Christopher Werth

Stories by Christopher Werth

  • Immersing Oneself in the Drama

    A night out at the opera to see an adaptation of an obscure 17th-century English play may sound like an expensive nap. But what if audience members were handed Venetian masks and invited to wander around the theater as the action unfolded? That’s exactly what the London-based theater company Punchdrunk and the English National Opera have done with The Duchess of Malfi, which opened July 13 in an empty office complex outside the city.
  • World Cup 2010: South Africa Gets Ready

    Victor Gumbi sits pensively beside a smoldering fire in a newly cleared lot, literally in the shadow of the recently renovated Ellis Park Stadium, one of the many venues where South Africa will host the World Cup football tournament, which kicks off this week. South Africa billed the world’s most popular sporting event as a boon to development that would help lift millions out of poverty, but Gumbi, a 35-year-old day laborer, says things are only getting worse. Not long after South Africa was awarded the tournament, an entire city block in the neighborhood where he lives was slated for destruction as part of a larger urban-regeneration scheme around the stadium, as Johannesburg began preparing for the throngs of tourists expected to come pouring in over the next few weeks.
  • Forged Paintings on Display--for Real

    The measure of a great fake is being mistaken for the real thing. In 1947, when the Courtauld Gallery in London acquired Virgin and Child, a vibrantly colored panel attributed to Botticelli, the painting took its place as a revered part of the museum’s collection. Its depiction of a somber but beautiful Madonna sheathed in a delicate, translucent veil holding the infant Christ was a classic theme of the renowned 15th-century Italian Renaissance painter. But shortly thereafter, the art historian Kenneth Clark remarked that the Virgin looked a lot like Jean Harlow, the voluptuous American film star of the 1930s, who was born 400 years after Botticelli’s death. Indeed, the resemblance was so uncanny that it prompted further investigation. Detailed analysis revealed that the painting was actually the handiwork of a notorious but talented Italian forger named Umberto Giunti and had been completed sometime in the early 20th century. Virgin and Child was promptly removed from the Courtauld...
  • Will Britain Hang Together?

    The U.K. elections this week have the country's politicians wringing their hands over the vote's probable outcome--especially the threat of a hung Parliament. Historically, Brits don't do coalitions particularly well, and with that in mind, Conservative leader David Cameron is trying to convince voters that a hung Parliament would scare away international investors and plunge Britain into economic ruin. He points to the fact that markets have indeed been skittish, with the value of the pound slumping -under doubts about whether a clear winner will emerge....
  • Should Libel Laws Apply To the Web?

    London is the capital of many things--England, financial services. And slapping people with libel lawsuits. Plaintiffs from around the globe--or "libel tourists"--flock to Britain to take advantage of its pro-litigant libel laws that make suing for defamation nearly a guaranteed win. But now those laws--first laid out hundreds of years ago to protect the reputations of "respectable" English gentlemen--are on a collision course with 21st-century technology. With the proliferation of blogs and other social-networking Web sites that enable everyone to voice their opinions, a fight is brewing over online freedom of speech in Britain, with profound implications for the Internet's international free exchange of ideas. ...
  • Should Libel Laws Apply to the Web?

    London is the capital of many things—England, financial services. And slapping people with libel lawsuits. Plaintiffs from around the globe—or "libel tourists"—flock to Britain to take advantage of its pro-litigant libel laws that make suing for defamation nearly a guaranteed win. But now those laws—first laid out hundreds of years ago to protect the reputations of "respectable" English gentlemen—are on a collision course with 21st-century technology. With the proliferation of blogs and other social-networking Web sites that enable everyone to voice their opinions, a fight is brewing over online freedom of speech in Britain, with profound implications for the Internet's international free exchange of ideas.At issue is whether the Web, particularly with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, should be legally regarded as a space where people engage in conversation (like a virtual version of the local pub), rather than merely being made up of pages of published words. The latter definition...
  • Britain's Fight for Buried Treasures

    Sometime in the middle of the 15th century, a well-to-do merchant from London buried more than 6,700 gold and silver coins on a sloping hillside in Surrey. He was fleeing the War of the Roses and no doubt planned to return during better times. But he never did. The coins lay undisturbed until one September evening in 1990 when local resident Roger Mintey stumbled across them with a metal detector and dug them up. Named the Reigate Hoard, Mintey's find—much of which now sits in the British Museum—earned him roughly $350,000, enough to quit his job with a small manufacturer and spend more time pursuing lost treasure.But digging up the past is a contentious matter in Britain. In many European countries, people wielding metal detectors face tough regulations. In the U.K., however, officials introduced a voluntary scheme in 1997 encouraging hobbyists to report their discoveries (except for those falling under the definition of treasure, including hoards like Mintey's, which they are...
  • 'A Prophet' Heralds a New Wave of French Auteurs

    Ever since the French new wave of the 1950s and 1960s, few French filmmakers have gone on to find wider international fame. With rare exception—most notably, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 romantic comedy Amélie—French cinema has flourished primarily in France, where it enjoys a robust system of public subsidies and protection from Hollywood imports.Now Jacques Audiard is poised to become the next native director to move into the global spotlight. His latest film, A Prophet—a heart-pounding gangster movie set in a French prison—has already raked in $10 million at the French box office, won last year's Jury Prize at Cannes, and took best film at the recent British Film Festival. It will be France's nominee for best foreign film at this year's Oscars. And as it opens across Europe and America this month, Audiard is bound to win comparisons to the giants of French cinema.Like New Wave auteurs François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who combined an enthusiasm for Hollywood with then...
  • Northern Ireland Slides Back Toward Bloodshed

    Nearly 12 years after Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace accord, violence is on the rise. Last week a 1,000-pound truck bomb was found under a highway connecting Dublin and Belfast. This follows a string of attacks last year by dissident republicans committed to the idea of a united Ireland who hope to undermine Sinn Féin's role in the power-sharing government. The radicals now seem to be targeting one of the final and most important steps in the peace process: the transfer of police and justice powers from London. Both mainstream parties have condemned the violence, but there are worrying signs it may have its desired effect. The renewed threat has unionists dragging their feet on the handover despite Sinn Féin's warnings of a "full-blown crisis" if it doesn't go through soon. Delay could jeopardize the entire power-sharing deal if Sinn Féin walks away, as it has threatened.But something even larger is at risk. For a decade, Northern Ireland has been...
  • Tourists Journey to Their Favorite Film Locations

    Long before I ever set foot in London, I formed an impression of the British capital based entirely on the movies I'd seen. Mary Poppins—one of my mother's favorite films—left me with a rather outdated image of a city full of black umbrellas and dapper chimney sweeps. Sidney Poitier's To Sir With Love made its grittiness seem charming. More recent British flicks don't offer any more accurate a portrayal of the town I now call home. Films such as Notting Hilland Bridget Jones’s Diarygive one the (mistaken) notion that life in London is nothing but quaint bookstores and hard-won romantic bliss. Yet despite these cinematic distortions—or perhaps because of them—merely catching a glimpse of London on the big screen always made me want to go there.Tourism officials from Manchester to Mumbai are waking up to the fact that vacationers are drawn to the places they first get to know through films. And no one is better at luring film buffs than the Brits, says Stefan Roesch, who's written an...
  • Remaking 'Gavin & Stacey' for U.S. TV Audiences

    When the third and final season of Gavin & Stacey begins this fall, fans of the BBC sitcom will finally discover whether young lovers from opposite sides of the tracks—Matthew Horne plays a well-to-do suburbanite from outside London and Joanna Page a girl from a rather run-down seaside resort town in Wales—can overcome their cultural divides. Created by the young English actor James Corden (who plays Gavin's best friend, Smithy) and his costar Ruth Jones (Nessa, Stacey's best friend), the show is an endearing tale about the collision of two similar but still very different worlds: the English look down on the Welsh, and the Welsh resent being looked down upon—while holding prejudices of their own. The show won a BAFTA award last year and routinely drew more than 1.5 million viewers in its second season, so it's no surprise that the American network ABC has announced it's developing a U.S. version, hoping to mimic what NBC did with The Office, originally created for the BBC by...
  • The End of Pop Art

    Even in those first tumultuous weeks last year when it looked as if the entire global financial system might collapse, art dealers and gallerists from New York to London were stuck in the euphoria of the boom years, convinced that prices for contemporary art could only keep climbing. After all, they giddily reassured themselves, values had shot up 55 percent in the previous year, and on the very day that Lehman Brothers went belly up, Damien Hirst—the undisputed champion of the British contemporary-art world—raked in $200 million at an unprecedented Sotheby's auction that saw fierce bidding over diamond-encrusted canvases and a golden calf immersed in a giant tank of formaldehyde. "We're going to look back and think we were living at a time when art was so cheap," exclaimed one ebullient collector.It hasn't quite worked out that way. Confidence in the art market soon hit rock bottom, and prices have plummeted as much as 50 percent since last year. Estimates for the upcoming fall...
  • Two New Positions Created to Head European Union

    With Ireland expected to pass the Lisbon Treaty this time around, Europe could soon see the creation of two new positions vying to lead the EU: a full-time European Council president and a new and improved EU "foreign minister." The question now is which office will wield more power? For all the talk of former British prime minister Tony Blair as a potential first "European president," it's uncertain as to whether that role will be a real mover and shaker on the world stage or wind up merely chairing dull quarterly meetings of European heads of state. After all, the job will have very little policymaking muscle, and will be excluded from ministerial-level decisions on key areas such as finance and agriculture. Alternatively, the new foreign minister will have a real hand in setting a single European foreign policy. The post comes with a seat on both the council and the commission, a sizable budget, and command of the EU's new diplomatic service. Given...
  • Green Clouds in Northern Climes

    Just google the words "carbon footprint" and you've added seven grams of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, say Harvard researchers. Google disputes this number, but there's little doubt the IT industry is becoming one of the biggest contributors to global warming. The industry now accounts for 2 percent of worldwide emissions—comparable to the annual total for airplanes.That percentage is set to grow quickly as more digital information comes to reside in "the cloud," meaning on a network instead of your PC. To house it all, Google and other firms are building data centers: vast warehouses of energy-hungry computers that manage massive volumes of data and produce tremendous amounts of heat, requiring even more energy to cool them. In the U.S., data centers now account for 1.5 percent of total electricity use, and that's expected to double by 2011. New legislation in the U.S. and Europe is prioritizing reducing that carbon footprint. And a handful of cold northern nations are now...
  • Europe Slashes Its Defense Budgets

    The global arms race is slowing for only one major contestant, Europe, with potentially long-range implications for its status as a big power. Despite the worldwide recession, global arms sales rose 4 percent last year, with the U.S. and China leading the pack at $607 billion and $85 billion, respectively. Russia, too, has been bumping up its defense budget, now at $58.6 billion, in hopes of regaining its Soviet Union-level capabilities. But in Europe, cash-strapped governments are slashing defense budgets in favor of propping up popular social programs.  ...
  • Tracing the Travails of the Green Art Movement

    In the 1970s, around the time of the first Earth Day celebrations, artists such as Robert Smithson set out into the great American West with bulldozers, eager to redefine mankind's relationship with the natural world. They made massive marks on the landscape—digging giant holes, piling up mounds of soil, even dumping asphalt down hillsides in the desert—an art form akin to the great earthworks of ancient civilizations. Smithson, who died in a helicopter crash at the height of his career, became the beloved godfather of the genre known as land art; his 1970 masterpiece, Spiral Jetty, a 457-meter-long curlicue that stretches out into Utah's Great Salt Lake and now spends most of its days underwater, has become the movement's trademark.A new exhibit at London's Barbican Centre, Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969–2009 (June 19 through Oct. 20), traces the developments among the avant-garde in perfecting the marriage of art and the environment since Smithson...
  • Europe's Fringe Parties Could Win Big In June

    State power is rising as governments scramble to stop the global financial crisis, so why are Europeans so indifferent to who runs the European state? Just 34 percent of citizens plan to vote in European parliamentary elections this month, down from the previous record low of 45 percent in 2004. The weak turnout is expected to benefit fringe parties, with their passionate backers most likely to vote. That includes Britain's Greens and anticapitalist parties like Germany's Left Party and France's New Anti-Capitalists.On the right, it includes parties thoroughly hostile to Europe. The British National Party is blitzing the U.K. with ads blaming economic conditions on immigrants from new EU member states like Poland. The U.K. Independence Party, a fierce advocate of Britain's withdrawal from the EU, is dominating online and social media, garnering nearly 30 percent of British visitors. However, while landing even one or two seats in Brussels is a major accomplishment for a minor party,...
  • Technology: Internet Filtering Processes

    Internet censorship used to be pretty easy to spot. When China blocks YouTube or prohibits anything on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, it's not hard to figure out what's going on. But as governments and commercial firms get savvier about the Internet, censorship is getting more subtle. A slow Web site could be an accidental glitch or something more intentional.A new Web site now promises to add some much-needed data to what's so far been mainly anecdotal evidence. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University has for years produced reports on filtering practices by country. In March it launched Herdict (a combination of "herd" and "verdict"), a Web site that uses the power of crowd sourcing to produce just-in-time data about what's blocked and what's not. Users report sites that are unavailable or slow. This information appears in Herdict's "herdometer"—a kind of annotated map of the world that reveals online censorship as it unfolds. Incoming reports pop up...
  • Seeing Britain by Canal Boat

    Britain may be an island surrounded by majestic sea-scapes and old, beguiling ports, but its finest waterways actually lie inland. The U.K. has 3,200 kilometers of navigable canals, left over from the 19th century, when it was the industrial manufacturer to the world. In recent years they've been transformed into placid greenways—complete with bustling marinas and a system of locks that still carry traditional-style narrow boats across the undulating British countryside—and have become popular for tours and day trips (waterscape.com). There are now more boats out on the water than at the peak of the Industrial Revolution.For the classy urbanite, Annie's Launch offers luxurious narrow-boating at its best. Located just a half hour from central London (or less if using the helicopter service), Annie's combines leisurely tours with wine tasting and fine dining; menu choices includes English and Thai—Annie's specialty—with seating for up to eight people. For an even more relaxed outing,...
  • Britain Considers a Second Industrial Revolution

    As London seeks to end the financial crisis, some Brits want to go back to how things used to be—way back. Last year, then–business secretary John Hutton pinpointed industrial manufacturing as "central" to recovery, an idea echoed in March by Tory leader David Cameron, whose party has long been inimical to manufacturers. Their support has delighted industry leaders, who say that producing more goods can rescue the very country that begat the Industrial Revolution.It's an unusual strategy, given that most of the countries that make their big money on industrial exports (China, Germany) are trying to move away from that model, which leaves them vulnerable to falling consumer demand. But Britain's renewed interest reflects a consensus that the U.K.'s over-reliance on financial services is now hurting it. Since the 1970s, Britain has steadily shifted away from factory output; by 2007, business and financial services accounted for more than 30 percent of GDP, compared with just 13...
  • Saving Britain's Titians

    Now that the bankers have fled for Dubai, what's the next victim of Britain's credit crisis to face offshoring? An unlikely pick: a pair of Titian canvasses in Edinburgh's National Galleries. The paintings—first acquired by the Duke of Bridgewater in the wake of the French Revolution—have been on display in the U.K. for more than 200 years. But economic duress has led the duke's cash-strapped heir to threaten to sell the paintings to the highest bidder unless the museum can come up with the first half of the art's price tag ($150 million) by month's end. It won't be easy: the duke's asking price is nearly five times higher than any previous amount raised by a museum to retain a piece in its collection, and Britain has very few solid tax incentives for donating artwork to public institutions.Still, the gallery's launched a campaign to rally the public and save the paintings as "national treasures" (despite their Italian Renaissance heritage). Celebrities like Damien Hirst have...
  • Capa War Photography At London's Barbican

    In 1939, an assistant to photographer Robert Capa fled Paris before Hitler's troops descended. With him, he took three boxes of Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa and Capa's partner, Gerda Taro. The images were lost to history for nearly 60 years, until being discovered more than 9,000 kilometers away in Mexico City (Capa died thinking they had been lost in the occupation).The negatives are a highlight of the "This Is War!" exhibit at London's Barbican Centre, which runs through January and also presents contemporary art on Iraq and Afghanistan. But the show's stars are Capa and Taro. Their cameras caught some of the mid-20th-century's momentous events, from Omaha Beach to Franco's bloodshed. Controversy lingers over whether Capa staged his most iconic photo, which shows a Spanish Republican militiaman falling from an enemy bullet. But Capa's D-Day images—shot as he waded ashore with American soldiers—exemplify his motto: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close...

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