Posted from down under in Brisbane (and with little sense of what timezone I’m in – hence the change of title), today’s list of links points 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.
Rather than defining “early television” strictly chronologically, the issue takes a page from the book of early cinema studies and considers “early” as the period in television history that preceded the establishment, codification, and standardization of what became the dominant media practices of broadcast television.
I came here as a kid on days out in the 1960s and in – I think – 1970 I saw my first rock concert in the Ballroom. That night the band was Deep Purple, soon to be followed by King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer. But probably my strongest sense of Dreamland now comes courtesy of Lindsay Anderson’s 12-minute film O Dreamland that he shot there in 1953 but which was edited later and first shown in 1956, and from which this is a framegrab:
To Margate for the Illuminations summer outing. Our plan was a high speed train to the seaside, a touch of high culture at Turner Contemporary, a good lunch, a touch of low culture at Dreamland, and a high speed train home. The train out was delayed, we had a great time at the gallery, the fish and fine wine at Buoy and Oyster were terrific, Dreamland was dismally tacky, and the train back was delayed too. A good time was most definitely had by all six of us.
[the curators] have thought very deeply about every aspect of the circle, from its irreducible beauty to its comforting warmth and its fierce self-containment. Every one of the works here, and there are nearly 200 paintings, drawings, videos, performances pieces and sculptures, has its own fascination but suggests some new idea about circles.
Paintings glimpsed in movies are often fascinating, and invariably so when they exhibit modernist tendencies. Take a look at the painting below that is granted just two seconds or so in the British Gothic melodrama Madness of the Heart, 1949 (a detail of the poster is featured above). On the left there is what is clearly meant to be a Picasso-like young woman, and to the right is a flower that, along with the lower realm of the picture, we might imagine as refugees from a Matisse canvas of the 1920s. The centre is a good deal more indistinct, blurry even, but that’s most certainly an eye right in the middle.
In the plot of the film the painting is entirely marginal. In a seaside French town our heroine Lydia (Margaret Lockwood) has just visited the local doctor, for a reason that we don’t yet know. Her wealthy and impossibly romantic husband Paul (Paul Dupuis) is away on business and she is invited to have a drink with slacker Max (David Hutcheson), a painter and an almost entirely peripheral character. Lydia asks Max what he’s been working on, and he holds up the painting to the camera as he says, ‘It’s a view of the harbour.’ There’s a beat before he continues with a chuckle, ‘At least, I think it’s a view of the harbour.’ All of which means nothing to Lydia, since a rare and apparently incurable disease has robbed her of her sight.
I want to argue that the painting, which makes no other appearance, opens up fascinatingly complex aspects of a film that has almost no place in conventional histories of British cinema. Robert Murphy, for example, in his authoritative Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in British Cinema, 1939-1948 dismisses Madness of the Heart in a single phrase as a ‘soggy melodrama’. But as I hope to show it’s a great deal more interesting than that. read more »
In 1966 the British artists Gerald Laing (1936-2011) and Peter Phillips (b. 1939) made the sculpture Hybrid, which is illustrated above from the immaculate online catalogue raisonné for Gerald Laing’s work. Working in New York, the artists used a polling kit (shown in a Life feature below) to ask 137 artists, critics, curators and others what the form, materials, colours and the like should be for an ideal work of art. The forms the respondents filled in were fed into an IBM computer at Bell Labs which then determined the parameters of the object. As John J. Curley writes in his essay ‘Hybrid sculpture of the 1960s’,
Hybrid is a transnational sculpture that can be reduced to transmittable sculpture that can be reduced to transmittable information. And, furthering the implication of the title, the information was a tabulation of averaged Anglo-American artistic tastes.
I came across the fascinating Hybrid tale thanks to an exceptional publishing project that is itself something of a hybrid. Curley’s essay is one element of Issue 3 of the open access online journal British Art Studies(BAS) from the Paul Mellon Centre and the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA). And I want now simply to pen a couple of paragraphs expressing my admiration and enthusiasm for BAS. read more »
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 Mubi.com about the soundtracks for Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine:
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.
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:
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: