Arts feature

Jenny McCartney

Coming up for air

The thing that the photojournalist Don McCullin likes best of all now, he tells me, is to stand on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland in a blizzard. He made his name in conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Biafra, Uganda — hot places full of fury, panic and death — but these days he finds his greatest solace


The big chill

Michael Grandage’s latest show is about an old snap. Geneticists regard the X-ray of the hydrated ‘B’ form of DNA as one of the loveliest images ever captured. To laymen it looks like some woodlice drowning in yesterday’s porridge. The pic was taken in 1951 by the British biochemist Dr Rosalind Franklin but she failed


Fossilised Figaro

Is there a more extraordinary, more heart-stilling moment in all opera than the finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro? The Count, suddenly understanding his wife’s fidelity, begs her forgiveness — ‘Contessa perdono!’ Her answer comes like a musical benediction, but not until after the very slightest pause — space to doubt, to hope. It’s


Talk of the devil | 24 September 2015

For years, Ian Fleming was famously self-deprecating about the James Bond books. (‘I have a rule of not looking back,’ he once said. ‘Otherwise I’d wonder, “How could I write such piffle?”’) Towards the end of his life, though, he finally produced an essay in their defence — proudly pointing out, among other things, that


Stars in their eyes | 24 September 2015

‘The dominant narrative of space,’ I was told, in that strange language curators employ, ‘is America.’ Quite so. Kennedy stared at the moon and saw a promotional opportunity. Nasa’s logo was designed by the flamboyant Raymond Loewy. A PR man wrote Neil Armstrong’s unforgettable lines. Every event at Cape Canaveral (later the Kennedy Space Center)

Indiscreet astronaut

Among my more bohemian friends in 1980s London, Brion Gysin was a name spoken with a certain awe. He was the man who William Burroughs, the author of Junky and Naked Lunch, said was ‘the only man I ever respected’. Gysin was a modernist novelist, inventor and artist. He and his mathematician friend Ian Sommerville

Melting pot

‘Celtic’ is a word heavily charged with meanings. It refers, among other phenomena, to a football club, a group of languages, a temperament, a style of art and a fringe, once the stronghold of the Liberal Democrats. But who are — and were — the Celts? The curators of the new British Museum exhibition are


Home is where the heart is | 24 September 2015

99 Homes is an American drama about house repossession. Bummer, you might think, but here is what you don’t yet know: films about house repossessions can be electrifying. Or at least this one is. Set in 2008 or thereabouts, against the backdrop of the real-estate bust and ensuing foreclosure crisis, this has much to say


Tales of the unexpected | 24 September 2015

Two significant anniversaries, each very different but both reflecting the BBC’s mission and the reasons for its continued success. From Our Own Correspondent has been on air for 60 years, reporting on events across the world not just as news but to fill in the back story to the headlines. Instead of bombs and bullets,