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That was then but this is now (revisited)

Without doubt a prime candidate as the greatest agent of impetus in human civilisation is the invention of means of ‘recording’ first language (in the form of writing) and then – as regards performing arts – the use of devices capable of recording sound and movement ‘in the moment’.

Accordingly, therefore, the late 19th Century can be suggested as the watershed breakthrough point at  which the contemporary elite exponents of music, singing, dancing and acting could be first heard and/or seen (albeit until the 1920s when this was developed, not in synch) as they themselves actually performed and/or intended.

Only to a point, of course, because this could only happen in the context of the extent to which at the time such recording devices had been developed.

Today I understand it is possible – if one searches hard enough – to listen to ‘spoken voice’ recording going as far back as Thomas Edison, William Gladstone and Florence Nightingale, ‘singing’ equivalents as far back at Caruso, and ‘acting’ (without sound) footage of Saran Bernhardt.

While it is a source of wonder that these exist at all, how much more rewarding would it be today if only these venerable individuals (and others like them) could have been ‘captured’ – or indeed were magically transported to 2019 for the purpose – on the very latest, super high-definition, super-sensitive, 3-D, technicolour, digital devices?

They can never be, of course.

Just as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Marilyn Monroe, Jesse Owens, Peter Snell, Al Oerter, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Fred Astaire and even the 17-year-old Pele at the 1958 football World Cup will never be seen as if recorded at their height with our 2019 leading technology.

Or even that of 2029 when it eventually arrives, for that matter.

They – and their particular art or performances – can will only ever be ‘of their time’.

It isn’t just a case of flicking a switch and somehow then being able to appreciate the brilliance of Vaslav Nijinsky as a male ballet dancer.

We can only ever see him through the prism of contemporary movie cameras and him dancing in the styles and mannerisms of his time.

If you could magically transport Nijinsky forward to 2019, our ability to appreciate his skills, even if recorded as part of a show produced in a movie studio with multicamera direction, would be limited by the fact we’d still only be viewing the ballet scenes of his era as he performed them in the early 20th Century.

Things might be different if you could get somehow convey Nijinsky here to 2019, without him having aged at all, but having afforded him the opportunity to absorb all the influences and motivations that occurred during the intervening century.

What would a ballet fan pay to watch the 20 year old Nijinsky, transported to 2019 alongside (say) the 20 year old Nureyev, both of them steeped in their knowledge of everything that has happened to dance culture since their deaths.

Then again, who would not pay to see the pair of them, engage in a ‘dance-off’ together to decide who was the best between them?

Arguably, since both of them were mavericks in different ways who constantly pushed the envelope of what was the norm, maybe neither of them would have been ballet dancers as such, but simply contemporary, hip-hop or ‘street’ performers …

If Charlie Chaplin had been born in 1989 instead of 1889, how differently – how even better – might his classic silent films, still less his later talking pictures, have seemed to modern eyes?

Indeed, what sort of films would he have been making today with all the CGI and other technologies now available to him?

Perhaps none of his silent films if he could have his time again once more … ?

Which brings me to my subject of the day – a special re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated and controversial 1971 movie A Clockwork Orange, based upon Anthony Burgess’s short novel of the same name, as part of the Kubrick season being staged at London’s BFI Southbank.

See here for Peter Bradshaw’s re-appraisal as features today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

For me, it immediately brought to the fore the vexed issues of whether films date – and if they do, whether this matters – or whether indeed there exist some so unique and special (one hesitates to add the word “great”) that they stand the tests of time and/or never age at all.

And is the degree to which films ‘date’ or not any criteria at all whereby to judge them against others, or indeed history?

Interesting questions and no doubt Rusters will have their own opinions.

For what it’s worth, I’m a Kubrick fan.

I loved 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dr Strangelove – Or how I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964) even though I don’t think I first saw it until at least a decade after it came out, and A Clockwork Orange.

I considered the last of these an edgy masterpiece.

For what it’s worth, at the time, I also worshiped at the altars of Lindsey Anderson’s If … (1968) and Oh Lucky Man! (1973).

Which begs focus upon the issue of how differently Messrs Kubrick and Anderson might have made these movies – or re-made them – if (at the age they were when they actually made them) they could be transported forward to 2019 … with everything that had happened to the world in between in their back pockets, or brains, as it were.

Or another thing, perhaps – would they have chosen to make these films at all?

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts