Back to the future

Back to the future

Picturegoing is a splendid online resource compiled and curated by the estimable Luke McKernan, who also runs another richly interesting blog under his own name and in his spare time is the British Library’s Lead Curator, News and Moving Image. ‘An ongoing survey,’ is how Picturehouse describes itself, ‘reproducing eyewitness testimony of viewing pictures, from the seventeenth century to the present day.’ So here you will find Alfred Hitchcock recalling a virtual railway journey around 1910, the novelist Dorothy Richardson at an early talkie, and The Drifters ‘Kissin’ in the Back Row’ in a song written by  Tony Macaulay and Roger Greenaway. Luke reproduces the diary entry, recollection, song or whatever and adds a minimal but always revealing annotation. The earliest entry is from The Diary of Samuel Pepys with its account of a magic lantern show, and now one of the most recent is my own note first published on this blog of seeing The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD for the first time.

I am delighted that Luke requested permission to include this brief account from 26 February 2007, but as is always the case I was slightly nervous at re-reading something I wrote some years back. In fact, I was pleased to see that the prose is serviceable and that the historical context I sketched seems correct. Moreover, my sense of the significance of the occasion -’On Saturday night I saw (and heard) the future of arts programmes’ - has been borne out by the success of The Met’s project, by NT Live and by the RSC’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon, which I now produce. (Next up is The Two Gentlemen of Verona on Wednesday 3 September – we ran the first camera rehearsal yesterday, and it is a wonderfully engaging and enjoyable show.)

From the start the brief for Picturegoing has taken in accounts of pre-cinema entertainments along with the movies after 1895, and now Luke hopes to extend the range to feature other media related to the cinema. In particular, he want to include further responses to this hybrid form that combines theatre and cinema and that, as he correctly notes, currently goes by a host of names including ‘streamed theatre, live-streamed theatre, live-to-cinema, simulcasts, live theatre and live cinema’. I look forward to Picturegoing offering me further virtual trips to the cinema in its myriad of manifestations.

Standing up for the selfie

Standing up for the selfie

Only rarely does writing about the arts really rile me. But today I read two pieces on the same topic that I regard as nostalgic, ignorant and elitist twaddle. The topic is the relaxation of the ban on photography for personal use at the National Gallery. The twaddle comes from Sarah Crompton, arts editor of the Telegraph, and from Michael Savage who blogs as Grumpy Art Historian (and who also has other issues with the gallery). In their respective articles Why you shouldn’t take photos in galleries and Trivialising the National Gallery, both express the view that permitting people to take photographs of great paintings that they own (if, that is, they are UK citizens) is a Bad Thing. I want instead to suggest that what is Bad about all of this is the exclusive and patronising attitudes both writers display towards the rest of us.
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Live from Salzburg

Live from Salzburg

To Cinema 1 at the Barbican for a live stream of The Forbidden Zone from the Salzburg Festival. Written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Katie Mitchell, this new work premiered last Wednesday, plays Salzburg for another week and then goes to the Schaubuhne in Berlin. (A download of the programme in English is available here.) For one night only, and to one screen only, this innovative relay came to the Barbican as a co-commission with 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions. Surprising and fascinating it most certainly was, as well as emotionally engaging.

As background, this video from 59 Productions includes rehearsal footage and an interview with Katie Mitchell:


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Stage to screen, the story continues

Stage to screen, the story continues

Discussions about adapting stage plays for the screen, whether broadcast live or recorded ‘as live’, have moved on apace over the past couple of months. There have also been a number of further cinema broadcasts, including a successful presentation by NT Live of David Hare’s Skylight, of which Encore screenings are continuing. Below are some recent readings about this question.

Let’s stop pretending that theatre can’t be captured on screen: this Michael Billington Guardian piece (18 June 2014) is something of a game-changer:

I went this week to a preview of Digital Theatre‘s screen version of Richard Eyre’s Almeida production of Ibsen’s Ghosts: I can only say that it offered an experience comparable to that I had in the theatre… while I remain an evangelist for live theatre, I think it’s time we stopped pretending that it offers an unreproducible event. A theatre performance can now be disseminated worldwide with astonishing fidelity.

• Sir Alan Ayckbourn voices fears over theatre screenings: the playwright offers a note of scepticism; from BBC online, 11 June 2014.

NESTA research finds that National Theatre Live has no negative impact on regional theatre-going: outline from The Audience Agency on the research undertaken with NESTA; 25 June 2014.

• Research finds that National Theatre Live has no negative impact on regional theatre-going: this is NESTA’s press release; 24 June 2014…

NESTA Working Paper 14/04: … and this is a download of the report in full.

How live cinema screenings can help boost live arts audiences: Arts Council Chair Peter Bazalgette adds his gloss to the research; from the Independent, 30 July 2014.

New work needs to be done before cinema broadcasts bring new audiences to opera: the focus is different, but this English Touring Opera research is also a valuable contribution to the debates; this is their 27 May 2014 blog piece…

English Touring Opera – Opera in cinemas research: … and this is a download of the paper in full.

The bitter taste of live screening: Elizabeth Freestone raises some important questions about live cinema broadcasts; from Arts Professional, 5 June 2014.

Coney’s no island – could streamed theatre let audiences call the shots?: Andrew Haydon for the Guardian on Coney’s interactive theatre experiment Better than Life; 1 July 2014.

Of Mice and Men to be National Theatre’s first live Broadway screening: meanwhile, NT Live is expanding its geographical reach to take in a New York show; this is the BBC’s 25 July news report. Screening dates for the ‘as live’ recording have still to be announced.

The next RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcast is Simon Godwin’s sparkling and totally delightful production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona on 3 September; details here.

Back to the tavern

Back to the tavern

If it’s Wednesday, it must be the live broadcast day of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon broadcast of Henry IV Part II. We’re back at the Boar’s Head tavern, which is where Falstaff, Hal and the company acted out the banishment of the fat knight in Part I (below). Prepare to have your hearts broken tonight…

Cinema reviews for Henry IV

Cinema reviews for Henry IV

I am in Stratford-upon-Avon for today’s first camera rehearsal for the RSC’s live cinema presentation of Henry IV Part II on 18 June. One of the things that frustrates me about these broadcasts is that they rarely get reviewed or discussed as examples of live cinema. Part I on 14 May, however, attracted at least three substantial responses – from the Birmingham Post, from the blog But madnorthnorthwest and from academic Dr Peter Kirwan at The Bardathon:

Richard Edmonds’ 5-star review for the Birmingham Post:

 [I]n this skilful filming of the play not a word was missed, articulation was nigh perfect, the ends of lines were not dropped and so we heard our Shakespeare clearly which is surely the point of the exercise. The other great thing which a seat in the stalls cannot give us, is the intimate close-up. In the film of the play such as this, you can see the pores on an actor’s skin, almost feel his emotional suffering as the camera closes in on his eyes, and you can see the work of the costume department in detail.

 • The blog Butmadnorthnorthwest:

After the successful broadcast of Richard II last year, the RSC is now continuing with Henry IV (part 2 follows in June). Started off with a charming and informative interview of Gregory Doran (NTL, you might want to take notes of how these are done. Kudos to Suzy Klein.) who admitted having unsucessfully looked for his Falstaff until Ian McKellen called his attention to the fact he was actually living with him.

Peter Kirwan at The Bardathon:

This was the first of the ‘Live From Stratford-upon-Avon’ events that I’ve attended, the live screenings from Stratford modelled on the NT Live series that will, hopefully, by 2020 see the complete works of Shakespeare broadcast internationally from the RSC’s main stage. If the RSC wishes to remain competitive in a new market then it’s a necessary step, and it was a pleasure to see John Wyver’s team doing an extraordinary job with the filming. Despite the obvious awkwardness of filming a production performed on a thrust stage, cameras captured the fine detail that characterises Doran’s work, from the apparently suspended crown which dominated the stage at the production’s opening to the detail of Falstaff’s reaction to his dismissal by Hal.

I would be delighted to learn of any other detailed reviews, whether positive or negative.

PS. for the rationale for my new approach to the blog, go here.

Changes

Changes

To Clapham Picturehouse for Saturday night’s Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcast of Puccini’s La bohème. And “live” it most certainly was, for only around five hours earlier soprano Kristine Opolais replaced flu-stricken Anita Hartig in the main role of Mimi. Host Joyce DiDonato mentioned this in her opening remarks and then the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb went out in front of the curtain to explain the change to the house and, although he made no mention of the cameras, to the rest of the world. What made the occasion all the more remarkable was that Ms Opolais had debuted in the title role of Madame Butterfly just the previous night. The soprano went to sleep at 5am and was woken with Gelb’s request some two and a half hours later, as the New York Times reports. She acquitted herself thrillingly well, making it all rather extraordinary. And for those of us interested in live cinema the broadcast had several other notable aspects.
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Still here and now

Still here and now

On his blog Modern Art Notes the smart, provocative and always readable critic Tyler Green publishes The Monday Checklist, an invaluable weekly round-up of the visual arts. He notes new reviews, highlights Twitter and Tumblr feeds and draws attention to interesting print and digital publications. In this week’s post he links to the new online site 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated – and here I want simply to underscore Tyler Green’s recommendation and muse a bit on why I think the 1959 presentation is so interesting. First, here’s some background in the form of a film that accompanies 1959, but if you’ve never heard of Clyfford Still it might be worth reading the Wikipedia entry before watching:


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The making of the Henry IV trailer

The making of the Henry IV trailer

On Friday the Royal Shakespeare Company launched the trailer for their new productions of Henry IV Parts I and II:

Following November’s successful showing of Richard II, these new stagings will be broadcast in cinemas for Live from Stratford-upon-Avon on 14 May and 18 June in Britain, and then over the following months abroad. The broadcasts are produced by the RSC, as is the trailer, and not by Illuminations, but I am involved as the producer – and I thought it might be insteresting to share some notes about how the Henry IV trailer came together.
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An afternoon at the opera

An afternoon at the opera

3pm, and Screen 1 at Cineworld Wandsworth is perhaps one-sixth full. I am waiting for neither The Lego Movie nor Mr Peabody and Sherman - those cinemas have rather more people in them – but rather the ENO’s stand-out Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton (above) live from the Coliseum. ‘Twas but twenty months ago that ENO artistic director John Berry told The Stage that screening productions in cinemas ‘is of no interest to me. It is not a priority. It doesn’t create new audiences either… this obsession about putting work out into the cinema can distract from making amazing quality work.’ Yet here is the company in a new partnership to screen productions in cinemas with the rather anonymous altivemedia group. Now clearly, given my close association with RSC Live from Stratford-upon-Avon (which is in a similar space for theatre) I’m the last person to judge this first outing objectively. Even so, here are my brief thoughts on how they got on.
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