8th November 2016

A song for today.

‘The greatest song ever written about America… and what’s so great about it is, it gets right to the heart of what our country is supposed to be about.”

Live at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, 30 September, 1985.

French noir

7th November 2016

In this week’s Sunday links I highlighted a recent audiovisual essay by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin about the cinema of Roman Polanski. Today, I want to give slightly more attention to their latest creation, the 12-minute ‘A tour through French noir’, commissioned by Sight & Sound. This is a gloriously evocative, allusive and elegant engagement with the Gallic tradition of cinematic fatalism, desperate passion and doomed love that distinguishes many of the best French films from the 1930s to the 1960s. The video essay is linked to the season French noir at BFI Southbank and Ciné Lumière, and can very profitably be watched alongside Ginette Vincendeau’s complementary Deep Focus essay for Sight & Sound, ‘How the French birthed film nor’. For more on Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s practice, see below.

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Sunday links

6th November 2016

Posted slightly late, here’s my latest list of links to interesting articles and videos. As usual, many of these have been highlighted on Twitter and a few have been kindly sent to me as recommendations.  The list appears three days before the US Presidential election and in the midst of a peculiarly febrile time in British politics, as the first couple of links indicate.

• The Brexit war can still be won, but we must start fighting back: Will Hutton for the Guardian expressing so eloqueently what I feel passionately:

Britain stands on the verge of a great unravelling with untold consequences for its economy, society, place in the world, and its people’s souls. The standard must be raised: fire must be returned. We need to make the case for a reimagined Britain and its membership of the EU. We say not what we are against, but what we stand for. We want our country back. And we want it now.

Disciples of distrust: in a powerful piece for New York Review of Books Garry Wills asks what has caused the crisis of ‘the shuddering distrust of every kind of authority—a contempt for the whole political system’; his answer, encompassing both Brexit and the Donald:

What has caused this bitter disillusion? It is the burrowing and undermining infection of the Iraq war—the longest in our history, one that keeps upsetting order abroad and at home. The war’s many costs—not just in lives and money but in psychic and political damage—remain only half-visible in America, as hidden as the returning coffins that could not be photographed for years.

Moreover, this:

America and the abyss: Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine.

And this:

Why Trump is different – and must be repelled: Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker.

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‘The Birth of Television’

5th November 2016

To round off a few days devoted to the 80th anniversary of the start of the BBC television service from Alexandra Palace, here’s how the BBC marked the 40th anniversary. This lavish programme, produced by Bruce Norman, includes archive material, interviews with many of the pioneers, a reconstruction of Baird’s ‘flying spot’ camera and modest dramatisations. It’s a fascinating document, and for my money stands up remarkably well.



The arts on early television

4th November 2016

Having yesterday highlighted Shakespeare on television between the wars, today’s short post spotlights a Media History seminar on Tuesday when I’m sharing the spotlight with my colleague Dr Amanda Wrigley. The event is a contribution to an interdisciplinary research seminar series at the University of London’s Institute of English Studies and Institute of Historical Research. The seminar starts at 6pm at Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU. Everyone is welcome.

My topic of the arts on television before World War Two is one that I’ve explored a little on this blog in the past, including here. And the richness of the archive material makes me hope that I can find time and resource to research it in much more depth in the future. In the meantime, below is my title and abstract for Tuesday. read more »

Television Shakespeare between the wars

3rd November 2016

I was delighted last week to receive a copy of the new Shakespeare Survey volume, no 69, published by Cambridge University Press. This is an annual collection of Shakespeare scholarship edited by Peter Holland – and for this themed issue about Shakespeare and Rome, also by Emma Smith. Nestled towards the back of a hefty volume is my article ‘An Intimate and Intermedial Form: Early Television Shakespeare from the BBC, 1937-1939’..

The article is developed from a paper that I gave at a 2014 conference, organised by Kingston University and The Rose Theatre, focussed on David Garrick and Shakespeare, but I broadened it out from that discussion of a 1939 television production of Garrick’s version of The Taming of the Shrew. As a taster of the essay, I reproduce its opening below – for the rest, can I recommend you access the volume through a library or via an online subscription, as the book is priced at an unaffordable level in the way that academic publications now seem fated to be. read more »

80 years on: television’s first night

2nd November 2016

The world’s first regular television service started 80 years ago today, when BBC Television began daily transmissions from Alexandra Palace (above is AP’s blue plaque). To mark the date, at 9pm tonight BBC Four broadcast Television’s Opening Night: How the Box was Born, and I live-blogged the evening. For the advance information on the programme, scroll to 6.15pm, and then read up through the evening as I linked to other resources and, after 9pm, offered reactions to the programme.

The programme itself is now on BBC iPlayer until, I think, 2 December.

Throughout, this remained as irresistible as ever:

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MoMA marvels

1st November 2016

The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently unveiled an exciting, extraordinary and exemplary archival project, ‘Exhibition history’, that is putting online for free and unrestricted access thousands and thousands of installation photographs, press releases and – most remarkable of all – hundreds of out-of-print catalogues. I have picked three initial favourites below, but it’s important to recognise just how astonishing an achievement this is – and how it makes available unparalleled access to the history of one of the world’s great cultural organisations. Perhaps Tate might take a look?

Reporting the initiative for The New York Times, Randy Kennedy writes:

The digital archive project will include almost 33,000 exhibition installation photographs, most never previously available online, along with the pages of 800 out-of-print catalogs and more than 1,000 exhibition checklists, documents related to more than 3,500 exhibitions from 1929 through 1989. (The project, supported by the Leon Levy Foundation, will continue to add documents from more recent years and also plans to add archives from the museum’s film and performance departments.)

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Faces of John Berger

31st October 2016

Yesterday’s Observer carried a loving profile by Kate Kellaway of the writer John Berger. Berger’s 90th birthday is this coming Saturday, and Kate Kellaway catches something of the achievement and significance of his life when she writes:

Critic, novelist, poet, dramatist, artist, commentator – and, above all, storyteller – Berger was described by Susan Sontag as peerless in his ability to make “attentiveness to the sensual world” meet “imperatives of conscience”. His book Ways of Seeing, and the 1972 BBC television series based on it, changed the way at least two generations responded to art. And his writing since then – especially about migration – has changed the way many of us see the world.

The following weekend, on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 November, Birkbeck, University of London, is hosting a screening and symposium, ‘Faces of John Berger’, at which I’ll be chairing one of the panels. The screening on Friday evening is of the 2015 film The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger. Tickets cost £5 for each event, and can be booked here. And to mark all of this, below is a selection of perhaps less well-known material with and about John Berger that can be freely accessed online. read more »