Hollywood’s Royal Stammer

Martin Filler

There is nothing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves more than movies about people with physical or mental disabilities (or addictions). If the afflicted protagonist also happens to be royal, so much the better, for a suffering crowned head bestows an extra touch of class on Hollywood’s uplifting formula of brave triumph over cruel adversity. Not surprisingly, this year’s leading contender for Oscar glory is Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, which was nominated Tuesday for a dozen Academy Awards.

The Long Exposure of Francesca Woodman

Elizabeth Gumport

George and Betty Woodman

Given that her complete catalogue is composed almost entirely of work she produced as a student, the posthumous critical esteem for American photographer Francesca Woodman is astonishing. Unlike music or math, where precocious displays of talent are not uncommon, photography tends not to have prodigies. Woodman, who committed suicide in 1981 at age 22, is considered a rare exception. That she has achieved such status is all the more remarkable considering only a quarter of the approximately 800 images she produced—many of them self-portraits—have ever been seen by the public.

When Modernism Entered the Kitchen

Martin Filler

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Cooking odors grow stronger as visitors approach the gallery where Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen—a stimulating show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on food preparation in the twentieth-century home—is installed. Although the aromas actually emanate from a café next to the second-floor exhibition, the pervasive food smells that can be so distracting throughout the restaurant-riddled MoMA are for once appropriate here.

Sarge Shriver (1915–2011)

Garry Wills

Paul Conklin/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

When I thought of writing a book about Bill Buckley, who first made his name as the chairman (editor in chief) of the Yale Daily News, I went to New Haven to interview Francis Donoghue, the longtime business manager of the paper. Buckley had worked hard to be elected chairman, but his aggressive politics made him feel he had no lock on the job. He asked his older brother, Jim, who had worked on the Daily News before him, if it was proper for him, as a member of the editorial board, to vote for himself. Jim said that the vote was anonymous, so no one would know how he voted. When the vote was unanimous, everyone knew.

I told that story to Donahue, and he said Bill should never have had any doubt, since he was the most respected as well as the most flamboyant editor the paper ever had. I asked whom he would consider the next most outstanding editor of the paper. Without hesitation he said “Sarge Shriver.” There have been many famous men (only men back then) who held that post, so this was an extraordinary tribute. I did not know Shriver then, though I knew of him of course, and that was in my mind when I met him.

What I Told Obama About Beijing’s Human Rights Problem

Li Xiaorong

STR/AFP/Getty Images

On January 13, President Obama invited me and four other activists and scholars—the writer Zha Jianying, whose brother is a former political prisoner in China; Andrew Nathan, a Columbia professor; author Bette Bao Lord; and Paul Gewirtz, director of Yale’s China Law Center—to meet with him at the White House to discuss the current state of human rights and reform in China. The meeting, which lasted more than an hour, took place as the president prepares for this week’s meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao in Washington. He wanted to know whether we think his approach on these issues is working, and how that approach might be improved. For me, it was an opportunity to bring to the direct attention of the president some critical questions about China’s human rights record I hope he will take up in the summit. The following outlines some of the issues I raised with the president, including a series of specific recommendations concerning US policy toward China.

The Worldly Temptations of Lucas Cranach

Ingrid D. Rowland

Galleria Borghese

The phrase “Renaissance man” tends to conjure up images of Italians in tights, like Leonardo da Vinci, or that tireless fifteenth-century self-promoter Leon Battista Alberti. Yet the real early modern masters of a thousand arts seem to have come from parts farther north. Peter Paul Rubens was famously both a student of philosophy and a diplomat as well as painter, but no artist may have diversified his talents as widely as the elder Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), mayor of Wittenberg, tavern keeper, and, more than incidentally, court painter for more than half a century to the Electors of Saxony. Cranach is best known now, as he was in his own day, for his paintings of women—impossibly long-legged coquettes with catlike eyes and purring expressions, one of whom, a Venus clad in nothing but a red velvet hat and a gossamer veil, is the centerpiece of a special exhibition being staged this winter within the permanent collection of Rome’s Borghese Gallery.

Blind Libel

Garry Wills

Robert Draper, who did the extensive interview-cum-article about Sarah Palin in The New York Times Magazine, still has good sources in her camp. On that basis, he told the Daily Rundown show on MSNBC that Palin timed her morning statement on the Tucson tragedy to play against the president’s anticipated speech later that day. The setting and solemnity of her presentation were manipulated to show who could be more “presidential,” she or Obama. That is a measure of her aspirations and arrogance.

Obama’s Finest Hour

Garry Wills

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama has been criticized by some for holding a “pep rally” rather than a mourning service. But he was speaking to those who knew and loved and had rallied around the people attacked. He was praising them and those who assisted them, and the cheers were deserved. He said that the proper tribute to them was to live up to their own high expectations of our nation. It was in that context, and not one of recrimination, that he called for civility, service—and, yes, heroism—in the country.

Denis Dutton, Intellectual Entrepreneur

Robert Cottrell

AP Photo/Martin Woodhall

For a man of his age and background—a non-techy, 50-something, university professor—Denis Dutton was a crucial few years ahead of his time in understanding the Internet. He saw its potential as a publishing platform. (He was also an early publisher of e-books.) He anticipated information overload. With Arts & Letters Daily, he identified a market for what media people now call “curating,” which is to say, selecting and recommending content for a particular audience. All this was at a time when the Web was still, by and large, a morass of dial-up connections and bad typography in need of a decent search engine. (In 1998, Google was still in a garage.)