Category Archives: Art

Today’s Quote: Bowie on going deeper

If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

David Bowie

If you like being challenged, you might like my book.

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Logan: When a Hero Wants to Die

**This has spoilers. Don’t read it if you haven’t seen Logan yet. If you haven’t seen Logan yet, go and see Logan.**

I failed to write a play in my twenties. It was about an ageing James Bond. I wondered what it would be like for the hero who always returns to get put out to grass before he is ready. It was a rotten play, but I always liked the idea. Then Logan blew it away. The new Wolverine film grabs the question about what happens when a recurring hero meets a real ending, and takes it to a new level. Logan asks a darker question than I ever dared: what if the hero is ready to go — but his universe won’t let him die?

Episodic heroes, who return to fight through adventure after adventure, must always have their final ending hidden somewhere over the horizon. It’s utterly remarkable that Marvel had the courage to make a film about a recurring character’s longing for death. Maybe they greenlit it for the fight sequences and forgot to read the rest of the script.

Wolverine, with his superhuman healing powers and unbreakable claws, is a character designed for one adventure after another. Logan imagines a time where those tricks begin to fail, but the adventures won’t stop. Like all the rest of us, Wolverine gets old and needs glasses. Instead of instant healing, he is crusted with wounds. And inside, his psyche is tortured by all the violence he has seen. Like the malfunctioning androids in the Westworld remake, he no longer resets as he goes through his endless loop of adventure after adventure. The memories and the wounds accumulate, unbearably. He is rotting from the inside.

Logan takes seriously how appalling it would be to live as an episodic hero. To go through such punishment again and again. As a matter of formal structure, heroes suffer their way through stories. Most only have to do it once. Episodic heroes are chained to the wheel forever. Worse still, bad things must always happen to those around the hero. In Logan this is taken to its appalling conclusion when Wolverine makes the mistake of thinking he can spend a restorative night with the loving family that offered his band of misfits a welcome. The hero defends the borders of the promised land, but he can never live there.

It is little surprise that Wolverine wants to die — especially since the world around him has rejected his breed of heroism. There are no more mutants. Professor Xavier is dwindling into a second childhood. The X-Men are only remembered in simplified and exaggerated comic books.

And yet adventure keeps coming. And Wolverine is called to suffer again. The world thinks it doesn’t need him. He thinks the world is right. Both are wrong.

And remarkably, deftly, the film rewards Wolverine’s sacrifice. It concludes when he learns the only way a hero can die: by teaching his replacement. His release comes when his ferocious, lab-grown daughter picks up the adamantium bullet Wolverine longs to fire into his own brain, and uses it to destroy the monster. For the first time, she rejects the longing to escape the struggle, controls her strength and kills as a human hero, not an animal. And at last Wolverine is released — at least until the inevitable reboot.

Logan is a terrifying movie. It reminds us how much we ask of heroes, and how desperately we need them, even when we try and convince ourselves we are better off without them.

My book has no superheroes in it. But it will show you new ways to fight for what you believe in if you buy it now.

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Epiphany, 2017

The astonishing reliquary of the three kings at Cologne cathedral is worth the journey.

Shrine of the Three Kings

Today is the day the wise men greeted the infant Christ.
The story of three wise men who set aside their power and pomp to accept the simplicity of the infant Christ’s new promise never fails to move me.

“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

—From Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. Quoted by Rowan Williams in his first Christmas Day meditation as Archbishop of Canterbury, 2002.

Waugh understood that complicated, clever minds have a hard time finding their way to the God of love, who must be approached as a child. And when they do, they find a welcome they could never have anticipated.

We forget, in the familiarity of the story, that the Epiphany is about a shocking, unexpected meeting.

The wise men knew that a new king had been born. They knew his fate included death, and brought bitter myrrh for his embalming.

But they were not prepared for what they found.

The wise men brought gifts to suit a king who would be clothed in wealth and earthly glory.

Whose royal corpse would need their help to keep it preserved.

They met Christ.

He lay in a feeding trough for animals, wrapped in a simple swaddling cloth, poor and vulnerable.

They knelt in wonder.

Here’s an old poem I wrote about that strange meeting.

Epiphany

This one was backwards to begin with.

A breech birth, signifying greatness and

Disdain towards it. A star pointing

Its horoscope ahead of the birth.

Herod promises to fund our research.

He seemed kind, though peer review

Has since indicated doubt.

It was all strange. If I had not been there,

I would have said it was too perfect:

The lean-to so compendious,

As if everything had been planned that way.

I tell you, I am used to teasing futures out

Reluctantly, with calipers and logarithmic tables,

But here, attending a family for whom

‘Expecting’ seems a cruel joke,

It all coheres: the herdsmen kneeling

By the beasts, the mother beached

The other side of tears, a father

Watching, slightly sidelined by events.

The drift of laughter from the bar —

Nothing here but the animals, wood,

A touch of blood. The child is wearing

His little shroud of martyr-cloth,

His white birthswathe binding his fate,

In silence, stuck in a coffin-trough

(The cattle had to be shooed off).

He was ready for our gifts.

As if born knowing how a myth

Behaves, he laughed at only one.

Gold dazzled him, he turned away.

The incense stung his nose to run.

Only the sobriety of myrrh, its clay

Box cracking slightly at the base,

Brought a chuckle so out of place

It silenced all us three.

We saw a torment borne with grace,

But had not anticipated glee.

MS, 2005

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Who’s back: The Doctor is the unexpected freedom fighter our civilisation still needs

Look who’s back. Tomorrow night Peter Capaldi, formerly swear-master Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It, takes his place at the Tardis console.

What makes Doctor Who so enduring? It’s thirty years since it made me cower behind my childhood sofa, but after its bold regeneration in 2005, this bizarre TV series seems like its irrepressible hero, as full of life as ever. Continue reading

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Inside Pixar: Management lessons from the animation powerhouse

THIS week, Pixar finally broke its silence, offering a glimpse of its next film. Inside Out won’t be released until next summer, but already the critics are gushing, with Peter Debruge writing in Variety that it could provide a whole new way to visualise how our minds work. That’s because the story is actually set inside the head of an 11-year-old girl. Rather like an updated version of the old Numskulls cartoon, the main characters are personified emotions, trying to cope as the girl begins to grow up.

The prospect of a fifteenth hit for the groundbreaking computer animation studio behind Toy Story, Up and Ratatouille is incredibly impressive. Luckily, for the first time we can learn from this achievement as well as admire it, because just like in the upcoming movie, Ed Catmull recently opened up the mind of this creative powerhouse for the public to see how it works. Continue reading

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Why Britain needs a culture secretary who cares about liberty – not art

A CULTURE secretary from the Treasury – it is what John Maynard Keynes, the founder of the Arts Council, would have wanted.

That hasn’t been the mainstream reaction: Sajid Javid, newly-appointed to the Cabinet in the wake of Maria Miller’s departure, has been given a cool reception from arts quarters. A former banker, an economic policy wonk with no special interest in matters aesthetic – what sort of an ambassador for Britain’s culture is this?

Keynes saw it rather differently. The Arts Council began as an arm of the Treasury, at his request. The idea was simple: if you were going to do something as controversial as involve the state in funding art, the last thing you wanted was politicians getting involved. A corner of the Treasury was, he felt, just out of the way enough to prevent official interference. Politicians were qualified to distribute arts funding only if they could be trusted not to get involved. Continue reading

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Three killer business tips from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Seventeen years ago this week, a stake-wielding schoolgirl redefined the possibilities of popular entertainment. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a misfire in its earlier, cinematic incarnation, but Joss Whedon’s television version immediately marked itself out as something extraordinary. Continue reading

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