Moving on

15th May 2019

John Wyver writes: On Friday this week, after 30 remarkable years, we leave our beloved offices in Islington’s Rheidol Mews. Above is the view that has greeted some of us each day for three decades, and below is a glimpse of the chaos that we are currently living through – along with our accountant Kay and colleague Tom. We are moving to a new space a mile or so away at ScreenWorks, from where we’ll be working from Monday onwards:

Illuminations, Studio 309, Screenworks, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2ER

I’m going to start contributing some thoughts and memories about this space – and I’m also going to encourage Linda, who has been here as long as me – and who found the space originally – and others to add their own recollections.

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Going with the grain?

12th May 2019

John Wyver writes: On Tuesday evening, 14 May, at the Paul Mellon Centre in Bedford Square, London, I am participating in an exciting event that will offer the first public showcase for a research project about photography and film, and specifically the work of Bert Hardy (above), on which I have been working with Professor Lynda Nead from Birkbeck, University of London.

Tickets for Going with the Grain? Post-War British Film, Photography and Audiovisual Argument are free and can be booked via the link. And not only do you get to hear Lynn and I, and see the premiere screening of our two new short films, but you’ll also see Professor Catherine Grant, also from Birkbeck, who is a leading creator of film-essays about cinema – and who will be screening a new work. There is so much to say about our research, and we will be exploring some of that on the blog in the coming weeks, but if you can, do come on Tuesday – here’s the blurb:

This event will begin with a screening of three short films. Two films have been made by Lynda Nead (Birkbeck) and John Wyver (Illuminations and University of Westminster) about the work of Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy, and the third film, by Catherine Grant (Birkbeck), is inspired by Satis House in David Lean’s film adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations. This will be followed by a discussion about the medium and methods of the “essay film”, the use of film to make a visual argument, the relationship between still image, sound and moving image, the skills needed to make these films and the ethos of collaboration. The event is open to all and we particularly encourage graduate students and researchers who are interested in learning more about the format of the film-essay to attend, as well as filmmakers and researchers who have already explored working in this medium.

Bonnard links

15th April 2019

John Wyver writes: You have just three further weeks to experience the exceptional exhibition Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory at Tate Modern, which closes on 6 May. Having executive produced a BBC2 film about Bonnard back in June 1992 for the Artists Journeys series, which featured Eric Fischl exploring his work, and having seen a whole bunch of shows featuring his paintings, I thought I knew his art to some extent. And I was often slightly disappointed by it. But not in this brilliantly selected and hung exhibition, which for me was revelatory. Above is one of the great works on display: ‘The Bath’, 1925. Here’s Tate’s video introduction to the show with curators Matthew Gale and Helen O’Malley:

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Visual arts links

15th April 2019

John Wyver writes: here’s a handful of links to articles and videos about painting and photography that have engaged and delighted me over the past month or so. That’s all.

PS. a batch of Bonnard links, as in Pierre, follows shortly.

PPS. I realise almost all of these are about or from the United States – I’ll try to take a wider view next time.

Isaac Julien on Frederick Douglass – ‘It’s an extraordinary story’: Nadya Sayej for the Guardian on a fascinating artwork by Isaac Julien, The North Star (Lessons of The Hour) about the 19th century abolitionist, orator and activist (detail above, photograph courtesy of the artist). This is currently on view in New York but hopefully on its way to this side of the pond soon.

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Maggie Maggie Maggie

14th April 2019

John Wyver writes: Watching expertly-performed musical theatre in tiny spaces is often exhilarating, and so it proves with Maggie May at the Finborough Theatre. Led by Kara Lily Hayworth and James Darch (above, photo by Ali Wright), the cast of thirteen, accompanied by musical director Harry Brennan unflaggingly tickling the ivories, dance thrillingly (choreography: Sam Spencer-Lane) and sing well through Matthew Iliffe‘s inventive production for SWDC and the Finborough. It’s all the more remarkable because they do this on a traverse stage little bigger than the proverbial postage stamp. I’d say rush to get a ticket if it wasn’t on for only one more week and all the remaining shows are sold out. (See Mark Shenton’s 4-star review for further approbation and a note about the economics of putting on a production like this.)

I found this rare revival of Lionel Bart and Alun Owen’s 1964 Liverpool-set musical especially fascinating in part because in December 2013 I produced a BBC Four documentary about the composer, Lionel Bart: Reviewing the Situation. But the show is also rich and resonant thanks to a multitude of links between its attempt to be a social realist song and dance show – and a truly popular one at that – and the theatre, cinema and television culture of the moment at which it was originally produced.

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Real women filmmakers

7th April 2019

John Wyver writes: To the LSE on Friday for a day of fascinating papers at British Women Documentary Filmmakers 1930-1955, a symposium organised by the Jill Craigie: Film Pioneer research project and the LSE’s Department of Gender Studies. Here’s the advance outline (with added links):

As the work of filmmakers including Jill Craigie, Kay Mander [pictured above, filming How to File, 1941] and Marion Grierson testify, women played a significant part in the early decades of British documentary and informational filmmaking. Women were a vital part of the war effort and this was apparent in the films made by the Ministry of Information as well as newsreels, documentaries and dramas. Women also worked behind the camera as directors, editors and scriptwriters on instructional and propaganda films. Yet much early British documentary history on [John] Grierson and the Documentary Movement tends to elide the ways in which non-canonical works engage differently with questions of the nation, gender, class and identity and the ways in which form and content are linked to context of production.

Papers by film historians and archivists addressed this nexus of topics, revealing marginalised filmmakers, showcasing remarkable films and opening up richly interesting questions and provocations. As a modest response (and to remind myself about how intellectually stimulating it was), this post draws together links to films and extracts that were referenced by the various speakers.

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Jérôme Savary et moi

3rd April 2019

John Wyver writes: Last night a Tweet by Kirsty Sedgman set me off down a memory rabbit-hole. Following a path through the magical world of the internet has revealed to me just a little of what television and the theatre meant to my 17-year-old self. Like some of the best tales, this one involves a young boy (well, I was 17) running away to a circus, and it also features a not-so-nice stepmother (evil is too strong), a box full of dreams and a round house, filled with delight and possibilities.

The circus first, however, and not just any circus, but ladies and gentlemen… Le Grand Magic Circus, from a 1973 French television clip (I know nothing more about the source). This comes complete with copulating zebras:

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Church going

31st March 2019

John Wyver writes: Like Philip Larkin, I am much drawn to visiting England’s parish churches. I once spoke about this to a friend, adding that I took great pleasure in the pastime despite being a clear-eyed atheist. She suggested that the visits were my way of seeking out the spiritual. Which may be the case, as it may have been for Larkin, although I tell myself that I go for the history and the art and the landscape and a sense of nation and of belonging. This post combines further reflections with an account of visiting two churches on a glorious spring day. Plus, I have a couple of recommendations of new aids to church going: the recent Explore Churches website and 100 Churches 100 Years, just published by the Twentieth Century Society. But Larkin first, ‘Church Going’, included in his second collection The Less Deceived, in 1955…

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Filming with Mary Boone

26th March 2019

John Wyver writes: Back in the summer of 1986, writer Sandy Nairne, director Geoff Dunlop and I were in New York filming our 6-part Channel 4 series State of the Art. Sandy had conceived the second programme as an exploration of ideas of ‘value’, considering five places in which, as he wrote in the accompanying book, ‘validation and valuation occur: the private gallery, the private collection, the public museum, the art magazine and the public site’. For the private gallery we profiled the Galerie Michael Werner and the its transatlantic partnership with the gallery of Mary Boone. (This was also a personal partnership since Michael Werner and Mary Boone had just married.)

Mary Boone was the among the most prominent dealers in New York, having risen rapidly selling the paintings of, among others, Julian Schnabel, and representing at the time David Salle, Eric Fischl and Ross Bleckner. In 1982 she opened a beautifully designed gallery at 417 West Broadway, and four years later Mary was the hot young dealer in Manhattan. Fast forward more than thirty years and, extraordinarily, Mary Boone is facing a federal prison sentence of two and a half years after pleading guilty to filing false tax returns. Nadya Sayej wrote a good piece recently for the Guardian with all the background.

There’s more on this story below, together with further links, but first take a look at the complete sequence as it was shown in early 1987. And if you’re intrigued by what you see, the six episodes of the series, together with an interview with Sandy Nairne, can be purchased on DVD – go here for that.

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Television links

25th March 2019

John Wyver with links to recent stuff about what we can still just about call television.

The cinematic in contemporary television and media: a strong set of selected clips with accompanying short essays from in media res:

  • The cinematic as force: curator of the week’s contributions Angelo Restivo kicks things off with a reflection on Breaking Bad and an argument that ‘the cinematic creates intensive thresholds in the image that work directly upon the bodies, objects, and spaces in the frame, often pushing us outside the logic of the narrative’.
  • What’s going on? Cinematic montage and televisual narrative: in an interesting consideration of cinematic editing and “live” televisual cutting, Corey K Creekmur uses an example from Sens8 to suggest that ‘The jagged fragments of modernist cinema are now the building blocks of serial narration, and montage, once virtually a definition of avant-garde cinema, has reemerged at the center of the current intersection of pulp and “quality” television.
  • Worth it: Steven Shapiro analyses a music video from musician Moses Sumney and film director Allie Avital, describing it as ‘intense, immersive, and intimate; yet also implosive and claustrophobic’.
  • Don Draper’s mask – evoking the cinematic: ‘What makes Mad Men cinematic,’ Rashna Wadia Richards posits, ‘is that its images activate a chain of unexpected or uncanny connections with a range of films. We might say, then, that the cinematic reveals how serial television serves an archival function in relation to cinema.
  • Of the cinematic and the televisual: considering one moment set in Jennifer Melfi’s office in The Sopranos, Martha P. Notchimson cautions against the application of ‘cinematic’ to serial television, asking ‘do we not lose the particularity and magnitude of the television auteur’s work, exalting cinema as the good object toward which inferior televisuality must strive? ‘
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