Sex, Ozu and ‘Noriko Smiling’

11th April 2012

The past couple of months have seen the appearance of two comparatively slender – and in some ways, strikingly similar – volumes of belle-lettrist writing about cinema. Each is written by a figure with a literary reputation and each tackles just a single film from the canon of high modernism. In Zona Geoff Dyer takes on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), while Adam Mars-Jones’ Noriko Smiling considers Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring (1949). I’m going to leave the pleasures of Zona for another time, and muse today on Noriko Smiling, a book that I really wanted to like. I admire Ozu’s films (although I’m no expert), I invariably enjoy attempts to find new ways of writing about art cinema, and when I first picked up Noriko Smiling I delighted in its elegant design and satisfying binding (the publishers are Notting Hill Editions). Having now read the book, however, I think it is a bit pointless and a bit thoughtless, by the end a bit insightful but too often more than a bit irritating. read more »


10th April 2012

Jason Mittell is an American media scholar who writes about television drama in a manner that is rigorous, richly detailed and accessible. For my money he’s the go-to guy for finding your way around Lost and working out just why Breaking Bad (above) is so good. He runs the blog Just TV and tweets @jmittell, and because I follow him and read the blog regularly I know that his day job is as Associate Professor of American Studies and Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College but he is living in Germany with his family for a year. I also know that he is writing a new book, which follows on from Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (2004) and Television and American Culture (2009). And I know about his forthcoming book, called Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, in part because of his articles and posts over the past few years. More than that, I am reading it chapter by chapter as a draft is posted online. read more »


9th April 2012

The detail above from the sheet music for Cole Porter’s 1949 Kiss Me Kate comes from a rich online (and real world) exhibition (until 4 June) at Yale University’s Beinicke Library. Remembering Shakespeare details ‘the process of remembering that has allowed Shakespeare to be transformed from one of a number of talented writers for an emerging entertainment industry in Elizabethan England into the best-known and most highly valued author in the history of the world.’ The exhibits at Yale are mostly printed books and illustrations of various kinds, and as such are perfect for reproduction on the web. So the online offering feels like a genuine complement – and not just a second-order, and as a consequence inferior, experience. read more »

The week’s links 8-15/4

8th April 2012

Let’s start a new week’s links with a terrific post at The Bioscope, And the ship sails on. Just what was filmed of the Titanic, Urbanora asks, and what survives today? Precious little, it turns out, since the only genuine extant shots are the ones of the ship in Belfast that open the newsreel below (shot by Gaumont but is now controlled by British Pathé).

What does the extant film of the Titanic signify? Of itself, it has little to say. It is not very interesting film of a big ship. It evokes no sense of loss, greatness, vaingloriousness, hubris or tragedy. We bring those feelings to the film, once we are told what it signifies. We invest our feelings in what we see on the screen. Yet there is that special frisson when we see the footage and realise that what is now history was once actuality. A connection is made that is part of the unique power of film, collapsing time while simultaneously making us aware of the yawning gap of time.

Beyond the break you’ll find more links to great stuff – to which I’ll add during the coming week. Already featured are discussions of John Berger and Beyoncé, Hamlet and The Hunger Games, plus the most astonishing dance film you’ll see all week (the lobby card above is a clue).

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‘Now they are almost on him’

6th April 2012

The morning of Good Friday. Two weeks and three days before we begin filming Julius Caesar. In just ten days we start work at our location, cleaning, building sets – and driving away pigeons. We are a significantly bigger crew now than we were a week ago, but it’s still a holiday for most. The panic has yet to kick in. At the RSC rehearsal rooms in south London, director Greg Doran has scheduled a session for, first, an exploration of  Act V Scene 3 (the death of Cassius), and then some time working alone with Ray Fearon on his role of Mark Antony. Along with the stage management team, I sit at a table at one end of the large room. In the centre is a circle of six chairs, and around are the spindly lines of coloured tape that mark out the dimensions of the stage and the set. read more »

‘A mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome’

2nd April 2012

Monday morning, three weeks before the start of principal photography on Julius Caesar. Six of the crew meet in bright sunshine outside a Northern Line station. We have come to recce the location which is a ten-minute walk away. There are pavement introductions, the first stage in a process that is fascinating and – if we’ve made even one or two great choices – rewarding. A team of around thirty forms for a brief, intensive period of production. At the wrap they scatter, perhaps to work together in the future, perhaps never to meet again. This morning there is subdued excitement, a sense of potential and perhaps a trace of nerves (those are mine). The walk allows us to talk about jobs just finished and acquaintances from other shoots. Then we are at the chain-link gate behind which is our modern-day ‘Rome’. read more »

‘Tell us what hath chanced today’

30th March 2012

Monday morning, five days ago. Just after ten o’clock on the top floor of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s south London rehearsal rooms the cast and creatives of Julius Caesar meet for the first time. Our chairs are set in a circle that just about squeezes into the space. Director Gregory Doran, the newly announced Artistic Director-designate of the RSC, introduces first the post’s incumbent, Michael Boyd. Michael expresses his pleasure that Greg (as he’ll be from now on in these blogs) is taking over from him. He talks also about the excitement and ambition of the World Shakespeare Festival, of which Julius Caesar is a central component. The stage version opens in Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of May, but when Greg introduces me, I remind him and everyone that exactly four weeks from now we will have turned over on principal photography for the film version. Four weeks. That’s, er, just twenty-eight days. read more »

The week’s links 25-31/3

25th March 2012

I enjoyed across last week adding links to the previous post, and I’m going to repeat the experiment this week. But I am going to do away with the headings and include the new links at the top of the post each day, so that if you return you do not have to search to find the new stuff. Included here as I find them are things that interest me in the areas that are of concern to Illuminations: film and media, the development of television, contemporary performance and theatre history, visual arts and culture in general. [Latest updating: Friday at 23.30.]

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The week’s links 18-24/3

18th March 2012

I have been thinking about how to create a new form of my links page that is useful but also sustainable (in the sense that it doesn’t take too much time to post). Here is the first outing for a variation in which I intend to build up an extensive list of links, divided into categories, across the coming week. By Saturday there ought to be a lengthy list of recommendations that reflects some of my reading and interests across these seven days – and that I hope you’ll find interesting. If it seems to work, then I’ll start a new one next Sunday. Across the jump you will find links under the following headings: Film, Television, Performance, Visual art, Digital media and what I choose to call Waifs and strays (the most recent update was at 20.30 on Thursday). read more »

Where there’s a Will

8th March 2012

Simon Callow’s one-person show Being Shakespeare today makes a triumphant return to London’s Trafalgar Studios. The production plays until 31 March before transferring to New York (for tickets, go here) but today is also the release date for our DVD of the production (click here to buy a copy). Retailing at £14.99, the DVD features the full 90-minute theatre show, and also has an exclusive interview with Simon Callow and performances by him of three of his favourite Shakespeare sonnets. With a host of extracts from the plays – some familiar, many not (and no ‘To be or not to be’) – Being Shakespeare is an exceptionally good introduction of the life and work of the world’s greatest writer, but it is also sufficiently smart to offer much to those steeped in the plays and, such as we know it, the biography. read more »