Sunday: a blog makeover

Sunday: a blog makeover

Although there is no sign of this here, I have been thinking a lot about a new direction for this blog. I have remarkably downtime at the moment and I’m all too aware that I am not posting regularly. The next RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcast is coming up fast – Henry IV Part II on Wednesday 18 June. There are other broadcast projects underway, plus I am researching and writing articles on, among other topics, live cinema, Henry Moore, Shakespeare on television and Ken Russell. And I am doing my best to work on the data entry for the Screen Plays database which needs to be complete by the end of the year – and we still have a long way to go. Finding the moments to post here as I have in the past has simply become harder in recent weeks. So I am going to try something a little different. Please bear with me over the coming days as I work out quite how it should work.

I intend to post something here every day – but not to feel that I have to craft an article for each entry. Rather, many of the entries will just be a link or several such or a video or a book I’m reading, with a line or two of commentary. And I’ll keep the past seven days active in a separate updated entry – and then ‘retire’ entries eight days or older into the archive. You’ll get the hang of it, I hope. Anyway, here goes…

Sunday 8 June

Previously on the blog… I used to compile a Sunday links section of things that I had found interesting during the previous week. I miss this, as I think one or two of you do also, and I am hoping that my blog makeover will offer some of the links that I would have previously highlighted. So to begin on this new path I am going to point you towards a terrific series of recent posts on one of the blogs that I admire the most, Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Observations on film art.

In April and May David Bordwell authored a wonderful series of posts about film reviewing in the United States in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. They are full of richly interesting ideas about the cinema, writing and the culture of America. He intends to pull these together into an e-book but in the meantime you can read them here:

Otis Ferguson and the way of the camera, 20 November 2013
David Bordwell characterises this piece as the ‘prologue’ to the series. He reflects on the writings of the film critic of The Nation between 1934 and 1942.

The Rhapsodes: Agee, Farber, Tyler and us, 26 January 2014
Introducing James Agee, Manny Farber and Parker Tyler…

I’m captivated by all three. None holds me hostage, though; I write as an enthusiast but not a promoter. What attracts me now, in tandem with the book I’m writing on Hollywood in the 1940s, is what they did in their first decade. Although many readers didn’t notice, these three made writing about American film exuberant and important. They raised it to a level of frenzied acuity that it had never enjoyed before. They helped create, by the delayed action I sketched earlier, the modern institution of movie criticism, with all its virtues and excesses. In the process, they forged some original ways of thinking about American cinema.

 • Agee & Co.: a newer criticism, 9 February 2014
Leftist ideas about popular culture – and especially Hollywood – in the 1940s…

James Agee, Manny Farber, and Parker Tyler [...] wrote criticism with a zany gusto that nobody else imagined possible. They didn’t telegraph their punchlines; sometimes you couldn’t be sure that there was a punchline, and sometimes there seemed to be too many. As for popular culture: They seemed, with reservations, to like it a lot. They liked being unSerious, which only lent greater oomph to the moments when gravity was demanded.

James Agee: All there and primed to go off, 23 February 2014
On Agee on Chaplin and John Huston, and on Walker Evans too.

It’s terribly easy to be sentimental about Agee, and almost as easy to be hard on him. (Brutality, as Stroheim and Griffith knew, has its sentimental side.) But I think that reading him can do something rare in film criticism: He calls you to your best instincts. His dithering can be frustrating, and he often snaps open too many pipes in the sonorous organ of that style.

Manny Farber 1: Color commentary, 17 March 2014

Manny Farber 2: Space man, 23 March 2014

We’re so attuned to late-phase Farber that turning to this hero’s apprentice work may seem to court disappointment. But from the start the writing is racy and engaging, and not so densely impacted as in his late phase. Moreover, he has long been considered our critic most sensitive to the look of the movies. By rummaging first in his youthful art reviews, we can get a better sense of exactly what his criticism owes to the visual arts, modernism in particular. The result, which I’ll present in the followup entry, wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

 • Parker Tyler: a suave and wary guest, 2 April 2014

Tyler tries something different [from Agee and Farber]. He’s not a realist but a surrealist. What Agee and Farber praised as “accuracy” or “authenticity” scarcely concerns him. And story–at least, the story the film pretends to be telling–doesn’t matter to him so much. The very first chapter of his first book is titled, ‘The Play Is Not the Thing.’

The Rhapsodes: after lives, 20 April 2014

If there hadn’t been films that pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling, even the cleverest reviewers couldn’t have written so fruitfully. Without Sturges and Welles, Huston and Wyler, Hitchcock and Wilder, Wellman and Walsh, Lang and Preminger, Mankiewicz and Val Lewton; without perversities like The Portrait of Dorian Gray and Salome Where She Danced (above) and Turnabout; without ambitious pictures like Citizen Kane and The Story of GI Joe alongside dozens of sturdy programmers, the Rhapsodes would have had little to work with. The cascade of overpowering, exuberant, piercing, and crazy films of the 1940s surely pushed them to go all out. Great criticism can flourish, it seems, when there is great cinema.

Lord K

Lord K

Tate Britain this week has opened the exhibition Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation, which runs until 10 August. There is no sense that I can be impartial about the show, given that I contributed by curating the television extracts (which my Illuminations colleague Todd MacDonald compiled) and writing a catalogue essay about the television programmes that Clark made for ATV between 1958 and 1966. But let me say that I think it’s a completely fascinating – and beautiful – display about a profoundly influential figure in twentieth century culture.

I have long been interested in ‘K’ (as he was always known to his friends) and back in 1993 I directed a BBC documentary about his life and ideas. Twenty years on I have contributed to a new film about him, produced by Kate Misrahi and screening on BBC Two on 31 May (thoughts on that to follow). Here I want to draw together a range of resources about and responses to the exhibition, and over the coming days I will add to this as other pieces appear. I also intend to write further about the choice of extracts included in the exhibition and about the many remarkable art objects that the curators Chris Stephens and John-Paul Stonard have drawn together.
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Catching up…

Catching up…

It has been just over a month since I last posted, for which I can only apologise. Not that I haven’t had things to write about. Rather too many of them, in fact. Which in part accounts for my failure to contribute anything new here in the past four weeks and more. Last Wednesday I produced the latest Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcast of Henry IV Part I, and on Friday there was a shoot for the trailer of Two Gentlemen of Verona. I was at the Shakespeare450 conference in Paris and I have curated the current ‘Classics on TV: Edwardian Drama on the Small Screen’ at BFI Southbank. There is a screening of Don Taylor’s exceptional 1977 BBC production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste on Tuesday evening and a half-day symposium linked to the season on Friday. And today was the press day for Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilisation at Tate Britain (that’s the man himself, above), which I have had a hand in putting together and for which I have written a catalogue essay. These events – and more – now deserve some reflections, which is what I am to provide over the coming days…

Move it

Move it

We have just completed a short film for Christie’s which has gone online this morning. The film showcases Turn Me On: European and Latin American Kinetic Art, 1948-1979a private selling exhibition at Christie’s Mayfair until 7 April. More details are here along with an online version of the catalogue. It’s a really delightful and stimulating show – and entry is free at 103 New Bond Street, London W1S 1ST.

The film was produced and directed for Illuminations over the past five days by Linda Zuck, with Nicole Mandell as production assistant, Ian Serfontein as director of photography and Tor Kristoffersen as editor.

Image: Marina Apollonio, Dinamica Circolare 9B, 1969, on display at Turn Me On.

Links to catch up, 1

Links to catch up, 1

Nearly a month and not a single new post. Given the time of year, I might have expected things to have been quiet, leaving plenty of time for the blog. But not a bit of it. I have started work on the next two cinema broadcasts for the RSC’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon. At Illuminations we have been busy developing new broadcast ideas and working on a project for the Science Museum. Distribution of our DVD box-set of An Age of Kings continues. And I have been writing two journal articles, a book review for Sight & Sound, preparing a Screen Plays season for BFI

, editing archive material for Tate Britain’s exhibition about Kenneth Clark in May, and teaching some classes at the Royal College of Art. Today, I’m taking part in a Q&A after a special encore screening at the Barbican of Richard II Live from Stratford-upon-Avon, which coincides with the end of the show’s stage run. So I’ve not been idle, just not contributing here – and not being very active with social media either. To start again, however, here is the first of two collections of links that have engaged me recently, with a concentration today on those related to television (including HBO’s True Detective, above) and cinema.
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2013 top ten, 7: John Wyver

2013 top ten, 7: John Wyver

To conclude our 2013 round-up, and before we get to the business of 2014 over the weekend and next week, this is our final ‘top ten’ of the year. Let’s hope that the new year can offer as rich a range of experiences.

1. The Great Beauty

Unsurprisingly Paolo Sorrentino’s panorama of modern Rome (above, with Toni Servillo) has featured in the ‘tens’ by Linda and by Keith, and in many other end-of-the-year round-ups. I saw the film on a Sunday afternoon from the front row of one of the small screens at Clapham Picturehouse – and I was completely overwhelmed. Visually, aurally (part of the score is by Zbigniew Preisner), this is great and glorious cinema…

2. Gravity

… as is Alfonso Cuarón’s astonishing space adventure. Back in November I posted a clutch of links for those interested in learning more about the film, its production and reception. Including it here also gives me an excuse to feature the 2-D trailer once again.


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2013 top ten, 6: Louise Machin

2013 top ten, 6: Louise Machin

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 penultimate contribution today from our head of business development Louise Machin. 

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Apollo Theatre

I saw this in March and immediately loved the innovative, hi-tech staging, incredible lighting, and sound design (above) which indicated the grid-like, sensory over-laden world that artistic genius, Christopher (Luke Treadway), perceives around him: overwhelming, busy and noisy. Mark Haddon’s cult novel highlights Christopher’s struggles with the difficulties of everyday life whilst those close to him buckle under the emotional pressures they face.

Adapted for stage by Simon Stephens, this production gives us the world through Christopher’s eyes, which is why it works so well. Starting with a great doggy corpse stuck with a garden fork, Christopher begins his detection trail, virtually disregarding those around him except his teacher, Siobhan (Niamh Cusack) who seems to be the only character able to comfort him when all else appears to stop functioning as he goes into emotional crisis. A must-see, once the Apollo has its roof back on.
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2013 top ten, 3: Keith Griffiths

2013 top ten, 3: Keith Griffiths

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 third contribution today from Illuminations Films’ Keith Griffiths. Thank you, Keith – happy new year to you!

Keith: Being a country recluse with little London or overseas travel this year, my cultural input was rather limited in comparison to the non-stop lives of some. But then when I read the about the vast number of exhibitions, concerts and performances friends have visited this year, I get a fierce attack of indigestion. So much ‘stuff’. Do we really need all this to improve our minds and lives? I think I am fast turning into an Edmund Burkean reactionary.

1. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

In this spirit – my most pleasurable documentary was Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, a riveting story of one of NYC’s mythic landmarks. Fabulous stories from Bergdorf Goodman’s iconic history directed by Matthew Miele. The legend, the parties, the fashion idols, the windows, the women, the buyers and shoppers all come to life in an essay to a site where creativity and commerce reigned equally.


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2013 top ten, 2: Tom Allen

2013 top ten, 2: Tom Allen

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.
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2013 top ten, 1: Linda Zuck

2013 top ten, 1: Linda Zuck

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.
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