The editors' blog
~ 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 »
~ 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 »
~ 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 »
~ 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 »
~ 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 »