Culture

Culture

The good, the bad and the ugly in books, exhibitions, cinema, TV, dance, music, podcasts and theatre.

Damian Thompson

A marvel – how did Bradley Cooper pull it off? Maestro reviewed

Cinema

As the overture to Candide blazed away during the ovation for Maestro at the Venice Film Festival, three members of the audience flung their arms around in an imitation of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting style. They were his children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, and their reaction said it all. Bradley Cooper, the film’s star and director,

James Delingpole

Still the best thing on TV: Apple TV+’s Slow Horses reviewed

Television

Slow Horses is the best thing on television. And it’s now so successful and popular it can afford to launch series three with a sequence worthy of James Bond: Istanbul location budget; spectacular chase sequences involving cars and speedboats with some thrillingly dangerous manoeuvres round a huge container vessel; a beautiful, immaculately dressed female agent

Small moments vs Big Ideas: Peter Gabriel’s i/o reviewed

Pop

Peter Gabriel is terribly fond of a Big Idea. With Genesis he would sing in character as a lawnmower, a fox and as ‘Slipperman’. His final work with the band, in 1974, was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a double album driven by what we might kindly describe as a ‘kaleidoscopic’ narrative involving a

Jenny McCartney

Fascinating: Radio 4’s Empire of Tea reviewed

Radio

I can scarcely remember a time before tea: I started drinking it at around four, at home in Belfast, as a reward after school. Before long I was as fiercely protective of my right to a brew as the workers of British Leyland’s Birmingham car plant, who were famously spurred to strike action in 1981

The Spectator film critic who transformed cinema

Arts feature

‘Going to the pictures is nothing to be ashamed of,’ insisted the film writer Iris Barry in 1926. But it certainly wasn’t something to be proud of, either. To the cultural cognoscenti of the 1920s, Barry admitted, the cinema was barely an art at all – about as aesthetically significant as ‘passport photography’. And for

Fast and furious: America Fantastica, by Tim O’Brien, reviewed

More from Books

It’s been said again and again but rarely so plainly illustrated: American life is now too berserk for fiction to keep up. Tim O’Brien’s wild, rollercoaster satire America Fantastica is as wacky as its title suggests; but it can’t compete with the daily trainwreck that calls itself the land of the free and the home

The hubris of the great airship designers

More from Books

Tribal rivalries have existed from humanity’s beginning and have fuelled the creation of every prestigious monument ever built. By the Age of Science we were building not pyramids but ironclads and submarines fighting for ascendancy at sea, expanding our empires in spite of an ever-growing movement for colonial independence. The Spanish-American war of 1898 added

Religion provides the rhythm

More from Books

Music is an art of time: songs play to a rhythm, giving shape to the seconds as they pass, charging the present with a pulse we can feel. But as music takes us forward through time it also takes us back – to the moment of its composition or recording; to a particularly resonant time

Sex and the Famous Five

More from Books

Generations of readers of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series have enjoyed the books without having to contemplate the erotic properties of the canine member of the quintet. After reading Nicholas Royle’s one-of-a-kind fantasia on Blyton and David Bowie, they may never be able to do so again. Royle writes confidently that ‘the most obvious route

The splendour and squalor of Venice

Lead book review

Hard by the Rialto, in a densely packed and depressingly tacky quarter of Venice, the church of San Giovanni Cristosomo houses one of Giovanni Bellini’s most luminous and exquisite paintings. ‘I Santi Cristoforo, Girolamo e Ludovico di Tolosa’ is known to locals as ‘the Burger King Bellini’, after the fast food outlet opposite the church

A choice of this year’s gift books

More from Books

Obviously, the best and funniest gift book out this Christmas is my own Still a Bit of Snap in the Celery (Abacus, £16.99), about the horrors and delights of being 60, but I am far too humble and modest to mention it, so I won’t. Very nearly as good is Bob Cryer’s Barry Cryer: Same

Julie Burchill

Britney Spears is back with a vengeance

More from Books

I am working on a play about Marilyn Monroe at the moment and, reading Britney Spears’s book, the similarities of these two fragile blondes came to mind. Both were celebrated and castigated for their woman-child sex appeal; both struggled with sinister Svengalis – Darryl Zanuck and Mickey Mouse. But one big difference between the two

What would life on Mars actually look like?

More from Books

Just as extreme altitudes have notable effects on the human body and mind, so too does extreme wealth seem to have a particular effect on psychology. Or at least that’s how it appears when you look at the shared ambition of two of the world’s most prominent billionaires, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Both men

A history of the onion leaves one crying for more

More from Books

I am a big fan of Mark Kurlansky. His Cod is one of a handful of books I recommend to people keen to learn about the way in which certain foods have helped shape the world we live in. But while The Core of the Onion has its moments and is an enjoyable read, it’s

When atonal music was original and exciting

More from Books

In the 1960s and 1970s, British music was transfixed by the Manchester School. Led by the composers Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr and Peter Maxwell Davies, this northern powerhouse of art music also included the brilliant pianist John Ogden and the conductor Elgar Howarth. All five had studied in the city in the early 1950s. Yet

Britain’s forgotten female pop artist 

Exhibitions

T o describe Pauline Boty as a ‘pioneer’ is a bit like calling someone a ‘one-off’. It’s not an adequate description of her in any way. Pauline was the only female British pop-art painter of the early 1960s. You may not know of her. She died in 1966, aged 28, and her name has remained

Kaurismaki is the business: Fallen Leaves reviewed

Cinema

Even though Aki Kaurismaki has won every award going and is a household name in his native Finland, where he is treated like a god, it may be that you’ve never heard of him. He is the business. He specialises in understated dramas about deadpan losers whose hopes are often crushed, but who somehow find