Art beat

15th October 1999 at 01:00
There were a couple of "taut thrillers" (or so the listings said) on television on Saturday evening, but I chose to curl up in front of a Spielberg video instead. Well, not quite Spielberg as we know and love him, and any posture suggesting relaxation would have been inappropriate. The Last Days (PG), on release in selected cinemas, takes no refuge in fiction, not even to the extent of Schindler's List, although it too deals with the Holocaust. There are no special effects and no attempts to manufacture suspense.

Alice Lok Cahana, Renee Firestone, Bill Basch, Irene Zisblatt and Congressman Tom Lantos are all Jewish Americans in late middle-age, survivors of Hitler's "final solution" in Hungary in the closing stages of the Second World War. They tell their own stories in their own words, often strained with emotion as they visit the remains of their childhood homes or the sites of concentration camps.

Private memories are intercut with newsreel film such as most adults will have seen snatches of before: gas ovens, piles of the dead being shovelled into pits, walking skeletons silently greeting their liberators at the camp gates - and Hitler basking in the adulation of his supporters.

Some of this, disturbing for anyone, will be extremely upsetting for young people all too aware that the grandparents on screen were teenagers when tragedy struck. Yet this unsensational presentation, shot in 35mm film and directed by James Moll, may well be the best way to bring home the enormity of events almost too terrible to imagine.

Irene was 16 and wearing a blue skirt when she was taken. Her mother, from whom she was parted for good, told her diamonds were sewn into her hem - they were to buy bread. Naked in the concentration camp, still obeying her mother, she swallowed the diamonds. She swallowed and retrieved them from the filthy latrines many times and now wears them fashioned into a tear-drop around her neck.

Alice, who finds expression for the unspeakable in her paintings, held a service with her two sons, both rabbis, for her lost younger sister. Tom, the only congressman who is a Holocaust survivor, speaks for human rights. Renee teaches other Americans about what she experienced.

These first-hand reports were collected by the Shoah Foundation, founded by Spielberg, who is the executive producer of this moving and unflinching film.

Meanwhile television has begun a post-Jurassic Park series, Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC 1, Mondays, our Pick of the Week on October 1), which does fictionalise. The animatronics and computer effects are quite good enough for us to be able to cope with questions and doubts about the research without having to pretend we are with the beasts at the watering-hole. Nevertheless, it's a good example of art and science working together.

Elsewhere in The TES you will find an advertisement for the Teachers Preview Club, organised by the Mousetrap Foundation in association with the TES and NASUWT, supported by the Arts Council of England and the London Arts Board. It provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to see plays before reviews are published.

For an annual fee of pound;15, members will receive a newsletter which will include at least eight ticket offers, most under pound;10, as well as information about productions, special events and workshops.

A thousand years of the English language will be celebrated on Radio 4 over the next few months, beginning today at 4pm (repeated on Tuesday at 1.30pm) with the 12-part The Routes of English presented by Melvyn Bragg. Both geographical and chronological, the first six programmes explore the way English has been shaped by invasion, immigration, commerce and Empire; the second six tackle themes such as swearing and new words.Today's programme comes from Wigton in Cumbria, Melvyn Bragg's home town, where he found Norse words mixing with others of Romany or Raj origins. Next week's, from Winchester, begins with the monk Aelfric at the turn of the last millennium and considers English as a teaching medium. A book, with two CDs included, is available from the BBC at pound;12.99

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