Culture

 
 
1. France wins the World Cup, beating Croatia 4-207:40[−]

TWENTY years after their first triumph, the French national football team are again world champions. Their 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow ended a World Cup that turned out to be perhaps the most gripping in a generation.

The 2018 World Cup was richer in drama than it was in elite standard football. While France will not be regarded as a team to rival Spain in 2010 or Germany in 2014, the last two World Cup winners, they overcame the misfortune of being in the trickier half of the draw to reach the final, defeating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium before beating Croatia. All four of their knockout-stage victories were secured in regular time.

In one sense, France should have been favoured going into the tournament. Its collection of players is worth more than those of any country, according to Transfermarkt, a website that collates information on players transfer fees. Even though Frances most valuable assets are their devastating array of attacking talent, the team generally played pragmatic,... Continue reading


2. Path of Blood shows an uncomfortable humanity behind inhumane acts., 13 [−]

THE rise of al-Qaeda, and Americas resulting war on terror, has been well documented on film. Less known are the domestic efforts of Arab countries to stem jihadism. Path of Blood, a documentary released on July 13th in Britain and America, is made up largely of footage gathered by Saudi Arabian security forces from al-Qaeda cells. It depicts a grisly cat-and-mouse game between 2003 and 2009. Much of the footage was shot by the terrorists themselves, and it reveals the unsettling humanity of those who take others lives.

The film opens with a young man called Abdulaziz looking nervously into a camera, trying to record a message of jihad before he carries out a suicide-bomb attack. But he cant do it. He stumbles over his words, gets chided by those off camera, reaches for a coffee and jokingly complains about being given a dirty cup. He comes across as goofy and naive.

Indeed, the exchange recalls Four Lions (2010), Chris Morriss send-up of bumbling jihad, in which a would-be terrorist records a comically... Continue reading


3. Why art exhibitions are returning to domestic settings., 12 [−]

IN THE dining room at Kettles Yard, a lemon sits on a pewter dish. Replaced every week, it directs viewers eyes to the adjacent wall, where the yellow spot in a painting by Joan Mir? gleams a little brighter. Illuminated by an everyday object, Tic Tic is one of the many artworks in Kettles Yard which proves that intimate and domestic spaces are the best places to appreciate art.

The Cambridge home of the late Jim Edea former curator at the Tateand his wife Helen, Kettles Yard is filled with work by the likes of Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo and Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Elisabeth Vellacott. When the Edes donated their home and its collection to Cambridge University, their caveat was that it be left without labels or plaques; visitors view artworks as equals to the domestic collage of furniture, flowers and ornamental objects. The relationship between viewer and subject is solely personal: where one person is drawn to a glass sculpture by Gregorio Vardanega, another is pulled to the sprawling pot... Continue reading


4. Ottessa Moshfeghs second novel is as arresting as her first., 12 [−]

My Year of Rest and Relaxation. By Ottessa Moshfegh. Penguin Press; 304 pages; $26.00. Jonathan Cape; ?12.99.

IN EILEEN, Ottessa Moshfeghs dark and suspenseful first novel, the heroine reflected on how her 24-year-old self was coaxed into committing foul deeds. This is the story of how I disappeared, she explained at the outset, before recounting her journey from solitary misfit to co-opted accomplice. Ms Moshfeghs second novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, is the story of how another 24-year-old woman disappeared, this time not from a crime scene but from the world at large.

It is the year 2000 and the unnamed narrator has decided to go into hibernation for a year, to forget the past and sleep myself into a new life. At first glance, there is nothing wrong with her current one. She is a Columbia graduate, looks like an off-duty model and lives in Manhattan off a sizeable inheritance. But it becomes clear... Continue reading


5. The siren call of separatism., 12 [−]

Scots and Catalans: Union and Disunion. By J.H. Elliott.Yale University Press; 360 pages; ?20. To be published in America in August; $30.

NOWHERE was the referendum on Scotlands independence in 2014 followed more closely than in Catalonia. And few people have offered more solidarity than the Scots to the separatist Catalan politicians who face jail and extradition for their illegal declaration of independence from Spain last year. Both territories have long been integral elements of larger states. But both are also self-proclaimed nations with a sense that their history and culture are distinct. In the 21st century, in an age of uncertainty over identities prompted by globalisation, assertive nationalists have taken power in both places and sought to break away from the advanced European democracies of which they form part.

This dual phenomenon deserves examination. Since nationalists look selectively to the past in making their case for a... Continue reading


6. On stage, the saga of the Lehman brothers is a parable of America., 12 [−]

For a few dollars more

ITALIANS have long been inspired by the opening up of America. In the 1960s, for example, no year went by without a fresh serving of spaghetti Westerns, with their vulpine heroes, their vistas and their villains. Now, half a century after Sergio Leone brought Once Upon a Time in the West to the screen, the National Theatre in London is hosting a different kind of Italian Westerna grand morality tale about God, greed, conquest and family, featuring bankers instead of gunslingers.

Part of The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini, a Florentine playwright, was performed in Paris in French in 2013. By the time Sam Mendes saw a five-hour Italian version directed by his mentor, Luca Ronconi, in Milan two years later, it had also been translated into German and rewritten by Mr Massini as a novel. The challenge for Mr Mendes, a distinguished stage director who has overseen two James Bond films, and the texts adapter, the Nationals Ben... Continue reading


7. A gripping tale of Sodom sliding towards its bloody end., 12 [−]

The good times rolled

City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai. By Paul French. Picador; 320 pages; $28. Riverrun; ?16.99.

EVEN during its heyday in the 1930s, the Shanghai of legend seemed to live under a premonition of death. After all, the treaty port was born of a monstrous crime: it was the prize foreigners claimed after the Qing dynasty resisted Britains efforts to force opium down Chinese lungs. The legend died after Pearl Harbour, engulfed by Japans total war. Everyone in Shanghai had seen the storm clouds gathering: Depression in the United States, fascism in Europe, Japanese aggression eating into China. Yet, for a while, these woes seemed to be chances for the city to prosperand to party as if there were no tomorrow.

Gone by then was all talk of Shanghai as a light to lead China out of heathen darkness. By the early 1930s international Shanghai was, as Paul... Continue reading


8. Not all borders make sense. But changing them is dangerous., 12 [−]

Break for the border

Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood. By Joshua Keating. Yale University Press; 296 pages; $26 and ?20.

VIT JEDLICKA spent five years trying to reshape Czech politics in his own libertarian image before he had a better idea. Why change his country when he could just create a new one? Thus the Free Republic of Liberland was born, on 2.7 square miles (7 square km) of riverbank between Croatia and Serbia. Liberland has a constitution (taxes are optional), an ersatz embassy and an online citizenship application form. So what makes it different from the United States, or Bangladesh, or Malta? Joshua Keating, an American journalist, visited several aspiring countries to understand which make the cut, and why.

For much of human history, boundaries were temporary, shifting as empires rose and fell. But since 2000, only a handful of countries have joined the world map. This status quo is... Continue reading


9. A British travellers travelogue., 12 [−]

The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain. By Damian Le Bas. Chatto & Windus; 320 pages; ?14.99

DAMIAN LE BAS is caught between two worlds. He grew up in a family of Romany gypsies. His great-grandmother used to regale him with tales of travellers and their ways. But he has non-gypsy blood, too, and has never lived a completely nomadic life; instead he won a scholarship to a private school and studied theology at Oxford University. Feeling adrift from his ancestry, Mr Le Bas takes to the road to rediscover some of Britains stopping places, old traveller campsites, and reconnect with the traditional ways.

In a Ford Transit vana popular vehicle among British travellersMr Le Bas stays at stopping places of all stripes. He visits a secret gypsy church in a forest in Hampshire, the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria and a travellers wedding site in the Scottish highlands. More prosaic destinations include urban lay-bys and... Continue reading


10. Harald Szeemann and the art of exhibition-making., 11 [−]

ON THE floor is a black, 1960s-style telephone. If this telephone rings, you may answer it, a note reads. Walter De Maria is on the line and would like to talk to you. This appealingly quirky piece of art, selected for exhibition in 1969 by Harald Szeemann, does not seem especially odd by todays standards. That is because current contemporary art shows owe so much to the Swiss curator, who died in 2005.

The landmark exhibitions of the previous 100 yearsthe first Impressionists collection in 1874 or the Armory Show in 1913, where Marcel Duchamps Nude Descending a Staircase shocked Americaare remembered primarily for their content. Szeemanns revolution was to make form significant, and to introduce a theatrical element to exhibition-making. Viewers became participants in a spectacle where artworks played off one another and the space around them. He was like a movie director, said Christo, whom Szeemann invited to wrap the Kunsthalle museum in Bern, Switzerland, in reinforced polyethylene in 1968 (pictured,... Continue reading


11. Sharp Objects cuts deeply., 10 [−]

A SMALL American town. A pair of brutal murders. A reporter, dogged by a host of demons, returning home to investigate. These are the basic elements of Sharp Objects, an eight-part HBO miniseries based on the debut novel by Gillian Flynn, best known as the author of Gone Girl. The result in this case, however, is more than the sum of its well-worn parts.

Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) has not been much missed in Wind Gap, Missouri, nor is she welcomed now. Camilles peers have children of their own. Local police consider her a scavenging journalist bent on stirring up trouble. Her patrician mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), shares their opinion: she can barely muster threadbare civility when Camille turns up, unannounced, and is appalled by her mission. Go report somewhere else, she hisses at Camille, and leave these people be. Perhaps this coldness is understandable. Still, theres something rotten about Wind Gap, and the viewer knows it as surely as Camille does. Adoras ice-cream hued mansion is the old-money... Continue reading


12. Florence and the Machines new feminist sensibility., 09 [−]

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE, a British indie band, marked the release of their new album on June 29th with a live televised performance from Central Park in New York. Backed by a six-piece band that included a harpist, Florence Welch sang a selection of singles from High as Hope before security guards hoisted her above the crowd for the encore of Shake It Out, a hit from 2011. As fans grabbed at Ms Welchs billowing robe in the humid morning air, the scene looked more like a Renaissance painting than a promotional event.

Over the past decade, Ms Welch has made her name both as a hitmaker and as a kind of strong-willed sprite. Her belting alto, floor-length floral gowns, flowing red tresses and rhapsodic tambourine stand out in an industry which often places a premium on bare skin and over-sexualised lyrics. Now, in the era of #MeToo, Florence and the Machine go beyond wisp and whimsy.

Ms Welch writes about love in the 21st century with the same frankness as her musical peers, but she relies upon lyrical introspection and... Continue reading



 
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