Saturday 20 March 2010

All they that saw them

What a brilliant session yesterday. Two hymns brought to a close our formal seminar series for this academic year.
James opens with a fantastic introduction, as we learn about these astonishing sources, and how they became held in the BFI. All the small anecdotes are included alongside the bigger picture. Then to the films. (It's not the same, but click on the links to watch on screen online (on campus only, I think).
Firstly, Every Valley. I was moved by this remarkable film, and I'm still not sure why. Of course Handel always has that effect, but even so. Truly beautiful. A cliché, but what wonderful poetry. Edgar Anstey, one of the great documentary makers, shows Wales at work. The buses and trains deliver people between work and home. Never has progress marched to such a wonderful tune. 'Messiah', no less. Yet pathos too: this is not the kind of celebration we could have now. We couldn't make the film, and we wouldn't give it the credence. There's no believable sense of progress as there was then.
Then my birthday treat: Elizabethan Express. It's festival time, summer 1954, and we follow the progress of the express service, non-stopping, from King's Cross to Waverley. Set to verse, it looks at the nuts, bolts, seats, timetables, track, train, and restaurant carriages. With the speed of a greyhound and the strength of a boar, the This isn't the hard shock of Every Valley – it's the froth on the cappuccino to the intense espresso of Every Valley, but no less hymnal. This is a celebration, to my mind, of these skills and crafts which so many working people had. More fool the wealthy passengers on this holiday special, if they can't see what a beautiful piece of art their journey was.
It comes to an end, and people struggle to find the words, somehow. The pictures and music and words were wonderful. Thanks so much James.
And so our journey too is nearly at an end. There are still a few spaces for Peterborough – I suggest you turn up at the Demontfort Hall entrance onto Victoria Park at 8:45 tomorrow if you haven't booked. Dropping me a line is a good idea. All that steam and coal and metal and light. See you tomorrow.