Why Indians love Madame Tussaud’s

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT’S EIGHT o’clock in the morning, and your correspondent is among a 20-strong crowd of press gathered at Madame Tussauds in Baker Street for the unveiling of the wax figure of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister. Led into the world leaders section, the unnervingly-lifelike Mr Modi stands outside 10 Downing Street beside Barack Obama and Angela Merkel; David Cameron and Francois Hollande look on from the background. It is a surreal morning; anyone could be forgiven for wondering why there’s such fuss and fanfare over an inanimate object.

Yet Madame Tussauds is a big deal to Indian tourists in London, and its popularity is attested by the fact that Madame Tussauds will open a new branch in New Delhi in 2017. For those visiting the British capital, regardless of age or gender, Madam Tussauds ranks alongside Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square as a must-see. Earlier this month Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan chose the museum—with his own figure in the background—for the launch of his latest blockbuster “Fan”. In 2004,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why Indians love Madame Tussaud's

“Captain America: Civil War” could have been a messy disaster. It isn’t

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN ONE of his memoirs, the novelist and screenwriter William Goldman draws attention to the pleasure audiences derive from watching slick competence on screen: the heist scene that unrolls with mechanical precision; the chef dicing and frying in a snicketty blur of stainless steel; the ballet of shop assistants transforming a leading lady into a model of haute couture. There are similar pleasures to be taken from “Captain America: Civil War”—not so much from specific set pieces (though pretty much everyone involved is very good indeed at hitting things) but from the work as a whole. It is the product of a team that knows very well what it is doing, and for the most part does it very well. 

“Civil War” is the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a province of the Disney empire based on characters from Marvel comic books. Since it began with “Iron Man” in 2008 the MCU’s films have all referred to each other to a greater or lesser extent; “Civil War” is very much in the greater category. The third Captain America film, it is not just a direct sequel to the second: it also makes use of characters introduced in…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Captain America: Civil War” could have been a messy disaster. It isn’t

Backwards and forwards

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World. By Tara Zahra. W.W. Norton; 392 pages; $28.95 and £18.99.

EASTERN Europe is in the midst of a migration panic. Milos Zeman, the Czech Republich’s president, has called the influx of refugees to the continent an “organised invasion”; Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, warns that they may be carrying “very dangerous diseases”. But anxieties about migration in the region are nothing new. In 1890 a lawyer in Galicia described it as “one of the most important, burning problems of the day”. Yet as Tara Zahra recounts in “The Great Departure”, a perceptive history of migration and eastern Europe, until very recently that problem was not immigration but emigration.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, emigration was considered a “fever”, that could empty villages. For most, the destination was America: 300,000 made the journey from Austria-Hungary in 1907, the highest number to arrive from one country in a single year. The story of their arrival there has been told many…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Backwards and forwards

Smart redhead

(K. Brent Tomer),

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. By John Guy. Viking; 490 pages; $35 and £25.

THE glorification and defamation of the ageing Elizabeth I is almost as old as the queen herself. Few English monarchs have been subjected to as much historical bias and mythmaking. She has been painted as the defiant Gloriana of Spenserian epic, uniting the land in religion and peace, and the mercurial crone lusting after her younger courtiers. Neither is true, as John Guy shows in this account of her later years.

Recent biographers have focused on the early decades, with Elizabeth’s last years acting as a postscript to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Mr Guy argues that this period is crucial to understanding Elizabeth; the threat to the realm did not abate after these two episodes. Four more armadas were sent to invade the British Isles, although in the end good luck and bad weather scuppered their plans.

Courtiers gained Elizabeth’s favour through exploits of land and sea, to the consternation of the old nobility. Walter Ralegh dazzled her majesty with his vision…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Smart redhead

Neither a bull nor a bear be

(K. Brent Tomer),

Lucky for some

China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know. By Arthur Kroeber. Oxford University Press; 319 pages; $16.95 and £10.99.

Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road. By Rob Schmitz. Crown; 326 pages; $28.

CHINA’S economy inspires extreme and, often, diametrically opposed views. There is the bear case: growth is severely unbalanced, waste unbearably high and collapse nigh. And the bullish: past performance is proof of the government’s managerial skill, innovation is blossoming and China will soon surpass America as the global economic powerhouse. But between these extremes lies a wide expanse of “muddle-through” alternatives, which hold that China’s future will be far less spectacular: neither especially bright nor very gloomy.

If the notion of a middle way sounds intuitively appealing, Arthur Kroeber’s book brings rigour to the debate to show why it is also the most likely outcome. A longtime China analyst now managing an independent research firm, he launches an assault, albeit…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Neither a bull nor a bear be

The king of the rumba

(K. Brent Tomer),

His last hurrah

MOST peoples measure their national history in rulers; Britons count back in monarchs, Americans in presidents. Many Congolese like to reflect on five generations of musicians, whose languorous rumbas and faster modern beats, adored across Africa and beyond, have served them better than any government. Papa Wemba, who died on stage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on April 24th, was of the third musical generation. But as the most travelled of Congo’s peripatetic singers, possessed of a distinctive and beautiful voice, he often seemed to stand for them all.

Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba, as he was properly called, was born in Lubefu, central Congo, in 1949. This was at the end of a decade of growth, driven partly by wartime demand for Congolese resources. A swelling music scene in the colonial capital, Léopoldville, catering for a rising African middle class, was one result. It was fuelled by enthusiasm for the new Congolese rumba, a sound the first generation of stars had repurposed from the Cuban songs they discovered on a budget range of ten-inch, 78rpm records put out by a British label, “His Master’s…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The king of the rumba

Going public

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN MANY countries rich art-buyers are deserting public institutions in favour of building their own private museums. Not in the Bay Area, where some 200 collectors have been persuaded to donate over 4,000 works of art to the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). As if that were not enough, they have also contributed generously to a new $305m building designed by Snøhetta, a Norwegian firm, and to a healthy endowment of $245m. When it opens on May 14th, SFMOMA will be the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in America.

Five years in the making, the new SFM OMA reflects the confluence of old money from the American West and new wealth from Silicon Valley. And it proves, in a way that few other projects could, how important collecting contemporary art has become as a measure of wealth, taste, ambition and civic duty.

Nearly three-quarters of the works on show in the inaugural exhibitions are recent gifts. Neal Benezra, the director, engineered a “Campaign for Art” in which the museum cherry-picked works from important local collections. “We did not just drop a net to see what we could catch,” he explains. The…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Going public