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Ben Sisario’s latest feature for The New York Times shines a light on ‘Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten’, a documentary about the rise and fall of Cambodia’s Rock Music scene in the 1960s and ’70s.

Southeast Asian rock (and funk, for that matter) from that era is a favorite of mine: Gritty recordings, slightly untuned instruments, but with unique melodies and phrasings which often hark back to traditional folk songs from the region. Of course, the energy and the optimism of the music feels bittersweet now with the knowledge that a secret war and a subsequent Khmer Rouge genocide would so destroy much of the culture – and kill many of the people who made it.

Thankfully, a modern resurgence of interest in this music is making it more broadly available. Compilations have emerged in recent years (like the ‘Sounds of Siam’ series by DJ Chris Menist) and modern bands like Cambodian Space Project use the classic sound as a template for new explorations.

Readers in the United States should check the listings for when the film is coming to town and, if you’re on the East Coast, you might even get a bonus concert from some of the musicians featured by the movie-makers1.

  1. If you get to go – I’m happy for you but, I must admit, also a little jealous. I’ll work on being a better person. []
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North Korea seems to be a place where the strange internal contradictions of their ruling class exceed any attempt to sensationalize them. This article by Pico Iyer for Vanity Fair takes an inside look at one byproduct of the Kim family’s love of cinema: the Pyongyang International Film Festival.

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In an inspired bit of show-don’t-tell, Steven Soderbergh just released a “Silent Film” version of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (Black and White, Score-only) to demonstrate what he considers Steven Spielberg’s mastery of staging.

This is the type of thing that might end up not being available for long, so go to Soderbergh’s Extension 765 website now to read his explanation and to check out the video…

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Here are some items that I came across this week which I felt showed some of the better aspects of our human nature.

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Human Condition

Lauren and I just finished watching “The Human Condition”, a 10 hour Japanese film that shows what can happen to human ideals in a less-than-ideal world.

It was deeply moving and I highly recommend it, but be warned: It takes you into so many bleak emotional places that it makes “Dancer in the Dark” feel like “Singin’ In The Rain” by comparison1.

Maybe that’s why I felt like I wanted to share a few “booster shots of humanity” with you tonight… so here are some items that I came across this week which I think showcase the better aspects of our nature.

“Faces of the Tsunami”

The main character in “The Human Condition” rails against the suffering of those around him while his peers stand around and say “shikata ga nai” (a Japanese idiom for “it can’t be helped”). Writer MIN JIN LEE examines what “shikata ga nai” means to survivors of last year’s devastating disasters in Japan, but the accompanying “Faces of the Tsunami” photo series by photographer DENIS ROUVRE is the part that really captured me. It is a look into the actual human faces of the tragedy and I think you’ll come away from it inspired by the strength and dignity that you see.

What The Tools Are For

There were three bits of technology writing that I saw this week which I thought went beyond the usual “nuts-and-bolts” fare and into far more interesting territory: looking at the human purposes for the tools we use.

GABE WEATHERHEAD wrote this excellent piece which starts off as a straightforward software review before lunging into more personal territory. Regular readers know I am a fan of Gabe’s work and posts like this are a good example of why.

BRETT KELLY shared his own approach to preserving important memories and, in the process, actually shared some of his most important memories with his readers.

Finally, PATRICK RHONE‘s story of his daughter’s first exposure to American commercial television clarified the problems with the TV industry’s business model in a way that some overly-wonky analysis would have likely clouded.

By the way, people who want to show support for humanistic tech writing like this should use the Macdrifter donation page, buy a copy of “Evernote Essentials” or “Keeping it Straight”, or subscribe to the Read & Trust Premium Newsletter (which regularly features Brett and Patrick’s writing).

“Two Splendid Journalists”

It has been an especially bad month for American journalism — first from the loss of ANTHONY SHADID and now with news of the death of MARIE COLVIN. David Remnick wrote a moving tribute to Colvin for the New Yorker and Sherry Ricchiardi for the American Journalism Review pays her respects to both Shadid and Colvin in a piece called “Remembering Two Splendid Journalists”. In it, she shares personal stories about how each reporter tried to make a meaningful impact for people living in the war-torn places that they covered.

I thought this passage was on-point and especially lovely:

“Even in brief conversations, these two journalists forcefully drove home their message: The human condition was a sacred beat. When Shadid drove into an Iraqi village, he went straight to the barber shop or the local mosque. “You can find out everything there if they trust you,” he said. Colvin traveled with Chechen rebels, sleeping in caves with bags of grenades for a pillow. “You eat what they eat, you drink what they drink, you never act like you are above them,” she said.”

Whatever beat you patrol, I think that showing respect for “the human condition” gives your work additional depth and impact. Many thanks to everyone mentioned above for bringing that level of respect to the areas that they cover!

  1. Seriously – one critic said that it “stands as the Grand Canyon of Despair” []
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“The Artist” is a modern French interpretation of an old black-and-white silent movie, which is to say that you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a film idea which would have to travel a more difficult road in order to find a wide American audience.1

However unlikely the concept, though, “The Artist” is poised to do just that. Michel Hazanavicius, previously best known for his O.S.S. series of Spy Parodies, leads Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo into new territory with a movie which manages to be both a tribute to a film-making era gone by and also one of the most emotionally potent movies that I have seen in some time.

Many critics have been happy to pull out the “Silence is Golden” trope in their reviews, anticipating the almost certain Oscar nominations for the film and its cast (not to mention for the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource). They’re right to do so. “The Artist” has some incredibly nuanced performances and, believe it or not, one of the most compelling ones is by a dog. Uggie is a Jack Russell Terrier who steals every scene he appears in, prompting an ad-hoc Twitter campaign to get him an Oscar nomination as well.2

Watching Dujardin and Bejo tap dance together was also a revelation to me: The wordless joy that these scenes express is the real thing, not an ironic, tongue-in-cheek gesture or some sort of “Hey — Look at me dance in the 1920’s!” exercise that some of Hollywood’s recent forays into the era have produced. The film’s American production design team also really nailed the look and feel of the time, adding so many fun little grace notes for the audience to pick out.3

And yet with all the tap dancing, period artifacts, and performing dogs, “The Artist” manages to remain a serious film about love and pride. It is, without a doubt, my favorite film of 2011.

  1. Please — Don’t consider this an invitation to submit your own “Springtime For Hitler”-esque suggestions. []
  2. This would be well-deserved and a return to Oscar’s origins, if you believe the story about Rin-Tin-Tin receiving the most votes for Best Actor in the Award’s first year. []
  3. A favorite: Watching Dujardin’s character, slinking away from an auction where all of his personal movie star memorabilia was sold, almost get hit by a car in front of a marquee which reads “Lonely Star” []