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    DAWN FRENCH, VAUDEVILLE THEATRE Tears as well as laughter in a well-oiled stage memoir 

    Tears as well as laughter in a well-oiled stage memoir

    When is a comedian not funny? Dawn French has spent so much of her life making audiences laugh that her debut as a one-woman performer requires some recalibration. The next-door smile is as big as ever, and the eagerness to be liked, so the early section – about the thieving march of time – looks and sounds like a stand-up routine that isn’t quite landing. Laughs are thin on the ground. It’s only about 20 minutes in, as she tells of her early childhood on an Air Force base in Yorkshire, that her intentions begin swimming into proper focus.


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    JEEPERS CREEPERS, LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE Tedious bio-play about Marty Feldman

    Tedious bio-play about Marty Feldman

    You might think that the combination of a play about one of the funniest comics of the second half of the 20th century, written by his biographer and directed by a member of Monty Python would be a winning one. But sadly Robert Ross's Jeepers Creepers: Through the Eyes of Marty Feldman is anything but.


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  • 05/05/16--01:08: Who was St Clair Bayfield?
  • WHO WAS ST CLAIR BAYFIELD? Florence Foster Jenkins's biographer tells the true story of her common-law husband, played by Hugh Grant in Stephen Frears's new film

    Florence Foster Jenkins's biographer tells the true story of her common-law husband, played by Hugh Grant in Stephen Frears's new film

    This week Stephen Frears's film about Florence Foster Jenkins opens. It will bring to the widest attention yet the story of a New York socialite who couldn’t sing and yet did sing, infamously, to a packed Carnegie Hall at the age of 76 in 1944. Meryl Streep plays her as only Meryl Streep can. But what of the man without whom her story would have been impossible? Nobody knows anything much about St Clair Bayfield (played by Hugh Grant, pictured below) beyond the skeletal facts: that he was her common-law husband and a not very successful character actor on Broadway.


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    SHIRLEY JACKSON: A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE New biography explores a darkly domestic genius

    On the centenary of her birth, a new biography explores a darkly domestic genius

    When asked about her most famous short story, "The Lottery", Shirley Jackson said, “I hate it. I’ve lived with that thing 15 years. Nobody will ever let me forget it.” Sixty-eight years later, it’s seared into the American psyche and has been a set text for decades. It was published in the New Yorker in 1948 and generated more mail – about 300 letters, mainly horrified - than any work of fiction the magazine had published.


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  • 12/30/16--00:30: To Walk Invisible, BBC One
  • TO WALK INVISIBLE Subtle but brilliant depiction of the Brontë sisters

    Subtle but brilliant depiction of the Brontë sisters

    Yorkshire-born screenwriter Sally Wainwright has carved a distinguished niche for herself as chronicler of that brooding, beautiful region’s social and familial dramas. After the romance of Last Tango in Halifax and the gritty panorama of Happy Valley, she has settled on perhaps the quintessential troubled Yorkshire family, with awesome bleakness on the side: the Brontës.


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    SUNDAY BOOK: YIYUN LI'S MEMOIR 'Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life': deep, or pretentious?

    A brave meditation on depression and the consolations of literature

    Yiyun Li’s fiction comes garlanded in praise from authors and journals that don’t ladle it out carelessly, so it feels almost churlish to cavil over a memoir written during the course of two years while the author battled serious mental health issues.


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    ★★★★ THE SEASONS IN QUINCY: FOUR PORTRAITS OF JOHN BERGER Four very different films create an intimate portrait of an influential man

    Four very different films create an intimate portrait of an influential man

    “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.” I’ve quoted these words by John Berger many, many times. They are in my bloodstream, as it were, since they provided me with an explanation for my experience as a young woman in the world. 

    The 1972 television series and accompanying book Ways of Seeing from which they came also changed the way people looked at and thought about art. The clarity and conviction of Berger’s observations about how we see and read images cut through the obfuscating waffle which, until then, had passed for art criticism. He made it clear that images are, first and foremost, a means of communication and, as such, they have political and social content as well as aesthetic merit.

    Sadly Berger died last January aged 91. The Seasons in Quincy is an affectionate portrait of the man, his ideas and his life in Quincy, the village in the French Haute-Savoie to which he moved in the mid 1970s with his third wife, Beverly. Made by different directors while Berger was still alive, the four films look at various aspects of his life. For anyone wanting a conventional documentary, they will be a frustrating experience; but then it would be hard to do justice to a man whose prolific writings encompass a wide range of topics. The Seasons in QuincyHe described himself as a revolutionary story-teller; when awarded the Booker Prize in 1972 he donated half the prize money to the Black Panther Party in Britain. As well as books on Picasso, Spinoza, documentary photography, the Russian emigré Ernst Neizvestny and artists working in the Soviet Union, Berger also wrote novels, short stories, poems and social commentary. His book A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe (1975), for instance, was informed by his experience of living and working among peasants in the Haute-Savoie. And he broached the subject again in the 1980s trilogy Into Their Labours, this time in novel form.

    Tilda Swinton describes her opening film as “A photograph of a meeting between friends”. She and Berger were both born on 5 November, 34 years apart; this created, says Swinton, “an indissoluble bond of kinship” between them. She visits Berger the week before Christmas for “a catch-up”. 

    Watching her slice apples for a crumble triggers childhood memories in him of his father, who served on the Western Front in World War One and was awarded the Military Cross, but never spoke of his wartime experiences. It's another thing the pair have in common; despite losing a leg in World War Two, Swinton’s father never mentioned his disability. The decision to keep silent and not hand on experiences from which one’s children might learn prompted Berger to write, “History cannot have its tongue cut out.”

    Swinton ends the film with her recipe for apple crumble, which includes the lines: “an apron of apples preferably from one’s own tree, a horse’s cheek of oats, at least one sound finger and thumb for crumbling, a brave amount of ground ginger, an élan of lemon juice, appetite, good company”. Depending on one’s state of mind, the film is either disarmingly intimate or annoyingly self-regarding.

    “We came to Quincy to talk to John Berger about uprisings ... the Prague Spring, the Arab Spring and the perpetual false spring of capital,” says Christopher Roth at the beginning of his film Spring. On arrival, though, he discovered that “a private winter had established itself in the household with the death of Beverly”. Switching to plan B, he made a film about animals and our interactions with them.The Seasons in QuincyBerger’s presence is established through excerpts from Once Upon a Time, a film made by Mike Dibb in 1983 and extracts from books like Why Look at Animals? and Pig Earth, in which Berger discusses our often conflicted relationship with animals. Footage of zoo and farm animals and an interview with a peasant farmer in Haute Savoie links Berger’s ideas with the present. It is a good film about an important subject, but after the opening statement, it inevitably feels like a stand-in for the main event.

    Of the four films, A Song for Politics by Bartek Dziadosz and Colin MacCabe is the nearest thing to a documentary. “All the important decisions which determine the use, exploitation and organisation of the planet and its resources are now taken by financial speculators”, says Berger in a panel discussion about the decline of capitalism and the role of the writer in a world where readers are bombarded by information. This is intercut with snippets from Berger’s many television appearances in the 1960s and ’70s and ends with his affectionate account of arriving in the Haute Savoie. The film cannot hope to be all-encompassing, but it conveys the essence of Berger’s ideas in an extremely engaging and intelligent way. 

    Continuity is the theme of Harvest by Tilda Swinton.Berger stays with her in Paris, while her children Honor and Xavier travel to Quincy to visit Berger’s son Yves who was born in the village. This euphoric look at his life involves making prints, dipping candles, keeping bees and harvesting raspberries from the canes planted by Beverly, which at John’s request they eat while thinking of her. 

    Overleaf: watch the trailer to The Seasons in Quincy


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    ★★★★ BRENDA MADDOX: READING THE ROCKS Unearthing the fundamental: the engrossing story of a 19th-century phenomenon

    Unearthing the fundamental: the engrossing story of a 19th-century phenomenon

    Reading the Rocks has a provocative subtitle, “How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life”, indicating the role of geology in paving the way to an understanding of the evolution of our planet as a changing physical entity that was to eventually support ever-evolving forms of life: but this is not so much revealtion of a secret, more a history.


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    Duff McKagan's excellent memoir is poorly rendered for TV

    Duff McKagan is a survivor. He’s a bass player too, from the fledgling Seattle punk/proto-grunge outfit 10 Minute Warning to the stadium-filling behemoth of Guns N’ Roses, but if you were judging by the narrative weight of this 2015 documentary, you’d have to conclude that he’s mostly survivor.


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    ★★★★★ JAMES HAMILTON: GAINSBOROUGH - A PORTRAIT An original, chatty but scholarly biography of the great English artist

    An original, chatty but scholarly biography of the great English artist

    James Hamilton’s wholly absorbing biography is very different from the usual kind of art historical study that often surrounds such a major figure as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). Hamilton is positively in love with his subject, and writes with verve and enthusiasm, yet grounds it on vast research with primary and secondary sources, all impeccably noted.


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    PRISM, HAMPSTEAD THEATRE Terry Johnson and Robert Lindsay inside the mind of cinematographer Jack Cardiff

    Playwright Terry Johnson gets inside the mind of cinematographer Jack Cardiff

    Jack Cardiff was one of the all-time greats of cinematography, the man who shot such Powell and Pressburger classics as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death, worked on John Huston’s The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and lensed Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl. He was renowned as “the man who makes women look beautiful”, but despite this he didn’t shrink from shooting Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood (Part II).


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    ★★★★★ CLAIRE TOMALIN: A LIFE OF MY OWN A life in literature, literature in life - a story of blessings as well as sadness

    A life in literature, literature in life - a story of blessings as well as sadness

    The title says it all, or at least quite a lot. Luminously intelligent, an exceptionally hard worker, bilingual in French, a gifted biographer, Claire Tomalin has been at the heart of the literati glitterati all her working life.


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    ★★★★ HANG KANG: THE WHITE BOOK Meditative semi-autobiography is precise on pain

    Meditative semi-autobiography is precise on pain

    A woman gives birth alone two months early in a frost-bound village in the Korean countryside. In Poland, a solitary woman washes down white migraine pills and concludes she must write. The child that is born dies. The finished book commemorates her death by according her an imagined life.


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    ★★★★ EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Inclusive and utterly joyful

    It's a triumphant West End transfer for this big-hearted British musical

    Everybody’s been talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie since its Sheffield Crucible debut earlier this year. It’s unusual to see a musical come steaming into the West End based on word on mouth – not star casting, or association with an existing franchise.


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    Emotional truths and visual virtuosity in a new biography of the 'dirty landscape-painter who hated his nose'

    Jenny Uglow’s biography of Edward Lear (1812-1888) is a meander, almost day by day, through the long and immensely energetic life of a polymath artist.


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    ★★★ DAVE EGGERS: THE MONK OF MOKHA How to become a grand master of coffee

    The true story of a young Yemeni-American and his American dream

    A macchiato may never taste the same again. If you’ve ever wondered about the politics and history behind your cup of designer coffee, The Monk of Mokha will answer all your questions, and more.


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  • 12/30/16--00:30: To Walk Invisible, BBC One
  • TO WALK INVISIBLE Subtle but brilliant depiction of the Brontë sisters

    Subtle but brilliant depiction of the Brontë sisters

    Yorkshire-born screenwriter Sally Wainwright has carved a distinguished niche for herself as chronicler of that brooding, beautiful region’s social and familial dramas. After the romance of Last Tango in Halifax and the gritty panorama of Happy Valley, she has settled on perhaps the quintessential troubled Yorkshire family, with awesome bleakness on the side: the Brontës.


    0 0

    SUNDAY BOOK: YIYUN LI'S MEMOIR 'Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life': deep, or pretentious?

    A brave meditation on depression and the consolations of literature

    Yiyun Li’s fiction comes garlanded in praise from authors and journals that don’t ladle it out carelessly, so it feels almost churlish to cavil over a memoir written during the course of two years while the author battled serious mental health issues.


    0 0

    ★★★★ THE SEASONS IN QUINCY: FOUR PORTRAITS OF JOHN BERGER Four very different films create an intimate portrait of an influential man

    Four very different films create an intimate portrait of an influential man

    “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.” I’ve quoted these words by John Berger many, many times. They are in my bloodstream, as it were, since they provided me with an explanation for my experience as a young woman in the world. 

    The 1972 television series and accompanying book Ways of Seeing from which they came also changed the way people looked at and thought about art. The clarity and conviction of Berger’s observations about how we see and read images cut through the obfuscating waffle which, until then, had passed for art criticism. He made it clear that images are, first and foremost, a means of communication and, as such, they have political and social content as well as aesthetic merit.

    Sadly Berger died last January aged 91. The Seasons in Quincy is an affectionate portrait of the man, his ideas and his life in Quincy, the village in the French Haute-Savoie to which he moved in the mid 1970s with his third wife, Beverly. Made by different directors while Berger was still alive, the four films look at various aspects of his life. For anyone wanting a conventional documentary, they will be a frustrating experience; but then it would be hard to do justice to a man whose prolific writings encompass a wide range of topics. The Seasons in QuincyHe described himself as a revolutionary story-teller; when awarded the Booker Prize in 1972 he donated half the prize money to the Black Panther Party in Britain. As well as books on Picasso, Spinoza, documentary photography, the Russian emigré Ernst Neizvestny and artists working in the Soviet Union, Berger also wrote novels, short stories, poems and social commentary. His book A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe (1975), for instance, was informed by his experience of living and working among peasants in the Haute-Savoie. And he broached the subject again in the 1980s trilogy Into Their Labours, this time in novel form.

    Tilda Swinton describes her opening film as “A photograph of a meeting between friends”. She and Berger were both born on 5 November, 34 years apart; this created, says Swinton, “an indissoluble bond of kinship” between them. She visits Berger the week before Christmas for “a catch-up”. 

    Watching her slice apples for a crumble triggers childhood memories in him of his father, who served on the Western Front in World War One and was awarded the Military Cross, but never spoke of his wartime experiences. It's another thing the pair have in common; despite losing a leg in World War Two, Swinton’s father never mentioned his disability. The decision to keep silent and not hand on experiences from which one’s children might learn prompted Berger to write, “History cannot have its tongue cut out.”

    Swinton ends the film with her recipe for apple crumble, which includes the lines: “an apron of apples preferably from one’s own tree, a horse’s cheek of oats, at least one sound finger and thumb for crumbling, a brave amount of ground ginger, an élan of lemon juice, appetite, good company”. Depending on one’s state of mind, the film is either disarmingly intimate or annoyingly self-regarding.

    “We came to Quincy to talk to John Berger about uprisings ... the Prague Spring, the Arab Spring and the perpetual false spring of capital,” says Christopher Roth at the beginning of his film Spring. On arrival, though, he discovered that “a private winter had established itself in the household with the death of Beverly”. Switching to plan B, he made a film about animals and our interactions with them.The Seasons in QuincyBerger’s presence is established through excerpts from Once Upon a Time, a film made by Mike Dibb in 1983 and extracts from books like Why Look at Animals? and Pig Earth, in which Berger discusses our often conflicted relationship with animals. Footage of zoo and farm animals and an interview with a peasant farmer in Haute Savoie links Berger’s ideas with the present. It is a good film about an important subject, but after the opening statement, it inevitably feels like a stand-in for the main event.

    Of the four films, A Song for Politics by Bartek Dziadosz and Colin MacCabe is the nearest thing to a documentary. “All the important decisions which determine the use, exploitation and organisation of the planet and its resources are now taken by financial speculators”, says Berger in a panel discussion about the decline of capitalism and the role of the writer in a world where readers are bombarded by information. This is intercut with snippets from Berger’s many television appearances in the 1960s and ’70s and ends with his affectionate account of arriving in the Haute Savoie. The film cannot hope to be all-encompassing, but it conveys the essence of Berger’s ideas in an extremely engaging and intelligent way. 

    Continuity is the theme of Harvest by Tilda Swinton.Berger stays with her in Paris, while her children Honor and Xavier travel to Quincy to visit Berger’s son Yves who was born in the village. This euphoric look at his life involves making prints, dipping candles, keeping bees and harvesting raspberries from the canes planted by Beverly, which at John’s request they eat while thinking of her. 

    Overleaf: watch the trailer to The Seasons in Quincy


    0 0

    ★★★★ BRENDA MADDOX: READING THE ROCKS Unearthing the fundamental: the engrossing story of a 19th-century phenomenon

    Unearthing the fundamental: the engrossing story of a 19th-century phenomenon

    Reading the Rocks has a provocative subtitle, “How Victorian Geologists Discovered the Secret of Life”, indicating the role of geology in paving the way to an understanding of the evolution of our planet as a changing physical entity that was to eventually support ever-evolving forms of life: but this is not so much revealtion of a secret, more a history.


(Page 1) | 2 | 3 | newer