The Last Emperor

For director Bernardo Bertolucci, the political is always personal -- and always pretty. His 1987 epic bites off a mighty chunk of history and social upheaval -- China from the last vestiges of its monarchy to Mao?s Cultural Revolution -- but confines its observations to the point of view of Pu Yi, the titular protagonist. And the end of an era has never looked so good. From the early days of Bertolucci's Before the Revolution (1964) and the still startling Conformist (1970), the director has reveled in a conflicted world view that calls for radical political change while embracing the opulent, with communism and a buffed-up Art Deco set design all in the same pizza pie. The Last Emperor is no exception. There?s a certain ham-handedness to this approach; history is laid out in broad, didactic strokes that force-feed the audience with names, dates, and events. While plenty of drama ensues as power changes hands, wars erupt, and lovers quarrel (John Lone, Peter O?Toole, and a host of supporting actors impress), this ravishing new DVD transfer makes it clear that Bertolucci?s heart lies in the pictorial qualities that the narrative offers. Taking full advantage of his access to the Forbidden City (the first time any Western director was allowed to enter), Bertolucci and his celebrated cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, fill the screen with lavish imagery that ultimately takes precedence over the historical imperatives. If you come away with lingering visions of imperial finery rather than the tenets of basic Maoism, you are forgiven. -

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.