The editors' blog


    ~ 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

    ~ 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

    ~ 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

    ~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, January 21st 2015

    To manage the expectations of exhibition-goers, I suggest that the Royal Academy changes the name of its latest show from "Rubens and his Legacy" to "Rubens' Legacy". That way people will not be surprised when the first painting they see is by John Constable, or that only three of the eight pictures in this initial room, entitled "Poetry", are by Rubens himself. Similarly, when they get to the room called "Elegance", which looks at portraiture, they won't feel so cheated when they discover that the ratio of Rubens to other artists is just 2:11. The emphasis here is definitely on the word "legacy".

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsRebecca Willis

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, January 21st 2015

    Werner Herzog would make a bad psychoanalyst. For one thing, he hates psychobabble, and has said many times that the damage it has wrought is on a par with the Spanish Inquisition. For another, he is a madman. Herzog is, after all, the man who dragged a steamship up a mountain in the Amazon, and the man who stewed and ate his own shoe, all in the name of cinema. He’s also the man who was shot and wounded during an interview, but carried on, saying the bullet was “not significant”. Herzog is wild, untamed, a “metaphysical Tarzan”, as the critic Pauline Kael once called him. But people don’t seem to mind. More and more have been turning to the 72-year-old Herzog for advice; in a recent interview with the Telegraph, he described it as “a huge avalanche of young people in particular, who actually want guidance”—not just about film-making, but about life’s grand themes: individuality, self-expression…chicken hypnosis.

    Last Friday, a small avalanche of people—some 2,000—turned up at Central Hall, a marble behemoth of a church in London, for an event called “Guidance for the Perplexed”. Billed as a conversation between Herzog and Paul Holdengräber, the director of the LIVE series at the New York Public Library, it was the oral counterpart to “A Guide for the Perplexed”, a book of interviews with Herzog by the British writer Paul Cronin. (A revised and expanded version of Cronin’s “Herzog on Herzog”, published in 2002.)

    read more » Charlie McCanncinemaFilmLondontalks

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, January 20th 2015

    In 1950, the Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, to create a photo essay on segregation in American schools. Parks was the only African-American photographer on the staff at Life and he was no stranger to the subject. The youngest of 15 children born to a tenant farmer and a maid, he had attended the segregated Plaza School, where an all-black student body had been taught by an all-black faculty. For the young Parks this had seemed quite normal, as had the black Main Street that existed on one side of the railroad tracks and the white Main Street that existed on the other. But by 1950 this forced separation was starting to splinter and Kansas was at the centre of a growing national debate over segregation: in 1954 the Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, would order schools to desegregate, kick-starting the civil-rights revolution.

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsgeorge pendlePhotography

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, January 19th 2015

    Sometimes it’s easier to admire a play than to like it. That was the case with “Bull”, a one-act four-hander by Mike Bartlett (“Cock”, “King Charles III”) that premiered at the Sheffield Crucible Studio in 2013 and opened, with the same excellent cast, at the Young Vic in London last Thursday. The premise is simple—a team of three “Apprentice”-style office workers, head to toe in grim grey businesswear, wait to meet their boss, who is due to “downsize” one of them. None know who it will be, but two of them have a pretty good idea, and will play any sort of destructive psychological game to make sure things go their way. On Soutra Gilmour’s spare, pull-no-punches set, the metaphor is made clear: the three will do verbal battle in a wrestling ring, floored with office carpeting, lit by a harsh square of fluorescent lighting, with a recalcitrant watercooler in one corner. Half the audience stands around the ring; the other half sits in raked seats above, peering claustrophobically down on the three combatants. The game is on: a 55-minute nightmare.

    read more » Isabel LloydTheatre

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 15th 2015

    One hesitates to use the word “egoless” with regard to Hollywood but one of the pleasures turned up by this year’s awards season has been watching the director Richard Linklater’s Capraesque path to and from the winner’s podium. His film "Boyhood", shot over a 12-year period in the life of its teenage hero, played by the newcomer Ellar Coltrane (above), has been the unlikely frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar since October. Unlikely because nothing about Linklater’s gently indolent films—from his debut, "Slacker", to "Dazed and Confused" to the "Before Sunrise" trilogy—exactly shouted “Oscar”. They don’t shout much of anything at all, offering up small-scale epiphanies and stoner pensées in a spirit of patient pointillism not a million miles away from the films of Eric Rohmer.

    read more » awardscinemacultureFilmOscarsTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Caroline Moorehead and Stefanie Grant, January 15th 2014

    Since New Year’s Eve two rusting cargo ships overflowing with cold, hungry, desperate people have arrived on Italy’s southern coast. They are a worrying sign that the Mediterranean’s refugee and migrant crisis is becoming a greater catastrophe. We covered this crisis for Intelligent Life last summer, after visiting El Kabariya, a village outside Tunis. We spoke to the families of economic migrants who, four years ago, had escaped impoverished Tunisia for Europe in small boats, never to be seen again. Today, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing conflict in the Middle East by sea. The majority are Syrians and, unlike on other refugee boats, many on these two enormous ships were middle-class professionals. A UN video of one of the ship’s arrivals shows a young boy and girl standing on the quay clutching a big white toy rabbit—not something very poor children would carry. Another passenger, Mohamed, had been in his final year at the dental school in Aleppo, until it was destroyed.

    read more » Caroline MooreheadcrimeNewsPOLITICSsocietyStefanie Grant

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 14th 2015

    Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the most revered writer-director of his generation. He was already loved for “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”, but when he made “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master”, he came to be regarded as a major American artist whose grand themes and experimental narratives made his contemporaries seem like lightweights. It’s an assessment I would go along with. But when the trailer for his new film promised that it would be a faster, sillier, sex’n’drug-fuelled detective comedy, I couldn’t stifle a sigh of relief. Anderson, it seemed, had got his sense of humour back.

    read more » cinemacultureFilmNicholas Barber