Ken Russell’s, Tony Palmer’s and John Bridcut’s films about English composers (two early ones by Russell anyway) have a special place in English affections. Russell’s Elgar (his first one: there was a bad remake) is the nations’s favourite documentary, at least in “middle England”. His Song of Summer is a work of art.
Paul Driver on Palmer’s film about Arnold: “An amazing film, the most rawly truthful of its kind that I’ve ever seen, though full of artistic subtlety. It’s a totally dramatic entity, because from start to finish you’re aware of two antithetical Malcolm Arnolds tugging in opposite directions and feel the tension between them constantly – yet the film manages somehow to be celebratory in the end. I think it must surely set the country alight when broadcast.”
AntPDC has got away with posting a monochromised low-resolution version of Bridcut’s The Passions of Vaughan Williams on YouTube and writes, in the continuing absence of a commercial download or DVD:
“One is impelled to share art when it can’t be appreciated by any other means. It’s been almost five years now since this marvellous film first aired on BBC Television, and it was until recently available to UK viewers via the BBC’s i-Player, in glorious HD. No longer alas, and given the many requests I have seen here and elsewhere for a viewing, I have uploaded it, at the risk of upsetting some parties. I seldom upload entire videos on my Channel which contain no original content of my own, but I felt this case should be another of those few exceptions.”
Bridcut makes us look afresh at composers we think we know (not that I ever think that). He did this in a remarkable way with Elgar and Parry. He made the Parry film in a kind of partnership with Prince Charles. He shows the English royal family as less philistine than we are usually told they are, especially when he writes about their relationship with Britten.
His film Britten’s Children is also a book. It is impossible nowadays for people to believe that paedophiles can have beneficent friendships with children. The Oliver Knussen interview in The Guardian last year echoes everything in that book, which does not mention Knussen. In a small way, Knussen was one of Britten’s children.
Here’s a checklist. As far as I know, all the films were made for television, but I haven’t given release details in most cases. Tippett is missing! Who is working on him? Palmer or Bridcut?
Elgar (1962, for Monitor, BBC television documentary series), KR
Benjamin Britten and His Festival (1967), TP
Song of Summer (1968, on Delius, Omnibus, BBC television arts series), KR
A Time There Was (1979, on Britten), TP
At the Haunted End of the Day (1980, on Walton), TP
Toward the Unknown Region (2003, on Arnold), TP
Britten’s Children (2004), JB
“O Thou Transcendent …” (2007, on Vaughan Williams), TP
The Passions of Vaughan Williams (2008), JB
Britten’s Endgame (2010), JB
The Man behind the Mask (2010, on Elgar), JB
In the Bleak Midwinter (2011, on Holst), TP
The Prince and the Composer (2011, on Parry and Prince Charles), JB
Delius: Composer, Lover, Enigma (2012), JB