Starting at school

5th October 2018

Even as I have been neglecting the Illuminations blog, for which apologies once more, I have been writing elsewhere. Today’s brief entry here points to a post I’ve written for a History of the BBC blog; below there is news of a conference in November at which I’ll be speaking on the topic of my post.

‘Starting at school: researching the 1952 BBC “School Television Experiment”‘ is a BBC blog post written as a contribution to a new strand that aims to highlight academic research exploring aspects of the Corporation’s past. I became intrigued by the 1952 pilot in which specially produced programmes (including Black and White in an African Village, broadcast from Alexandra Palace, above) were screened for a month in just six Middlesex schools. This was an experiment to see if television might be valuable as a teaching aid, and the results showed that it would. But it was to be a further five years before a regular schools service was started, both from the BBC and from the upstart ITV contractor Associated-Rediffusion.

The School Television Experiment is the focus of a paper I’ll give at the Lights, Camera, Learning: Teaching with the Moving Image conference, at Birkbeck, University of London, 23-24 November. Details of the event, which marks the 70th anniversary of Learning on Screen (of which I’m a Trustee), and a link for booking, are here.

Image © BBC.

TV incognita

4th October 2018

To BFI Southbank on Monday for a triple bill of television dramas by women playwrights: The Tamer Tamed, 1956, by Elaine Morgan (above); Still Waters, 1972, by Julia Jones; and A Kind of Marriage, 1976, by Buchi Emecheta. The programme was part of the hugely valuable Drama She Wrote season curated by the BFI’s Dick Fiddy and Dr Billy Smart, and Billy writes about the three plays on the Forgotten Television Drama blog. It’s worth noting too that there are two further offerings in the season on Saturday and Monday, details of which are below.

I have to admit that I found all three of Monday’s dramas disappointing. At least I judged them so when measured against conventional criteria, whether of their own time or, especially, of today. Each in its way is – or seemed so on Monday, when projected on NFT2’s big screen – clunky, over-written and internally inconsistent both in tone and in the quality of the performances. But at the same time I found each one fascinating – and strange. Indeed, fascinating precisely because of the surprising strangeness. And that brought home yet again how little we know of the vast continent that is the history of television drama, how little of it has been mapped and documented, and how many wonders and weirdnesses there are still to be discovered. TV incognita, indeed. read more »

Making Harold Pinter’s Art, Truth & Politics

1st October 2018

theatre announcement of Mark Rylance's performance of Art, Truth & Politics

In the early evening on Tuesday and Thursday of this coming week, 2 and 4 October, Mark Rylance performs Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture Art, Truth & Politics as part of the excellent ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ season. These charity performances are in aid of the Stop the War coalition, and are directed by Harry Burton. Tickets can be booked here.

Our DVD of Harold Pinter delivering Art, Truth & Politics is available here. Harry Burton’s excellent film Working with Pinter is also available as an Illuminations DVD, which can be ordered here.

Harold Pinter has been very much a part of my life recently. Ten days ago I contributed a keynote lecture to the University of Reading/British Library conference organised by the Harold Pinter: Histories and Legacies research project. On Thursday I saw the first of the ‘Pinter at the Pinter’ performances which included a truly powerful staging of One for the Road with Antony Sher and Paapa Essiedu, directed by Jamie Lloyd, and Lia Williams’ remarkable production of Ashes to Ashes, with Paapa again and an astonishing Kate O’Flynn. And with the Art, Truth & Politics performances coming up, Harry Burton has prompted me to compose the following notes about what I recall about producing, with my colleague Linda Zuck, the 2005 recording. read more »

Sunday links

30th September 2018

Today’s links to interesting stuff that has attracted my attention over the past week or so, with thanks to Twitter recommenders. You will doubtless be delighted to see that I have once again worked out how to embed videos.

They Shall Not Grow Old: this is unquestionably remarkable…

Colouring the Past:… but in all the discussion that there’s bound to be about it, take note of this by Luke McKernan, from January, and also his post Monochrome. read more »

Judson Dance Theater at MoMA

29th September 2018

I’m not sure I’m ready – or have time – to return to contributing frequent posts, but I am interested to see if I can occasionally draw together notes and pointers about topics that are engaging me. I want to dive more deeply into certain things than I’m able to do by simply linking to articles on a Sunday. If only for me to learn more about the topics. So here’s a first assembly, which I hope to add to, of some elements linked in this case to Judson Dance Theater.

Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done is a recently opened exhibition and ambitious events programme at MoMA in New York until 3 February. Judson Dance Theater was, as Wikipedia currently tells us, ‘a collective of dancers, composers, and visual artists who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village in Manhattan… between 1962 and 1964. The artists involved were avant garde experimentalists who rejected the confines of Modern dance practice and theory, inventing as they did the precepts of Postmodern dance.’ Among those involved were Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown and Robert Morris. read more »

Sunday links

23rd September 2018

No post last week – apologies – but I’m delighted to offer here a new group of links to stuff that I’ve found interesting over the past week and more. Many thanks to those who alerted me to some, on Twitter and elsewhere.

The plot to subvert an election: a genuinely astonishing feat of reporting – and of presentation – by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times about the 2016 race and ‘the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.’

A warning from Europe – the worst is yet to come: Anne Appelbaum for The Atlantic is an essential read about Poland and Hungary, and what recent events in both countries portend. read more »

Clowns for BBC Two’s Performance Live

21st September 2018

One of the highlights of the summer was working with Hofesh Shechter to film his half-hour dance work Clowns. The film is first screened tomorrow night, 22 September, on BBC Two at 10.30pm, and will then be on BBC iPlayer for 30 days – link to follow. We are thrilled to have collaborated with Hofesh Shechter Company to help create what I think is a genuinely innovative and bold  film for the screen.

Hofesh Shechter’s Clowns was commissioned by the BBC as part of the Performance Live strand – a partnership between BBC Arts, Arts Council England and Battersea Arts Centre, showcasing some of the most exciting artists working in performance today. With cinematographer Sebastian Cort, we shot the film over five days on location at Rivoli Ballroom in South London. The editor was Todd MacDonald, who also took these striking images. Henny Finch and I are the producers. read more »

Sunday links

9th September 2018

A slightly fuller list of links (and a perhaps moderately more considered one) after last week’s tentative return to this format, with a clutch of articles that I have found fascinating and enriching. Many thanks to all those who alerted me to these, on Twitter and elsewhere. (But I still can’t work out how to embed videos in the current iteration of WordPress, despite having done so many times in the past.)

• Venice 2018: Welles and The Other Side of the Wind: there’s no-one I’m more interested in reading on the ‘new’ Orson Welles feature than David Bordwell – and he doesn’t disappoint. Above, John Huston, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich on the set of The Other Side of the Wind.

• “We cannot live without Ford” – an interview with Tag Gallagher: a terrific exchange between the biographer and critic and Jake Rutkowski at FilmInt., which takes off from Gallagher’s re-working as a digital publication of his great study of the great director – John Ford, Himself and his Movies, available for Kindle here for (currently) just £4.69. read more »

Sunday links

2nd September 2018

Summer’s over and – yes – I’ve delivered the first draft manuscript of my book. (It’s about film and television adaptations of RSC stage productions.) So let’s see if I can return to my weekly list of links to things that I have found stimulating to read or watch in recent days. Thanks to all those who recommended these on Twitter and elsewhere. One note: in the period since I last posted either WordPress has changed so as not to permit the embedding of Youtube videos or I’m doing something stupid – could be either, but as you’ll see there are no videos included below.

Venice 2018: First impressions, First Man and Big films on the big screen: two rich reports from the festival by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell.

• The fabric of freedom – Laura Huertas Millán’s ethnographic filmmaking: Matt Turner for Sight & Sound on the French-Canadian filmmaker, including La Libertad, 2017 (above).

Ontology of the memed image: at Mubi.com, Ben Flanagan looks at how studios are increasingly using gifs in their marketing and asks, ‘How can the meme be used to rediscover the history of cinema?” read more »