Category Archives: Film, TV and video

Notes on films I’ve watched


Chapman bros – Goya Disasters of War



Benjamin Zephaniah private view of Late Turner, BBC

The format of the programme is a personal view. The presenter goes from painting to painting, commenting on what he observed and how the paintings made him feel. He related the first painting to his own family and ancestry. It was evident the presenter was taking great pleasure from Turner’s work. These are some shorthand notes I made while watching the programme. 


The Slave Ship. Off the coast of Jamaica   Slaves thrown into the sea, drowning in their chains. Not far from where his family came from. Blood in the sea and the sky. 


The burning of the houses of lords and commons. He was a chronicler. Detail of people watching from the sidelines. Like the system is being burnt. 


Snow storm. Chaotic but beautiful. Turner disregarded conventions of his day and painted what he wanted. He might have been tied to the mast, but probably wasn’t – he used his imagination. 


Regulus. The power of the sun blinding us as regulus was blinded. Was turner addicted to the sun?  


Rain, steam and speed. The hare racing down the track. 


A disaster at sea. The ship going down while women and children drown as the captain refused help. A political commentary


Sun setting over a lake. The sun is the subject. There’s nothing solid. The sun isn’t round. It’s abstract. 


Peace burial at sea. Turner painted this because a friend died at sea. Perhaps t was also thinking about his own mortality. 



Norham Castle, Sunrise. The sun shine through at the centre of the painting.


I also visited the exhibition and made a blog entry about it (click here)

For me, the TV program was interesting because I could compare the presenters view with my own. It was lovely to be reminded of some of the great late works of Turner I’d seen. We noticed different things of course, but it emphasises that viewing paintings is a very personal thing.  



Michael Eavis private view of constable – BBC 

The presenter himself was brought up in Constable county in a farming family.  He could recognise the truth of Constable’s paintings, exclaiming with great pleasure in the many small details in them and how he remembered exactly this or that thing from his childhood. 

Haywain. Looking at detail. Ducks mating. Steel rim on wheel. 

The cornfield 1826. Romantic view of England. Brought back memories of his childhood. 

Stonehenge. Atmospheric, magical. 

The leaping horse 1826. Good drawing of the horse. Colour of the water, the light on it. All the detail realistic and beautifully painted. So special to him as that’s where he was born and bred. Painted with love and ownership. 

The village fair East Bergholt. Rain clouds gathering. 

Rainstorm over the sea  incredible painting of the sea, clouds. Unattractive, frightening 

Boat building near flat ford mill   

Path to the church.  No elm trees now, but they’ll come back. 

Dedham Vale, evening. Elm trees, sloping fields. A godly picture. Soothing. 

He thought Constable must have received pleasure, joy, contentment, satisfaction in painting them. 


Every painting described England and the life of the day in the country. 


An astonishing amount of detail, painted with care and love, and small brushes.


Watching both of these ‘Private View’ programs, it was very interesting and positive to see how much enjoyment art can give to people. 


Simon Schama, Power of Art – Rothko – BBC, 2006

One of a series of documentaries presented by Schama in which he examines the lives of eight great artists. In the book accompanying the series he posits that each of these artists, under great stress in intense make-or-break turning points in their lives created masterpieces that changed the way we look at the world and altered the course of art.  One of these is Mark Rothko, and the masterpiece is the Seagram murals.

Schama explains that Rothko repeatedly stated he was no abstract artist. His subject was the “universal tragedy of the human condition” (Simon Schama’s Power of Art, p401).  He was strongly influenced by Matisse, and in particular The Red Studio, where Matisse had “abolished volume and reinvented pictorial space” (Simon Schama’s Power of Art, p413). Venetian Red covers the entire field of the painting, and the illusionism of painting had been dispensed with. 

Interestingly Rothko himself recognised an affinity in his paintings with Turner – both of them depicting dramatic atmospheres and dematerialised vistas. His blocks are “diaphanous gauzes that drift together,mc losing and separating, hovering above or gliding beneath each other” (Simon Schama’s Power of Art, p424). The borders are crucially important – ragged and indeterminate, both at the paintings’ perimeters and  in the “frayed seams he tears between large colour zones” (Simon Schama’s Power of Art, p424). 

For me, Rothko’s paintings speak of the emotional power of simplicity. His paintings appear to be simple, although as I’ve seen, in reality they are built up in complex layers. I find it very interesting that one of the media he used was acrylic paint, then in its infancy – and it is inspiring to see how thin layers can be built one on top of the other, all adding up to incredibly rich textural effects. 

Ref Simon Schama’s Power of Art, pub BBC Books, 2006. 


Hockney – broadcast on BBC2 – director Randall Wright, production company First Class Hero Productions Ltd. 

For this program, which is like a visual diary of his life, David Hockney allowed his personal photographs and film to be used.  It encompasses his whole life,  from his early life in working class Bradford, to his move to Hollywood and later back to Yorkshire. He says he tries to find ways of looking and to think of his drawing subjects in simple ways, and in that way to get a response from the viewer.   I’m slightly familiar with his work and perceive it to be colourful, accessible, optimistic; his line drawings in particular are attractive in their economy; but listening to Hockney talking about his life and thoughts has given me more of an insight into his work, and made me realise that his many ways of seeing, drawing and painting are also sensitive, expressive and thoughtful.  The drawing and painting shown of his mother are heart-rending when seen in the context of his reminiscences and family films. – the piercing blue eyes, the gnarled old hands. 


Picasso: Love, Sex and Art – broadcast on BBC4 – Director Hugues Nacy, Production Company Gedeon Programmes

Gave an insight into the story of the women Picasso painted. He abstracted from the female form, and it seemed that each new wife, lover or mistress gave fresh fuel to his inspired explorations – they were his muses, but in themselves became little more than erotic objects for his work. It was said that some of the women felt damaged forever by the experience.