Mind opening is our goal. In particular to help folk make sense of the past. It’s a collection of films dealing with ideas, art, politics and above all the many remarkable folk who have made some sort of a mark in these areas by what they have written or painted, or done in their lives that might help us make sense of our own. But the past? What has the past got to do with our imagination? What has the past got to do with our everyday lives?
What is special about the titles of our films? Aristotle? Kafka? Shakespeare? Brahms? Where do these folk fit into ordinary life?
These four all came from quite modest family backgrounds in different parts of Europe and Brahms in particular from near poverty. But something happened to them all and they all had the spark of response that was needed and went on to do their thing. The thing that happened to them was education – varied in form maybe but bringing them to see that life is complex and challenging but not just for a few to enjoy but for anyone. What they got was not just facts and figures on how to make things, sell things, make money, but also the much trickier matters like relating to others, finding balance and harmony in their lives, understanding the need to seek fruitful compromise – finding 'the middle way' Aristotle thought to be so important.
To develop the confidence in yourself which makes life so enjoyable and productive needs space and time – the time to sit down somewhere and read how the people in the past have done things and felt things. It's very personal education. Such peace can be hard to find. If you have not considered it the past can seem daunting and knowledge of it pointless. But everything we are comes from our past. We ourselves are just the merest speck in time. Billions of folk have already experienced the challenges we face. So everyone needs a few guide posts. Without some balanced and nuanced view of the past an individual has no roots, no hope of understanding the present. If the past is so vital and we want to learn about it where do we start? That's the goal of these films – to offer an entry point – a way forward. Of course it is not the only way. There are no easy certain paths. A good teacher will do it. But they are few and hard to find.
You also need to throw out all the prejudices you might have about things highbrow or exclusive! You need to be ready to open your mind to views you might find contradicting what you have always thought! It's tricky. But don’t underestimate yourself. Most people are capable of a lot more mental flexibility and courage than they are usually taught to expect in themselves.
There are no limits. You can be any age. To view these films you can be 12 or you can be eighty, any colour, any nationality, any shape or size. This is the inside story, the knowledge which used to be restricted to a privileged few. The films use English, now the world language and the subjects mostly spring from the part of the world known as Europe, but they had to start somewhere and they concern everyone everywhere. It was in Europe that folk began writing stuff down in a big way – and inventing printing to help spread knowledge. But the Europeans were also far from being angels. Don’t forget that not so long ago in spite of the renaissance, Europe was the centre of arguably the most brutal war the world has ever known. Rule by force has not ended. War today still makes life terrible for the folk in Syria or Yemen and other places. But the spread of knowledge means many parts of the world are getting easier for people to live in. The internet is for everyone. A knowledge of the past is a gateway to the future. Knowledge is universal. Ohm’s law works in Beijing as it does in Paris or Cairo or Peru. Electricity and satellites lighten the darkness everywhere, regardless of earthly frontiers or boundaries or the colour of your skin. Pythagoras and the ideas of the Renaissance are important for all humanity. A few clicks and you're off!
This is a significant section of our library and it deals with many of the major writers in world literature. Novels as we know them only came on the scene around 300 years ago. Yet they have become a significant means of passing on feelings and ideas from the past as well as exploring how we feel about things in our own times. When you read an engrossing novel or watch a dramatic performance on the stage or on a screen it's an experience between you and the creator with no one coming in between telling you what to think. It's entertaining but at the same time it can stir you to see other ways of thinking and doing things, other ways of looking at the world. The people who wrote these novels and plays and poetry are quite rare; they are perceptive and able to express themselves imaginatively to an unusual degree – encountering them through their works can be a life changing experience. Without novels to read and plays and films to see we would never meet such ideas and emotions in our everyday lives. In this series of around 50 films about famous authors, their lives and works, we explore the background to their times and how they came to write. Many of the films are in a second edition making use of the recent massive increase in digital images and technical advances. Of course the works stand on their own but anything which helps to give writing a place in time can only deepen our experience. If you know nothing of Kafka or Proust, (both very interesting people) then here is where to begin. Each film is followed by an overview of the works and suggestions on what to read first. (The list is constantly expanding. Missing for example are the wonderful writers of Russia. We are currently trying to put that right.)
If Mozart were to rise from the grave (he died aged only 36 and a pauper so we don't know where he was buried) - if he was to discover the amount of music listened to by folk all around the world today he would be astounded and I think delighted. That the audience is so enormous surely goes to show how closely we humans respond to music, how it touches us, reassures us, helps to carry us forward in life. Music - without taking into account the words that go with songs and their meanings – but music just on it's own – a good tune – seems to have it's own sort of meaning – slightly different for everyone possibly but very powerful - it sticks in the mind – it crosses all boundaries of language and nationality.
This wonderful and massive response to music has come about in the space of a very few years – not much more than 50 – brought about by the spread of education to masses of people and the increase in prosperity that has gone along with it for so many. Educate people and technology blooms as never before and with that, ways and means of making and listening to music. It is all quite astonishing. The performers of all this music and their particular songs are now near the forefront of the lives of millions. Their fame has no boundaries. It would be hard not to describe this as popular music and it does what music does so well – it brings delight to life.
But there are mysterious gaps, divisions between what people have come to call ‘popular’ and ‘classical’ music. Take Mozart for example – deemed by many as a classical composer and so on the less popular ‘classical ‘ side. It's true that Mozart wrote good tunes, so good that in the streets around the buildings in Vienna where his music was performed people could apparently be heard whistling them. Mozart was a major force in the development of music. Tunes and rhythm only were the basis of all music everywhere in the world until around the year 1500. Then complex harmony took off and all the changes of the renaissance in science and thought about everything began. Music was transformed along with everything else but until 50 years ago when education hit the masses the complex music of Mozart remained the exclusive pleasure of the tiny group of the people of the world who were educated. It could not be any other way because complex music requires time, peace and stability to perform, something totally denied the mass of society.
It’s worth saying more about this, because the division is really very marked. It leads to classical music lovers looking down on popular music and popular music lovers despising classical music as ‘highbrow’ or socially snobbish. They are both ‘cutting off their noses to spite their faces’ as the saying goes. They both lose.
In a very short period from around 1950 to the 1960’s, the popular music of today, helped along by modern technology and the simple means of making it offered by electric guitars for example, burst upon the scene and music changed. It was a change brought about by education and the sudden increased spending power of masses of people. Classical music went on its way, expanding a little, lending some of its skills to the popularisers by adding harmony but largely adrift and sadly ignored by the followers of the ubiquitous and exciting pop music. The big draw was that popular music was largely performed by people with little musical training or skills – people who in the past would have stood no chance of making it musically – people very like their audience. But who doesn’t respond to a good tune and an exciting rhythm? Popular music roared along. Audiences multiplied. Classical music as it was known, stalled and almost collapsed.
It was all a result of these huge shifts in society, the increase in income and its tastes, the rift between those who were not educated and those who were, (though inevitably becoming less of a problem as the uneducated age and die).
Classical performance continued and audiences increased. But false goals of trying to be original have not helped composers and being sidelined by the huge mammoth of pop culture in general has stifled them. New talents have certainly appeared without anyone of the stature of Beethoven or Stravinsky say, emerging. However classical music has benefited by a huge rise in the standards of performance. People hear great performers on cd's and digital and they meet greatness and try to emulate it. So the story is also positive.
‘Classical’ music is still profoundly present and it is what the Academy media website promotes not because it's better or superior but because it's fascination is it’s complexity and in it's complexity it mirrors everything about our lives in a powerful and unequalled way. In time more people will feel the effect of education and the opening of their minds and they will come to enjoy the pleasures of complex music just as they come to see and accept the complexity of life in general. No one can tell you why we are here on earth but couple the glorious music of Tchaikovsky in Eugene Onegin with the moving story telling of Pushkin and you will be very glad that we are! The fact that these two were Russian just adds to their relevance in the world today.
This is Brutus a Roman senator depicted in this powerful sculpture by Michelangelo Brutus played a major role in attempts to change the government of Rome. He was instrumental in the murder of Julius Caesar a would be dictator as he saw him. As things turned out he and his faction failed. Shakespeare recounts it all masterfully in his play Julius Caesar.
The value in this sort of knowledge depends on how you see things. How important is the individual? After all there are a lot of us and we come and go pretty steadily. But it can be argued that everybody is a part of history. The billions of folk on the earth today and the billions who preceded us. To recognise that our individual lives are such a tiny speck on the passage of our world through time is humbling perhaps. But in the books we humans have just very recently written and printed we now have records of the one or two astonishing folk who just like us trod the earth for a time. Now we can appreciate and build on their experiences the way no past generations have been able to do! Surely that is something amazing! It helps to know that there is very very little of this written history. Most of us accept that humans have been around for – well - millions of years. But our written history is around 5 thousand at best. A mere blink in time. So perhaps this is the moment to get going.
With constant reference to history these films consider the views and attitudes of people in the past and how they affect our present lives. Knowing ourselves better we can better deal with what life throws at us.
The play - ‘Ghosts’ by the 19th century Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. This is a complete presentation made in film style of a major stage play from the past. Using the text of a contemporary translation into English (by an English supporter of Ibsen – William Archer) this production is an interesting attempt to present the play as closely as possible in the form and style in which the author intended. It follows this path in the belief that the playwright can best speak for himself. This doesn’t mean updating has no place; just that the original has its own incontestable effect.
The play ‘Ghosts’ caused huge controversy when it was first staged because it deals with matters of sexual behaviour. Ibsen doesn’t attempt to judge things one way or the other but he doesn’t avoid issues either. Anyone viewing it will find it hard not to get involved or even take sides. There will still be those offended by it today no doubt and it lays open the discussion about the meaning of art. Is Ibsen the subtle but impartial observer or a propagandist for his own opinions on things? Ibsen came from a tiny village in one of the smallest nations in Europe but he turned into a giant of the theatre and it is reasonable to claim that his work has made possible the huge range of film and story we can now find in our own times.
Quite apart from all that this production makes absorbing and entertaining viewing.
There is a film about Ibsen’s fascinating life followed by an overview of his works.
These films explore the nature of art and the lives of prominent visual artists of the past. How we see the world around us and in particular the people in it, is a massive reflection of our personalities. But for most of recorded human history the visual arts were only enjoyed by the minute number of folk at the top even if the artists, the people who made or painted the ‘art’ usually somehow emerged from the masses with their talents and insights all ready made. We know their works today but we know little or nothing of them. So really seeing and noticing what painters and sculptors put in their works for most of us needs developing; as with most things you have to do a bit of work – looking, looking and looking again. And considering. It takes time and experience, lots of book looking and gallery going.
Text and words of major poets with appropriate backgrounds present poetry for a smartphone world.
These films offer the poetry of the past of special significance. Where a poem might be considered difficult, old-fashioned and of little modern relevance, by following the text along with a reader they can hopefully be less daunting and their beauties uncovered to an open modern mind. Our known past is so brief that anything like these screenbooks which help us to recognise that our experiences are far from new and our forebears found rich and delightful ways of expressing them, is surely a boon.
The first in a new series of texts is called ‘Consensus – The End of the Party.’ If you are fed up with the divisive behaviour of our politicians who are more interested in getting re-elected to power than in seeking the best solutions for everyone then this is for you. Democracy – even the rudimentary forms it has already taken - has brought remarkable improvements in the lives of millions of people. But for some the increase in their wealth is ridiculous and for many their improvements have stuck and are not getting better and for many more their poverty is permanent and they can see no way out. It’s not the fault of the democratic ideal of equality. It’s just that we are still fighting old battles instead of finding ways of breaking down barriers and working together. Democracy will never be perfect but it can be better. Here are some ideas on making it happen. It’s a pathway to Democracy 2.0!
We'll let you know about new films and texts