The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Alix Christie, October 16th 2014

    Two striking vehicles carry a new exhibition on German history at the British Museum. One is a 1953 Volkswagen Beetle parked in the museum's grand hall, a design commissioned by Hitler which became a symbol of Germany's post-war “economic miracle”. The other is a rickety wooden cart like those used by 12m-14m Germans forced from eastern Europe after the second world war, the largest—and largely unacknowledged—mass-refugee movement in history.

    German success and German suffering: these are sensitive, if not taboo, topics in light of the crimes of the Holocaust. But this survey confronts Germany's central paradox head-on. Some 200 carefully selected objects situate the 12 years of Nazi horror in the long stream of the past 600 years. Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, coined the term "a history in objects", and they do speak for themselves: a replica of the iron gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp stands juxtaposed with the light of German humanism, symbolised by a portrait of Goethe (top) and an abstract cradle from the Bauhaus.

    read more » Alix ChristieExhibitionsGermanyHISTORYLondon

    ~ Posted by Matthew Engel, October 16th 2014

    For the past three years I have been with Kathy. Our mutual interest is travel, and we have done many thousands of miles together. She is not my partner exactly, more something between a constant companion and an imaginary friend. Nor is she aware of the intensity of my feelings towards her, though she would have known, when she accepted the gig, that she was leaving herself open to becoming a fantasy object for the slightly unhinged. In return, I have to say that her conversational range is limited, which is why, when she has nothing useful to contribute, I shut her in the glove compartment.

    Kathy, as you may have gathered, is the voice on my satnav. She came into my life when I decided I could cope no longer with the screaming fits induced by the erratic signposting of English provincial cities. My technosceptic wife took an instant dislike to Jane and Tim, the English voices offered by TomTom. We experimented with Jacques from France, who was deemed educational. The language was not a problem but Jacques insisted on using metric. So we compromised on Kathy, who was listed as Irish. She is clearly from Ulster, as is brought home every time we approach a "roan-de-boat", and Ulster accents can be harsh; hers was soft and soothing.

    read more » BooksBritainMatthew EngelTravel

    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, October 15th 2014

    Arthur Russell’s father once said that he made music “you can’t really tap your foot to”. A generation of New York City disco dancers might disagree. Both were right: throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Russell’s work spanned contemporary, orchestral, country, disco and pop. It belonged in The Kitchen, a downtown avant-garde performance space frequented by Philip Glass, and The Loft, an underground dance party popular in New York’s gay scene. Russell was prolific, but struggled to finish anything. He only released one record, “World of Echo”, in his lifetime. When he died from AIDS in 1992, aged just 40, he was still relatively unknown and nearly broke.

    History has been kind to Russell’s memory. A series of reissues in the last decade, compiled from the hundreds of tape recordings Russell left to his partner, Tom Lee, have introduced some of his music to new audiences and influenced the next generation of songwriters. Some of these songwriters feature on a new album of Arthur Russell covers, “Master Mix: Arthur Russell + Red Hot”, released next week to raise money for the AIDS charity Red Hot.

    read more » CharityHazel SheffieldMusicRock

    ~ 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