Too Beautiful

Salgado 4

The celebrated Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado documents the lives of the poor, the marginalized and the dispossessed. In doing so he delineates a world that is rendered largely invisible in our media and brings it into art galleries across the globe. His photographs are formally brilliant and for this he has been roundly criticised. Continue reading »

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Bitter Lake: a review

bitter lake

A young British woman lectures a room of Afghan students. ‘Does anyone know what this is?’ she asks, pointing to a photo of a urinal. ‘An artist called Marcel Duchamps, who is very important in Western art, put this toilet in an art gallery about 100 years ago. It was a huge revolution.’  This is one of many funny, unsettling and haunting moments in Adam Curtis’ new documentary, ‘Bitter Lake’. His contention, explored ‘through the prism’ of Afghanistan, is that Continue reading »

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Timbuktu: review


From the nebulous Al Qaeda to the rampaging mobs who call themselves Daesh, Islamist fighters are portrayed in our media as an almost metaphysical threat: barbaric, ‘medieval’, an enemy that defies comprehension, they are the personification of the Terror that ‘we’, the civilized, are told we must fight. The beautiful and troubling film ‘Timbuktu’, set during the Islamist take-over of Northern Mali, reframes this story. Continue reading »

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Amy: a review

amy angel

In 2012, a year after her death, Asif Kapadia was approached to make a ‘warts and all’ documentary about Amy Winehouse. The commission came from the label that owns the artist’s back catalogue – Universal Music UK – whose CEO is an executive producer on the film. ‘Amy’ is now out on general release and has been critically acclaimed as a gritty and truthful portrait of the star.It’s hard not to be moved by the film since it documents the rise and fall of a Continue reading »

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Saccharine Sweet Francaise

Red lipstick and suspenders upstage Nazi atrocities again, as the National Front come second in French election.

Now I like a floral frock and a well-pressed Nazi uniform (on screen, you understand) as much as the next gal, but I do find the nostalgic framing of WWII in the movies a little troubling – and ‘Suite Francaise’ is no exception. The hand of the BBC is everywhere visible in the production, from the costumes to the doughty cast of characters who could have come straight from the set of ‘Poldark’ or ‘Lark Rise to Candleford.

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Icy innocence: Review

This tale of aspiring writer Viktor, the emperor penguin he has rescued from Kiev zoo and the murderous intrigue in which they find themselves embroiled, is related with the guilelessness of a story for very young children. The black humour and understated, deadpan style place the novel firmly in the absurdist, satirical tradition of other Russian-language writers, and on one level this is a withering caricature of post-Soviet Ukraine where shadowy mafia types have taken on the mantle of the Party.

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Not Waving but Drowning


Last September a ship left a small Mediterranean port with 500 people on board. Each had paid $2,000 for the trip. Later that day the ship sunk. Amongst the passengers was a 19 year old girl and her fiancé. This is her story:

‘My fiancé let go of my hand. We had to let go of each other’s hands because we were underwater . . . I was floating, unconscious. Somebody was talking to me but I was unable to answer. It was my fiancé, trying to wake me. He left me for a moment and then came back with an inflatable ring – one for children. He blew it up and gave it to me. I put it on and fell back in the water…

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Invitation to a beheading: the day I filmed an execution

Yesterday the demented nutcases who call themselves ISIS killed Alan Henning, a taxi driver from Salford who fell into their clutches while taking aid to Syria. ‘The brutal murder… . . . shows just how barbaric these terrorists are,’ tweeted the UK prime minister. It’s hard to disagree with him. This ‘theatre of cruelty’, the use of beheading and the framing of murder as spectacle, forces an intimate emotional identification with the victim – a fact which ISIS well understand and exploit to maximum effect. Four people have now been killed in this way, symbolic sacrifices in a long-running war which has claimed few victims from amongst the civilian populations of ‘the West’.

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The Dawkins Delusion

Beauty and the Beast illustration by Marianna Mayer


Like some wicked ogre intent on ruining bed time for the worlds’ children, Richard Dawkins, author of ‘The God Delusion’, caused a bit of a hoo-ha last week when he queried the wisdom of reading fairy tales to the young: “I think it’s rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism […] There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it’s statistically too improbable.”

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Pretty in Pink or Shameless in Seattle?


Last Friday an Italian court re-instated the conviction of American Amanda Knox and Italian Raffaele Sollecito for the savage killing of British student Meredit…h Kercher in 2007. In the British tabloids Amanda Knox, a sexually active twenty year old who smoked marijuana, has been painted as a drug-crazed, cold-hearted nymphomaniac. David Marriot, the PR consultant hired by the Knox family shortly after her arrest, re-branded her as an all-American ingénue, now shrilly defended by many in the US media and her ‘supporters’ online. Marriot’s hand can, perhaps, be seen in two interviews aired last week. The first was a 12 minute ‘exclusive’ from The Guardian. Dressed down and speaking in measured tones, Knox’s account of her alleged wrongful conviction was well-pitched to a liberal British audience. In the other 9 minute ‘exclusive’, for ABC’s Good Morning America, she was both dressed and made-up in shades of pastel pink and appeared to be on the verge of tears, her voice quivering throughout. Both interviews gave her a platform to protest her innocence, unchallenged by anything which could be described as journalism and without reference to the evidence against her.

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