Simon Willis


     ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 20th 2014Of the talks I've been to at this year's Edinburgh International Books Festival, those dedicated to non-fiction have tended to be fuller than those about fiction.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 19th 2014"Beyond Zero: 1914-1918", a collaboration between the composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and the film-maker Bill Morrison, had its European premiere last night at the Edinburgh International Festival. It consists of music for strings, performed at the Festival Theatre by the Kronos Quartet, and fragments of original footage from the first world war, played on a screen behind them. The footage, much of which has never been seen before, was shot on 35mm nitrate film, and since it was made 100 years ago that film has become cracked and blistered and blurred by time. Morrison made digital scans of that original damaged film, and has edited together a sequence which takes us from the recruitment drives and troop training to battles on land and in the air, as well as the aftermath of injury. Vrebalov has written a score both mournful and martial, always intense, which integrates original recorded speeches and sounds. The result is a beautifully woven piece of reclamation and remembrance.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 19th 2014"Minetti", by the Austrian novelist and dramatist Thomas Bernhard—staged at Edinburgh's Lyceum Theatre—is a play on a play. The eponymous Minetti is an old actor who hasn't worked for 30 years. He walks into a hotel lobby in Ostend. It's New Year's Eve and there's a snowstorm blowing outside. He's there for a meeting, he says, with the artistic director of a small-town theatre where he's due to play King Lear. But the director isn't there, and while he waits he talks, endlessly, to anyone hanging around—the concierge, a girl waiting for her boyfriend, a mysterious woman getting drunk on her own—about art, provincialism and how he lost his job as a theatre director in Lübeck and spent the rest of his life in a tiny town called Dinkelsbühle, where he grew vegetables, bottled sauerkraut and rehearsed Lear every day in front of the mirror. The parallels between Lear and Minetti are obvious: both have lost their power, their influence, and their minds, and if Minetti doesn't knock about the lobby naked as Lear does on the heath, at least his underpants are showing.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 18th 2014 If the Irish poet Paul Muldoon was a sofa, he would be one of those battered brown-leather sofas—sagging, effortless, cool and comfortable—as much at home in the pub as in a stylish apartment. He published his first collection while he was still a student, and now occupies many of poetry's highest perches: poetry editor of the New Yorker, a professor at Princeton and a Pulitzer Prize-winner. But with his shock of unruly grey hair and his black-framed glasses there's something of the ageing rock star about him, and some of his author photographs show him holding a guitar. From countless frontmen he's borrowed the trick of delivering an important line to a particular member of the audience, and holding their gaze unflappably. Yesterday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival he read from "Maggot" (2010), a collection largely about "sex and the dead", and "The Word on the Street" (2012), a volume of song lyrics written under the influence, he explained, of the songwriters Cole Porter and Warren Zevon. read more » COMMENTS: Comments | ADD NEW COMMENT Edinburgh FestivalPoetrySimon Willis

    Lipsmacking: Simon Willis relishes a dish of strawberries and horseradish ice-cream—it shouldn't work, but it does 

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    Found in Translation: the first English version of Montaigne's essays inspired England's greatest playwright, and Simon Willis finds that it still rings out more than 400 years later  

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    Cartophilia: more than a pretty picture, this hand-drawn map of the ocean floor changed a way of thinking. Simon Willis explains

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, July 21st 2014

    In the winter of 2007, a young estate agent called John Maloof was rootling around in some boxes at an auction house in Chicago. He was looking for old photographs of the city for a book he was writing on the side, and came across a box of negatives. He didn’t know what they were, but he snapped them up and took them home. As he began to look more closely, he liked what he saw. There were shots of a black man riding a powerful horse under a flyover in New York, of an elegant white-haired woman in a lace veil glancing querulously at the camera, of a blond boy in a fur-collared coat crying his eyes out. They were intimate and spontaneous, and when he posted them on a blog the response was an ecstasy of exclamation marks. The pictures, which nobody had seen before, added nothing to Maloof’s book. But they did add a new name to the photographic canon: Vivian Maier.

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    Es Devlin from IntelligentLife on Vimeo.

    She is the most sought-after set designer in opera. And theatre. And rock, pop, hip-hop... Oh, and she also does the Olympics. For our cover story, Matthew Sweet went backstage with Es Devlin. Here, he introduces her work—from Take That's "Progress" tour to Berlioz's "Les Troyens".

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, July 3rd 2014

    In the March/April 2014 issue of Intelligent Life, Bryan Appleyard wrote about Tri-X, the black-and-white film beloved of many of the greatest photographers, which has its 60th birthday this year. Tri-X gave photographers two things: rich grainy visuals and ease of use. It’s the film on which Don McCullin captured his famous Vietnam soldier with the 1000-yard stare, Sheila Rock her London punks and Anton Corbijn his moody, grizzled portraits of Tom Waits. “Grain is life”, Corbijn told Appleyard. What’s more, “if your exposure was slightly wrong,” Appleyard wrote, “you could still get a decent shot”. It was a film that suited “the casual, go anywhere, do anything mood of the Sixties”.

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