Culture / Global
Books: Real-life football yarns, a fictional White House exposé, and an ode to the migrating swallow. Film: Armando Iannucci's political satire goes stateside, and Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in The Damned United. Art: New shows at Tokyo's Mori and Paris's Pompidou.
Day of the Match
Scott Murray and Rowan Walker
This beautifully-bound compendium takes a football story for each day of the year. Murray and Walker defy banishment to anorak-city by offering an erudite, international and mirthful take on the fascinating, controversial and bizarre yarns that have afflicted and entertained such an outwardly simple sport, including a phantom penalty shoot-out, naked player protests and, of course, Eric Cantona’s crude kung-fu.
Although based on the truth, Jed Mercurio’s latest is an imaginary behind-the-scenes exposé of JFK’s White House that uncovers how a randy commander-in-chief’s numerous liaisons impacted on the business of being the world’s most powerful man. A former TV scriptwriter, Mercurio keeps the plot ticking along in a way that would translate well to the big screen; it’s just a shame history spoiled the ending.
A Single Swallow
Irresistibly funny and properly informative, Horatio Clare’s travelogue about bird-migration isn’t designed for bird-nerds. On the journey following his beloved barn swallow for nearly 10,000km, from South Africa’s Western Cape across two continents and back to Clare’s native Wales, pygmies, witch-doctors, spies and travellers all cross his path.
The Ultimate Trophy: How the Impressionist Painting Conquered the World
Sotheby’s specialist Philip Hook investigates the world’s ongoing mania for Impressionism in this witty and dense tome. Going beyond a simple rehash of well-documented art history, Hook’s insight is both academic and anecdotal, from describing buyers hissing at Degas’s L’Absinthe on the Christie’s saleroom floor in 1892, to the more recent story of a rich Middle Eastern buyer who thought he was the victim of a practical joke when being flogged a $7m Monet.
Viva South America!
Oliver Balch’s refreshing romp around South America takes you all over the Andes and even deep down under them, popping into the houses of peasants and presidents along the way. It’s a gentle journey that gives you all the unique flavour – and the grit – of each individual country.
The Kaleidoscopic Eye: Thyssen-Bornemisza
Art Contemporary Collection
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 4 April – 5 July 2009
Joining forces with T-B A21 – the Viennese contemporary art foundation set up by Francesca von Habsburg in 2001 – Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum hosts a selection of works commissioned and collected by the foundation artists, such as Carsten Holler, Cerith Wyn Evans, Jim Lambie and Jeppe Hein, all dealing with the reliability, or otherwise, of human perception.
Alexander Calder: Les Années Parisiennes
Pompidou Centre, Paris, 18 March – 20 July 2009
Documenting the seven years that American artist Calder spent in Paris, this show investigates how he was influenced by his adopted home and the artists he mixed with, including Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian and Man Ray. The show features Calder’s Circus – a circus act played out by moving wire models – and is the first time the work has left the Whitney Museum in New York since the artist’s death in 1976.
What a hot talent Elvis Perkins has slowly simmered to become. A sparse and heartfelt debut and EPs of ever-increasing ambition have inspired a second album of warm, rootsy, rock and blues tied to timeless arrangements that owe their groove to relaxed reggae and New Orleans spirituals. Perkins lives up to his Christian name, but this lovely new outing is more like a Californian Clash; a West Coast way to the world.
(Peter, Bjorn & John
What are these lot up to? The band with the best debut single since MTV went GMTV, followed by a limited-run concept album about the Swedish seaside and now this schiz-pop jalopy of an album. Mixing addictive soft rock choruses, thrilling Afrobeat riffs and electro echoes with hip-hop beats breeds a strange fruit that manages to be tasty, sweet and tuneful, if not quite seedless.
It’s OK to drop one and dance to Röyksopp because their music’s all over the ads; a heavy night down the top-rank ballroom can feel as safe as sitting in front of an ad for a Seat or a cellphone, right? Right! They’re still great: while the whole world has borrowed their girl-meets-beats formula, the boys from Bergen have been stretching their synths to make a danceable, floor-filling classic that’s this page’s first flash of summer.
Political comedy In The Loop
Dir: Armando Iannucci
Iannucci’s Westminster-based satire has gone transatlantic for its big-screen spin where US hawks are counting on some UK poodle-ing so they can start a war. Tom Hollander’s headlights-eyed rabbit of an MP is caught between making his name and sticking to his guns while James Gandolfini plays a tough-guy general with equally mixed morals. Naturally, Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker swears his way to success as the brilliantly cruel spin doctor in what is really the most painfully funny film in decades.
The Damned United
Dir: Tom Hooper
After being Blair and warming Frost, actor Michael Sheen completes a hat-trick as football manager Brian Clough in a stylish take on David Peace’s 2006 novel. This is a love story between two men: one ambitious to a fault; the other (coach Peter Taylor, played by Timothy Spall) all content and no style. Like Clough himself, it’s funny, charming and slightly tragic.
Would you embrace a simple twist of fate?
Second-guessing software is narrowing our options for happy accidents
By Robert Bound
How did you meet the love of your life? Did you spend years making eyes at no-one but the would-be, could-be apple of that apparatus? Did you reject-on-spec anyone that didn’t dig Elvis Costello, ice-cold Chablis and cornichons on their smorgasbord? If you did, you’re probably waking up with Mr or Mrs Wrong. Unless they involve planes, trains or automobiles, accidents are often happy.
The fashion in media is for tightening up, narrowing down, zeroing in: knowing your customer and grabbing him by the balls. Software has been written to second-guess the chick with her finger on the mouse: download the Clash and Mahler will never darken your door. Book a flight to Florence and you’ll never be offered an upgrade to Seoul. Shame on it! Bowl me a googly, pitch me a curveball – I want to widen my repertoire of shots.
iTunes’ music-guesser, going by that most over-used, under-earned title, “Genius”, is a half-noble attempt to make money by exploring catalogues of lesser-known artists. Unlike any real genius, Apple’s programme is predictable. With babyish irony in mind, I selected Bob Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate, clicked the Genius button and was dished-up an obvious harmonica-strewn bouillabaisse of folk-rock singer-songwriters – Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Ray LaMontagne. Lovely stuff, but where’s the lateral thinking? “Aha: Pandora!” you say – not really; “Last FM” – kind of, but…. “Spotify!” – it’s good but it’s still not like a trip to see Nige at Rough Trade, my old son.
The shift to reading newspapers online isn’t just sad for vanishing printworks and the demise of the most unbeatably usable and portable of media materials – paper – but it means reading in an accident-free way. Without the need to turn and fold, a readers’ key interests of business news, match reports and film reviews can be navigated seamlessly, but without stumbling upon the charming story of the British pub-sign painter or the intriguing report from the martial arts academy for orphans in Sichuan. These are the stories that lead to further investigation, that give historical context to a walk down the street, that are amusingly misremembered at dinner parties.
Luddism isn’t laudable but Columbus found America by accident and it was that apple, that plummeting temple-bruiser, that got Newton thinking, too. Paul Arden, the great adman, believed in the counter-intuitive; he called one of his books Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite and pissed people off with thinking that has now been adopted wholesale.
We insulate ourselves against every accident at our peril. That cordon bleu, brunette ballerina you would have met at the movies? Probably the girl of your dreams. But you were too tired for subtitles. For every synonym there’s an antonym that we should welcome just the same. And wouldn’t you love to read a thesaurus compiled by Roget and Mickey Rourke?