Cyprus Mail writers look back on the year in terms of books, music and what they saw on the small and large screens
PRESTON WILDER, Film/TV writer
Books: The weeks just flew by in 2018, and reading books was the biggest casualty. Much of my reading was done on occasional plane trips – though some books, it seems, work better at 36,000 feet than they do at ground level: I devoured the first 150 pages of Yuval Noah Harari’s bestselling Homo Deus – a study of our probable tomorrows, told in poised, witty prose – on a single flight, but somehow lost interest back on terra firma (guess the daily grind tends to inhibit Big Ideas). Fortunately – if that’s the word – the death of Philip Roth in late May prompted me to dust off my long-unopened copy of Portnoy’s Complaint, the novel that made his name in 1969. I’d read two other Roths and not been enthused, but this was something else: so dirty, so hilarious – and yes, very Jewish – such hurtling stream-of-consciousness plotting and constant invention. I wish more books today took such delight in language.
Music: The getting of music, in this age of over-abundance, is a complicated business. Back in April, I watched a Hungarian film called On Body and Soul which made lovely use of ‘What He Wrote’, a haunting song by Laura Marling. Heading to YouTube to hear the whole thing, however, I found myself surrounded by Peaky Blinders fans – the song had apparently been featured in the second season – plus a smattering of others, like myself, who’d heard it through the Hungarian movie. Fans of Marling per se were conspicuous by their absence.
The point of the story? With so much available, music ends up being filtered through films, gatekeepers and secondary sources, a.k.a. friends. (Music critics are unreliable: The Guardian’s top 10 songs of the year included two by Robyn and two by Ariana Grande. Corporate stooges much?) Kudos to my mate Harry (manumad999 on Spotify) whose monthly mixes keep me up-to-date – though it was Nick at work who introduced me to Greta Van Fleet’s ‘Black Smoke Rising’, a case of four boys from Michigan playing at being Led Zep, with a full-throated “Yeaaaaaah!” at 3:25 that’s my most rock’n roll thing of 2018. Then again, what do I know? One of my favourite songs of the year – Barry Adamson’s endlessly catchy ‘The Hummingbird’ – is by a 60-year-old man.
Films/TV: Writing about films is what I do, so I’ll desist in this case – except to pimp a couple of oldies I watched for the first time in 2018. For sophisticated melodrama with a breezy female lead, try Safe in Hell (1933). For a blasphemous cop thriller with psychedelia, body horror and golden-hued aliens (!), God Told Me To (1976).
KRISTIAN CHRYSOSTOMOU, Journalist
Books: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I’m forever revisiting this book, and did so again in 2018; you could say it’s shaped who I am today. I became an ardent practitioner of various martial arts and completely changed my lifestyle after reading this book. As a teenager, I was overweight and felt like I had no purpose. The book taught me that anger is not just something that teenagers experience due to an overwhelming surge of hormones, but also has to do with men’s place in modern society. How did we go from chasing animals and fending off threats to our communities to working a desk job for a large corporation? In my opinion, and from what I’ve experienced by coaching and practising kickboxing, men need to be in ‘perceived danger’ and face physical adversity to be healthy emotionally – and martial arts tend to fill that void.
Music: This year I discovered Wave music – a new genre of electronic music that’s become big on the London music scene. As a dubstep fan (not the loud, obnoxious type of dubstep!), I was immediately drawn to the heavy bass embedded in the genre, and was fascinated by the addition of melodic, emotional, synthesiser-created sounds. The sound is best described by one of Wave’s most popular artists, the London-based producer known as Kareful: “This is finally the sound that sums up how my generation feels, not only physically or spiritually, but also politically. It’s a reaction to the state of the world – it’s dark, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel”.
Films/TV: For years, I’ve been telling people that Apocalypto is one of the most underrated movies ever, but haven’t quite been able to express why – so I decided to watch it again and figure out exactly why it had such a great impact on me. Is the movie entirely accurate with regard to the history of the Mayan civilisation? Many scholars (and movie reviews online) will tell you otherwise, but I think that’s irrelevant. The film has a larger message, as reflected in the opening quote by historian Will Durant: “A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”. Even beyond the adrenaline-filled chase scenes (which are amazing), the cinematography (which is top-notch) and the script, the film delves deep into the psyche of mankind and left me pondering the future of humanity, and how history tends to repeat itself.
LIZZY IOANNIDOU, Journalist
Books: Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope. Not exactly recent (the three volumes of Bloch’s magnum opus were written in the 1950s), but I finished the third volume of this beautiful, meandering work by the German Marxist philosopher this year. Bloch was the thinker who made me fall in love with utopian thought – and, even though his thought pushes us to imagine things differently, it also restores a lost sense of beauty in what already exists, and in learning to hope.
Aydin Mehmet Ali, Forbidden Zones. Her short story ‘Conciliation is on the Horizon’ is one of those stories which can, in just a few pages and through just two characters, touch on the complexities of love and the Cyprus problem; it’s hard to say which is the more complex. The story left me with one question: how do we reconcile in a present when not only is history tainted by violence, but that violence is still being painted as heroic and justified – even in the present when we’re supposedly working towards trust and healing?
Music: This year has been all about music that brings me some sort of peace of mind, or feelings of ease, so for me it’s been Bjork Bjork Bjork all the way through, especially her 1997 song ‘All is Full of Love’. Next in line would be the cover by the Polish band Dikanda of ‘Ederlezi’, the popular traditional folk song of the Romani minority in the Balkans (the most famous version of which is sung by Goran Bregović). Mornings are usually coloured by songs by Beirut, and – on those rare occasions when I get enough sleep – maybe some Wu-Tang Clan or Jedi Mind Tricks.
Films/TV: Call Me by Your Name, Dir: released last year, but it took me a while to actually sit down and watch it, and ever since I wish I could erase it from my memory and watch it all over again for the first time. Since that’s impossible, I just watched it over and over anyway. Young Elio Perlman falls in love with older Oliver while Oliver lives in the Perlmans’ villa in Italy, interning for Elio’s father. Beyond being an absolutely stunning film, what struck me was my utter shock when, in every scene when the two were being intimate, I kept thinking ‘OK, this is where they’ll get caught and told off and have to fight for their love or run away’ – yet all I got was a complete freedom to love the other person, and a profound, heart-breaking acceptance by Elio’s family.
ALEXANDER McCOWAN, Herbalist/Restaurant reviewer
Books: Previous Convictions was an appropriate title for the collection of weekly contributions to the Sunday Times by the late AA Gill. He had been ejected from more pretentious restaurants than the late lamented Anthony Bourdain could enter (certainly not after Kitchen Confidential). Gill and Bourdain are two of the most entertaining writers of the 21st century and sorely missed. In this world of tripe, trash and deceit we can’t afford to lose them at such an untimely age. The book also contains an explanation about certain unusual techniques employed in the porn industry. I wonder if Amber Rudd, previously Home Secretary – and also a former Mrs Gill – knew as much of his adventures as we do.
On another note altogether, a biography that disturbed me was Blue: A Memoir, subtitled Keeping the Peace and Falling to Pieces. It is the brutally honest biography of an ultra-decent man who joined the police to do good, which is a very rare virtue in the current English Forces. How the worthless creatures that slither their way to the top by constantly agreeing with their political masters, and promoting those in their image – so they won’t be exposed – manage to attract the quality of officer reflected in the pages of this book is a mystery. Unsurprisingly, the author of Blue, John Sutherland, suffered a complete nervous breakdown before retiring.
For a quick read on a more charming and successful rogue, try Slick Willie by Floyd Brown, published in 1992. A rather interesting insight into the character of a former President of the USA, one William Clinton.
Music: Just recently my wife has managed to tune in our decrepit wireless to the new fourth channel of the Cyprus Broadcasting Service (aka Rik Classic, 88.2 FM), giving us the best of Saskia and my friend Andreas with their combined music programmes: classical and jazz. Saskia’s interviews are first-rate. This week we had a two-hour engagement with the all-knowing Efi Xanthou. We are promised more. When Rosie Charalambous parted company with CyBC I thought this type of interrogation was past. I’m glad to say I was wrong.
Today we witnessed the very accomplished Cyprus Youth Orchestra give a private concert for their relatives. For those who’ve had to suffer the school orchestra murder Christmas tunes, make sure you don’t miss this magnificent ensemble: a standard rarely associated with our small island.
Films/TV: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the best film I saw this year. The concentration on Marvel Comics is a conundrum which I’ll leave to the mugs that watch them.
PETER MICHAEL, Journalist
Books: I tend to read both educational books and fiction to make both hemispheres of my brain work. From the former category, Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Tell You Everything You Need to Know about Global Politics by Tim Marshall is a great book – told in a fun and interesting way – for anyone looking to understand the geopolitical scene of the world today, and the way countries act based on their position.
From the latter, The Rainbow by DH Lawrence was penned at a time when English society was changing – and, in its most literal sense, this is what it explores. Lawrence, however, is also adept at lending depth to the protagonists. One of my favourite lines comes when Anna (one of the main characters) and her husband are visiting her parents, and she knows she is pregnant: “They walked on, hand in hand, touching across the dusk”. A quote that paints a beautiful image, while also reflecting the complexity of human relationships.
Music: Dermot Kennedy is both folksy and RnB – but his lyrics are what really pulled me in, saying something more than the usual country crooner talking only of more physical love. He explores love, death and other larger human concepts in a poetic way that makes you think. “Maybe I’ve lost count of the rooms you’re tall in,” he sings in Moments Passed – evoking that whole sense of being in love, and doesn’t the person always look like a giant, or larger than our own existence?
Films/TV: One of my favourites this year was Eighth Grade. If you’re wondering why a 30-year-old man is watching a movie with a teenage girl as the protagonist, it’s because the film truly explores the life of a teenager (something that we all need to understand – and, to be honest, remember – every once in a while): her emotions, the way she deals with adults, her transition into high school, as well as how she deals with physical and hormonal changes. It’s an indie film, I guess. But it really gives a good look into the life of your average teen – what they deal with and how they look at the world, in both a beautiful sense and a destructive sense, in an effort to be understood.