The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 11th 2015

    In the fourth episode of the new Intelligent Life podcast, we spin the globe and look at the valleys in Argentina that have been an outpost of Wales for 150 years. Jasper Rees visited Welsh Patagonia for a piece in our July/August issue. Here he joins Matthew Sweet to talk about how to keep a language and a culture alive 7,000 miles from home. 

    read more » placesPodcastSimon WillisSouth AmericaWales

    ~ Posted by Jo Lennan, August 11th 2015

    This month, Sydney Theatre Company premiered “The Present”, Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Chekhov’s first and unfinished play, sometimes called “Platonov”. Eight years after Upton and his wife, Cate Blanchett, took over as joint artistic directors, this is their final curtain call.

    Let it be said, this isn’t Chekhov at his greatest. The original play is a baggy five hours long; this version cuts it down and yanks it into Nineties Russia. At Saturday night’s opening, Blanchett flounced and cavorted across the stage as Anna Petrovna, the hostess of a country-house party that goes awry. It is a story that doesn’t know if it’s comic or tragic, full of people who don’t know if they’re comic or tragic. But this is no problem for Blanchett, who is variously arch, reckless and brittle. She has only to drop her voice, lean back and say, “I hate chess”, to get a laugh.

    read more » Jo Lennanperforming artsSydneyTheatre

    ~ Posted by David Bennun, August 10th 2015

    This month’s release of a mammoth 23-disc box set of Isley Brothers recordings, taking us from 1959 to 1983, brings home just how extraordinary their career has been. Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph, three siblings born in Cincinnati, Ohio, have been doo-woppers, rock’n’roll hitmakers, Motown men, a hard-edged funk group, makers of extravagant Seventies soul, slick crooners and disco groovers. The new box set, titled “The RCA Victor and T-Neck Album Masters”, is remarkable not only for its breadth and scope, but also in how closely it tracks the history of R&B over that period. If the Isleys’ own story wasn’t quite synonymous with that history, it was always a bellwether for it.

    read more » David BennunDiscojazzMusicRock

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, August 6th 2015

    The suspicion that the rest of mankind is lying to you is a keen insight in an actor and, at the same time, a recipe for great personal unhappiness. “The most mistrustful man I’ve ever met and the most watchful,” said the screenwriter Stewart Stern of Marlon Brando, a man who raised screen acting to new levels of truthfulness but recoiled from offers of love or friendship as if they were a lie. It’s not that he was gifted but troubled. The gifts were the trouble. Brando saw through everything. “The face can hide many things,” he says in a new documentary, “Listen to Me Marlon”, directed by Stevan Riley and drawing on 300 hours of personal tapes found in the actor’s Beverly Hills home, in which Brando ruminates on his fame, his talent, his failings as a father, voicing regret for a life he feels to have been largely wasted. “I searched but never found what I was looking for,” he confides in that familiar, plummy rasp, like King Lear with a head cold. “Mine was a glamorous life but completely unfulfilling.”

    read more » cinemacultureDocumentaryFilmTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, August 5th 2015

    There’s been a demob-happy, end-of-school looseness to Jon Stewart as he counts down to his final “Daily Show” on Thursday night. For one thing, he has been blowing kisses to Donald Trump with undisguised glee, not just for being a gift from the gods—“comedy entrapment” as he put it—but for helping to push him across the finishing line. Doing a bit on Mike Huckabee’s characterisation of Obama’s Iran deal as marching Israel “to the door of the oven”, Stewart bypassed words altogether, miming slack-jawed amazement, eye-popping incredulity and Scooby-Doo befuddlement (“Urrgh?”) in what amounted to a small masterclass of silent clowning. The idea seemed to come from Stewart’s dismay at having to write another eye-rolling commentary for another burst of Republican crazy-talk, depletion forcing further invention from him. Exhausted, he still riffs, in part because exhaustion is the correct response to a country in which a deal aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons is compared to the Holocaust.

    read more » AmericaCOMEDYcultureTELEVISIONTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 4th 2014

    In the early 1960s, the British photographer Shirley Baker began a 15-year project in Manchester and Salford. Her subjects were the slums of the inner-cities, which were being razed in a grand redevelopment plan. More than 60,000 houses were marked for demolition in Manchester alone, to make way for new housing and shops. But construction couldn’t keep up with destruction. As The Economist reported on February 27th 1965, the people who lived in these houses were being “hustled out of their condemned homes at six weeks’ notice”, only to “see the bare ground still there six months later.” The muddy vacancies left over and the half-destroyed streets strewn with rubble became the backdrop to Baker’s pictures, most in grainy black and white, which are currently on display at The Photographers’ Gallery in London in an exhibition called “Women, Children and Loitering Men”.

    read more » ExhibitionsPhotographySimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Simon Barnes, July 31st 2015

    Microbeads are tiny balls of plastic, less than a millimetre in diameter. They supply a gentle but abrasive texture to many different products that we use to cleanse ourselves—facial exfoliants, body scrubs, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo and cosmetics—which we then wash down the sink. They have replaced traditional abrasives like oatmeal, salt and ground nutshell.

    But the stuff we wash down the sink doesn’t vanish forever: it just goes out to sea where we can’t see it. As a result, you can find microbeads embedded in coastal habitats across the world. They are in every ocean, and you can travel to the most perfect uninhabited island that humankind ever dreamed about and be confident of finding them. The sea is full of plastic of all kinds, but microbeads are especially pernicious because they are so small and so easily mistaken for food.

    read more » environmentNATURESCIENCESimon BarnesWildlife

    ~ Posted by Samantha Weinberg, July 28th 2015

    On the face of it, the members of the band Tinariwen are unlikely rock stars. They hail mainly from northern Mali; their lyrics, sung in Tamashek, the tongue of the Tuaregs, are unintelligible to most of the concert-going world, and they appear on stage swathed in long robes with their faces all but obscured by turbans known as tagelmusts. These, like the one on the Tuareg boy in our latest Line of Beauty, are worn low and have tails that are wound around the face to keep out the desert sand.

    read more » FestivalsIslamMusicSamantha Weinberg

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, July 28th 2015

    In the third episode of the new Intelligent Life podcast, we take a look inside our cells. Oliver Morton, whose column The Music of Science appears in every issue of the magazine, joins Matthew Sweet to talk about energy: how it flows across cellular membranes with a force as strong as lightning, how it explains why things age, and how it gives us a new understanding of life itself.   

    read more » PodcastSCIENCESimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Simon Barnes, July 23rd 2015

    Londoners have been grumbling about the hold-ups and diversions caused by the Crossrail project since 2009, and will continue to do so until late 2018. When the new railway line is at last completed it will run over 100km between Reading and Heathrow in the west and Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the northeast. Currently employing 10,000 people, Crossrail will increase London’s rail capacity by 10%. There will be ten new stations and 42km of freshly dug tunnels. But one question remains: what the hell are they doing with all that dirt?

    read more » ConservationenvironmentLondonSimon BarnestransportWildlife