… is taking a break this week. John Wyver is tired.
… is taking a break this week. John Wyver is tired.
John Wyver writes: after getting The Winter’s Tale on to BBC Four last Sunday, things have quietened down a little; I’m beginning to read and watch things again, slowly, and here are some of the things that I’ve found interesting over the past week.
• Exterminate All the Brutes tracks the march of genocide: so good to see the brilliant filmmaker Paul Tickell writing for Sight & Sound on Raoul Peck’s essential four-part series (with Fraser James, above) that has just started a run on Sky:
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Exterminate All the Brutes is a masterpiece to set beside Gillo Pontecorvo’s take on the Black Jacobin Caribbean, Burn! (¡Quiemada!, 1969), a film sadly neglected in comparison to his The Battle of Algiers (1966). Peck’s series is also in the same league as Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (2015). That film’s grotesque hallucinatory sequences in a riverside mission school capture Conrad and “the horror, the horror” of imperialism far more effectively than Apocalypse Now (1979), whose riffs on Heart of Darkness Peck references throughout this phenomenal documentary.
John Wyver writes: the past week has been professionally full-on, but a handful of interesting articles and videos still managed to catch my attention, and I’m happy to share them here…
• Making it monumental: at the truly glorious website of Danish Silent Film, David Bordwell explores the 1916 apocalyptic disaster movie The End of the World(above), directed by August Blom, which most wonderfully can be viewed here in full and with English intertitles.
• My mind’s all unsatisfied with it’ – a tribute to Monte Hellman: the maverick director Monte Hellman died this week, and Adrian Martin here updates a very fine 2012 tribute to the unique qualities of the director’s cinema – like Adrian, I saw Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) nearly fifty years ago and fragments of it have stayed with me ever since; and for Sight & Sound Brad Stevens offers an eloquent obituary, RIP Monte Hellman, patron saint of obsessional cinephiles.
• Two-Lane Blacktop: this isn’t the exact sequence that Adrian Martin highlights but it has many of the same remarkable qualities…
• Paul Schrader on making and watching movies in the age of Netflix: you’ll be glad to have read this conversation between the celebrated writer and director and Richard Brody, film critic for The New Yorker:
if you’re an artist, each time out you have a problem, a subject matter, and you need to create a style that really works. With episodic, you create a template, and then directors just follow that template. So if you’re doing The Crown, you’re doing a lot of soft focus, backlighting. They all look the same. And that’s a kind of a comfort, too, because every time you watch The Crown, you know exactly how it’s going to look. The challenge of independent film is creating something that feels new, and that is going [to be] less and less in favor.
• Scott Rudin, As Told by His Assistants. A portrait of a toxic workplace: this is really grim, from Vulture, but important. See also Volatile and vengeful: how Scott Rudin wielded power in show business by Michael Paulson and Cara Buckley for The New York Times. Both pieces were prompted by “Everyone just knows he’s an absolute monster” – Scott Rudin’s ex-staffers speak out on abusive behavior by Tatiana Siegel for The Hollywood Reporter.
• Abandoning the Baird system: I’m not sure when this was posted but I only found it last week – an exemplary ‘History of the BBC’ post by David Hendy about ‘how the BBC abandoned Baird’s system for the technically superior cathode-ray tube stretches across four crucial years in the early history of television’.
• Watching home movies with Mister Peepers: home movies expert Dwight Swanson writes fascinatingly for UCLA Film and Television Archive blog about an episode of the 1953 NBC sitcom Mister Peepers, which is available here:
• In post-war Europe, museums dared to experiment with how they displayed art: Mark Pimlott for Apollo reviews what looks like a fascinating exhibition, ‘Art on Display 1949–1969’ at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam; it is currently closed until at least 26 May but scheduled to run to 6 June.
• Dia 2.0. Facing the future: some of my most remarkable visual arts experiences have been courtesy of Dia, which is partly why I was so interested to read Randy Kennedy for The New York Times on ‘how to re-engineer Dia’s tightly-bounded ethos to keep it vital in an art world now moving steadily beyond the mostly white, mostly male, sometimes swaggering heart of its founding collection.’
• Apocalypse now: John Akomfrah’s The Unintended Beauty of Disaster: Adrian Searle for the Guardian on what looks to be an essential show at Lisson Gallery until 5 June.
• Olafur Eliasson floods museum and removes wall, opening it 24-hours-a-day to ‘insects, bats or birds’ and people: extraordinary images via The Art Newspaper and reporter José da Silva of a site-specific installation called Life at the Fondation Beyeler near Basel, Switzerland; there’s also a livestream from the show, and this is a Vernissage TV video…
• Thomas Heatherwick – ‘the city will be a new kind of space’: an admiring profile of the visionary designer by Tim Adams for Guardian.
• Stravinsky the shapeshifter: for New Statesman, Kate Molleson marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the composer.
• NFTs and AI are unsettling the very concept of history: the estimable Rick Prelinger has thought longer and harder about archival issues than most of us, and this important Wired article is wise and worrying:
Will archives be tempted by the potential upside of NFTs and tokenize digital representations of their crown jewels (or the rights to these assets)? This would worsen an already bad situation, where institutions like our Library of Congress hold physical copies of millions of films, TV programs, and recordings that can’t be touched because someone else holds the copyright. Ideally, archives and museums should own and control both the physical and digital states of its collections. That won’t happen if they have to sell or license NFTs in order to survive.
• The invention of whiteness – the long history of a dangerous idea: an important Guardian Long Read by Robert P Baird.
• What they wrote about the war: Robert Minto for LA Review of Books on essays begun within weeks of each other in the summer of 1914 by Thomas Mann and George Bernard Shaw.
• Staying alive in the ruins [£ but limited free access]: for LRB Richard J. Evans reviews Paul Betts’ richly interesting and recommended Ruin and Renewal: Civilising Europe After World War Two.
• Dirty dollars: a very fine online presentation of a Michael Sallah investigation for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette into accused money launderers who ‘left a path of bankrupt factories, unpaid taxes, shuttered buildings and hundreds of steelworkers out of jobs’.
• Making The Winter’s Tale for screen: as for the full-on week, and indeed month, here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been working on, with a couple of brief appearances in interview:
John Wyver writes: a curtailed list today as we’re still deep in the post-production for the RSC’s The Winter’s Tale which is broadcast next Sunday, 25 April, at 7pm on BBCFour; I’ll aim to add more later. As always, these are articles and occasional videos and threads that have engaged me over the past week.
• ‘What the hell can I call myself except British?’: for New York Review of Books, Gary Younge reviews, wonderfully, Steve McQueen’s quintet of films, Small Axe.
• A new India finds its voice in the films of Bimal Roy: for Criterion’s The Current, Devika Girish on one of the major directors of the golden age of Hindi cinema in the 1950s; header image: Roy’s Sujata (1959).
• What the papers say: fine, funny and fascinating research by John Hoare at [dirtyfeed] about what media studies folk might call the intertextual links for a famed Yes, Minister sketch (h/t here to Billy Smart).
• Analysis: What does a controller-less corporation look like? [£ but limited free access]: Max Goldbart for Broadcast on the BBC’s ‘radical overhaul to its commissioning structure – doing away with channel controllers and the “two-tick” system”; this is a hugely significant shift for the television service and yet this informed but short article is the only piece I’ve found on it.
• Getting the measure [£ but limited free access]: the wonderful Emma Smith for TLS on the completion of The Arden Shakespeare 3 and especially its final volume, Measure for Measure.
• Reanimating Cabaret, one frame at a time: I can’t quite make up my mind about this project by Doug Reside, curator of the Billy Rose Theater Division at the New York Public Library, who has sequenced a selection of 3,693 publicity images of Hal Prince’s original 1966 Broadway production, and other staging, so as to give them a kind of uncanny half-life – the results are defiantly odd and oddly compelling; the work is immaculately reported and presented by Jesse Green for The New York Times Magazine.
• Here’s a fascinating Twitter thread which resonated so strongly with Corinne Fowler’s Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections which I’m reading at the moment…
• The Khmer Rouge controversy – why colourising old photos is always a falsification of history: this is very good by Emily Mark-Fitzgerald for The Irish Times.
• A mysterious suicide cluster [£ but limited free access]: D.T. Max contributes a truly strange and haunting report to The New Yorker.
• The road to TERFdom – Mumsnet and the fostering of anti-trans radicalisation: an eye-opening analysis by Katie J.M. Baker for LUX.
• Gargantuanisation [£ but limited free access]: a simply terrific John Lanchester LRB essay about the global shipping trade, which made me think about a topic I’d never considered before.
• Napoleon’s canal: Luke McKernan enjoys the pleasures of a walk along the Thames and Medway canal.
• The Band Wagon – Minnelli’s musical is perfect curtain-raiser to theatre’s return: another of Chris Wiegand’s Guardian ‘The stage on screen’ appreciations, this time about the 1953 masterpiece that includes…
John Wyver writes: ahead of the limited easing of lockdown here’s another selection of links to articles and videos and threads that have caught my attention in the past week. The list is a little more limited than usual – apologies, but there’s a lot going on at the moment.
• Merrily he rolls along: A belated birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim: a wonderful David Bordwell essay about the composer and lyricist, and about modernism, popular storytelling and mass culture.
• The making of Billy Wilder: courtesy of The Paris Review, a compelling excerpt from Billy Wilder on Assignment: Dispatches for Weimar Berlin and Interwar Vienna, edited by Noah Isenberg and translated by Shelley Frisch, published by Princeton University Press.
• Walkers in the city – Jules Dassin and Bruce Goldstein in New York: for Criterion’s The Current, Michael Sragow speaks with Goldstein about his short-form documentary Uncovering ‘The Naked City’ on the making of Dassin’s 1947 movie; the wonderful header image, taken from the feature, is of Dassin directing Ted de Corsia on Rivington Street.
• A Zed & Two Noughts: Michael Sicinski reflects productively for Reverse Shot on Peter Greenaway’s 1985 feature…
one can sense [in Greenaway’s work] the fraught and unresolved relationship that Great Britain has to the Continent… Like his compatriot Derek Jarman, Greenaway adopted European cultural analysis as a way to provincialize Britain, to subject the nation to critique while at the same time mitigating its intellectual isolation. In contemporary terms, Greenaway’s cinema is the opposite of Brexit, an attempt at a full and unapologetic “Brentrance” into the larger expanse of European culture.
• The Travelling Players: … and for the same ‘Symposium’, Christine Newland revisits another film that was immensely important to me when I was at university, Theo Angelopoulos’s 1975 epic.
• Exterminate All the Brutes, reviewed – a vast, agonizing history of white supremacy: Richard Brody reviews for The New Yorker Raoul Peck’s four-hour essay-film for HBO Max, available in Britain on Sky Documentaries from 1 May; see also Lisa Wong Macabasco for the Guardian, ‘Sometimes, it’s shocking’: Raoul Peck on his bold new colonialism series.read more »
John Wyver writes: another cluster of recommendations for the second Easter in lockdown – articles, threads and videos, many culled from my Twitter feed, that have engaged me over the past week.
• BFI at Home | Romeo & Juliet with Josh O’Connor, Jessie Buckley, Lucian Msamati and Simon Godwin: a richly interesting conversation about the much-anticipated NT Live ‘original film’ (that’s the official tagline, image above) that premieres tonight on Sky Arts at 9pm:
• Shakespeare and lost plays: for the Folger’s ‘Shakespeare Unlimited’, David McInnis, Associate Professor in English and Theatre Studies, Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne in Australia, introduces the arguments of his important new book, Shakespeare and Lost Plays.
• Shakespeare, 17:1: an exceptional resource in the shape of an open access issue of this significant journal, dedicated to ‘Shakespeare, Race and Nation’, guest-edited by Farah Karim-Cooper and Eoin Price.read more »
John Wyver writes: another batch of pointers to content I’ve found stimulating and informative and engaging over the past week, with many recommended to me by colleagues and confreres on Twitter, to whom I remain immensely grateful.
Let’s start with a new video essay for Mubi.com about perhaps my favourite European director, Antonioni’s Cinema of Absence by Manuela Lazic and Alessandro Luchetti; the header image is Monica Vitti in L’avventura (1960)read more »
John Wyver writes: I was wrestling with some tech issues on Sunday, so this week’s selection was a touch delayed – apologies. But it’s in reasonable shape now. The first link will take you to one of the very best pieces I’ve read in the past seven days (and longer), a LA Review of Books article by Priya Satia, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History at Stanford University, and author of Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and Britain’s Empire, which I cannot recommend strongly enough. Then read Professor Satia’s sobering Twitter thread which follows.
[Tory] nostalgia testifies to an urgent need to come to terms with the unpleasant reality of Britain’s imperial past. But the anxiety to distance that past from the moral abyss of Nazism and slavery frustrates efforts to do so. To urge Britain to reckon with its imperial past through reparations, school curriculum, restitution, memorialization, or other methods that Germany has also employed in confronting its Nazi past does not automatically imply an equation of British imperialism with Nazism. Different kinds of violent and racist pasts may yet share a common need for redress.
• Why can’t Britain handle the truth about Winston Churchill?: this by Priyamvada Gopal for the Guardian is a fine complement to Priya Satia’s essay.
• The Conservatives are now the party of England. Changing that will be hard and English politicians are waving the union jack, but its meaning is tattered and torn: two very good Guardian/Observer columns a week apart by John Harris.
• The populist delusion: writing for Prospect with passion and purpose, Jon Bloomfield and David Edgar lay out an ambitious programme:
The Conservatives suspect their coalition is unstable and that after four decades of neoliberalism the ground is moving against them. Hence their drive for a new populist model. In response, progressives need to avoid the traps set by our opponents, expose their inadequacies and weaknesses, and unite around a new social settlement for the future. Are we up to the task?
• The clown king – how Boris Johnson made it by playing the fool: if you haven’t read it already, catch up with Edward Docx’s brilliant analysis for the Guardian, including citations from Paul Bouissac, ‘the leading scholar on the semiotics of clowning’, and a close reading of Johnson’s novel Seventy-Two Virgins (published 2004):
The book is beyond merely bad and into some hitherto unvisited hinterland of anti-art. More or less everything about it is ersatz. Commentators who fall for his self-conjured comparisons to Waugh and Wodehouse miss the point entirely and do both writers an oafish ill-service. Because here again: Johnson is not seriously interested in writing novels at all. It’s not that he’s a fraud. Rather, as ever, he is a jester-dilettante peddling parody and pastiche.
• The end of closed democracy?: Anthony Barnett’s extended essay for Open Democracy is very good on where next for President Biden and the United States.read more »
John Wyver writes: lockdown rolls on, as does the provision of a collection each week of articles and videos that I have found interesting or informative, and often both, over the past week. The list is perhaps a little less expansive than other weeks because, somehow, there’s a lot going on.
• Beepie has won. Here’s what we’ve lost: not much doubt about the art world story of the week (above is a detail from ‘Everydays’, a digital artwork bought at an online Christie’s auction for $69 million, with fees), and Jason Farago’s column for The New York Times is the best piece I’ve read about it so far:
[Johann Joachim] Winckelmann’s most fundamental insight was that a sculpture, a painting or a building was not just a thing of beauty; a work of art is a product of its time, and expresses even without trying something about the place and the culture it comes from. It is as true as ever, and certainly true about Beeple’s pictures of naked giantesses with the face of Pikachu. It is his culture now, benighted but triumphant, where puerile amusements can never be questioned and the Simpsons have displaced the gods.
• Non-fungible tokens are revolutionising the art world – and art theft: Alex Hern for the Guardian is also very good on the implications of what we have very quickly learned to call NFTs.
• Chain reaction: … and Kevin Buist for Artforum provides really useful background in a column written before the Christie’s sale:
While NFTs may not provide a material framework for the artworks riding the wave of speculative investing, they do provide an ideological one, lending a hip veneer to the latest flavor of techno-optimism. At its worst, trading art on the blockchain is a libertarian pyramid scheme built on hype and a near-total disregard for the inevitable losers of the game, whether that’s atmospheric CO2 levels or whoever is left holding an overpriced cryptographic token pointing to a digital object that doesn’t physically exist.
• How can Blackness construct America?: in another essential New York Times feature, Michael Kimmelman interviews ‘a new collective of Black architects and artists, formed out of a show now at MoMA, [which] aims to “reclaim the larger civic promise of architecture.”’read more »
John Wyver writes: maybe it’s lockdown lassitude, but Links is a little late this week, and is still a work in progress; nonetheless, with my usual thanks to those on my Twitter feed, here is another selection of articles and videos that have engaged and informed me over recent days.
• Brexit unhinged: I feel like I should start every set of recommendations with Chris Grey’s Friday blog post, which is the smartest and best-informed exploration of the Brexit process that I know of (and there’s a book on the way) – I’ve been following him throughout this whole, hideous story and my admiration for his writing is unbounded; here’s this week’s takeaway:
So two months in things aren’t looking at all good. The government is reduced to planting disingenuous stories in the press about the success of Brexit, its ministers and backbenchers don’t understand or don’t accept the Brexit deals they voted for, and it now again proposes to break international law by flouting part of what it agreed to. Relations with the EU are more fraught than ever. The Northern Ireland peace process is under strain. The Ultras are proposing a trade war with the EU, whilst trade with the EU is in chaos with SMEs especially suffering, billions of pounds of assets have fled the UK, the Brexiters’ iconic fishing industry is close to collapse, and many of the new restrictions on trade haven’t even been implemented yet. We’re not even at the end of the beginning, and, no, vaccines don’t give Brexiters a get out of jail free card.
• Strong on rhetoric, weak on substance – so much for the ‘vision’ of Global Britain: punchy, powerful analysis from Will Hutton for the Guardian.
• Sir David Barclay obituary – Farewell to A ‘Stinking Mobster‘: a month old but new to me, John Sweeney’s buccaneering Byline Times essay is fearless and formidably entertaining.read more »