities.

Bismarck wrote the 1871 German constitution. The constitution made Wilhelm I, Prussia’s king, the Kaiser of Germany. The Kaiser determined foreign policy, approved legislation, and was the supreme commander of the military. The Chancellor was similar to a prime minister and was appointed by the Kaiser. Wilhelm, I became Bismarck’s puppet. Bismarck was the real Kaiser. Wilhelm I had little interest in governing the country and was easily bullied and manipulated by Bismarck. The problem with the constitution was that it contained no checks and balances on the Kaiser’s power in foreign and military matters. In 1888 Wilhelm II became Kaiser, and Germany became more aggressive and militaristic. Wilhelm was a dangerous idiot. He delegated too much power to his generals who eventually sidelined him.

Most Germans were socially conservative and valued order, prosperity, and the national union that Bismarck had built. Germany was the largest state in Europe in 1871 with a population of 41 million. France had a population of 36 million, Austria 36 million, and Britain and Ireland 31.5 million. By 1913, Germany had a population of 65 million. The Second Reich had universal suffrage, but Parliament could not initiate legislation. Parliament would hold the purse-strings to the governmental budget, including military spending. Germany did have strong progressive elements and developed a welfare state. It also had a growing economy with rising real wages, and a literacy rate of 99 percent.

Hoyer claims that after he united Germany, Bismarck tried to convince other European powers that Germany was peaceful and not a threat. He claimed it had no more territorial ambitions in Europe, although Germany did pick up colonies in Africa and the Pacific in the 1880s. Bismarck worked hard to prevent a coalition from emerging against Germany by keeping on friendly terms with Russia. During his term as chancellor, Germany avoided a major war.

Bismarck was removed by Wilhelm II in 1890. Wilhelm did not want a chancellor, parliament, or ministers to mitigate his power. Wilhelm was initially popular and had big ambitions for Germany. As one of his chancellors put it, Germany wanted “its place in the sun.” Under Wilhelm II, Germany became increasingly assertive on the world stage. Hoyer claims Wilhelm wanted a “unified nation with a strong central monarchy that was world-leading in terms of technological, military and naval power.” He talked about a world empire and seemed unconcerned if a major war came along. Germany’s militarism began to frighten its neighbors. Wilhelm wanted an empire on a par with those of Britain and France. This was a popular ambition within Germany, but his policies divided Europe into two armed camps: The Central Powers of Germany and Austria on the one hand; and the Entente powers of France, Russia, and Great Britain on the other.

Hoyer tries to exonerate Bismarck for the disasters that came later, but he wrote the constitution. It allowed the Kaiser to have too much power and Germany succumbed to war and military dictatorship. By 1916 the German people had had enough of war, but there was no way for them to stop it, even after Russia surrendered in 1917. The German army kept going until its troops started to surrender in droves in 1918.

Wilhelm II is depicted as out of his depth. He believed in the divine right of kings and that he was chosen by God. He believed he could run Germany with a small group of conservative sycophants. Hoyer admits that he was also was a bad choice of character. He did not believe that Germany needed democracy when it had him. Wilhelm was often undiplomatic and upset foreign governments. Professor Margaret Macmillan at Oxford University claims that the British king Edward VII (Wilhelm’s uncle) believed that Wilhelm II was mad. Lord Salisbury, Britain’s long-time prime minister, agreed with him. Due to his poor diplomatic skills, Wilhelm alienated Britain, France, Russia, and Italy. Bismarck had always been cautious about upsetting rival powers, unnecessarily. Austria became Germany’s only ally.

Hoyer acknowledges that the Bismarckian system was “inherently flawed but argues that it did not set Germany upon an inevitable path to war and genocide.” That is debatable. None of Germany’s leaders seem wise or prescient and several were mentally unstable. Wilhelm II, Moltke, and Ludendorf all suffered nervous breakdowns at crucial times. Hoyer claims that Bismarck was a great statesman, but the lack of democratic accountability in the constitution counts against him. The constitution required a competent Kaiser/chancellor. However, Hoyer believes that the German people preferred a strong leader to democracy.

Hoyer’s account of the crisis in July 1914 shows that the Kaiser never expected to be sucked into a serious conflict, which does not excuse him of blame. The buck stopped with him and he appointed the generals. Moltke, who was head of the army was really running Germany in 1914. He was obsessed with Russia, which shared a border with 

Mel Ulm