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Hello, welcome to The Culture Show. We're here at the Olympic Park,
where all the action is about to kick off. So, on your marks...
Tonight, we're talking Blur, Batman, puppets and prostheses.
Coming up: As the Dark Knight rises,
I meet brilliant Batman director Christopher Nolan,
Blur talk to Miranda Sawyer,
Mat Fraser contemplates being superhuman
and Michael Smith ponders the peculiar world of puppets.
First up, Blur were THE Britpop band until the last party ended
and they wandered off to write operas
and make cheese and such like.
Well, now these friends reunited are scoring the sound of summer 2012.
They've just released two new songs and are about to play the biggest gig of their career
as part of the closing ceremony for the Olympics. Here's Miranda Sawyer.
Hello. We're Blur. I'm Damon, I'm the singer.
I am Graham. I play guitar.
I've got a big, big, big bass guitar and I'm called Alex.
I'm called Dave and I play the drums.
# There's no other way
# There's no other way... #
Blur first started making music in the era of vinyl and tapes.
They came of age during a time of CDs and now, just last month,
they became the first ever band to preview two new tracks via Twitter.
After splits, reconciliations and everything else,
2012 is shaping up to be another landmark year for the band.
But is this a new beginning or just the beginning of the end?
# There were blue skies in my city today... #
Under The Westway is Blur's personal response to London 2012
and is a stark contrast to Muse's official Olympic song.
# It's a race
# And I'm going to win
# Yes, I'm going to win
Or this anthemic composition from Elbow.
You're part of the Cultural Olympiad.
There are other music elements to the Olympics.
Muse have written a song and Elbow have written a theme.
I think what's fantastic, is that sort of cultural, you know,
critical mass that's been realised, where everyone's doing something.
You can capture a moment with a song, but I think
if it's written specifically for it, that's very difficult.
That is why with Under The Westway I didn't write...
I wrote something that, you know, that has a life outside.
Muse won't be playing that song in a few years' time, will they? Not necessarily.
-Not necessarily, no.
-But I mean, we'll still be playing Under The Westway.
# ..still picking up shortwave
# Somewhere they're out in space
# It depends how you're wired
# When the night's on fire
# Under the Westway... #
The Westway is the kind of kick-off point for the single
but it is mentioned in a couple of your other songs as well.
I have always loved it, and living underneath it,
in the sense of having to go past it every day, it is a part of my life.
I love it when I get on it, you know, and you just fly over,
and then you're in a totally different part of London.
It's a metaphor for home, really, and something that is constant.
# ..am I lost out at sea
# Till the tide wash me
# Up off the Westway? #
You all do different things and then you come together,
-to work together, to perform.
Does that make it more freeing, the fact you only do that occasionally?
-So it is more fun to record in that way.
It's part of who we are, not entirely who we are.
Over the years there have been quite a few walkabouts
and we collect like little bees. We come in with our bags of pollen
and we have all got new things, I suppose, to bring to it.
Their other new track, The Puritan, with its scuzzy guitars and jabbing synths,
will delight the hardcore Blur fan.
# Are we institutionalised
# By the demands of today?
# In our regalia, are we OK? #
Next week, the band will release their definitive box set.
Called 21, to mark the number of years since they started,
it features not only all seven studio albums
but five-and-a-half hours of unreleased material and early recordings.
It's credit to Graham, really, because he's been much more adept at keeping hold of stuff.
Did you have a big box of tapes to go through?
Yes, loads that have sat in a box for years and years from rehearsals.
I used to tape them, to take them home so I could know the song.
You collected them into this beautiful present for Blur fans,
it's a big present.
But there is a sense when you get given a big present like that,
it is like the end of something.
Is that how you feel or not?
I don't think any of us...
I mean, we just take it, you know, as it comes, really.
There was such a lot. Maybe it was time for a recap and maybe it was...
I just wanted to get those cassettes put onto a CD.
-That was the real motivation?!
-So I could listen to them, so it was a bit easier.
This summer the band will take centre stage at Hyde Park,
for a concert celebrating the end of the Olympics,
headlining a bill that includes seminal British pop acts The Specials and New Order.
The last time Blur played the park was in 2009.
Alex has said that 2009, in Hyde Park...
-Alex has said a lot of things, remember.
-Yes, I do know that.
He said the 2009 gigs at Hyde Park were the best you've ever played,
so are you looking forward to topping that?
Topping? It's not really about topping. It's a different decade.
It's a different world.
# Come on, come on, come on
# Love's the greatest thing
# That we have
# I'm waiting for that feeling... #
I hope they are equally resonant now
and maybe something else will emerge that is unexpected.
But I'm not trying to recreate that, we're trying to do something new,
a new thing.
The nice thing is we've all got lives, you know?
So we treasure these moments that we spend together...
Shall we weep?
OK, can we all weep at the end?
Blur perform live on Radio 2 and 6 Music on July 31st
and that Hyde Park gig is on August 12th.
Next, in this Olympic and Paralympic year,
we've got wall-to-wall men and women striving to achieve their very best.
A new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection
examines our obsession with self-enhancement,
from post-syphilitic silver noses to cyborgs.
Mat Fraser questions our desire to be superhuman.
Over the last 15 years I have done a fair amount of live artwork,
and one of the most celebrated I did was a striptease,
that obviously involved me taking my clothes off,
but it involves me taking off...these.
The concept was I'm stripping out of my perceived normality, to...
..celebrate my beautiful freakishness,
and apparently it was considered quite confrontational in its day.
I've just been commissioned to make another performance piece.
My brief, is to respond to reputations of disability,
at various museum exhibitions,
the first of which is the Wellcome Collection.
Entitled Superhuman, the exhibition explores the extraordinary way
people have tried to improve, adapt and augment their bodies
for practical and artistic purposes.
So this is Matthew Barney's work with Aimee Mullins,
who is the famous double amputee ex-Paralympian and model.
Those are amazing. I wonder if she can stand on them.
There is a picture of her here with cheetah legs on. That's great.
Knowing that she's a double amputee and those are prosthetics
that have gone beyond function and into artistic and poetic design,
I like that a lot.
I don't think prosthetics have ever been considered as artistic objects
or things you can make into art.
It's always been about function.
Wow. That's beautiful.
Ah-ha. My people.
This is so weird for me,
because I actually know these people as adults now.
Thalidomide was a morning sickness pill, marketed as a general sedative, a painkiller,
but most profoundly it was marketed as the cure for morning sickness,
and my mother took it three times in one week and this was the result.
It was a massive, big pharmaceutical disaster
and there was a mass panic, and a need to make it OK.
It is a little bit weird for me, seeing these prostheses as exhibits
but I think it's the best use for them.
I didn't have to wear any. I remember I went into a room one day
and they said, "Do you want to try one of these arms on?"
I thought, "Why would I want do that?"
I put them on - I was seven or eight -
they felt uncomfortable and I didn't like them.
"Mummy, I don't want to wear them." "That's fine, you don't have to." And that was the end of it.
'It's hard for me to explain what it was like to use artificial arms and legs.
'It was like in some dreams, where you know you're there
'but you can't touch anything. I could touch it but it wasn't me,
'it was like somebody else was touching it and I was merely an observer.'
'Being on legs, it was like being in suspended animation.'
'Poor old Terry. But, you know, that's what they thought.'
Yeah. Lucky me that I didn't have to do that.
For me, this is human adaptation, this is adapting and surviving.
You've got no arms but you need a cup of tea, so you use your feet.
"Syphilis could cause the destruction of the nose,
"giving rise to the formation of no-nose clubs in the 18th century.
"This painted silver nose was worn by a woman who'd lost her own to the disease."
It's the Olympic thing,
the technological enhancement of the sports person.
The classic cheetah leg that Oscar Pistorius, famously, has taken to such enhancement
that he's Olympian as well as Paralympian.
Oh, and it says here, "The efficiency and speed of these legs
"has led to claims they create an advantage over able-bodied runners."
Will there ever become a point where the runner who's desperate to win at any cost
will have their legs amputated so they can wear these and win the race?
This is a lovely little exhibit, this is the famous i-LIMB,
which is the most advanced prosthetic hand in the world.
When we were little, as thalidomide kids, we used to think about the...
MAKES ROBOTIC BUZZING
..kind of working, and that's the actual thing.
Yeah, 2011. So last year.
Would I use an i-LIMB? I don't know.
They'd have to be better than they are even now, but I could be tempted in the future.
One of these people isn't real. One of these people is a robot.
It is impossible to tell which one.
That's one of the nice things about this exhibition -
the historical stuff has come true in some cases.
That makes you think when you look at, "That wouldn't be possible,"
well, maybe in 25 years' time it will be possible.
Where we have repeatedly seen the most amazing predictions for human advancement
has been in the world of science fiction, and especially with comic book characters.
Many comic book heroes seem to anticipate trans-humanism,
the application of technology to humans to enhance their ability.
Becoming more than human -
Superhuman, the title of the exhibition.
I really like the X-Men because they're mutants.
They're shunned for their weird freakish abilities
but using their enhanced realities can help society and the human race.
They're heroes, shunned for being different.
I like to romanticise them perhaps.
Quite how I'm going to save the world with my hands, I'm not quite sure,
but one day, you never know.
I've made lots of performance pieces
around the nature of being a freak.
But maybe for this new commission, I'll concentrate more on the idea
of adaptation and even enhancement, especially by disabled people.
I'll need to contemplate more what I've seen today,
but this has been a great starting point.
It's made me think I'd like to research individuals, alive or historical,
who've transcended their human condition to become,
well, for want of a better word, superhuman.
Superhuman is at the Wellcome Collection in London
until October 16th.
For my money, Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting
and innovative film-makers working today.
The Dark Knight Rises is the final instalment of his Batman trilogy.
I met up with him
to talk caped crusaders and intelligent blockbusters.
The following interview
was recorded prior to the tragic events in Colorado last Friday.
Christopher Nolan's brooding vision of Batman
as an embodiment of Bruce Wayne's fractured psyche
has set the Hollywood gold standard for comic-book adaptations.
Nolan takes the discipline and ethics
of art-house independent movie-making
and applies them to major Hollywood blockbusters.
He's living proof that you don't have to appeal to the lowest
common denominator to be profitable.
Welcome to the Culture Show.
It seems to me that the most significant thing that you've done with your films
is to demonstrate that whether you're working with a small budget
or a large budget,
you treat the audience intelligently.
Do you treat all those movies from Memento to Dark Knight Rises
essentially as part of the same process?
Very much so.
For me, the only sincerity in film-making is to make a film
that you would want to go and see yourself, and not treat the audience as anything separate from you.
Our expectations when we go to see a film are different
in different genres and at different budget levels.
That doesn't mean that we're dumber when we go and see a bigger film.
But we do have different expectations. It's a different register of language, in a sense.
You see only one end to your journey.
Sometimes, a man rises from the darkness.
In the Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale is back as Bruce Wayne,
forced to bring Batman out of retirement
when Gotham comes under threat.
Tom Hardy plays his nemesis, Bane, whose avowed mission
is to raze the city to the ground to cleanse it of sin.
I was very aware of the size of Dark Knight Rises
and, as we got to the end of the film, I heaved a sigh of relief
and the sigh of relief was, he's done it.
He's got through this massive trilogy and he hasn't let us down.
Does any part of you now feel like, OK, now I'd like to go and make
a 1 million movie in which there isn't any possibility
of letting anyone down because there's no pressure?
You know, it's funny, there is massive pressure on a smaller film as well.
Pretty much every film I've ever worked on at every scale has had
massive stakes to it, one way or another.
I think, for me, I don't think very well in terms of scale.
It's all about, is there a story, a set of characters that interest me?
I think the process has been really
the same process on every film I've done.
I mean, Batman Begins...
Wally and I, from a photographic point of view -
Wally Pfister, my DP -
he had to be extremely precise.
It was the first time we'd done a large scale film
and it needed have a certain look to present Batman, the way he looked, in a particular way.
And I enjoyed it, but after seven months of it, of saying to Gary Oldman,
"No, you can't look that way, you've got to stay that way,"
we really wanted to loosen things up.
On The Prestige, we threw marks out of the window,
we did everything with a hand-held camera.
When we came back for the Dark Knight, we just brought that methodology with us.
I found on larger-scale films
that you can be as spontaneous as you want be, really.
If you can find a way to construct,
or put together a structure that you can work within in a flexible way
and actors respond really well to that and do their best work that way as well.
Christopher Nolan broke onto the scene with the head scrambling thriller Memento,
picking up an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.
He continued to challenge audiences with his intricate tale
of rival magicians in The Prestige.
And then, with the complex brain-teaser Inception,
which won four Oscars and was nominated for a further four, including best picture.
Memory is a key thread throughout your films.
Do you think there is something about the medium of cinema
that particularly lends itself to dealing with stories
which deal with memory, which deal with dream states,
with going inside the psyche?
I think, the way in which your mind has to be active
in putting together shots of the sequence
dictates there's a very strong relationship between memory and films.
We played around with that most obviously in Memento
and it was an interesting thing to spend time really thinking about,
but the relationship between the way your eyes see,
the way your memory processes things,
and then the linear strip of film running through the projector,
showing you one shot after another, and your mind is having to construct
a three-dimensional reality, an idea of what room the characters are in,
putting that together, it's a pretty fascinating puzzle.
-My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men.
-This isn't a car.
I sometimes get frustrated with studio executives and critics
who watch films and make notes as they go because that's not how movies work.
The audience gets to the end and then you take about five minutes
to decide, "What was all that?"
And your brain looks at everything in a different way and then you decide.
That's why endings are so important,
and that's why you really have to get to the end of a movie
before you know what it is.
Next up tonight, it's 350 years
since Punch first whacked Judy over the head,
but in our age of CGI and Photoshop,
it seems mannequins and marionettes are going stronger than ever.
This year they're popping up all over the Cultural Olympiad.
Here's Michael Smith on why puppets are back in a big way.
There's something about puppets that gives me the creeps.
But there's also something enchanting about them.
Your brain tells you they're inanimate wooden objects.
But a deeper gut feeling tells you there's a spooky,
mysterious spark of life animating them.
Something elemental seems to be going on with these little critters.
Recently, puppets have been making a bit of a comeback.
In June, an eight metre-high puppet
of the mythical Greek giant Prometheus
strutted his stuff in front of the Queen's house in Greenwich.
Not to be outdone, at the end of this month,
an even larger puppet of Lady Godiva
will trot off from her native Coventry down the A5 to the Olympics,
powered by 100 cyclists.
But unlike the legendary naked lady, this Godiva
will have feet as big as sofas and a golden dress by Zandra Rhodes.
That's the basic problem with these politically correct puppets.
They might be ginormous,
but they're pygmies in the most crucial respect.
The basic spark of life's
been airbrushed out of them by the good taste committee.
Because the real power of all the best puppets
lies in the fact they don't just break the physical laws we're bound by,
but the moral laws as well.
Puppets are transgressive, puppets are carnivalesque,
puppets get to do all the naughty stuff that we can't.
Who's a naughty boy then?!
Oh! That's the way to do it! Get out of it.
Just look at Britain's most famous puppets.
# Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside! #
How come characters as dodgy as Punch and Judy
have ended up entertaining children for 350 years?
Hackney photographer Tom Hunter has been documenting professional
Punch and Judy performers across the country.
-The puppeteers are called professors, aren't they?
Why do you want to photograph the professors?
They're just incredible characters.
I think it comes from this amazing tradition
of the travelling showman, really.
They're totally self-contained, they make their own sets,
they make their own theatres.
Lots of them make their own puppets.
Can you put your finger on what exactly the appeal is of Punch?
Yeah, I think it's the anarchy, the anarchy and chaos
that is created by Mr Punch in this little world.
The slapstick, the humour,
the villainous attitude to it all.
It's a bit like Carry On with Sid James and Barbara Windsor as well.
The wildness, the complete abandoness of it.
You just get lost in it. All your emotions are there.
You're screaming, you're cheering, you're booing.
When I used to go to the punk concerts when I was 14, 15.
you just let yourself go completely mad, jumping and spitting.
You can do that. You don't spit any more, thank God,
but the kids go wild, they're jumping up and down.
They get into a frenzy and let themselves go, which is great.
It's really nice. Let it out.
And then come home and be well behaved and eat their tea properly.
Puppets embody one of the most primitive
imaginative instincts of the human race.
They come from the same place as myths and fairy stories
and I think they appeal to a much more primal sense of magic
than most of us imagine when we're watching them.
A contemporary puppet performance
that taps into these dark and primordial origins is Crow -
a theatre adaptation of Ted Hughes's' poems.
The production features several crow incarnations,
from a giant bird with a 12 foot wingspan to a life-size crow.
Behind the adaptation is the Handspring Puppet Company.
They've been pushing the boundaries of modern puppetry for 30 years
and made the puppets for the 2007 hit play War Horse.
I went along to meet their artistic director Mervyn Millar.
There seems to have been a bit of a renaissance in puppetry recently. Why do think that is?
I think, to a large extent, coming from shows that people have
made recently, have changed the way people perceive puppets.
I don't know another show before War Horse
where there's a puppet as a central character in a big show like that.
I think that's opened a lot of people's eyes to what
the puppet can do emotionally in terms of connecting with people.
What can puppets do that actors can't?
Well, I think they demand that you imagine something very essential.
They invite you to relate to what it is to be alive,
because you're looking at this thing and you know it's not alive.
You know that you want it to be alive and every now and then you
believe it's alive. You don't believe it's alive all the time.
Sometimes you zoom out and go,
"What an intricate piece of artistry that is."
How would you go about turning a crow into a puppet?
You start with anatomical study and you start by drawing and looking
and observing and watching videos and watching real animals.
One of our designers has made something that's far more complex
than anything I've ever seen in a puppet before for this head.
It really does everything almost that a real bird's head can do.
Puppets give shape to a deep and shadowy part of the brain.
A repressed and often unacceptable part of us
that needs to surface somehow, breathing its strange life
into puppets by a collective act of imagining.
Conjured up as if by magic.
You can see Prometheus Awakes in Stockton on August 2nd
and Lady Godiva begins her journey from Coventry to London at the end of this month.
We're on a short break while the Olympics take over, but The Culture Show is back on August 15th
with all the best of the fest in Edinburgh. Finally tonight,
Rio Occupation London sees 30 artists taking over the capital's streets,
stages and squares for 30 days as part of London 2012.
Here's a flavour of the Brazilian invasion. Goodnight.
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