Noises

26th January 2012

To the Old Vic to sit with Clare in two eye-wateringly expensive seats to watch an immaculate performance of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The back-stage comic complications, combined with the high-end prices (top whack £85 a seat – that’s eighty-five pounds!), have attracted an audience that is well-heeled, well-dressed… and well rude. I am used to people trying to talk through movies, and I have extensive experience in cinemas of tapping shoulders or turning round and emitting an urgent, audible ‘Shhh’. But in the theatre? read more »

Weekend links

22nd January 2012

Here’s a little campaign that is well worth supporting: Save the 35 Ken Russell BBC Films. Or, as the Facebook page (above) also – and more accurately – argues, Free the 35 BBC Films of Ken Russell. The late, great director made wonderful documentaries and drama-documentaries for the BBC between 1959 and 1968 (for details, start with Michael Brooke’s BFI ScreenOnline page). These include the much-loved Elgar, produced for Monitor in 1962 and repeated on BBC Four last week (available on iPlayer until 30 January). But thanks to extortionate commercial expectations from BBC Worldwide, not one of these films is legally available in the UK on DVD (although a number have been released in the USA). A decade back the BFI partnered with the BBC on releases of Elgar and Song of Summer (1968), but when it came time to re-licence these, the terms expected were such that the BFI had to discontinue the titles. So it’s a wholly worthwhile aim to try to get at least some of the films out into the world. Go to the campaign’s Facebook page for more – and go below for further links to interesting stuff. read more »

Some movies in 2011

20th January 2012

At the end of each year our friend and colleague Michael Jackson – formerly Chief Executive of Channel 4 and now living and working in the United States – compiles a list of films he’s discovered and appreciated in the previous twelve months. He sends it to friends and kindly lets us post it here. We’re a little late with this one, but as before we have added some links and clips. 

Follow this link for the 2010 list, this one for 2009’s and this one for 2008’s.

As a kind of alternative holiday card this is my annual list of the best films that I saw for the first time this year. Mainly not new films, or awards contenders, but films from the alternative universe of repertory cinemas, TCM, dvd, and Netflix Instant. Like a parent who loves their misfit child more than their straight A offspring I know it’s possible to get carried away with enthusiasm for a new discovery, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. At any rate I hope you find a couple of titles here that you are happy to see for the first time or to re-discover. (Included are links to where most of them can be found in the UK.) read more »

Cool for catalogues

18th January 2012

As I have blogged previously, the Reading Room initiative from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is terrific. This makes available for reading online a selection of the museum’s past catalogues. The ‘flippingbook’ format is perhaps not the easiest to use but crucially it preserves the illustrations, layout, typography and something of the materiality of these historical records. Now the Guggenheim has launched a similar initiative (the press release is here; thanks to @RebeccaJLittman for pointing me in the direction of this) as well as, intriguingly, a number of eBooks for the Kindle (priced at $1.99 each) created from curatorial essays. The e-book collection is a smart publishing initiative complementing a very smart and valuable free-to-access resource – and I can’t think of anything comparable from a British cultural institution. read more »

David Hockney: a life on film

16th January 2012

Although I have no easy way of checking, there must be hundreds of films – and quite likely thousands – that feature David Hockney. By the end of the week, with the opening of David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts, there will most likely be a fair few more (the RA’s website has one, above). Far far more than other major artist of the past century, Hockney’s life, work and ideas have been exhaustively chronicled both by television and by numerous independent filmmakers. Coming of age with the box in the corner in the early 1960s, Hockney is a master of the medium – and his persona, his willingness to perform and his relative accessibility mean that scattered across the globe is a glorious archive of audio-visual fragments. I have chosen ten to highlight below, but I want first to make the serious point about how difficult – indeed, let’s say impossible – it is to track down and view this material. Each and every appearance of the artist in print is collated in scholarly bibliographies. But if you want to find out from any central source whether there’s footage, say, of Hockney talking about Domenichino (which there is), or of Hockney buck naked taking a shower (ditto), well… good luck! read more »

Weekend links

15th January 2012

Yes, my friends, this is another Dickens-themed post (following on from the recent What larks and The film of the films of the books). Or at least the start of it is, because across the jump there’s the usual collection of recent links to interesting and relatively random stuff. But in this first paragraph I want to draw your attention to Charles Dickens, filmmaker, which is a wonderful filmography compiled by The Bioscope of silent film adaptations of Dickens. This includes all sorts of intriguing films, a good number of which are available on DVD, most notably on the invaluable Dickens Before Sound DVD from the BFI. But the image above comes courtesy of the Danish Film Institute from the 1922 David Copperfield directed in Denmark by the Dickens specialist A. W. Sandberg, and there are further stills and clips if you follow the link. read more »

The film of the films of the books

10th January 2012

Headline: while The Mystery of Edwin Drood, part one of which we saw on BBC Two tonight, has much to recommend it, the television treat of the evening – and indeed most certainly of the year to date – was Arena: Dickens on Film. I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but let me record my immediate enthusiasm for a film that is imaginative, intelligent, distinctive and delightful as well as being, before all else, a film. Kudos to Arena and Film London for co-producing such a treasure, to the estimable Mick Eaton and Adrian Wootton for conceiving and achieving it, to some tremendous film research (and the confidence to allow the film extracts to have their own place and presence), and to D. W. Griffith, Alastair Sim, David Lean, W. C. Fields, Johnny Vegas, Sergei Eisenstein, John Mills, Hablot Knight Browne, Arena editor Anthony Wall (who also directs) – together with a few more – as well as the genius who was Charles Dickens. read more »

Weekend links

8th January 2012

Keen to start off the new year with a vision of the future of television? You could do a lot worse than read John Seabrook’s Streaming dreams for The New Yorker. Seabrook casts a somewhat sceptical eye over the plans for YouTube Original Channels and along the way raises a host of interesting questions about what how our media experiences may change over the coming months and years. I was particularly taken by his sense of the disconnect in the planning between ‘information people’ and ‘entertainment people’. This is encapsulated by the riposte of one executive to a question about definitions: “‘What do you mean, “What do I mean by ‘a show’?” ‘ ” (The New Yorker, of course, is immaculate about the placing of quotation marks, and I hope I’ve carried that concern across here.) Below, more links to more interesting stuff, with quite a bit of essential ‘digital’ reading this week. read more »

What larks

7th January 2012

To BFI Southbank on Friday evening for two screenings in the wonderful Dickens on Screen season. First up was The Life and Adventures of Nicholas NicklebyAlberto Cavalcanti’s adaptation for Ealing released in 1947. After the briefest of breaks (no time even for a beer) I plunged into Great Expectations, directed in 1946 by David Lean. It’s a critical cliché that Great Expectations is considerably superior to Nickleby (as films) – and viewing them side by side did nothing to challenge the notion. But it was really revealing to see the former in the light of the RSC/Channel 4 version and the latter so soon after the exceptionally strong BBC series. The following handful of notes also includes a truly bizarre story about one of the scriptwriters of Great Expectations as well as a paragraph about an intriguing curiosity from 1949 that was also screened. This followed on from John Mills’ Pip thrillingly ripping down the curtains and letting in the sun to stop Estella (Valerie Hobson) becoming Miss Havisham – which of course is not at all what happens in the book. read more »

Happy 20th birthday, NVAP

5th January 2012

The National Video Archive of Performance (NVAP) is a great and glorious resource – and shamefully little-known. Thanks to a generous agreement with theatre unions (which permits taping without the payment of fees to artistes and others), the NVAP creates high-quality archival recordings of theatre shows. These can be accessed by researchers (and back in 2009 Annette Brausch contributed a wonderful guest post here about this process), but for the most part – because of the terms of the agreement – they are not publicly screened or otherwise distributed. To mark twenty years of the NVAP, however, the V&A, which is where the archive is based, is mounting a series of showings on Sunday afternoons – including on 12 February Gregory Doran’s recent Cardenio in Stratford (above). All the details are across the jump. (I know we don’t usually do announcements of forthcoming screenings here, but these are rather special.) read more »