The editors' blog

  • WHY DO THE STRONG NEED THE WEAK?

    ~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, February 2nd 2015

    There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. I thought of it a few days ago as I joined an audience of peers, MPs and policymakers, squeezed into a small panelled room in the House of Lords. We had gathered to listen to Jean Vanier, a tall, white-haired 86-year-old French Canadian whom I wrote about in Intelligent Life last year. He’s the founder of L’Arche, an international charity providing homes in which men and women with mental disabilities live with “normal” people, and he’d been invited to address the question, “Why do the strong need the weak?”

    read more » CharityMaggie FergussonRELIGIONtalks
  • LIKE A BLOW-UP BUSTER KEATON

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 30th 2014

    If Apple ever got its hands on Florence Nightingale it might end up with something like Baymax, the big, inflatable white blob at the centre of the new Disney animation "Big Hero 6". Baymax is a robot caregiver who asks people, “On a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?” in a soothing, slightly effeminate voice like that of HAL from "2001" (in actuality Scott Adsit from "30 Rock"), and who dispenses hugs that envelop you like a duvet. “It’s like spooning a marshmallow,” says one of the teen heroes of the tale, although adult viewers may find older memories prodded by Baymax’s air of roly-poly befuddlement. When his batteries are low, he lollops drunkenly across the screen like Chaplin on the deck of a rocking boat in "The Immigrant", and when he gets stuck crawling through a window—that old fat-man routine—he extricates himself by partially deflating himself with a gnat-like "peeooowwww" sound while maintaining a straight face that would be the envy of Buster Keaton. But then deadpan has always been the secret weapon of animators: keeping a straight face is so much easier when you’re nothing but a straight line to begin with.  

    read more » ANIMATIONcinemacultureFilmTom Shone
  • STOPPARD'S BRAIN WEIGHS IN

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 29th 2015

    It's nine years since Tom Stoppard's last stage play and 13 since his last at the National Theatre. As audiences enter the recently rechristened Dorfman Theatre, they are confronted by a steel sculpture—silver vertical poles and loopy curves—that hangs over the stage like a giant chandelier. In the first scene, this abstract representation of three pounds of grey matter will be compared to a map of the underground "with 86 billion stations connected 30 trillion ways, hard-wired for me first". It's been a long wait, but we are back in Stoppard’s universe.

    read more » cultureRobert ButlerTheatre
  • VAN GOGH: MODESTY AND MINERS

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 27th 2015

    “Blessed is he who has found his work”, wrote the Victorian moralist Thomas Carlyle. At 25, Van Gogh had lost his job at an art dealers, given up teaching, given up working in a bookshop and given up theological studies. Added to that, he had been turned down for one job preaching to miners in Britain and another job preaching to miners in Belgium. Nevertheless, in 1878 he went to the Belgian coal mines.

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionspaintingRobert Butler
  • AN ESSENTIAL HOLOCAUST FILM

    ~ Posted by Caroline Moorehead, January 27th 2015

    In the closing weeks of the second world war, work began on an uncompromising and essential documentary about the Holocaust, which is being remembered today on Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” was conceived by Sidney Bernstein, who later founded Granada television. It includes footage filmed by Bernstein himself at Bergen-Belsen and by the Soviets and Americans at Auschwitz, Majdanek and Dachau. Later this year the film, recently restored by the Imperial War Museum, will be released in Britain by the British Film Institute. The rough cut was completed in 1945, and this will be its first general release.

    read more » Caroline MooreheadcinemaFilmHISTORYHolocaustSECOND WORLD WAR
  • J.C. CHANDOR'S SURGICAL PRECISION

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 24th 2015

    As Abel Morales, the oil distributor struggling to keep his business afloat in "A Most Violent Year", Oscar Isaac (above) wears a big camel-hair coat, looks people dead in the eye and speaks in the crisp, precise diction of a man who has learned that power comes with not raising your voice. “You must take the path that is most right,” he says—a lesson close to the heart of this sombre, slightly dry, urgent film about one man’s attempts not to become a gangster in the New York of 1981. Its director, J.C. Chandor, has chosen his location and period with great care. The drama stems from the fact that in the New York of 1981—a city that boasted more than 1,800 murders—there were probably more reasons for a struggling oil distributor to become a gangster than there were reasons not to. It’s a film about criminality’s slow, gravitational suck—the steady drip, drip, drip of difficulties that one day makes brushing past the law seem easier than waiting in line.   

    read more » cinemacultureFilmTom Shone
  • THE ATOMIC BOMB ON STAGE

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 23rd 2015

    When the atom bomb eventually goes off in Tom Morton-Smith's new play, "Oppenheimer"—which opened at Stratford's Swan Theatre last night—it's followed by drunken celebrations. We're in the desert in New Mexico, where a bunch of physicists are lying in the sand wearing army uniforms and black goggles (above). The explosion itself is a blackout and a slow deep rumble, but the lights swiftly come up on frenetic dancing at a party. Soon after, we hear an appalling description of what happens when the detonation is repeated over the city of Hiroshima. If the play veers unpredictably in tone in the summer of 1945, losing its earlier assurance, that is no surprise: there can be few bigger challenges, in terms of dramaturgy, than introducing a weapon that kills over 100,000 people.

    read more » cultureRobert ButlerTheatre
  • EX MACHINA FAILS ITS OWN TEST

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 23rd 2015

    Films about artificial intelligence, from “Blade Runner” to “Her”, tend to pose two key questions: first, how can we prove that a machine has consciousness? And second, would a conscious machine have human rights? But once such films have posed those key questions, they usually move on to the issues they’re really interested in. First, will these machines decide to murder us all and take over the world? And second, will any of them look and sound like beautiful women? What’s disappointing about Alex Garland’s shiny new science-fiction mystery, “Ex Machina”, is that it seems genuinely fascinated by the first two questions, only to discard them in favour of the last two.

    read more » cinemacultureFilmNicholas Barber
  • A MEMORY OF JOHN BAYLEY

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, January 23rd 2015

    In 2008, Julie Kavanagh wrote a piece for Intelligent Life about the photographer Richard Avedon. She had watched him at work on photo shoots for the New Yorker in the mid-1990s, for which his subjects included Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Alan Bennett. One of the most moving moments in Kavanagh's piece, though, comes from a shoot with the novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, who has died at the age of 89:

    read more » BooksMemoirPhotographySimon Willis
  • WOLF HALL'S GRAND MASTER

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, January 22nd 2015

    Mark Rylance has a lot to carry. There’s a weight of history on his shoulders, and also one of expectation: as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s six-part adaptation of “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”, which began last night, every Hilary Mantel fan in the land will have been watching his performance with rabid attention.

    read more » BookscultureIsabel LloydTELEVISION

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