Tony Garnett, RIP

13th January 2020

John Wyver writes: How sad to wake up this morning to the news of the death of a truly great television producer and filmmaker, and also a wonderful man, Tony Garnett. Here’s the Guardian story, with a 2016 photograph above by Sarah Lee, reporting his passing at the age of 83. There’s so much to say about his significance to British television from Up the Junction (1965) to This Life (1996-97) and beyond. There’s an excellent website about his work, and fortunately Tony wrote a fascinating memoir, much of which is about the extraordinary events of his early life, The Day the Music Died.

I’ll offer some further thoughts over the next couple of days, but by way of a tiny tribute here is the delightful interview that I conducted with him some six years ago about his work as an actor in the BBC’s ground-breaking History plays cycle, An Age of Kings (1960). We’ve released the full series on DVD and it is available here.

Film links for the new year

11th January 2020

John Wyver writes: for your consideration – a selection of recent cinema-related stuff that I have found engaging and enriching.

Newspaper women and the movies in the USA, 1914-1925: the great scholar Richard Abel writes for the Women Film Pioneers Project about women who wrote and edited film columns in the silent period; fascinating, with some lovely page grabs – including the Virginia Dale column above from the Chicago Tribune.

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New year, new blog?

9th January 2020

John Wyver writes: The end of last year was a shameful time for this blog, in large part because I posted ridiculously infrequently. Shortage of time was one factor, linked to a host of personal and professional pressures. But I don’t think it was just that.

After all there was lots that I wanted to write about: new productions and releases from Illuminations, a cornucopia of links that I was keen to share, exhibitions and films and books and television that I wanted to celebrate and, on occasion, to critique. Much as I’ve always done. But now there’s the sense that no-one reads blog posts any more – and as a consequence no-one writes them. Except of course they do. So I’m going to have another go. aiming to contribute two or three pieces a week, even if they are really short and snappy contributions.

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Sunday links

9th October 2019

John Wyver writes: again it’s Wednesday before I post Sunday links (and it’s a bit austere so far), but here are links to writing and video that has caught my eye over the past week or so. First up, a group of literary articles: Zadie Smith on fiction, an essay by Helen Lewis recent adaptations of Jane Austen, and then two truly glorious review essays about two of the biggest, baddest white male wordsmiths in the USA in the 1960s.

• Fascinated to presume – in defense of fiction: by Zadie Smith, for New York Review of Books. Brilliant

• Restoring the sex and rage to Jane Austen: Helen Lewis for The Atlantic on ITV’s Sanditon and Laura Wade’s The Watsons.

Scavenger of eternal truths: for the TLS, Thomas Meaney on Norman Mailer in the 1960s…

Malfunctioning sex robot: and Patricia Lockwood for LRB is just wonderful on John Updike’s novels from 1959-65.

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Sunday links

2nd October 2019

John Wyver writes: I’m late, I’m late, but even though it’s Wednesday let’s pretend that I posted this week’s links last Sunday. As I attempt to do on a regular basis (although too often fall short) here are links to articles and videos that have engaged me over the past few days.

The Thinking Machine 32 – Rearrangement: the critics, curators and media makers Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin are among the smartest and most sophisticated creators of video essays, and their latest (below) for the Dutch online film magazine De Filmkrant is (for those of us interested in film style and film criticism) is especially strong. This is their description of what it involves:

In 1956, the 36-year-old film critic and budding filmmaker Éric Rohmer went wild over an American Western, Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier (1955). In line with his Cahiers du cinéma colleague André Bazin, he saw in it a vision of space and landscape, a holistic reality captured in an almost geometric aesthetic. His close description of a particular scene is partly exact, and partly a fantasy. Let’s listen to this fascinating text from long before the age of VHS or DVD, and place it against the scene itself.

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To the stars

30th September 2019

John Wyver writes: At the weekend I enjoyed Ad Astra, the new sci-fi film with Brad Pitt directed by James Gray. It’s an intelligent, interior tale with strong action sequences and exquisite visuals courtesy of DoP Hoyte van Hoytema. Hoytema’s credits include Interstellar and Dunkirk with Christopher Nolan (and the director’s forthcoming Tenet), Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Sam Mendes’ Spectre. And for the visuals of Ad Astra Hoytema and Gray drew inspiration from a perhaps surprising source: the films and videos of the American avant-garde. On 12 October New York’s Museum of the Moving Image is showing a programme of this work — and I’ve gathered a number below; h/t to artist John Sanborn for alerting me to this via Facebook). The institution’s website explains the background:

While in pre-production on his science-fiction epic Ad Astra, director James Gray was searching for ways to develop a new visual grammar for a cinematic depiction of outer space. He turned to an unlikely source for help: two scholars and curators of experimental media. Over the course of a year, Leo Goldsmith and Gregory Zinman put together notes, quotes, and research on over forty films for Gray and his production team. Their brief was to provide Gray with examples of how artists of the last twenty-five years had addressed themes of space and isolation in their work.

This program highlights the films and videos of those artists in order to illuminate the ways that Ad Astra developed its powerful aesthetic. From painted film to digital abstraction, and from Afrofuturist music video to essayistic video-collage, these works provide insight into the diverse material and conceptual approaches to the cosmos the filmmakers drew upon.

For more, there’s a fascinating, lengthy interview with the two curators in Filmmaker magazine.

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Sunday links

22nd September 2019

John Wyver writes: I seem to be getting back to weekly postings of links to stuff that has engaged and intrigued me over the past week – and here’s this week’s list. In particular, I have been reading reviews of and responses to Benjamin Moser’s new authorised biography of Susan Sontag, including:

The dauntingly erudite, strikingly handsome woman who became a star of the New York intelligentsia when barely thirty, after publishing the essay ‘Notes on Camp,’ and who went on to produce book after book of advanced criticism and fiction, is brought low in this biography. She emerges from it as a person more to be pitied than envied.

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Sunday links

15th September 2019

John Wyver writes: this week’s collection of links to interesting articles and videos, with grateful thanks to all those who alerted me via Twitter and in other ways.

The great American photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank died this week. As for so many, his collection The Americans (above, ‘Restaurant – U.S. 1 leaving Columbia, South Carolina’, 1955), as a book and then as a 2009 exhibition at the Met, was revelatory for me. Here’s a selection of articles published this week:

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Thank you, Jimmy

12th September 2019

John Wyver writes: The director and television drama executive James Cellan Jones died recently at the age of 88. He was a very fine studio director who started working with the BBC in 1963, and who later became Head of Plays, 1976-79. Among his achievements was directing episodes of the game-changing serial The Forsyte Saga in 1967. In 2005 Kaleidoscope published his entertaining memoir Forsyte and Hindsight: Screen Directing for Pleasure and Profit. An outline filmography is here, and there is a short tribute from BAFTA here. I’ll add any obits that I come across, but in this post I want to contribute a short expression of thanks for a kindness that he did for me right at the start of my professional life.

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‘The Doll’s Breath’

11th September 2019

Thrilling news from our friend and colleague Keith Griffiths, who writes the following on his Facebook page:

After three years of painstaking animation and production, tonight, Wednesday 11 September, sees the world premiere of The Doll’s Breath, the new 22-minute animated film from the Brothers Quay. It will be a Special Screening at the 25th Edition of the L’ÉTRANGE Festival held at the Forum Des Images, Paris

There will be a repeat screening on Friday and the Brothers are attending both, and conducting a Q&A afterwards. The film is inspired by Felisberto Hernández’s Las Hortensias and is the second time that the Brothers have based a film on his fantastical stories. In this one Horacio, a former window dresser, sets up complicated charades where women and life-sized dolls change places in a web of jealousy, betrayal and murder.

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