Sunday links

28th August 2016

A holiday Sunday links to articles that I have found interesting or stimulating over the past seven days. Thanks as usual to those who have pointed me towards some of them, via Twitter and in other ways, and apologies for the absence of appropriate name-checks.

Modernism at the seaside: a lovely Heritage England post highlighting some of the best seaside modernism to be found near our coasts.

• The sound of horses – two John Ford westerns: a richly interesting video essay by Will Ross for about the soundtracks for Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine:

The Sound of Horses: Two John Ford Westerns from MUBI on Vimeo.

• 10 great modern westerns: Neil Mitchell for BFI gets the choice about right. read more »

Ghostsigns and wonders

26th August 2016

A shopping jaunt in Tooting today was joyfully enhanced by a ‘ghostsign’ for Meggezones (above). This adorns the corner of Upper Tooting Road and Noyna Road (below), just a few yards from Tooting Bec underground. Encountering such fading painted wall signs is one of the chief joys of being a London flaneur. And if you too enjoy them you need to know about Sam Roberts’ handsome and hugely informative Ghostsigns website. Here you’ll find an archive of great images, details of walking tours and a good if sporadic blog.

Now there’s also an associated academic collection of essays, Advertising and Public Memory: Social, Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Ghostsigns, edited by Roberts together with Stefan Schutt and Leanne White, newly available from Routledge. The table of contents (reproduced below) gives a sense of what a rich range of subjects ghostsigns can connect with, but as with so many academic volumes the book retails at an unaffordable £85 for the hardback and just-beyond-my-budget-zone £34.99 for the e-book. As so often, the advice has to be, get thee to a library.

As for Meggezones, it would appear that they were available until recently but have been discontinued.

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25th August 2016

Primary framegrab with Jackie and John Kennedy during Wisconsin primary, 1960

The 1960 documentary Primary is something of a tonic in a media world dominated, unaccountably and unacceptably, by the toxic D*n*ld Tr*mp. Here’s how the excellent Richard Brody described the film recently for The New Yorker:

The modern documentary was born in 1960, by way of that year’s Presidential campaign. The producer Robert Drew, a Life-magazine editor who wanted to make television documentaries as fluid as photo-reporting, oversaw the development of lightweight synch-sound cameras and recorders. He put the equipment to the test in Primary, an up-close account of the two rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senators John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, as they hustled for votes in the April 5 election in Wisconsin and then awaited the results.

And here’s an evocative clip courtesy of The Criterion Collection:

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The White Unicorn

24th August 2016

To BFI Southbank last night for a showing of a rarely-screened British film from 1947 that I’d never even heard of. The White Unicorn (known in the States as Bad Sister) is almost entirely absent from the literature about post-war cinema – apart that is from a valuable discussion of Margaret Lockwood’s persona by Sarah Street in the academic collection Heroines without Heroes: Reconstructing Female and National Identities in European Cinema, 1945-51. I’m not at all going to do justice here to the film’s richness – and its occasional absurdities – but I do want to record a few immediate thoughts. To give you something of a taste of the film’s attractions, here is the original trailer:

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Arts online, part 2

23rd August 2016

At the end of last week I celebrated BFIPlayer’s new collection The Arts on Film which offers 100+ features and documentaries for online viewing. Many are free to access (including those below) and there is much that is unfamiliar alongside a number of well-known titles. Continuing my exploration of the fringes, below are brief notes on six pre-World War Two films, all of which were unfamiliar to me.

None of the six is in any sense a ‘conventional’ film about the arts, and in each one specific artforms are touched on more or less tangentially. The main concerns — a portrait of a place, for example, or a glimpse of a celebrity — lie elsewhere. Nonetheless, they each belong to a kind of ‘pre-history’ of the arts documentary, and each has considerable interest. read more »

Brian Rix’s Reluctant Heroes

22nd August 2016

I was sorry to learn of the death at the weekend of Brian Rix, whose BBC obituary can be found here. His campaigning for Mencap and other charities has been rightly lauded in the press, and there has been a somewhat cautious celebration of the Whitehall farces for which as actor-manager he was best known. Critics have always been uncertain about quite how to regard these comedies, even while audiences largely adored them. And not least those of us who watched the BBC television broadcasts of them on highdays and bank holidays throughout our childhood.

Between 1952 and the late 1960s BBC Television broadcast some seventy live comedies and farces from the Whitehall Theatre in London.The series is the most sustained and successful partnership between a theatre company and a broadcaster, yet the productions were rarely discussed by journalists at the time and have been ignored by writers on television ever since. Recordings of only a handful survive, but there is extensive documentation of almost all of them in the BBC Written Archive Centre.

One day, perhaps, I’ll write that journal article (or even book) that I have half sketched out about the Whitehall farces and television. But for today, here’s a lightly edited version of a Screen Plays post that I wrote back in 2011, the original of which is here. It explores the considerable significance of the first television broadcast from the Whitehall in 1952 of (just the first act of) Brian Rix’s production of Reluctant Heroes (pictured above from Radio Times). Screen Plays, incidentally, was the AHRC-funded research project undertaken by Dr Amanda Wrigley and myself, one outcome of which is Screen Plays: The Theatre Plays on British Television Database that features details of a number of the early Brian Rix broadcasts. read more »

Sunday links

21st August 2016

Links as usual to articles that I have found interesting or stimulating over the past seven days. Thanks as ever to those who have pointed me towards some of them, via Twitter and in other ways, and apologies for the absence of appropriate name-checks.

• Steven Bochco on NYPD Blue‘s crazy first year and David Caruso’s outrageous demands (exclusive book excerpt): The Hollywood Reporter runs a great read lifted from the memoir of the man who created Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law (above, and maybe on its way back to us) and NYPD Blue – oh happy days.

• How the $100 million NYPD creator gambled away his fortune: … but then there’s this remarkable story from earlier in the year, also for The Hollywood Reporter, by Stephen Galloway with Scott Johnson about the series’ co-creator (and initiator of Deadwood) David Milch’s apparent bankruptcy.

• ‘The vision thing’: … and remember this, from the final series?:

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Reading television’s history

20th August 2016

I continue to lament that journalistic criticism about television in Britain today remains, with a few honourable exceptions, pretty poor. But if you know where to look, there is much rich writing about the medium’s history – and I thought today I would simply highlight a handful of recent contributions to two key web sites. My first link, however, is distinct from these, being a piece marking the passing of a major television drama producer who was particularly influential in the 1970s and ’80s. read more »

Arts online

19th August 2016

So for those of you who have even just a passing interest in films about the arts, this is GREAT. The online service BFIPlayer today launches The Arts on Film, a collection of more than a hundred feature films and documentaries about painting and sculpture (mostly) but also photography, poetry and performance. Included are movies like Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio, 1986, and Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, 2014, but many of the offerings are comparatively obscure archival treasures. Some were co-funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain while others come from regional collections as well as the BFI’s own National Archive.

My only disappointment is that a fair few of them are only extracts from longer films that are not on offer. Even so, I’ve spent my whole professional life watching and writing about arts films and there is a good number here that I’ve never seen – and a few I have never even heard of. And while many are available on a pay-per-view basis, or via a monthly subscription of £4.99, a generous selection is absolutely free to view. read more »

Postcard from York

18th August 2016

To York, where I find two hours to spend in the recently refurbished York Art Gallery. My appreciation of museums and galleries outside London has been greatly enhanced by reading Giles Waterfield’s The People’s Galleries: Art Museums and Exhibitions in Britain, 1800-1914. Published last year by Yale University Press, this really is a richly interesting read – and with many wonderful illustrations.

Opened in 1892, in a building originally intended for the Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition of 1879, York Art Gallery was – like many other late 19th century institutions – the product of civic pride, Victorian philanthropy and a desire to educate the emerging urban working-class. As can be seen below, the structure of the building was of modern iron and glass but its frontage, above, had to reflect tasteful ‘true architecture’ and consequently was composed in Italian Renaissance style. Today, York Art Gallery is home to the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA), as well as exhibiting a fine permanent collection of paintings and hosting temporary exhibitions. And in reverse order, each of these aspects of its activities offers compelling reasons for a visit.

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