Virtual Reality, Natural Sheep and Disney at War

Posted on: 16 Aug 2016 by Philip Wyn Jones

Philip Wyn Jones, Chapter's very own Uncle Travelling Matt, reports on a cultural visit to London.

On a recent visit to London I enjoyed three BBC Proms in the form of a Russian cantata, a Russian opera and a French requiem and I also visited three exhibitions.

The first of these was at Somerset House on the Strand and was entitled Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick. A host of artists, directors and musicians had been invited to react to the work of Kubrick. It could be a complete film, a specific scene, a character or a theme. The exhibition made full use of the majestic building, its staircases, rooms of various sizes and corridors. The main corridor was a key part of the exhibition. Its patterned floor was similar to the carpets in The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. The same film had inspired a particularly eerie exhibit; a waxwork of Kubrick himself, in a frozen state and wearing Jack Nicholson’s clothes from the film. The Virtual Reality exhibit was quite unnerving. Wearing the appropriate headgear, I appeared to be walking along an elegant-looking corridor in a Kubrick film.  I was able to look to left and right, up and down and behind me, before searching for the nearest wall to lean on. Will this be the future of film, a stroll through the Psycho house perhaps – up the stairs, then down to the cellar? Also in the exhibition was a short film by actress Samantha Morton, recreating the first time she went to the cinema to see a Kubrick film, and screen tests for a project Kubrick later abandoned. It would have covered the same ground as Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

My second exhibition was at the House of Illustration, a new gallery in a beautifully reclaimed area of King’s Cross. Two Quentin Blake exhibitions were allotted a room each. They displayed Blake’s work for Roald Dahl and other authors and showed how he can vary his style while remaining unmistakeably Quentin Blake. The other, much larger, exhibition was entitled A New Childhood – Picture Books from Soviet Russia. Children’s books acquired a new importance following the 1917 Russian Revolution. They were a key factor in creating future generations of good Communists. Out went fairies, fantasies and unrealistic animals. Sheep, for example had to look like real sheep, not the curly-haired patrons of a hairdresser’s salon. The lion kept his status but changed his title; he was now President of the jungle, not the king. Similarly, princes and princesses were dismissed and replaced by heroes of the Soviet army and members of Communist youth movements. Science and technology had to feature in stories and the lives of children in other countries should be covered. After all, they too would become happy and proud young Communists in the near future! 

For my third exhibition I went to the Imperial War Museum for Real to Reel, A Century of War Movies. Displays carried useful titbits of information, including the point that some scenes in documentaries were actually staged for the camera and so were not actually ‘real’. The exhibition showed how governments use documentaries and regular feature films to influence the public. They can be persuaded that wars are necessary and justified, and a fictionalised event can be presented  as if it were a reality. Plentiful posters and film-clips dotted the exhibition. Most of them were disappointingly familiar but there were a few welcome exceptions, such as The Battle of the Somme filmed on the battlefield in 1916, Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) - a Nazi propaganda film, and Victory Through Air Power, a Walt Disney part-animated production shot in glorious Technicolor.

Philip Wyn Jones


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