Washington Post columnist and Morning Joe regular David Ignatius also finds time to write novels, including Body of Lies which was made into a film directed by Ridley Scott that starred Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. His latest, The Quantum Spy, focuses on the race between the U.S. and China to develop a quantum computer, one capable of breaking codes millions of times faster than conventional computers. Ignatius has done his homework, yet makes the details about quantum computing understandable. In reality, while some progress has been made towards developing this super smart computer, the research is still in its infancy. Much is at stake. The country that manages to develop the first quantum computer will have an edge and it’s a battle that the CIA does not want to lose. That often means using methods that are unethical and at times illegal.
John Vandel, the CIA agent leading the operation, lacks a moral compass, whether dealing with the Chinese, the American scientists, or his own agents. He stays focused on the end game. Nothing else matters, even a bond that was forged on the battlefield. In 2005, Vandel was at the CIA station in Baghdad when the Green Zone sustained a rocket attack. Lieutenant Harris Chang, a patriot from Flagstaff, Arizona, ended up saving Vandel’s life. Seeing something in Chang, Vandel recruits him for the CIA and, for a while, the two enjoy a close working relationship. Yet that bond begins to fray when Vandel suspects, despite Chang’s protestations, that the young man has been seduced by the Chinese. Chang discovers, much to his dismay, that he may be an American, but to many he will first be Chinese and, therefore, suspected of betraying his country. Needless to say, the racist attitude on the part of Vandel and others in the CIA do not speak well of the agency Ignatius presents.
Meanwhile, there’s a mole in the CIA, someone feeding information to the Chinese. Chang is enlisted to tease out the mole, an operation that will test his loyalties, to both his heritage and his country.
Ignatius, who knows how to craft a page turner, has spent many years covering the CIA and other agencies. When does fiction cross over to real life? Perhaps more often than we know.
The Quantum Spy
Top photos: Bigstock
Peter Beston doesn’t remember a time he didn’t have a pencil, crayon or brush in his hand. His parents, one musical, the other an architectural draftsman and surveyor, sent him to weekly art class starting at 12. There were no museums or exhibitions in Purley, England. A family trip to Spain offered first exposure at the Prado. “I was totally stunned by the light, realism, and composition, but too young for the psychology of the work.”
Other interests included movies, the natural world, and English (language and literature). Beston decided to pursue a career as a film director. He couldn’t wait to get to London. A semester at art college followed. “I loved the romantic Pre-Raphaelites then, the every-blade-of-grass-approach, Art Nouveau, and John Singer Sargent.” The world was Pop/Op/Psychedelic Art mad. Excited by it, the young man dabbled, but never made the genre his own. Nor did he get sidetracked.
Young Peter; The Lighthouse
Instead he secured a job in the mailroom at the BBC. When a director’s course attracted 2,700 applicants, however, he moved on, rising through the ranks of production companies. He worked on commercials, features and documentaries, becoming a respected film editor of forty years, accruing multiple awards. Art and art classes were intermittent. “Every time I wanted to paint again, I had to start from square one. There was no build.” It wasn’t until he was 40 that, “desperate to get technique,” he found a private tutor with whom to study oil painting. His teacher straddled realism and surrealism.
“I always painted something in front of me. Landscapes didn’t attract. Plein Air is torture. The light changes all the time, there are bugs flying all over…I like a calm, stable, uniform atmosphere.” The artist takes numerous ‘reference’ photographs.
In 2009, Beston emigrated. He and his husband moved into their dream house in East Quogue, Long Island. At last he would paint full time. Still very insecure about himself as a professional, he joined East End Arts (a nonprofit arts support organization) and took some work to gallery director Jane Kirkwood. “Well, you can certainly paint,” she commented, “but the subject matter is a bit boring.” Three Adirondack chairs in striking color and some David Hockney-like work is indicative of the period. “That put me on the road to where I am now.”
Participation in exhibitions began shortly thereafter. In 2015, Beston toyed with the idea of doing heavily textural work in order to be marketable. Gallerist Peter Marcelle disabused him of that idea in no uncertain terms. Beston was taken on, he was told, because he was original. That was the last time the artist considered painting anything outside the personal. (Beston is now represented in Long Island by Sara De Luca at ILLE Arts Gallery in Amagansett, NY.)
“When I was about 22, I did a little sketch of a Magpie on the seat of a red chair. I grew up with Magpies in the countryside. There was something about the color and something about a wild bird in a sophisticated, domestic interior, not its natural habitat; the juxtaposition. Finding the drawing again, a whole painting came to mind.
I read a book called The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human by Noah Strycker. Birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, yet so common, they’re mostly invisible to people. One chapter said that there are only five species of animal who can look in the mirror and know they’re looking at themselves: humans from about 2 ½ years on, elephants, dolphins, orangutans and magpies.”
The original sketch; Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie
The painting is called Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie. “When you look at it, you’re naturally going to see the eye first. The bird’s looking at you and at himself in the mirror. The print in the corner is Audubon’s Magpie, so there’s a connection from here to here (he gestures) showing the original inspiration. The chair is my grandfather’s. We have it downstairs.”
Beston has a heightened sense of the dimensional world and of one’s place in it. He relates to spatial positioning and literally grows uncomfortable when he doesn’t know where north is. Years as a film editor have fine tuned faculties that make the artist what he calls a noticer. “Just as in editing film, I look at everything 16 times over and choose the best one.” Composition and light are equally meticulous.
Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper
Another in this series, Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper (awarded First Place at East End Arts’ juried exhibition March 2017), is meant to present contrast. Beston’s work is compelling. The birds exist in, and reflect upon an unfamiliar room. He’s putting himself both in their heads and those of observers. Integrated decorative elements are unusual for a realist. His fastidious patterns neither take over nor retreat to background, they contribute.
A pelican stands at the bottom of a graceful Art Deco staircase staring across at a big, similarly colored chair. (Brown Pelican Confronts Yellow Chair.) A grackle is found atop a stack of books painted from life. The books are: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Poems and Prophecies by William Blake, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Nude by Kenneth Clark, and Audubon’s Birds of America. (The Pursuit of Knowledge.)
The Pursuit of Knowledge
This is a literary painter. ‘Not because of the aforementioned book titles, but because there’s an eloquence to his work that might easily translate to words; intellectual and psychological aspects to choices.
Palm Beach Stories
Beston’s most recent effort is an evocative, large scale series (3’6” x 6’) called Palm Beach Stories. Harking back to his career, each painting is titled after a film, but indicates the genre, not content. Like the rest of his oeuvre, each also considers aspects of the human condition. “That wasn’t my plan, but that’s what it’s become.” Scenarios are wryly unsettling. Color is so delicious it’s difficult to take note of the fact he limits his palette to variations on three to four colors a painting.
An important part of this series is the architecture to which Beston is drawn. He’s fascinated by the way structures impose on a space, changes that occur as one reacts to them from up close or far away.
Snapping pictures out a car window over 30 miles of Palm Beach, he accrued 350 images. Each painting began with a single element garnered from one of these shots. An idea formed, concepts were sketched. Beston then eliminated anything unessential to his vision on Photoshop (paring down is a signature approach) and looked for or created whatever else the picture demanded. Immensely skilled in the medium, he might use pieces of 20 photos. Scrolling through an evolutionary series on the monitor, one marvels at the homogeneous finale.
When Worlds Collide
When a montage is complete (subject to change elicited by size and color), Beston prints it out to the right proportions and grids it. The grid is then transferred to canvas much like the practice of Renaissance artists. This is accomplished in pastel which wipes away when he’s finished drawing on the surface. “The placing of every line and object is vital.”
When Worlds Collide (genre-Science Fiction) began with a geometrical house Beston took out of its suburban setting and isolated among lush greenery. Palm tree trunks are simplified so as not to catch one’s eye. Grass looks manicured. The street is stark, clean, deserted. Nothing smaller than a tree grows. In the top right hand corner, the scene is reflected in a sphere he conceives as a UFO. Which, Beston asks, is more alien, the visitors or this austere structure in situ?
Follow where your eye travels. It enters the painting top right, moves down the road, and takes the horizontal path. Instead of moving off the image, however, one naturally looks vertically along the edge of the house, above trees, to clouds moving right. Aria da capo, back to where you started. Beston’s intention is to keep a viewer contained in the loop.
Every design is worked out to occupy the eye within borders. “Otherwise the brain disengages,” he comments. “The longer someone is there, the more stuff goes on unconsciously. I plot an entry that will take you to a focal point. Unless the composition is satisfactory, it could be the most brilliant piece of art, but a failure.”
Controlling light is also important. The artist recollects working with filmmaker Ridley Scott whose constant experimentation with it was extraordinary. This brightly lit work also relates back to Velasquez, Goya and De La Tour. Source, time of day, and mood are taken into consideration. Shadows are as precise as perspective. “It’s the unconscious building of a real world… millions of clues and signals we unconsciously get all the time describe what people believe to be real.”
For Deep Impact. (Disaster) Beston used only the café from a photo. Greyhounds were made of a compilation of images. Reflected in the window, a meteor plunges earthward with only the canines to witness. Look closely and you’ll also see almost ghostly empty chairs inside. An architectural column is beautifully ornamented. The street light shadow is graphic. A large blank wall “suggests impending oblivion.” Not incidentally, it holds the scene together. And oh, the color!
In Out of The Past (Noir) an intense woman in a blue dress beside a yellow house at the corner of Mimosa and Primrose may be hiding a gun in the hand behind her skirt. Atmosphere is forbidding. Odd details include a tiny curb drain and a manhole cover. In While You Were Sleeping (Romance), we see the back of a man gazing longingly at a large house behind impenetrable hedges “touching on the complexity of desire and the imagined ideal.” Above floats a cloud formation that resembles a reclining nude woman. Who, Beston asks, is the sleeper, the inamorata inside or her hopeful suitor? (Or the observer.)
The painting in this article’s opening is called The Awful Truth (Farce/Black Comedy.) Beston photographed a conventional fast food joint changing its signage to Gator Gabe’s Bar and Grill—All You Can Eat. The “stupid little cartoon alligator” indicates futile attempt to civilize subtropical environs. A condo community is reflected in the front glass.
At right we see an actual alligator “the reality” making its way back to a swamp apparently beyond the establishment. At left, one of the city’s ubiquitous yellow Cameros, door open, passenger, Beston tells me, having fled. Contemporary versus ancient species occupying the same space. Though again, unsettling, it’s a hoot.
The Exhibition: Palm Beach Stories – Peconic Landing Auditorium,
Greenport New York
June 2-September 29, 2017
Peter Beston paints almost every day when he’s not in his garden. He loves it. “I paint realistically, but try to keep it on the side of painting. Otherwise you might as well take a photograph.” The work is skilled, imaginative, unconventional, scrupulous, captivating.
All quotes are Peter Beston. Photos courtesy of Peter Beston
For more information go to the website for Peter Beston.
Opening Photo: Beter Beston with The Awful Truth (in process)
Young Peter; The Lighthouse
The original sketch; Mirror Recognition in the Eurasian Magpie
Indigo Buntings Consider the Meaning of Wallpaper
The Pursuit of Knowledge
When Worlds Collide
Legendary British thespian John Hurt passed away on January 27th, 2017 at the age of 77 years old. Born in a small coal mining town in Derbyshire, England to former actress Phyllis Massey and Anglican Minister and Mathematician Arnould Hurt. An apathetic student, he would later find his true passion was acting. He was admitted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and would make his stage debut in 1962. He only really began to rise to prominence though, with his performance as the conniving Richard Rich in A Man For all Seasons in 1966.
From then on he worked pretty much constantly. Indeed his career which spanned over six decades would include over 120 film roles not to mention dozens of television appearances. Here are a few highlights. In 1976 his performance as English heroin addict Max in Midnight Express for which he won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1979, he played Kane in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien and was nominated for another BAFTA. In 1980, he played the titular character in The Elephant Man and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, and also won—another BAFTA. In 1984 he played Winston Smith in 1984, which won Best British Film of the Year at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. In 1997, he starred as crusty old civil engineer Chuck Langer in the award winning The Climb. He was creepy wand-maker Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter franchise, kindly, wise, old Professor Broom in Hellboy, totalitarian fascist leader Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta, and ancient vampire Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive.
One of his most recent appearances was that of rebel leader and mysterious mentor figure Gilliam in 2013’s Snowpiercer. The last film he was featured in before his death was Jackie alongside Natalie Portman as Father Richard McSorley. But fans will still have another chance to see him as Neville Chamberlain in the upcoming British war drama Darkest Hour directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) opposite Gary Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn.
God speed John Hurt. You truly were an Actor for All Seasons.
Top photo from Bigstock: John Hurt attends The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festival on May 25, 2013 in Cannes, France.
Morgan is not like other five year-olds. She has the appearance of a young adult, yet she was created and raised in a lab by a group of scientists who have become her de facto caretakers and parents. Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, also is super strong and when she’s upset or challenged apt to lash out with horrific results. After she kills a deer, she’s confined to quarters, a glass enclosed facility where she is constantly monitored. Not being able to roam free angers Morgan and her violence escalates, stabbing Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye.
Enter Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), sent by “corporate” to assess the situation. Are Morgan’s recent outbursts the result of a technical quirk that can be fixed? Or should she be terminated? Lee quickly realizes that those close to Morgan have lost all sense of objectivity. Rather than being able to evaluate what is happening from a scientific point of view, their emotional attachment to Morgan clouds their opinions. Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) arrives to conduct a psychological evaluation and refuses to do so with the glass wall between them. Morgan is provoked and Shapiro suffers the consequences. There’s now enough evidence that Morgan should be terminated. When the scientists balk at the order, Morgan escapes and all hell breaks lose. It’s up to Lee to track down and kill Morgan.
Mara, who also starred in Scott’s Oscar-nominated The Martian, adds to her impressive resume with this film. (Mara’s standout performance in Netflix’s House of Cards has won her many fans.) As the top billed actor in the film, she’s essentially opening it, a huge responsibility producers do not consider lightly because it directly impacts the bottom line. The trifecta of Mara, Scott, and Sci-Fi should ensure Morgan a strong box office at a time when summer films are fading.
With a running time around 90 minutes, Morgan is a thrill ride. Scott keeps the suspense growing. In the early scenes, Morgan seems harmless enough, particularly when she’s enjoying walks in the forest with Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie, Gwen from Downton Abbey and Ygritte in Game of Thrones). But the possibility of violence percolates under the surface. Taylor-Joy is chilling as the machine-like Morgan, never smiling and her ashen face a cross between a robot and a corpse, neither of which is reassuring. The two actresses are evenly matched in expertly staged fight scenes where the outcome is never certain.
Morgan opens nationwide September 2, 2016.
Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan – TM & © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
In further proof that Hollywood is out of fresh ideas for anything that doesn’t star someone wearing a cape, they’ve decided to do a completely unnecessary remake of the Charlton Heston classic Ben-Hur, coming out on August, 19. But to be fair to the movie executives, there is something especially appealing about films set in the days of Ancient Rome. Consider the following.
Julius Caesar (1953) This film adaption of the Shakespearean play was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz of All About Eve. Louis Calhern (The Asphalt Jungle, The Prisoner of Zenda) played the title role, while James Mason (The Boys From Brazil, Murder by Decree) played Brutus and won Best Actor Award from The National Board of Review which also awarded Julius Caesar Best Film. Marlon Brando as Marc Antony was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the BAFTA as did John Gielgud for his turn as Cassius.
Spartacus (1960) Directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Howard Fast, it tells the true story of a gladiator who began a slave uprising against the Roman Empire. Starring Kirk Douglas (in arguably his most iconic role) as the titular lead opposite Laurence Olivier as Roman general Crassus the film won four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Ustinov for his turn as slave trader Batiatus. Furthermore, its screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, and President Kennedy himself crossed picket lines to view the film! It became Universal Studios highest grossing picture to date, and “I Am Spartacus,” is part of the zeitgeist.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) This hysterical musical comedy farce based on the Broadway smash of the same name, was directed by Richard Lester (Help! The Three Musketeers) and had the legendary Zero Mostel (The Producers) reprising his stage role as Pseudolus as well as Jack Gilford (Cocoon) as Hysterium. Joining them were Lester favorites Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, and lastly Buster Keaton in what was his last motion picture performance. It won the Oscar for Best Musical Score; no surprise since the music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim.
Monty Python’s Life Of Brien (1979) Following Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the irreverent British comedy group wowed the world once more with this religious satire about how Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) a member of the People’s Front of Judea (one of a large number of divided Jewish independence groups who spend more time fighting each other than the Romans) around during the time of Christ gets mistaken for the actual Messiah. The film provoked gut belly laughter AND accusations of blasphemy from numerous religious groups. Ireland and Norway both banned its screening altogether. Despite (or rather because of) the controversy it became the fourth highest box office hit in Great Britain and the top grosser of any British film in the U.S. that year.
Gladiator (2000) This box office smash directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down) about how General Meridius (Russell Crowe) is sold into slavery, betrayed by the evil Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), sold into slavery. Meridius then rises through the ranks of the Gladiator arena scheming to avenge his murdered family. The film won Best Picture, Best Actor, as well as three others Oscars AND helped revitalize the historical epic movie genre.
Top photo from Bigstock.