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Game of Thrones cast members Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen. Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

Game of Thrones cast members Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen. Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

On the eve of the fourth season of HBO’s fantasy hit Game of Thrones, Wesleyan Visiting Writer in English Jim Windolf talks with series creators D.B. Weiss ’93 and David Benioff and novelist George R.R. Martin – on whose works the show is based – in Vanity Fair:

“Based on ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ the epic series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, the show seemed like an odd fit for HBO. But Benioff and Weiss believed it was in the tradition of The Sopranos, Deadwood, Oz, and other HBO shows in that it would breathe new life into a tired or maligned genre. It wasn’t an easy task, though, to persuade executives that something belonging to a category that includes Xena: Warrior Princess was right for the crown jewel of premium cable. ‘That was one of the big uphill sells,’ Weiss says. ‘It was just a question of convincing them that it applied to a genre that had never seriously crossed their minds before.’”

Windolf traces the history of the show’s creation and rocky HBO debut, and asks author Martin about the relationship between the source material and the series:

“Game of Thrones, which enters its fourth season this month, may be heading toward its second massive problem, as tough to solve as the messed-up pilot, which is this: the show is in danger of catching up to the books.

“Martin started writing the epic saga (more than 4,000 pages and counting) in July 1991. He has published five of a planned seven books. If the 2015 television season carries Benioff and Weiss through Book Five, which is possible, and if Martin has not completed Book Six (The Winds of Winter) by that time, which is also possible, there could be trouble.

“Asked if it’s conceivable the show could overtake its source material, Benioff says, ‘Yup.’ When I mention to Martin that Benioff and Weiss are catching up, he says, ‘They are. Yes. It’s alarming.’”

Windolf is editor of M magazine, contributing editor for Vanity Fair, columnist for Capital New York, and writer for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Observer.

Read more…

 

‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner ’87 talks about his vision for the show as it enters its final season. Photo: Chris Pizzello / AP

‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner ’87 talks about his vision for the show as it enters its final season. Atlantic photo: Chris Pizzello / AP

‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner ’87 speaks extensively with The Atlantic magazine about the show ahead of its final season’s premier. He discusses the evolution of several of the show’s main characters, including which characters are audience favorites; his philosophy in writing dialogue; the real-life drama that inspires his writing; the era of the anti-hero; and the possibility of redemption.

“When the first episode of ‘Mad Men’ aired, in July 2007, Weiner’s hope was to have the show renewed for enough seasons to cover the entire decade of the ’60s. Since then, we’ve followed the characters from the suburban ennui of the early part of the decade through the turmoil of 1968, a span that includes the introduction of free love, Hare Krishna devotees, wide lapels, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. By now, Weiner has lived with these particular characters long enough to have the ‘meta-experience, if you go back and watch the first season, of nostalgia.’

“…[In the final season] whatever happens to Draper will take place against the backdrop of an era Weiner clearly sees as disappointing, in which hopes are deflated, various hypocrisies are laid bare, and cynicism eventually reasserts itself. ‘The chickens are coming home to roost,’ he says. ‘The revolution happens, and is defeated,’ in 1968. ‘There is cultural change, but the tanks roll into Prague, the students go back to school.’ All of that leads to the era Weiner witnessed as the child of a liberal father in the 1980s…”

Mad Men’s final season begins April 13 on AMC. Read more here and here.

 

Eric Asimov ’79, The New York Times’ wine critic, invites readers to “get out your corkscrew” in a new monthly “Wine School” column. In each installment, Asimov chooses a type of wine for readers to try at home, and asks them to share thoughts, comments and questions on The New York Times’ website.

“You don’t have to know much about wine to enjoy it. But if you become interested in wine and want to examine it more closely, your pleasure will deepen. What was merely satisfying becomes rewarding and, occasionally, even profound. This is the goal of the Wine School, which begins today: to help create an atmosphere of pleasure, attentiveness and curiosity about wine that will lead to knowing what you like, what you do not and why. I hope you will join me in the coming months to drink some wine together.”

Read the first Wine School column here.

So many scientists become scientists – astronomers, biologists, inventors – through the influence of mentors. The first episode of the new  ”Cosmos,” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, recalls Tyson’s encounter as a high school student with famed astronomer and original “Cosmos” creator Carl Sagan. Seth Redfield, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Wesleyan, also credits an early mentor with his “conversion” to astronomy.

A joint music and astrophysics major in college, Redfield went on a summer field experience in Tucson, Ariz., where he watched real star scientists doing their jobs. He recalled on WNYC’s “The Takeaway”  how that influenced him.

While working that summer with an astronomer named Charlie Lindsey, “I was fascinated by him and his colleagues, Redfield said. “They spent their days working on these projects.”

During the program on Monday March 10, host John Hockenberry asked Redfield and two other astronomers about “Cosmos” ‘ effect on their early interest in the field.

“Asking the big questions is a deeply human desire,” Redfield said. “We have an insatiable human desire … to place ourselves in this cosmic context.” The first “Cosmos” series attempted to answer some of the questions, he said.

 

Boylan   In the wake of the College Board’s big changes to the SAT, Jennifer Finney Boylan ’80 recalls a difficult experience with the exam while she was applying to Wesleyan. A mordantly funny op-ed in The New York Times details her confusion, frustration and fear during her first SAT attempt.

” I was in trouble,” she writes. “The first few analogies were pretty straightforward — along the lines of ‘leopard is to spotted as zebra is to striped’ — but now I was in the tall weeds of nuance.” Getting past the analogy questions was one thing. Boylan details what happened next:

“This was the moment I saw the terrible thing I had done, the SAT equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster. I’d accidentally skipped a line on my answer sheet, early in that section of the test. Every answer I’d chosen, each of those lines of graphite-filled bubbles, was off by one. I looked at the clock. Time was running out. I could see the Wesleyan campus fading before my eyes.

“I began moving all my bubbles up one line, erasing the wrong answers. The eraser on my No. 2 pencil hadn’t been at full strength when I’d started, and now I was nearly down to the metal.

“Then there was a ripping sound.

“I picked up the answer sheet. Through the gaping hole in the middle of it, I could see the hair of the girl in front of me.”

Boylan says the problem isn’t the way the Scholastic Aptitude Test is structured – it’s the test itself. She calls for its abolition.

 ”The SAT is a mind-numbing, stress-inducing ritual of torture,” she writes. “The College Board can change the test all it likes, but no single exam, given on a single day, should determine anyone’s fate. The fact that we have been using this test to perform exactly this function for generations now is a national scandal.” Boylan is a professor of English at Colby College and the author of several memoirs. She is a contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times.

Writing in Transitions Online, Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought Peter Rutland speculates as to the rationale behind Russia’s show of force in the Crimea region of Ukraine. He considers the possibility that “Putin’s unilateral display of military muscle would seem a classic example of a state rationally pursuing self-preservation, using the means at its disposal,” though this seems unlikely, as Ukraine poses no real threat to Russia. Alternatively, Putin could seek to annex Crimea–or even other Ukrainian provinces where Russians form a majority–Rutland writes, though the advantages of doing so would pale in comparison to the international condemnation such an action would provoke. Putin’s strategy also could be to undermine the European Union to show its weakness, or to sow discord between the EU and the US. Finally, Rutland writes, “Grand strategy aside, maybe one can find a more mundane explanation for Russian behavior. As things were falling apart in Kyiv, Putin had to be shown to be doing something –anything – even if it did not make much sense from the point of view of Russia’s national interests. The military and security services had some contingency plans in their office drawers – to secure the Crimean peninsula, and to trigger an ersatz nationalist uprising in the Donbas.”

Rutland is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies, and a tutor in the College of Social Studies.

Following the collapse of the Mt. Gox online currency exchange, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman writes on Slate that, as some bitcoin proponents argue, universal adoption of bitcoin would similar in many ways to adopting the gold standard. “And that would be a disaster,” he contends. As with bitcoin, gold has historically been subject to meddling–both official and private. It also seriously restricts the ability of governments to respond to economic downturns.

He writes: “The United States is fortunate that it was not on a ‘bitcoin standard’ when the subprime crisis hit. Because it was not, the Federal Reserve was able to undertake extraordinary monetary easing, pushing interest rates to near zero and increasing the supply of money…Had the Federal Reserve’s hands been tied by the bitcoin standard, the economic and financial devastation would have exceeded that of the Great Depression.”

While the recent events in Ukraine tend to be most often explained in light of recent history, the tensions over whether Ukraine should lean to the West, and align itself with the European Union, or should remain tied to Russia have much deeper roots than the Soviet and post-Soviet era. In Talking Points Memo, Professor of History Magda Teter writes that in fact,  the current clash between western and eastern Ukraine are a fruit of centuries of political and cultural developments that only in the 20th century forced the two parts into one Ukraine.

“These pulls and pushes between east and west in Ukraine are not new, their roots go back some five centuries,” Teter writes. “It does not mean that the conflict has such deep roots but rather that the long separate histories of the two parts of Ukraine have become a major destabilizing factor.”

 

 

 

In his review of a new book exploring the notion of time as a link between the Balinese and their gods, Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins points out the “timelessness” of certain cultural concepts in Bali even as modernity threatens the island’s survival.

The book, Time, Rites and Festivals in Bali, focuses on the seminal story of Sinta and Watugunung. Each week of the calendar at the heart of Bali’s complex ritual life is named after a character from their saga.  The book’s bountiful illustrations make it special, Jenkins writes in The Jakarta Post.

“One could also spend hours puzzling over abundant charts and illustrations that visualize the logic behind Bali’s multiple overlapping calendars,” he writes.

Jenkins, whose interests include international traditions in comic performance, particularly in Balinese theater,  is on sabbatical in Indonesia.

 

In a dual review of books on the lives of Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger notes how the two stars, who each came from modest backgrounds, worked with the film industry  differently. Gardner was immediately absorbed into the star-making machinery of the studio system; Stanwyck arrived in Hollywood with an independent contract and made her own deals.

“Both were at the top during the golden age of the Hollywood studio system, but one difference between them is fundamental: Ava Gardner was a product of the “star machine” and Barbara Stanwyck was not “writes Basinger in The New York Review of Books.

Yet the two, thrown together in movies and personally  connected through Gardner’s affair with Stanwyck’s second husband, both “knew Hollywood for what it was,” Basinger writes. Neither trusted the vagaries of fame or the powerful studios; Gardner even kept the cheap coat she had arrived in California with, as a reminder of the impermanence of fame and wealth.

The two books are: Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations, by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner, and A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940 by Victoria Wilson.

 

 

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