Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War - Ian Buruma

The next best thing to a new history by Ian Buruma, twice named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 public intellectuals, is a collection of his fine essays. Theater of Cruelty (New York Review Books, $29.95) contains twenty-eight pieces of commentary and criticism Buruma has published over the last two decades. Putting near-equal weight on the two halves of his title, Theater includes a look at the plays of Alan Bennett, Mike Leigh, and the dramatic adaptation of Anne Frank’s Diary as well as films by Fassbinder, Eastwood, Herzog, and Kurosawa, and considers the “theatrical” with an exhibit of David Bowie’s “outrageously beautiful” costumes. “Theater” here also means “theater of war,” and Buruma tests the cultural icons against humanity’s darker impulses. Admitting his “fearful fascination with power and cruelty,” Buruma is especially eloquent on events and people that tangle the lines of art and violence; was Leni Riefenstahl both a Nazi and an artist? Is such a hybrid possible? Similar questions arise with the Japanese painter Foujita, who joined the French modernists before the war but produced images praising Japanese militarism during it. While Buruma deeply admires art and artists, he understands they are not infallible. At bottom, his work is a warning to all that “cultural sophistication, alas, is no prophylactic against the allure of terrible ideas.”
Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War Cover Image
ISBN: 9781590177778
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: New York Review Books - September 16th, 2014

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