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

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“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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Charlotte Brontë’s classroom fantasy

(K. Brent Tomer),

TO HER contemporaries, Charlotte Brontë came across as a “little, plain, provincial, sickly-looking old maid”. They were misguided; a retiring disposition and thick spectacles disguised the novelist’s passionate inner life. Brontë endowed her heroines, particularly Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe, with similar disguises—their simple gowns cloaking an ardour for love and sex. But while Brontë is known for writing impassioned, even angry, moral romances, what has passed by largely unnoticed is her facility to write erotica. That it was inspired by true occurrences makes the fiction all the more arresting.

In February 1842 Charlotte and Emily Brontë, seeking to improve their French and broaden their vistas, sailed for Belgium. The sisters were headed for the Pensionnat Héger, a boarding school located in a sunken, cobbled street in Brussels, run by Madame Zoe Héger and her husband Constantin. Emily was gone in less than a year. But for Charlotte, these gothic environs were life changing. She made prodigious strides as a writer and learned to temper her overwrought outpourings. It was also where her heart was…Continue reading

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A new cultural gem for Paris

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE founder of a French luxury-goods empire, François Pinault had hoped to open his vast private modern-art collection to the public in France over a decade ago. He had selected a site for a brand-new museum on an island in the Seine, just outside Paris. But, exasperated with municipal bureaucracy and repeated delays, he cancelled the building project, gave up on Paris, and took his art to the Palazzo Grassi in Venice instead. “The rhythm of an entrepreneur”, he wrote in a cross letter to Le Monde at the time, “is that of his existence, of his age, of his impatience to realise a dream.”

Now 79, Mr Pinault has finally found a French home for that dream. On April 27th he and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, unveiled the future site of the Pinault Collection: the city’s 18th-century Bourse de Commerce. A former corn exchange, with a listed cupola, it is currently used by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, and situated just to the west of Les Halles, in the heart of the capital. It will become the newest major contemporary-art museum in Paris when it opens in 2018.

Mr Pinault has asked Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect,…Continue reading

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How to reform the Champions League

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE CHAMPIONS League, an annual knockout tournament contested by the best teams in Europe, is the pinnacle of club football. Players delay retirement in the hope of winning it. Owners fire managers who fail to deliver it. And supporters trek across the continent to watch it. Ask any of them what glory sounds like, and they will hum you the shrill chorus of the Champions League anthem, a Handel-inspired theme played before every game.

But whilst the latter stages of the competition are thrilling, providing home-and-away ties between Europe’s biggest teams, the pool stages are dull. Between September and December each year, 32 teams compete for 16 knockout places. Half of them are realistic contenders from the “Big Five” leagues (Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France), who have qualified by finishing in the top three or four places in their domestic leagues. The others are champions from smaller nations. The result is that many of the 96 pool games are predictable mismatches. In 2015, Sweden’s FC Malmo conceded 10 goals in their two meetings with Real Madrid; Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv leaked eight goals against Chelsea;…Continue reading

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