Monday, September 26, 2011

An Admirable Being

How happy is he born or taught,
   That serveth not another's will,
Whose armor is his honest thought,
  And simple truth his utmost skill.

                                      H. WOTTEN

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Brief Summary of Civilisation

Here, for my dear readers to review, is a brief summarization of Civilisation...all 4,000 some years since Man has set foot on earth and been civilised ( learned to use a fork and knife )....ahem. Oh, no, no, no, that's not right...must of been reading me notes wrong. I meant to review Civilisation, the television documentary. Yes, that makes more sense; I'm not clever enough to think of a paragraph summary of History...always been my weak subject, that one has.

Civilisation was a 1969 BBC-2 production hosted by Lord Kenneth Clark, rather an authoritive on arts and history. The premise of the show was created by filmmaker David Attenborough, who, as a boy, subscribed to a partwork called An Outline of History. It was a weekly publication edited by science-fiction writer H.G Wells, which summarized History in simple terms for children to understand. Attenborough loved the idea of creating a television series chronicling 1,000 years of European art and music, much in the way that An Outline of History did.....simply structered and gathered and presented by an expert in the field. The expert here being Lord Clark.

Attenborough was the program director/controller for BBC-2 since 1965 and had taken the channel to new artistic heights by developing such notable one-hour documentaries as Chronicle, Horizon, and The World About Us, but Civilisation would be by far thhe greatest of undertakings for this station and its crew. The program took over two years in the making, with filming being done in 117 locations across 13 countries....and there were many times when Michael Gill and Huw Weldon ( the series' director and editor ) had doubts about completing it, especially since Civilisation was running grossly over-budget, and upon completion had cost a staggering 500,000 pounds. 

But what resulted from their efforts was a lavish and thoroughly entertaining series hailed by critics as a masterpiece. It set new standards in documentary filmmaking with its sumptious color photography shot on location, sweeping grandeur and thought-provoking narrative.

Thirteen episodes were made in all, each being 50 minutes in length. What follows is a summary of each of these :

The Skin of Our Teeth - A look at how European thought and art were saved "by the skin of our teeth" after the stifling lack of creativity that abounded during the Dark Ages.

The Great Thaw - The reawakening of civilization in the 12th century, and the triumphs of the Church.

Romance and Reality - A journey from the Loire through Tuscany and a look at aspirations of the Middle Ages, such as those Giotto had experienced.

Man: The Measure of All Things - Renaissance civilization and the art of Botticelli, Van Ecky, and Leonardo Bruni.

The Hero as Artist - How Pope Julius II sponsered men like Michelangeol and Raphael; the Sistine Chapel and Leonhardo Da Vinci.

Protest and Communication - A look at the Reformation in the 16th century, and a study of Shakespeare.

Grandeur and Obedience - Rome, St. Peters, the power of the Catholic Church and the ectasy of Teresa ( ooooh ) is observed by Lord Kenneth Clark.

The Light of Experience - The revolutionary change of thought that replaced the Church's authority in the 17th century and the works of Rembrandt, Descartes, Vermeer, and architects such as Sir Christopher Wren.

The Pursuit of Happiness - A reflection on 18th century music by Bach, Haydn, Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Smile of Reason - Lord Clark traces the ideological journey which stretched from the palaces of Versailles to Jefferson's Monticello in Washington.

The Worship of Nature - How England turned to belief in the divinity of Nature during the 18th century, and how this was evidant in the paintings of Constable, Turner, Impressionism and the words of Wordsworth.

The Fallacies of Hope - The Romantic movement, the French Revoluion, and the music of Beethoven are al studied in this episode.

Heroic Materialism - The final program features Lord Clark's view of how Man, during the part one hundred years, has viewed his fellow beings with more consideration and the age of Humanitarianism came about.

Lord Kenneth Clark, with his John Mills manner of speaking, and his typical English teeth is quite an excellent narrator and personally wrote the script to each segment. But the Art, the Music, the Architecture, and the thoughts behind the men of genius who inspired them, are what make this series truly fascinating. One thousand years of Art and Beauty squeezed into a 670 minute production is bound to be breathtaking.

As Miss Jean Brodie would say, this is the "creme de la creme" of educational television programs.

The complete series, Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Kenneth Clark  was made available on DVD through BBCVideo and it is well worth taking a look at.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The 49th Parallel

In 1941, that genius creative filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger released The 49th Parallel, starring Laurence Olivier, Anton Walbrook, Leslie Howard, Glynis Johns, and Raymond Massey ( the only true Canadian among the cast ). 

It's the story of a German U-Boat that gets stranded in northern Canada and of the crew ( with Eric Portman as their leader ) who attempt to escape across the border - the 49th parellel - into the still nuetral USA before getting captured.

The movie is made up of the various encounters these Nazi come against during their trek to safety, the first being with a group of fishing villagers - among them Laurence Olivier, a settlement of Hutterites, a lone artist camping in the wilderness, and last but not least, a proud Canadian ( Raymond Massey of course ).

The filmography, like all Powell/Pressburger films, is breathtaking.... especially one particular scene, when Glynis Johns is out in the fields harvesting wheat. But it's the music that I really enjoy about The 49th Parallel. Composed by Ralph Vaughn Williams, his score is dramatic, romantic, powerful and sweeping all at once. It's carries you to the pinnacles of those gorgeous mountains which are featured in its credits.