I Made Beats for Saddam Hussein

In 2003, Nasrat Al-Bader was conscripted by the Iraqi dictator to compose war hymns. Following a series of frenzied events, he later emerged as the country’s most influential rapper-producer.

A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey France.

The screen shows voluptuous women jiggling about on the deck of a yacht, champagne flutes in hand. In their midst, a man shakes a half-empty bottle. He wears an open shirt, white pants, a gold chain, and a confident expression. The resemblance is striking: Nasrat Al-Bader is a dead ringer for the French rapper Lacrim in his music video for “A.W.A.”. He lights a cigarette, furrows his brow, and acknowledges it frankly: “The guy looks like me, but in front of a camera I’m always more handsome than he is.” Al-Bader’s face is marked with creases, his features hollow, the bags under his eyes pronounced, and his voice tortured. Thirty seven years old and not one spent in jail, unlike his doppelganger Lacrim. And yet, the big boss of Iraqi music has had a rather rougher path than his Francophone doppelgänger.

Saddam’s Beatmaker

Situated in northeastern Baghdad, Al-Bader’s studio is accessible from a dark street, guarded at its entry by armed officers. “The government wants to give me bodyguards, but I don’t care about that—I don’t need them. Everyone in this country likes me,” he claims. And yet, all throughout his life, Nasrat Al-Bader has never stopped flirting with death—chatting with it, on a first-name basis with it even, without ever actually succumbing to it. When he was 23 and Baghdad was being bombed by the US, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party requisitioned him with a gun against his temple. At that point, he was a young beatmaker, fresh out of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. “Since the early 2000s, a lot of musicians have fled Iraq, fearing war was coming,” he recalls. At the first bombings, the streets emptied as Iraqis fled the capital. “The problem was, Saddam Hussein needed propaganda clips and [war] hymns in order to encourage the national army and the people to fight the Americans. But his intelligence services couldn’t find a qualified sound engineer, composer or beatmaker.” So it was that Studio Hikmet became his gilded cage.

Nasrat Al-Bader, 15 years ago, when he was conscripted by Saddam Hussein to work at the Studio Himket. Photo by Sebastian Castelier/Noisey

Like a handful of singers requisitioned in the rush, Al-Bader’s goal was to compose 100 pieces, which would then be played on national television and radio. Under the increased surveillance of armed Ba’ath Party members, everyone had to compose despite the incessant noise from bombings. “Since the studio was facing one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, we heard bombs falling night and day.” Under the orders of the Iraqi leader, Al-Bader and his unfortunate colleagues were cooped up inside the studio. “We all slept there. Saddam Hussein made sure we stayed there until further orders,” he recalls, sitting against the backdrop of the acoustic panels in his studio.

Whisky and Cookies

It was at Studio Himket that Al-Bader developed an addiction to alcohol. Situated just across from the studio was a booth that offered bottles of whisky, which he bought in droves. The young beatmaker was drunk morning, noon, and night—a necessity, as far as he was concerned. “I diluted my glasses of whisky with water and I drank them one after another after another to forget the sound of the bombings. Sometimes I was close to a coma,” he recalls, looking at an empty vodka bottle in the shape of a Kalachnikov. In a month, the little group of prisoners succeeded in finishing the 100 pieces demanded of them. No bomb would fall on the Studio Hikmet.

In his Baghdad studio, Nasrat Al-Bader shows us a 15-year-old video which he edited himself while producing propaganda videos, a few weeks before the fall of Saddam Hussein on April 9, 2003. Photo by Sebastian Castelier/Noisey

But on the outside, the situation grew worse. The Iraqi army was about to be undone; the bombings were intensifying. The infamous Mohammed Saïd al-Sahhaf, Saddam’s brutal Information Minister, took refuge in the studio with his dozen bodyguards. In Iraq, he was one of the last faithful members of Saddam Hussein’s guard to inundate national radio and television with his propagandist lies. Nasrat Al-Bader was again requisitioned—this time, to accompany Sahhaf’s announcements with music. At Studio Hikmat, the widely feared minister would lose all his credibility: Like a rapper, Sahhaf insulted American soldiers, calling them “desert animals, swindlers, lackeys, colonialists, racists.” “He said that his army was fighting against the Americans, that they had shot down American planes and tanks, while in fact nobody—or almost nobody—knew that he was a recluse with me, and never so much as poked his nose outside,” Al-Bader smiles.

Time passed, and the men were still forced to remain bunkered in the studio. All of the minister’s bodyguards ended up making a break for it, and the food supply was rapidly dwindling. By the end, only a few packets of cookies were sustaining their hope of survival. “We couldn’t go out. The Americans, the crowd, or the bombs would have killed us,” Al-Bader recalls. “One day I was very hungry. I went to look in the reserve and the guy in charge told me that that son of a bitch Sahhaf had locked himself inside so he could finish off the cookies himself!” he laughs.

Nasrat Al-Bader in his studio in Baghdad. Photo by Sebastian Castelier/Noisey

Outside, the war finally ended. A large group of people arrived before the Studio Hikmat to demand the head of the Information Minister. Al-Bader surrendered national radio materials and machines to them. And yet, he didn’t turn over the man who yet had kept him prisoner for more than a month. “What became of Sahhaf after that? Well, he’s still alive. He joined his family who had fled to the United Arab Emirates,” he said, with a smile and no hard feelings.


“I hated them and I was afraid”

The singer finally stuck his feet outside for the first time in over a month. Baghdad was in ruins. His family had succeeded in taking refuge in the north of the country near Mosul, but he couldn’t join them. Cars and other means of transport to take him there were scarce. He was obliged once more to take refuge at Studio Hikmat. This time, new men awaited him, just as dangerous as their predecessors. “Before, under Saddam Hussein, the singers had a costume, a tie and neat hair. But after the regime, singers of another style appeared: Religious men. They wanted to interfere with Iraqi music and create another form of propaganda. The men who were there that day were part of the Mahdi Army [Shiite Islamist militia] and were the allies of the militia’s founder, Moqtada al-Sadr. They asked me to compose two Islamic melodies.”

Once again, Nasrat Al-Bader really didn’t have a choice. But when someone brought him lyrics, he stiffened, leaped from his chair, and got to work. The lyrics they gave him strongly insulted Saddam Hussein and praised Ayatollah Khomeini, the ex-enemy of the regime. “For a month straight, I’d been making music that sang Saddam’s praises. And 15 days later, I had to make music for lyrics calling on Saddam to go fuck himself. I asked the studio manager if it was reasonable to do this, since his partisans were still in Baghdad and they could’ve killed us. It had been only 15 days since he’d been the leader of Iraq, so you can bet I was scared.”

Nasrat Al-Bader in his studio in Baghdad. Photo by Sebastian Castelier/Noisey

The Iraqi leader was indeed MIA, leaving the populace in fear, wondering if he might return. But despite it all, Al-Bader was resolved to compose the songs demanded by the Shiite Daawa party. Meanwhile, there was a problem: He no longer had access to alcohol. The little whisky seller had been assassinated just after the arrival of the religious men. “I hated them and I was afraid. I needed that alcohol, and it was obvious. They’d realized I was suffering from withdrawal. So I told them point blank that I couldn’t work without it. Since [they needed me], they let me drink,” he recalls, chain-smoking slim cigarettes. This experience would go on for seven months, after which the musician would head to Damascus, the capital of Syria. There he would relearn to sleep again—and to live without drinking.

Four million dollars

In Damascus, Al-Bader continued making his music and produced famous songs, both sung and rapped. He came down hard on Americans, calling, via his music, for a resistance against the invader. “A peaceful resistance, of course. But you know, at that time, we couldn’t approach the Marines; we couldn’t speak with them for fear of getting killed,” he sighs. The Iraqi state of Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite leader propelled to power by the Americans after they had separated the Sunnis, placed the singer on a blacklist of terrorists to eliminate. “They called my family to say that if I didn’t stop, they’d send them all to prison.” From his exile in Syria, the young singer gained popularity. His committed words on the war had an instant effect in the Iraqi diaspora. “One day, Nouri al-Maliki called me personally and asked me to come back. He promised to strike me off the blacklist and give me four million dollars. In exchange I had to write a song to ask the Iraqi exiles to come back.” This was in 2008, just before the provincial elections. Iraq was in need of unity. The singer took the risk of returning, despite the possibility of it being a trap. But his return to Baghdad was triumphant. He was constantly visited by different members of political parties who wanted him to participate in their campaigns. Al-Bader refused to align himself with any party. He made, as promised, a solemn video clip in which he appeared before important Iraqi politicians while wearing a three-piece suit, his hair well-coiffed. He called for the end of terrorism and for the creation of a government equal to the beauty of Iraq.

Nasrat Al-Bader and his staff in his studio in Baghdad. Photo by Sebastian Castelier/Noisey

Ten years later, the bloody civil wars are only a memory, and attacks in Baghdad have become more rare. Today, the singer’s troubles have become a little more insignificant. Al-Bader launches the careers of today’s young talents, and some of his students aim to surpass their master, even going so far as to try and challenge him. “Some young singers whom I’ve put onstage and made famous, they’ve wanted to attack me and surpass me, even though I was the one who raised them up; I was their master. And these are kids, for that matter… they’re only drawn to it for the easy girls and the money,” he sighs. One of his friends pushes open the studio door, his hand filled with contracts and checks with multiple zeroes for the boss to sign. “I had some problems with the older generation too. But today they come to see me because I’ve got the money and I produce the best sounds in the country. I’m the showpiece in Iraq and they finally understood that. No one can make problems for me or say bad stuff about me.” The singer is part of a vast, ancient tribe called Al-Saidi. He says sometimes he can settle his squabbles with competitors via the tribe and its sheikhs. Competitive beef between high profile rappers? Unthinkable in Iraq. “They need to create that tension and agitate their fans to sell their CDs. But here, those sort of media-hyped stories wouldn’t work because Baghdad already has tension 24/7,” he laughs.

Quentin Müller is on Noisey.


By Quentin Müller translated by Nicola Rose photos by Sebastian Castelier

BELT UP! Rolls-Royce pull Skepta advert after rapper shown not wearing a seatbelt in back of £360,000 luxury car

ROLLS-Royce has pulled a video that showed grime artist Skepta being driven around while not wearing a seatbelt.

In the video the rapper is seen sitting in the back seat of a £360,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom with a friend, creating a song while being chauffeured not buckled up

Rolls-Royce has pulled a video staring rapper Skepta after road safety campaigners complained he wasn't wearing a seatbelt


Rolls-Royce has pulled a video staring rapper Skepta after road safety campaigners complained he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt

The clip has now been removed from Facebook and YouTube.

The Highway Code says all passengers must wear a seatbelt at all times.

Road safety campaigners were shocked that the luxury Brit car maker, released the video, which was filmed in Switzerland.

Jason Wakeford, director of campaigns for road safety charity Brake, said: “It appears as if seatbelts may not have been worn in this promotional video and, if that was indeed the case, we’d expect Rolls-Royce to be setting a much better example.

The rapper was being chauffeured around in a £360,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom

The rapper was being chauffeured around in a £360,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom

“Putting on a seatbelt only takes a few seconds, yet remains one of the most important things people can do to protect themselves in a vehicle.

“Failing to belt up is not only illegal, but it could also cost you and those around you their life.”

Under Swiss law, it is compulsory for all passengers to wear a seatbelt if they are fitted. According to the RAC, police officers can issue and collect on-the-spot fines of up to 200 Swiss francs (circa £150).

In the video, Skepta and his passenger are seen being driven around the Swiss Alps while he attempts to create a song on his laptop. On several occasions, the passenger leans forward and it’s clear that the pair are not wearing seatbelts.

Edmund King, president of the AA, added: “Perhaps Skepta, the great grime artist, should listen to his own song ‘It Ain’t Safe’ before rapping in the back of a Rolls-Royce, apparently not wearing a seatbelt.

“Remember ‘it ain’t safe’ ever to travel in any car, no matter how safe, without belting up.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council was unable to comment, but quoted UK legislation which states: “You must wear a seatbelt in cars, vans and other goods vehicles if one is fitted.

Edmund King, president of the AA, added: "Perhaps Skepta, the great grime artist, should listen to his own song 'It Ain't Safe' before rapping in the back of a Rolls-Royce, apparently not wearing a seatbelt."

Edmund King, president of the AA, added: “Perhaps Skepta, the great grime artist, should listen to his own song ‘It Ain’t Safe’ before rapping in the back of a Rolls-Royce, apparently not wearing a seatbelt.”

“Adults, and children aged 14 years and over, must use a seatbelt or child restraint, where fitted, when seated in minibuses, buses and coaches.

“Exemptions are allowed for the holders of medical exemption certificates and those making deliveries or collections in goods vehicles when travelling less than 50 metres.”

Drivers or passengers who break the law by failing to wear a seatbelt could face an on-the-spot fine of £100, or a maximum fine of £500, if prosecuted.

In 2010, Skepta tweeted: “Why don’t Cars have a button that says ‘I’M GONNA PUT MY SEATBELT ON IN A MINUTE NOW STOP F*%KIN BEEPING’.”
Think!, the government’s dedicated road safety website, says statistics show you’re twice as likely to die in a crash if you fail to buckle up.
Rolls-Royce failed to respond to requests for a comment and subsequently pulled the video from YouTube. Skepta could not be reached.



30 Under 30 Class Of 2018: The Young Stars, Visionaries And Creative Disruptors

 The burning desire of youth to reinvent the world. That ambition, confidence and impatience is on full display in our 2018 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30, our annual encyclopedia of creative disruption featuring 600 young stars in 20 different industries.

Jamel Toppin for Forbes

The 2018 FORBES 30 Under 30 — 30 game changers in 20 industries, all under 30 years old — is the most definitive gathering of today’s leading young change-makers and innovators in the U.S. Selecting these youthful visionaries is a year-round obsession. Now in our seventh year, with an alumni network closing in on 5,000 that spans the globe, this list continues to spotlight the impressive, the inspiring and the (genuinely) enviable.

It was originally inspired by the rising tide young entrepreneurs, mostly in the tech business, making big waves and earning even bigger bucks and world-wide followings. While their electrifying successes may be reflective of a booming economy, one thing is clear: never before has youth been such an advantage.

30 Under 30 2018: See Full Coverage

The Class of 2018: Off to the races

This year’s pool of 600 is especially dynamic. That kinetic energy is what the 2018 edition is all about. They are stretching the elasticity of their categories (outlined below) and challenging the traditional pipelines to industry fame and fortune. Consider the young scientist-cofounders in the R&D side of pharma in the health care sector, Leah Sibener and Marvin Gee, who are working on hot-wiring the body’s white blood cells to attack tumors. Or Austin Russell, the 22-year-old Stanford University dropout who is leapfrogging over autonomous vehicle technology in manufacturing.

30 Under 30 2018: Callouts

In education and social entrepreneurs, honorees are building companies to tackle the $1.4 trillion student loan debt crisis (Kelly Peeler of NextGenVest) and investing in housing so teachers are able buy homes in their students’ communities (Landed’s Jesse Vaughan). They are fusing social media into the millennial-dominated pet care industry (Philip Kimmey of Rover), science into the $26 billion U.S. floral trade (Venus ET Fleur’s Seema Bansal), and exotic cuisine into the everyday American palate (Peter Yang of Pokéworks). Fourteen honorees are still in their teens.

It’s an inspiring group. This year’s list of is packed with boldfaced names, such as actors Hailee Steinfeld and Amandla Stenberg, 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, top wide receiver Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, DJ-producer Marshmello and opera singer Jackie Evancho, supermodel Karlie Kloss, and digital star Gigi Gorgeous. All the others are names-to-must-know, including Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, California, real estate disruptor Ryan Williams, and the classic high school dropout-turned-multi-million-backed fiber optics entrepreneur Joseph Fasone.

They are in 24-karat company. Previous honorees include Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, musicians Kendrick Lamar and Adele, Olympic Gold Medalists Simone Biles and Shaun White, writer-actor Tavi Gevinson, Global Citizen cofounder Hugh Evans, and cult-worthy video game designer Kim Swift.

A walk through of the process:There are 20 categories with 30 honorees. The categories are Art & Style, Consumer Tech, Education, Energy, Enterprise Tech, Finance, Food & Drink, Games, Healthcare, Hollywood & Entertainment, Law & Policy, Manufacturing & Industry, Marketing & Advertising, Media, Music, Retail & E-commerce, Science, Social Entrepreneurs, Sports and Venture Capital. You can also sort through our popular editorial cuts: Big Money Startups (more than $15 million in funding), Celebrities and Youngest. Our “no repeats” policy insures new talent every year.

The competition is extremely fierce: 15,000+ nominations for just 600 spots. That’s an under 4% acceptance rate; making the 30 Under 30 harder to get into than the nation’s two most selective colleges, Stanford and Harvard University. Our staff sorts through the nominations and passes them on to an army of 50-plus expert staff reporters and editors.

This year we worked closely with 68 A-list judges to appraise the 20 categories,  including Cynthia Rowley (Art & Style); Kathleen Kennedy (Hollywood); Jim Breyer (Tech Consumer); Jim Bankoff and Elaine Welteroth (Media); Stewart Butterfield and Theresia Gouw (Enterprise Tech); Cindy Gallop and Bozoma Saint John (Marketing); and Steve Ballmer (Sports). We included one Under 30 alumni for each category, including Simon Biles (Sports); Rachel Bloom (Hollywood); Ashley Graham (Art & Style); Brian Stelter (Media); Emily Weiss (Retail & E-commerce); and Whitney Wolfe Herd (Consumer Tech).


Forbes U30

30 Under 30 2018 By The Numbers:

50%+ are founders or cofounders

53% started their business to solve a problem; 29% want their business to change the world

73% live or work on the two coasts: 35% on the West Coast; 38% on the East Coast

19% are immigrants from 50 countries

5 most attended universities (in order): Harvard University, Stanford University, Columbia University, MIT, University of Pennsylvania

No. 1 dream mentor (by far): Elon Musk. Others most preferred include Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates

40% describe millennials as Ambitious. Other most-used definitions: Inspired (24%), Adventurous (18%) and Idealistic (18%)

Nearly all describe success as achieving your potential (51%) or liking yourself and what you do (45%). Only 1% pursue success for fame and fortune.

40% believe Grit is the most important trait for entrepreneurs; followed by Passion (21%) and Vision (16%)

37% say Superman is their favorite superhero; followed by Iron Man (26%) and Wonder Woman (21%).

30 Under 30 2018: See Full Coverage


Caroline Howard for FORBES MAGAZINE

Oscars 2018: Who could be taking home the main awards?

Oscars 2017Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionWho could be following in Moonlight’s footsteps?

The Oscars are now 90 days away, and as the final three months of awards season approaches things seem markedly different to last year.

At this point in 2016, the best film race was widely thought to be pretty much over, with La La Land certain to take home the top prize.

It didn’t, of course – but that’s another story. The point is that right now, there are a number of films that look capable of being crowned best picture in March.

Critics’ groups and bodies like the National Board of Review (who describe themselves as a select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics and students) have been giving their verdicts, with opinions varying greatly.

Soon the various filmmaking guilds will make their choices public – and because some of their voters will be also be Academy Awards voters, it’s possible that the focus on who might win what may well tighten.

Right now, this is how things are looking for some of the films in contention.

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Christopher Nolan’s World War Two feature is probably just about the front runner for best film.

Fionn Whitehead in DunkirkImage copyrightWARNER BROS

For: Well-received by both audiences and critics, it tells a crucial slice of history.

Against: Although it picked up a best editing prize from the LA Film Critics Association, it was ignored by their New York counterparts. Could its momentum be waning?

Best chances: Best film, where it narrowly leads the pack, and best director. Surprisingly, Nolan has never received a directing nomination from the Academy.

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The Post

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in front of the camera, with Steven Spielberg directing a historic battle over press freedom – there’s much for awards voters to admire.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in The PostImage copyrightENTERTAINMENT ONE

For: The National Board of Review gave it their best film, actor and actress awards.

Against: There was no love from the New York nor LA critics.

Best chances: It’s always hard to bet against Streep getting a best actress nomination, and Hanks is overdue for an acting nomination after missing out in recent years.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand giving an outstanding central performance as a grieving mother in this darkly comic story.

Scene of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriImage copyrightTWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Image captionThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stars Frances McDormand

For: It picked up the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, often a key awards indicator.

Against: To some extent it’s divided American audiences, perhaps damaging its hopes of winning best film.

Best chances: Best film, and best original screenplay recognition looks certain, and Frances McDormand is currently the favourite for the best actress Oscar.

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Call Me By Your Name

A tender love story between a teenager and an academic, set in Italy.

Scene of Call Me By Your NameImage copyrightSONY
Image captionCall Me By Your Name was a Sundance sensation

For: The Los Angeles Critics Association gave it their top prize

Against: Strong in many categories, but without quite managing to be a front runner in any. Perhaps Timothee Chalamet’s performance is its best chance of awards success.

Best chances: A best film nomination looks certain. Darkest Hour’s Gary Oldman is the favourite for best actor, but if anyone can beat him it’s probably Chalamet.

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Lady Bird

A beautifully-told coming of age story, female-focused at all levels with Saoirse Ronan playing the lead, and Greta Gerwig directing.

Lady BirdImage copyrightUNIVERSAL

For: It’s currently the best reviewed film of all time, according to the Rotten Tomatoes site, with a 100% rating.

Against: The film makers who (mostly) make up the Academy voters don’t often agree with critics on what the absolute best film of the year might be.

Best chances: Saoirse Ronan should get a best actress nomination in what is an incredibly competitive year. Laurie Metcalf, who plays her mother, is leading the way for best supporting actress.

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The Shape of Water

An otherworldly romance between a mysterious aquatic creature and a mute girl, played by Sally Hawkins.

Sally Hawkins and Octavia SpencerImage copyrightTWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

For: Since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, it’s being wowing audiences.

Against: It might be that bit too far from the mainstream to make a huge awards impact

Best chances: Sally Hawkins is only a fraction behind current best actress favourite Frances McDormand.

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Get Out

Chris Washington, played by London-born Daniel Kaluuya, is drawn into the sinister underbelly of a small American community.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in Get OutImage copyrightUNIVERSAL
Image captionBritish actor Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams star as an interracial couple in Get Out

For: A huge box office hit that could benefit from a slowly-changing Oscar voting demographic.

Against: Opening so early in the year outside of awards season could hinder its chances.

Best chance: If there are nine or 10 best picture nominees, it could grab a spot. Jordan Peele’s screenplay looks certain to be recognised.

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Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman on blistering form as Winston Churchill.

Gary Oldman as ChurchillImage copyrightUNIVERSAL

For: Oldman’s seemingly effortless embodiment of the wartime leader has won almost universal praise.

Against: It’s not yet managing to win top honours from critics’ groups.

Best chance: Oldman has been the favourite for best actor since the film’s Telluride premiere.

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The Florida Project

A child’s eye view of life in a Florida motel community.

The Florida ProjectImage copyrightALTITUDE FILMS

For: Strong reviews, and praise for the performances – particularly from the children at the centre of the story, and Willem Dafoe, who plays the manager of the motel where they live.

Against: Could the film be seen as a film of great performances, rather than a truly great piece of cinema?

Best chances: Dafoe is probably the current front runner for best supporting actor.

The Academy Awards take place on 4 March, 2018.


Naked Mona Lisa By Da Vinci, Discovered In France, Is Rocking The Art World

Mona LisaLouvre

The one and only…until now.

It’s entitled ‘Joconde Nue’ and  ‘Monna Vanna,’ and French scientists studying the charcoal drawing of a topless woman with a face similar to that of the Mona Lisa, the best known  portrait in the world exposed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, believe it was at least partially painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Mona Lisa Nudemusee conde

For the past month, the drawing has been undergoing an appraisal in Paris at the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France. The experts have concluded that the figure might be a nude sketch of Mona Lisa drawn just before Leonardo painted the iconic portrait.

They also think that the drawing of the Joconde Nue, until now thought to have been done by Leonardo’s students, was “at least in part” done by the Italian master himself.

“The hatching on the top of the drawing near the head was done by a right-handed person,” Bruno Mottin, a conservation expert explained to Le Parisien. “Leonardo drew with his left hand.”

The piece, proved to be an original from Leonardo’s studio and not one of the 20 or so copies that exist around the world, has been at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, north of Paris, for more than 150 years since it was bought for 7,000 francs in 1862 by the Duke d’Aumale.

“It has a quality in the way the face and hands are rendered that is truly remarkable,” curator Mathieu Deldicque told the AFP. “It is not a pale copy.”

He also said the drawing was done “in parallel with the Mona Lisa, which was painted around 1503 at the end of Leonardo’s life,” and that it was very likely in preparation for an oil painting.

Although there are many differences, experts have noted that the torso and the hands are almost identical, and identify similarities in the enigmatic smile in the two paintings, which also are quite close in size, with the charcoal drawing showing pierced holes that suggest it could have been used as a backdrop to trace a second image.

The history of the Mona Lisa, according to the Louvre Museum, continues to be shrouded in mystery. “Among the aspects which remain unclear are the exact identity of the sitter, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo worked on the painting, how long he kept it, and how it came to be in the French royal collection,” the museum details on its website.

The portrait was begun in Florence around 1503 and its thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant named Francesco del Giocondo – hence the alternative title, “La Gioconda.” Leonardo seems to have taken the portrait to France rather than giving it to the person who commissioned it.

The Louvre curators hope to have answers to all the enigmas surrounding the erotic double of the best-known painting in the world in time for the start of the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death in 2019. The painting won’t be available for public viewing until the research is completed.


Article By Cecilia Rodriguez  for Forbes.