ARTS 1995

It was the year that Sinatra reached 80, and Purcell turned 300; Britpop exploded, and Princess Diana told all; Chris Evans woke us up (for a cool pounds 1m), and Eddie Izzard sold out; `Riverdance' hoofed its way to Hammersmith, and Glyndebourne could do no wrong. From `Crumb' to Caro, and Pulp to `Panorama', it wasn't the best of years, but it had its moments. And here they are, in the fifth annual `IoS' Awards
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The good, the bad, the ugly

THE SCREENWRITER William Goldman reckons 1995 has been the worst year in the history of American movies. It is hard to disagree. The year's most alarming trend was the commercial failure of the most intelligent American work. Frank Darabont's stirring The Shawshank Redemption fell into this category, as did Quiz Show, which boasted a pithy and erudite script from Paul Attanasio, who was the writer of the year. He also alchemised Michael Crichton's novel Disclosure into the only blockbuster with an ounce of nous. Happily, Gillian Armstrong's moving and modern take on Little Women did do good box-office. It was the best studio picture of 1995.

Increasingly, though, we had to look outside Hollywood for distinction and challenge. To the American independents for detailed dissections of human behaviour: as in Richard Linklater's superbly observed two-hander Before Sunrise, and David O Russell's disconcerting incest comedy, Spanking the Monkey. To Woody Allen, still doing his own thing hilariously, in the comedy of the year, Bullets Over Broadway. To France: for dynamic social comment and cinematic verve in Mathieu Kassovitz's debut, La Haine. To the old Yugoslavia: for the complex and compassionate Before the Rain. And even to Britain: for Benjamin Ross's The Young Poisoner's Handbook, whose dark wit was underpinned by intellectual daring.

The year's best films were both documentaries. Hoop Dreams's account of two would-be basketball players brought a scope and realism to black lives, rarely, if ever, seen on the screen before. But the movie's power lay as much in the charm and resilience of its young subjects as in the conventional liberalism of its admirably dogged directors.

That is why Terry Zwigoff's Crumb (left) shades Hoop Dreams as Film of the Year. This carefully organised portrait of scabrous comic-book artist Robert Crumb was dangerously intimate. By including Crumb's dysfunctional and deranged family, it illuminated shady crannies of the human psyche - the places where creativity and genius reside, along with deviance and madness. Crumb stimulated, appalled and enlightened us, in ways that no feature this year could match.

Previous winners: 1991 `Edward Scissorhands'; 1992 `The Double Life of Veronique'; 1993 `Groundhog Day'; 1994 `Schindler's List'.



Falling in love again

ON THE evidence of 1995, the age of heroic acting is at an end. The year's best performances tended to be off-beat, supporting or cameos. Johnny Depp made mediocrity endearing, even noble, as Ed Wood. Joaquin Phoenix deserves mention for his weird, solipsistic dance in To Die For. Jim Broadbent got great comic mileage out of an (over-)eating disorder in Bullets Over Broadway. Nadia Mikhalkov (aged seven), as the enchanting innocent in Burnt by the Sun, and Paul Scofield (72), as Quiz Show's proud, donnish patriarch, briefly captivated, in a way that the generations between them rarely managed.

More sustained characterisations were harder to find (maybe the fault of writers rather than actors). Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey fully inhabited the perilous escapism of adolescence in Heavenly Creatures. Tim Robbins was powerfully enigmatic in The Shawshank Redemption. While Tim Roth made our blood boil by adding a layer of dandyism to his habitual savagery in Rob Roy.

But the most recognisable human beings I saw this year were Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke's strangers on a train, who fell in love, Before Sunrise, in Vienna. Funny, perceptive, silly, charming - neither actor put a foot wrong in delivering their realistically faltering dialogue. By the end of the film you didn't want them to part. So I won't split them here.

Previous winners: 1991 Annette Bening (`The Grifters'); 1992 Jon Lovitz (`A League of Their Own'); 1993 Holly Hunter (`The Piano'); 1994 Daniel Day-Lewis (`In the Name of the Father' and `The Age of Innocence').



Turkeys and crackers

IT'S BEEN a best-forgotten year for ENO where morale and musical standards have been audibly sinking and occasional triumphs like King Priam (imported anyway from Opera North) drowned out by turkeys like Mahagonny, Fairy Queen and Life With an Idiot. Nor has it been a golden year for Covent Garden, where the management pinned their hopes and resources on a slapstick Ring,with decent singers conducted with distinction by Bernard Haitink, but a presentation style that only just stopped short of custard- pie fights in Valhalla.

On the plus side, though, the Royal Opera did have an electrifying Salome, an engagingly exotic King Arthur, and a bold and powerful Billy Budd. Over in Ireland, Wexford's May Night won on all counts, with a magnificent Russian cast disciplined into the precision of English comic-acting by director Stephen Medcalf. And there was more magnificence when the Kirov Opera came to the Edinburgh Festival, proving that for every ear-bending Russian bass-baritone we discover in the West there are 20 more where he came from.

But overall opera of the year has to be Janacek's Makropulos Case (above) at Glyndebourne: the ingenious production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff with the upside-down piano, incisively conducted by Andrew Davis and starring Anja Silja at the peak of her powers. Since the opening of the new house, Glyndebourne has been on a high. Even its flops (like Deborah Warner's Don Giovanni) have been flops of distinction. What more can you ask?

Previous winners: 1991 `King Priam' (Opera North); 1992 `The Duenna' (Opera North); 1993 `Die Meistersinger' (Covent Garden); 1994 `Turn of the Screw' (Scottish Opera at Glasgow Tramway).



Not bad ads

I RARELY go to foreign countries but when I do I always watch TV, for the commercials. The contrast with our own output serves as a reminder that, whatever the growth rate of their GNP, there's something missing. British TV ads really are in a different world from the Seventies- style soft-sell you see in southern Europe, the terrifying ho-ho of German humour, the heart-stopping crassness of real American commercials ...

I've seen a lot of very sophisticated British ads this year, and it leaves one very blase. It's hard to choose just one - I'd rather invent a new set of Bafta-like categories. So, for innovation it has to be Miller Time (above, right), the first commercial that's actually a real sponsored programme, tailored for its media environment - Channel 4 - and changing from week to week. After the event it seems like revealed truth that advertising can work like that, but it was a big leap at the time.

Levi's has paid for a 10-year run of good commercials. This year there were two especially memorable ones: the New York Seventies transvestite, and the later claymation ad which gave Plasticine modelling a new dimension - and made Shaggy's "Boombastic" a hit. I also found the effects in the Pirelli Tyre's "Running Man" ad, where Carl Lewis jumped from one New York landmark to another, utterly spectacular.

But the advert I enjoyed the most showed no spectacular effects. The "Memories" series for the London radio station Capital Gold derived from a completely banal brief, that of recreating the situation in which a famous pop song might first have been heard, but were perfectly observed - as with the seven- year-old boy being given a traditional barber's scalping to the sound of "If you're going to San Francisco / be sure to wear some flowers in your hair".

Advert of the Year is a new award this year.



This corps is alive and well

IT WAS a year in which dance was at last recognised as a culture worthy of study, with the appointment of Britain's first two professors of dance. It was also a year in which dance invaded the popular imagination - not least when a troupe of beaming young hard-shoe dancers from Dublin hoofed their way through a seven-minute TV routine and went on to fill the Hammersmith Apollo for months on end with a show called Riverdance. Other national forms had field-days, most memorably in the stage-show Forever Tango! - in which an assortment of couples, young and old, reinforced the tango's reputation as the most tantalising art form on four legs.

In contemporary dance, the feted Mark Morris Dance Group had its first English tour. Uncommonly well-fleshed dancers wove lines and circles with all the joyful innocence of a class of infants doing the Gay Gordons, yet left a lasting impression of depth and grace. Matthew Bourne's drastic rewrite of Swan Lake triumphed over its own hype to produce the most potently theatrical experience in recent memory. But for musical ingenuity, nothing came near Siobhan Davies's nerve-tingling new work, The Art of Touch. Davies was made an MBE.

The Royal Ballet is unlikely to remember the last 12 months with pleasure (most recently it lost Zoltan Solymosi after a row), yet the company has continued to produce the goods in tip-top condition. The corps de ballet (right) has undergone a palpable transformation. No longer merely girls who do not quite make the grade as soloists, they project a renewed sense of purpose and precision. In the current production of Swan Lake they steal the show. As a body, they earn my nomination.

Previous winners: 1991 Yelena Pankova (guest, ENB); 1992 Irek Mukhamedov (Royal Ballet); 1993 Yolande Snaith (Theatredance); 1994 Adam Cooper (RB).



Growing up in public

COMPOSERS rather than performers have claimed the musical high ground this year, with a relentless sequence of anniversaries and reappraisals: Michael Tippett's 90th birthday, then Nicholas Maw's 60th and the Hindemith centenary. Above all we had the Purcell Tercentenary, which was a year- round joy and ensured that he will henceforth be remembered as a man of the theatre as well as of the church and court.

As for interpreters, we've seen Bryn Terfel conquering one opera bastion after another; Roberto Alagna making a serious bid to become the Fourth Tenor; and Susan Chilcott confirming her promise as a Great British Soprano. But otherwise the credits go to conductors. It was a good year for period- specialist Robert King, courtesy of Purcell; for Carlo Rizzi, whose mastery of early Verdi made for superb readings of Aroldo and Nabucco; for Richard Hickox, whose Vaughan Williams symphony cycle with the Bournemouth SO was a landmark; and for Pierre Boulez, the hard-man everybody loves now he's 70. But my Musician of the Year is Simon Rattle (above): partly because he's persistently incapable of dullness, but specifically for his Beethoven symphony cycle in Birmingham and London. Having held back from this standard repertory, he made it anything but standard. It was brilliant, vital, dynamic; and for Rattle himself, a rite of passage from enfant terrible to established master.

Previous winners: 1991 Roger Norrington; 1992 Michael Tilson Thomas; 1993 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; 1994 Valery Gergiev.



Love me, love my kinks

WHEN twinkly, straggle-haired Glaswegian Phil Kay won Best Live Act at last year's British Comedy Awards, it was a rare instance of positive thinking on the part of a judging panel - like Clueless winning an Oscar or Shooting Stars claiming the Golden Rose at the Montreux TV festival. Kay might easily have responded to this unexpected vote of confidence by embarking on one of the gruelling national-tour schedules so beloved of his top-comedy peer group, thereby ironing out of his system all of the kinks that make him such a unique and beguiling performer. Fortunately, he decided to go on holiday instead.

In a field where work-rate and reliability have a worrying tendency to be prized above inspiration, Kay is a vital beacon of feckless spontaneity. As anyone lucky enough to see him conduct an impromptu, hour-long wedding service at the Edinburgh Festival (or even surfing across the crowd on Channel 4's Big Snog a few weeks back) will gladly attest, comedy needs its gentlemen as much as its players.

Among those who have taken the more conventional route of working a lot, Harry Hill proved that industry and exhilaration need not be incompatible by coming up with another set as brilliant as last year's, Lee & Herring corrupted the nation's youth with style and panache, Eddie Izzard confounded doubters by selling out 10 weeks at one of the West End's biggest theatres, and deserving Perrier Award-winner Jenny Eclair honed her peroxide-slapper persona to a point where it would make Roy "Chubby" Brown blush.

Previous winners: 1993 Lee Evans; 1994 Harry Hill.



He blew the house down

IT WAS nothing less than a reassertion of jazz fundamentals. At his concerts in Bath and London this summer, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins didn't do anything that could be described as modish. His band was, frankly, terrible. And his concept of performance - the star blows his way through a collection of shop-worn standards - was antique. But when he put his mind to it, he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down, the ideas tumbling from the bell of his horn faster and more powerfully than the ear could follow. At 64, he seemed to be playing with a ferocity equal to that of the great trio albums of the 1950s, but with a grace and sophistication that surpassed them. And then he played "Tenor Madness" as a duet between himself and the long-dead John Coltrane, with Rollins performing both parts. It was, of course, an exhibition match, but it took your breath away all the same. This was, you thought, how jazz used to be played.

Previous winners: 1991 Miles Davis; 1992 Tony Williams; 1993 Us 3; 1994 John Surman.



The jewels in the crown

RADIO is a heavenly medium: ethereal, rich and rewarding. This year the twinkliest star was "Fairest Isle" (R3), an astonishingly ambitious celebration of British music, with particular emphasis on Henry Purcell. His entire works have been played, from his splendid semi-opera The Fairy Queen to his riotous tavern catches. The Thing of the World I Love Most (R3), about Samuel Pepys, was just one of many excellent parallel documentaries that left me, for one, feeling much more knowledgeable about the whole period.

Elsewhere, Radio 1 rediscovered cheery wit in Chris Evans, and celebrated previous successful oddballs in Mavericks. It was also home to the excellent Tim Page in Vietnam. Radio 2 kept up its high standard of reliable entertainment from polished presenters along with two excellent features: Elvis on My Mind and VJ Day Homage. Space allows me only to list a few other great endeavours: the World Service's unparalleled news service and fine music & drama department, especially Rukulibam and The Great Lovers; R5's daily Magazine; R3's Second Draft from Sagaland and Private Passions; Classic FM's Lucerne Festival - and much more on R4.

Here goes: 20/20 - A View of the Century, Points of Departure, Dear Diary, Lost Souls, Ribbons & Revelations, The Food Programme, Today, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, States of Mind, the "First Bite" season - particularly Burn Your Phone - and dozens of readings and dramatisations, particularly Eartha Kitt's magnificent alley-cat in Archie and Mehitabel. And I haven't mentioned Talk Radio, and don't intend to.

Previous winners: 1991 `The Gang That Fell Apart' (R3); 1992 `Knowing Me, Knowing You'; 1993 `It is With Very Great Regret'; 1994 `Memory Lost' (all R4).



Zaha Hadid's six-day wonder

THIS YEAR Zaha Hadid finally had a building erected in Britain. The visionary London-based Iraqi architect has won numerous prizes, but she has rarely managed the jump from drawing board to reality. This year she did it. It was an exhibition stand for the magazine Blueprint at the construction exhibition, Interbuild. The size of a small house, it stood for just the six days of the show. But it demonstrated in miniature why Hadid is such a potent figure among her contemporaries. Conceptually, the stand consists of a single ribbon of steel that has been bent to form two interlocking oblongs. By this means conventional distinctions of wall and floor, inside and outside, are abolished, and every surface is available for exhibiting things.

Elsewhere, Terry Farrell came up with an impressive conference centre in Edinburgh; and the British library was unveiled in its Seventies splendour. But hi-tech seemed on the verge of exhaustion. By the time you read this, Cardiff may have been awarded Lottery money to build its Hadid-designed opera house. Her time may have come.

Previous winners: 1991 Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy; 1992 Cranfield Inst of Technology Library; 1993 International Terminal Waterloo; 1994 Richard McCormac's new block for St John's, Oxford.



The queen of the screen

MALE CIRCUMCISION is about the only operation apart from tooth extraction that hasn't changed for 2,000 years. Victor Schonfeld's It's a Boy! (C4) made the case for introducing a little local anaesthetic. The Plague of Monkeys (ITV) scarily suggested that an airborne type of Ebola virus, now known only in monkeys, could transfer to humans. Atchoo! Secret History: The Roswell Incident (C4) gave us about our first glimpse of the insides of an alleged alien, but I was more charmed by the Bookmark portrait of Thomas the Tank Engine's modest creator (BBC2) and Omnibus's comical day in the life of Indian actor Harish Patel (BBC1). The delightful Three Salons at the Seaside (BBC2) was about old biddies getting their hair done, and Remember the Family (BBC2), by the same director, Philippa Lowthorpe, was novelistic in its grasp of one family's dissolution.

You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough (BBC2) - the best title of the year - discovered what the CIA gets up to when not assassinating left- wing world leaders; one experiment involved sending a remote-controlled cat across the street to spy but it got run over on the way. The Private Life of Plants (BBC1) made plants seem as horny, voracious and temperamental as the rest of us.

World War II provided sustenance for hundreds of programmes this year, though it was Marcel Ophuls' lengthy War Correspondent (BBC2), about reportage of the Yugoslavian conflict, which pinpointed the continuing relish for war.

But best of all were the confessions: Adam Faith on his recovery from a car crash in The Enemy Within; the secrets of the passengers in Taxicab Confessions (both BBC2). And Princess Di, who wins First Prize for Fact for confessing on Panorama (BBC1, above) to having been in love with innumerable people, on and off, including herself.

If not to Di again, First Prize for Fiction goes to A Village Affair (ITV), a lesbian romance in lush surroundings. Then comes Bliss (BBC2), about a nerd (Douglas Hodge) in search of affection. Rik Mayall's The Big One (ITV) depicted a wonderful liar, and Nervous Energy (BBC2) dealt honestly with a gay relationship reeling from its death sentence.

The Long Johns (C4) satirised men in suits, while Moving Story (ITV) and Roughnecks (BBC1) carved out niches for heroism and pathos among the hoi polloi. ER (C4) is annoyingly addictive; Ellen, Roseanne, Friends, Frasier, Grace Under Fire, Nurses and The Golden Girls, pleasantly so. But, in revenge against America, Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous (BBC1) summed up Californian joggers thus: "Pert tits and a tight butt just so you can plunge down a crack in the earth with confidence."

As for the crimes perpetrated against Jane Austen this year, Pride and Prejudice (BBC1) was saved only by Colin Firth as Darcy; Persuasion (BBC2) didn't have Colin Firth. Without Austen's ironic narration these tales descend into empty-headed trivia, ideal for our age.

Goop of the Year: Uri Geller, who turned up on Beyond Belief, ITV's extra- sensory extravaganza. Poor old Uri. You discover the power of mind over matter and all you do with it is bend spoons.

Previous winners: 1991 `Prime Suspect' (Granada); 1992 `Katie and Eilish: Siamese Twins' (Yorkshire); 1993 `The Ark' (BBC2); 1994 `Without Walls: Dennis Potter' (C4) and `Middlemarch' (BBC2).



This year's main attraction

MUCH AS I try to keep up with pop coverage in the media, some things slip through. This year, for instance, there was apparently a magazine or newspaper that didn't carry an article about Jarvis Cocker (above, second from right), but I'm ashamed to say I missed it. I was probably too busy watching him on TV at the time.

Cocker's media ubiquity has the same foundation as his music's excellence. Just as his personality shines through every interview, it galvanises every song by his band, Pulp. His voice - he mumbles, groans and yelps in an unashamed Sheffield accent - is like no one else's, and his stage movements are like those of no one else who is free to walk the streets. His pin-sharp lyrics are often painfully hilarious. Bands have fought for the underdog before, but never with the same subtle fury as Pulp.

In this year's Smash Hits poll, Cocker was voted Least Fanciable Male and Worst Dressed Person. And for the past decade Pulp have been pop's embarrassing losers, viewed as sex-obsessed, nerdy Seventies throw-backs (as Vic Reeves might say). Always the support band, never the main attraction.

But all the facets that made them different - the lyrics, the disco references, the violin, Cocker's deadly deadpan delivery - came together to stunning effect on "Common People", the first of this year's three chart-almost- topping singles. Pulp went on to headline Glastonbury, to provoke tabloid outrage, and to release the glorious album, Different Class (Island). The losers take all.

Previous winners: 1991 Primal Scream; 1992 Nirvana; 1993 Neil Young; 1994 Blur.



The revival of the fittest

IT'S BEEN a good year for new plays - Jonathan Harvey's Rupert Street Lonely Hearts, Ronald Harwood's Taking Sides, David Hare's Skylight, Jez Butterworth's Mojo, Patrick Marber's Dealer's Choice - and an even better one for revivals. Some of them made old shows fresher than new ones. Reviewing Adrian Noble's production of The Cherry Orchard in July, Irving Wardle wrote that "this stunning production ... is like experiencing a brand-new masterpiece". Stephen Daldry radically rearranged the seating in the Duke of York's to create an intense cockpit arena for Rat in the Skull, Ron Hutchinson's incisive study of the Northern Irish mind. Sam Mendes's superb production of The Glass Menagerie was a timely vindication of the Donmar's appeal for funds, while at the Young Vic, Tim Supple's adaptation of The Jungle Book was storytelling at its most theatrical. It was a notable how well each revival suited the venue in which it was performed. This was especially true of The Phoenician Women (above, right). The director Katie Mitchell created a remarkable, quasi-religious setting in The Other Place at Stratford - with padded benches, incense, Balkan music and a swirling, dancing chorus. In the process she gave us Euripides, the thoroughly modern tragedian. Here her cast were, speaking urgently of war-torn cities, truces, renewed violence - the same events we were watching on the news. Mitchell's authoritative production never condescended to nudging contemporary references. It was, simultaneously, detailed and spare. Superb.

Previous winners: 1991 `The Blue Angel' (Pam Gems, RSC); 1992 `Someone Who'll Watch Over Me' (Frank McGuinness, Hampstead); 1993 `Arcadia' (Tom Stoppard, National); `Pentecost' (David Edgar, RSC).



Tokyo story

IN 1995 there was an increased tendency for British artists to exhibit abroad. Some became known as the "Brit Pack" - and with reason, for they preferred to show together rather than risk the exposure of a solo exhibition.

But the one-person show remains the crucial test of any living artist. Far and away the grandest display I saw this year was Anthony Caro's retrospective at the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. It's doubtful whether anyone else could have filled its huge exhibition galleries. Caro (above) offered around 120 sculptures, from his early figurative pieces of the 1950s to the "sculpitechture" of recent years. And there was never a moment when the visitor was not excited.

Major retrospectives suggest new patterns to an artist's career. The effect of the Tokyo show was to place a new emphasis on Caro in the late 1970s and 1980s. It's notable how many series of later works were inspired by foreign places: Barcelona, Greece and Canada, among others. Britain has never before produced such an international artist, as the Tokyo exhibition proved. So it was Caro's year, even though his pre-eminence was demonstrated on the other side of the world.

Previous winners: 1991 Ana Maria Pacheco; 1992 Bridget Riley; 1993 Prunella Clough; 1994 John Gibbons.



Diana Rigged

IT'S NOT always clear what directors do, but they do make phone calls. The director Jonathan Kent, who is becoming a hot tip as successor to Richard Eyre, was responsible this year for three inspired phone calls: the last of these was to the IoS Actor of the Year. In March, Kent directed Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet at the Hackney Empire. With Fiennes's Hamlet, Irving Wardle wrote, "the play again becomes the possession of a heroic actor". This was "a standard romantic reading, rendered extraordinary by its detail and depth of feeling". Call number two was to Peter Bowles, who in September gave a chilling performance in Gangster No 1 (a flashy new play by Louis Mellis and David Scinto). Bowles was dapper as ever, but his East End gangster had the sleeked-back impassivity of Somerset Maugham, with a baroque taste for violence. Kent's third inspired call was to an actress who has the wit, stature and guts to be our foremost classical actress, but her career path has been (as she says) "perverse". Last month, after an absence of 17 years, Diana Rigg (above) returned to the National in Mother Courage and Her Children. It was a towering, monumental performance - with more than a dash of the Broadway madam. It was also very funny. Rigg has always had a natural hauteur; and here she brought her effortless grandeur to a woman who drags a cart round war-torn Europe. It was a rich combination.

Previous winners: 1991 Nigel Hawthorne (in `The Madness of George III', National); 1992 Simon Russell Beale (`Richard III', RSC) and Barrie Rutter (Richard III in his own Northern Broadsides production); 1993 Robert Stephens (`King Lear', RSC); 1994 Alex Jennings (`Peer Gynt', RSC) !