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Bowie and religion

Like millions of other Bowie fans I find myself listening to his music more than ever since he died a year ago today.

And, as for them, it continues to offer consolation, not only for the hard fact that we shall hear no more from him, but for the particular challenges of my own life. Why should this music, so often abstract, glacial, detached, obscure and mockingly ironic, hold such a powerful emotional appeal for so many?

Bowie’s work delighted in illusion and artifice, his elliptical wordplay as elusive as the quicksilver music itself, with its shimmering surfaces and sudden, bracing chord changes. And perhaps it is that very weightlessness, that impressionistic quality, that gives his songs their power, an ability to communicate a sense of the perpetual Speed of Life, with its continual flux, contingency and strangeness.

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utopia_2017

2017, the Russian Revolution, and the idea of utopia

Billed as a year of imagination and possibility to mark the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, 2016 didn’t quite work out that way.

2017 offers another opportunity to consider the meaning and value of the idea of utopia, marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the most significant utopian enterprise since the American and French revolutions.

For most, the Soviet experiment, like 2016, will be remembered for its dystopian character: the bloody civil war that followed the Revolution; the swift suffocation of the nascent workers’ democracy by an overbearing bureaucracy; the immense suffering of forced-march collectivisation and industrialisation; the terrors of the 1930s police state; and the chronic misfiring of an economic engine that finally sputtered and died. The hulking edifice of the USSR stands as a ruined dream factory, utopia’s tombstone.

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Napoleon, restored

I spent much of New Year’s Eve quite rationally, watching a five-and-a-half hour silent movie at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

I should clarify that there were three intervals. And it was time well spent: the film was a restored BFI version of Abel Gance’s 1927 epic Napoleon, telling the story of the general’s early years. Despite the feature’s length it was intended as only the first in a series of six movies covering the life of the great man. As it transpired the opening episode proved so hard to make that its successors were never made.

The film is a technical wonder, illustrating the full range of what the avant-garde filmmakers of the 1920s could do with limited means. It was one of the first movies to use fluid camera action and tracking shots, and employed a battery of new techniques including close-ups, point-of-view perspectives, multiple exposure, colour tinting and mosaic effects.

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