Sunday links

18th November 2018

Links to articles and videos that have engaged me over the past week and more, starting with three essential Brexit-related essays. With thanks to those who alerted me to many on Twitter and elsewhere.

How the Brexiteers broke history: brilliant from Richard Evans for the New Statesman, both demolishing myths and arguing for the importance of historians:

In our age of “alternative facts” and “post-truth”, where opinion seems all and evidence is pushed aside in the interests of partisanship, manipulation of the past to fit the political agendas of the present has become all-pervasive. Historians, whatever their views on current events, need to call out those who would prefer to create myths rather than respect what actually happened.

• A “no deal” Brexit could cause constitutional breakdown: … and another warning from history, for Prospect by Philip Allott, former FCO legal adviser and now Professor Emeritus of International Public Law at Cambridge:

If the UK were to withdraw helter-skelter from the European Union on 29th March 2019 without an agreement… It would be the beginning of a disorderly reconstruction of the British constitution and legal system, the British economy, and Britain’s place in the world.

• Why Britain needs its own Mueller: the estimable Carol Cadwalladr contributes to The New York Review of Books:

Britain and America, Brexit and Trump, are inextricably entwined. By Nigel Farage. By Cambridge Analytica. By Steve Bannon. By the Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, who has been identified by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. The same questions that dog the US election dog ours, too.

read more »

Sunday links

11th November 2018

Links to articles and videos that have caught my eye in the past week or more – thanks, as always, to those on Twitter and elsewhere that drew my attention to them.

The fashion photography of Marilyn Stafford – in pictures: glorious images by the photographer who worked with Paris Haute Couture houses in the 1950s and took iconic images of ‘swinging London’ in the following decade. Courtesy of the Guardian and exhibitions at the Hull International Photography Festival, now finished, and Lucy Bell Gallery, Hastings, until 17 November; for more, see the Marilyn Stafford website. Above, a detail from ‘Paris Prêt-à-Porter 1960 on a rainy day’.

Reliable narrators? Telling tales on Trump: a fascinating essay by David Bordwell about three recent studies of the White House – Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House:

I’m not very concerned with tracking down their factual accuracy. That’s an important task, but I want simply to study what [Wayne] Booth might call the rhetoric of nonfiction. By looking at each book’s plot structure (yes, they have plots) and narration, I want to understand how narrative analysis can help us better understand what counts as ‘reliability’. Fortunately for my purposes, the books nicely illustrate three different models of storytelling.

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Sunday links

4th November 2018

Links to articles and videos that have caught my eye over the past week or so – thanks, as always, to those who alerted me to many of them.

• A long overdue light on black models of early modernism: a good Roberta Smith review for The New York Times , giving you a vivid sense of visiting the show, of what looks like a fascinating exhibition, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, currently at Columbia University’s  Wallach Art Gallery but coming (expanded, and with Manet’s ‘Olympia’) to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris next summer. Above, a detail from Frédéric Bazille’s ‘Young Woman With Peonies’, 1870, from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. For more, here’s a short video with curator Denise Murrell:

Six glimpses of the past: for The New Yorker (of course), Janet Malcolm is rather marvellous on photography and memory (and the sixth section, about her father, is especially touching).

• Pots, pans and pondering in Chardin’s domestic scenes: for Apollo, Kathryn looks carefully, and writes wonderfully, about two companion pieces by Jean-Siméon Chardin, ‘The Cellar Boy’ and ‘The Scullery Maid’, in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow.

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Sunday links

27th October 2018

Links to articles that attracted my attention in the three weeks (apologies!) since the last of these columns, plus the occasional video. There are some especially strong film-related articles this week. Many thanks to those who recommended many of these pieces to me on Twitter and elsewhere.

They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson, 2018) and the elephant in the room: Lawrence Napper is excellent on the controversial re-working of First World War archive footage:

Such is the publicity hype around the film, and so sacred is the cow of the Great War in its centenary moment that nobody seems to have noticed how horribly distorted and ludicrous Jackson’s tarted-up images look.

… and it’s also well worth reading…

• Film of the week – They Shall Not Grow Old: …Jonathan Romney for Film Comment:

… on one level a sincere memorial in images and sound. On another, like all [Jackson’s] work, it is first and foremost a special effects movie.

• Muriel Box – Britain’s most prolific female director you’ve never heard of: Phil Hoad for the Guardian celebrates the career of slowly-being-rediscovered director (above)…

The delights of Muriel Box: … and Neil Young has contributed an even richer profile for Sight&Sound.

Muriel Box at the San Sebastian International Film Festival: this is the retrospective programme that prompted the two articles above…

Happy Family, 1952,on BFIPlayer: …and (in the UK at least) here you can find Muriel Box’s debut feature, set during preparations for the Festival of Britain.

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Here’s a thing

8th October 2018

I have written a book (well, almost) – and now that it is on Amazon and the website of the publisher Bloomsbury – I feel I can make a modest announcement. Publication is not until next June, but it has a cover and a blurb (reproduced below) – and a very expensive price, which is essentially for hardback sales to academic libraries. I am hopeful that in due course there will be a rather more affordable paperback. In the meantime…

Here’s the blurb:

No theatre company has been involved in such a broad range of adaptations for television and film as the Royal Shakespeare Company. Starting with the Stratford Memorial Theatre company’s version of Richard III in 1910, these continue today with the highly successful RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcasts. Among the iconic productions have been The Wars of the Roses (BBC, 1965), Peter Brook’s film of King Lear (1971), Channel’s 4’s epic version of Nicholas Nickleby (1982) and Hamlet with David Tennant (BBC, 2009).

Drawing on interviews with actors and directors, The RSC on Screen explores this remarkable history of collaborations between stage and screen and considers key questions about adaptation that concern all those involved in theatre, film and television. John Wyver is a broadcasting historian and the television producer of Hamlet as well as of RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon, and so is uniquely well-placed both to provide a vivid account of the RSC’s television and film productions as well as to contribute an award-winning practitioner’s insights into screen adaptation’s rich potential and numerous challenges.

Meanwhile, the manuscript contains just over 103,000 words – and I am contracted to deliver 90,000. That’s one of my challenges for the coming few weeks.

Cover image: Mariah Gale and David Tennant in Gregory Doran’s RSC / BBC film of Hamlet, 2009, produced by John Wyver and Sebastian Grant; photo by Ellie Kurttz; © RSC/Illuminations.

Sunday links

7th October 2018

Links to interesting stuff that has caught my eye over the past week, with the usual thanks to Twitter recommenders and others.

• Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father: truly remarkable investigative reporting from David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner for The New York Times – you might have read the summaries but the full 15,000 words are packed with detail and texture; see also the ‘making of’ feature, How Times journalists uncovered the original source of the President’s wealth.

I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place: David Runciman in London Review of Books takes on Bob Woodward’s Fear…

Ten typical days in Trump’s America: …and for the same journal Eliot Weinberger catalogues the most recent stages of this unfolding tragedy.

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Starting at school

5th October 2018

Even as I have been neglecting the Illuminations blog, for which apologies once more, I have been writing elsewhere. Today’s brief entry here points to a post I’ve written for a History of the BBC blog; below there is news of a conference in November at which I’ll be speaking on the topic of my post.

‘Starting at school: researching the 1952 BBC “School Television Experiment”‘ is a BBC blog post written as a contribution to a new strand that aims to highlight academic research exploring aspects of the Corporation’s past. I became intrigued by the 1952 pilot in which specially produced programmes (including Black and White in an African Village, broadcast from Alexandra Palace, above) were screened for a month in just six Middlesex schools. This was an experiment to see if television might be valuable as a teaching aid, and the results showed that it would. But it was to be a further five years before a regular schools service was started, both from the BBC and from the upstart ITV contractor Associated-Rediffusion.

The School Television Experiment is the focus of a paper I’ll give at the Lights, Camera, Learning: Teaching with the Moving Image conference, at Birkbeck, University of London, 23-24 November. Details of the event, which marks the 70th anniversary of Learning on Screen (of which I’m a Trustee), and a link for booking, are here.

Image © BBC.

TV incognita

4th October 2018

To BFI Southbank on Monday for a triple bill of television dramas by women playwrights: The Tamer Tamed, 1956, by Elaine Morgan (above); Still Waters, 1972, by Julia Jones; and A Kind of Marriage, 1976, by Buchi Emecheta. The programme was part of the hugely valuable Drama She Wrote season curated by the BFI’s Dick Fiddy and Dr Billy Smart, and Billy writes about the three plays on the Forgotten Television Drama blog. It’s worth noting too that there are two further offerings in the season on Saturday and Monday, details of which are below.

I have to admit that I found all three of Monday’s dramas disappointing. At least I judged them so when measured against conventional criteria, whether of their own time or, especially, of today. Each in its way is – or seemed so on Monday, when projected on NFT2’s big screen – clunky, over-written and internally inconsistent both in tone and in the quality of the performances. But at the same time I found each one fascinating – and strange. Indeed, fascinating precisely because of the surprising strangeness. And that brought home yet again how little we know of the vast continent that is the history of television drama, how little of it has been mapped and documented, and how many wonders and weirdnesses there are still to be discovered. TV incognita, indeed. read more »

Making Harold Pinter’s Art, Truth & Politics

1st October 2018

theatre announcement of Mark Rylance's performance of Art, Truth & Politics

In the early evening on Tuesday and Thursday of this coming week, 2 and 4 October, Mark Rylance performs Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture Art, Truth & Politics as part of the excellent ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ season. These charity performances are in aid of the Stop the War coalition, and are directed by Harry Burton. Tickets can be booked here.

Our DVD of Harold Pinter delivering Art, Truth & Politics is available here. Harry Burton’s excellent film Working with Pinter is also available as an Illuminations DVD, which can be ordered here.

Harold Pinter has been very much a part of my life recently. Ten days ago I contributed a keynote lecture to the University of Reading/British Library conference organised by the Harold Pinter: Histories and Legacies research project. On Thursday I saw the first of the ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ performances which included a truly powerful staging of One for the Road with Antony Sher and Paapa Essiedu, directed by Jamie Lloyd, and Lia Williams’ remarkable production of Ashes to Ashes, with Paapa again and an astonishing Kate O’Flynn. And with the Art, Truth & Politics performances coming up, Harry Burton has prompted me to compose the following notes about what I recall about producing, with my colleague Linda Zuck, the 2005 recording. read more »

Sunday links

30th September 2018

Today’s links to interesting stuff that has attracted my attention over the past week or so, with thanks to Twitter recommenders. You will doubtless be delighted to see that I have once again worked out how to embed videos.

They Shall Not Grow Old: this is unquestionably remarkable…

Colouring the Past:… but in all the discussion that there’s bound to be about it, take note of this by Luke McKernan, from January, and also his post Monochrome. read more »