Culture

Conceptual Art in Britain, 1964-1979

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The assistant curator told me to pick up an orange. So I did. Because this is conceptual art. The orange was part of a sculpture intended to make us think about art as something to be consumed — if not it will decay, be good for nothing. Art depends on active participation, in this case the consumption of an orange, the conversion of matter into energy.

How is that art? It is not an art object as we knew it — the idea is now the thing. This is art as a question: firstly questioning the very nature of art and secondly art as a valid medium for questioning its context.

Strange and Familiar

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Britain as Revealed by International Photographers, curated by renowned photographer Martin Parr, is a fascinating investigation into the social, political and cultural lives of working class people in Britain from the 1930s to the present.

Some 250 photographs are on display taken by 23 different photographers. What links them is that none are British. These photographers came to Britain to capture the lives of the “ordinary”. As outsiders they brought a new and fresh perspective on the everyday life of working people.

The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC

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The films of writer/director Alan Clarke are some of the most forceful, passionate and challenging in the history of British cinema and television.

Most of his acclaimed work has been unavailable to the public ever since his untimely death in 1990. Thankfully, the British Film Institute has released a definitive reissue of 23 BBC television dramas spanning Clarke’s remarkable 30-year career.

Love and Friendship

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Love and Friendship is based on an unfinished novella by Jane Austen. Called Lady Susan, it is written as a series of letters and is thought to be one of her earlier works, although only posthumously published.

The film, adapted by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco), is a beautifully shot period piece that you wish was longer than its 90-some minutes.

Lady Susan, played by Kate Beckinsale, is recently widowed, short on funds and increasingly frowned upon for her affair with a married man.

Son of Saul

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Son of Saul

It is a truism for revolutionaries that people make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. But what of the men, women and children who have history thrust upon them, with cataclysmic consequences for their own personal circumstances?

Son of Saul tells the story of a man’s struggle to hold on to family and personal relationships and obligations in the hideous organised chaos of the Nazi gas chambers.

Five things to see or do this month

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Ran
Dir: Akira Kurosawa
Out: 1 April

Kurosawa’s late masterpiece reimagines King Lear as a historical epic set in 16th-century Japan. This dazzling 4K restoration gets an extended run at BFI Southbank as well as a UK-wide release and comes out on DVD/Blu-ray on 2 May. BFI is also showing three films from director Vishal Bhardwaj: Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006) and Haider (2014), based on Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet respectively (29-30 April).

Sherpa

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Sherpa is the fascinating story of an inspiring labour dispute, set against the breathtaking scenery of the world’s highest mountain.

Film-maker Jennifer Peedom and her team were on Everest in 2014 to document the climbing season from the point of view of the Sherpas — a term used interchangeably for a Nepalese ethnic group and for all those employed to assist Western climbers.

Undercover

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Legal dramas are invariably bedevilled by overacting and wild scenarios which bear little comparison with what really goes on in the criminal justice system. These misgivings aside, I was attracted by the presence of two talented black actors, Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester in the lead roles as Maya and Nick.

Episode 1 begins with a flourish. A juggernaut bears down on Maya’s car as she struggles to answer a crucial phone call. She is racing to Louisiana where her client Rudy Jones is waiting to be executed.

The Divide

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You’ll have heard the facts. The UK’s 1,000 richest individuals own more than the poorest 40 percent. In the US 0.1 percent own as much as the bottom 90 percent. This film, a documentary inspired by the 2009 book The Spirit Level, puts flesh on the bones of the data.

The book’s authors argued that what determines the health of any society is less the overall wealth than how the wealth is distributed. The more inequality, the sicker the society. The Divide introduces us to seven US and UK people living in societies with massive gaps between rich and poor.

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.

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