Dirty Lines

Dirty Lines

I previewed Dirty Lines as the Netherlands’ answer to Sex Education in my review of Amsterdam Vice, which I compared to The Deuce. Having watched all six episodes of the series (sadly, there are only six), I can confirm it’s just as wholesome.

Sex Education is about teenagers at a modern-day British high school. The main character of Dirty Lines, played by Joy Delima, is a sexology student at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1980s. The Dutch show is a little grittier (it’s 1980s Amsterdam) and a little more mature, but in terms of topics and humor it has a lot in common with Sex Education. Both are on Netflix.

Continue reading “Dirty Lines”

Monumental Propaganda

Modern Propaganda

Joseph Stalin was synonymous with the Soviet Union until he wasn’t. When Nikita Khrushchev, in 1956, formally denounced the vozhd, the man who had led his country through the nightmare of Barbarossa and emerged victorious, it came as a shock. The red banner flew from Vladivostok to Erfurt, from Murmansk to Tirana. World communism seemed inevitable. But Khrushchev knew Stalin had also hurt the Soviet Union in many ways.

Vladimir Voinovich’s 2000 novel Monumental Propaganda, named after Lenin’s doctrine of monumental art, whose remnants dot the former Soviet Union, addresses that shock. In particular, it revolves around a statue of Stalin in a fictional Russian city that is brought into being by Aglaya Stepanovna Renkina, a local party apparatchik who is intensely devoted to the leader. (She survived Barbarossa) She is stunned when the statue is removed in the wake of de-Stalinization and spends the next several decades trying to cope with that loss. In her nostalgic delirium, she finagles her way into getting the statue established in her living room.

Continue reading “Monumental Propaganda”

Midcentury Marvel in Disneyland Paris

Almost a year ago, Disneyland Paris reopened their Hotel New York after a long period of refurbishment. You might won’t why this is even worth mentioning, so let’s just dive right into it. Out of all their on-site resort hotels, the New York was the only one with a dieselpunk theme.

I didn’t take a tour of the hotel on previous visits to Disney, nor did I stay there prior to refurbishment. I did previously visit the main entrance hall and often walked past the hotel to admire its midcentury architecture.

Continue reading “Midcentury Marvel in Disneyland Paris”

Paris to Link Suburb by Cable Car

Construction is due to begin later this year on a cable car connecting the Parisian suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges with the French capital’s metro network.

The 4.5-kilometer line was designed by the architects of Atelier Schall. Doppelmayr, which also builds ski lifts, is due to make the cable cars themselves. Each would seat ten passengers, allowing the system to transport up to 1,600 commuters per hour.

It’s not a new idea. As I wrote in Unbuilt Paris, engineer Jean Pomagalski proposed to link the then-new business district La Défense with the city center by a cable car, or téléphérique, in the 1960s.

Continue reading “Paris to Link Suburb by Cable Car”

The Atom: A Love Affair

The Atom: A Love Affair

Nuclear power is back in fashion as a means to wean Europe off Russian gas.

Not so long ago, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan convinced Germany to abandon atomic energy. Before that, the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine gave Europe pause.

The Atom: A Love Affair shows that such ups and downs are not unusual in our 70-year relationship with this form of energy. We have been falling in and out of love with the atom since the 1950s.

Continue reading “The Atom: A Love Affair”

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Korea was the first slugfest of the Cold War. It was where capitalism and communism had their first conflict on open ground, rather than through covert means such as in Greece and Iran. In America, it is something of a forgotten war, overshadowed by World War II before it and Vietnam after it.

James Michener, known for his epic historical novels, was a journalist during the war (and elsewhere; his experiences in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution were the basis for The Bridge at Andau, reviewed here). He draws on that journalistic skill in his 1953 novella The Bridges at Toko-Ri.

The book is about the toll war takes on people, on servicemen and their families. It revolves around naval aviators based on an aircraft carrier off the coast of the peninsula, tasked with destroying the titular bridges.

Continue reading “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”

Amsterdam Vice

Amsterdam Vice

I will soon have a review for you of Dirty Lines, the new Dutch Netflix series about the beginning of the phone-sex industry in late 1980s Amsterdam. The first episode looked good. It reminded me of Sex Education.

If you’re looking for something closer to The Deuce, the 2017-19 American series about the sex industry in 1970s and 80s New York starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I recommend Amsterdam Vice.

The name of both a movie and one-season drama series, which repurposed the movie as pilot, it was released in the Netherlands as Baantjer: Het Begin. It is a prequel to the long-running Dutch police procedural Baantjer, which in turn was based on the novels by former cop Albert Cornelis Baantjer. You don’t need to be familiar with either, though, to enjoy Amsterdam Vice. (I never watched the original Baantjer, nor did I read the books.)

Set in 1980, on the eve of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, the movie introduces Waldemar Torenstra as rookie cop Jurre de Cock and Tygo Gernandt as his hardened partner Tonnie Montijn. The two stumble on what appears to be a plot against the new queen when they discover a corpse floating in Amsterdam’s canals.

Continue reading “Amsterdam Vice”

The Ghazi Attack

The Ghazi Attack

Western audiences tend to give short shrift to Indian cinema. When we think of films from the country, we imagine massive Bollywood extravaganzas with strangely written romances and oddly placed songs (by our standards, of course; India has different norms than we do). But Indian film is far more diverse. Submarine buffs will be interested in the 2017 war movie The Ghazi Attack, directed by Sankalp Reddy.

The film is set during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, an intervention by Indira Gandhi into Pakistan’s genocidal war against the breakaway province now known as Bangladesh. Bangladeshi refugees poured into India, spurring the latter into war. The Ghazi Attack dramatizes the sinking of the Pakistani submarine Ghazi. The result is a subcontinental take on The Hunt for Red October.

Continue reading “The Ghazi Attack”

The Madonna and the Starship

The Madonna and the Starship

Being a voracious reader, I have read many strange books. Sometimes that weirdness is in a poor way, ruining the experience. Sometimes it’s in a fun way, making the book stand out long after you’ve read it. James Morrow’s 2014 novella The Madonna and the Starship is the latter. It is one of the strangest science-fiction novels I have ever read, and one of the most memorable.

It’s 1950s in New York. Television is the hip new medium, its conventions still being worked out. A beleaguered science-fiction writer hosts a children’s adventure show, giving science experiments at the end of each episode. Used to displaying aliens on the silver screen, he is surprised to learn that actual aliens love his show, and they come down to give him an award. Unfortunately, during the ceremony, they learn that his network also broadcasts a Christian show every Sunday. Being unabashed logical positivists and atheists, they find the idea abhorrent and announce they will inject death rays into the broadcast, killing two million believers in North America.

Continue reading “The Madonna and the Starship”

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures

When we think about the Eastern Bloc, large Brutalist apartment buildings loom from Erfurt to Anadyr. The collapse of the seemingly powerful Soviet empire was a shock to essentially everyone, not in least the people who lived in it. A mistaken turn of phrase by an Eastern German official opened the Berlin Wall, and the winds of change blew across half of a continent. The Soviet jackboot was lifted.

It is this time in East Germany that Jennifer Hofman portrays vividly in her novel The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures, released in 2020.

Continue reading “The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures”