Postcard from the battlefields

4th February 2012

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 »

A Bigger Splash: the only way is Hockney

31st January 2012

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 »

Links for the week

30th January 2012

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 »

Dickens delights and discoveries

28th January 2012

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 »

Noises

26th January 2012

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 »

Weekend links

22nd January 2012

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 »

Some movies in 2011

20th January 2012

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 »

Cool for catalogues

18th January 2012

As I have blogged previously, the Reading Room initiative from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is terrific. This makes available for reading online a selection of the museum’s past catalogues. The ‘flippingbook’ format is perhaps not the easiest to use but crucially it preserves the illustrations, layout, typography and something of the materiality of these historical records. Now the Guggenheim has launched a similar initiative (the press release is here; thanks to @RebeccaJLittman for pointing me in the direction of this) as well as, intriguingly, a number of eBooks for the Kindle (priced at $1.99 each) created from curatorial essays. The e-book collection is a smart publishing initiative complementing a very smart and valuable free-to-access resource – and I can’t think of anything comparable from a British cultural institution. read more »

David Hockney: a life on film

16th January 2012

Although I have no easy way of checking, there must be hundreds of films – and quite likely thousands – that feature David Hockney. By the end of the week, with the opening of David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts, there will most likely be a fair few more (the RA’s website has one, above). Far far more than other major artist of the past century, Hockney’s life, work and ideas have been exhaustively chronicled both by television and by numerous independent filmmakers. Coming of age with the box in the corner in the early 1960s, Hockney is a master of the medium – and his persona, his willingness to perform and his relative accessibility mean that scattered across the globe is a glorious archive of audio-visual fragments. I have chosen ten to highlight below, but I want first to make the serious point about how difficult – indeed, let’s say impossible – it is to track down and view this material. Each and every appearance of the artist in print is collated in scholarly bibliographies. But if you want to find out from any central source whether there’s footage, say, of Hockney talking about Domenichino (which there is), or of Hockney buck naked taking a shower (ditto), well… good luck! read more »

Weekend links

15th January 2012

Yes, my friends, this is another Dickens-themed post (following on from the recent What larks and The film of the films of the books). Or at least the start of it is, because across the jump there’s the usual collection of recent links to interesting and relatively random stuff. But in this first paragraph I want to draw your attention to Charles Dickens, filmmaker, which is a wonderful filmography compiled by The Bioscope of silent film adaptations of Dickens. This includes all sorts of intriguing films, a good number of which are available on DVD, most notably on the invaluable Dickens Before Sound DVD from the BFI. But the image above comes courtesy of the Danish Film Institute from the 1922 David Copperfield directed in Denmark by the Dickens specialist A. W. Sandberg, and there are further stills and clips if you follow the link. read more »