Hannah Arendt (The movie): A review

Last week, as I was revisiting the discussion between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at the New School*, I remembered my academic crush on The New School as a school in which a lot of my favourite thinkers, writers and artists have taught/teach and whose research I admire.

Which, in turn, reminded me about the Hannah Arendt film released here last year, directed by Margarethe von Trotta, and centred around her time at the New School.
Now, I think Hannah Arendt is amazing.
Her books The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition are crucial, her take on Rosa Luxembourg is heartwarming and my copy of The Portable Hannah Arendt is tattered with love and much use. The reports she made about the extraordinary trials in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann were so sensational and provoked vital critical thinking about genocide, sovereignty, international law and crimes against humanity.
She has problematic views too. Her take on the Little Rock Nine and desegregation of education the US is one I categorically reject, and her complicity in the occupation of Palestine through her work with Youth Aliya disturbs me.

Yet her complexity and her writing (as a whole) is a formidable influence on my work, thinking and inevitably on the work of people I admire, too.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the film. 
Much in the same way films about Frida Kahlo, Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote have been unsatisfying*, I didn’t want to witness a degrading, thin or limiting rendition of someone who is complex. Especially not someone who I admire and to whom I think the world needs to pay attention. 

There is always the threat that, in attempting to funnel their life into a story of 120 minutes within the genre of contemporary filmmaking , it will reduce them to an afterthought and undermine the work they’ve done. Especially as the history of mainstream cinema banks on that kind of entertaining reduction and revisionism: palatable, easily distributable and marketable.
As much as I enjoyed the film, sadly, I think that’s what has happened to the character of Hannah Arendt in this film.
Given that Arendt is a writer and theortician, I imagine it is not easy to depict this kind of life in film.  
So the obvious way through is to focus on the drama – the fracas she caused with her New Yorker report from 1961, Eichmann in Jersualem (still available on the New Yorker website!).

So the film centred around her trip to Israel for the trials, her discussions about the trials and theories of evil, justice and humanity, the writing of those articles and the aftermath of the publishing.

It was the beginning of discussion about the role of law, who gets to punish, about the role of media/journalism in such a massive undertaking.

And given that, I think the title should have been Hannah in Jerusalem, or something along those lines – something that was in line with the story and trajectory of the film. By its broad title, it suggests a story about her entirety, or at least the whole of her career.

The film did manage to focus a little on her relationships with students, her work with Karl Jaspers and Youth Aliya and other writers/acedemics at the time, but it primarily focused on her relationship with her bloody husband!
Just like every other biopic about women in the arts and letters.

Frida was about Diego, Sylvia was about Ted and Hannah Arendt was about Heinrich (and/or Martin Heidegger). In fact, the only recent film I have seen about an influencial woman that wasn’t about her husband, was The Iron Lady about Margaret Thatcher. Which was about her debilitating illness instead. Not to degrade that, mind, but for god’s sake can we have a film about the breadth of an intelligent woman’s life!
With those criticisms out of the way, I was still chuffed to see a political theorist in film –  a female academic on film*: her strong and opinionate character, the smoking (lordy – she didn’t stop!), her friendship with author Mary McCarthy and a bit of her connection with Heidegger. To see on-screen discussion of the theories of Heidegger and the difficulty in divorcing his excellent theory work from his decision to stay in the Nazi Party – that was welcome, and perpetuated in similar grey areas about Arendt and her complicity (although not necessarily teased out).

And, as I mentioned, I appreciated seeing the New School as a kind of character, too  – the subplot of their flip-flopping sycophancy and subsequent rejection of their controversial ‘prized lecturer’.  Reminiscent of the character of Harvard University in The Social Network, the university and its influence on those who influence is an interesting side-note.


I am not sure how good a film this is if you don’t know who Hannah Arendt is.
This is a shame, because film is oftentimes an opportunity to also educate or intrigue people who may be otherwise in the dark. 
But if you do know about Arendt and her work, it is still worthwhile seeing for a kind of curiosity, fondness or revisiting her written work. And perhaps for generating resolve towards better scriptwriting about intelligent women of influence.

*when i say revisiting, i mean clapping my hands gleefully and yahooing around the house like a madwoman.

* geez – why are all these films just their names? how about ‘zapatista in surrealism’ or ‘in the blue hours’ or ‘the love of in cold blood’. OK, Im terrible with titles, but c’mon – single word names?
* How low is the bar, ladies?

rush gush

right now, i think i would LOVE to be geoffrey rush’s personal assistant. or daughter. or some other kind of close friend that has proud gushing rites. prompted by seeing this gorgeous nerdboyfriend pic (in a play adaption of a favourite book: diary of a madmen), my rush crush has just hit peak.

his depiction of lionel logue in the king’s speech has been fauned over elsewhere in the media, but i just have to remind you all, for those who have seen it, how brilliant he was.

he was brilliant. the end.

[there will be more on that movie later in the program of course, relating to sound in public, natch]

and of course him as barbosa in the pirates/caribbean trilogy and shine were both excellent. not to mention numerous other amazing films and theatre productions.

but it was a recent imdb iphone app entry that really endeared me to him. it spoke of his breakdown (i think in 1996) and giving up acting for a few years, distressed about his lack of success on stage and film. after 2000 he came back stronger, clearer and has since made all those fantastic films/plays that we know him for.

i was reminded that success isn’t always for the young and that even the greats have points of intense doubt and retreat. it also reminded me that true artistic greatness can never really be lost. mr rush picked himself off, dusted himself off and started all over again.

thank goodness for that.

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hold your horses

ok, i promise this is the last cut’n’paste thing for a while.

darling eddy showed me this and i think i’m officially in love with this video clip. if you can be in love with a video clip. i want to cry, squeal, dance and fall down when i watch this!

i don’t feel that way about the mos def on yo gabba gabba video, the ipad on will it blend? segment, or even this too shall pass by OK go.

here is 70 million..

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matilda mouse, max and monsters

this week has been filled with lots of cool stuff that reminds me about being a kid – swimming in the pool after dark, cycling in the sun, my mum’s birthday, kids books and kids-books-as-movies.

tonight i found out about the seriously-long-awaited release of matilda mouse by simon griffin. simon is the brilliant copywriter from love, all round top bloke and fabulous childrens’ story writer and i was lucky enough to get an audio book version of his book when i was in manchester in january. it’s such a beautiful story and add to that a series of amazing illustrations, snazzy double gatefold in the middle and the smell of ink, and you have a very awesome childrens’ book about a little mouse with hiccups.


i know that everyone in the universe has posted the trailer, but i couldn’t resist.

where the wild things are is finally seeing the light of day.

a dear friend worked on the production, so i feel like i kind of know it a little more than i ordinarily would about a film. which means i’m super excited.

i’m usually a purist about books and their film adaptations. [i’ve only ever like one adaptation and that was, believe it or not, hitch hikers guide to the galaxy – mostly because of the cast.]

but this is one i’m going to break my rule and watch. how can you put spike jonze, dave eggers and that beautiful production design in a room and it not be at least worth $15. i have to wait ’til october, but that’s probably for the best, because i’m kinda busy until then anyway. heh.

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apologies to ms patti smith

dear ms smith,

i know that you probably don’t have expectations when you walk into a room – it seems that you take each moment on face value, but i wouldn’t be surprised if you left the post-doco Q&A wondering what godforsaken country den you had walked into. and i would like to apologise for us.

i’m sure in every Q&A session, there’s someone gushing, quivering ‘oh, i’m your greatest fan, thank you so much!’, but i want to apologise for our lack of stoicism.

i’m sure you’ve been asked much more offensive questions about your appearance and your gender, but i want to apologise for words like androgony, mess and ‘interesting’. perhaps what we wanted to know was about the role of appearance in your art and music. you’ve managed to glide through all manner of ‘fashions’ and ‘trends’ by sidestepping them.

i’d like to apologise for our lack of ability to think before we speak, when we ask for song requests at an evening about a documentary made by an artist, with another artist. although i loved the live performance of blakean year.

i’m sure you’ve met many more self-serving directors, but i’d like to apologise for our waffling, aimless and self-seeking artistic director. she’s done a great job on the festival so far, but we really should have had a better MC – one with a little more control over the audience and a little less control over her own mike.

and i’m sure you’ve been part of worse-organised festivals, but i want to apologise for someone not letting you know that in 2 days’ time you’ll be playing in front of about 800 people, for two nights in a row, in an amazing concert hall with fantastic accoustics.

i’m sure you won’t be able to answer this question, but i also wanted to ask both you and steven something. a lot of artists are multi-disciplinary, but quite often they run one after the other, or there are gaps in between: you paint when you’re not writing and you write when you’re having a break from lugging a camera around, or you take photos when you’re not editing. but what’s it like to be on for all aspects of your creative practice while you’re here: writer, poet, singer, painter, photographer and muse? can they exist simultaneously, or is space-between a pre-requisite of multi-disciplinary practice?

kind regards,


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