Monday, 2 March 2015

Wolf Hall and the art of sumptuous cliché

Not having an television, I have watched episodes of the much-lauded Wolf Hall on BBC i-player. All I normally watch are the sports programmes.
I really disliked it.

The dialogues are stilted, ponderous and self-consciously portentous. Typically, one person is lurking in a shadowy interior. The camera dwells on details - furniture, faces and costumes. The subject's eyes, into which the camera stares, are deep wells of unspoken thoughts. Someone enters, usually a duplicitous adversary, weighed down by a mighty costume. His eyes (the mobile people are almost all men) express more unspoken thoughts in another sustained close-up. A pregnant pause ensues. The visitor slowly enunciates a message, not infrequently ironic and oblique. More meaningful looks follow, as the camera searches impotently for deeper meanings. The response, equally ironic and oblique, is painfully measured. And so the dialogue proceeds, until, following final bout of meaningful silence, the visitor exists with an air of morbid satisfaction or thwarted malice. We know we are watching "big acting" - and a lot of expense.

The almost perpetual gloom locates Wolf Hall in Monty Python's "dark ages". Even in daytime interiors illuminated by great tudor windows, we are faced with shadowy figures acting out a drama directed by Caravaggio at his most penumbral. At nighttime or in poorly-lit interiors, banks of candles (huge numbers in the scene of Anne Boleyn's trial) cast no useable light into the space of the room. In the actual interiors, our eyes with their ability of accommodate would have seen very adequately.

Dark deeds are conceived in melancholy darkness. No-one plots in daylight.

A hybrid of Monty Python and Harold Pinter - or even Waiting for Godot. It is like the most stylised of the verismo operas of the 19hC, without the redeeming factor of the music.

You may say that that Wolf Hall is drama, using dramatic licence, and that my reading of it is too literal, too naturalistic . Yet the massively expensive costumes, fittings, furniture and settings are telling us "this is how it actually was". You cannot have it both ways.

In the book, the dialogue can be stripped to acid essentials, while we paint the pictures in our mind.  I suspect, looking back in 50 years time, the sumptuous clichés of such a "costume drama" on TV will seem bizarre.

Art in History. Iniquities of Amazon

Further to my post on Art in History, which I wrote to take advantage of the concept of an e-book (or ebook), with animations and links to websites with high res mages and good information, it seems that such "enhanced e-books" are effectually "hidden" as the result of commercial self-interest on behalf of Amazon, who have a near monopoly.  I asked the publisher, profile Books, why I could not myself read the e-version of my own book, even having downloaded Kindle for my Mac. Opening the book, I am informed that “There is video content at this location that is currently not supported for your device”. It transpires that this part of the content is visible to few who download the book.

Mike Jones, who is now responsible for the book for Profile, tells me that "much, as I am sure you know, is dependent on ‘metadata’ within the title and subtitle, and much of that we cannot control as it has to follow universal guidelines concerning ISBNs and supplying large ebook suppliers such as amazon. Everything feeds through to these companies. They would block a description on a print book page that promoted an ebook. .... Amazon - who control a vast slice of the market for ebooks - do not promotionally support enhanced ebooks, and often the enhanced ebook becomes 'hidden' behind other editions. Also, there are only a limited number of devices capable of accessing the material – as you are finding to your cost....  There just aren’t that many people with the right devices and then the inclination to download a book and have an animation alongside. Many people just don’t want this or see it as a creative extra".
I explained that "in writing and designing the book, the e-book was not considered to be a minor add-on that might be readily available in full form for a few readers. It was my prime target and provided the justification for a low specification print book ....The animations on space and colour deal with fundamental things that I do not treat adequately in my text, because I thought they would be readily available. The low spec illustrations were OK providing the links we provided were available to supply high res images (and additional information and bibliography). The animations were for me an integral part of the project, providing a new dimension as to how a book about visual things operate".
This is disappointing. We are looking at ways of increasingly awareness of the e-book, not least by using Youtube for the animations:

All help gratefully received!