The Sunday dozen

3rd March 2024

John Wyver writes: this week’s selection of writings and audio begins with links related to some especially sad news, before embracing a remarkable new open access publication, a great new podcast, a number of excellent essays and resources, and an archive treasure from Illuminations’ past.

Remembering Professor Emeritus David Bordwell: like so many of my colleagues, I felt a personal sense of loss at the news on Friday that film scholar and mystery stories fan David Bordwell (above) had died at the age of 76. I knew him only from his writings and his videos, but both The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (1985), written with his wife Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger, and Poetics of Cinema (2008), have been absolutely fundamental for my own thinking and watching, and I have highlighted his glorious blog, Observations on Film Art, created with Kristin Thompson, what seems like a hundred times here.

The link is to a comprehensive – and moving – summary of his extraordinary achievements from the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Madison-Wisconsin; two of the first online tributes, and there will be many more, are by Christian Blauvelt at IndieWire, Remembering David Bordwell – a film scholar who did more than anyone to advance academic film studies, and by Matt Zoller Seitz, Eye on the screen: David Bordwell (1947-2024).

And now (Monday morning) Kristin has added a lovely note to their blog:

He wanted to die at home rather than spending his last days at a hospice facility, and he did. I was with him. It was brief, and I don’t think he suffered. It happened within a few months of the fiftieth anniversary of when we moved in together in the summer of 1974. He was as wonderful a spouse as he was a scholar and a friend.

The Chemistry of Character in Breaking Bad: A Videographic Book: now this is exciting, a new study in a new form, with integrated video essays, by the wonderful academic Jason Mittell, which is fully open access; dive in, and I hope to return to this in the future.

How bad can it get for Hollywood?: it’s Oscar week and The New York Times has two long essays that are well worth your time; this one is by Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution, about the current state and likely future of the mainstream movie business…

The system, it seems, is once again sick of itself. The industry has, for the past four years, been wondering when it can get back to normal, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that there may be no such thing. There is only forward to something new. The industry is about to find out what that might look like.

Sure, it won an Oscar. But is it Criterion?: … and this one, by Joshua Hunt, is very good on the gold standard of physical media and film streaming, Criterion.

What John Singer Sargent saw: I know I’m highlighting three (!) New York Times articles this week (two at least with gift links), but this by Emily LaBarge reviewing the new show Sargent and Fashion at Tate Britain is so much smarter than the Guardian’s thoughtless, click-baity initial response (not to be graced with a link, but see Cally Blackman’s terrific riposte) – and I want to encourage you all to rush to Millbank. As LaBarge writes, ‘I have rarely heard “beautiful” uttered so many times, in such hushed tones of reverence, at an exhibition.’ Top, ‘Lady Agnew of Lochnaw’, 1892; above, ‘Madame X’, 1883-84, installed in the exhibition.

Harlem is Everywhere: last week I drew attention to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism show, and to complement this there is this terrific new podcast, co-produced by the museum. Two downloads are available now, from wherever you get your podcasts, with more to come.

Britain’s interwar apartment boom: ‘Between 1934 and 1939, at least 56,000 flats were built privately in London in over 300 blocks, the most significant period of such development before the 21st century,’ and Jon Neale’s essay for Works in Progress is a fascinating exploration of this forgotten history; some great pictures too.

Lenses: below is a true curiosity on Youtube posted by ‘Tellyviewer’ that I was pointed to this week, a BBC Training film about the use of lenses in the studio and on location; I’ve long felt that I, along with most colleagues in film and media studies, have no real understanding of the technical operations and capabilities of moving image technologies, and that a deeper knowledge of these would enhance our responses and understandings – this isn’t a bad place to start:

The Bardathon: the wonderful Peter Kirwan, late of the University of Nottingham and now thriving at Mary Baldwin University in the United States, published his 700th (and 701st) blog post at this absolutely essential resource that he has been developing since 2006; this is an exemplary project for performance academics and, just as importantly, the rest of us, and we all owe Pete a great debt of gratitude.

Not so special: for the LRB [£, but limited free access] the mighty Richard Evans reflects on modern Germany in a review of David Blackbourn’s Germany in the World: A Global History.

How the Pentagon learned to use targeted ads to find its targets – and Vladimir Putin: an absolutely extraordinary story for Wired by Byron Tau about Grindr, location data, adtech, spies and the whole shooting match of surveillance capitalism.

How to picture A.I.: Jaron Lanier for The New Yorker [£, but limited free access] asks ‘Is there a way to explain A.I. that isn’t in terms suggesting human obsolescence or replacement?; as important a piece about digital culture and our world as you’ll read this week (and more).

And finally…: I also came across this on Youtube this week, one of Illuminations’ first productions, Once in a Lifetime, made with David Byrne and Talking Heads for Channel 4 in 1984; brilliantly edited by Stuart Davidson and directed by Geoff Dunlop, with David Hinton as associate producer, it stands up really, really well, and still feels pretty contemporary.


  1. Billy Smart says:

    ‘Tellyviewer’ is Ben Ricketts, author of the Curious British Telly blog –

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