The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, October 15th 2014

    When you edit a cultural magazine, you have to decide where you stand on actors. There are a lot of them, they are highly recognisable, and many are on offer as interviewees. But the offer often has a Faustian tinge: if you accept, you lose a piece of your magazine’s soul. Not to the actor or actress concerned, who is probably deeply soulful, but to the grim machinery behind them. The interview may be for only an hour, it may be in a hotel, the publicist may be in the room: everything conspiring to deliver a piece of pap. And star power—or PR power—is now such that photo approval, even copy approval, is not uncommon. Our parentage, at the independent-minded Economist Group, means that we couldn’t play that game even if we wanted to.

    The day after our last issue closed, an e-mail came in from Clemency Burton-Hill, who wrote our cover story on Gustavo Dudamel in 2013. She had embarked on a piece about Eddie Redmayne. “I realise most actors are far from your Platonic ideal, being PR’d to within an inch of their lives,” she wrote, “but Eddie is a different kettle of fish—clever & thoughtful, and he has had this extraordinary year playing Stephen Hawking for ‘The Theory of Everything’, for which I’ve been quietly observing him at close quarters...” Quietly observing: that sounded like us.

    read more » coverFilmnovember/december 2014ProfilesTim de Lisle

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, October 13th 2014

    Not since the salad days of Robert Altman has a director packed a film with as much filthy talk, dark humour, puckish satire and deep relish for human fault and foible as Alejandro G. Iñárritu does in “Birdman”. A tour de force take on the soul of the actor in the era of the blockbuster, the film stars Michael Keaton (pictured) as Riggan Thomson, an ageing Hollywood star whose career and credibility have never quite recovered from playing the comic-book superhero Birdman. Now, he has decided to risk everything—his own money, his Malibu home—on a Broadway production of the Raymond Carver short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Anyone expecting a subtle subtextual glance towards Keaton’s own career since playing Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie is in for a surprise: the film takes your knowingness and raises it several meta-levels. Even the journalists name-check Roland Barthes. They hound the beleaguered star to his dressing room, where he removes his gummed-on wig while a nubile Robert Downey Jr, as Iron Man, mocks him from the TV. “That clown doesn’t have half your talent,” snarls the voice of Riggan’s inner demon—Birdman presumably, but bearing a suspicious resemblance to Keaton’s Batman bass growl. “And he’s making a fortune in that tin-man get-up.” 

    read more » cinemaFilmTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, October 10th 2014

    What’s the point? It might be the biggest question of them all. Puzzled over with a furrowed brow or flung out with an expletive, it’s also one of the most flighty. We challenged seven writers to pin it down and explain the meaning of life, and then invited readers to vote for the best answer in our online poll.

    read more » Charlie McCannIDEASPsychologyThe Big Question

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, October 10th 2014

    Gerry Anderson hated puppets. He may be known as the Geppetto responsible for “Thunderbirds”, “Captain Scarlet”, “Stingray” and other such classics of televisual puppeteering, but in a new documentary about his 1960s work, “Filmed in Supermarionation”, Anderson admits that he would rather have been making grown-up feature films with flesh-and-blood actors. That’s why he coined the term “Supermarionation”: he thought it sounded more respectable and less childish than “puppetry”.

    read more » DocumentaryFilmNicholas BarberTELEVISION

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, October 10th 2014

    On Thursday night, on stage at the Old Vic theatre in London, Kristin Scott Thomas jumped for joy. She was taking her bow after a shattering 90-minute performance as the lead in Ian Rickson’s production of “Electra”, in front of an audience almost entirely on its feet. Just a minute earlier, as the lights faded, she’d lain herself with numb precision along the body of her murdered mother, Clytemnestra, a devastating vision of a woman sunk in a grief that has not been assuaged, only redirected. When the lights came up, for the first few moments she was still sunk, shoulders bowed, face drawn. And then, snap—she was out, grinning at the audience, eyes shining, bouncing Tigger-like on her toes, delighted by its delight. My playwright friend leant over and said, “All the great tragedians do that—they’re in it, and then they just throw it off.”

    read more » Isabel LloydTheatre

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, October 10th 2014

    The judging panel for the Nobel prize in literature is, if it's anything, a very well-funded book club. Sometimes it chooses writers you've heard of, or even read. Sometimes it chooses writers whose names you have to Google. Yesterday, after I'd found out that Patrick Modiano was French and not Italian (as I'd guessed from his name), I saw that a few of his books had been translated into English. So taking up the recommendation I headed to the library, scanned along the Ms, and found a short book called "Night Rounds". It was my first Patrick Modiano and it won't be my last.

    "Night Rounds" was written in 1969, and published in English two years later. At little more than 100 pages, it's brief and intense. The setting is Paris during the second world war. Phosphorus bombs fall from the sky, razed houses line the streets in a jumble of broken beams and shredded Toile de Jouy. And dashing through the streets, driving a white Bentley loaned to him by his criminal superiors, is the narrator—20 years old, a petty thief, extortionist, whore and "model son". It's a story of double-crossing and betrayal. More than that it's a story of moral panic, of a behavioural vacuum in a ruined city that sucks in wrong 'uns and strays. In essence it's a thrilling combination of detective novel and existential drama.

    read more » BooksLiteratureNobel PrizeSimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Julie Kavanagh, October 8th 2014

    This autumn the Royal Ballet will present a mixed bill of four masterpieces by Frederick Ashton, the company's founding choreographer and the creator of what's become known as "the English style". On Monday, at the Olympic cinema in London, there was a special screening of films to celebrate his choreography. In the audience were veteran stars of British ballet—Sir Anthony Dowell, Deanne Bergsma, Anya Linden (Lady Sainsbury) and Doreen Wells (Lady Londonderry)—as well as current soloists at the Royal Ballet and students from the Royal Ballet School. The idea behind the film programme, called "In Step with Fred" (a play on "The Fred Step", the talismanic short sequence of movements that appears in every Ashton ballet), was to remind people how the choreography was performed in his lifetime. Although the Ashton repertory is faithfully preserved these days, many of the defining characteristics of his style have become blurred.

    read more » BalletDanceFilmJulie Kavanagh

    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, October 6th 2014

    Hilary Mantel and Harriet Walter have both inhabited the minds of men in their professional lives—Mantel when writing as Thomas Cromwell in "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" and Walter on stage as Brutus in "Julius Caesar". But in this video, from a talk hosted by Intelligent Life, both women agree that there is a lack of imagination about what female leadership might be, and that there needs to be a model for women in public life that doesn't just replicate the male one.

    read more » fictionLondonLucy FarmertalksTheatreVideo

    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, October 6th 2014

    If you're planning to visit this year's Turner prize exhibition, you'll be glad there are plenty of padded seats. Like the two previous winners, Laure Prouvost and Elizabeth Price, three of the four artists have been nominated for audio-visual works. They're challenging pieces, but at least you get to sit down while watching them.

    The show at Tate Britain in London opens with a vast television showing James Richards' "Rosebud" (detail above). It's a 12-minute black-and-white collage of old blurry VHS recordings and new digital vignettes, set to audio that morphs between instrumental melodies, repetitive mechanical noises and industrial sounds—and it's the best of the lot. The images are disparate, but they share an intriguing eroticism and tactility. All filmed in close-up, there are photos of bodies with their genitals scratched out; flashing images of a budgerigar flapping on a person's hand; elderflowers rolling softly over someone's lips; entwined arms turning over on a floor; ripples easing across a pond. Richards' fluid edit has a sensuous pace, too. He has said that the film plays on "the act of looking", which is the kind of gauzy thing artists say. But by limiting what you can see he urges you to search and stare, and turns a passive experience into something visceral.

    read more » ArtcultureLucy Farmer

    ~ Posted by Irving Wardle, October 3rd 2014

    It is common for television watchers in their sunset years to shed a tear for TV's supposed golden age, particularly when it comes to drama. It is our habit to rubbish the endless conveyor belt of hospital and crime series in favour of venerated one-off greats like Jeremy Sandford's "Cathy Come Home" (1966) and Peter Watkins' "The War Game" (1965). The first was about homelessness and the second about the aftermath of a nuclear strike—that much we remember. But further than that, memory tends to dissolve into a warm glow of approval rather than retaining the details of what really happened, such as the BBC's decision to suppress "The War Game" for fear of spreading public alarm. It was only transmitted a safe 20 years later.

    read more » Irving WardleTELEVISIONTHE SIXTIES