Tuesday 31 March 2009

we need to talk about kevin

Kevin Spacey does an ad for American Airlines. more ...

Monday 30 March 2009

no hiding from this story

This blog has suggested before that Greek drama, with its focus on hubris, offers rich source material for plays on climate change. (Faust has been another suggestion; and the genre of farce another still.)

But as the issue of climate-change refugees becomes increasingly urgent there's another Greek narrative that offers a ready template: The Odyssey.

In Le Monde today there's an op-ed article on the remarkable success of Welcome (blogged here), a new movie about a swimming instructor who helps train a young Kurd to swim the channel (pic).

Jacques Mandelbaum and Thomas Sotinel place the movie in a tradition that includes Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears and Costa-Gavras. They argue that this type of story will only increase as the rich countries: 'multipliaient les mesures répressives et dissuasives à l'encontre des migrants'.

The range of extreme risks undertaken by illegal migrants gives these stories the appeal of 'un modern Ulysse'. (Except, of course, that Odysseus was heading in the other direction: he was on his way home.)

The authors also suggest that another character is vital to the success of Welcome (as it is, they say, to Tom McCarthy's The Visitor). This is the citizen who is suddenly confronted by the situation of the illegal immigrant. It's through these characters ('les intercesseurs') that the audience enters these hidden worlds. more ...

Sunday 29 March 2009

the darwin of our day

Charles Darwin wrote about how species began; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now points to how it all might end.

In a piece for Intelligent Life, I argue the IPCC reports constitute the paradigm-shifting publication of the 21st century. more ...

Saturday 28 March 2009

the enterprise

'The trouble with theatres is that people are sitting in seats that they have sat in before, to watch other plays. They are settling in for a certain type of experience, bringing with them a lot of preconceptions that start filtering into their brains before the play has even begun.'

'Isn't all writing to some extent about trying to get through the layers of propaganda and false interpretations and received ideas and clichés that prevent us from seeing what's going on? I think that's the enterprise.'

Two quotes from Wallace Shawn in today's Guardian

More Wallace Shawn on this blog: he wants Naomi Klein's audience here; he's unlike David Mamet here. more ...

Friday 27 March 2009

'thick soft damp green richness'

When Winnie uses the words 'beechen green' in Happy Days she is quoting Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale.

But thanks to the publication of Samuel Beckett's Letters we now know that three decades before he was sharing his close interest in Keats with his great friend Thomas McGreevy,

'I like that crouching brooding quality in Keats—squatting on the moss, crushing a petal, licking his lips & rubbing his hands.'

The attraction, he said, lay in the 'thick soft damp green richness' of the poems. more ...

smoke screen

The New York Times reports that in the mid-1990s, Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York senator who has replaced Hillary Clinton,

'played a significant role on behalf of the tobacco industry in battling the government’s attempts to prove wrongdoing by cigarette makers'.

Within its report, the Times reproduces this - almost comical - picture of tobacco executives telling Congress in 1994 that they did not believe there was a proven link between smoking and cancer.

Nancy Oreskes, George Monbiot, and others, have detailed the links between Big Tobacco and climate-change denial. more ...

model answer

'We have never successfully modelled the transition from euphoria to fear.' Alan Greenspan more ...

Wednesday 25 March 2009

tasteless weddings

Two tweets from Stephen Fry in Malaysia (he says he's here):

Tragedy is sharks fin is completely tasteless - soup has to be flavoured with chicken stock. Such a shame.

about 9 hours ago

150 million sharks killed a year. It's devastation. Almost entirely for the fins. Chinese weddings traditionally serve the soup.

about 9 hours ago

(Closer to home: this blogger is tweeting Salome in Birmingham this evening with Erika Sunnegårdh as Salome. The tweets will appear here. A piece about tweeting Mozart appears here.) more ...

Tuesday 24 March 2009


Cuckoo watch: a friend says that if you want to hear a descending minor third, you need only listen to the current Speaker of the House say 'Order! Order!

Locavore theatre: another friend takes issue with Poor Player's attack on TV's sugary output. 'Has Poor Player ever watched television? Jon Stewart ... the Simpsons ... Mad Men ... it's only bad if you choose to watch the bad stuff.'

But Poor Player has a point: musicals get rolled out across the world with not-such-spectacular sets and not-such-starry leads and after a few assistant directors have come and gone the shows lose any connection to where they came from or who they were for.

The public ends up buying the poster and t-shirt. more ...

Monday 23 March 2009

the last first cuckoo

The sound inspired Handel's Cuckoo and the Nightingale (YouTube audio), Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (the clarinet in the second movement - thanks wiki), Saint-Saëns' Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods (Youtube audio) and Delius' On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (YouTube audio). No wonder: its two notes form a descending minor third. Two or three weeks from now, you should be hearing it. Round about 14 April. Except you won't. more ...

glass half full, ctd.

A reader points out that neither the free-market magazine reason online, which featured the Matt Ridley interview, nor this blog, which quoted from it, mentioned that Ridley is the former chairman of Northern Rock.

As such, of course, he might be considered to have done his bit to precipitate the credit crunch and help lower carbon emissions. more ...

phantom of the arts

Poor Player likens the arts debate to the one about food.

'The concentration of the arts into large cities at the expense of the rest of America’s artistic life has meant that only a very few can have a “healthy arts lifestyle” while millions get artistically obese on the sugar-laden and overprocessed products sold to them by television and large-musical touring companies.' (Hat-tip: TI) more ...

the glass half full

After Wendell Berry's glum pic and pronouncement over the weekend, this blog offers three reasons to see the glass half full:

Science writer Matt Ridley refuses to be downhearted quoting Lord Macaulay in 1830: 'Why is it that with nothing but improvement behind us we anticipate nothing but disaster before us?' (Hat-tip: A&L)

The New Yorker's David Owen says 'One beneficial consequence of the ongoing global economic crisis is that it has put a little time back on the carbon clock ...'

My editor at Intelligent Life wins the motion that 'in its appetite for culture the world is wising up more than it is dumbing down.' more ...

Saturday 21 March 2009

the rememberers

The American blog Theatre Ideas argues for local, sustainable and decentralised theatre. This week it quotes a bleak assessment of the arts today from the Kentucky writer and farmer, Wendell Berry (left),

'In a disintegrating, shallowly pluralistic society such as ours, the artist's role gravitates toward a kind of nonessential entertainment, which merely distracts from things that matter.'

'In a truly grounded, locally adapted culture, the artists would be the rememberers. They would memorialize great occasions, preserve necessary insights and so on.' more ...

Friday 20 March 2009

first day, premiere, new blog, new channel

It's official, it's spring. But the vernal equinox doesn't mean that today the length of daytime equals the length of nighttime. Daylight's already nudged ahead.

Watch the video from The Age of Stupid premiere when Pete Postlethwaite tells Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, that he's going to hand back his OBE. (Hat-tip: WS)

Our faunal rewilding correspondent, playwright Samantha Ellis, now has her own blog.

The movies from the Ashden Awards are now on Green TV. more ...

Thursday 19 March 2009


In the first case of its kind, employment judge David Sneath said Tim Nicholson, a former environmental policy officer, could invoke employment law for protection from discrimination against him for his conviction that climate change was the world's most important environmental problem. more ...

Wednesday 18 March 2009

villes en transition

Transition Culture announces that the French-speaking world can now read about the Transition movement ('the evolving exploration into the head, heart and hands of energy descent') at Transition: ‘Villes et Communautes en Transition’ . more ...

Tuesday 17 March 2009

radicals get it, pragmatists don't

Plenty of other blogs have linked to this piece by Clay Shirky about newspapers and the internet, and how it compares to the invention of Gutenberg's printing press, and where we might go from here.

Money quote:

'Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals.' more ...

Monday 16 March 2009

meal time

In her latest lecture, Bonnie Marranca, author of The Ecologies of Theatre, examines the ingredients that make up 'the theatre of food'. more ...

Sunday 15 March 2009

what green first nights look like

You can watch a 51-minute preview of The Age of Stupid, which premieres today.

No dramatist ought to need to repeat the movie's content, but theatres generally would do well to emulate the range of inventive greenery that surrounds this evening's premiere. The list runs:

'full eco audit of emissions from the event; solar powered projector; pedal-powered popcorn making machine; used coffee bean sacks recycled as trendy fence covers; re-used and reusable Green Carpet; bicycles and electric vehicles for celebs, charged from renewable energy sources; biodiesel for vehicles, made from recycled cooking oil collected by volunteers from friendly local chip shops; organic chocolate, beer and soft drinks; no bottled water, disposable cups or other crap like that; no flying! and no offsetting. Offsetting is palpable nonsense.' more ...

Saturday 14 March 2009

channel hopping

A key theme in climate-change stories will be illegal refugees, or l'immigration clandestine.

Today's Liberation devotes several pages to Philippe Lioret's new movie, Welcome, about a young Iraqi refugee, and the Calais swimming instructor who tries to help him cross the channel to England.

The paper links this movie to a genre that includes Costa-Gavras's Eden a L'Ouest, Ken Loach's It's A Free World and Inarritu's Babel.

pic: Firat Ayverdi and Vincent Lindon in Welcome more ...

Friday 13 March 2009

ascetic aesthetics

A reader writes (re: unsold) that British GQ has dropped 'luxury' as one of the words above its masthead.

Will the credit crunch also lead to a new 'ascetic aesthetic' in the arts?

In the New Yorker this week, Hilton Als reviews David Cromer's stripped-back production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. It sounds like theatre's version of unplugged.

'We've grown so accustomed to the glitz of acting - the special effects, the makeup, the lighting - that we sometimes forget that the best part of it comes from the performer's soul, the desire to express the truth through a fantasy. By doing away with the effects ... Cromer provides us with a master class in the fundamental art of making believe'

Pic: David Cromer as the Stage Manager in Our Town. more ...

Thursday 12 March 2009

invisible, collapsed and blurring

The Artful Manager picks up on a presentation by danah boyd to Microsoft researchers about the dynamics of social media systems.

Three key areas are outlined: 'invisible audiences', 'collapsed contexts' and 'blurring of public and private'. more ...

Wednesday 11 March 2009


Will the credit crunch bring a deeper shift in consumer attitudes?

On the train to New York, the anthropologist Grant McCracken sees a luxury ad defaced.

The New York Times reports that the mood on the charity circuit has turned against conspicuous consumption. The piece quotes the director of a market research company,

'Though the recession was always talked about in economic terms, we felt really strongly that, in fact, it was a crisis of culture'.

Meanwhile, Yan Pei-Ming's $100,000 portrait of Bernie Madoff remains unsold. more ...

Tuesday 10 March 2009

to map or not to map

A reader writes to question whether the mental map (below) on climate change really helps understanding or simply just reinforces,

'a way of thinking that communicates quickly, but without depth ... for someone, coming to it from the outside, it could represent a way of thinking that is part of the problem.'

For example, the reader recommends going back to Debategraph and clicking on the 'arts' bubble: there is only one entry (so far). It's for 'Hamlet's existential dilemma' and quotes three lines from the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy. And that's the sum total under 'arts'. more ...

Monday 9 March 2009

mental map

The Independent is working with Debategraph to develop a map on climate-change issues:

'the whole structure of the map is like a wiki – every aspect is mutable, provisional, and open to further refinement – and anyone can add new issues, positions, arguments, events and evidence to the map.' more ...

Sunday 8 March 2009

tweeting mozart

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter: there are many new forms of arts coverage that can bypass mainstream media.

I've done a piece for More Intelligent Life about my 12-hour backstage twitter of the WNO's Marriage of Figaro. more ...

Friday 6 March 2009

the green custard show

The Times reports that Jonathon Porritt has criticised Leila Deen for throwing green custard at Lord Mandelson (left).

Porritt is quoted as saying: 'Everyone knows it doesn’t change anyone’s mind. It is just for show. There’s a risk that this kind of frivolity reduces the seriousness of the cause.'

He adds, "The movement has always recognised the difference between the serious campaigning and theatre.'

(Porritt discusses drama and environmentalism with us.) more ...

Thursday 5 March 2009

stays in the mind

There's a big overlap between environmentalism and science fiction: both are fascinated by projecting scenarios, tracking consequences, and pinpointing the moment of 'what-if'.

The BBC's current Science-Fiction series has included adaptations of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine (left), which was partly inspired by Darwin's Origin of Species; J. G. Ballard's The Drowned World, which is about London becoming a swamp as global warming melts the ice caps; and John Christopher's Death of Grass, in which a deadly virus attacks all the grass in the world.

In He Knew He Was Right, John and Mary Gribbin's new biography of James Lovelock, the authors note Lovelock's boyhood passion for science fiction. They write that Lovelock considered that:

'It was H.G. Wells who invented real science fiction, and he particularly remembers the impression made by The Time Machine, with its apocalyptic vision of a scorched future Earth - almost a scientific prediction of the actual fate of the Earth when the Sun swells to become a Red Giant star, and the warming overwhelms the mechanisms of Gaia.'

Lovelock says: 'That really stayed in my mind.'

(More on The Death of Grass from William Shaw here and from Andrew Curry here.) more ...

Wednesday 4 March 2009

antelope, llama ... politician

In Hugh Lofting's Dr Doolittle the original pushmi-pullyu was an antelope with a head at each end of the body.

In the Rex Harrison movie (left) the pushmi-pullyu was a double-headed llama.

The latest manifestation of someone pulling themselves in two directions is Stewart Stevenson, the Scottish Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change. Among his interests he lists 'private flying'. more ...

Tuesday 3 March 2009

stay grounded

Yesterday the poet-critic Alison Croggon, who writes the excellent Theatre Notes in Australia, blogged that she flew from Melbourne to Adelaide to go see a movie. I'd admire her even more as a critic if she hadn't. But then, could you be a theatre critic in Australia if you took the impacts of aviation seriously? more ...

Monday 2 March 2009

music manners

One of the fascinating details in Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise - out now in paperback in the UK - is how Mahler established the manners of today's classical music audience. Ross writes that Mahler codified,

'the etiquette of the modern concert experience, with its worshipful, pseudo-religious character. Opera houses of the 19th century were rowdy places; Mahler, who hated all extraneous noise, threw out singers' fan clubs, cut short applause between numbers, glared icily at talkative concert-goers, and forced latecomers to wait in the lobby.' more ...

Sunday 1 March 2009

stake out

John Vidal's Guardian piece on Franny Armstrong, producer of The Age of Stupid has Armstrong making a point (familiar to readers of this blog) that 'narrative, not just facts, is needed to make people understand what is at stake'. more ...