Culture

A Gathering at the Funeral Parlour

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We live our lives as we dispatch the dead.

Once a year families in Mexico gather at graveyards to eat with the dead. It's a strangely joyous occasion. There is a flower that the Aztecs called sempixóchitl, the eternal flower, that people arrange in white sprays before they sit down to dinner at the graveside. On that day people give each other sugar skulls with a name label crudely pasted on the forehead. For weeks beforehand the skulls sit piled high at all the local markets, in bright colours, arranged in a pyramid.

Personal and Political

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Review of 'Sweet Sixteen', director Ken Loach

Ken Loach is a master film-maker, so a new release by him is something to look forward to. For over four decades Loach has celebrated the heroism of working class people. His films always draw from ordinary working class lives extraordinarily moving and relevant stories. Sometimes they feature militant collective struggles that shake the system and its apologists. In other films Loach centres on intimate family dramas that reveal the politics of everyday life.

Tehran Taxi

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Review of 'Ten', director Abbas Kiarostami

'Ten' is the latest film by Abbas Kiarostami, one of the many talented Iranian directors making their mark on world cinema. Kiarostami has received critical acclaim for a number of his past films, and is a previous winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes. I doubt he will repeat the same triumph with Ten, but nevertheless this latest offering is a revealing social insight into modern day Iran.

Play for Today

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Review of 'Ivanov' by Anton Chekhov, National Theatre, London

It is easy to dismiss Ivanov, alongside Chekhov's other plays, as being full of melancholy middle class moaners who need a kick up the backside. Easy but, I think, a mistake.

The play starts in the house of Nikolai Ivanov, who owns some land and is a smalltime local politician. He has fallen on hard times, and is reduced to juggling his debts and wondering how he can survive. He lives with his uncle, a minor aristocrat who has blown everything except his title, and his wife, who has been disowned by her family.

Shaken and Stirred

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Review of 'Outlying Islands' by David Greig, Royal Court, London

Plays premiered at the Traverse Theatre at Edinburgh's Festival Fringe are generally well worth seeing, and 'Outlying Islands' is no exception. The storyline starts simply. Before the Second World War two enthusiastic ornithologists are sent by the 'Ministry' for a month to monitor the migratory and nesting habits of birds on the furthermost small empty island north of Scotland--empty, that is, save for the leaseholder and his niece. The plot then develops along two paths which have little connection with one another, though enacted by the same personnel.

Revolutions per Minute

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There are now signs that the daily intensification of global politics is beginning to find an echo within popular music.

In the US, amid a climate of patriotism and mass censorship of any dissent, huge selling artists such as singer Mary J Blige and rapper Nas have come out firmly against the war on Afghanistan and the threat to Iraq. The reworking of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' by MTV Allstars (Christina Aguilera, Bono, Ja Rule, Alicia Keys and many more) featured a video clearly identifying poverty, racism, Aids and Third World debt as the backdrop to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

Future Shock

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Dystopias on film

With the release of 'Minority Report' there has been renewed interest in what the world will one day be like. Throughout cinema's history film-makers have not only been preoccupied with the future but how we can fight the nightmarish situations we face today. Cinema through the ages has thrown up many dystopic futures but also many heroes, fighters and leaders.

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