Culture

House of Saud: A Family at War

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The British ruling class has for many years made a habit of grovelling to the Saudi royal family. The reason for this is clear: huge amounts of money. The Saudis have spent billions on British weapons. This trade has been recently given a great boost by the Saudi war on Yemen.

Consequently one was entitled to expect that the BBC4 three-part series, House of Saud: A Family at War, would be very much an apology for the Saudis, celebrating the supposed huge strides that have been made in liberalising the regime in recent years.

Revolt and Revolutions

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This year marks 50 years since the great French general strike when 800,000 students, teachers and workers marched through Paris; the explosion of the peace movement; the rise of an international student movement of revolt; anti-racist riots in US cities; and the Prague Spring.

This exhibition, mostly drawn from the Arts Council Collection, is of work by artists who have wanted to make a difference. It aims to capture aspects of counter-culture and resistance and to stimulate a sense of solidarity with past and present struggles.

Why I won’t be joining in with Bergmania

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If you follow the world of the movies to any great degree you will know that 2018 is the centenary of the birth of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. You will also know that this is a Big Deal in the High Culture circles. The British Film Institute is holding a two-month festival showing all his movies. There are any number of commemorative books and at least two feature length documentaries to come.

Downsizing

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Just before I went into the screening of Alexander Payne’s new film, Downsizing, I was reading George Monbiot’s article in the Guardian, “Is this the end of civilisation? We could take a different path”.

That could be the subtitle to this odd and amusing film from the director of Nebraska and The Descendants.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, an everyman who cares for his mum, then his wife, all while working as an occupational therapist in a meat factory.

Five things to do or see this month

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In cinemas 12 January
Frances McDormand is in storming form as Mildred Hayes, a woman whose daughter was murdered a year ago and whose killer the police have failed to track down, since, as Mildred puts it, they are “too busy torturing black folks.” She rents three billboards to shame the police into action, stirring up ire in the small community. A violent black comedy from the director of In Bruges.

Surrealism in Egypt: Art et Liberté 1938-48

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Surrealism grew out of the Dada movement and the carnage of the First World War. Since then it has been associated with Europe. This, the first comprehensive UK exhibition of African surrealists, seeks to address this imbalance and places Egyptian artists firmly at the heart of surrealism.

Many Egyptian artists were influenced by or had studied in Europe, but the art that evolved throughout the period covered here deals with both universal and profoundly African issues.

Queens of Industry

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Queens of Industry is a small but fascinating exhibition focusing on the women chosen to represent the industries of coal, wool, cotton and the railways as “queens” between the 1920s and 1980s. It would be easy to dismiss the whole concept as merely a sexist anachronism, but that would be to miss a more complex picture and dismiss the experiences of the women themselves.

Last Flag Flying

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The American humiliation in Iraq has caused Hollywood no end of trouble. There have now been close to 50 movies about the Iraq war and almost all of them have been critical failures with just one (the odiously Trump-ette American Sniper) a major box-office hit. In fact Variety has decided that Iraq movies are a “toxic genre”.

The Battle of Algiers

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The Battle of Algiers is a war film based on the Algerian War of national liberation (1954–62) against French colonial rule.

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, a star of the Italian neorealist cinema, in 1966, it is shot using newsreel-style footage mainly with amateur actors. One of the central characters, Ali la Pointe, was spotted in an Algiers market. Many of the French soldiers were played by Europeans who were on holiday in North Africa.

Hannah Ryggen: Woven Histories

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Representing Norway at the Paris World Fair in 1937, where Pablo Picasso first showed “Guernica”, was the artist Hannah Ryggen, with her 1935 tapestry “Ethiopia”. The two works were exhibited next to each other in the pavilion of the Spanish Republic — Picasso’s cry of anguish against the Nazi bombing of the city in the Spanish Civil War, Ryggen’s epic heartfelt response to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, with a bullet-headed Mussolini speared by an African fighter (folded over by the fair’s organisers to avoid offending the Italian government).

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