The delayed, fraught Tokyo Olympics were well underway when the Milanese publishing house Adelphi announced the death of Roberto Calasso. He might have nodded mordantly at the timing. Few writers have spun their work so confidently out of a belief that the old cultural totems of Olympian gods and heroic fervour remain not just valid reference points but ubiquitous and hungry presences.
Christopher Nolan’s rampant new movie Tenet is the blockbuster charged with drawing us back to the cinema, so its spectacular opening carries a bit of an affront. There is an armed assault on the opera house in Kiev just as the audience has settled for a performance; they are quickly knocked out by some sort of nerve agent. It may be that Nolan’s ideal viewer is someone stupefied into passivity while bullets whoosh and thud around. Maybe he worries that that is our culture’s ideal. We had moved stolidly in our masks through the polite new biopolitical arrangements at the little multiplex in Witney, but here was an audience in far worse shape. Our air may have been thick with all sorts of threat over the last few months, but at least we were not actually being raked with bullets. The sound design is scintillating enough to make you feel close to it, though.
When the trailer for the movie Cats came out last summer, it was met with euphoric, gawping revulsion. The whole look of the thing was dazzlingly askew; the hybrid animation used to turn the actors feline had created something that viewers wanted both to watch and to look away from. Dislikes outnumber likes on YouTube by nearly three to one – but the video has been watched more than 16 million times. The trailer appeared days before Boris Johnson became prime minister. The film itself was released immediately after his general election success in December. Rumours suggested that it was being edited and rejigged right up to the last minute. It was said that it was being held back from reviewers for as long as possible. The hope seemed to be for either a word-of-mouth success that would bypass critical opprobrium or a cult triumph that would revel in it. Johnson’s electioneering worked along oddly similar lines.