The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Kassia St Clair, November 26th 2014

    "Leviathan" closes as it opens: with a sequence of lingering shots of a rock-strewn, wave-pummelled peninsula in north-western Russia in a palette of thick greys and sickly yellows. In another film such deliberate symmetry might feel heavy-handed. But Andrey Zvyagintsev's 142-minute epic is sufficiently muscular—and leavened with touches of dark humour—to bear operatic flourishes. What begins as a David-and-Goliath fable of a small man taking on a corrupt politician soon stretches its jaws and bites into far bigger prey: the state, organised religion, God and the bleakness of life itself.

    read more » FilmKassia St ClairRussia

    ~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, November 25th 2014

    “Garbage is fascinating,” says the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz. “I’m kind of addicted to it.” He knows his subject well. For three years he worked with a group of rubbish-pickers in a Rio de Janeiro favela, helping them to create giant self-portraits from the trash. The project culminated in an Oscar-nominated documentary, “Waste Land” (2010). “I had so many ideas being in among the garbage,” he goes on. “I started to see the back of my mind as a dump, then I began to think of what an image looked like inside there. It was fragmented, pulled together by myriad little pieces of references and bits of ideas.”

    read more » ArtBrazilGeorgia GrimondPhotography

    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, November 20th 2014

    Homer called salt a “divine substance”, but nowadays it’s the culinary bogeyman. Countless studies and stats warn us about eating too much, or eating too little, but there’s no denying that in the right proportion it’s essential for our survival—and it makes food taste great. I recently ate a scallop cooked on a heated Himalayan pink salt block, and it was the best scallop I’d ever tasted. The salt block seasoned and seared it so delicately that the spectrum of flavour slowly revealed itself, from clear light juiciness to deep caramelly crispiness.

    Salt-block cooking is a new trick in the kitchen. The marble-like slabs have a curious beauty, but they’re robust pieces of kit: by firing them up or freezing them down, food can be grilled, cured, cooled, frozen, or just served, all with that subtle, rounded hint of seasoning. Mark Bitterman (above) is an expert on culinary salt—the natural kind, not the fortified white stuff. Founder of The Meadow, a store specialising in salt in Portland, Oregon and New York, he has also written two books on his favourite mineral: the award-winning “Salted” and the recently published “Salt Block Cooking”. I spoke to him about his obsession with salt, and the taste, nutrition and sustainability of salt-block cooking.

    read more » cookingFoodhealthLucy Farmer

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, November 20th 2014

    For each issue of Intelligent Life, we ask a selection of contributors to record their pieces for our digital editions and website. Below you can listen to Rebecca Willis on how touch, sound and smell influence our fashion sense, Ed Smith on whether cricket is better than baseball, Kieron Long on a design that has stood the test of time, Oliver Morton on geoengineering, and Robert Macfarlane on Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".

    read more » audionovember/december 2014Simon Willis

    ~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, November 19th 2014

    Our pick of the best new songs to slip into your pocket. Hear a selection on our player below, or find the playlist on Spotify by searching for IntLifeMag. All songs available on iTunes, unless otherwise stated.

    read more » intelligent tunesMusicTim de Lisle

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 18th 2014

    If you’re a boxer, a gangster, a soldier or a globetrotting super-spy, you must get used to seeing your own profession portrayed in films. Certain types of journalists—crime reporters, gossip columnists—must be accustomed to it, too. But I had never seen a film devoted to a film critic until I saw “Life Itself”, Steve James’s superb documentary about the late Roger Ebert.

    Admittedly, one reason why the film is so whirlingly entertaining is that Ebert wasn’t just a critic. He reviewed several new releases every week for the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years, but he was also a Falstaffian bon viveur who used to prop up the same bar as the author and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel and the rest of Chicago’s newspapermen. He was a motor-mouthed television star, with a long-running, sometimes hilariously fractious onscreen partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel. He wrote a science-fiction novel, a screenplay for Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, and a political blog with a fervent following.

    read more » DocumentaryFilmMemoirmoviesNicholas Barber

    ~ Posted by Matthew Engel, November 14th 2014

    It was nearly 25 years ago, shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and just before the failed state of East Germany officially died of shame. A contact took me to visit a small flat on the far side of the fast-disappearing wall. Someone, I was told, wanted to meet me. It all sounded excitingly cold war-ish.

    read more » BerlinCold WarGermanyMatthew EngelMemoir

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, November 13th 2014

    Early on in “The Imitation Game”, a new drama about Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park codebreakers, Turing tells his superior officer, Commander Denniston, that he has a plan to outsmart the Germans’ Enigma machine. However, he adds, it’s too technical for a layman to understand. When Denniston (Charles Dance) presses him, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) explains that a person can’t beat Enigma: it will take a machine to defeat the machine. “That doesn’t sound very technical,” bristles Denniston. And he’s quite right. It doesn’t. Despite being a film about a clever, complicated man doing clever, complicated things, “The Imitation Game” is simplified to the point of banality, as if its producers were terrified of confusing the audience for a single moment.

    read more » FilmHISTORYNicholas Barbertechnology

    ~ Posted by Simon Garfield, November 12th 2014

    As an author, there’s always one interview question you can never answer well enough. For me, after writing a book about the history of maps two years ago, the question was always a variation on, “What have you got against Google Maps?” The correct answer was, “Nothing, I use them all the time,” but I tried to offer fuller explanations of the beauty and romance of paper maps, and the ability to find one’s way home when the mobile runs out of charge. I always wished I could show rather than tell.

    read more » BooksCartographygeographyHISTORYmapsSimon Garfield

    ~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, November 10th 2014

    Standing outside a Baroque church in Rome recently, I realised with a shock that I had spent two days in the city without giving a thought to its religious monuments. Instead, my mind had been full of expatriate English poets.

    I’d come for a meeting of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, which cares for the house beside the Spanish Steps where Keats died. It’s now a museum of the younger Romantic poets, and as I approached it I remembered my first visit on an InterRailing trip in my student days. The sight of the plaque to the young English poet—“mente meravigliosa quanto precoce mori in questa casa” (“a mind as fine as it was precocious died in this house”)—had moved me to tears. It can still do so in middle age.

    read more » BooksItalyPoetryrereading