Almost by accident I came across this lovely series on BBC Sounds called Sketches, a set of programmes about art and people. In it “the writer Anna Freeman presents a showcase of true stories about the meaning of arts in people's lives.”

There appear to have been two series (hopefully there will be more) so far. The first programme I listened to was the very last one entitled, Come Together. At the end of it I was almost in tears. It was such a joy and definitely tied in with my feelings and my beliefs about art and artists; real people creating real art. It’s how art should be!

So go on treat yourself to this real joy of a programme. You will not be disappointed. If you are a radio fan, an art fan, a podcast fan or just a people fan I urge you to listen.


Castor And Pollox

A pastoral electronic instrumental inspired by the constellation of Gemini


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Five tips for Working from Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Working from home can impact communication and leave employees feeling disconnected and unsure about their role but there are a number of ways to overcome these difficulties, find researchers from BI Norwegian Business School.

Professor Sut I Wong and Associate Professor Gillian Warner-Søderholm, from the Department of Communication and Culture have outlined five simple tips for better communication when working remotely during this global pandemic:

1. Establish a good routine on how to share information on digital platforms so people don’t get drowned in too much information.
2. Set up regular interaction points every day, such as morning coffee Skype meetings or digital lunch breaks to connect with other team members for knowledge sharing, feedback, or just to catch-up socially.
3. Agree on what it means to be a good digital colleague - clarity combined with respect - who does what: clarify responsibilities each team member has while working from home.
4. Celebrate group achievements and company news by sharing a digital message or snap to the team
5. Encourage transparency and inclusion – it is easy to forget to include all members in the chats, so encourage debriefings and discussions in teams, even digitally.

This advice follows their study which found remote workers communicate substantially less with colleagues and managers when working from home and were often left feeling helpless about their work. Subsequently, they may feel unsure about their tasks or how to coordinate with other team members. A sense of ambiguity sets in leaving them feeling at a loss in regards to motivation and feeling connected.

During a crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, people are also struggling with the fear of getting sick, the practicalities of a lock-down, and uncertainty surrounding the future.

Teams need to set up a ‘digital water cooler’ – a social online interaction point for team members to hangout and compensate for lack of physical interaction. Daily communication with remote colleagues and your manager is even more important in such stressful times. It helps people stay connected and feel part of their work community. This avoids feelings of loneliness, boosts confidence in work, and maximises team productivity. Good communication leads to better understanding of individual tasks as well as improved coordination among members in the teams.

Establishing a good communication norm is essential to an effective remote working team. Professor Wong and Professor Warner-Søderholm recommend daily communication opportunities among team members and managers via Skype calls and messaging. Companies can even set up social half-hours with their colleagues via Skype.

These tips and pieces of advice should help your colleagues to feel connected when working from home and enable them to maintain a level of productivity without the ‘real-life’ social environment of a work office.


Coronavirus: five musicals chosen by a musicologist to keep you going during lockdown

Romance on the High Seas.
Warner Bros

Dominic McHugh, University of Sheffield

In the golden age of Hollywood, people turned to musicals for comfort and distraction. To watch and listen to Ann Miller or Doris Day perform Irving Berlin’s song Shakin’ the Blues Away in their respective appearances in Easter Parade (1948) or Love Me or Leave Me (1955) is to put our own cares and woes on hold – if just for a minute – while we respond to their charm and talent, as well as the sheer kinetic energy of their performances.

And whether it’s Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby duetting in High Society (1956) or the virtuosity of the Nicholas Brothers’ dance routine in Stormy Weather (1943), the movie musical has an enduring ability to soothe our minds and engage our brains. These were the brilliant products of the “Dream Factory” – as Hollywood was known during the studio era, when teams of composers, performers, choreographers, directors and designers were paid big salaries simply to produce several uplifting musicals a year.

With the resurgence of the movie musical since Moulin Rouge! (2001) and the popularity of La La Land (2016) and The Greatest Showman (2017) showing that the musical is once more a viable commercial genre, here are five older screen musicals you may not have come across before – mood-lifting classics with stars including Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Fred Astaire to keep us all engaged at a time of turmoil.

I Love Melvin (1953)

I was thrilled when the BFI chose to screen this little-known MGM movie during its recent “Musicals!” festival. Following the success of Singin’ in the Rain (1952), MGM brought two of its stars back together, but in a different configuration: this time, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor played the lovers. And from the beginning, it’s clear that this is no B-movie, even if few people have heard of it nowadays.

It’s partly filmed on location (including sequences in New York’s Central Park) and the production values are high. What I’ve always loved about the movie is the fact that it’s a heavily tongue-in-cheek satire of Hollywood, particularly of the musical. Look for example at the duet We Have Never Met (As Yet), available on YouTube, in which the writers lampoon the Hollywood “meet cute” by having Reynolds and O’Connor bump into each other while singing about how they haven’t yet met their true loves (when they actually have).

The score, by Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon, is as charming as anything MGM produced – and Gene Kelly, who is not in the movie, nevertheless makes his presence felt when men in the chorus wear Kelly masks in a slightly surreal dance sequence.

Roberta (1935)

Fans of Astaire and Rogers who have never seen it should drop everything and watch Roberta immediately. It’s a liberal film adaptation of a successful Broadway musical of the same name, but the addition of the popular team of Fred and Ginger automatically impacted on the story and score.

Jerome Kern’s songs are top notch and include the standard Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which has been covered by everyone from Cher to Miles Davis. The famous dancers play former sweethearts and hilarity ensues when Fred discovers that Ginger is living in Paris, pretending to be a countess.

The movie is almost as good as Top Hat, which was released the same year, and Fred and Ginger are at the top of their game – the movie deserves more attention. But there’s a good reason why it has never entered the canon: MGM bought the movie from RKO in the 1940s and remade it as the second-rate Lovely to Look At in 1952, suppressing the 1935 version for several decades.

Romance on the High Seas (1948)

Although her name continues to resonate through the years, Doris Day remains, for my money, the most underrated performer from the golden era of the movie musical. Indeed, it seems to me that her versatility has never been fully recognised: compare her gut-wrenching portrayal of distress at discovering her son has been kidnapped in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) to her lively turn singing The Deadwood Stage as Calamity Jane (1953) and you can instantly see that this is someone of unusual ability.

But for one of her sunniest performances, I recommend her debut movie Warner Bros’ Romance on the High Seas (released in the UK as It’s Magic – the title of one of the outstanding Jule Styne songs in the score). Day was working as a band singer when she was called in to audition for the movie, replacing the pregnant Betty Hutton, who was a well-established star.

While she was an unknown compared to several other actors in the movie, who include Janis Paige, Jack Carson and Oscar Levant – not to mention popular character actors Eric Blore (Top Hat) and S. Z. Sakall – Day completely steals the show. Watch as a star is born right before your eyes.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

It’s not to everyone’s taste – and again it’s based on a Broadway show, so not technically an original movie musical – but I’ve always had a soft spot for Barbra Streisand’s third film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, released by Paramount in 1970. It was extensively rewritten for the screen so that Streisand appears in almost every song, and the score by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner is full of catchy tunes and hilarious lyrics (Come Back to Me is a particular joy).

Vocally at her early best, Streisand plays two characters: the present-day American Daisy Gamble and her 19th-century English alter ego, Lady Melinda Winifred Waine Tentrees. Daisy believes she is the reincarnation of Melinda and when she goes into psychoanalysis to try and rid herself of her nicotine addiction, her therapist discovers – and falls in love with – Melinda.

While the film is overlong (even after several songs were cut – and the film footage on those songs has apparently never been discovered), veteran director Vincente Minnelli, of An American in Paris and Meet Me in St Louis fame, offers some innovative sequences in this late-career movie. Watch out for a young Jack Nicholson, who plays Streisand’s stepbrother.

Summer Stock (1950)

No list of cheering musicals would be complete without Judy Garland – and Gene Kelly and MGM’s Summer Stock is the ideal climax to our survey. Garland’s ruthless treatment by MGM (as depicted in the recent film Judy) led to her becoming an unreliable figure in the late 1940s.

Due to exhaustion, she had to be replaced by Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which had been designed as a follow-up to the Garland-Astaire classic Easter Parade (1948). She was also removed from the screen adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun after filming several numbers and pre-recording most of the soundtrack.

But don’t overlook her brilliance in Summer Stock (1950), in which she plays a farm owner who allows Gene Kelly and his troupe to rehearse on their property in return for completing chores. The dazzling score by Harry Warren – best known for 1930s classics such as 42nd Street – is supplemented by Harold Arlen’s Get Happy, in which Garland wears her iconic tuxedo costume. You get 109 minutes of happiness: what’s not to love?The Conversation

Dominic McHugh, Professor, Department of Music, Personal Chair, Musicology, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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The hidden history of women’s filmmaking in Britain

Ruth Stuart, the filmmaker of To Egypt and Back with Imperial Airways (1933)
EAFA, Author provided

Melanie Williams, University of East Anglia

The history of women making excellent films but not having their achievements fully acknowledged stretches back a very long way. This was most recently seen in Pamela B Green’s documentary Be Natural about the “lost” foremother of film, Alice Guy-Blaché. The French-American filmmaker was largely forgotten in formative accounts of the history of cinema. This was despite her important innovations, including making what is arguably the first narrative film La Fée aux Choux (1896).

It is vital historical work to recover women’s filmmaking, which is always prone to being overlooked, downplayed or forgotten. Organisations like the Women Film Pioneers Project and the Women’s Film and Television History Network, alongside other initiatives and people, have laboured to prevent its erasure from the historical record, but there is always more to be done to ensure its preservation and celebration. Archiving is key to this.

The recently released report, Invisible Innovators: Making Women’s Filmmaking Visible across the UK Film Archives, strives to rewrite women into history. Commissioned by Film Archives UK, the report surveys work by women held in UK media archives and proposes strategies for making it more accessible. It suggests there are incredible riches waiting to be unlocked, and compelling stories that deserve to be more widely known.

Creative amateurs

Amateur film of various kinds constitutes a large proportion of those collections. Many are home movies, which women were actively encouraged to make at the advent of home movie-making technology in the early 20th century. This was because it was seen as an extension of their roles as wives, mothers and custodians of family keepsakes.

Although some amateur films might have interest solely as historical or familial records, others are much more aesthetically inventive. Such films suggest how filmmaking could become a vehicle for unleashing women’s creativity.

For instance, one of the most intriguing filmmakers discussed in the report is Ruth Stuart. A teenage prodigy, she was described as “the maestra of Manchester” by Movie Maker magazine after her 1933 travelogue To Egypt and Back (begun when she was only 16) and her 1934 apocalyptic vision Doomsday. Both won the highest accolades for non-professional work from American Cinematographer and Amateur Cine World.

However, a gendered double standard was in operation around the status of amateur film at this time. While amateur filmmaking could act as a launchpad for the professional filmmaking careers of talented young men like Ken Russell and Peter Watkins – who both went from amateur filmmaking to the BBC and onto acclaimed feature film production – no such leverage seems to have been available to their female equivalents, however talented. As such, Stuart’s filmography is frustratingly brief. Little is known about her life or why she appears to have stopped making films altogether by the 1940s.

Clearly some women relished their adventures as hobbyist filmmakers and enjoyed the freedom of amateurism. In the flourishing cine club culture from the 1930s to 1960s, women were key participants, and not merely as helpful companions or tea-makers. As early as 1928, an all-female amateur filmmaking team put together the madcap comedy Sally Sallies Forth. Featuring an all-female cast, it was a rare gynocentric achievement.

A still from the 1928 film Sally Sallies Forth.
EAFA, Author provided

More often women worked collaboratively with men, but this has resulted in systemic problems in their work’s attribution. When the prize-winning films made by married couple Laurie and Stuart Day were discussed in amateur film magazines, it was automatically assumed that Stuart was the main filmmaker and Laurie just his wifely assistant. Evidence from the films themselves seems to suggest that actually the reverse was true. However, these kinds of assumptions have impacted the cataloguing of films when deposited in archives, inadvertently effacing women’s contributions.

Films by female filmmakers to watch:

Women’s films should be a priority for digitisation, and archival catalogues and records should accurately reflect female contributors. If all relevant works across all film collections could be marked with an easily searchable term like “woman filmmaker”, it would really help to bring these women’s works out from the shadows.

Here are five films by female filmmakers that have been successfully digitised from the East Anglian Film Archive which give a flavour of the range and richness of women’s filmmaking across the 20th century:

  • Doomsday (1934): Ruth Stuart’s haunting vision of a very English apocalypse.
  • 1938, the Last Year of Peace (1948): Laurie and Stuart Day’s montage of memories of suburban family life just before the outbreak of the second world war.
  • England May Be Home (1957): A moving documentary about Italian migrant workers. Bedfordshire cine-club member Margaret Hodkin is part of the team behind this.
  • The Stray (1965): Marjorie Martin’s moody tale of an errant wife with laddered stockings returning to her taciturn shepherd husband.
  • Make-Up (1978): A hand-drawn animation about “putting on a face” from Joanna Fryer, who went on to work on The Snowman(1982).The Conversation

Melanie Williams, Reader in Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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COVID-19: News from the world's trade unions

As the new coronavirus spreads around the world, working people rely upon their unions to support them and defend them.

For that reason, it's essential that there be places on the net trade unionists can turn to for reliable, accurate information about what unions are saying and doing about the pandemic known as COVID-19.

LabourStart from today will be featuring special pages in all our languages with news about unions and the pandemic:

Please share this information widely.

Rowers on Loch Katrine, October 2015

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Mary Beard and the British Museum

Mary Beard and the British Museum – who runs the UK's cultural institutions?

One of Britain’s great cultural institutions: the British Museum in London.
Claudio Divizia via Shutterstock

Kim-Marie Spence, Solent University

Many of those within academic and cultural circles in the UK were shocked and angered recently when it was reported that the government had refused to allow the nomination of one of the country’s leading public intellectuals to the board of trustees of the British Museum. Mary Beard was rejected, reportedly by order of the prime minister’s office, apparently because of her outspoken pro-European Union views.

To put this into context, No 10 is reported to have rejected someone whose CV reads as follows: Dame Commander of the British Empire, professor of classics at Cambridge University, Royal Academy of Arts professor of ancient literature and classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement. And this, apparently, because she takes an opposing view on one of the key issues of the day.

Former BBC World Service boss Sir John Tusa – himself a former trustee of the British Museum – condemned the decision, calling it an “absolute scandal”. It has been reported that the British Museum will defy the governmentand that Beard will still be appointed to one of five trustee positions that the museum controls itself (the government and the Queen control the other 20).

But the story of the government’s rejection of Beard’s candidacy is not just about escalating political polarisation within Britain but also a deterioration of the “arm’s-length principle” that has characterised the governance of cultural institutions in the UK for many years.

It’s a principle that is designed to protect institutions like the British Museum from politicisation. The argument is that it protects both parties, preventing important cultural institutions from becoming politicised and at the same time protecting the government from any backlash due to the inherent heterodoxy and freedom of expression within arts and culture.

The British Museum itself cites arm’s length as its governance principle, as you can see from this extract below:

How the British Museum is governed.
British Museum

In their much cited 1989 discussion of cultural funding practices, Canadian academics Harry Hillman-Chartrand and Claire McCaughey noted that:

having been appointed by the government of the day, trustees are expected to fulfil their grant-giving duties independent of the day-to-day interests of the party in power, much like the trustee of a blind trust.

Guarantee of independence

According to the British Museum Act (1963), out of the British Museum’s 25 trustees, 20 are appointed by the Crown – one by the queen, 15 by the prime minister and four by the culture secretary. Refusing to nominate Beard – while distasteful on the part of the government – might not strictly be a violation of the arm’s-length principle, because the museum can still insist on having Beard as one of its five nominees. The real violation would be if the choice of the trustees was not allowed as a result of further government intervention.

Most public cultural institutions do not have the options available to the British Museum. The arms’s-length principle has been undermined within the realm of British cultural governance for some time. Of the four institutions covered by the 1992 Museums and Galleries Act, only the trustees of the Tate Gallery and the National Gallery are allowed one nomination – but it must be a trustee from the other institution’s board (so the National Gallery chooses a trustee from the Tate Gallery’s board and vice versa).

National Portrait Gallery is allowed to nominate only one of its trustees.
FenlioQ via Shutterstock

In comparable institutions covered by other acts, for example the V&A Museum, all trustees are appointed by the prime minister’s office. So the wholesale appointment of trustees to cultural institutions by the government is not unusual and there is no scope for the kind of action or show of independence that the British Museum trustees are planning to take.

Here lies the danger – the arm’s length maintained between the government’s political interests and those of trustees of cultural institutions has – in essence – become closer. It now appears to be more of a handshake.

A limited model

The arm’s-length principle is more commonly discussed in terms of funding and in relation to the UK’s various Arts Councils. The Arts Council of Great Britain – now the Arts Council of England (ACE) – which was created in 1946, was arguably the world’s first arm’s-length council.

Despite this model finding its way into governance in countries around the world, such as Australia and New Zealand, the ACE model has been found wanting for its inattention to issues of systemic exclusion on race, class, gender and even location. One criticism of ACE’s recently released ten-year strategy, ACE in a Hole?, focused on the values it needs to espouse rather than any particular initiative.

The two most important, as far as I am concerned, are trust and accountability. The report’s authors highlight the lack of accountability and trust between ACE, the government and the various cultural communities. These criticisms echo one another – even as far back as 1997, academic Ruth Blandina-Quinn, whose work has focused on arts policy, noted increasing politicisation of the Arts Council. This, she wrote, had been exacerbated by the lack of criteria for appointment, as well as political appointees, a lack of transparency, a lack of accountability to the artistic community and increasingly closer ties with, and oversight by, the government.

While the public awaits the conclusion of the Mary Beard episode, it’s a good time to examine and debate whether arm’s length is still the principle within cultural governance. Criticisms about systemic inequity within the arts and cultural industries abound and have not been helped by the exclusion of one of the UK’s leading female public intellectuals.

It’s a slippery slope – Britain’s cultural institutions must be safeguarded from becoming political footballs where a person’s opinions alone are grounds for exclusion from governing bodies. The debate, as we wait to see whether Mary Beard is allowed to take up her place in the British Museum’s trustees, is what a country whose galleries and arts organisations are directly controlled by government placeholders will look like.The Conversation

Kim-Marie Spence, Postdoctoral Researcher (and Adjunct Lecturer, University of the West Indies), Solent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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