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.

Sunday links

21st May 2017

This week’s selection of links to articles and one video that have attracted my eye and ear, with my thanks to those who pointed me towards them. And just for a change, let’s ignore the idiocies of the public world and begin with some cinema links…

Wayward ways and ways not taken: David Bordwell contributes a brilliant post after viewing nearly a hundred American features from 1914-1918 at the Library of Congress. As he writes, the experience ‘drove home to me how excitingly strange movies can sometimes be.’

Good Morning – structures and strictures in suburbia: for The Criterion Collection, Jonathan Rosenbaum on Yasujiro Ozu’s 1959 masterpiece.

• How Woody Allen’s Manhattan became Donald Trump’s New York: Leo Robson for New Statesmen spins an engaging essay about the city.

Fellow feeling: Aliza Ma for Film Comment writes on the new restoration of R.W. Fassbinder’s 1972 mini-series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (above). read more »

‘The Frighteners’ forgotten no more

15th May 2017

Today the wonderful people at Network release a DVD of 13 half-hour thrillers made by LWT in 1972 as the anthology strand The Frighteners. Their description is as follows:

Featuring the talents of John Thaw, Ian Holm, Warren Clarke, Ian Hendry, Tom Bell, Ray Smith and Robert Urquhart, The Frighteners features thirteen haunting tales of malice and manipulation, vengeance and mounting terror. It features stories from acclaimed novelist and playwright William Trevor, Bouquet of Barbed Wire author Andrea Newman, Get Carter writer/director Mike Hodges and Secret Army co-creator Wilfred Greatorex.

My copy is on its way, and I’ll write again when I’ve taken a look, but irrespective of what I think of the series, the simple fact of the release is well worth celebrating. In part this is because the title is yet one more contribution to Network’s truly wonderful work in making accessible much of the extant drama in ITV’s archives. This is a public service of great value to all of us interested in television history – and the fact that it is being achieved in a commercial context is only one of its remarkable aspects. read more »

‘Country’: a television masterpiece

15th May 2017

On Tuesday night BFI Southbank screens a film that is, for me, one of the singular masterpieces of television drama, Richard Eyre’s film Country from a script by Trevor Griffiths. Made for BBC Television in 1981, this rarely-seen 80-minute drama scrutinises an upper-class family in the eve of the Labour election victory in 1945. A peerless cast includes James Fox, Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller and Penelope Wilton. Why this film is not widely recognised as one of the key British cultural achievements of the late 20th century is a mystery to me – although of course the fact that it was made for (what was then then, as still it is now to a degree) the less respectable small screen, rather than the cinema, is part of the answer. So too is the fact that the film has never been available on VHS or DVD.

It is a great, complex, powerful, richly imagined work – and the chance to see it on a large screen is one not to be missed. (Although frustratingly I have to, since I will be in Stratford-upon-Avon prepping next week’s live relay of the RSC’s Antony & Cleopatra.) As I noted last week, in 1984 BFI Publishing released my book-length analysis of Trevor Griffiths’s television drama, Powerplays, which I co-authored with my former Time Out colleague Mike Poole. Below is part of what we wrote about Country thirty-plus years ago. read more »

Sunday links

14th May 2017

A selection of links to interesting stuff from the past week, with the usual implied virtual thanks to those who alerted me to many of them.

Who will be left?: among the many good points that Tom Crewe makes in his LRB analysis of Jeremy Corbyn and today’s Labour party is this: ‘The world we live in now is recognisably the one 1997 (and 2001 and 2005) made.’

The autocrat’s language: please read Masha Gessen for the New York Review of Books:

Using words to lie destroys language. Using words to cover up lies, however subtly, destroys language. Validating incomprehensible drivel with polite reaction also destroys language. This isn’t merely a question of the prestige of the writing art or the credibility of the journalistic trade: it is about the basic survival of the public sphere.

Donald Trump after hours: of all the other Trump-related writings from the past week, this is among the most fascinating (and the best written) – an account of a dinner with the President by TIME reporters Michael Scherer and Zeke J. Miller; great photos too by Benjamin Rasmussen.

He was a crook: The Atlantic revisits Hunter S. Thompson’s glorious obit for Richard Nixon, originally published in Rolling Stone on 16 June 1994.

The fidget spinner is the perfect toy for the Trump presidency: Rebecca Mead for The New Yorker.

read more »

King and Corporation

13th May 2017

On Wednesday night BBC Two broadcast Rupert Goold’s film of King Charles III with a script by Mike Bartlett. It is on BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks, and if you watch nothing else in that time, make time for this. It’s a wonderful 90 minutes of beautifully achieved, bold, provocative, innovative, smartly subversive television, with a glorious performance from the late Tim Pigott-Smith at its heart. The plaudits have poured in, as I have little doubt they will continue to, and among the thoughtful press responses perhaps the most thoughtful is that by Mark Lawson for the Guardian. (Perhaps the most bizarre is ‘The BBC’s King Charles III inevitably contained plenty of howlers’ for – surprise! – the Mail, although treating the fantasy as a docu-drama is some kind of compliment.) Apart from expressing close-to-boundless enthusiasm for the film, I want here just to add a couple of thoughts about its status as television. read more »

Trevor Griffiths’ television

11th May 2017

BFI Southbank is midway through a season of the television plays of the radical writer Trevor Griffiths. Tuesday last featured the playwright reflecting on his career (and I was frustrated I couldn’t attend) but still  to come are showings of:

Tonight, 18.20, 11 May: Through the Night an exceptional 1975 BBC studio drama drawing on the experiences of Griffiths’ then-wife being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, with a remarkable performance by Alison Steadman under Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s direction.

20.30, 16 May: Country (with Penelope Wilton, above) – perhaps Griffiths’ masterpiece, this is an extraordinary 1981 BBC film, directed by Richard Eyre, set in a country house at the end of World War Two as the Labour Party wins the election; it’s hard to argue with season organiser Marcus Prince’s assessment that this is ‘one of the greatest analyses of class power to grace our screens.

18.15, 23 May: Hope in the Year Two + Fall of Eagles: Absolute Beginners – in the former, filmed in 1994, Elijah Moshinsky directs Griffiths’ stalwart Jack Shepherd as French revolutionary figure George Danton; in the latter, the playwright dramatises the Bolshevik/Menshevik split during the Russian Revolution. read more »

Sunday links

7th May 2017

Last weekend my sister Sheila celebrated her 60th birthday in Whitstable, and a lovely occasion it was – so that’s my excuse this time for missing last week’s links. Here’s a selection from the past fortnight, with the usual implied virtual thanks to those who alerted me to many of them.

• Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressives: Will Hutton for the Observer pretty much nails how I (and many of my friends) feel about the world.

• The great British Brexit robbery – how our democracy was hijacked: also for today’s Observer, Carole Cadwalladr reports on the dangers to our democracy.

Democracy hacked: Kris Shaffer, C.E. Carey, and Ben Starling at Data for Democracy on

a significant, coordinated, online effort to sway the election in favor of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, just like we observed in the US presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK.

• The rise of the alt-left British media: Jim Waterson for BuzzFeedUK on the online initiatives promoting ‘relentlessly pro-Corbyn coverage’. read more »

Mubi.com’s mutilated prints

25th April 2017

I really like the streaming service Mubi.com. I was initially sceptical about its subscription model offering just 30 films at a time, with one dropping off each day and a new one added. But I have been entirely won over by the extraordinary and eclectic mix of movies, their smart curation and the site’s ease-of-use. From the offerings available in the UK today, for example, I really want to see the Hollywood classics directed by Frank Capra, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, 1933, and You Can’t Take It With You, 1938; the arthouse classics La Rupture, 1970, directed by Claude Chabrol, and Fassbinder’s Effi Briest, 1974; and the contemporary rarities Rouge, 2015, Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera, 2016 and Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present, 2016. Not bad for this month’s £5.99.

I have, however, been really disappointed by a couple of recent viewings, which delivered to me prints that had been mutilated (presumably for television) by having their frame ratios altered significantly. This is a problem for a site that trumpets its commitment to the art of film, and I hope (a) that Mubi.com can be more rigorous in its sourcing of prints in the future, and (b) at the very least it can change its policy to indicate where a film is being streamed in a ratio other than that in which it was made. read more »