A perpetual lament of historians is that so many people get their historical knowledge from either Hollywood or the BBC. The controversies that surrounded Lincoln and Selma will no doubt reappear, in other guises, with the release of Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s popular historical novel. Historical films play an outsize role in collective historical knowledge, and historians rightly bemoan the inaccuracies and misleading emphases of popular film and television: no doubt a generation of viewers believe that the Roman Republic was restored by a dying gladiator.
Today, 6 May 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to concert pianist Beatrice Welles and inventor Richard Head Welles. Widely recognized as a child prodigy, Welles exhibited musical talent, a fascination with magic, and the ability to recite Shakespeare all before the age of ten. At age sixteen, he traveled to Ireland, where he seized the opportunity to appear on the professional stage in a production of Jew Süss at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.
May the Fourth be with you! Playing off a pun on one of the movie’s most famous quotes, May the 4th is the unofficial holiday in which Star Wars fans across the globe celebrate the beloved blockbuster series. The original Star Wars movie, now known as Star Wars IV: A New Hope, was released on 25 May 1977, but to those of us who waited in line after line to see it again and again in theaters, it will always be just Star Wars.
Recently, a number of prominent publications have featured a growing body of work on classical receptions in science fiction and fantasy, including Mélanie Bost-Fiévet’s and Sandra Provini’s collection L’Antiquité dans l’imaginaire contemporain (Garniers Classiques 2014), a special issue of the journal Foundation on “Fantastika and the Greek and Roman Worlds” (Autumn 2014), and our own collection, Classical Traditions in Science Fiction (OUP 2015). This focus on science fiction, now an important part of popular culture, reveals much about how ancient classics are being received by modern audiences, particularly when it comes to the silver screen.
The news this week that Jeremy Clarkson’s contract with the BBC will not be renewed might be bad news for Top Gear fans but could it be good news for politics? Probably not… I wonder what Jeremy Clarkson is up to as you read this blog.
Supplementing real dogs with digital animation produces performances that have benefits on many different levels. Firstly, they are much more effective dramatically because they can become more anthropomorphically expressive to suit the needs of the story. Economically they are less time-consuming and therefore less expensive because the performance is no longer determined by the unpredictable or intractable volition of real animals, however ‘well-trained’. The problems that arise even when working with ‘professional’ dog actors can be exasperating.
The much anticipated Valentine’s Day release 50 Shades of Gray set off a flurry of activity on social media sites, with bloggers lining up to cajole, shame, reason or plead with women to resist temptation and abstain from viewing the film. In a case of strange bedfellows, if you will, conservative Christians and liberal feminists alike castigated the film for its packaging of abuse as mainstream entertainment.
This story may or may not be a fairy tale, though there are certainly fairies in it. However, unlike any of his Victorian forebears or most of his contemporaries, Machen manages to achieve, only a few years before the comfortably kitsch flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker, the singular feat of rendering fairies terrifying. With James Hogg’s ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Thrawn Janet’ and several of M. R. James’s marvellous ghost stories, ‘The White People’ is one of only a handful of literary texts that have genuinely unnerved me.
As we approach 26 March 2015, the centenary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, it seems apposite to consider how her writing resonates in the twenty-first century. In the performing and filmic arts, there certainly seems to be something lupine in the air.
Historians should be banned from watching movies or TV set in their area of expertise. We usually bore and irritate friends and family with pedantic interjections about minor factual errors and chronological mix-ups. With Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and the sumptuous BBC series based on them, this pleasure is denied us. The series is as ferociously well researched as it is superbly acted and directed. Cranmer probably didn’t have a beard in 1533, but, honestly, that’s about the best I can do.
January saw the critically acclaimed and award winning Broadchurch return to our TV screens for a second series. There was a publicity blackout in an attempt to prevent spoilers or leaks; TV critics were not sent the usual preview DVDs. The opening episode sees Joe Miller plead not guilty to the murder of Danny Latimer, a shock as the previous season’s finale ended with his admission of guilt. The change of plea means that the programme shifts from police procedural to courtroom drama – both staples of the TV schedules. Witnesses have to give evidence, new information is revealed through cross-examination, and old scores settled by witnesses and barristers.
Millions of Americans are eagerly anticipating this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. For over a century, motion pictures have been a dominant cultural and leisure medium. There are, however, two aspects worth highlighting: the sheer novelty of motion pictures and the medium’s initial democratic nature. Twenty-first century Americans have difficulty imagining the wonder and awe motion pictures inspired in the early 1900s.
Why do we flinch when Rocky takes a punch in Sylvester Stallone’s movies, duck when the jet careens towards the tower in Airplane, and tap our toes to the dance numbers in Chicago or Moulin Rouge? With this year’s Academy Awards upon us, we want to know what happens between your ears when you sit down in the theatre and the lights go out. Take a look at some of the ways our brains work when watching a movie—you may just find some of them to be all too familiar.
After what feels like a year’s worth of buzz, publicity, predictions, and celebrity gossip, the 87th Academy Award ceremony is upon us. I dug into the entries available in the alphabetized categories of The Dictionary of Film Studies– and added some of my own trivia — to highlight 26 key concepts in the elements of cinema and the history surrounding the Oscars.
Among this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture were two films with drum scores: Whiplash, in which a highly regarded but abusive conductor molds an aspiring young jazz musician into the genius he was meant to be, and Birdman, in which an aging film actor who was never a genius at all stars in a play and possibly flies. In spite of their innovative soundtracks, neither film received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
Picture this. A legendary hotel concierge and serial womaniser seduces a rich, elderly, widow who regularly stays in the hotel where he works. Just before her death, she has a new will prepared and leaves her vast fortune to him rather than her family. Wills have always provided the public with endless fascination, and are often the subject of great books and dramas.