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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Big Screen Time

It’s 40 years since I read John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” (reviewed here) but it’s a phrase which has returned recently to haunt me – see my latest E-book effort Ways of Seeing…..the Global Crisis.
I heard the phrase again in a Bucharest cinema in a short trip I made at the end of the month – although it was expressed as “Maniere de voir” and it came from the mouth of the legendary photographer Sebastiao Salgado whose life film director Wim Wenders was celebrating in the documentary Salt of the Earth
About time that such photographers were properly celebrated – have there, I wonder, been films about such figures as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz and the times in which they lived? Documentaries we have - eg a curious one with CB here which has him reminiscing...a much more insightful commentary here but what about films which try to recreate the lives and events through actors and film sets?

This question occurred to me since I have been viewing recently quite a few films about other artists…..such as Picasso, Renoir, Turner, Dickens and Beethoven.
And it led me to Jeremy Iron’s portrayal of iconic Alfred Stieglitz in a film (TV biopic actually) which actually focuses more on the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe and bears her name as the title. Indeed the only photography which figures in the film is the infamous exhibition Stieglitz mounts of O’Keeffe’s naked body….  

For the most part films about artists are trite – even if the scenery is nice (Turner) - with plots turning on an highly selective aspects of the artist’s life…and failing to give either a sense of the artist’s creativity or of the times in which (s)he lived.

One exception - The Invisible Woman – made a big impact on me largely because it gave us insights into the importance of public readings for people such as Dickens; and of his God-like status in those days - which allowed everyone to whitewash his young love out of existence. But although the film apparently cost 12 million dollars to make only 3 million has been recouped in box-office takings – hardly an encouragement to creativity when most blockbusters these days cover their costs within the first month (here I have a confession – I was able to stream it………).

The detailed book by Claire Tomalin on which the film is based can be bought for about 15 euros – but will give many hours of pleasure…..As did Hilary Spurling’s 600 pages of Matisse 

It made me wonder about the economics and aesthetics of the different ways of presenting ideas and creativity – such as films, documentaries, books or even video presentations such as this ted talk by Salgado. So many millions of dollars (and wo-man hours) spent on film production to give (each of) us less than 2 hour’s (shallow) “entertainment” compared with a multiple of that enjoyed during the reading of a book – whose costs are a tiny fraction. Nae contest!

And yes I know that it is not a question of either/or – that films encourage (some) people to buy (and even read) books…..and most people have neither the time nor the energy to read….
But, still, we need to fight for the book -  ""Fahrenheit 451" still gives me a thrill every time I think of it, depicting a world without books in which a few brave individuals risked prosecution for their having memorised the text of one particular book…..

Regular readers know that my nomadic existence of the past couple of decades has helped me develop an immunity to television and newspapers – now television sets are banned in the places I control and I am happy to buy only LeMonde Diplomatique (as the only journal which still retains footnotes!). It is my location which enables me to be so selective - and makes me yearn for a campaign on the lines of the 1978 book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television”. Rather ironically, I'm currently reading a superbly-written book Armchair Nation - an intimate history of Britain in front of the TV 

- this list of 100 films based on the lives of artists and writers reveals that I missed one great film - Carrington!!
- and this list of books which the current TV series Mad Men has shown characters reading is a sign of hope.......

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