Links for the weekend

29th December 2013

Across the past fortnight Royal Opera House director of opera Kasper Holten has been posting a video diary of his rehearsals towards a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni which opens on 1 February. (The image above is a detail from the playbill of the opera’s Vienna premiere in 1788.) Holten has taped three episodes to date and they make a fascinating contrast with the production diaries created by Royal Shakespeare Company for Richard II. Holten’s pieces are shorter, far simpler – to date, just him filming himself speaking to camera – and strongly authored, as this first one demonstrates. I have embedded the other two across the jump, along with a clutch of additional links for this last weekend of 2013. Thanks for Twitter tips to @StephensSimon, @pkerwood, @KeyframeDaily@lukemckernan@manovich and @melissaterras.

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2013 top ten, 2: Tom Allen

28th December 2013

At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year.

We run these through this holiday period, with the second contribution today from Tom Allen who is a recent recruit to the marketing team. As with most of these offerings, his ten is in no particular order.

1. Persona

“Nicholas Ray is cinema,” Jean-Luc Godard said of the great American director. That’s kind of how I feel about Ingmar Bergman after watching Persona (1966). OK, so that’s the feeling I get from watching most Bergman, but Persona is different, not least because watching Persona is watching a director at the very height of his powers. There are few films that I might describe as perfect, but Persona may well be one. read more »

2013 top ten, 1: Linda Zuck

26th December 2013

At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year.

We run these through this holiday period, with today’s first contribution from Illuminations’ partner and MD Linda Zuck. As with most of these offerings, her ten is in no particular order.

1. Stoner by John Williams

A rediscovered neglected classic, an American novel about an unassuming literary scholar first published in 1965 and re-issued in 2006. It’s so beautifully written and profoundly moving and utterly compelling. A work of quiet perfection. read more »

Schalcken the Painter: a review from Christmas past

23rd December 2013

Half a lifetime ago (for those who are counting, it is thirty-four years) I wrote a feature for Time Out about the 1979 BBC television film Schalcken the Painter (above). Leslie Megahey’s ghost story is now newly released on DVD and Blu-ray from the BFI.  A glory from a period of richly imaginative arts filmmaking, the hour-plus film fully deserves this fine new release. Thirty-four years ago, when Margaret Thatcher had been in Downing Street for just six months and Jimmy Carter was President of the United States, this is what I wrote about it in the Christmas edition of London’s favourite listings magazine… read more »

Links for the holidays

20th December 2013

Neglected for the past few days, this blog needs a good deal of tlc over the coming days. On the way: a Postcard from Paris, comments on Schalcken the Painter and the Illuminations team’s top tens of the year. Here, however, is what will eventually be a bumper bunch of links to keep you engaged across these out-of-time days. First, a true treat from The British Library – the Mechanical Curator flickr collection of more than a million images identified from 19th century books, extracted and uploaded under a Creative Commons licence. Associated is the Twitter feed @MechCuratorBot which posts one of these images every hour (I’m bemused why it currently has only 142 followers). Curator Ben O’Steen (not a bot) has a blog post about the initiative, as does his BL colleague Luke McKernan. More coverage here from GeneralisingThe project is great in all sorts of ways, some of which will become clearer in 2014 – and is a kind of delightful Xmas present to us all. Across the jump, further links with seasonal thanks due to @Criterion, @henrymoorefdn and @KeygrameDaily. read more »

An Age of Kings, episode 1 #AAoK

16th December 2013

The Illuminations DVD release of the 1960 BBC series An Age of Kings is now well and truly launched – and initial sales are promising. These eight Shakespeare History plays in the 5-disc box set can be bought here, as well as via the excellent Moviemail (who have been hugely supportive) and Amazon (although it’s currently much more expensive on this site). My overview of the series is here, but I want now to begin a critical exploration of the 15 episodes – a kind of virtual viewing guide. Over the holidays my aim is to transfer these posts to a dedicated web site. Episode 1 presents the first half of Richard II, playing through to the end of Act III Scene 2, with King Richard having returned from Ireland and recognising the dominance of Bolingbroke:

Discharge my followers. Let them hence away
From Richard’s night to Bolingbroke’s fair day.

Following are my initial thoughts about each scene – timings in the square brackets are minutes and seconds into each episode as presented on disc 1. read more »

Art film and filmed art in Ghent

12th December 2013

Nearly a week has passed since my visit to Ghent for the hugely stimulating symposium Art & Cinema: On the aesthetics, history and theory of the art documentary. I think that the last time I was in the city was for the opening of Chambres d’amis exhibition back in June 1986 when the curator Jan Hoet arranged for more than forty artists to make works in the homes of ‘friends’ of the art museum. The visitor wandered through the town with a map and during pre-arranged hours rang doorbells to be admitted to a bedroom decorated by Daniel Buren or a patio with a wall painting by Sol LeWitt. On the first Saturday of the show filmmaker Jef Cornelis choreographed a full day of live coverage for Belgian television, and I went over to observe. At the symposium I was reminded of Cornelis’s centrality to the art documentary (he made films for BRT from 1964 to 1998) and I was delighted to learn that there is a major research project underway about his work. This was among the many ‘finds’ of the day, which as a whole was one of discovery and delight. read more »

Links for the weekend

8th December 2013

I was in Ghent over the weekend – at an excellent symposium about arts documentaries – and as a consequence I am behind with my posting schedule. I aim to build my list of links across today and also to to post a first Belgian blog. One place to start, at least for those of us interested in television and performance, is news of NBC’s live (yes, truly live) broadcast last week (at a reported cost of ¢9 million) of the stage musical The Sound of Music (above). Who would have thought it – and who would have thought that, despite a critical and Twitter-storm mauling, it would have been a ratings smash? Despatches from Charlotte Alter at Time, Lisa de Moraes for Deadline Hollywood (‘live TV is wonderfully messy’), Jaimie Etkin for BuzzfeedLindsey Weber, Kyle Buchanan and Amanda Dobbins for Vulture, and also for Vulture Josef Adalian. Disappointingly, the links are all geo-locked but the stills give you a good sense of what it looked like – which, for television in 2013, is strange. I look forward to further analysis. Meanwhile, there are more links across the jumps, with thanks this week to @zimbalist@annehelen, @audiovisualcy and @filmstudiesff. read more »

Art and film and Belgium

6th December 2013

A low morning sun and vapour trails in a blue, blue sky provide a spectacular backdrop as an early Eurostar pulls out of St Pancras. I’m on the way to Ghent for a symposium on Saturday about the early history of documentaries about the arts (a .pdf of the full programme is here). Needless to say, I also want to see – for the first time – the Van Eycks’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece in Saint Bavo Cathedral, a detail of which is above. My symposium contribution is to be about the films that the BBC producer John Read made between 1951 and 1979 with Henry Moore (about which I have often posted, including here, here, here and here). The event has been organised by Steven Jacobs, a scholar at the KASK/School of Arts in Ghent, who earlier this year edited the wonderful DVD collection Art & Cinema of Belgian arts documentaries (available here). read more »

A fine, fine life: Lionel Bart on BBCFour [Updated]

4th December 2013

Wednesday evening at 9pm on BBC Four sees the first showing of our latest broadcast documentary, Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation. Written by Caroline Stafford and David Stafford (and inspired by their fine biography, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be: The Lionel Bart Story), and directed by Mick Conefrey, this is a totally delightful tale of the astonishing rise and extraordinary fall of the songwriter of Oliver! (1960) and Twang!! (1965). With a fantastic collection of rare film and television archive, and interviews from – among others – Barbara Windsor, Marty Wilde, Ray Davies, Roy Hudd, Cameron Mackintosh and the late Victor Spinetti, it’s a (can I say this?) hugely enjoyable hour of television. read more »