Reviews

The Terry Jones Collection

Jones is simply reminding us that hubris is the worst of all historical errors. To presume that whatever we need to do to sustain our position is justified, is to head full bore toward the precipice.


Ancient Inventions / The Hidden History of Egypt / The Surprising History of Sex & Love / The Hidden History of Rome

Distributor: Microcinema
Cast: Terry Jones
Network: BBC
US release date: 2009-07-28
Amazon

Monty Python alum and full-blown history buff Terry Jones has made a career in recent years out of hosting a variety of entertaining and insightful television programs. Like his fellow ex-Python Michael Palin, who has reinvented himself as the winningest travel show host on the tube, Jones makes for an exceedingly pleasant guide, throwing himself at the subject matter with abandon, always game for a joke at his own expense. And, again like Palin, Jones’ humour, intelligence and unfettered charm speed the narratives along, and serve as continual reminders of the astonishing genius that was at work in that little comedy troupe all those years ago.

Usually centered on an aspect of classical or medieval lore that has been overlooked, underappreciated, or just plain forgotten by the mainstream, his work emphasizes the fallacy of modern assumptions of superiority. What we think is a modern invention is most likely not so, he argues, time and again – our inventions, our ideas, our technologies all have antecedents in earlier civilizations. Indeed, so do our gravest problems.

Fine, and fair enough. But, of course, our versions of such technologies – the tank, say, which Jones argues first appeared back in the classical age, and was made of, essentially, sticks and stones – are clearly superior to those old ones. That’s not the issue, Jones would retort.

That first lightning flash of a new idea behind some as-yet-undiscovered device is what matters, not the more recent variations on the theme. And so, his films take us on journeys through Ancient Inventions, The Surprising History of Sex and Love, and the “Hidden” histories of Rome and Egypt, all in an effort to elucidate the point that it’s just plain all been done.

The cleverest (and mostly unspoken) theme underlining all of this work is that we, the modern human race, are a bunch of conceited, short-sighted idiots. How’s that? We pride ourselves on our advancing technology – a great deal of which we use either to inflict catastrophic damage on others (since most modern weaponry is absurdly destructive) or on ourselves (since we treat the ecosystem like a punching bag) – and yet we seem oblivious to the fact that past cultures have lessons to teach us about the folly of such a course. We are ever so proud of our evolved culture, our clearly better and more rational world than that of the Hobbesian past, but much of what we do today is reflected in trends from the height of previous civilizations such as the Romans, the Aztecs and the Egyptians, thousands of years ago.

Jones – like Jared Diamond, or Ronald Wright – is simply reminding us that hubris is the worst of all historical errors. To presume that we are the greatest, and that whatever we need to do to sustain our position as such is justified, is to head full bore toward the precipice.

Maybe someday a former comedian will make a clever little film about us? 'It’ll might be called: Ancient Morons Who Destroyed the Planet for Hot Tubs and Paper Towels'.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image