Tuesday 26 May 2009

Anderson connections are everywhere!

The Mole Antonelliana, Turin, Italy
© Riviera Scritch/Matteo Caldon, Flickr

Like with so many things - when you start looking you can see connections everywhere. I was recently watching a lovely film After Midnight (thanks for the recommendation John) and, after a few hours of blissful escape into the world of the National Museum of Cinema in the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, the credits roled and the name of the writer/director/producer came up - Davide Ferrario. It took a minute for the name to register then I quickly hit rewind for a double check - yes, I was right, Davide Ferrario. The name is very familiar to me because I had recently catalogued a file of correspondence between Lindsay Anderson and Davide Ferrario. The correspondence is from 1982 to 1994 and After Midnight was made 10 years after this so there is nothing about the film in it. However there is a letter from Ferrario to Anderson (17/06/1984) where he is excited to tell Anderson that he has been asked to write his first screenplay. In the next letter (23/10/1984) Ferrario describes the experience of shooting the film

"as much as I hated the confusion, certain relationships, and basic crazyness of filmmaking I also got spelled by them. I hope you won't laugh if I confess I want to write another picture..."
Well, I'm very glad he did, going by the experience of watching After Midnight. It's great to be able to read about the progress of his career as a film director, actor and scriptwriter through his correspondence with Lindsay Anderson - what a great way to spend my working day!

Box files from the Lindsay Anderson Collection, in temporary storage facilities © Lindsay Anderson Collection

I haven't written anything about the content of the film but I found this review on the Bright Lights Film Journal which I thought was particularly good.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Akira Kurosawa in the Lindsay Anderson Collection

Letter from Akira Kurosawa to Lindsay Anderson, 16/06/1969

© Lindsay Anderson Collection

I'm currently reading, and enjoying, Akira Kurosawa's Something like an Autobiography so I thought I would post an image from the Lindsay Anderson Collection of a letter he received from Kurosawa in 1969. The letter was sent to congratulate Anderson on winning the Grand Prix at Cannes for If.... in 1968.

I've only recently started Something like an Autobiography, and, as it's a book from the Anderson Collection, I'm only getting to read it on the lunch breaks when I'm not out running (which, given the amount of rain we've had recently, is most lunch breaks!). The book is part of Anderson's own book collection and it's so nice to know the history of the book, and imagine Anderson reading it when he owned it. What I've read so far of the book is really interesting, not just because it's about a great film director, but as a snapshot of life in Japan in the early 20th century (Kurosawa was growing up 1912 - 1926).

Friday 15 May 2009

Evening event at Black Cultural Archives, London

"Black Cultural Archives was founded in 1981 to collect, preserve and celebrate the contributions Black people have made to the culture, society and heritage of the UK."

I first heard about the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) through a friend, Jessica, an Archivist working at the BCA as a Documentation and Cataloguing Officer. On Tuesday 19 May they are holding an evening event to celebrate their projects - 'Oral Histories of the Black Women's Movement' and 'Documenting the Archives'. It sounds like it's going to be a really interesting evening, and I notice on their website that it's already fully booked!

I thought I would just include a bit of information about BCA. This information is taken from the BCA website.

The Collection began in the early 1980's when volunteers from the Black community starting collecting a wide range of material relating to the history of the African diaspora and the presence of Black people in Britain. The types of records include personal papers, organisational records, rare books, photographs and artefacts.

As mentioned on their website the BCA's history is as a local, grassroots organisation aiming to promote and collect records covering the broad range of experiences of people of African and African-Caribbean descent. The Collection continues to grow and I just love the ethos behind a collection that is created by the community/communities for themselves and for everyone and anyone who is interested. In addition to the Archive there is also has a reference library and a collection of artefacts, acquired through donations by the public.

The event is to launch two projects - Oral Histories of the Black Women's Movement and Documenting the Archives. As part of the project to catalogue the Archive and make it available online there is also going to be an online image galley which will be launched at the Tuesday evening event. I've already had a sneak preview of the image gallery and there's some fantastic stuff there so it's well worth having a look once it goes live!

Friday 8 May 2009

Screenings of Lindsay Anderson's 'O Lucky Man!'

Cover from a VHS edition of O Lucky Man!
© Lindsay Anderson Collection,
University of Stirling

There are two screenings of Lindsay Anderson's 1973 film O Lucky Man! this month.

The Cinematek in Brussels has given the British writer Jonathon Coe a season of films called "Carte Blanche" with the freedom to programme twenty-five of his favourite films. On May 18 he has chosen O Lucky Man! (Le Meilleur des Mondes Possibles). In a companion interview for the magazine Agenda/Cinema, Jonathon Coe said: "if there is one film in this season that I hope people will come and see, it's O Lucky Man! I think it will change people's minds completely about the nature of British cinema. It has everything - politics, comedy, horror, and a use of music that is completely original, all done on an epic scale. It's one of the most ambitious and imaginative films ever made in the UK. Come and see for yourselves!"

Lindsay Anderson, Alan Price and Miroslav Ondricek on the set of O Lucky Man!
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The National Film Theatre at the British Film Institute Southbank, London, is screening O Lucky Man! in conjunction with an exhibition 'Radio Mania: An Abandoned Work' by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard. On the 27 May the artists have chosen a selection of work by fellow artist and filmmakers and have chosen to screen their favourite film, O Lucky Man!, after it. The film will be screened again on the 31 May.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference 2009

LA/1/09/3/12/1 Draft for Britannia Hospital advertising
campaign © Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

This post is slightly late - only two months! In March I attended the Edinburgh International Film Audiences conference at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh along with two of my colleagues Karl Magee and Isabelle Gourdin. The conference was really interesting as were the people and it just had such a lovely atmosphere but what was particularly special about this conference to me was that it was the first time I have given a conference paper! I shan't bore you with how nervous I was beforehand but suffice to say, I was quite apprehensive. I think it went quite well though, and I even enjoyed the presenting, once I got over the nerves! The subject of my paper was the reception of Lindsay Anderson's 1982 film Britannia Hospital.

LA/1/9/6 Press cutting, The Daily Mail, 18/05/1982 © Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The quotation above, from the Daily Mail, is a striking example of the general reception of the film by the critics in Britain.

Here is just a brief summary of the abstract put forward for the conference:
The film took a critical swipe at several elements of British society and its pessimistic view of the country was not appreciated by a nation fighting in the Falklands. The effect on the audience of negative press stories and poor reviews will be examined as will Anderson’s reactions which can be found in the letters he wrote to the critics who savaged his film.
Anderson replied to the fans who wrote to him, thanking them for their positive feedback on the film, and that personal aspect of the relationship between the director and his audience will be examined through a study of this correspondence.
The film’s failure at the British box office caused difficulties when it came to promoting Britannia Hospital in other countries. The search for an audience led down very different routes with advertisements presenting the film as a sub ‘Carry On’ romp in the US, an art-house movie in France and a video nasty in Australia. Anderson’s correspondence with the various distribution companies concerned with the film’s release provides an insight into its marketing, files enlivened by the director’s criticisms about how the promotional campaigns were conducted.

I've included a few examples below of posters from the promotional campaigns for the film from various countries which highlight the various ways in which the film was promoted in different countries.

LA/1/09/5/3/5 Advertisement for the Italian opening of
Britannia Hospital © Lindsay Anderson Collection,
University of Stirling

LA/1/09/5/3/4 Advertisement for the Australian
opening of Britannia Hospital © Lindsay Anderson
Collection, University of Stirling

I thought I would finish up with the image below of the headless corpse. This is taken from a scene in the film and this was the angle that Lindsay Anderson originally wanted to take with the British advertising campaign. However in a letter to Nat Cohen, a film producer, Anderson admitted “I could also see that the image of the headless torso waving a Union Jack … was not a good idea in view of the wholly unexpected turn that public affairs have taken during the last month or so” (LA/1/9/3/6/8, 18/05/1982). I know it wouldn't have done the advertising campaign, or the reception of the film, any favours but wouldn't it have been great if this was the image that had actaully been used in the British campaign?!

LA/1/09/3/12/1 Draft for Britannia Hospital advertising campaign
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

Friday 1 May 2009

Film portrait of Arthur Russell - Wild Combination

Arthur Russell was not a name I was familiar with until he was recommended to me - thank you Oliver! - now I can't get enough of him. I know it's been said before in reviews of his music but I really couldn't have placed it in time as it seems so contemporary. Matt Wolf's film portrait of Arthur Russell 'Wild Combination' is a wonderful mix of rare archival footage, interviews with family and friends, and some reconstruction- type film work (though that description doesn't really do it justice - sorry, I'm no film critic!)

Although he recorded and performed with, and was highly respected by, some big names in experimental and avant-garde music scene such as Philip Glass, Rhys Chatham and David Byrne he remained relatively uncelebrated in his lifetime (outside of the avant-garde circles he was a part of). It is only in the past 10 years or so that his work has become more widely known, through a number of re-issues and compilations. It's hard to categorize his work as he was so prolific in so many ways - as a composer, cellist, producer, writer, as Director of the Kitchen (a New York avant-garde performance space). I recently got two Arthur Russell albums which exemplify the breadth of his talent 'The World of Arthur Russell' - a Soul Jazz retrospective which concentrates more on the dance music - and Love is Overtaking Me - a truly amazing collection of music, more on the folk/country side.

He was incredibly prolific, recording hundreds of hours of music, and there's some great video footage in the film of him recording music, some where he's playing the guitar and some great stuff of him on his cello. What really struck me about the film though, and here's the archivist bit coming out, was the huge amount of recordings that he left behind that have never been released. The interview with his long-term partner Tom Lee is shot in the apartment they shared in New York's East Village. In the interview Tom refers to the hundreds of tape recordings which Arthur had made, and you can see these in the background, a bookshelf heaving with tapes. What an amazing Archive! All this unpublished music just waiting to be discovered, well discovered by the wider world, I'm sure Tom and Arthur's family have listened to most, if not all of it. Some of the tracks on Love is Overtaking Me are home recordings from this Archive and by the sounds of it there is a lot more still to be discovered, and hopefully made available to us all.

William Blake's 1809 exhibition recreated at Tate Britain

On a recent trip to London to see Bonnie 'Prince' Billy at the Royal Festival Hall (what a gig!) me and Zoe also managed to fit a huge amount into a short two day trip - going to lots of exhibitions, meeting Jessica for dinner, having lunch in Green Park, and spending time at some commercial galleries around Mayfair - a great trip all-in! One exhibition that I really enjoyed was a William Blake show at Tate Britain.

William Blake, The Angels hovering over the body of Christ in the Sepulchre, c. 1805

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The idea behind the exhibition was to recreate the only solo show which Blake had, in 1809, in a room above his brother's hosiery shop on Broad Street, London. There were 16 works of art in the original exhibition but unfortunately some of these have been lost. However using an original catalogue from the exhibition it was possible for the curator to find a description of the missing paintings, their size, content, colours etc. So, in the exhibition blank spaces have been on the wall where those missing canvases would be, with some information from Blake's catalogue alongside them. The catalogue which Blake wrote for the exhibition was derided by critics at the time, for example "a farrago of nonsense, unintelligibleness, and egregious vanity, the wild effusions of a distempered brain" was the description by a contemporary critic Robert Hunt (quote taken from a piece by Stephen Adams in The Telegraph). It was evident from the quotes taken from the catalogue that Blake did have very high ambitions for his work but I always think it takes a huge amount of courage to put your art out on display for potential criticism so maybe having the high ambition and ego to go with it was a way of buffering himself against the criticism to come.

It's a really interesting idea, to use archival material to recreate an exhibition, as it can give us a better understanding of the way the exhibition was understood at the time. I also like the inclusion of contemporary work by other artists of the time as this illustrates just how different Blake's work was. The original exhibition was not a success, but I think it's safe to say, this time around will be a bit different!

The exhibition at Tate Britain is free and runs until 4 October 2009. The idea was devised by the curator, Martin Myrone.