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Star Wars: George Lucas’s futuristic ark reveals its first mysteries | Culture

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In the south of Los Angeles, an imposing building has been rising over the city for five years. It stands directly in front of the Natural History Museum, an essential tourist stop in Exposition Park, where visitors can also see the space shuttle Endeavor. Starting in 2025, the great attraction of the area promises to be the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

The name of George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones who became a patron of art together with his wife, the financier Mellody Hobson, influences the viewer’s sense of the building. It is made up of a flattened sphere that is joined by a bridge to a huge oval, overlooking the University of Southern California – which the American Graffiti filmmaker attended. The museum’s grounds occupy almost four and a half hectares, and to many people it looks like a spaceship landed in its midst.

But the museum team is quick to refute the popular impression. “It’s the foliage of a tree,” said Sandra Jackson-Dumont, director and CEO of the institution, a few days ago to a group of journalists who visited the work, including EL PAÍS. Ma Yansong, the architect responsible for the design, was reportedly inspired by the tall trees in Exposition Park. His office, MAD Architects, proposed a huge pavilion that leads into a space designed to unite the community in this lower-middle-class residential area where 70% of residents are Black or Latino. To emphasize the botanical reference, the project foresees planting 200 trees throughout the area.

An architectural rendering of the building’s vestibule.
An architectural rendering of the building’s vestibule.

This week, workers put up the more than 1,500 curved fiberglass panels that will give the building a futuristic look. They have been specially manufactured in northern California by robots; 15% of the façade is occupied by solar panels, which will help reduce the center’s environmental impact. Jackson-Dumont, who worked at the Met in New York for five years before coming to the West Coast, proudly noted that there is no single straight line inside the Lucas Museum.

The idea for the museum was born in 2014. That year, Lucas and Hobson launched a competition to design a center that would be located in Chicago, where Hobson has great power thanks to the investment fund she chairs, Ariel, which has a budget of $16 billion. But a problem with the land forced the couple, who married in 2013, to look for a new location. They found it a few meters from the L.A. Coliseum, which has been the home of two Olympic Games and two Super Bowls.

After five years under construction and a $1 billion investment, the center has begun an aggressive public relations campaign to remind the public that the project did not fizzle out with the pandemic. It has simply been delayed once again. The opening date has been pushed back from 2022 to 2023 and now from 2023 to 2025. This week, the team held press events and conferences in New York with members of the art world to build buzz. In addition to the founders, the board of directors of the institution includes Henry Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University; sociologist Arne Duncan, who was Secretary of Education during the Obama Administration; Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA); Andrea Wishom, the president of Skywalker Holdings, Lucas’s real estate company; and filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro.

A painting by Ralph McQuarrie for the production of Episode IV of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ in 1975.
A painting by Ralph McQuarrie for the production of Episode IV of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ in 1975.Lucas Museum

The board has recently revealed some of the works that have been added to the catalog. Among them is a painting by Robert Colescott, a subversive painter whose work is full of sarcasm and irreverence. The canvas, owned by Lucas and Hobson, shows a black George Washington crossing the Delaware. All those who appear in the painting are African American, a comment by Colescott on the absence of Black people in the historical landmarks of the United States.

The director of the museum believes that there will be no permanent collection once the museum opens its doors. Her idea is that the works will be rotated within the museum. Before their marriage, Lucas and Hobson were already art collectors. She was mainly interested in works by African-American artists such as Norman Lewis and Kara Walker. Lucas’s forte was American art, graphics, comics and illustrations. After their union, they began looking for pieces that interested them both, such as canvases by the 1980s and 90s New York phenomenon Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the photorealistic works of Chuck Close.

A space dedicated to narrative art can sound confusing, and it is. The museum’s treasures include objects as disparate as pieces made 2,200 years ago in Egypt, mosaics from the Roman Empire, the post-war works of Normal Rockwell, African art, a replica of Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” made 200 years later by John Singer Sargent, photojournalism by Dorothea Lange, a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo, a mural by Judith Baca, Ralph McQuarrie’s art designs from the Star Wars movies and Marvel comics by Robert Crumb, star of the American underground cartoon.

“Our intention is to erase the borders between culture and popular art,” says the director. The museum will also have two exhibition halls with capacity for 300 people. One end of the building will include a library open to the public with the entire archive of Lucasfilm, the production company that the filmmaker sold to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion. Lucas and Hobson also bought the Separate Cinema archive two years ago, which includes 37,000 objects linked to the history of film noir ranging from 1904 to 2019.

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The discreet return of Will Smith after the Oscars slap | Culture

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Eight months after slapping comedian Chris Rock during the Oscars ceremony, Will Smith is back. The performer, who that same night won the award for Best Actor for his role in King Richard, has been preparing his comeback for weeks. His return coincides with the release of his new film, Emancipation, Apple TV+’s big bet for the upcoming awards season. Before the scandal, Smith was the platform’s strong asset to promote the movie, but his behavior that day changed everything. Even if he were nominated for an award, he would not be able to attend the Oscars, as the Academy has banned him from any of its events for a decade.

Set to be released on Friday, December 2 in selected theaters (a requirement to be eligible for the Oscars), Emancipation is Smith’s first movie since the slap affair. The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is based on the true story of a slave who flees a plantation in 19th-century Louisiana to reunite with his family. Smith plays the lead, Gordon, who went down in history as Whipped Peter. The image of his whipped, wounded back was seen around the world in 1863 and helped illustrate the cruelty of slavery.

That same picture caused a controversy on the red carpet of the Los Angeles premiere when producer Joey McFarland took the original print of the famous photograph to the event. “I wanted a piece of Peter to be here tonight,” McFarland explained. The gesture was not well received on social media, and some African-American activists were very critical. “I don’t know, man, but bringing ‘a piece of Peter’ that you ‘own’ to the red carpet of a movie that’s personally enriching you so that you can collect more slave memorabilia that you’ll keep until your death…,” said film producer Franklin Leonard in a message on Twitter. Later, McFarland apologized: “I hope my actions didn’t distract from the film’s message, Peter’s story and just how much impact he had on the world,” he wrote on Instagram.

A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+.
A still image from ‘Emancipation,’ Will Smith’s latest film, which will stream on Apple TV+. Quantrell Colbert (AP)

Emancipation will be released on Apple TV+ on Friday, December 9. For months, the conversation in Hollywood had revolved around what the company would do with this film that cost more than $120 million. Many assumed that the release would be pushed back to 2023, by which time, the slap would have become old news. However, Apple decided to stay on course, in the hopes that the movie will follow in the footsteps of CODA, which became the first film released on a streaming service to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

In October, Smith held a private screening attended by some of the most powerful and influential African Americans in Hollywood, including Rihanna, rapper A$AP Rocky, comedian Dave Chappelle, filmmaker Tyler Perry and designer Fawn. Then, on November 29, he appeared on The Daily Show, hosted by his friend Trevor Noah on Comedy Central. On the show, he talked about all that went through his head during and after that “horrible night”: how a long bottled up anger made him lose his temper when he heard Rock’s joke about his wife, and how he has spent most of the year trying to forgive himself “for being human.”

The actor is aware that there are some who have not forgiven him, and does not rule out the possibility that many people will not want to see his new film and may even call for a boycott. “I completely understand if someone is not ready, I would absolutely respect that and allow them their space to not be ready. My deepest hope is that my actions don’t penalize my team,” he expressed recently in a brief interview for Good Day DC.



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James Cameron on filming ‘Titanic’: ‘Kate Winslet came out a bit traumatized’ | Culture

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Kate Winslet began filming Titanic when she was 20 years old, and turned 21, during the 160 days the shoot lasted. In her first interviews after its release, the British actress shared her thoughts on the film’s director, James Cameron. “He has a temper like you wouldn’t believe,” she told The Guardian.You’d have to pay me a lot of money to work with Jim again.”

However, 25 years later, Winslet has joined forces with Cameron again on Avatar: The Way of Water, the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi epic released in 2009. And, now, it is Cameron who has discussed the experience of shooting Titanic. “I think Kate came out of Titanic a bit traumatized by the scale of the production and her responsibility within it,” Cameron told Radio Times.

The 68-year-old director said that despite the rumors, there was never any hostility between them. “We’ve both been eager over time to work together again, to see what the other is about at this point in our lives and careers,” Cameron said.

Titanic was a worldwide success. Until the release of Avatar, it was the highest grossing film in history. It became the first film ever to make more than $1 billion at the box office, a record it broke just four months after its release. It was nominated for 14 Oscars, and took home 11, including Best Picture and Best Director. But the movie, with a $200 million-budget, was also one of the most expensive ever made. With costs soaring, executives suggested some scenes be cut to save money, but were shut down by Cameron.

The film earned the director a reputation as “the scariest man in Hollywood.” “He became known as an uncompromising, hard-charging perfectionist and 300- decibel screamer,” wrote journalist Christopher Goodwin in a 2009 article in The Sunday Times. But Cameron has always denied these allegations, claiming that a strict methodology is needed when working with thousands of people.

Winslet spoke about the high-pressure environment on set in a 1997 interview with The Los Angeles Times. “The first day started at 5 am and went on to 1 am,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for it. There were quite a few 20-hour days. And two-thirds of it was night shooting – because the Titanic sunk at night. It was every man for himself on the set – you had to ensure that you snatched some sleep during the day, with a black eye mask on. Sometimes you’d find yourself having lunch at 2 am or breakfast at 4 pm. It was very disorienting.”

After the grueling experience on Titanic, Winslet said shooting Avatar: The War of Water was much more enjoyable. In an interview with The Telegraph, she described Cameron as a “genius,” and said “he is much more calm now.” She explained: “There were all those conversations about this huge film, Titanic. I can’t imagine the pressure. As we get older, we learn how to say, ‘I made a mistake.’ We all get better at that, don’t we?”

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The sacred drugs of antiquity: Fact and fiction | Science & Tech

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One of the most fascinating aspects of ancient civilizations is the artistic and religious manifestation of their consumption of mind-bending natural substances. In the 1970s, historian Carl A. P. Ruck, mycologist R. Gordon Wasson and others coined a term to designate psychoactive substances used to produce visionary experiences in spiritual rituals – entheogens. The term is derived from two ancient Greek words: entheos, which translates as “full of the god, inspired, possessed,” and genesthai, which means “to come into being.” Together with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, the first to synthesize LSD, they wrote The Road to Eleusis, a controversial book that proposed the ritual use of ergot, a fungus with hallucinogenic properties, as a way of understanding the secretive Mysteries conducted at Eleusis in Greece for nearly two millennia. It wasn’t a new idea – other anthropologists and religious historians from renowned universities in Cambridge, Vienna and Chicago had proposed consuming the so-called “plants of the gods” to probe the myths, images and ancestral stories of ancient peoples.

While it was generally accepted that prehistoric peoples used psychoactive substances to induce visions, trances and ecstatic experiences, scholars found it hard to acknowledge that the Roman and Greek founders of Western civilization also had myths and rites full of references to these sacred plants. But when it came to the classical world, perhaps a deep-rooted Eurocentric bias hampered the objective application of the historiographic and anthropological approaches used to study “other peoples.” This bias seems to persist even today despite excellent books like Las drogas sagradas en la Antigüedad (or, The Sacred Drugs of Antiquity) by Carlos G. Wagner, which seek to dispel such outdated attitudes.

Wagner’s book is the culmination of 40 years of research that began in Phoenicia (an ancient civilization in the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean), extended to the Greco-Roman world, and then to Egypt and the Ancient Orient. It is a comprehensive historical and cultural journey through the ancient world, from the dawn of the river valley civilizations to the symbiosis of Christianity with Greco-Latin cultural structures. Wagner’s book uses archaeobotanical accounts combined with literary and iconographic sources to examine entheogenic substance use in the art and religious rituals of various societies.

Wagner’s methodical and objective study of entheogens in antiquity provides substantial evidence of their use. Readers should not expect a New Age treatise on drug-based religious naturalism, or an anachronistic apology, or an all-encompassing and simplistic explanation for every mystery of antiquity, which characterize many books about entheogens. However, he does not shy away from controversial issues such as shamanism and other anthropological labels like thaumaturges (miracle workers) and medicine-men. Nor does he discount the notion that drugs may have inspired artistic creation and religious intuition since prehistoric times.

Such a study requires geographical and historical comparisons: East versus West, prehistory versus antiquity. It is surprising to read in Wagner’s book that great works like Gilgamesh and Homer’s epic poems may allude to ethnobotany and the manifestation of sacred botanical, oracular, shamanic or visionary symbology in art. One begins to wonder about the entheogenic backdrop of the hero’s battles with monsters like Medusa and Humbaba, or the references to magical herbs in Greek, Germanic and Celtic myths, not to mention the ones in Indo-Iranian religions. Wagner systematically tackles classic questions about Eleusis and Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, and gives his readers a balanced assessment of what is known and what remains in the realm of hypothesis. He also includes a long discussion of Dionysian religion and its use of trance-inducing intoxicants, and compares it to the worship of other ancient nature gods of fruitfulness and vegetation.

Carlos Wagner has written an exciting book that synthesizes the current body of knowledge about the role of psychoactive substances, and also presents insights from neuroscience on how they affect the mind and body. The use of vision-inducing substances in spiritual rituals officiated by priestly elites enabled them to maintain their own power and prestige through stories, rituals and images. The myths, visions, sorceries, oracles and trances that persisted over four millennia can and should be viewed in the light of mythical plants like ambrosia, soma and haoma, and real ones like hellebore, dogbane, cannabis and poppy.

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