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.
John Wyver writes: I’m late, I’m late, but even though it’s Wednesday let’s pretend that I posted this week’s links last Sunday. As I attempt to do on a regular basis (although too often fall short) here are links to articles and videos that have engaged me over the past few days.
• The Thinking Machine 32 – Rearrangement: the critics, curators and media makers Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin are among the smartest and most sophisticated creators of video essays, and their latest (below) for the Dutch online film magazine De Filmkrant is (for those of us interested in film style and film criticism) is especially strong. This is their description of what it involves:
In 1956, the 36-year-old film critic and budding filmmaker Éric Rohmer went wild over an American Western, Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier (1955). In line with his Cahiers du cinéma colleague André Bazin, he saw in it a vision of space and landscape, a holistic reality captured in an almost geometric aesthetic. His close description of a particular scene is partly exact, and partly a fantasy. Let’s listen to this fascinating text from long before the age of VHS or DVD, and place it against the scene itself.
John Wyver writes: At the weekend I enjoyed Ad Astra, the new sci-fi film with Brad Pitt directed by James Gray. It’s an intelligent, interior tale with strong action sequences and exquisite visuals courtesy of DoP Hoyte van Hoytema. Hoytema’s credits include Interstellar and Dunkirk with Christopher Nolan (and the director’s forthcoming Tenet), Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Sam Mendes’ Spectre. And for the visuals of Ad Astra Hoytema and Gray drew inspiration from a perhaps surprising source: the films and videos of the American avant-garde. On 12 October New York’s Museum of the Moving Image is showing a programme of this work — and I’ve gathered a number below; h/t to artist John Sanborn for alerting me to this via Facebook). The institution’s website explains the background:
While in pre-production on his science-fiction epic Ad Astra, director James Gray was searching for ways to develop a new visual grammar for a cinematic depiction of outer space. He turned to an unlikely source for help: two scholars and curators of experimental media. Over the course of a year, Leo Goldsmith and Gregory Zinman put together notes, quotes, and research on over forty films for Gray and his production team. Their brief was to provide Gray with examples of how artists of the last twenty-five years had addressed themes of space and isolation in their work.
This program highlights the films and videos of those artists in order to illuminate the ways that Ad Astra developed its powerful aesthetic. From painted film to digital abstraction, and from Afrofuturist music video to essayistic video-collage, these works provide insight into the diverse material and conceptual approaches to the cosmos the filmmakers drew upon.