Arts & Culture / In March

On Radio 4’s Front Row earlier this week Andrew Stanton, the film-maker behind Toy Story, Finding Nemo and other such Pixar wonders, was asked by Mark Lawson whether the opening scene of WALL-E was too bleak and frightening for a film aimed at younger children. Lawson had barely finished his question before Stanton shot him down for making the ‘fundamentally wrong’ assumption that his films were made with any particular demographic group in mind. Why would that even be necessary? He continued ‘I never thought the Beatles were trying to guess my demographic, I never thought Picasso was trying to test who the audience might be…’ After several minutes in this vein, it was clear: Andrew Stanton’s only priority is to make films that he believes are good, regardless of what others might think. He has absolute faith that if they are good enough, the rest will follow.

This is refreshing. The world is all too full of research into “customer bases”, focus groups, talk of target demographics. So much better to allow the creative imagination its freedom, link that flight to a drive to produce something really good – and trust that quality will find its own constituency (or, if you must, market). In a world full of commercial pressure and seemingly set (and unimaginative) paths to success it’s so easy to deviate from such single-minded purpose. There’s a sort of gravity, as enterprises find success and expand, that pulls creativity towards mediocrity, risk towards security. This must be resisted!

Here are some good things around at the moment from artists who follow their hearts – or their art – rather than the dollar.


Every published photograph taken by Paolo Roversi is remarkable, though he rarely strays from his very recognisable style. His preference is for black and white or dimly glowing colour, often shot in low light, intentionally blurred, a faintly dishevelled girl against a simple studio background. Despite a haunted, antique appearance each new image seems just that, new. Each is a fresh insight into the character of the person in front of Roversi’s lens, their relationship with the photographer, into his use of light and film, and into their respective dreams. He tends to shoot using an old large format camera – the sort that requires a black cloth over the photographer’s head – and uses (increasingly rare) Polaroid film. His work is all his own, unmistakable – though there are perhaps echoes of Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville there. If you can’t make it to London to see the exhibition, the National Portrait Gallery has a good (though short) audio tour of his work which, combined with google image search, is a workable alternative. To 31st March 2012


Martin Scorsese’s lucid double-feature-length documentary on George Harrison comes from a long-held admiration for the so-called quiet Beatle. The film lightly charts Harrison’s life – from his beginnings in Liverpool to his post-Beatles life as an artist, film-maker, philanthropist, seeker – weaving together honest and frank interviews with Harrison and his closest friends, performances and unseen home movies and photographs. Scorsese has absolutely the right intuition toward Harrison and has consequently made a rare film: one that bypasses all that is obvious and instead sees directly to the heart of its subject. Those of us who missed this intimate and affecting documentary when it was shown on the BBC last year- or who, like me, would like to see it again – can now download it from iTunes.


The septuagenarian back in the recording studio and as wry and insightful as ever – or more so, his years adding clarity, detachment his aperçus. Years as a boho poet and songwriter, years as a Zen monk and now back on the road, his spare and quiet output never anything but entirely true to himself. I watched him from a front row in London performing to a sold-out O2 arena, seeming occasionally slightly shaken by the ferocity of the audience’s adoration. What’s not to love? Apart, perhaps, from the arrangements – which occasionally sound as though composed, cheesily, on a home organ. But then he’s only ever made one really well arranged record – his third, Songs of Love and Hate. It doesn’t matter – the fact that he means what he does shines steadily through.

Photograph: Natalia Vodianova by Paolo Roversi

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  • Well said about WALL-E! A refreshing point to make in a western world that likes to ‘nanny state’ us all the time. Since we’re mentioning children here, it’s fair to say that the whole education system tends to pigeon-hole children by determining what level of attainment or understanding should happen at what age. But who’s to say that one 9 year old, for eg, will be the same as another just for the sake of film boards, curricula or whatever. Ken Robinson has always said that we should see our children (and ourselves, as adults) as individuals not grades, or generations that should perform or react to a set of ways of behaviour pre-determined by externals. My young son did get upset by the Wall-E film when he first saw it, but later he loved it, and could understand the complexity of emotions more. He was however quite at ease watching a film about World War I trenches. Some others younger than him weren’t afraid watching Wall E as they missed nuances that he saw in it and was worried by. As you say, all these wonderful divisions of society we create in marketing and sales, censor boards and education! And yet how far from the mark they can be!