The editors' blog
~ Posted by Charlie McCann, April 13th 2015
Time is an unusual commodity: we all have it and, if we’re lucky, plenty of it. It’s in ample supply, yet highly valued—and some times more than others. For our last Big Question, we asked seven writers to choose their favourite time of day. Readers voted for the answer that chimed most in our online poll.
Ann Wroe, the author of the forthcoming “Six Excursions in Light”, waxed lyrical about twilight, that sliver of evening when light is on the wane. She won the day (just) with 20% of the vote. Tied at 17% were the poet Simon Armitage and the pilot Mark Vanhoenacker, both champions of the solitude that steals in when the sun slips away. Vanhoenacker relishes the small hours, when “the world below sleeps”; Armitage thrills to 5am, when the day isn’t yet “muddled with people”. The poet Kathleen Jamie yearns for 9-11am, when her children are at school and “time is my own”; she took in 15% of the vote. With her ode to midnight, the novelist Elif Shafak claimed 10% for the night. The author Romesh Gunesekera prefers 7.23am, when there’s “still time to save the day”; he convinced 8%. The novelist Ali Smith recalled a January afternoon 45 years ago: 4pm, school finished, marbles out. She won 4%.
Some readers voted for their own slices of time. But one commented that this Big Question “enriches any time of the day”.read more »
~ Posted by David Bennun, April 10th 2015
These days, Joni Mitchell’s appearances in the news are more often prompted by her opinions (rebarbative) or her health (erratic) than her music. But after her hospitalisation in Los Angeles last week, her fans had reason to wonder if they were about to lose her, which inevitably concentrated minds on her career. “Folk legend” was the phrase frequently invoked in coverage of the story, alongside an emphasis on her lasting impact upon women performers. It’s not exactly damning her with faint praise, but it does misrepresent and undervalue her.read more »
~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, April 10th 2015
Stornoway's third album, "Bonxie", is out on April 13th. As I wrote in the March/April issue of Intelligent Life, it's a record infused with birdsong, inspired by the frontman Brian Briggs's lifelong passion for the natural world. One bright and gusty day last month, I went to Chalgrove Airfield in the Cotswolds to film the making of the video for their single "Get Low". They worked with Rose and Lloyd Buck, two kindly bird handlers, to bring a wild-goose chase to life.read more »
~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, April 10th 2015
The best sound in cricket is the one that features in the celebrated speech in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing”. It is not just the thwack of any old piece of willow on leather, but the sonorous pop of a well-made bat executing a well-timed stroke; “a noise,” as Stoppard wrote, “like a trout taking a fly.” The second-best sound in cricket, for most of the past 50 years, has been a sentence. “And after So-and-So, it will be Richie Benaud.”
As a cricketer, Benaud was very good. As a captain, he was one of the best. But, as a commentator, he was in a class of his own.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, April 9th 2015
The Swedish family in Ruben Ostlund’s sublime comedy-drama, "Force Majeure", could have strolled straight out of a holiday brochure. When we first see them posing for a photograph on an Alpine mountainside in designer ski togs, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are as attractively sculpted and well dressed as models, and their adorable son and daughter complete a picture of wholesome Scandinavian health and harmony.
There is a similar photogenic gorgeousness to the avalanche they see on the other side of the valley the next day, just as they’re sitting down to lunch on a restaurant terrace. Tomas explains that it is a controlled avalanche, set off by the resort managers, but when the thundering wave of snow gets worryingly close to the terrace, he panics and runs for cover, leaving Ebba clinging to their terrified children. The killer detail: he grabbed his phone and his gloves from the restaurant table before he bolted.read more »
~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, April 8th 2015
On our cover is one of the all-time great faces. It belongs to a woman so loved that we don’t have to put her name in lights: that bone structure announces itself. The Line of Beauty is about the gamine in history, and Audrey Hepburn is the gamine’s gamine.
She died in 1993, yet she has lost none of her luminosity. For the past two years, a commercial has been running on television which uses Hepburn—apparently resurrected—to sell a bar of chocolate, by sprinkling some of her “classiness and elegance” on it, in the words of one of the team providing the CGI trickery (who also worked on the film “Gravity”). In January, a cosmetics firm published a poll of 2,000 women who had been asked to name the “ultimate beauty icon of all time”. Marilyn Monroe might have been the bookies’ favourite, or Grace Kelly; in fact they finished second and third, behind Hepburn. All three of them made their name in the Fifties, which suggests that that is where, when we look back, we detect the greatest beauty. Or perhaps it’s just that 60 years is the span of living memory.read more »
~ Posted by George Pendle, April 7th 2015
Nearly 200 years on, its threat has not diminished. Its massive precipitous curve still overwhelms the thin straight boats beneath it. Tendrils of foam still reach out like a thousand white hands ready to smash them into matchsticks. In the distance Mount Fuji, its snowcap mimicking the froth-tipped waves, is still dwarfed by this watery mountain range. Katsushika Hokusai’s "Under The Wave of Kanagawa" (1830-31, above), better known as "The Great Wave", is one of the most recognisable works of art in the world. Yet in the jaw-dropping new Hokusai exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, "The Great Wave" isn't accorded any special status. It’s actually somewhat overshadowed by the rest of the work on display.read more »
~ Posted by Tom Shone, April 1st 2015
So many great American movies were flops upon first release—“The Wizard of Oz”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Night of the Hunter”, “Citizen Kane”, “Vertigo”—that critics are frequently tempted to put it down to that old bogeyman, the Ignorance of the Masses. In the case of “Bringing Up Baby”, certainly, the public had to catch up with the film, whose scatter-brained comedy required refraction through the age of Freud and Gloria Steinem. In the case of “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” it seems more a case of straightforward mistaken identity, wherein films destined for status as popular classics were, at first, denied it, a mistake soon rectified with the advent of television and reruns. Not so “Citizen Kane”, a chilly masterpiece destined to be as broadly unloved as Kane himself: one’s approach to that film should feel as lonely as a visit to Kane’s mausoleum. As for “Night of the Hunter”, well, there is a film so spooky and enchanted that it can still feel as if you are the only person ever to have laid eyes on it.
Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, which is being re-released by the British Film Institute this week, is different, if only because eyes are so integral to the plot: it tells the story of how it would one day be watched. A flop on its release in 1982, taking only $14.8m, “Blade Runner” then disappeared from screens, only to see its designs show up everywhere from Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” to the stage sets for the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels tour. When laser discs appeared on the market in 1989, the film became a best-seller, and didn’t budge. Here was a movie you went back to, a maze to get lost in, much like “Star Wars”, whose layer-cake of details seemed to cry out for replay. But where “Star Wars” had demanded the big screen—it is, like the Millennium Falcon, fast junk—something in “Blade Runner” seemed happiest at home, in the privacy of the video den and man-cave, where fans could pore over it at their leisure. A film of a million tiny details, it is possible to watch “Blade Runner” pointillistically too.read more »
~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, March 30th 2015
“Lyra and her daemon…” it begins, echoing Virgil’s “Arms and the man”. It grips you there and then (what on Earth is a daemon?) and doesn’t let go for three books. “Northern Lights”, the first book in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, has now been with us for 20 years. It has become a modern classic, much loved, vastly popular (15m copies sold), adapted into a delightful play and a frustrating film. Lyra has become famous, a heroine so tough and resourceful that the label we stick on spirited girls, “feisty”, feels far too watery for her. And the idea of the daemon, the constant animal companion who reflects a child’s mood or a grown-up’s essence, has got under our skin.
Pullman, now 68, marked the anniversary by giving an interview to Nicolette Jones at the Oxford Literary Festival. He came into the Sheldonian Theatre—majestic but cosy, and packed—sporting a silver ponytail and moving a little stiffly. He had just cancelled another appearance because of illness, and halfway through this event he said, “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling very well, I’m going to have to go out. I’ll be back in a minute.” But, either side of this, he spoke just the way he writes—rapidly, directly, with a sparkling energy. Here are 20 things he said that demanded to be scribbled down.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 27th 2015
When Robert Altman died in 2006, at the age of 81, he was location scouting for what would have been his 40th feature film. That’s a prodigious canon by anyone’s standards, but Altman didn’t even start directing for the big screen until he was a grey-bearded fortysomething with many, many hours of television under his belt. It’s inevitable, then, that any two-hour survey of his career will only skim like a pebble over its surface. But that thought doesn’t make “Altman” any less frustrating. The best thing about Ron Mann’s affectionate documentary is that it mentions so many fascinating incidents in passing. The worst thing is that it examines so few of them in detail.read more »