On finding your second-hand self

On finding your second-hand self

Wednesday morning, and to kill time I’m wandering around Stratford-upon-Avon. Oxfam Books is – as ever – alluring, and I make for the modest Film and Television section. Not that my shelves at home (or indeed the floors) have any more space, but I am always hopeful of finding an early volume of Briggs or “K’s” signature in a copy of Civilisation. Today, however, slotted between Paris Hilton’s – until now, unknown to me - Confessions of an Heiress and an equally resistible volume titled Mime in Class and Theatre is, yes, a book that I wrote back in 1988, The Moving Image: An International History of Film, Television and Video. The black spine, white retro font and end-frame of Chaplin’s  Modern Times jolts me with the recognition that this is perhaps the first time I’ve found myself in a second-hand bookshop. Quite how do I feel about that?
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BBC: ‘bastion of mediocrity’

BBC: ‘bastion of mediocrity’

I have been reading the late Tony Richardson‘s memoir Long Distance Runner. (I know I promised a Julius Caesar update, but that waits on a RSC press release – tomorrow, I hope.) It is not clear whether Richardson’s book, which was published posthumously by Faber and Faber in 1993, was intended for publication, for his daughter Natasha discovered it hidden away in a cupboard on the day he died. It was probably written around 1985, perhaps – as Natasha Richardson suggests in the Foreword – at the time that he was first diagnosed as HIV positive. It is a compelling, seemingly honest, sometimes angry, often very funny book about theatre and about cinema. What it is not – although this is what I hoped it might be – is a book about television, even though Richardson made a number of distinctive dramas for the BBC in the mid-1950s. It is typical of his attitude towards the small screen that the best he can say about his television output is that ‘this work was better than doing nothing [but] I was dreaming of other things.’
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A Bigger Splash: the only way is Hockney

A Bigger Splash: the only way is Hockney

BFI Video has this week released Jack Hazan’s 1974 feature about David Hockney and his circle, A Bigger Splash. Available as a dual format DVD and Blu-ray, this fascinating and complex film has never looked better, not least because Hazan returned to a 35mm CRI for a new digital transfer. The timing is good too, for this study of life, love and sex among the Hockney set of the early seventies offers a very different picture of our ‘national treasure’ from the persona conjured up by the current Royal Academy show. The BFI has done an exemplary job with the release, as is pin-pointed by Anthony Neild’s thoughtful discussion at The Digital Fix. Included on the discs are two other shorts about Hockney – Love’s Presentation by James Scott, made in 1966, and David Pearce’s Portrait of David Hockney, 1972 – to which I’ll return in a future post. Meanwhile, included below is an extract from my essay commissioned for the booklet accompanying the BFI release.
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Ken and me

Ken and me

Like many others, I was sad today to learn of the death of Ken Russell. There are already tributes aplenty online, including Derek Malcolm’s Guardian obituary, a Telegraph obituary, some excellent short interviews with those who worked with him, and an artsdesk Q&A with Jasper Rees about his photography and early films. Film Studies for Free has a great page of links titled ‘Pity we aren’t madder’ (it’s from Women in Love) to academic engagements with the films. My thought here is simply to record the place that Russell had in my life. I’m sure a similar storycould be told by ten or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people. But perhaps its particularity gives it an interest. In any case, it’s one very small way of saying ‘Thank you’.
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‘That prince of editors’

‘That prince of editors’

I have been immensely saddened this evening to learn of the death, at the age of 74, of the designer, illustator and art critic Peter Campbell. You may know of him as the man who, since 1992, has created the fortnightly cover of the London Review of Books. Diana Souhami’s delightful tribute to Peter that is her Guardian obituary points out that for the first four years these covers often featured one of his monochrome photographs. But since 1996 they have been the delicate, poised colour illustrations that have been among the magazine’s most distinctive features. Peter also designed the magazine’s generous layout (and its just as generous Bloomsbury bookshop) and he contributed a regular column of thoughtful art criticism distinguished by his precise observations and unshowy intelligence. I cherish the two watercolours of his that hang on my walls, and I am happy to say that he was a friend of mine.
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