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Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner on the art of screenwriting

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The week’s best art and culture reads – including the history of the self-portrait, Bollywood’s favourite author and some home truths about the music industry.

Man in the mirror: self-portraits
Andrew Marr | New Statesman | 30 April 2014
Review of The Self Portrait: a Cultural History, by James Hall, which argues that the history of the self-portrait is also a history of the social status of the artist. The genre was scarcely known in ancient art. It gained ground in the Renaissance, as artists became celebrities within their cities. It was taken to new heights by Rembrandt, who “quite consciously turned himself into one of the first international artistic superstars”.   

Another sarcasm mark
Keith Houston | Shady Characters | 29 April 2014
It is notoriously hard to convey happiness, humour, excitement and sarcasm in writing. New punctuation marks could help: an asterisk for sarcasm; a question mark followed by a tilde for confusion; double closing parentheses for happiness. The asterisk as footnote marker “has always suggested a second or hidden meaning”; the tilde denotes approximation in mathematics; the double parenthesis echoes the smiley.   

Matthew Weiner: The art of screenwriting
Semi Chellas | Paris Review | 28 April 2014
Interview with Mad Men writer and director on his methods and influences. “Cheever holds my attention more than any other writer. He is in every aspect of Mad Men, starting with the fact that Don lives in Ossining on Bullet Park Road − the children are ignored, people have talents they can’t capitalize on, everyone is selfish to some degree or in some kind of delusion”.        

The art of the forgery
Katie Calautti | Vanity Fair | 25 April 2014
How film studios recreate art works for films such as Basquiat, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Pollock. They get permission of the estate beforehand, and destroy the imitations afterwards. When Julian Schnabel directed Basquiat, he did much of the painting himself. Most of the 125 paintings used in Pollock were homages rather than drip-by-drip copies − they were created from scratch using Pollock’s paint-throwing methods.      

What people don’t want to believe
Bob Lefsetz | Lefsetz Letter | 25 April 2014
Home truths about the music industry. “Coldplay, Radiohead and Dave Matthews are huge because they snuck in under the wire via the old system, they were the beneficiaries of big TV video play, when that meant something, before the Web obliterated it. Otherwise, they’d be Arcade Fire, which garners great reviews, wins Grammys and most people still have not heard and don’t even care about.”           

Champion of Chinese art − or villain
David Pilling | FT Magazine | 25 April 2014
Enthralling portrait of CT Loo, titan of the Chinese antiques trade in the early 20th Century, smart country boy from Zhejiang who arrived in France as a ship’s cook, but with the eye of a connoisseur. He ransacked China’s treasures, paying dodgy prices for looted goods; he also educated Western collectors and museums about pre-Qing Chinese art, and stocked Western collections. “He was a genius. Evil and a genius at the same time.” 

Chetan Bhagat: Bollywood’s favourite author
Nirpal Dhaliwal | Guardian | 24 April 2014
Conversation with popular novelist who writes in English for aspirational Indians: “It’s not my first language, and for my readers it’s not their first language”. His characters are “emerging twenty-something urbanites trying to better themselves in the call-centres and academies of a liberalising India”; roughly equivalent to the Nick Hornby demographic. He will never win a Booker Prize, but his novels sell millions.           

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