To the V&A for a Sunday afternoon screening of an archival recording of Michael Grandage’s 2004-05 production of Schiller’s Don Carlos. This came courtesy of the invaluable National Video Archive of Performance, which for the past twenty years has been making high-quality recordings of major theatre productions for the future use of researchers and historians – and for limited but perfectly achievable access by the rest of us. To celebrate its birthday. the NVAP has organised a rare series of public showings (see below). A fortnight back Trevor Nunn introduced his 2004 Old Vic Hamlet with Ben Whishaw and Imogen Stubbs, and last Sunday Gregory Doran spoke before the NVAP’s recording of his recent RSC production of Cardenio. Don Carlos was compelling, and fascinating in all sorts of ways, not least for its echoes as theatre-on-screen of a now-lost form of theatre-on-television. read more »
So why is Randall Wright’s 90-minute documentary Lucian Freud: Painted Life (on iPlayer until 25 February) the BBC’s best film about a visual artist for many a year? The compelling subject helps of course, as do the remarkable and mysterious paintings. Many of the interviewees speak movingly about their complex relationships with the late painter. The thoughtful script is honest about its subject’s private lives, but this never pitches over into prurience. (Randall Wright discusses the filming in an interesting BBC blog post here.) There is also an intelligence about the way the Freud’s paintings and drawings are used, as well as the relatively few (but almost all exceptional) photographs that exist of the artist. (Astonishing home movie footage features Lucian with his grandfather Sigmund.) Many of the artworks (and the photographs) are returned to, sometimes several times, and on each occasion we are prompted to see something fresh. And all of this – the people and the paintings – comes across so much more powerfully and so much more openly because the film, driven by a sensitive narration and the smart use of on-screen quotes from Freud, is focussed on its subject and not (as @AnnaBrk pointed out on Twitter) on the antics of an on-screen presenter. Bravo.
Yes, I’ve been super-busy – and, yes, I feel guilty about not posting here for nearly a fortnight. So let me construct a post about a few of the things we’re involved in and also about one or two new developments relating to previous posts. First up…
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
One of the truly great coming togethers of theatre and television is the 1982 Primetime/Channel 4 adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Dickens dramatisation. The day-long immersion in its world at the Aldwych thirty years ago remains one of defining theatrical experiences of my life (see here) – and a week on Saturday, 25 February, BFI Southbank offering a chance to re-live that in a way, with an all-day screening of the television version. There’s also a Q&A with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and actor David Threlfall (and me as moderator). The event has been sold out for weeks (it’s in the modestly proportioned NFT3) but a few tickets are back on sale – and if you are quick you might snap one up here. If not, watch out for the blog that will follow. read more »
For a project about the First World War to be released later in the year (when I’ll blog it), I have been filming in Belgium and France. The weather was bitterly cold and our car got caught in a scary blizzard, but we had a fascinating time. On the Menin Gate in Ypres I discovered a trace of a Wyver (above) who was entirely unknown to me, and I was pleased to visit Edwin Lutyens’ vast memorial at Thiepval. From the generous and gracious historian Piet Chielens I learned a lot about the way in which cemeteries write histories across the landscape, and I developed a deep respect for the work of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). So having not done a ‘postcard’ for many a month, here is one from the battlefields. read more »
BFI Video has this week released Jack Hazan’s 1974 feature about David Hockney and his circle, A Bigger Splash. Available as a dual format DVD and Blu-ray, this fascinating and complex film has never looked better, not least because Hazan returned to a 35mm CRI for a new digital transfer. The timing is good too, for this study of life, love and sex among the Hockney set of the early seventies offers a very different picture of our ‘national treasure’ from the persona conjured up by the current Royal Academy show. The BFI has done an exemplary job with the release, as is pin-pointed by Anthony Neild’s thoughtful discussion at The Digital Fix. Included on the discs are two other shorts about Hockney – Love’s Presentation by James Scott, made in 1966, and David Pearce’s Portrait of David Hockney, 1972 – to which I’ll return in a future post. Meanwhile, included below is an extract from my essay commissioned for the booklet accompanying the BFI release. read more »
In Sunday’s Observer Tim Adams wrote a fascinating article about the the Picasso show at the Tate Gallery in 1960. Suggesting that this was the world’s first ‘art block-buster’, he explored ‘the moment when Picasso, and modernism, finally arrived in Britain’. Well, up to a point… but you could argue that the Picasso and Matisse show at the V&A fifteen years earlier was equally influential – see Lauren Niland’s Guardian archive blog ‘Taking the Picasso’. One aspect of the 1960 Tate show that Adams doesn’t mention is the half-hour outside broadcast for ITV that Kenneth Clark (above, in Civilisation) hosted from the gallery. Much like the programmes that Tim Marlow does now for Sky Arts from major exhibitions, this is a tour-de-force performance by Clark and a fascinating tour of the show. I unearthed it when I was researching my 1993 profile K: Kenneth Clark 1903-1983 and it was subsequently shown on BBC2 (although it now seems to have disappeared again). All of which acts as a trail for Tate Britain’s forthcoming Picasso and Modern British Art which opens 15 February. Across the jump, more links to interesting stuff… read more »
To BFI Southbank for a most engaging day exploring small-screen adaptations of Charles Dickens. Three sessions throughout Saturday featured a host of fascinating clips and a number of engaging guests. In the morning, writer, curator and co-conceiver of the recent Arena: Dickens on Film Mick Eaton offered a lively lecture outlining the history of the author’s adaptations. (An earlier post enthused about Dickens on Film.) We saw the 1994 The Late Show: Who Framed Charles Dickens?, which was originally transmitted alongside the major Martin Chuzzlewit of that year. A panel of practitioners reflected on recent serials, and then at teatime the teatime Dickens of our childhoods were recalled by three of those who brought his books into our homes during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Across the jump are ten things I took from the day – ideas, people and programmes that I didn’t know about before and am happier for having learned about. read more »
To the Old Vic to sit with Clare in two eye-wateringly expensive seats to watch an immaculate performance of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. The back-stage comic complications, combined with the high-end prices (top whack £85 a seat – that’s eighty-five pounds!), have attracted an audience that is well-heeled, well-dressed… and well rude. I am used to people trying to talk through movies, and I have extensive experience in cinemas of tapping shoulders or turning round and emitting an urgent, audible ‘Shhh’. But in the theatre? read more »
Here’s a little campaign that is well worth supporting: Save the 35 Ken Russell BBC Films. Or, as the Facebook page (above) also – and more accurately – argues, Free the 35 BBC Films of Ken Russell. The late, great director made wonderful documentaries and drama-documentaries for the BBC between 1959 and 1968 (for details, start with Michael Brooke’s BFI ScreenOnline page). These include the much-loved Elgar, produced for Monitor in 1962 and repeated on BBC Four last week (available on iPlayer until 30 January). But thanks to extortionate commercial expectations from BBC Worldwide, not one of these films is legally available in the UK on DVD (although a number have been released in the USA). A decade back the BFI partnered with the BBC on releases of Elgar and Song of Summer (1968), but when it came time to re-licence these, the terms expected were such that the BFI had to discontinue the titles. So it’s a wholly worthwhile aim to try to get at least some of the films out into the world. Go to the campaign’s Facebook page for more – and go below for further links to interesting stuff. read more »
At the end of each year our friend and colleague Michael Jackson – formerly Chief Executive of Channel 4 and now living and working in the United States – compiles a list of films he’s discovered and appreciated in the previous twelve months. He sends it to friends and kindly lets us post it here. We’re a little late with this one, but as before we have added some links and clips.
Follow this link for the 2010 list, this one for 2009’s and this one for 2008’s.
As a kind of alternative holiday card this is my annual list of the best films that I saw for the first time this year. Mainly not new films, or awards contenders, but films from the alternative universe of repertory cinemas, TCM, dvd, and Netflix Instant. Like a parent who loves their misfit child more than their straight A offspring I know it’s possible to get carried away with enthusiasm for a new discovery, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. At any rate I hope you find a couple of titles here that you are happy to see for the first time or to re-discover. (Included are links to where most of them can be found in the UK.) read more »