• Toy Story 4: Pixar sequel tops US box office but falls sort of expectations
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    The Independent

    Toy Story 4: Pixar sequel tops US box office but falls sort of expectations

    Toy Story 4 has failed to meet financial expectations in the US and China, leading to further claims of a crisis in cinema attendance, despite the film breaking global records elsewhere.The latest entry in the long-running animated franchise dominated the US box office in its opening weekend, grossing a by-all-measures gargantuan sum of $118 million. But it fell far short of the figures that industry experts and the film’s backers at Disney had predicted, with early reports indicating that it could gross somewhere between $140 million to $150 million in its opening weekend.The gross pales in comparison to last year’s Disney/Pixar effort Incredibles 2, which grossed $182 million in its opening weekend, while 2010’s Toy Story 3 grossed $110 million in its opening – or $129 million when adjusted for inflation. In China, the film similarly underperformed, beaten into second place at the box office (by $13 million to $28 million) by Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated classic from 2002 that is only just receiving a Chinese theatrical release.Disney can rest easy when it comes to Toy Story 4’s global haul, with the film breaking box office records in the UK (where it had the biggest opening for an animated film in history) and Argentina (where it had the biggest opening weekend of all time), but observers have signalled it could speak to a newfound resistance to long-in-the-tooth franchises.In a series of viral tweets, journalist and film historian Mark Harris argued that “endless brand extensions… and milking of [intellectual properties]... are starting to bore people” and that “this summer is not going according to plan.”While Toy Story 4’s US performance isn’t outrageously concerning, it follows a number of summer blockbusters to underperform or outright flop in recent weeks, including Men in Black: International, X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

  • 8 incredible UK outdoor performances to check out this summer
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    The Independent

    8 incredible UK outdoor performances to check out this summer

    We may not be experiencing the extended scorcher that was the summer of 2018, but the warmest season of the year is – nevertheless – here. So it’s time to make the most of the longer daylight hours and the milder temperatures (however slight) and find some super entertaining ways to spend our summer days and evenings.Whether you fancy taking in an opera performance within the grounds of a beautiful National Trust building, checking out a poetry slam at a summer book festival in Edinburgh or experiencing the genius of an open air performance of Evita, the sky is the limit. Not only that, there are incredible options all over the country. We’ve pulled together the most unmissable outdoor performances for the next few months. Evita at Regent’s Park Open Air TheatreEnjoy one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most celebrated musicals from one of the largest theatres in London, which just happens to be located in the middle of a Royal Park. Evita tells the story of the world’s first political celebrity, Eva Perón, and boasts an Oscar-winning soundtrack and a heartbreaking story. Be sure to not miss this chance to visit Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, as its season only runs for 18 weeks a year. Spend a balmy evening watching the fantastic drama unfold. The Grange Festival Immerse yourself in world-class opera at Hampshire-based Grange Festival, which boasts an array of fantastic musical events, whether the sun is out or not. Book in to see The John Wilson Orchestra perform Hollywood and Broadway classics, or perhaps biblical drama Belshazzar. Eating options are also pretty sublime, with the opportunity to indulge in a three-course meal while watching an orchestra concert, or dine out al fresco on a picnic of canapés in the gardens. It’s definitely not your average festival food van experience. The Cabaret Field at Glastonbury Festival If you’re lucky enough to possess a Glastonbury ticket, make sure that you venture further than the headline acts on the Pyramid Stage. Sure, it will be packed with world-class musical entertainment, but there is much more to explore when it comes to outdoor entertainment. This year’s line-up includes an all-female circus troupe, a set from BAFTA award-winning comedian Jo Brand, as well as an array of spoken word talent. Author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay will share his latest collection, while John Hegley and Joe Sellman-Leava will take to the field’s Poetry Words tent. Twelfth Night at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre It may be the Shakesperean offering that launched a fair few questionable movie takes, such as She’s The Man and 1985’s Just One Of The Guys, but checking out Twelfth Night in a delightful outside setting should be on anyone’s theatre bucket list. It runs from 5 July until 24 August, so don’t miss the chance to see an unforgettable retelling of a story of cross dressing and unrequited love. The open-air theatre – which is based in Chester’s city centre – will also be showing performances of Henry V and The Borrowers this summer. Opera Holloway: Puccini's La Boheme at Leith Hill Place Soak up an operatic performance of a tragic Parisian love story in the grounds of a National Trust house. Leith Hill Place, the birthplace of of famous composer Vaughan William, is the perfect backdrop for La Boheme, which charts the romance of doomed lovers Mimi and Rudolfo from promising beginnings to tragic end. Opera Holloway, a charity that supports young performers at the beginning of their careers, is running the show. So it’s not just a great opportunity to check out some operatic talent, but also to support newcomers. Picnicking is encouraged, and cake is served in the interval. Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House: Double bill film screening of Get Out/They Live Jordan Peele’s smash horror will be playing alongside sci-fi satire They Live at the majestic Somerset House this summer. Thrill-seekers will be treated to a delicious evening of paranoia and scares, as well as the option to sit in directors chairs or beanbags for the main event. Turn up early to get the best spot, and also to make sure you can enjoy the scheduled DJ performances beforehand. Get Out won the Best Original Screenplay accolade at the 2018 Oscars, foregrounding Peele’s latest (equally terrifying) 2019 release, Us. Bang Said The Gun poetry performance at Edinburgh International Book Festival Fancy a decidedly no-thrills poetry performance this summer? Sample Bang Said The Gun’s stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The group describes its work as "poetry for people who don’t like poetry". So novices and poetry enthusiasts can join together and enjoy a festival slot of refreshingly self-aware stuff. Think politics, plain language and Trump insults. Edinburgh International Book Festival also hosts an array of incredible writing, illustrating and musical talent every year, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to check out what they have to offer too. Robyn at Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park Cut the inevitable crowds for one of modern pop’s most-loved performers and see Robyn against the backdrop of a truly under-the-radar festival. With a capacity of 10,000 (in comparison to Glastonbury’s 175,000), the festival offers an intimate experience with the “Be Mine” musician. The Swedish pop star may not need any introduction, but Wilderness Festival may do. It boasts comedy extravaganzas and debates, as well as a lakeside spa and yoga masterclasses when the performances over. Its artist line-up also includes Groove Armada, Bombay Bicycle Club and Tom Odell. While spring brings warmer weather it also marks the start of the hay fever season. If you’re one of the 18 million people affected in the UK, it makes sense to try to help prevent the symptoms of hay fever. A single dose of Pirinase Hayfever Relief For Adults 0.05% Nasal Spray in each nostril once a day could help relieve sneezing, a runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy and watery eyes. Find out more here, or click here to buy online For the relief of allergy symptoms. Pirinase Allergy 0.05% Nasal Spray contains fluticasone. Always read the label. Trademarks are owned by or licensed to the GSK group of companies.

  • Amrish Puri: Bollywood actor called 'world's best villain' honoured by Google Doodle
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    The Independent

    Amrish Puri: Bollywood actor called 'world's best villain' honoured by Google Doodle

    Bollywood actor Amrish Puri appeared in more than 200 films and was described by Steven Spielberg as his “favourite villain”. The Punjab-born actor, who would have been 87 today and is being honoured by a Google Doodle, is most widely-remembered for playing the menacing villain Mogambo in 1987 cult classic Mr India - where he got his signature line, “Mogambo khush hua” (Mogambo is pleased).His bad guy performance was widely touted as one of the best in Bollywood history. It was not until the age of 39 that Puri got his big break acting in the 1971 Bollywood film Reshma Aur Shera after decades spent working in theatre and doing voice-overs.Ten years later he made it into Hollywood with his role in the Oscar-winning film Gandhi. Director Steven Spielberg recruited Puri to play Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, a role he initially turned it down.Spielberg said: “Amrish is my favourite villain. The best the world has ever produced and ever will”.In total, Puri appeared in more than 200 films in more than a dozen languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil and English. He was born on 22 June 1932 and died on 12 January 2005 after suffering a rare form of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome. His two older brothers, Madan Puri and Chaman Puri, were also actors. The Google Doodle was done by Pune-based artist Debangshu Moulik. Moulik said: “I hope this Doodle encourages people to look into Amrish Puri’s entire career and life and to derive some inspiration from his hard-working nature and perseverance. “He came to be a prominent figure in the Bollywood scene even though he failed his initial screen tests.”

  • Sir Mark Rylance quits Royal Shakespeare Company in protest over BP sponsorship
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    The Independent

    Sir Mark Rylance quits Royal Shakespeare Company in protest over BP sponsorship

    Sir Mark Rylance has quit the Royal Shakespeare Company over BP sponsorship.The Oscar-winning star of stage and screen has ended his relationship with the theatre company, citing environmental concerns.Sir Mark has objected to the RSC's receipt of funding from BP, which he has accused of obscuring its damaging environmental impact by supporting arts organisations.He has questioned the right of BP to be associated with William Shakespeare and the term “British”.The renowned Shakespearean actor has written in The Guardian and Culture Unstained announcing his decision. He wrote: “Today I feel I must dissociate myself from the RSC, not because it is any less of a theatre company, but because of the company it keeps.”Sir Mark added on BP: ”Does this company have the right to associate itself with Shakespeare?“Does it even have the right to have the word 'British' in its name when it is arguably destroying the planet our children and grandchildren will depend on to breathe, drink, eat and survive?”The actor has called on the RSC to set a positive example for the future of sponsorship in the arts.Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director, and Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, released a statement following the news.They said: ”We are saddened that Mark Rylance has decided he can no longer be one of our Associate Artists, but we respect his decision. We thank him for his long association with the company.“Importantly, no sponsor influences or drives our artistic decision making and we are committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work. We have a clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy and consider potential offers of support individually.”We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency.“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our funding, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.”BP's sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16-25 year olds gives many young people the chance to see our work, and the scheme is highly valued by our audiences.”BP has been contacted for comment.Press Association

  • Singapore stars lost in night sky as light pollution shines the brightest
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    The Independent

    Singapore stars lost in night sky as light pollution shines the brightest

    Look to the night sky in Singapore, and you won’t see many stars. The light pollution from artificial lights burning 24/7 across the modern city invades the dark of night. Singapore’s progress in the past 50 years has been widely documented. An unrivalled productivity central to the ethos of the small island nation has turned it into one of Asia’s key financial hubs. It is a city that never sleeps, evident by the sea of lights seen out of an areoplane window.Office buildings stay illuminated well into the wee hours of the night and public areas and walkways are lit for the safety of pedestrians. About 110,000 street lamps line its alleys, roads and expressways.A 2016 study by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute put Singapore as the most polluted nation in the world, adding that it was “not possible to view the Milky Way Galaxy anywhere in the country”. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest sources of light pollution are Singapore’s container terminals, the airport, and the Marina Bay financial district – the centres of trade, transport and finance.Although fundamental to urban infrastructure, light pollution has detrimental effects on humans and the environment. Artificial lighting is known to affect the natural circadian rhythm of both humans and wildlife. Ongoing studies and modelling on its broader impact are looking at links to hormone imbalance and diseases, including the occurrence of eye diseases that may be attributed to the mixed sources of light often used in street lighting and advertising.The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a US-based nonprofit organisation, is a motivator in what is known as the dark sky movement. It aims to preserve and protect the night-time environment and heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. The association promotes reducing light pollution by switching off lights when not needed and advocates using warm white LED lights instead of bright cool white ones, as the former have a less adverse impact on humans and wildlife. Motion sensors or timers, correct light shielding so the lights point downwards – which also reduces glare – and placing lights low on walkways are all steps to improve outside lighting.The IDA also recommends maintaining night darkness at home by turning off electronic devices an hour before going to bed and closing curtains to keep the outside as dark as possible, which also helps prevent bird fatalities. Worldwide, artificial lights and associated light pollution have wide impacts on birds, which often collide with brightly-lit buildings. They also pose a threat to sea turtles. Hatched on beaches, the young must head to the ocean to survive, but they sometimes confuse the city glow with the brighter horizon above the ocean. Millions of young hatchlings die by heading in the wrong and dangerous urban direction each year due to light at night. Dark beaches are also becoming harder to find for sea turtles.EPA

  • The name game: what does it mean to be a Smith
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    The Independent

    The name game: what does it mean to be a Smith

    In last month’s European parliament election, two MEPs called Alexandra Phillips were elected in the southeast region: one for the Green Party, one for the Brexit Party. Let us hope, despite these polarising times, that when they pass each other in the corridors of Strasbourg they laugh and shake their heads in affable disbelief. Could this dumb coincidence form the basis for a warmer political dialogue? In a movie, it could.When my mother stood for Labour councillor in our local ward in 1990, she ran unopposed by other Antopolskis. In fact, on the doorstep, none of her constituents could ever remember her damn name but they knew she was the “anti-poll tax” candidate – Valerie Antipolltax – and voted her in on that basis. What can I tell you – East Anglia. Actually, my ancestral name is Antopolskilinieroskovich but my father wanted us to sound more British so we became plain old Antopolski. Still, people manage to misspell it, each in their own way. Often they are panicked by the two Os as if by the eyes of a python and respond defensively with a barrage of surplus Os, firing them blindly at any consonant clusters that might remain until the word has doubled in length and halved the font size on my poster at the regional university. People called John Smith don’t have this problem – they have the opposite problem.I knew a kid called Robert Smith whose dad was called John Smith. Robert told us that when his dad was a boy, a policeman had caught him scrumping apples. When the policeman demanded his name and received a truthful answer he boxed the lad’s ears for his impudent facetiousness. Like the policeman, I have always believed that John Smith is the most common name for a man in this country. But it is actually David Smith, followed by David Jones, with John Smith scooping bronze. These three names account for some 6 per cent of the UK population – which is not true but has a plausibility that is itself telling. Seven of the top 10 full names in the UK include the surname Smith. It is so common that it has become a marker for anonymity and hence pseudonymity – and not just for apple-scrumpers. Philanderers stereotypically check into a hotel under the names Mr and Mrs Smith when their companion is not their spouse – there is even a hotel website playfully named after this practice to suggest romance. I feel for conservative married couples whose name really is Smith, blushing at the smirking faux-innocence of the desk clerks. Equally, it must have happened that a serial adulterer has checked himself and his wife in under the name Smith through force of habit – and revealed himself.Why are Smiths so ubiquitous? Names meaning blacksmith dominate national league tables across Europe: Smits in the Netherlands, Lefebvre in France, Schmidt in Germany, Kowalski in Poland, Ferrari in Italy, Kovacs in Hungary. What happened to the other professions? Is there something about being a blacksmith, smiting iron all day, that makes you more fertile than a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker? The only blacksmith I know is Fulliautomatix from Asterix. He looks virile enough and may have produced many offspring – and all within wedlock, for his wife is quite fierce and has access to heated tongs.In any case, Smith is now the everyman. Morrissey chose The Smiths as a band name to evoke ordinariness. Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is all of us. Agent Smith in The Matrix stands for corporate anonymity. And in real life, Smiths are always bumping into each other, where the rest of us have to go out of our way.In August 2000, the comedian Dave Gorman was nominated for the Perrier Award for his Edinburgh Festival show Are You Dave Gorman? in which he travelled far and wide to meet other people who shared his name. It had followed a drunken bet with his best friend Danny Wallace regarding whether or not there were “loads” of Dave Gormans, “loads” being defined with Dave’s charming trademark geekery as reachable within a 300- to 500-mile range from the preceding namesake. The show won awards in Australia and the US and produced a book and a TV series.I told Dave that I intended to rip off his idea and do the same show with my own name, but that I might have to pad out the central quest with a few knob gags to make up the hour. There aren’t other Dan Antopolskis, there just aren’t.How surprised was I last year to be contacted by a New York filmmaker called Jason Ressler, now resident in rural France. Jason was contacting me in his capacity as the manager of a septuagenarian country-folk musician from Augusta, Georgia called Daniel Antopolsky, who was equally surprised and delighted to learn of my existence. We all met up in London and compared notes on our origins – our ancestors hail from the same tiny town in Polesia – and we share a needle phobia, which in his case saved him from heroin addiction in the heady heyday of the outlaw country movement; he saved his friend Townes van Zandt from death by overdose. Daniel’s story is amazing and I won’t ruin it here, but aficionados of Americana, country, folk and blues should hasten to danielantopolsky.com and see Daniel live at the Black Deer festival near Tunbridge Wells tonight, tomorrow or Sunday. And if you should meet my namesake in person, please tell him I sent you. Just don’t ask him to tell you a joke.

  • The Mother review, Queen Elizabeth Hall: Feverish images spill off the stage in one of Hans Christian Andersen's most unnerving tales
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    The Independent

    The Mother review, Queen Elizabeth Hall: Feverish images spill off the stage in one of Hans Christian Andersen's most unnerving tales

    What would you risk to protect your child? What would you give? The Mother is a danced fairy tale of nightmarish intensity. In Arthur Pita’s production, feverish images spill off the stage, while ballerina Natalia Osipova gives a performance lit up with fear and consuming need.One of the world’s most exciting dancers, Osipova has sought out contemporary projects alongside a ballet career that has taken her from the Bolshoi to world stardom. She and Pita are regular collaborators, with successful small-scale works and the flop of The Wind for The Royal Ballet. Pita works best with tight focus and intimacy: with just two dancers, The Mother shows the best of his talent.The Hans Christian Andersen source is one of his most unnerving tales. When Death takes her baby, a mother pursues him through a terrible journey of tests and sacrifice that include giving up her eyes and hair. In this adaptation, contemporary dance hero Jonathan Goddard plays both Death and all the characters the Mother meets on her way, from a babushka who forces her to dance to the lover who abandoned her.Yann Seabra’s designs set the story in a down-at-heel mid-20th century. A revolve stage moves from bedroom to kitchen to bathroom: though they transform into dark gardens or lakes, the Mother is still trapped in this domestic space. Thorny briars wrap around Osipova’s heroine, staining her nightdress with blood. Goddard’s babushka has a traditional dress and shawl but no face, just an eerie polished visor. He’s a mercurial, uncanny presence, from the clinical, chalk-faced Doctor to the lover who is both smitten and remote.A natural dance actress, Osipova brings a fierce power to her characters’ emotions. This work takes her into new territory, from the domestic to harrowing need. Everything that happens might be her own fever dream, her desperation given physical form. Dancing for the babushka, she finds a stomping folk-dance energy even as she tries to escape. As she runs from room to room, pursuing the sound of her crying baby, feeling chases across her face and through her body. The score, created and played live by Frank Moon and Dave Price, blends folk with electronic crackles.As well as the poverty and sickness of Andersen’s tale, this production stresses the more everyday terrors of parenthood. In the opening scene, Osipova moves with exhausted tenderness, rocking her sleepless baby. By the end, even a glimpse of hope and joy has its own terrors: having children is giving hostages to fortune.Until 22 June. Box office 020 3879 9555

  • Bitter Wheat review, Garrick Theatre: John Malkovich brilliantly captures the bluster, sexual hubris and insecurities of Harvey Weinstein
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    The Independent

    Bitter Wheat review, Garrick Theatre: John Malkovich brilliantly captures the bluster, sexual hubris and insecurities of Harvey Weinstein

    It was a mouth-watering prospect. A play about the Harvey Weinstein scandal written by a man who knows Hollywood inside out and featuring a global movie star who is also a consummate stage actor.David Mamet is the master of witty, piercing and understated dialogue, always hinting at anxieties underneath, the great challenger of politically correct orthodoxies. If anyone could find a human side to a monster, and make us question some of the nuances of the MeToo movement, it’s him.John Malkovich, prowling the stage like a bloated, warped colossus, plays the not even thinly disguised Weinstein figure, Barney Fein. He is present on stage throughout and dominates it with a towering performance that conveys not just the vulgarity, the bullying, and the predatory nature of the movie mogul, but also the paranoia that helped to define Weinstein.As the play opens, Fein is responding to a screenwriter whom he has refused to pay and who is threatening to report him to the Writers’ Guild. “The writers’ guild would drink a beaker of my mucus if I asked them to,” the all-powerful Fein assures him. From the bully, we move on to the predator. A meeting is set up, inevitably, in a hotel room, with Yung Kim Li, an English female actor of Korean descent, to discuss a possible title of her new film, also the title of this play. The meeting is arranged, in full knowledge of what will occur, by Fein’s assistant, Sondra, a seemingly moral void, as was the case with those around the real Weinstein. She is played with steely, blinkered determination, in a rather underwritten role, by Doon Mackichan, former star of TV comedy Smack the Pony.In the hotel room, Fein, as with Weinstein, intersperses a bare minimum of charm with the bullying, before making the request that she come into the next room to watch him shower and masturbate – or he won’t release the film. He has a limited time frame as he has taken a pill, presumably to enhance his libido. Humour in such a wretched and so recent scenario has its own dangers, and it’s hard to laugh at such a contrivance. But there are better moments of Mamet wit. As he makes his outrageous, sexual demands, Fein adds: “I don’t think you understand how much money I gave to the Democratic Party.”Ioanna Kimbook, making her West End debut, gives a remarkably assured performance in the role of the molested young woman, juggling discomfort and distaste with a need to remain polite and accommodating to get her film released. She has just been on a 27-hour flight, she says, and at one moment falls asleep, at which point Fein removes her belt.Mamet does not stint from giving Malkovich the crude dialogue that is all too believable of the real Weinstein. “You want me to make you the Asian Audrey Hepburn, and you won’t kick back one blow job, which would take one minute.”I actually witnessed Weinstein in lascivious action at a film premiere, bending a female actor in an unwanted embrace. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and Malkovich captures so well the bluster and sexual hubris that unfettered power gave the mogul. But he also captures the insecurities that were part of Weinstein’s psychological make-up. As with the real movie mogul, Fein is ashamed of his weight, assuming that the only possible reason his gross advances are rejected is that he is fat.Mournfully, after a complaint is made to the police by the actor and his career is ruined, he laments: “The overweight get no sympathy.”As Fein’s career and life implode, Mamet gives us a surreal and somewhat bewildering subplot involving Fein’s mother being shot dead by an illegal immigrant; the laboured irony is that Fein, again like Weinstein, was a supporter and benefactor of good causes, in this case helping illegal immigrants.It’s diverting but unnecessary, adding to the sense of frustration that Mamet at his peak could and would have explored this affair to reach more complex conclusions. Indeed, Bitter Wheat never fully reveals the psychological depths of this depraved character, or the motivations of those around him who enabled such abuse of power. Malkovich deserved a more rounded and thought-provoking play.

  • Toy Story 4: Tom Hanks 'said his goodbyes' to Woody after third film
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    The Independent

    Toy Story 4: Tom Hanks 'said his goodbyes' to Woody after third film

    Tom Hanks has revealed he "said his goodbyes" to Woody following the third instalment in the Toy Story franchise.Speaking to The Independent ahead of Toy Story 4 hitting cinemas, he said: "I think every time one ended I thought we were saying goodbye.""I think the riskiest one was the second one because the test was, can the people at Pixar live up to the gravitas of the first one? And it happened. It’s happened every time. "The latest animated film from Pixar follows the story of a host of familiar Toy Story characters as they're joined by a new addition Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, a toy their new owner Bonnie has made at school."This opens up another world," said Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear in the franchise, “This is a magic one, and to me, it’s very different. Somehow they made a story bigger than anything else. They made the woman the hero, which was so organic.”'Toy Story 4' is released in UK cinemas on Friday 21 July.

  • In photos: Miguel Rio Branco on the urban underbelly
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    The Independent

    In photos: Miguel Rio Branco on the urban underbelly

    In Maldicidade, the city never sleeps. By dawn or dusk, in New York, Havana, Salvador da Bahia, or Tokyo, it is an environment fraught with yearning, aching with solitude, and fretful with fortunes never made. This searing urban portrait from visual artist Miguel Rio Branco draws upon his itinerant early years as the son of diplomats to reveal the common threads of struggle and loneliness in metropolises around the world.The images are impeccably captured, but the pictures are not always pretty. Rio Branco is not interested in documenting historic city landmarks, an impressive skyline, or the aspirational dreams that soar up towards it. Instead, he focuses his camera on the city’s refuse and margins – on that which it has thrown away and on those it has cast aside and disappointed. In stark frames or soft impressions, it is street sleepers, beggars, prostitutes, stray dogs, smashed cars, and shattered glass that characterise his urban impressions.While subtle details reveal the specificity of place, it is the commonality of urban experience at the heart of Rio Branco’s project. Light on local context or explanatory narrative, the images are instead meticulously arranged into one redolent sequence of a universal city.Working as if in the cutting studio, Rio Branco excels in the rhythm and succession of pictures, crafting evocative patterns of motif (decrepit buildings, lone figures, smashed-up cars); colour (rich reds, dusty pinks, stark whites and blues); and form (an anguished street sleeper beside an ecstatic statue of a saint). Throughout, occasional pictures of women are proffered as a sensual, hopeful reprieve, interspersing the grit and the grime in commanding portraits or up-close, supple nudes.At once incisive in its message and lyrical in its arrangement, Maldicidade focuses attention on the city’s ineludible magnetism, as much as on its alienation and inhumanity. Biting, bare-faced, and achingly beautiful, it is a collection in which all city dwellers will find something of themselves, or something they long to escape.The photographerBorn in Las Palmas, Spain, Miguel Rio Branco is a Brazilian and French photographer, painter, filmmaker, and multimedia artist now based in Araras, Rio de Janeiro. His award-winning work is featured in leading museum collections around the world.You can purchase ‘Miguel Rio Branco. Maldicidade' here

  • Shortlist announced for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 awards
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    The Independent

    Shortlist announced for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 awards

    The most spectacular images of outer space this year have been shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year award 2019.From thousands of entries, the judges have selected the 38 best images of our galaxy and beyond.Among the shortlisted pictures are those of a nebula appearing to spread its wings like a bird and another known as the Fiery Lobster nebula.Winners of the competition will be announced on 12 September.The Independent has compiled the shortlisted images in the gallery above.

  • Warhol on Basquiat: A voyeuristic glimpse into their artistic relationship
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    The Independent

    Warhol on Basquiat: A voyeuristic glimpse into their artistic relationship

    Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s complex relationship captivated the art world then and now.At a time when Warhol was already world famous and the elder statesman of New York cool, Basquiat was a downtown talent rising rapidly from the graffiti scene.Together, they forged an electrifying personal and professional partnership.As a prolific documentarian of his own world, Warhol extensively photographed and wrote of his friendship with Basquiat, all played against the backdrop of 1980s downtown New York City. It reveals not only the emotional depth of their relationship but also its ambiguities, extremities, and complexities.Produced in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Foundation and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s estate, a new book chronicles the duo’s relationship in hundreds of previously unpublished photographs of Basquiat along with a dynamic cast of characters from Madonna to Grace Jones, Keith Haring to Fela Kuti.The shots are accompanied by entries from the legendary Andy Warhol Diaries, selected collaborative artworks, and extensive ephemera. Touching, intimate, and occasionally sardonic, Warhol on Basquiat is a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of two of modern art’s brightest stars.Warhol’s unexpected death in 1987 took its toll on Basquiat, who was found dead from a heroin overdose the following year, aged 27.In 2017 his painting Untitled, a 1982 picture of a skull in oil stick, acrylic and spray paint, was sold for $110.5m (£85m). It broke the record for the most expensive at auction work of any US artist, as well as becoming the salesroom record for a black artist.“He’s afraid he’s just going to be a flash in the pan and I told him not to worry. He wouldn’t be.” – The Andy Warhol DiariesYou can purchase ‘Warhol on Basquiat: The Iconic Relationship Told in Andy Warhol’s Words and Pictures’ here

  • Taffy Brodesser-Akner: ‘It’s very hard to be the least important person in the room’
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    The Independent

    Taffy Brodesser-Akner: ‘It’s very hard to be the least important person in the room’

    Taffy Brodesser-Akner would like to take this opportunity to come out officially as Tom Hiddleston’s “mystery brunette”. In January 2017, paparazzi snaps of the American journalist with the British actor outside his north London home wound up in a UK tabloid. The article, headlined “Moving Swift-ly on?”, referenced the duo’s “cosy chat” and described Brodesser-Akner as “the brunette who couldn’t quite believe her luck”. They were right.“I was so excited,” she recalls. “I was the 40-year-old mother living in the suburbs and I got to be a mystery brunette!” Brodesser-Akner had in fact been interviewing Hiddleston for a profile in GQ, where she worked as a contributing writer. It turned out that after spending two days together discussing success, heartbreak and spaghetti Bolognese, the two got along well enough to permit a goodbye hug. After the photos came out, The Night Manager star phoned Brodesser-Akner to apologise for “the hullabaloo” and to placate her husband, whom he hoped was not offended. “I said, ‘Tom, this has been the best week of our lives, you should try to enjoy this more.’”Brodesser-Akner might not be known to the British tabloids – she remains unidentified in the article – but the 43-year-old is one of the most prolific journalists in America, having won awards for her work in GQ and the New York Times Magazine, where she is currently employed. The Brooklyn-born writer is renowned for her deft and astute profiles of some seriously famous stars: think Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicki Minaj and Bradley Cooper. But her job, like any other, has its obstacles. Minaj famously fell asleep mid-conversation, while Cooper spent his interview denying the concept of interviews. “I won’t have any control, and it really isn’t a collaboration,” he begrudgingly told her.“I feel sorry for celebrities,” says Brodesser-Akner. “It must be very hard to be written about and constantly be obligated to talk about yourself.” The irony, of course, is that the tables have now turned. Brodesser-Akner and I are here to discuss her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and she’s finding the process a bit strange. “Doing publicity for my book is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed. I didn’t know it would be like this, I feel powerless.” What does she make of the journalists who’ve interviewed her so far? “I’m so impressed at how they stick to their questions,” she enthuses. “I’m not like that at all, I don’t go in with a lot of questions. I just listen and make conversation.” I can’t tell if that was an answer or an instruction.Rather than the celebrity exposé that Brodesser-Akner’s fans might have expected, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a shrewd meditation on marriage and middle age. The plot follows 41-year-old Toby Fleishman, a morally dubious hepatologist, recently separated from his wife, who seeks refuge via Tinder hook-ups and emoji innuendos. Then Rachel, his ex, goes missing, plunging the reader into a twisty, sophisticated narrative filled with humour and pathos.“When a person goes missing, you get a sense of the vastness of the world,” Brodesser-Akner says of her narrative hook. “They could be anywhere, and I always liked that idea.” The majority of the novel is told from Toby’s point of view, which, in a culture that rewards authors like Liane Moriarty for documenting the female experience, might seem out of sync with the literary zeitgeist. But don’t let that fool you. “I wanted to write a story about a man,” Brodesser-Akner explains, “because I felt like it would be easier to understand a woman’s story if you understood how she was perceived by a man first.” She then implores me to “be discreet” when discussing the plot – another instruction? Perhaps she can’t help it. Throughout the book, Toby repeatedly describes Rachel as “angry”. He paints her as an unloving and irritable wife who starts fights over nothing, and wears T-shirts with slogans like: “Any yoga I do is hot yoga”.“Anger is such a taboo emotion,” says Brodesser-Akner. “These two characters are constantly accusing each other of being angry and then denying their own anger, passing it off as either sadness or frustration. Why can’t you just be angry? That is a really poignant question to me.”It’s an issue that Brodesser-Akner feels is mostly faced by women, pointing to the gendering of words like “crazy” and “psycho”, which are seldom attributed to men. “Nobody’s asking men about their emotional state because nobody’s out to judge them,” she explains. “Women are only asked about their emotional state so we can be reduced to it. So that sucks.”Brodesser-Akner speaks with a lively confidence. She makes candid points in very few words and laughs at her own jokes throughout our conversation. You’d think she’d been doing this for decades. But before she became the successful journalist she is today, her job was to help other people into the profession. From 2001 to 2007, she worked at media resources website Mediabistro, organising seminars taught by established writers to aspiring ones. Brodesser-Akner would sit in on all of them. “I don’t know if I would know how to do what it is that I’m doing without Mediabistro,” she says.After the birth of her first child, which she has previously described as “traumatic” due to postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, she felt compelled to write about issues that had affected her personally, from childbirth to body image. She started selling them to publications, and soon became known for her compelling first-person essays, published in Self, The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. “When I couldn’t think of one more thing to say about myself, I started writing about other people,” she explains of her career trajectory.A journalist of Brodesser-Akner’s reputation is granted unparallelled access to the celebrities she interviews, usually spending an entire day, or even two, with them – “I generally refuse to do it otherwise.” Has she ever maintained a relationship with one of her subjects? “Very rarely. Sometimes they want to. But they only want to because I’m someone who showed up when and where they wanted, and asked them questions only about themselves. They didn’t have to hear about how my babysitter just quit or how my son is struggling with maths. It’s very hard, in the thing I do, to be the least important person in the room. I don’t know why I would continually sign up for that.”Even if Brodesser-Akner did want to spend her weekends pandering to celebrity egos, there’d be little time to spare. She is already working on a second novel, Long Island Compromise. “It’s about wealth,” she tells me, choosing to withhold further details aside from the fact that “it’s due soon”. The mother-of-two is also co-writing a film for Amazon about Eric Hites, aka Fat Guy Across America, the 40-stone man who cycled 3,200 miles across the US to lose weight and win his wife back.All this on top of a full-time role at the New York Times Magazine. But Brodesser-Akner rattles off her workload to me with such assured insouciance, you’d think she was talking about her supermarket shopping list. She works fast, I learn, and describes writing Fleishman Is in Trouble as “a pretty easy process”, one that took just six months. “It was hard, but I remember thinking [when I’d finished], ‘that can’t be it’.”If Brodesser-Akner has one regret, it’s that she didn’t get started with her writing career earlier. “I was so lost in my twenties and made excuses for myself,” she says, recalling “dying from jealousy” when she watched Girls, which Lena Dunham wrote at the same age. “You don’t need life experience to become a writer,” she adds. “But it can be difficult because you have to ask yourself what the story you choose to tell says about you. At my age, I no longer care what people think about me, so it’s easier. But up to 10 years ago, I cared so much.” When we move on to discuss her favourite celebrity subjects, she instantly mentions Gwyneth Paltrow (“my white whale for so long”) and praises her openness: “Nothing was off-limits.”Next in her sights, she tells me, is Melania Trump. “I like to interview people who have been famous for a while, because by the time I get to them, there are inevitably misunderstandings they believe the general public has about who they are. And it’s very interesting to write a story about someone based on the what the world has wrong about them.” Though I want to probe her on this, to find out how she gets celebrities to open up to her with such ease, Brodesser-Akner interjects because she wants to give me one final instruction. “Don’t let anybody tell you that writing has to be tortured in order to be good,” she insists. “If you just sit down and write the next sentence, you’ll be fine.”Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (£18.99, Headline) comes out on 18 June

  • The Philippine ghost town that still hasn’t recovered from Islamic State’s deadly siege
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    The Independent

    The Philippine ghost town that still hasn’t recovered from Islamic State’s deadly siege

    Only a week had passed since Mohammad Ali Acampong finished renovating his house when bombs and bullets struck Marawi City.Pro-Islamic State militants were carving out their own “Wilayah”, or province, forcing nearly 100,000 people to flee. It became the Philippine military’s toughest and longest conflict since the Second World War.On that day in 2017, 42-year-old Acampong, 42, left his three-storey lakeside house with his family of eight. “When the chaos began, our life suddenly became really difficult,” the government official told Reuters. “We had a comfortable life before. Now we live in between shelters, enduring heat, the lack of water, the lack of everything.”Marawi was once one of the most picturesque cities in the Philippines. About half of it is now charred concrete and skeletons of buildings, the remains of 154 days of airstrikes and artillery fire by the military, as well as booby traps laid everywhere by the Islamist rebels.The Acampongs now live in a tiny temporary housing unit on the city’s outskirts, competing with thousands of families for water and other basic utilities. At least 500 other families live in plastic tents – as does Asnia Sandiman, 25, who produces made-to-order clothing with a government-issued sewing machine.“The tent is fine until it rains and it gets so cold, or until the heat is so bad,” Sandiman says. “My deepest hope is that we are allowed to go back to Marawi but honestly, I would take any permanent address just to get out of here.”Hundreds of militants, 165 soldiers and at least 45 civilians were killed in the five-month conflict. President Rodrigo Duterte in October 2017 declared the city liberated, and its rehabilitation officially under way. But there is little sign of progress.Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), an interagency task force in charge of reconstruction, has a deadline of 2021 for rebuilding and remains confident of meeting it. “We could only go as fast as legally possible,” its field office manager, Felix Castro, says. “We can’t make shortcuts. It takes a while in the beginning but it will be quick once it starts.”Except for stray dogs and soldiers on guard, Marawi’s commercial centre has been abandoned. There is no sign of the promised rehabilitation.Thousands of people are in limbo following a conflict that no one saw coming.Reuters

  • The must-see TV shows this week: From Top Gear to Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule
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    The Independent

    The must-see TV shows this week: From Top Gear to Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule

    I may be unusual in this, but I prefer Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson and the other two. That still doesn’t necessarily make the “new, new Top Gear” much of a show, because they’re still trying to do the sort of larks that the Clarkson-May-Hamster team used to do, but, being rather insipid imitations of the real thing, to me that was actually a better mix. This is because the “real thing” was very often a string of racist politically incorrect gags and scandals usually, I suspect, played up to manufacture some real and synthetic outrage, publicity and, in due course, higher ratings, higher fees and higher royalties. Everyone’s a winner? No. What’s been long lost in all this is, er, the cars. We all like a bit of car porn, obviously, and if 11-year-old kids living in poverty want to read a group test of the new Rolls-Royce against the new Bentley and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Maybach limousines, then that’s fine by me. One day they might be able to buy all three. But I want a telly show that tells me much more about the cars, the designers, the companies that compete in a market like no other, the huge personalities who built the industry, the exciting future technologies for driverless and electrically propelled vehicles, the people who build them, the marketeers, the ad folk… it’s the most amazing industry ever. But Top Gear is about driving a Toyota pickup into a tree and going on about quick a Porsche can be. Boring.Buying a car is the second biggest expenditure you’re likely to make in your life, and, even if you lease one, it is still a substantial financial commitment. The old Top Gear, the one that had William Woollard, Angela Rippon, Sue Baker and – even – Noel Edmonds in it, would at least tell you whether the thing is likely to break down. And, actually, whether it’s any good to drive. Who’s doing that now? I’d be delighted to think that the Top Gear team of Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness would be testing the electric Nissan Leaf against the electric Kia Niro to see which has the bigger range between recharges. However I fear they’ll be driving Lamborghinis across Africa, or blowing up caravans or torturing an old Ford Focus instead. I can recommend much more heartily Years and Years. Anecdotally, it seems not yet to have caught the public imagination as much as, say, Line of Duty or Bodyguard, but it is still a frighteningly plausible glimpse in to the Britain and the world of the 2020s. I can’t give that much away about Tuesday’s finale, obviously, but I can say that all the cast are superb, and in this episode there are some exceptionally powerful scenes involving Rory Kinnear (playing Stephen Lyons), T’Nia Miller (Celeste Bisme-Lyons as his ex) and Edith Lyons, a militant environmental activist (Jessica Hynes).As the story of a world in financial, political and environmental crisis run by cynical populists (yes, I know, we’re there already) but told through the extended Lyons family, it has thus far been mostly about the Lyons’ loves, lives and, sadly, deaths; but we’re now into full-blown political thriller mode, and it’s time for some proper action. It’s a pacey finale, but emotionally charged with it. Plainly someone has an idea for a second series, and I think it’d be worth the punt. If we all survive log enough to watch it. By the way, a bottle of house wine will be about £56 in a decade’s time, and Brexit will indeed have definitely happened by 2031. The bad/good news is that the whole of the rest of Europe will be in as big a mess as Britain. Thought you’d like to know. It’s all also the final finale for Mum. In its third (and definitely final) series it has been edging towards resolving two crucial elements for its highly committed fans. First, offering some answers about the family dynamics that make it so tricky for Cathy (Lesley Manville) and Michael (Peter Mullan) to make their relationship work. And, second, what are the dynamics going on in their own hearts and minds that make what they call on Love Island “a coupling” such an apparently intractable challenge. If you’ve not had enough yet of cynical populists, Emily Maitlis is due to chair a special Our Next Prime Minister telly-hustings just before Emma Thompson appears as the murderous maniacal PM Vivienne Rook in Years and Years. Great timing, BBC1! Assuming some or all of the surviving candidates turn up to be asked questions by random viewers, it should make for interesting viewing. Maybe someone form a remote studio in the regions will get a straight answer out of them about drugs. Maybe not. I must say that Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule doesn’t quite live up to its promise, despite Hill’s innate comic genius and intergalactic-grade wit, and the quality of the guests this loveable personality attracts – Kevin Whately, Konnie Huq, Georgia Taylor and William Roache. I’d rather he went back to doing TV Burp, though. I do miss it.We’re into summer now, though you’d never guess it, which traditionally means rather a fallow season for viewers. Not in 2019, though, Apart from all the above, there’s plenty more continuing excellence on your screens – Gentleman Jack, and the adventures of the “first modern lesbian”; Killing Eve, intense assassination thriller; Year of the Rabbit, amusing Ripper satire, Famalam, brilliant BBC3 sketch show; and Thatcher: A Very British Revolution. This documentary series is in in fact essential viewing for the many people who didn’t live through the 1970s and 1980s, and who would like to have some of the caricatures of those times perhaps corrected. In its way it is almost as scary as the 2020s in Years and Years.Top Gear (BBC1, Sunday 8pm); Years and Years (BBC1, Tuesday 9pm); Mum (BBC2, Wednesday 10pm); Our Next Prime Minister (BBC1, Tuesday 8pm); Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule (ITV, Saturday 7.30pm)

  • Mean Girls’ Regina George is the ‘meanest’ high school film character of all time, according to research
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    The Independent

    Mean Girls’ Regina George is the ‘meanest’ high school film character of all time, according to research

    Mean Girls’ Regina George is the “meanest” high school film character of all time, according to research.Rachel McAdams’ breakout role as the “Queen of the Plastics” in the 2004 cult classic took the top spot thanks to her snappy quips and cunning manipulative tactics.She was closely followed in second place by the ever-scheming Kathryn Merteuil – played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions.Kathryn’s devious step-brother, Sebastian, crept in at third place on the list of nastiest high school characters from the big screen. The study of 2,000 UK film fans, commissioned by Sky Q, revealed three quarters have watched their favourite high school movie multiple times. Typically, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, The Princess Diaries, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have been enjoyed three times.And Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You have been viewed four times while film fans have watched Mean Girls on an average of five occasions.But the 1970s classic Grease has been watched a whopping eight times on average. The study also found that Mean Girls, which is celebrating its 15 year anniversary this month, is still so popular that three in 10 are “shocked” when they meet someone who hasn’t seen the high-school comedy. More than half of fans enjoy Mean Girls for the way it pokes fun at popularity and high school cliques.And despite the fact Regina was named the nastiest movie personality, two fifths felt her character is flawed, but still human.One third felt the same about Regina’s arch-nemesis, Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron. Researchers also revealed the best-loved quotes from the film, which was hilariously adapted to screenplay by comic, Tina Fey.“On Wednesdays, we wear pink” came out on top, closely followed by “She doesn’t even go here!” and “Is butter a carb?”To celebrate the anniversary of the classic film, you can now say: “On Wednesdays we wear pink”, into your Sky Q remote’s voice search to find the film. Ian Lewis, director of Sky Cinema, said: “There’s something about a high school movie which makes us feel nostalgic. “Even 15 years since its release, Mean Girls still feels so relatable, so we wanted to mark the occasion through adding its most recognisable quote to Sky Q’s voice search. “To kick off the start of summer, we’re also launching a ‘School’s Out’ channel where fans can watch a collection of cult classics like American Pie, The Breakfast Club and Clueless.”The research also revealed nearly half of those polled, via OnePoll, agreed a “mean” character is integral to the structure of a good high school movie, closely tailed by snappy quips and an element of romance.And in looking at why we love “mean” characters on screen, almost half believe “they are more fun”, and that they create drama which progresses the plot. It also emerged one in five consider the noughties to be the best decade for high school films. And for more than two fifths, there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a funny high school film.Mean Girls is one of a selection of high school movies, from Grease to Pretty in Pink, being shown on Sky Cinema’s School’s Out channel from 20-28 July and On Demand. Top 10 ‘meanest’ teen villains in film:1\. Regina George, Mean Girls (Rachel McAdams) 2\. Kathryn Mertuil, Cruel Intentions (Sarah Michelle Gellar)3\. Sébastien de Valmont, Cruel Intentions (Ryan Phillipe)4\. Cady Heron, Mean Girls (Lindsay Lohan)5\. Amber Von Tussle, Hairspray (Brittany Snow)6\. Betty Rizzo, Grease (Stockard Channing)7\. Sharpay Evans, High School Musical (Ashley Tisdale)8\. Steve Stifler, American Pie (Seann William Scott)9\. Gretchen Wiener, Mean Girls (Lacey Chabert)10\. Lana Thomas, Princess Diaries (Mandy Moore) Top 10 best high school movies of all time:1\. Grease2\. Mean Girls3\. American Pie4\. Clueless5\. The Breakfast Club6\. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off7\. Cruel Intentions8\. Hairspray9\. The Princess Diaries10\. Bring It OnSWNS

  • Beautiful water droplet photos captured with creative technique
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    The Independent

    Beautiful water droplet photos captured with creative technique

    A photographer has captured a set of pictures of water droplets using an optical trick.Flowers are seen trapped inside droplets of water, creating vibrant images.Canadian Don Komarechka shot the photos in a home studio set-up composed of a bowl of water, a flower, a stem or a blade of grass and - in some cases - an insect.The sight is caused by positioning a flower in the background so that it is refracted through the droplets when viewed from the right position.Mr Komarechka applied the drops of water to the stems using a hypodermic needle and then captured the pictures through a macro lens.Each image took hours to create. The stems were liable to bend while the tiny drops of water would quickly evaporate and introducing insects only served to make the process more tricky.Mr Komarechka has spent years working with macro-photography as well as time spent at the BBC, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

  • Bored to death: ‘If it ain’t broke doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it’
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    The Independent

    Bored to death: ‘If it ain’t broke doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it’

    The South Indian Monkey Trap works like this: villagers make a small hole in a gourd and hollow out the insides. They put some sweet rice in the hollow gourd. They chain it to a stake. A monkey comes along and smells the rice. He puts his paw through the hole in the gourd and grabs a fistful. His fist is now too big to fit back through the hole. The monkey lacks the smarts to reevaluate the rice relative to his liberty and cannot open his fist to release it, retrieve his empty paw and escape. He waits there until the trappers return. The best outcome for him is that the villagers will mock him for the rigidity of his value system.As a metaphor for human inaction in the face of climate change, it is not extreme – we are so blindly devoted to economic growth that we may get our brains scooped out with a spoon. As a metaphor for Brexit it works also: we now know that even if we get the rice out it will be rotten, but we can’t let go. It really is a wonderfully useful metaphor for stuckness of all sorts, societal and individual.I have a friend on the stand-up circuit some years my senior who hasn’t changed his set for the 20 years I’ve been watching him from the back of the room. There are a few like this: they perform their material with commitment, take the cash and support a family – or a dealer, I don’t know. In any case it’s not evil to make audiences laugh with honed material – many would say it’s the whole point – and most seem happy enough. But not this one, this one is sad. He looks jaded even by the standards of a road comic his age. His eyes, you might say, are the widows of his soul. He is a ringwraith.Why does he tolerate being so deeply bored that he is scarcely of this world? He can create, he did once – why does he not change his set? Why has he chosen a career that allows for seasonal change and then built a walled garden around himself, with a stalled microclimate? Bill Bryson, writing in The Lost Continent, wonders which is worse, “to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored?”> Which is worse: to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored?As a youth I craved enchantment. When I began stand-up in my mid-twenties, the density of experience coming at me every day ramped up sharply, especially when I started gigging nationally, which meant: travel, industry gossip with car companions, the venue, the gig in its many details and strategic decision nodes, the adrenaline of success or failure slowly leaching out of my physiology over the car journey home, a mental postmortem, more industry gossip with car companions, the talk perhaps turning personal in the night hours if the journey was long.And then, after a few years, the sudden saturation: becoming aware of the above as a repeating pattern – all cognition now recognition – and being easily bored by the mosquito drone of constant stimulus. Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I studied for an entire afternoon at university, developed a taxonomy of “faits glissades” – sliding events that serve only to lead to other events, and “faits précipices” – cliff-edge events where one stares into the abyss – a useful distinction for the dramatist.The idea of doing stand-up terrifies most non-practitioners with its threat of an abyssal plunge. Conversely, the promise of such a defining moment is what attracts people to it – outside Mexico that is, where they have the Day of the Dead to remind them that they are alive. What surprises you when you take up stand-up as a profession is how many sliding moments there are around the precipitous moments.The days are not without mundanity – for which you have not braced. You start looking forward to the abyssal moments without dread, because your heart beats faster and you have learned the abyss’s little secret: when you do die on stage, when you do plunge into the depths of public opprobrium, all that happens is that the computer game level resets for the next round. > What surprises you when you take up stand-up as a profession is how many sliding moments there are around the precipitous momentsThe stakes are low – why not try that new bit that’s funny in your head, see if you can sell it?You are like a mountain climber, camped out on a narrow ledge next to the Chasm of Hurt Dignity. When a joke works reliably it becomes a piton to hammer into the rock – it can stop you falling more than a couple of feet. For my jaded colleague it has become so counterintuitive to disengage any of his pitons that he now lives in an iron maiden, built out of security pitons and with a view overlooking Hell. If only he could remember that a fall wouldn’t actually kill him.Our love for risk diminishes with age – but that only means that it should be a discipline. Just because it ain’t broke doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it. Take a step back to go forward. Because if you don’t shed your protective skin and renew, you risk not just your gig or your quarterly presentation or asking that person out – whatever gives you the willies this week – you risk living death, soul death – planetary death. The security of predictable outcome is just a handful of rice. Let it go.

  • Listening bars are on the up – there’s less chatting, more listening... and a little discomfort
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    The Independent

    Listening bars are on the up – there’s less chatting, more listening... and a little discomfort

    At 9.30 on a recent Monday morning, I parked on East Fourth Place in the downtown arts district of LA, between Skid Row and the Los Angeles River. I walked into a kind of glass vestibule, then opened a door into the half-light of In Sheep’s Clothing, a listening bar. I was returning for a second visit, at an unpopular hour, because I hadn’t grasped its purpose at a popular one.Listening bars – cafes with high-end audio equipment, where patrons listen to vinyl records, carefully selected by a bartender, from a record library behind the bar – have been an institution in Japan since the 1950s. They are a subset of the kissaten, the small and idiosyncratic coffeehouses dotting side-streets in Tokyo. Only recently have several emerged in New York City, Los Angeles and a few other places. Shakily, a culture and a lore are growing, of connoisseurship and grace and obsession. At this early stage, the American listening bar (sometimes called a hi-fi bar) remains a social experiment, because a bar is still generally understood as a place to talk, not listen. Recorded music is a compulsory extra, but is generally ignored or appreciated in flickers. Even those who know something about the purpose and origin of the listening bar may not be ready for it.At best, the listening bar raises good questions about whether there might be an unrealised public listening ideal in a ritual as familiar as going out for a drink. At worst, it’s pretty much like a regular bar, but with a trowelling of extra noise provided by an obscure record you’re not hip enough to know, played on equipment you’re not rich enough to own, in a room that does not accommodate dancing. It can be hard to talk, much less to listen.I’ve been dropping in to several places to see what I thought – particularly In Sheep’s Clothing, where I had the best experiences overall, but also Public Records in Brooklyn, Tokyo Record Bar in Manhattan and Gold Line in Los Angeles. (Other well-known listening bars outside Japan include Bar Shiru in Oakland, California, and two in London: Brilliant Corners and Spiritland.)The meticulousness about sound and gear extends to the menus. Tokyo Record Bar has a judicious sake list with a flavour-profile colour-wheel on its menu; In Sheep’s Clothing serves sake as well as wine, rice whiskey, beer and mezcal. At Tokyo Record Bar, you can eat, too, even when it switches from a small-plate dinner menu to a more casual DJ setting after 10:45pm, with oysters, sashimi and bar snacks. But the most important items in both places are the turntables, tube amplifiers and speakers.Most proprietors of the American listening bars are candidly inspired by the kissaten, with their individually defining special interests – jazz, classical, noise and drone music, and so forth. (To a lesser extent, they draw inspiration about the ethics and philosophy of listening, and about specific audio gear, from the New York DJ David Mancuso’s loft parties in downtown Manhattan in the Seventies and Eighties.) In Sheep’s Clothing is particularly indebted to the model of Lion, in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, where patrons sit in pewlike seating and classical records have been played, entire sides at a time, with almost ritual care for quiet patrons since the 1950s.Most listening bars in the US spotlight the DJ to some degree, and are open only in the evening. In that respect, In Sheep’s Clothing, which opened last August, is an exception to two general rules. Here the DJ is basically anonymous, and the place – about 1,000 sq ft, sparsely lit and wooden-walled, with 12 tables – is open all day.On the Monday morning I visited, the barista put on the first side of “Now That Everything’s Been Said”, the 1968 record by The City, Carole King’s short-lived LA folk-rock band. (He was using a Garrard, an audiophile turntable, not a DJ turntable: you can’t wind a record backward on it.)There were two other customers. I sat turned away from the bar, at a table facing the two speakers on the floor – old Klipschorns, the size of modest refrigerators. “Please keep your conversations below the music,” read a small folded card on each table. “To hear more, say less.” The coffee was good, and the music was fully present but not exactly loud. The vibe felt like a lunar tidal pull.That City record was a good entry point. I had heard it; it lies somewhere between the Brill Building songwriting discipline and hippie looseness, on the way to something it hasn’t found. But here I really heard it. I understood something about the tactility and enlivening qualities of sound better than ever before: sound can be a three-dimensional space in which to put your body, and in which your body may be acted upon and opened up, even when you are sitting still. I seemed to understand the physics of it: tones as standing waves, and me in the middle of them, one of them. Or, if you prefer the language of another sense, it was like seeing colours after knowing only greys.As a natural consequence of hearing in that detail, I could also sense the physicality of the people making the music – their throats, hands, reflexes, sensibilities. While listening to that record, I felt, let’s say, that I knew Carole King’s mother.I had to leave after an hour but wanted to stay for two or three, and returned a couple of months later to do that, sitting at the same table at various other times of day – 10am, 2pm, 4pm, 9pm – to figure out how the day works there. The room is fitted with institutional furniture from the Seventies, from a two-top table to an eight-top, crescent banquettes and schoolroom chairs.There are tall potted plants and tables with neat stacks of books mapping out the bar’s musical aesthetic: John Cage’s Silence, Chris DeVito’s Coltrane on Coltrane, Steven Isoardi’s The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles. The room’s goldenrod curtains stay drawn, and its interior is unremarkably brown enough that you can turn your attention to the spectacular thing going on before and around you, which is sound.During daytime hours, with not too many other people there – some screenwriters at their laptops, some bros holding a real-estate meeting, couples on dates – I had similarly strong experiences with Charles Mingus’s “Mingus Plays Piano”, French folk singer Emmanuelle Parrenin’s “Belle Virginie”, and the ice-cream minimalism of Seigen Ono’s self-titled first album.None of these records have ever been hits or canonical; they’re all off to the side. Sometimes, here, off to the side can become predictable: you could begin to discern an index for newly unearthed hits of outsider-electronic or crypto-New-Age or imaginary-vernacular music – often things recently unearthed by chic reissue labels: Richard Horowitz’s “Eros in Arabia”, Laurie Spiegel’s “The Expanding Universe” and most of all, Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ultraminimal “Nine Postcards”, which is to In Sheep’s Clothing as “Crazy In Love” or “Start Me Up” is to a sports bar. Stay long enough and you will hear it.As with any listening bar, you can find snob appeal at In Sheep’s Clothing, if that’s what you want. But an experience with sound in a properly immersive way erases the problem of records as background decor or as fetish objects.There are about 600 records behind the bar – 200 for day, 400 for night. Zach Cowie, the bar’s creative director, told me a bartender can pretty much put anything on at the appropriate time of day and it’ll work; you’re always hearing Cowie’s ideas about music, which tilt towards introspection. The range is pretty capacious, but will likely catch you with something you didn’t know.Cowie pays attention to the quality of pressings, and allows in the bar’s collection only reissues transferred from original analogue-tape masters, as opposed to vinyl records made from digital masters, which are essentially CDs on vinyl. This means that the inherent continuity in the analogue process (as opposed to the chopped, discrete soundwave in digital) travels all the way: from the original recording technology through the storage medium through the playback gear, and then even through the purposeful, undistracted way the record was put on by the bartender that Monday morning, whose name was Dane. (I asked, as one would ask a park ranger on top of a significant mountain.)Before putting the record on, he cleaned it with a Hunt EDA record brush, then let it run for a full side, as per the practice at Lion, from beginning to end. That act could be described as analogue, too – as is any conscious move towards continuity.Cowie’s day job is as a music supervisor for films and TV shows, including Master of None and Forever. He has a vested interest in smuggling great music into people’s lives; he wants to surprise them and discreetly expand their frames of reference. I asked him to diagnose my experience with The City record.Across a couple of days, we talked about unplugging, records as gateways, the possibility of a self-governing quiet place for listening, the depressingly appeasing quality of algorithmic choices, the stimulation of curiosity. And finally, he told me: “That was your first time hearing a single-ended triode amplifier through a pair of very efficient loudspeakers.”“Efficient” means the speakers don’t require a lot of power to be very loud. And his diagnosis may well be correct. But you don’t have to know any of that, really, and Cowie or Dane or whoever else won’t tell you unless you ask.Vinyl records these days amount to one of two extremes: either dusty, embarrassing garbage or advanced-level consumables. If a record isn’t something so valueless you can’t give it away, it’s the signifier of taste and an ambitious, highly tailored social life. To turn that social life into a business, in a town like New York or Los Angeles, can easily result in a situation in which elite whiskey and Instagram moments are more important than communicative potential of the records themselves.This is why In Sheep’s Clothing remains a work in progress. Sometimes the waiters shush people. It doesn’t always go down well. (I didn’t see it happen while I was there, but read Yelp for some accounts.)It is a listening place, not a DJ place. Spiritland, Brilliant Corners, Gold Line and many others let the visiting DJ rule the spot; Gold Line requires that DJs use its library of 8,000 records behind its bar, which have been collected by Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf – the DJ, producer, supreme record-collector and founder of the record label Stones Throw, whose offices are next door.I love DJs: they comprise about a third of my living heroes. But when you remove their star power from the equation, which is precisely the situation when the waiter at your cafe or bar is putting on the records, you are forced to confront the music. The website for In Sheep’s Clothing has no information about guest DJ appearances, and no pictures of the bar, just facts about its sound setup. It looks like the tech specifications on a band’s contract rider.A cafe – and most bars, for that matter – should be as good a place to be alone as with friends, and In Sheep’s Clothing does not make it hard for you to be alone. It is not like a hi-fi shop or an elite record store. No cryptically insecure male proprietor cut me a withering look. Nobody bothered me, and I was not subjected to advertising. I didn’t pay a cover charge or do anything more compromising than eat breakfast.I did not experience the usual American cafe-feeling of needing to be productive. In fact, I wondered whether this represented the best possible use for cafes: a total break in your waking hours. A cleaned window. An open window!Nighttime, on the other hand, is a different story. My first visit to In Sheep’s Clothing had been late on a Friday, with friends. The room was full. I was stunned by the first song I recognised: Caetano Veloso’s “Jóia,” just multitracked voice and percussion, a poem juxtaposing modern and preindustrial Brazil. What kind of bar plays something so calm and spacious and unresolving during party hours?I talked to my friends loud enough to be heard, because everyone else around us was doing the same, and I had a nice drink (an amaro nonino), and I don’t remember much about listening.On another night visit, more astonishing music: Joe Henderson’s The Elements, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man. But my friends and I were talking about whether we believed in magic, which naturally became the focus of the evening. A guy at the table next to ours, out with his pals, left looking defeated – he’d had an argument with his wife earlier that night and he really wasn’t up for sitting still and letting the music work on him.I understand. Night is dynamic and complicated: so complicated that it turns great record collections and stupendous sound systems into background. If a listening bar is open during the day, you’d be crazy not to go there then. By all means, come back at night with friends. But you may not reap the full promise of the place, the reason it exists at all.© New York Times

  • National Geographic Travel Photo Contest winners
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    The Independent

    National Geographic Travel Photo Contest winners

    Winners have been announced for the photo contest that rewards the most incredible pictures of life on planet earth.The National Geographic Travel Photo contest has drawn to a close after months of accepting entries from some of the best photographers all over the globe.The grand prize winner is Chu Weimin, for his picture of a remote fishing village on a tiny island in Greenland. Weimin will be granted $7,500 in prize money and will have his picture featured on the National Geographic Instagram account.Prizes were also awarded to the best pictures across three categories: Nature, Cities and People. See the official announcement from National Geographic here.The Independent has compiled the winning pictures, the runners up and couple of honourable mentions in the gallery above.See here for coverage of the early weeks of the contest.

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: Nicholas Hytner's take on the Bard comedy is another mould-breaker
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    The Independent

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream review: Nicholas Hytner's take on the Bard comedy is another mould-breaker

    In several parts of Nicholas Hytner’s gloriously funny, immersive take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, I was reminded of Michelle Obama’s pitch-perfect put-down: “When they go low, we go higher”. Except that, in regards to this production, it’s as if the former first lady had continued, with a dignified wink: “Oh, and lower too – just to be on the safe side.”There is not a tutu in sight amongst Hytner’s band of adult fairies. They are a troupe of insubordinate show-offs of all genders and sexualities. Non-human and often downright inhuman, these wayward creatures end the first half in synchronised aerial display to the strains of Beyonce’s “Love on Top”. It would be misleading, though, to give the impression that this is a strenuously louche Dream. True, this is a play that has a deceptive reputation as being the most child-friendly in the Shakespeare canon – hence the mould-breaking productions over the years. In the 1970s, Peter Brook’s version had a simple white box set, designed by Sally Jacobs and influenced by the Chinese circus; in the 1990s, Robert Lepage’s National Theatre transformed the wood outside Athens into a mud bath symbolising the Freudian id.Hytner’s Dream – which reunites the team responsible for last year’s smash hit Julius Caesar – is in this tradition but more approachable (literally so if you choose to plump for being a promenader in the pit).The bunch of rude mechanicals who rehearse and mount the inset “Pyramus and Thisbe” play are enchanting because they are not performed as buffoons but as innocents. I won’t insult Hammed Animashaun’s performance as Bottom the weaver with the summary description “adorable”. Oh, it’s that all right, but mixed in with the traditional bumptious enthusiasm are exquisite touches of shyness and vulnerability. Felicity Montagu, deliciously funny as the gender-changed Quince, is brimming, all-purpose benignity. Bottom asks her to write a special prologue for him: if she had time, you would feel that this Quince would happily oblige. I love it that she has aide-memoire stickers for her cast like Madge, Dame Edna’s sidekick.A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that revels in cock-ups with the magic love juice that sedates and causes characters to wake up infatuated by the first person they see. Here it’s not the Queen of the Fairies, Titania (a charismatic Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones); it’s Oliver Chris’s superlatively funny Oberon. From butch-as-hell hippy, he becomes a highly strung male diva with a possessive, neurasthenic passion for his new chum. This might seem to sail uncomfortably close to gay stereotypes if it weren’t for the affectionate way the production ridicules camp convention. In the venerable tradition of doubling the human and fairy potentates, he plays Theseus too. The latter is, in his hands, a bit of a Draconian fool. Chris is actually never more majestic than when emerging from a his’n’his champagne bubble bath – his modesty preserved only by a strategically placed wisp of foam.David Moorst excels as the obstreperous hobgoblin Puck. In his vest and vegetable tattoos, he sometimes looks to be blending Lily Savage with twitchy version of Smike from Nicholas Nickleby. The production often encouraged the promenaders to clasp hands in a ring round Bunny Christie’s rectilinear, Bedknobs and Broomstick set. Talk about good fellowship.Despite its frivolous reputation, this is a work that touches on serious issue: it begins, after all, with two forced marriages. Hytner’s version raises the stakes by giving the “fierce vexation of a dream” a perversely nonchalant edge at times. Puck ends by dangling upside down and clutching the hands of a punter in the front row. A gesture of magical grace. I am delighted to give the show a very enthusiastic welcome.To 31 August (bridgetheatre.co.uk). In cinemas through NT Live from 17 October

  • Dinosaur skeletons captured in stunning detail
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    The Independent

    Dinosaur skeletons captured in stunning detail

    Dinosaur skeletons have been reanimated in series of pictures by a German photographer.Munich based Christian Voigt re-animated the giant creatures from the Mesozoic era - the age of the dinosaurs that spanned from around 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago. He covered creatures from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. “I sought to really bring these animals to life," he said. ”I have to remind people that these aren't Hollywood images, but rather real animals that lived millions of years ago.“Mr Voigt travelled to five natural history museums across Europe to photograph the dinosaurs and the skeletons of other extinct creatures. He said he only used natural light to capture the images and relied on a black back-drop to separate each animal from its neighbour. Sometimes he spent a hour composing each shot. ”I can't touch them, or ask them to move a little to left, so I have to look for the best angle," he said, adding that ​he was inspired to work with dinosaur skeletons after a visit to the Natural History Museum in London. He said: ”It all started with wanting to bring these animals out of their glass boxes. In a museum, when you look at certain collections of animals and skeletons, they're always very packed together.”SWNS

  • Wild West photographs surface after more than 130 years
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    The Independent

    Wild West photographs surface after more than 130 years

    Unseen photographs showing life on the frontier of the Wild West have surfaced more than 130 years after being captured.The pictures were taken in the 1880s around Colorado and New Mexico territory in the US and have remained unseen by the public ever since. Most of the photos show life on the ranches \- herding cattle and riding horses - but they also offer a glimpse of some of the small towns and the newly-built railway.It is thought that the majority of the images were captured by a British person who travelled to America to work as a farmhand before returning with a whole album of photos. The set emerged as it was put up for sale by the estate of a deceased collector of photographs from Surrey.The pictures will go under the hammer at Flints Auctions on 21 June where they are expected to fetch £500.

  • The Sisterhood: Denis Villeneuve to make new sci-fi series after Dune film reboot
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    The Independent

    The Sisterhood: Denis Villeneuve to make new sci-fi series after Dune film reboot

    A TV series set in the same universe as Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film has been announced.Named Dune: The Sisterhood and based on the novel series by Frank Herbert, the show will tell the story of the Bene Gesserit, an order of women with mysterious abilities.They will contend with an array of feudal political problems, including their ruling government The Imperium, ultimately making their way to an enigmatic planet called Arrakis, which is known to its inhabitants as Dune.Villeneuve is set to direct the pilot, and the series will be penned by Jon Spaihts, a screenwriter on the Dune film project.“The Bene Gesserit have always been fascinating to me,” Villeneuve said. “Focusing a series around that powerful order of women seemed not only relevant and inspiring, but a dynamic setting for the television series.”After David Lynch’s version in 1984,starring Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlan, Villeneuve’s Dune will be the second adaptation of Herbert’s sci-fi novel.It will follow the story of Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet), as his noble family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis, an inhospitable wasteland that is also the only source of a rare drug known as “spice”, only to be betrayed by the galactic empire. Tthe film’s wider cast includes Jason Momoa, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, and Dave Bautista. It’ll be released in November 2020.

  • Artistic chiefs from Tate, V&A and more to create a piece of work for London Design Festival
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    Evening Standard

    Artistic chiefs from Tate, V&A and more to create a piece of work for London Design Festival

    Between them they run some of London’s great cultural institutions, but now the people in charge of Tate, the V&A and English National Ballet are going back to the drawing board to become designers for a day. Festival chairman — and noted designer — Sir John Sorrell asked them to come up with “a legacy piece of design” using American red oak which they could potentially pass on to the institutions they lead.