Cultural Amnesia is definitely a different beast from previous books I've read. Depending on the route you've taken through Mr. James' works to reach this point it may prove a surprise from what has come before.
On the many humanistic and liberal beliefs that are expressed I am mostly in agreement. His desire to inform others what art can and does do is admirable. There's no doubt that I will be seeking out some of the works that are featured. That is all due to a skill at imparting passion and interest so that readers can take the same journey, if not necessarily agreeing with the conclusion.
There are some problems I found with the text and they are ones similarly expressed by a previous reviewer, Al. The exploration of the political and social meaning, I'm sorry to say, can read as heavy-handed and unbalancing to the subject.
I'm a great fan of Brazil, a film that is prominently mentioned in the essay on Terry Gilliam. This is an unsurprising inclusion as the whole work is set in a totalitarian society. What is less well handled is the immediate detail in Gilliam's portrayal of how torture can become all too normal. This is the springboard for six pages documenting the brutal and bloody uses of physical torture in South America and other countries, as well as the psychology of torturers.
Instructive and necessary points to make as the activities of governments can be forgotten or readily ignored. Yet with the stress falling on what is only an element of the entire film it could lead to the impression that's all it has to say. Which would be incorrect and a distortion of the work.
There is also a missed trick here for readers. Brazil caused perhaps one of the best known feuds in the last thirty odd years when it was re-edited for the U.S market (by the notorious interference of Universal's Sid Sheinberg). Terry Gilliam's fight to get his cut of the film released is also a valid part of cultural life where powerful, commercial, interests can cause enforced creative decisions. I wish some additional room for comment on that had been made. For readers who might be interested I'd point out the Criterion Collection release of Brazil which contains a wealth of documentary detail.
As the above is about the only subject in the book I was so thoroughly acquainted with; it does make me question how much else has been selectively presented? Polemic has its place. The author has more than earned his right to state his personal views. Perhaps coming from a place of questioning is a valid method to look at the source material, so to make your own decisions. However, where angry digression gets the better of sound arguments I can only view it as a disservice to Clive James' knowledge, experience and admiration of many artists, no matter how sincere.
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