Culture column

The spectacle of culture cuts

Issue section: 
Issue: 

In the flurry of cuts, it's sometimes hard to notice the small detail, to catch the minute print, and understand the nuances of who is losing money and why. However, certain patterns are there to be found. Conformity is rewarded; collectivity and universality are punished. So it is in the welfare state, so in the arts.

If you look at the list of 200 Arts Council-sponsored organisations who have had their entire funding withdrawn, you'll notice one very conspicuous absence. Those slashed range from long-established theatres like the Newcastle Theatre Royal to community music groups like Sound It Out in the West Midlands, from film producers like onedotzero to publishers like Proboscis - but you won't find one example of a very particular kind of arts organisation, that is, of the Blairite grand projects of the 1997-2010 period.

The culture of the revolution

Issue section: 
Issue: 

Our occupation of Tahrir Square created a massive resistance-laden space for chants, songs, posters and placards. As the days passed, and as Hosni Mubarak refused to go, we became even more creative


Young people were the most creative in composing lyrics in vernacular Egyptian Arabic. The chants articulated our unity in wanting to bring down the regime: "Egypt, our mother/ Here are your sons/ Here are your daughters/ For you, they have suffered/ For you, they are willing to die!" and "What does Mubarak want?/ He wants us to kiss his shoes/ No, Mubarak, we shall never surrender/ Tomorrow, we shall stamp you with our shoes!"

Boardwalk Empire

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

At the stroke of midnight on 16 January 1920 the US went dry. For the next 13 years Prohibition made it illegal to buy or sell alcohol.

Yet rather than discouraging drinking, it had quite the opposite effect. Thousands of illegal drinking dens opened. The "Roaring Twenties" had begun. The capital of all this hedonism was Atlantic City in New Jersey - a Las Vegas before Vegas was even invented.

Prohibition had another spin-off: it provided a bonanza for Italian, Irish and Jewish street gangs who came to control the supply and distribution of alcohol. It became a multimillion-dollar business and gave birth to the modern Mafia.

Musical revolutionary

Issue section: 
Author: 

What makes someone a great artist? Surely one of the criteria has to be to what extent they have revolutionised their art form. On that measure alone the trumpeter Miles Davis must be regarded as one of the most innovative and creative musicians of the 20th century.

At the age of 18 he played an important part in the musical revolution called bebop. Throughout his 50-year career he released many outstanding records but in 1959 he surpassed any of his previous work with the release of Kind of Blue. Modal jazz was born. Again in 1970 Davis released another era-defining and path-breaking album Bitches Brew (that Davis used the sexist word "bitch" in the title, as a term for excellence, clearly taints the album).

From Buffy to Bella - has vampire fiction lost its teeth?

Issue section: 
Issue: 

From teenage romances to adult drama, vampires are currently popular in film, television and books. Recent news that a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer film is in the pipeline should have overjoyed fans, but it was revealed that the show's creator, Joss Whedon, would not be involved.

In the original, Whedon set out to change the constant representation of women in the horror genre as victims being attacked in dark alleys. He posed the possibility of them being strong and fighting back, and created a show that dealt with real life topics, including school shootings, bullying, low paid work and date rape.

The move to "reboot" Buffy looks like an attempt to cash in on the popularity of recent books and films like Twilight, which generate huge revenues.

A Life in Pictures

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Why is the extraordinary painter, muralist, novelist, illustrator and socialist, Alasdair Gray, so little known?


Alasdair Gray's Cowcaddens Streetscape in the Fifties

Perhaps, as he insists, it is because he is a Scot, marginalised and ignored by a London-based cultural establishment. Or perhaps it is because he is a radical, an eccentric sensualist, in love with the human body, with his community, with life itself. Or is it his deep sense of the spiritual combined with a barely contained rage against formal religion that makes him difficult to integrate? Perhaps it is all of these things.

Pins and Needles

Issue section: 
Author: 

The Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn, London, until 11 December

Every catastrophic global financial crisis has its bright side. In London glaziers are doing overtime and a smash-hit Broadway cabaret, written during the last global bout of austerity, finally gets a British premiere in a small theatre in north London. In 1937 the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) asked Harold Rome to write a cheap show that could be performed by the workers on two pianos.

Doing Porridge

Issue section: 
Author: 

Porridge was a wonderful 1970s sitcom about life in prison.

Each episode began with a judge making the following proclamation: "Norman Stanley Fletcher, you are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences - you will go to prison for five years."

Imperfect Cinema

Issue section: 
Issue: 
Author: 

Death of a Bureaucrat, directed in Cuba by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, opens on a factory where a worker creating busts of José Marti (leader of the Cuban independence struggle of the 1890s and icon of the 1959 Revolution) is killed in an accident. The last bust to emerge is the worker himself.

What follows is an extremely funny and pointed film about the inflexibility of bureaucracy. After his burial his son realises that his identity card has gone to the grave with him. Without it, his widow cannot collect her pension. But getting the body disinterred proves to be a nightmare of paperwork and permits. It is a satire, of course, and representative of a deeply creative moment in the culture of post-revolutionary Cuba.

Striking a note of resistance

Issue section: 
Author: 

Earlier this summer I found myself walking around the Pilsen district of Chicago. Migrant Mexican workers settled in the neighbourhood in the 1960s.

There you can see hundreds of murals and mosaics. These works of street art depict the daily life of the migrant Mexican community and their struggle for civil rights. Many of these works are clearly influenced by the Mexican muralists of the 1910 Revolution - Diego Rivera and José Orozco.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Culture column