Monday links

18th September 2017

I have just returned from a fascinating three-day trip to St Petersburg (of which more tomorrow), so the Links post is a day late [and still a bit of a work in progress]. In other respects it is much as I try (but too often fail) to do each week, highlighting things that have intrigued and interested me in recent days. My thanks as always to those who, on Twitter and elsewhere, alerted me to many of these.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA: anyone fancy paying me to write about this remarkable new group of exhibitions in Los Angeles co-ordinated by the Getty Center? I’d love to go. This is the third Pacific Standard Time initiative, and on this occasion it’s ‘a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles’. Spread across 70 institutions, it also offers a good deal of fascinating stuff online, some of which I will focus on in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here is their trailer and a few initial press responses:

• Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA – the perfect exhibition for Trump’s America: Lanre Bakare for the Guardian.

• The beach, the border and Donald Duck doing the samba: inside Pacific Standard Time LA/LA: another Guardian piece, from Paul Laity.

• In a heated political moment, the ambitious Latino art series Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA opens: Matt Stromberg for the Los Angeles Times.

• Datebook – Pacific Standard Time in full swing, with video, photography, sculpture and pre-Columbian artisanry: Carolina A. Miranda, also for the Los Angeles Times, on the first batch of shows.

read more »

Peter Hall put the RSC on screen

13th September 2017

Much is being written about the truly extraordinary achievements of Sir Peter Hall, whose death at the age of 86 has been announced. Mark Lawson’s piece for the Guardian is already a highlight: deeply informed, admiring but far from uncritical. And Michael Billington’s obituary is here. I feel especially close to one strand of his work with the RSC, which he brought into existence in 1961, since I am writing a book about film and television adaptations of the company’s work. Soon after Peter Hall transformed the Stratford Memorial Theatre company into the RSC he was pushing for it to do television and a little later in the decade he was one of the key figures that led to the setting up an – ultimately unsuccessful – film partnership.

Even if some of the television broadcasts with which he was involved no longer survive, we do have – in large part thanks to Peter Hall – remarkably rich moving image traces of the RSC in the 1960s. And part of his legacy is a number of major adaptations, including a 1959 television (which was never broadcast) and a 1969 movie version of his Stratford production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a compelling version of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, and a television masterpiece, The Wars of the Roses (which we were thrilled to release on DVD last year). read more »

Jean-Michel and us

11th September 2017

Opening later this month at Barbican Art Gallery is Basquiat: Boom for Real (21 September – 28 January) . The first substantial retrospective in this country of the work of Jean-Michael Basquiat, it is one the hot exhibition tickets of the autumn. Advance press is already offering some really good reads, a selection of which is included below (and which I’ll update over the coming weeks). Illuminations has a greater interest in this show than in most because in October 1985 we filmed with Jean-Michel in New York for our Channel 4 series State of the Art. You can purchase here a DVD of the 6 episodes of State of the Art (Jean-Michel is in the final programme), and we are also delighted to be distributing in this country Jean-Michel Vecchiet’s recent film biography of the painter, which is available here. All in all, the material we filmed back in 1985 has had quite an afterlife, with – for starters – extracts on view in the exhibition and a few frames in this Barbican trailer.


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Sunday links

10th September 2017

Links to articles that have intrigued, interested and informed me in the past week. Grateful thanks to all those who pointed me towards them, and apologies for not including more than this collective credit. I’ll start with one of the best, and best-written, pieces of political analysis of recent days..

The first white president: for The Atlantic, Ta-Nahisi Coates on Tr*mp.

The risk of nuclear war with North Korea: remarkable reporting from Pyongyang by Evan Osnos for The New Yorker.

• Kate Millett, ground-breaking feminist writer, is dead at 82: Parul Sehgal and Neil Genzlinger for The New York Times do a good job explaining the significance of Sexual Politics, published in 1970. And as my friend Billy Smart mailed me to recommend this piece:

People will still be reading Sexual Politics for generations, but I can’t say too emphatically that she was a terrific memoirist – Flying, Sita and The Loony Bin Trip are indelible exercises in emotional honesty that capture interior understanding of how betrayal, or sexuality or mental illness actually feels with a sensitivity that can be breathtaking to read.

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Not quite the last night

9th September 2017

This evening BBC radio, television and online present the Last Night of the Proms with soprano Nina Stemme (above) from the Royal Albert Hall. Although not for me. My reckoning is that I will get to the Last Night about 10 or 11 nights from now. For me, today is all about Prom 59: La Clemenza di Tito from Glyndebourne, which the Proms and the BBC presented on 28 August. Which is where I am in my more-or-less chronological journey through all of this year’s concerts. For thanks to the download capabilities of BBC Radio iPlayer I am listening to each and every one of the 2017 Proms concerts. This is the third year I’ve done this – and I cannot recommend the experience too strongly. read more »

Sunday links

3rd September 2017

Once more, I return to the blog with, I hope, sufficient energy to see us through at least part of the autumn. So to start with, as I’ve contributed in the past (even if not too often recently) here are recent links to articles and videos that I have found interesting. My thanks to all those who brought them to my attention. No Brexit and no Trump (or at least not much) this week, but Vietnam instead.

• Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tackle the Vietnam War: the new 10-part, 18-hour documentary series The Vietnam War – ‘carefully evenhanded’ in tone – begins screening on PBS in the States on 17 September; and it’s likely to be a highlight of the BBC schedules this autumn too – here’s an initial primer from Jennifer Schessler for The New York Times.

• Why The Vietnam War is Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s most ambitious project yet: further background from David Kamp for Vanity Fair.

Ken Burns’s American canon: Ian Parker profiles the filmmaker for The New Yorker.

• Shot by shot: building a scene in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Vietnam epic: a fascinatingly detailed analysis of how The Vietnam War created the nearly-15 minute sequence about the battle of Binh Gia, which took place in late December 1964, 40 miles southeast of Saigon.

The official website is here, and this is a PBS preview:

read more »

First Julius Caesar thoughts

24th July 2017

I’m absurdly late to this, I know (blame my holiday), but here’s an introductory post about the screen version of Julius Caesar that we are immensely proud of co-producing with the Donmar. Phyllida Lloyd has directed a screen version of her stage production which is one part of a Shakespeare trilogy with an all-female cast led by Harriet Walter (above). The three plays were presented by the Donmar in a specially built theatre at King’s X in the months running up to Christmas late year, and we have also filmed Henry IV and The Tempest. Details of these releases are to come, but Julius Caesar had its premiere last month at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and then just under a fortnight ago it began a limited theatrical release in UK cinemas (with a handful of dates still to come). The film will go out into the world in other ways too, and plans for those are just now being finalised. Extracts from reactions are below, but first here is the trailer for the film.

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‘Missing’ links

23rd July 2017

Six weeks since I last posted. We’ve recorded another stage performance for BBC Two and a classical concert for Sky Arts – details of both of those soon. Our co-production with the Donmar of Julius Caesar has been launched into the world, and I’m just returning from a glorious fortnight in la France profonde. Above is the house where we were staying, close to the small town of Puylaroque. To ease myself back into this, here are some interesting links from the past few weeks.

Eurozones – the Brexit landscape: a remarkable (and hugely useful) visualisation of what are laughingly called the ‘options’, from information is beautiful.

Populism’s perfect storm: a wide-ranging essay for Boston Review by  that brings together a lot of recent stuff, by Rogers Brubaker, Professor of Sociology and UCLA Foundation Chair at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Discovering Kinemacolor: Luke McKernan on ‘the world’s first successful natural colour motion picture system’, widely used in the seven or eight years after 1908; illustrated with some great framegrabs.

• The thinking machine 9 – The Sea Speaks: a new and beautiful video essay by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin, drawn from the interwar films of Jean Epstein:

The Thinking Machine 9: The Sea Speaks from De Filmkrant on Vimeo. read more »

Visiting VR: Mat Collishaw’s ‘Thresholds’

10th June 2017

To Somerset House to experience Mat Collishaw’s VR artwork Thresholds. You have only until tomorrow, 11 June, to see this – and I would definitely recommend a visit, although you’ll certainly need to book.  Hannah-Ellis Petersen wrote for the Guardian about the background to the exhibition, Mat Collishaw restages restages 1839 photography show in virtual reality, and this is from the press release for the show:

Using the latest in VR technology, Collishaw is set to restage one of the world’s first major exhibitions of photography for contemporary audiences. Visitors will travel back in time to 1839, when British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot first presented his photographic prints to the public at King Edward’s School in Birmingham.

The experience will be a fully immersive portal to the past; visitors can walk freely throughout a digitally reconstructed room, and will be able to touch the bespoke vitrines, fixtures and mouldings; even the heat from a coal fire will be recreated. Infrared sensors will track visitors’ movements, creating ghostly avatars that indicate their position and enhance the feeling of travelling through time. Collishaw has also created a soundscape to accompany the exhibition: the demonstrations of the Chartist protesters who rioted in 1839 on the streets of Birmingham, and who can be glimpsed through the digital windows.

The original 19th-century exhibition, staged by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, celebrated cutting edge technological innovation. Many new inventions were premiered there, a number of which have been faithfully researched and digitally reconstructed for today’s audiences. Unfortunately, Fox Talbot’s original images have faded almost beyond recognition with several of the surviving photographs existing only in light-proof vaults. Thresholds not only restages an important historical exhibition but provides a way to view images that have since been lost to the public.

So how was it for me? read more »

Armchair drama

8th June 2017

Next Thursday, 15 June, as part of the conference Britain, Canada and the Arts at Senate House in London, which I have helped to draw together, I am introducing a special screening (open to all) of two television drama productions from the ground-breaking series Armchair Theatre. The context is an exploration of the pioneering producer Sydney Newman who came to Britain in 1958 after working for Canadian television. There’s lots I want to write about the two exceptional dramas that we’ll show, and I intend to do that over the next couple of days, but first let me enthuse about the interest and quality of both – and suggest that the screening, which is open to all, is something that you might want to put into your schedule.

Armchair Theatre was started by the ITV company ABC Television before Sydney Newman arrived in Britain, but its Sunday night strand quickly became associated with his commitment to original dramas engaged with contemporary issues. This screening is a rare opportunity to see two of the surviving productions, the first a social drama of working-class life and the other an ambitious tale of the space race with an intriguing Canadian connection. The pairing also highlights the talents of two of the directors who first worked with Newman at CBC in the mid-1950s and then followed him to Britain, Ted Kotcheff and Chalres Jarrott.

Lena, O My Lena (1960)

Writer: Alun Owen; director: Ted Kotcheff; producer: Sydney Newman; 50 minutes.

Alun Owen’s play is set in a Lancashire factory, and is among the most distinguished examples of the series’ social realist drama. A cross-class tale of love, it features Peter McEnery (pictured above) as a young student and Billie Whitelaw as a hard-bitten factory worker. Director Ted Kotcheff demonstrates an innovative approach to the developing conventions of studio drama and draws exceptional performances from a cast that also includes Colin Blakely.

The Man Out There (1961)

Writer: Donal Giltinan; director: Charles Jarrott; producer: Sydney Newman; 50 minutes.

Patrick McGoohan is a Russian astronaut who is trapped in orbit by malfunctioning equipment. Freak electric storms mean that the only person he can communicate with is Marie, played by Katharine Blake, who is herself caught in blizzard in a remote Canadian cabin. He has to work out how to get home, she has to deal with a mortally ill child. Imaginative direction by Jarrott enlivens this space race tale shown just a month before Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.