Gareth Jenkins

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

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Any attempt to root opera in a broader social, political and cultural context is to be welcomed. The leitmotiv (so to speak) of this new exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, is the link between an opera and the city of its first performance. It starts with Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea in Venice in 1642, and ends with Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Moscow in 1934.

The Free State of Jones

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This film is quite unlike other recent movies about the American Civil War. It’s not about heroes and victims. It’s the true-life story of poor whites and black slaves coming together to fight a common enemy: the Southern plantocracy.

The film opens with Confederate soldiers being mown down by Union troops. The pointless death of his terrified young press-ganged nephew spurs Newt Knighton (Matthew McConaughey) to desert the Southern army. So do many others, as the Confederate generals demand economic sacrifices to pursue the war they are losing.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

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In December 1930 the great Soviet film-maker, Sergei Eistenstein, arrived in Mexico.

He had already made three extraordinary films, Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1927). All three were revolutionary in terms of subject matter — the masses in collective struggle. They were also revolutionary in form. With his experimental use of editing (montage), Eisenstein built on and radically transformed the way in which film worked.

Number 11

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Jonathan Coe has always been good at a comic “state of the nation” novel, as this sequel of sorts to his 1994 novel, What A Carve Up!, shows.

Connecting the two books is the same Winshaw family, whose tentacles reach into the arms trade, food production and the media.

Most were killed off in the earlier novel. But monsters never die and Number 11 features one loathsome survivor — a right wing columnist, bent on finding that mythical one-legged black lesbian welfare scrounger beloved of the hated “left-liberal establishment”.

Christopher Marlowe

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This month marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Gareth Jenkins celebrates his life and work.

On 30 May 1593 Christopher Marlowe went with two acquaintances to a tavern in south east London. After a long afternoon drinking a fight broke out over who should pay the bill, at the end of which Marlow lay dead of a knife wound.

Thus ended the short life of a poet and dramatist, born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. His stage hits had wowed London in the late 1580s, around the time of the Spanish Armada. But writing was only one of his careers.

The tragedy of Salman Rushdie

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The controversy about Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses in 1989 revealed the hypocrisy of the ruling class and stoked Islamophobia. But, argues Gareth Jenkins, Rushdie's new memoir reveals someone who has travelled a long way from his former identification with the oppressed

On 14 February 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for having written a book "blasphemous against Islam". That book, The Satanic Verses, published the previous September, had already stirred up controversy - spectacularly, when it was burnt on the streets of Bradford - with calls for it to be banned in Britain (many other countries had already banned it).

Dickens the radical

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The great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago this month. Gareth Jenkins looks back at his life and work

What would Dickens have made of Britain as it celebrates his bicentenary? For all the differences, he would have been only too familiar with the shameless piling up of wealth, the poor struggling to survive, the penny pinching of welfare, and the lofty contempt of our rulers.

Brighton Rock

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Director: Rowan Joffe, Release date: 4 February

This is the second film version of Graham Greene's brilliant 1938 novel, Brighton Rock, updated from the 1930s to 1964 by director and screenwriter Rowan Joffe.

Brighton is still the seedy resort of the original novel, with petty hoodlums and protection rackets. But highlighted here is a new social reality of clashes between mods and rockers and the rise of luxurious lifestyle gangsters.

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