‘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 »

My ‘Last Night’

8th October 2016

Tonight it’s the Last Night of the Proms for me. I know most people celebrated this oddly English and – especially in the current climate – deeply contradictory occasion a month ago. But for me Saturday 8 October is the ‘Last Night’. That’s because, for the second year in a row, I have been listening in order to every minute of every Prom using the wonderful BBC iPlayer Radio app. Which has allowed me to access and download every Prom since the unscheduled ‘La Marseillaise’ on 15 July and then listen at my leisure. I have found this to be a quintessentially informative, educational and entertaining experience. Thank you, BBC! read more »

Listening to history

7th October 2016

Perhaps I’ve mentioned that I am writing a book about screen adaptations of Royal Shakespeare Company productions? I’m currently in the middle of researching and drafting the first of six chapters, which is intended both to introduce the key ideas of the volume and to explore media versions of productions from the Stratford Memorial Theatre before 1960. That was the year that Peter Hall created the RSC out of a company that had a history going back to 1879.

Before 1960 there were both film and television versions of Stratford productions, although the dominant adaptation medium was radio. Radio, I recognise, doesn’t entirely align with ‘screen’, but even so wireless versions of interwar and post-war Stratford stagings feel like they should be part of my story. We have no recordings of most of these, but there is at least one very remarkable – and I think all-but-unknown – archival survivor. Today I heard, some 67 years after it was broadcast, a recording of Peter Brook’s ground-breaking 1950 Stratford production of Measure for Measure with John Gielgud and Barbara Jefford. read more »

Sunday links

25th September 2016

To start Sunday links, this…

My vote: Roger Angell for The New Yorker.

… and this…

The road ahead: Kirk Douglas for The Huffington Post.

… and this, from Joss Whedon and friends (which you’ll have seen but which is just as good on repeat viewings).

read more »

Sunday links

18th September 2016

The usual weekly offering of links to articles and videos 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. First, watch this:

176 reasons why Donald Trump should not be President: Keith Olbermann for GQ.

‘We’re the only plane in the sky’: a really remarkable oral history, compiled by Garrett M. Graff for Politico, of events aboard Air Force One in the hours after the 9/11 attacks…

How Politico recreated 9/11 aboard Air Force One: … while Columbia Journalism Review‘s David Uberti has the background on what he describes as ‘a historical document of some of America’s darkest hours’.

read more »

On the road

14th September 2016

Today the great archivist and social historian Rick Prelinger has released on Vimeo (and I’ve embedded below) his 2013 feature-length film No More Road Trips? under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license. This means that we can watch for free and share this astonishing collection of home movies about travel in 20th-century America. But we can also remix, transform and build upon the film as long as we provide appropriate credit, that this is done for non-commercial purposes and that the results are shared under the same license.

Here’s Rick’s description:

A journey from the Atlantic Coast to California made from a collection of 9,000 home movies, No More Road Trips? reveals hidden histories embedded in the landscape and seeks to blend the pleasures of travel with premonitions of its end. The soundtrack for this fully participatory film will be made fresh daily by the audience, who will be encouraged to recall our shared past and predict the future. This is a silent movie meant to be shown to audiences that ask questions, make comments, disagree with one another, and generally act like vocal sports spectators or the rowdies in the pit in front of the Elizabethan stage.

And there’s more about the film and its making here.

No More Road Trips? A dream ride through 20th-century America made from home movies from Rick Prelinger on Vimeo.