Culture column

A tale of two festivals

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This summer Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) was invited to open one of the largest European music festivals, the Sziget festival in Budapest, and I was sent along to compere the event.

The day before I arrived in Hungary, reports were coming through that gangs of young skinheads had rampaged through the village of Veroce, attacked a pregnant Roma woman and beaten up a young Roma boy.

I talked about these attacks in interviews I gave to the press. I was surprised when I was told that it was best not to talk about this, as no attacks had taken place. I was even more taken aback when the police issued a statement saying that they had not received any reports of such attacks.

A time for tragedy

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Phèdre, National Theatre, London, until 27 August

"For a writer to experience life tragically...there must be in his society a poignant, underlying sense of the times being morally and practically out of joint" (Victor Kiernan).

If that is so, then it is a perfect moment for the National Theatre to present the tragedy of Phaedra (Phèdre), with Helen Mirren in the title role.

Cinema and the Spanish Civil War

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Luke Stobart is looking forward to the BFI Southbank film season on the Spanish Civil War

In 1936 the world was submerged in deep economic crisis and mass unemployment, and fascism was already triumphant in Germany and Italy. The Spanish Civil War, which exploded that year in response to a right wing coup by General Franco, offered a chance to turn back the tide. Not only did armed working masses defeat the coup in most Spanish cities but in the regions of Catalonia and Aragon they took over the factories and land from the ruling class. Consequently the war, as the title of the BFI film season declares, stirred the world.

Throw the costumes to the moths

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There was a time when the BBC produced some of the finest drama series. Not so now. US channels such as HBO have been leaving them standing.

From this I exclude costume drama, which people still say the BBC does better than anyone else, maybe, but frankly dear readers, who gives a damn?

While watching Mad Men recently it occurred to me just how superior the Americans are. Contrast it with, for instance, Life on Mars, one of the BBC's critically acclaimed and successful shows which is about to embark on a third series.

Theatre and politics

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Paul O'Brien looks at the recent controversies over England People Very Nice and Seven Jewish Children

Twenty years on from the death threats to Salman Rushdie and the public burning of his book The Satanic Verses, there has been a succession of literary and cultural events that highlight the often fraught relationship between culture and politics. The recent furore over Richard Bean's play England People Very Nice and Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children is a case in point.

Raw as war - Generation Kill

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The military theory of "rapid dominance" or, as it is more commonly known, "shock and awe", was deployed by the US military during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theory is as simple as it is brutal.

The idea is to achieve speedy, overwhelming firepower and displays of force. This in turn paralyses the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroys its will to fight.

Mark Wallinger's horse of another colour

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The selection of Mark Wallinger's proposal for a giant white horse for Ebbsfleet international station in Kent is an event of some cultural significance.

In terms of size alone it will be impressive, if not disturbing. An exact replica of a white stallion, it will be 50 metres tall (164 feet), two and a half times higher than the Angel of the North and roughly the same height as Nelson's Column, and stand on an area the size of 50 football pitches, making it the largest work of public art in Britain.

The Specials - so much, so young

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In 1981 Britain was in a state of crisis: 2.5 million people were unemployed and Margaret Thatcher's government was deeply unpopular.

In April of that year the police introduced a stop and search policy in Brixton, named Operation Swamp. In just six days 943 people - most of them black - were stopped and searched by plainclothes officers. This led to the Brixton riot - an uprising against racist brutality and poverty.

On 10 July the country just exploded with wave after wave of rioting. In the midst of the turmoil The Specials released "Ghost Town". It hit number one. Can any other record claim to have captured the spirit of its age so acutely?

Class, food and poverty

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You won't be surprised to know that I don't have much in common with Jamie Oliver.

He, after all, is an internationally renowned chef, while my cooking skills are so bad that on occasions I have been known to burn water. He has a media fortune estimated to be worth a cool £25 million, while according to the latest correspondence from my bank I am part of its toxic debt.

Andy Warhol: the man who wasn't there

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It might be said that Andy Warhol's most important art work was himself, or at least himself and the circle that he created around him - The Factory.

This was a strange world of white-faced ingenues, addicts and porn stars that floated in and out of his pool of light - some to tragic ends, like Edie Sedgwick, others like Viva into an endless retelling of the same story, others still, like Lou Reed, reliving the experience of the Velvet Underground for all the decades to come.

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