Andrew Petrie

Behind the beat

Tony Barrell can’t play the drums, but he’s in awe of those who can. ‘A band without a drummer is like a rocking chair that somebody has cruelly bolted to the floor,’ he writes in Born to Drum’s introduction. ‘While it may appear to rock, it actually doesn’t.’ Those who thrill to the sounds of

The Northern Lights

Getting here took a long time. First a flight to Seattle, then a connection to Fairbanks, followed by a coach to Coldfoot Camp and a final stage by minibus. It’s long after midnight and I’m shivering outside a snow-covered lodge in Wiseman, Alaska (population: 14), two hours north of the Arctic Circle, wrenching my tripod

Rome, Open City still shocks

Roberto Rossellini shot his neorealist landmark Rome, Open City while the war still raged and rubble littered the freshly liberated capital. Based on real experiences from the ten-month German occupation, the film follows ordinary Romans, some active dissenters, some just trying to get by, as the Nazis and the Italian fascist authorities mount a search

Wild Tales: The book to make any Spectator reader weep

We all know that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there. But Graham Nash, of the Hollies, and later of Crosby, Stills & Nash, was there, and has decided at the age of 71 to prove that he can well remember both them and subsequent decades by favouring us with his autobiography.

At home with President Nixon

The most paranoid of presidents, Richard Nixon must have been feeling unwell when he allowed three of his closest aides to shoot personal Super 8 footage of their time in the White House. Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin — all of whom later went to prison for their involvement in the Watergate affair

Herzog at the BFI: Mad men in the rainforest

‘I am the wrath of God. The earth I pass will see me and tremble.’ Not my words, Mr Speaker, but those of demented conquistador Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s electrifying Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972). Now back in cinemas nationwide in a restored print that makes its rainforest setting a real feast for the

The first Division – Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures

A good book about popular music will always give you a new appreciation of the records. Joy Division bassist Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures, just published in paperback by Simon & Schuster, might do just that, though perhaps not in the way the author intended: Joy Division’s music, never an easy listen, becomes almost unbearably intense once

The stamp of quality – Terence Stamp at the BFI

If ever a director’s decision to cast an actor based solely on looks could be excused, it would be Pier Paolo Pasolini’s choice of Terence Stamp for the lead in 1968’s Theorem. As the mysterious, nameless, selfless houseguest of a well-off Milan family, Stamp (above) combines the insouciance of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

Roy Lichtenstein: comic genius?

Tate Modern promises that its forthcoming retrospective will showcase ‘the full scope of Roy Lichtenstein’s artistic explorations’, to which Spectator art critic Andrew Lambirth responded acidly: ‘I look forward to being pleasantly surprised.’ And it’s true that once Lichtenstein perfected his dot patterning technique in the mid-Sixties, he stuck with it until his death more

Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor: beyond chemistry

Regularly voted one of the greatest American novels of the last century, Theodore Dreiser’s moralising epic An American Tragedy (1925) hasn’t aged well. Adapted for the cinema as A Place in the Sun, however, it paired Montgomery Clift with the 17-year-old Elizabeth Taylor and gave us a film that still grips more than 60 years

The shock of the old

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross published The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century five years ago, earning himself the Guardian First Book Award and a finalist citation for the Pulitzer Prize. Now London’s Southbank Centre is turning the book into a year of concerts, talks, film screenings, exhibitions and even a three-part

London pride

The trend for documentary portraits of individual cities assembled from archive footage continues with Julien Temple’s London: The Modern Babylon, out now on Bfi DVD. Temple was the obvious choice of director, as a native of the city and creator of London films Absolute Beginners and Oil City Confidential, not to mention 2010’s superb Requiem

24 hours in Tulsa

Oklahoma will always be a red state on the political map, but the colour goes deeper than that. Everything here was red: red earth, red brick, red dust, red rust. At Little Sahara State Park, 1,600 geologically anomalous acres of iron-rich sand dunes were pinky-orange, the colour of thousand-island dressing. The sitcom Friends had a

Critical meltdown

If the River of Music put you in the mood for stimulating sounds on the banks of the Thames, next week’s Meltdown at the Southbank Centre, also part of the London 2012 Festival, is well-timed. Meltdown’s later-than-usual slot should earn it a little reflected Olympic glory, though it’s hard to imagine anyone less suggestive of

From our own correspondent

‘Interviewing Afghan warlords is always something of a delicate dance,’ writes roving BBC reporter Nick Bryant in Confessions from Correspondentland (Oneworld, £10.99), and, given that he has also observed the methods of warlords from Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, his word counts for something. Though he acknowledges the journalistic allure of ‘shouting into microphones over

The first lady of song

Folk legend Sandy Denny’s eminently coverable songs, direct of melody and opaque of lyric, have scarcely declined in popularity since the singer’s death in 1978 at the age of 31. A tribute concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2008 was such a hit that a similar event is being staged at the Barbican this

Bad habits | 31 March 2012

When the late Ken Russell published his autobiography in 1989, he called it A British Picture. That title could just as easily describe The Devils, his 1971 adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun, relating the true story of supposed demonic possession among Ursuline nuns in north-west France in 1634. Here is a world-class

A bite of the Apple

For the first time in its 170-year history, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra has a native New Yorker at the helm. Music director Alan Gilbert (above) brings the band to the Barbican this month for a brief residency that crams four concerts into a little over 48 hours, starting with a performance of Mahler’s Ninth

Disappearing lords

‘I don’t like him looking daft,’ growls Alastair Campbell to the camera as Bafta-winning documentary film-maker Molly Dineen shadows Tony Blair for the 1997 party election broadcast. The warning is clear. Forty hours of footage became a mere ten minutes of spin, but it’s testament to Dineen’s rapport with the member for Sedgefield that despite

Last night in Peckham

This was what Peckham High Street looked like at about 6.45 last night. I had heard that a bus was petrol-bombed although I neither saw nor heard evidence of that. There was no confrontation between police and the public and I didn’t see any arrests. Mostly it was just a case of people standing around