The editors' blog

  • STORY FIRST, PLAN AFTERWARDS

    ~ 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 » fictionLiteraturetalksTim de Lisle
  • ALTMAN: DARINGLY EXPERIMENTAL

    ~ 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 » DocumentaryFilmmoviesNicholas Barber
  • MY, WHAT BIG MUSCLES YOU HAVE

    ~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, March 25th 2015

    "This is the absolutely-must-see exhibition of the year," says the Times. And it's only March. "Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art” at the British Museum does indeed take your breath away. The exquisite sculptures that greet you in the first and last rooms would alone be worth the price of admission several times over.

    Two of these, and four other sculptures in the exhibition are “from the Parthenon”—in other words, they are Elgin marbles—moved from their permanent gallery "in order", says the blurb, "to contribute to a different narrative from their usual context". The narrative in question is that the art of ancient Greece influenced what followed to such a degree that it "shaped the way we think of ourselves". And here's the spookily circular, snake-swallowing-its-own-tail bit: the fact that this art has created our notions of what constitutes beauty in the human form is precisely why this exhibition is bound to take us by the throat. And it is also why, I realised as I walked around, it is peculiarly relevant today.

    read more » ExhibitionsHISTORYRebecca WillisSculpturevisual arts
  • THE FABULOUSNESS OF MONIR

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, March 25th 2015

    There is a terrific photograph of the artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, at work in her studio in Tehran in 1975. She is standing beside one of her sculptures—“Heptagon Star” (slide 1, above)—delicately adjusting the convoluted object. She is wearing a floral shirt, unbuttoned to expose a sliver of collarbone, and tucked into her unbelted hip huggers. Her lips are impeccably coloured, her eyebrows precisely plucked, and her hair bobbed to perfection. Devoid of an artist’s trademark spatter there is only one word that can describe how she looks: fabulous.

    read more » Artgeorge pendleIranSculpturevisual arts
  • RICHARD III, MYTH AND MURDER

    ~ Posted by Leanda de Lisle, March 23rd 2015

    With Richard III’s reburial at Leicester to televised fanfare, there is a “cry to be heard...from heaven to earth”. In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” the murdered king walks the Earth, having been given “no noble rite nor formal ostentation”. Richard III’s murdered nephews—the Princes in the Tower—were treated similarly. There is no hatchment over their bones to match Richard’s grand new tomb. Their little ghosts haunt this story.

    It was only after the 12-year-old Edward V, and his nine-year-old brother, had been declared illegitimate that Richard was crowned on July 6th 1483. It had just been “discovered” that their father, Edward IV, had married bigamously. Richard was holding the princes “under protection” in the Tower of London, and many feared for the boys’ lives—deposed kings rarely lived long; two had died in mysterious circumstances already that century.

    read more » HISTORYleanda de lisleRoyaltyWar
  • YEARNING TO BE YOUNG AGAIN

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, March 23rd 2015

    The sanctification of youth in our culture is so absolute, its centrality so assumed, that the laughter inspired by Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young”, a brisk, biting comedy about the heartbreak attendant on middle-aged infatuation with the young, has something of the explosive force of newly-liberated taboo. That gentle mooing you hear is the sound of sacred cows being led to the slaughter. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, a couple fending off the encroachments of middle age in Brooklyn’s comfortable Cobble Hill. Josh is a documentary film-maker, although the documentary he has been labouring over for the last ten years defies his every attempt to explain it, let alone edit it into releasable shape. It isn’t so much a job, let alone a hobby, so much as a dark suck-zone barring him from embarking on any other activities, such as going on holiday—or trying for a baby.

    read more » FilmmoviesTom Shone
  • REREADING BARRY HINES

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 19th 2015

    The first time I read Barry Hines' "A Kestrel for a Knave" was in 1975; the second time was last weekend. Only 190 pages long, "Kes" has been a staple of the British school syllabus, so generations of pupils know that it portrays a day in the life of Billy Caspar, a skinny 15-year-old boy growing up in a Yorkshire mining town. There are flashbacks, but the overarching structure takes us from Billy waking up in the bed he shares with his older brother, Jud, to Billy going to sleep that night, his world having been wrecked.

    The backdrop—lightly touched in—is the coal-mining industry of the 1960s: Jud has to get up early to get to the pit, Billy scraps with another boy on a coke-heap, and the Youth Employment Officer suggests Billy think about “the good opportunities in mining”. When Billy heads out to the fields, in a desperate search for the kestrel he has raised and trained, the sky has turned "charcoal".


    read more » BooksfictionLiteraturerereadingRobert Butler
  • FROZEN FEVER: IT'S A DISNEY FRAUD

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 18th 2015

    Disney’s kitsch new live-action film of “Cinderella” is already a hit in America, and it’s sure to work its box-office magic in Britain, too, where it will be released just in time for the Easter holidays. But it would be interesting to know how many people buy tickets because they are aching to see Kenneth Branagh’s take on “Cinderella”, and how many have heard that a certain short film is being screened before it—“Frozen Fever”, a seven-minute cartoon sequel to Disney’s blockbusting Oscar-winner, “Frozen”.

    read more » disneyFilmmoviesNicholas Barber
  • HOW THE FUTURE LOOKS TO SNOWDEN

    ~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, March 17th 2015

    How will we celebrate New Year 2050? With blueberry champagne, apparently—and the microbes it contains will be so healthy that the government will introduce Champagne Mondays to promote it. This was one of the many predictions at last weekend’s FutureFest, a two-day jamboree of talks and demonstrations about the shape of things to come held at the Vinopolis complex by London Bridge.

    Wandering along the purple-lit passages, I felt at first as if I were travelling back in time, to the Science Museum of my childhood: although I was surrounded by adults of all ages (and, it seemed, nationalities), there was the same unifying sense of wonder. We gazed at a robot with a holographic face, a model of an “emotive city” designed around feelings, and people wearing virtual-reality headsets being whirled around in an electronic chair for a simulated thrill ride. If there was a slightly makeshift, Professor Branestawm-ish quality to it all, that only added to the enjoyment.

    read more » Anthony GardenerIDEASprivacysurveillancetalks
  • THE WIZARDRY OF EARLY HENDRIX

    ~ Posted by David Bennun, March 17th 2015

    “You can’t use my name,” we hear Jimi Hendrix say to producer Ed Chalpin over the studio mic. It’s 1967. Hendrix is a star not so much rising as soaring. Two years previously, he signed away his rights as a recording artist to Chalpin on the misunderstanding that he was ensuring payment for a single session. Now he’s making his final contribution to Curtis Knight & The Squires, the group of which he was briefly a member, and Chalpin, even at that moment, is piggybacking upon his fame.

    The leap from those songs—at last collected, remastered and officially released via the Legacy label this month—to those of the Jimi Hendrix Experience is a giant one. “You Can’t Use My Name: The RSVP/PPX Sessions” would be at best a period curio but for Hendrix’s involvement. Knight was a capable but unexceptional mid-60s R&B artist, whose most notable gift, in retrospect, appears to have been spotting greater aptitude in another. (That said, Hendrix’s familiar, soft, insistent vocals bear a striking similarity to the style of Knight’s.)

    read more » David BennunMusicRockTHE SIXTIES

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