Faces of John Berger

31st October 2016

Yesterday’s Observer carried a loving profile by Kate Kellaway of the writer John Berger. Berger’s 90th birthday is this coming Saturday, and Kate Kellaway catches something of the achievement and significance of his life when she writes:

Critic, novelist, poet, dramatist, artist, commentator – and, above all, storyteller – Berger was described by Susan Sontag as peerless in his ability to make “attentiveness to the sensual world” meet “imperatives of conscience”. His book Ways of Seeing, and the 1972 BBC television series based on it, changed the way at least two generations responded to art. And his writing since then – especially about migration – has changed the way many of us see the world.

The following weekend, on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 November, Birkbeck, University of London, is hosting a screening and symposium, ‘Faces of John Berger’, at which I’ll be chairing one of the panels. The screening on Friday evening is of the 2015 film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger. Tickets cost £5 for each event, and can be booked here. And to mark all of this, below is a selection of perhaps less well-known material with and about John Berger that can be freely accessed online. read more »

Sunday links

30th October 2016

Another fortnight and another missed Sunday links last weekend. Apologies, but I hope today’s list of articles and videos that I’ve found interesting recently goes some way to making amends. As usual, many of these have been highlighted on Twitter and a few have been kindly sent to me as recommendations, but I don’t quite have the energy (nor, I suspect, you the interest) to feature each person by name. We only have today and next Sunday before the US Presidential election, although I doubt that remarkable articles like the first couple I feature here will no longer be published – in fact, probably quite the reverse.

Final days: some jaw-dropping stuff in Gabriel Sherman’s report for New York from inside the Trump campaign.

A closer look at debate make-up: terrific analysis by Alice Bolin for Racked of the meanings of make-up at the Presidential debates this year and before.

Home Office rules: the London Review of Books has published Will Davies’ brilliant analysis of the state of things this side of the Atlantic – I recommended this before and can only do so, with even more urgency, again.

• Brexit – how a single word became the most powerful rhetorical device in a generation: via The Conversation, interesting linguistic analysis of ‘Brexit’ and ‘the deficit’ by Professor of Strategy, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick.

read more »

The other ‘Hollow Crown’

22nd October 2016

The Hollow Crown is the collective title of the seven films drawn from Shakespeare’s History plays from Richard II to Richard III that played on BBC Two in 2012 and earlier this year. But long before Benedict Cumberbatch gave us his Gloucester there was another version of The Hollow Crown that was first seen on the stage and was then adapted for the screen. And it was a 16mm print of the latter that I viewed on a trusty Steenbeck earlier this week. This Hollow Crown began life as a Royal Shakespeare Company entertainment intended as a one-off performance at the Stratford Poetry Festival in the summer of 1960, although it was still doing service for the company 45 years later. Shot in 1964, the screen version will have a place in the book I’m researching about adaptations of RSC productions. But here’s a preliminary response to a film that stands up remarkably well today. read more »

One of the last machines

17th October 2016

I have had a hugely enjoyable morning viewing a 16mm combined optical print on a 4 plate Steenbeck flat bed. The substance of what I watched must wait for a future post, since here I want simply to celebrate the pleasure provided by the wonderful Steenbeck. A time there was when these editing tables were ubiquitous, and of course I recognise that my jouissance came with a a double shot of nostalgia. Such, however, is the age profile of those making television today, that I wager the majority of people in production now have no sense whatever of what I’m talking about. Certainly most of them will not have had the satisfactions of lacing up a print, locking sprocket holes onto the triangular teeth, hearing the nylon rollers click crisply into place, and easing the speed controller into ‘forward’ so as to prompt the hum of the spinning prism and, finally, to see a sequence of tiny still images spring into life. read more »

Sunday links

16th October 2016

My weekly offering of links to articles and videos that I have found interesting or stimulating over the past seven days. The US election continues to prompt much exceptional written journalism, and I lead with several pieces related to this. Thanks, as always, 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.

How the haters and losers lost: McKay Coppins for Buzzfeed on the desire for revenge that drove The Donald.

Us vs Them – the birth of populism: John B Judis offers essential historical context via the Guardian.

How Trump took hate groups mainstream: very fine Mother Jones journalism by Sarah Posner and David Neivert about the candidate’s connection with far-right extremists.

What the Trump tapes can teach us about TV archives: an important piece, with some great links, by Melanie Kramer for Poynter.

7 photos that capture the absurdity of this election season: in a terrific piece of visual analysis for Columbia Journalism Review, Michael Shaw writes on a clutch of key images:

These photos expose the artifice and the political veneer, holding up the process and candidates to an unprecedented level of inspection, critique, and in some cases, a reciprocal dose of hostility. Here are seven photos that, if not for the unusual tone and atmosphere of this campaign, may not have been published.

• What happens if Trump supporters believe his ‘rigged election’ hype?: Chas Danner asks the urgent question at New York magazine.

read more »

‘The Informer’ restored

15th October 2016

To BFI Southbank for the London Film Festival’s Archive Gala screening of The Informer. Produced in 1929 during the transitional period when the industry was changing from silent film to sound, this intense tale of love, friendship and betrayal was made both with crude dialogue and – with subtly different shots – without. But as BFI curator Bryony Dixon demonstrated with extracts beforehand, the sound recording at the time was crude and the accents of a European cast uncertain. Nor, as this triumphant screening with a newly commissioned score demonstrated, does the film really require speech. A few inter-titles help the story along but The Informer is supremely and gorgeously visual – as well as being a rattling good yarn. read more »

Television’s first King Lear

12th October 2016

Tonight RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcasts Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear with Antony Sher in the title role. If we can achieve something of what we got in the second camera rehearsal yesterday, then I think it will be very special – go here to find cinemas near you that are screening it.

Working on this production made me curious about the first full-length British screen version of the play, which was the live transmission by BBC Television in 1948. Sadly, we have no archive copy of this broadcast and nor do there seem to have been any reviews, but there are a few written and photographic traces, which I have started to gather here. read more »

Playing Lear

10th October 2016

On Wednesday this week RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcasts Gregory Doran’s production of King Lear to cinemas across Britain. As preparation for this, my work as producer has meant that I’ve watched the staging half a dozen times now – and on each occasion it seems to me richer and deeper and more moving. Antony Sher plays the king and gives, to my mind, a fiercely intelligent, subtly complex performance that I feel privileged to be seeing at close quarters. Complementing him is an exceptional cast including David Troughton, Antony Byrne, Paapa Essiedu and Natalie Simpson. And the production is strikingly visual too, with Niki Turner’s vivid, often sumptuous design and Tim Mitchell’s accomplished lighting. If you can book a ticket for Wednesday I don’t think you’ll regret it.

We’re opening the broadcast with a brief montage of photographs of distinguished actors who have played Lear at Stratford, beginning with John Gielgud in 1950. And as background to all of this I have been reading Jonathan Croall’s terrific recent book for The Arden Shakespeare, Performing King Lear: From Gielgud to Russell Beale. (I should note I’m also working on a book for Arden.) read more »

Pordenone, from afar

9th October 2016

I wish, I wish I had been in Pordenone for the 35th edition of that northern Italian town’s Silent Film Festival. I have been on several occasions in the past, and the event’s intense week of screenings combined with Italian food and wine is simply glorious. But I had the RSC cinema broadcasts of Cymbeline and King Lear to look after, and so I could only follow it from afar. Which is something that Pordenone facilitates by publishing online not only its daily schedule but also its excellent, scholarly catalogue (from the cover of which the detail above of a production still from The Mysterious Lady is taken). read more »

Sunday links

9th October 2016

I missed a links post last Sunday and other entries over the past fortnight have been only sporadic. I can only plead busy-ness in the preparation for the RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcasts of Cymbeline, ten days ago, and King Lear, next Wednesday (and of which more tomorrow). Here, however, is the weekly offering of links to articles and videos that I have found interesting or stimulating over the past seven days. Thanks, as always, 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.

The protective state: British politics is so awful at present that we have a profound responsibility to undertake some deep analysis; fortunately there are writers who can help, including Will Davies here in an exceptional post for Goldsmiths’ Political Economy Research Centre…

How the education gap is tearing politics apart: … and David Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge University, writing here a Guardian Long Read.

• Idiots: Dan Mersh’s message to America from us Brits – ‘we’re the classy Judi Dench-y ones and you’re the subhuman fuckwits who think that a mentally unstable bankruptcy addict is somehow going to be “strong on trade”.’


read more »