28 August, 2009

ITV's Wuthering Heights: preview and podcast

If you're looking forward to ITV's new adaptation of Wuthering Heights this Sunday, here's a little treat for you.

Tuesday night, in conjunction with Screen Yorkshire, we had the honour of hosting a preview of the lavish drama -- which was filmed right here in West Yorkshire -- and a talk from the team behind the show, including BAFTA-winning screenwriter Peter Bowker (who also wrote BBC2's brilliantly bawdy Desperate Romantics).

It was a packed out event and a very good adaptation -- I was on tenterhooks even though we all know how it ends for Cathy and Heathcliff, and the foreboding Yorkshire landscape is stunningly shot.

And here's the little treat: the full audio from the talk, giving you a unique insight into how a big-hitting TV drama like Wuthering Heights is devised, pitched, funded and made. You can download it at our Podcasts page, or search for "National Media Museum" in iTunes. Photos from the event below, too.

The big boss (aka Director of the National Media Museum) Colin Philpott at the pre-screening drinks gathering.

Joseph Taylor -- who acts his little socks off in Wuthering Heights as young Hindley -- soaks up the limelight.

A busy event -- and front row are (left to right) Screen Yorkshire's Sally Joynson, Q&A chair Bill Lawrence, Wuthering Heights and Desperate Romantics screenwriter Peter Bowker, Director of Production and Finance Jon Williams and Executive Producer Michele Buck.

Flickr Commons: It was a year ago...

william hope photo

The National Media Museum has been part of Flickr Commons, the "opportunity to contribute in describing the world's public photo collections", for a year. It's been fun.

Flickr Commons, for those who haven't come across this section of the renowned photo-sharing site, is an area devoted exclusively to museums, institutions and photography archives from around the world, to show off their "hidden treasures". It started a couple of years ago when the US Library of Congress came to Flickr asking about hosting some of their thousands of public domain images they hold that they wanted to catalogue, but had no time to do. The Commons was born.

From a base of one institution in January 2008 the Commons now has 27 organisations from around the world taking part, from the Smithsonian to the National Library of New Zealand, from the National Galleries of Scotland to Nantucket Historical Association, from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to our own National Media Museum in Bradford!

We launched on August 27th last year (the first UK institution on Commons) with three sets; the wonderful images of late-19th century photographer Peter Henry Emerson; amateur photographs from the turn of the last century using the first ever commercially available camera, the Kodak No.1; and most amazingly, the spirit photographs of William Hope. Why so amazing? Because they captured the imagination of the Flickr collective - 100,000s of views, 1000s of comments, and 100s of arguments over whether they were fake or real, spooky or not.

Since then we've released six further sets, encompassing animals, babies, human expressions and war, however one of the strongest sets was released earlier this summer, when we uploaded 16 images personally selected by the world-renowned photographer Don McCullin, also combining the virtual with the physical for the first time (we exhibited the images in the Insight space in the Museum concurrently). Showcasing Don's love of images of former empires through their buildings and monuments, the set has been a critical success both in the Museum and on the web.

Émile Béchard

And so we reach our first birthday - one candle on the cake. We're committed to showcasing some of our "hidden treasures" on Flickr Commons for the foreseeable future, and the curators love the freedom the online space gives them. So come and say hi to us on Flickr at some point, and don't forget to put the comment "spooky!!!" on one of the Wiliam Hope photos.

27 August, 2009

More Museum filming: the BBC and our historic television sets

I was summoned to the Experience TV gallery by our marketing team last Friday -- and found Curator of Television, Iain Baird, chatting into a camera for a BBC crew.

Iain was being interviewed for a report by BBC Breakfast about the final days of mass television manufacture in the UK -- you can see the film up on the BBC's website today. 'End of the line for British TVs' is timed to coincide with the last TV rolling off the production line at Toshiba's Plymouth factory, which is being closed after 28 years in operation.

Iain (who -- if the surname hasn't given it away already -- is the grandson of television inventor John Logie Baird) takes the opportunity to show off some of the grand old British-made televisions in our collection, including the iconic Keracolor Sphere and the original 40-guinea Baird Televisor -- which, as Iain tells the BBC, was exhibited in London on an aspidistra-covered stand, "to show it was a non-threatening technology and quite safe to approach".

Don't head off to watch the video just yet though -- I've got a couple more behind-the-scenes pics for you first.

25 August, 2009

How this PhD student increased our photography collection by one

Meet Julien Faure-Conorton. Julien's a PhD student from Paris who did us a huge favour recently. He increased the number of photographs we have by Robert Demachy -- by one. And he did it simply by lifting up a piece of paper.

The full story is this: Julien has been jetting over from France since February to have a ferret around our collection of photographs by Demachy. Demacy was a Frenchman whose early pictorial photography made him one of the world's most famous photographers by the early 20th century. He had a record five exhibitions dedicated to him at The Photographic Society in London -- but mysteriously hung up his camera for good in 1914, never to so much as photograph his grandchildren again. He was also one of the very first people in France to have a car.

We have all the prints that Demachy originally donated to the Royal Photographic Society, but it was one in particular -- RPS3647, La Cueillette ("Gathering") -- that led to Julien's big moment. Looking at the picture, Julien noticed that the corner of the print was peeling at the corner, detatching slightly from its cardboard backing. And there was something underneath.

That something turned out to be an entirely different Demachy print -- entitled Ploërmel, Brittany. It seems that Demachy was either unhappy with this hidden print, or was just short on backing boards and had to reuse it for La Cueillette.

So Julien's eagle eye uncovered an important early photograph we (and the Royal Photographic Society) didn't even know we had.

Here's a final picture of the reverse of the backing board. The stickers show where and when it was exhibited -- and the scribbled handwriting is Demachy's own, as he marked the prints for donation to either the RPS, or the Photo-Club de Paris. Judging by the crossing out at the bottom, Demachy must have changed his mind about this one.

You can find out more about our Royal Photographic Collection, including the Demachy collection, at our Collections page.

24 August, 2009

What's on this week: 24 - 30 Aug 2009

It's a busy week for us -- which means a packed week of film and TV-related events for you.

Our world cinema strand Bite The Mango turns its attention to Iranian film this month, starting on Saturday 29 August with two films from Abbas Kiarostami – his critically-acclaimed Ten (above), and the hypnotic Shirin. There's more at the dedicated Iranian Life On Film page. Our celebratory Bite The Mango weekend isn't far off, either -- see the Bite The Mango page for more on that.

Elsewhere in film, Friday 28 August sees three new films open at the Museum: Pedro Almodóvar's witty Broken Embraces starring Penélope Cruz; the tense Sin Nombre; and a new digital print of Jean Luc Godard's whimsical 1965 love story, Pierrot Le Fou. Film page

ITV are busily trailing their lavish new adaptation of Wuthering Heights – and we're honoured to have a preview screening of the drama at the Museum tomorrow. The event has sold out, but no need to roam the moors in anguish -- I should be able to bring you a podcast of screenwriter Peter Bowker's live introduction later this week.

Lastly, Friday 28 August sees the latest in our series of TV Heaven Talks: this time, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise step into the TV Heaven team's spotlight. We've nosed around in our archives to bring you a 1964 episode of their show, and a 1973 BBC Omnibus directory, Morecambe and Wise – Fools Rush In. TV Heaven talks

17 August, 2009

What's on this week: 17 - 23 Aug 2009

Three new films will be up on our screens this week, including Mesrine: Killer Instinct (pronounced "merrine"), part one of the two-part gangster epic based on the life of France's notorious bank robber, kidnapper and arms smuggler. There's also eccentric drama Home, and Skin, the true story of a black girl born to white parents in South Africa. All three start on Friday 21 August. Film page

Wednesday 18 August is your last chance to catch Antichrist before it ends its run in our Cubby Broccoli cinema. You can read our film programmer Tom Vincent's reaction elsewhere on the blog.

We've still got all kinds of events and activites to keep the kids busy over the school holidays -- and if you stop by on Saturday, you'll find burgers and all sorts sizzling on the National Media Museum summer barbecue outside the entrance (weather permitting). See our Summer 2009 page for all the details.

12 August, 2009

Harewood House and some historic photographs of Yorkshire

In the normal run of things, our Reminiscence Session group meets every two weeks to view and discuss old pictures from the Museum's mighty photographic archive.

But once a year, something special happens.

Everyone packs a lunch, meets at the Museum entrance, piles onto a bus -- and heads off to investigate the history of photography somewhere outside the Museum walls, on a trip organised by Mandy Tennant, our Audience Development Coordinator, and Victoria Boome, our Learning Programmes Developer.

So on Monday, we took our excited group to Harewood House, the 250-year-old Grade I listed country house near Leeds that's home to the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Harewood. These trips are expressly organised to tie in to the National Media Museum, and in this case the link was Roger Fenton -- more on him later.

We organised the trip with the lovely Harewood House staff, so we had the place to ourselves as we took a clockwise tour of the stunning interior ("This is better than Sandringham!" gasped one of the group, wide-eyed). There's a rolling programme of restoration work inside the house, and it shows in the ornate ceilings, the astonishingly well-preserved 1760s Chinese wallpaper, the priceless Chippendale furniture -- and, most astonishing of all, the gigantic Gallery, pretty accurately described in a 19th century guidebook as "a show of magnificence and art as eye hath seldom seen and words cannot describe".

Colin Harding, our Curator of Photographic Technology, came along to meet one of his Harewood House counterparts. I dubbed it 'Clash Of The Curators' -- but of course Colin and Heather Griffiths, Curator of Modern Collections, got on famously. I caught them here in the bowels of the house, immersed in a conversation about 19th century photography exposure times.

Heather had prepared some of Harewood's collection of Roger Fenton prints. Fenton was one of mid-19th century Britain's most famous photographers, and he visited Harewood House to take pictures just a decade or two after the invention of photography. The National Media Museum's Fentons are albumen prints from the original glass negatives -- some of the most significant photographs in our Royal Photographic Society collection.

Our group was able to use the pictures to compare the original Harewood to the building today -- and spot the fuzzy faces and blurred horses' tails that betray the 2-3 minute exposure time of Fenton's bulky 1850s photographic apparatus.

Colin set me a little mission just before we hopped on the bus for home: recreate two of Fenton's 1859 photos as closely as possible. You can see how I got on by comparing my snaps with reproductions of Fenton's prints below.

That's not the end of our work with the team at Harewood House. Anna Marshall, their Audience Development Manager, promised to bring her own reminiscence group to the National Media Museum -- I'll be there with camera in tow to show you how they get on.

In the meantime, everyone is welcome to join us for our regular Reminiscence Sessions, twice a month at the National Media Museum. Reminiscence Sessions page.

Fenton pictures: The Upper Terrace, Harewood', c.1860, Roger Fenton (1819-1869) and
Terrace and park at Harewood, c.1860, Roger Fenton. Royal Photographic Society collection.

Antichrist: the Bradford reaction

At a surprisingly busy mid-afternoon Cubby Broccoli screening of Antichrist earlier this week, I half-imagined a repeat of the reaction to the film at its Cannes premiere. That screening kicked off the fuss around the film, with snorts, boos, walkouts and derisive laughter from its audience of over-heated film industry personnel.

After a chaotic press conference with the film’s arch-prankster director Lars von Trier, the Antichrist hoo-hah has trundled along until now, when British audiences have finally had a chance to see it for themselves.

We've been showing Antichrist at our Cubby Broccoli cinema since last week, so I attended Monday's afternoon screening to see what Bradford cinemagoers made of this "beautiful battery of depraved images and irrational associations." (Channel 4 Film)

As the notoriously explicit film began with its audience-baiting opening sequence, there was a definite knot of anticipation – looking round, people had leaned forward in their seats, braced against the film…

One-and-three-quarter hours later, I can report that all the people that had begun watching the film were still there, and seemed more or less sane. There were a handful of yelps, at least one anticipatory groan, a few heavy sighs and one or two head-scratches.

Perhaps Bradford at 4pm on a Monday afternoon is just too sensible for the outrage that’s been touted by the papers.

Or perhaps the Cannes-fuelled hype machine is just a little bit silly?

Antichrist page

10 August, 2009

What's on this week: 10 - 16 Aug 2009

Two highly acclaimed films start their run at the Museum on Friday 14th August: the double-Oscar-nominated Frozen River, and the eerie sci-fi thriller Moon starring Sam Rockwell. Film page

This weekend is Family Film Funday weekend. Bring the children along to watch Studio Ghibli's captivating animated adventure Spirited Away on Saturday 15th or Sunday 16th August, and enjoy a whole day of family events and activities – all for just £1 per person.

And on Thursday 13th August, we're celebrating the 40th anniversary of Johnny Cash's performance at San Quentin prison with a special TV Heaven event. One of our TV Heaven staff will give you an introductory talk – then you can settle back and watch the 1969 documentary Johnny Cash In San Quentin in the comfort of our TV Heaven screening room.

07 August, 2009

Animal Farm rehearsals are under way

Note from Mark: In September, Paper Zoo Theatre Company are bringing their production of George Orwell's Animal Farm to the Museum (following their successful staging of 1984 in June). It's an exciting one because it's actually being staged inside Gallery One, where our Animalism exhibition is currently held. Here's a rehearsal report from Ben Eagle, who plays Napoelon. (By the way, the woolly hats signify sheep.)

It’s full steam ahead with rehearsals for us at the moment, and we’re having a real ball. The play is full to brim with nastiness, tension, sorrow and humour, and we’re really playing around with all of these elements.

Having staged the play last year, we’re very familiar with the characters and plot, but we've recently recruited four new actors who have fitted in very well – despite the fact that Animal Farm isn’t the easiest play to throw yourself into. Acting with animal mannerisms – and within such an important and influential play – is a challenge for any theatre company or individual actor.

I play Napoleon (above); the ultimate villain. It really is a great part and one that I’m relishing. Having played the part in our 2008 tour, I'm finding new things in the character and really playing up to the challenge of the ‘baddie’. David Peel, who plays Squealer, and myself were described in a review last year as “a couple of real swine” – I hope we succeed again!

Our main challenge is performing in the Animalism gallery at the Museum. It isn’t a theatrical space at all, and after several considered discussions in the space, we have settled on where we feel it would work best. It will take a little bit of manipulation, but I do think it will work very well with the subject matter.

For the audience to be surrounded by such an amazing exhibition, with such stirring photographs, will hopefully really set the mood.

More Animal Farm information and book tickets

04 August, 2009

How to digitize motoring photographs. 10,000 motoring photographs

Over the weekend, you might have seen this press release from Daimler AG (the Mercedes-Benz people). It officializes the news that Daimler have commissioned us to digitize the Museum's collection of car and motor racing photographs taken by Zoltán Glass in the early 1900s.

We actually started digitizing the photos some time ago, and we're going to get as many done as we can by next year. There are 10,000 of them in all. We're up to about number 1600 already.

It's the job of our Collections Access Assistant, Claire Cocks, to fetch and prepare each photo for digitizing (below). Clare dons the protective white gloves and slides open a drawer in our Insight centre, and there's the Zoltán Glass collection -- filed like an enormous library card catalogue, thousands and thousands of pictures from the early 1930s.

Each photograph is actually a little mini-collection of its own: the negative, a contact (i.e. negative-sized) print with info on the back, and an envelope, each bit tucked away in its own individual sleeve.

As Daimler's press release points out, we don't scan the contact prints. Instead, we work from the original negative. The Museum's Photographic Assistant, Kirsty Fife (below), tucks the negative underneath our Hasselblad digital medium-format camera -- purchased at considerable expense especially for this Zoltán Glass work -- and scans away. Then she "tweaks the curves" (ie boosts highlights and shadows to avoid the 'flat' look you often get from a scanned negative), crops and rotates where necessary, and stores the final file.

The collection is a fascinating one -- or, as Claire puts it to me, "awesome". There are photographs of cars, prototypes, rare vehicles that no longer exist, rally car racing and spectators, mechanics in action, Nazi automobile rallies, Mercedes trade show stands -- it's an amazing snapshot of both the motoring world, and the world as a whole pre-WWII.

We're aiming to be all done by April 2010.

03 August, 2009

What's on this week: 3 - 9 Aug 2009

The controversial but critically-acclaimed Lars von Trier horror Antichrist, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, comes to the National Media Museum on Friday 7th August. Those of a weak disposition might prefer Kisses or Coco Before Chanel, both starting the same day. Film page

Part two of our Cubby Broccoli Centenary season -- celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the James Bond producer -- begins on Sunday 9th August with Hell Below Zero, where the freezing Antarctic climate can't stop passion igniting between Alan Ladd and Joan Tetzel. Later this month you can catch The Cockleshell Heroes and Fire Down Below, two more of the films Broccoli produced in the 1950s.

There's family-friendly fare, too, if you're searching for something to do with the little ones in this "barbecue weather". We've got Wall-E on Friday 7th August and Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit on Wednesday 5th August, showing as part of our summer of family film screenings.