Culture / Global
Page-turners and top tunes for the new year.
‘Blinded by the Lights’
Polish drama about a cocaine dealer in Warsaw who must get through a hectic weekend in the capital before leaving for Argentina. The six-part series is an example of HBO’s push to produce more original programming in central and eastern Europe.
Blinded by the Lights takes place in Warsaw’s demimonde in the six days leading up to Christmas when a drug dealer must avoid having his life thrown upside down via a series of nightclubs, bad cops and celebrities, ahead of his dream trip to Latin America.
The series is based on a novel - known in Poland as Slepnac od Swiatel - by Jakub Zulczyk, who has co-written the drama with Krzysztof Skonieczny, the director of Polish indie feature film Hardkor Disko. The cast has not yet been announced.
The thriller started pre-production at the end of last year and is expected to launch in 2017 in 18 territories across Europe. HBO hopes that the series can match the success of its last Polish original - borderguard drama Wataha - which sold into a number of countries via foreign-language drama service Walter Presents.
Paintings, poetry, punk video games and galleries, all whipped up by two top publishing tag teams and a studious artist.
The Bitmap Brothers: Universe
Darren Wall & Duncan Harris
There was a point in the 1980s and 1990s when making computer games was like punk: it was a crucible from which many future-defining careers were formed, was expressly homemade and if you didn’t love it then you almost certainly hated it; the pre-eminent band were the Bitmap Brothers, formed in London in 1987. The trio made Gods, Xenon and Speedball. Google them – if you’re about 40 years old you’ll experience a pleasant Proustian rush. This fascinating and intoxicatingly beautiful book is their story, made accessible by reference to the rest of the world that these developers were (half) living in, back when men were boys and boys were gods.
How to See
The critic John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was omniscient and impish. Salle is an artist whose new book, How to See, knows Berger had it right but wants to help with an even more essential skill: using your peepers perfectly. As an artist, Salle occupies a postmodern world of fine art mixed with pop culture and his is a cool, firm palm in the small of the back, guiding you through the confusing image-laden world as if it were all a gallery. He is a writer of wit and clarity who seems to abhor jargon in favour of wide-armed inclusivity, unlocking doors to artists and works that may have appeared scary, weird or unknowable. Absorb How to See and gain a gallery-going friend, even when you go alone.
Derek Walcott and Peter Doig
As a call-and-response between painter and poet, this book is an idea wonderfully realised. Both live in the Caribbean (Walcott in St Lucia, Doig in Trinidad) and here Doig’s paintings sit on the left and Walcott’s poems respond as a series of wry takes on what the title might mean. Best might be Doig’s “Figures in a Red Boat” about which Walcott wonders if they’re philosophers about to drown on a holiday misadventure.
Classy Danish pop and a new genre to get you misty-eyed – and make you write to your MP.
Dust off the best china when this Danish five-piece come over for tea. The world needs bands that can play (they met at Aarhus music academy), write classic singles (such as the title track) and look like you might want a poster of at least one of them on your wall (if you were 12). In 2017 we all need a bit of odd and the time signatures here aren’t exactly Chris Rea. A subtle, addictive debut that wears its learning lightly.
Austra’s practice has been described as “sad dance music”. Katie Stelmanis’s Canadian outfit made this LP after she spent time living in Montréal and Mexico City, fired up by politics by day and on the dancefloor by night. Canada has a healthy knack for electronica. Sad political dance music? It’s the growth genre of 2017.
For this side project, Williams takes an interesting fork in the road of US standards by swapping lush orchestration for the simple vibraphone of Anthony Kerr. The resulting new light through old windows is startling.
I Go Back Home
This jazz collection sounds like it was made at Capitol Records in the early 1950s. Collaborations with Oscar Castro Neves and Dizzy Gillespie are dwarfed by Joe Pesci, the actor with the finest part-time singing voice of all.
British adventurer Bear Grylls is a celebrity survivalist; he’s also a TV presenter, author, man of faith, former special-forces soldier and the UK’s youngest ever chief scout (he promises to do his best). Here’s how he went from Eton into the wild.
Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls (Edward evolved into Teddy and then, thanks to his older sister, into Bear) was born in Northern Ireland in 1974, moved to a cottage on the Isle of Wight at the age of four and grew up climbing trees and scrabbling over rocks. At 18 he joined the SAS, broke three vertebrae in a freefall parachuting accident over southern Africa aged 22 and, naturally, climbed Mount Everest just 18 months later.
Tougher than your average bear, Grylls has wrestled alligators in the Everglades, swam (stark naked) across a freezing Siberian river and curled up inside a camel carcass to keep cosy in the Sahara. He puts most foragers to shame: to avoid dehydration in Australia he drank his own wee. His popular TV series Born Survivor (Man vs Wild in the US and elsewhere) first aired in 2006 and reached more than 1.2 billion viewers. There was a bit of controversy...
The premise of Born Survivor? Alone in the wilderness in far-flung places across the globe, Grylls had to get out alive with no more than a flint, a knife and a water bottle. In reality? In one episode, when our hero was ostensibly stranded on a desert island in Hawaii, he was in fact spending a few nights snug as a bug in a motel. Likewise, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, we saw him biting the head off a snake for breakfast; what we didn’t see was the heap of blueberry pancakes that he devoured in a resort at Bass Lake.
Grylls lives with his wife Shara, who he met skinny-dipping in Scotland one New Year’s Day, and their three boys: Jesse, Marmaduke and Huckleberry (no, really). They divide their time between London (now on an old Dutch barge on the Thames; soon in a plush pad in Battersea Power Station) and a remote island off the coast of north Wales.
In 2015, to help highlight the damaging effects of climate change, Grylls was joined in Alaska by Barack Obama (and his secret-service team) for an episode of Running Wild with Bear Grylls. The two very tall men made tea from catkins, ate prechewed salmon, talked about fatherhood and bonded over bear-sex jokes.
New year, new you?
Eschew that holiday shame and forget about your post-Christmas diet. There are happier, less sweaty ways to achieve self-improvement this January.
Running! Gyms! Learning Arabic! Every January you’ll notice that across the printed realm lurks the spectre of self-improvement. The holidays were naughty and made us eat delicious food and go skiing instead of standing on a crowded Tube platform. They made us enjoy ourselves in a way that allows no care as to what time or even day it is. But now we’re all back, jaws clenched, eyes fierce and ready to tackle a different sort of downhill slope: the black-run of stern self-denial; the mogul-strewn solipsism of superman-training; the Hahnenkamm of learning Arabic.
Fine, the Business section and your Swiss gym entrepreneurs, the fashion pages and your treadmill-tastic, 10-lengths-before-breakfast shoot, you guys go for it. These sections are overseen by disciplined types whose Zanussis (they’re probably Mieles) are forever spinning-out their Lycra.
But in these pages? We work up a sweat on the dancefloor, we run around the Venice Biennale; our workout is working out whether we prefer Bond or Bourne. So I’ll propose a different set of tips for faster, fitter, better, stronger. Be a little slower, perhaps, and adopt these habits.
Buy a newspaper
Dare to fold your mighty FT or fat Die Zeit on the bus while those around you cower with their tiny iPhones. Take up some space, really make a pig of yourself. People will read it over your shoulder; regard them with a haughty stare and turn the page. Why? Because you’re worth it.
There’s a romance to looking forward to things. Instant gratification has its moments but marking “Dylan” in your diary is nicer than writing “Dentist”. Go on – get booked up.
The word has spoken
Spoken-word is the new drum’n’bass. The best thing for your iPhone is to wise up with a podcast. My favourite is Backlisted, an hour of bookishness that’ll send you off to...
Browse, choose and pay. Ask for advice if you want, they love that. Think of it as a wine shop for the mind. That’s what I did years ago and now I have a fine library but can’t remember how it got there.
You might think that there’s too much of it in the world but every friendship needs a “how’s it going?” to help it along. And every love affair has to start somewhere.