Nonsensical, no?

Nonsensical, no?

Imagine, if you will, the publication, with significant support from public funds, of a lavish monograph about a major British artist. The volume is lively, intelligent and, most likely, will be a definitive statement about the artist for the next decade and more. The cost of, let’s say, one hundred thousand pounds of our money is regarded by publishers and readers alike as money well-spent. But now let’s suppose that this book is only available for four weeks. For historical reasons, it disappears after a month into a vault, only to appear fleetingly at moments that no-one can predict. Otherwise it exists solely in samizdat copies passed surreptitiously from one interested party to the next. Nonsensical, no? Yet that is the state of affairs with most arts documentaries (and other programmes) for most people most of the time. And recent accomplished films from Waldemar Januszczak (above) and Andrew Graham-Dixon demonstrate just how daft the current system is.
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Sunday links

Sunday links

At his Confessions of an aca-fan web site, Henry Jenkins discusses a richly illustrated and fascinating post from the USC Civic Paths research group, The visual culture of the occupation: month one and counting. The stand-off at St Paul’s makes this study of the images created by #Occupy movement all the more pertinent. ‘The Civic Paths team has been studying alternative forms of activism,’ Jenkins explains, ‘especially those which involve the intersection between popular culture, participatory culture, and youth, for more than two years.’ And he adds his own gloss to the visual analysis: ‘Occupy is not so much a movement, at least not as we’ve traditionally defined political movements, as it is a provocation. If the mainstream media has difficulty identifying its goals, it may be because its central goal is to provoke discussion, to get people talking about things which our political leadership has refused to address for several decades now.’ Below, the usual Sunday miscellany of further links to good stuff.
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Something for the weekend

Something for the weekend

The ‘YouTube film’ Life in a Day is up on YouTube now in a great print. For this ground-breaking project 4,500 hours of footage shot on 24 July 2010 was contributed as 80,000 items from people around the world and director Kevin Jackson carved out the impressive ninety-minute cut. On its theatrical release David Gritten for the Telegraph spoke with the director and the Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver reviewed the film. Andrew Schenker for Slant offered an alternative view: ‘Drawing on a horde of pedestrian user-generated content, embracing a faux-populism of the least committed variety, the film aims to celebrate a humanity that may embrace different customs and beliefs, but is essentially the same all over. In Macdonald’s project, what ultimately unites mankind is its banality.’ And in the rest of this post, more free suggestions for viewing alternatives this weekend.
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No birthday, please, we’re the BBC

No birthday, please, we’re the BBC

Next Wednesday, 2 November, is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the start of the world’s first regular high definition television service. Given that this pioneering service was the BBC’s from Alexandra Palace, you might think that the corporation would make a bit of a song and dance to mark the occasion. I remember the fortieth anniversary, when the schedules were packed with archive repeats. For the fiftieth Jack Rosenthal was commissioned to write The Fools on the Hill, a play about the first days at AP. And this time? There’s a slightly miserable supplement in Radio Times (eight pages, three of which are John Lewis ads), and a BBC Four repeat of The Fools on the Hill. Oh, and another repeat – of an Imagine made for the seventieth anniversary. And, er, that’s it. Is the BBC embarrassed by its age?
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‘That prince of editors’

‘That prince of editors’

I have been immensely saddened this evening to learn of the death, at the age of 74, of the designer, illustator and art critic Peter Campbell. You may know of him as the man who, since 1992, has created the fortnightly cover of the London Review of Books. Diana Souhami’s delightful tribute to Peter that is her Guardian obituary points out that for the first four years these covers often featured one of his monochrome photographs. But since 1996 they have been the delicate, poised colour illustrations that have been among the magazine’s most distinctive features. Peter also designed the magazine’s generous layout (and its just as generous Bloomsbury bookshop) and he contributed a regular column of thoughtful art criticism distinguished by his precise observations and unshowy intelligence. I cherish the two watercolours of his that hang on my walls, and I am happy to say that he was a friend of mine.
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The best just got better

The best just got better

What’s the best museum or gallery in the world? You can say it depends what you mean by ‘best’, or you can respond by asking ‘best for what?’ But however you spin it, there’s really only one answer: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Its collections, from the ancient world to the contemporary, are simply unparalleled. The scholarship is exemplary. The exhibitions, essential. The displays, immaculate. The whole kit and kaboodle unrivalled. (For a taste, see my A Sunday at the museum post.) And now, with the press opening this week of fifteen (and this is the Met’s preferred title) Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia – very roughly and problematically, ‘Islamic Art’ – the best just got a whole lot better.
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Potter play preserved

Potter play preserved

BFI Southbank’s December programme booklet arrives, and with it  the thrilling news (on page 8) that a television play by the late Dennis Potter that was long thought lost has now been found. The annual Missing Believed Wiped presentation – this year on Sunday 11 December – will include a screening of Potter’s Thirty Minute Theatre: Emergency Ward 9, which was broadcast live on Easter Monday, 11 April 1966. The script has been available to scholars, but Humphrey Carpenter in Dennis Potter: The Authorised Biography writes, ‘The play was recorded during transmission, and repeated the following year, but the recording had been made on the newly available electronic videotape system, and to save costs it was eventually wiped.’ Not so, seemingly, and now we’ll have the chance to judge a play which, according to Carpenter, ‘in retrospect looks like a trial run for the hospital strand of The Singing Detective‘ (above).
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Sunday links

Sunday links

The influential media theorist Friedrich Kittler (above, in 2010) died on 18 October. Stuart Jeffries last week contributed an erudite and elegant obituary in the Guardian (‘arguably, Pink Floyd meant more to him than Foucault’). Mubi.com has a round-up of reactions to his death. For anyone who wants something a little more testing, there is a very good online interview conducted by John Armitage, published in 2006 in Theory, Culture & Society (and available as a free .pdf). Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, published in an English translation in 1999, is a comparatively readable and engaging history of the changes brought about technological change at the end of the nineteenth century. I saw him speak once, in Berlin, and it was a memorable presentation – I was sorry to learn of his death. Below, further links from the past week, some of which are a little happier.
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Something for the weekend

Something for the weekend

Now that I’m back online, here are this weekend’s recommended viewing choices. The visual arts event of the week was the opening of the Turner Prize 2011 exhibition at BALTIC, and there are brief interviews with the four short-listed artists on the Channel 4 web site. These are the shorts made by Tate, only one of which (with Tate branding) is so far also available via the gallery’s online channel as Turner Prize 2011 – George Shaw; in this, the artist speaks about his rigorously detailed paintings of a Coventry housing estate (detail above from The age of bullshit, 2010′; courtesy Wilkinson).
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Radio Times: goodbye and hello

<i>Radio Times</i>: goodbye and hello

In a blog post today the Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade notes that BBC Worldwide is just about to pass ownership of Radio Times to the venture capital company Exponent. I am surprised that there has not been more comment on this. I know that there are safeguards and relationships in place, but even so this is a momentous change in a relationship that started eighty-eight years ago. It was in early 1923 that John Reith, newly appointed general manager of the newly founded British Broadcasting Company, dreamt up the idea of Radio Times. Within a few years the magazine had a circulation of over one million and its profits were helping the BBC through tough financial times. As historian Asa Briggs wrote,  ‘There were few more spectacular successes in the journalism of the inter-war years.’
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