Observations: A most natural choice of muse

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The Independent Culture

From Danté's Beatrice through to Yeats's Maud Gonne and Almodóvar's Penelope Cruz, the common or garden muse is young, attractive and female.

Male muses are a rare species, and elderly male muses associated with family-friendly entertainment are even rarer – almost a genus unto themselves. Yet, in a satisfying reversal of stereotype, the muse of experimental singer Björk and Greek film director Athina Rachel Tsangari fits this taxonomic description precisely. Both women claim to have been inspired in their latest artistic ventures by a venerable British institution: David Attenborough.

The delightful wackiness of Attenborough providing the introduction to Björk's pantheistic, multi-media album Biophilia, and the name (in a corrupted form) for an arthouse film dealing with themes of incest and decay, is inescapable. In interviews on Radio 4, both Björk and Tsangari cite Attenborough's nature programmes as being a hugely important part of their childhood television. Björk calls Attenborough her childhood idol. According to Tsangari, the fax she sent to him asking permission to use excerpts of his documentaries in her award-winning film Attenberg (it collected prizes at the Venice Film Festival) reads like a love-letter. Tsangari made the cast watch episodes of Attenborough's wildlife programmes before filming. His combination of close scientific observation, detachment and tenderness was, she avers, formative in her approach to film.

'Attenberg' is screening at selected cinemas nationwide; 'Biophilia' will be released on 10 October

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