John Wyver writes: Some reading – and a little viewing – that might make a tiny contribution to your edification and amusement in self-isolation; Covid-19-related pieces are complemented by a number that are blessedly free of the virus. Stay well.
In the current pandemic crisis, the BBC – now nearly 100 years old – has some precious advantages over its other media rivals. Hard won experience is perhaps the greatest of these.Simply put, it has been here before. And, with any luck, that means it stands a good chance of helping us through demanding, frightening, and extraordinary times.
With Britain heading towards a shutdown, lasting who knows how long, it will quickly become evident how difficult it is to sustain society without everyday sociality… Having spent decades overhauling the welfare state to promote a more entrepreneurial, job-seeking, active populace, driven by an often punitive conditionality, Britain has little to fall back on when the most urgent need is for everybody to stay at home.
• Feeling overwhelmed? How art can help in an emergency: adapted for the Guardian from her new book, Olivia Laing is really good – and hopeful – with nods to, among others, Dickens, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, David Wojnarowicz, Ana Mendieta, Ursula Le Guin and Derek Jarman.
John Wyver writes: researching yesterday’s post piqued my curiosity about the early BBC television arts strand The Artist’s Eye, which ran from 1947 to 1949. Although the standard histories of arts television credit Monitor, which started in 1958, as the first arts series on British television, even on just the basis of Radio Times listings, a strong case can be made for that accolade belonging to The Artist’s Eye. The monthly programmes, each lasting between 30 and 45 minutes, were produced in the studio by the remarkable Mary Adams, who during the run of the series was promoted to be head of television talks. The strand title was also used, as I outline below, for a small number of acquired film documentaries about artists. For much of the information, thanks, as always and forever, to BBC Genome.
John Wyver writes: having looked at two early films from New York’s Metropolitan Museum, here and here, and before I return to the topic of museums and media in the United States, I thought I would explore how galleries and museums in Britain started to collaborate with the BBC, initially on radio and then, as early as November 1936, on television too. I’ve already noted that I don’t think there are any films made by a museum or gallery on this side of the Atlantic before the Second World War, but both in the interwar years and just post-war there was certainly plenty of virtual gallery-going over the airwaves.
This feels especially relevant since yesterday the BBC announced the following (which of course is exactly what underpins its legitimacy as a licence-fee funded public service broadcaster):
At a time when British culture is having to close its doors, the BBC, through iPlayer and Sounds, can give British culture an audience that can’t be there in person. We propose to run an essential arts and culture service – Culture in Quarantine – that will keep the Arts alive in people’s homes, focused most intensely across Radio 3, Radio 4, BBC Two, BBC Four, Sounds, iPlayer and our digital platforms, working closely with organisations like Arts Council England and other national funding and producing bodies. This will include guides to shuttered exhibitions…
John Wyver writes: Since it appears as if we’ll be spending even more of our time with our screens in the coming weeks, I thought I’d return to the blog with notes on some of the more obscure films and videos that you can find online. I’m especially interested at present in films and videos that circulated alongside the mainstream structures of film distribution and broadcasting, and perhaps especially that category of productions called ‘useful cinema’. (For more on the definition of this – and for the importance of having the term embrace electronic images and non-standard forms of television – look out for a future post.)
Today (and likely for the next couple of days) my attention is on a handful of early films made by New York’s Metropolitan Museum in the interwar years, and specifically the 1925 epic The Gorgon’s Head, which I am delighted to embed here in its full 17 minute glory.
John Wyver writes: The prospect of us all spending yet more time in front of screens away from social situations has prompted me to return to the blog and to offer a new selection of links to online offerings of different sorts that have caught my eye.
• The Digital Concert Hall now free for everyone: first up, a great initiative from the Berlin Philharmonic, which is offering 30 days free access to its virtual (and exceptional) Digital Concert Hall; the latest date for redeeming an access code for the offer is Tuesday 31 March. The website is offering over 600 orchestral concerts from the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Digital Concert Hall from more than ten years, including 15 concerts with the orchestra’s new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko.
The most instructive thing about the Berlin concert was how it dramatized what technology cannot supply: the temporary bond of purposeful community that forms under the spell of live music. The final silence was a vacuum crying to be filled.
• Met Opera to offer up ‘nightly Met Opera streams’: in a similar vein, here’s the OperaWire report about the Met’s plans to present free online encores of past performances from its Live in HD series. As the reports notes, ‘”We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb in a press release.’ To start, on Monday 16, Bizet’s Carmen at 19.30 EST, which these days is 23.30 in the UK (I think).
John Wyver writes: How sad to wake up this morning to the news of the death of a truly great television producer and filmmaker, and also a wonderful man, Tony Garnett. Here’s the Guardian story, with a 2016 photograph above by Sarah Lee, reporting his passing at the age of 83. There’s so much to say about his significance to British television from Up the Junction (1965) to This Life (1996-97) and beyond. There’s an excellent website about his work, and fortunately Tony wrote a fascinating memoir, much of which is about the extraordinary events of his early life, The Day the Music Died.
I’ll offer some further thoughts over the next couple of days, but by way of a tiny tribute here is the delightful interview that I conducted with him some six years ago about his work as an actor in the BBC’s ground-breaking History plays cycle, An Age of Kings (1960). We’ve released the full series on DVD and it is available here.
John Wyver writes: for your consideration – a selection of recent cinema-related stuff that I have found engaging and enriching.
• Newspaper women and the movies in the USA, 1914-1925: the great scholar Richard Abel writes for the Women Film Pioneers Project about women who wrote and edited film columns in the silent period; fascinating, with some lovely page grabs – including the Virginia Dale column above from the Chicago Tribune.
John Wyver writes: The end of last year was a shameful time for this blog, in large part because I posted ridiculously infrequently. Shortage of time was one factor, linked to a host of personal and professional pressures. But I don’t think it was just that.
After all there was lots that I wanted to write about: new productions and releases from Illuminations, a cornucopia of links that I was keen to share, exhibitions and films and books and television that I wanted to celebrate and, on occasion, to critique. Much as I’ve always done. But now there’s the sense that no-one reads blog posts any more – and as a consequence no-one writes them. Except of course they do. So I’m going to have another go. aiming to contribute two or three pieces a week, even if they are really short and snappy contributions.
John Wyver writes: again it’s Wednesday before I post Sunday links (and it’s a bit austere so far), but here are links to writing and video that has caught my eye over the past week or so. First up, a group of literary articles: Zadie Smith on fiction, an essay by Helen Lewis recent adaptations of Jane Austen, and then two truly glorious review essays about two of the biggest, baddest white male wordsmiths in the USA in the 1960s.