Easter being the time of resurrection, I spent part of the break uploading to YouTube some of the programmes I produced for Channel 4 in the 1980s and 1990s. So there is now a Large Door channelfor our moribund independent production company, with a selection from the hundred or so programmes we produced. They include:
- Cinema in China (1983), a 53 minute film outlining, for the first time ever, the history of filmmaking in China, presented by Tony Rayns
- Wendy Toye and Sally Potter: Two Directors (1984), a 53 minute portrait of two directors from different generations meeting for the first time and discovering their common interests
- Michael Snow: Snow in London (1983), a 30 minute film for the Visions magazine series based on an interview and exhibition at Canada House, London
- Ghosts in the Machine (1985), an 11 minute Visions item by Keith Griffiths on the then-new Frankfurt Film Museum, an archaeology of moving image devices
- New Chinese Cinema (1989), a 53 minute film by Tony Rayns on the new directors then emerging in China, including Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou
- Seeking Approval (1992), an adventurous presentation by Agnieszka Piotrowska of Rosalind Coward’s ideas from her book ‘Our Treacherous Hearts’, a feminist examination of the complicity of women in their own oppression
- Brazil: Beyond Citizen Kane (1993), Simon Hartog’s definitive history of TV in Brazil and the role of TV Globo, both good and bad.
This blog explores the ‘what, when, why, where, how’ of the Large Door channel.
WHAT AND WHEN?
Large Door was set up in 1982 to produce Visions, a magazine series for the new Channel 4. Initially there were three producers, Simon Hartog and Keith Griffiths (who knew what they were doing), and John Ellis (a film studies academic). Keith left after a year but continued to direct for the company. Visions continued until 1986, producing 36 programmes in a variety of formats. I have written about the series in the book Experimental British Television and elsewhere. Hartog and Ellis continued producing through the company, broadening out from cinema programmes to cover many aspects of popular culture from food to television. Hartog’s last programme before his death in 1992 was the controversial film about TV Globo, Brazil: Beyond Citizen Kane (many versions are already on the internet; the Large Door channel version has English subtitles). Large Door’s last production were two series about Hong Kong, before and after the handover to China, Riding the Tiger (1997 and 1998).
Visions was a constantly innovative series, and my article in Screen Nov-Dec 1983 about the first series gives a flavour of its range:
Especially during the earlier months of production, we vacillated between two distinct conceptions of the programme: one, the more conventional, to use TV to look at cinema; the other, more avant-gardist, to treat the programmes as the irruption of cinema into TV. […]
We found that virtually all of our programme items could be categorised into four headings:
1) The Report, a journalistic piece reflecting a particular recent event: a film festival like Nantes or Cannes, the trade convention of the Cannon Classics group.
2) The Survey of a particular context of film-making, like the reports from Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the critical profile of Bombay popular cinema.
3) The Auteur Profile, like the interviews with Michael Snow and Paul Schrader, Chris Petit’s hommage to Wim Wenders, or Ian Christie’s interviews with various people about their impressions of Godard’s work.
4) The Review, usually of a single film, sometimes by a literary intellectual, ranging from Farrukh Dhondy on Gandhi to Angela Carter on The Draughtsman’s Contract. About half the reviews were by established film writers, like Colin McArthur on Local Hero or Jane Clarke on A Question of Silence.
The third series of Visions, a monthly magazine from October 1984 added further elements. Clips was a review of the month’s releases made by a filmmaker or journalist (eg. Peter Wollen, Neil Jordan, Sally Potter) consisting entirely of a montage of extracts with voice-over. We introduced the idea of the filmmaker’s essay, borrowed from the French series Cinema, Cinemas, commissioning Chantal Akerman and Marc Karlin to do what they wanted within a limited budget and length. The plan to commission Jean-Luc Godard fell in the face of his insistence on 100% cash in advance with no agreed delivery date. And then there was no further commission.
Instead, the company diversified. Some later Large Door programmes are already available: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer and, Distilling Whisky Galore are on DVD and Dream Town: An Anatomy of Blackpool has been captured by Box of Broadcasts from its BBC4 repeats. Some continue to have copyright or other restrictions. But there are plenty more items and programmes that can be added. Please contact me with suggestions as there are many film-related items listed in the 1985 catalogue of Visions and related programmes. I have already uploaded New Chinese Cinema as requested by a viewer of Cinema in China.
WHERE AND HOW?
YouTube as a medium presents problems for material originally produced for TV, particularly magazine programmes like Visions was for most of its life. Most of the material comes from VHS tapes (I can’t afford transfers from the original one-inch videotapes most of which are now, fortunately, in the National Film and TV Archive). Many are off-air recordings: should I preserve the announcements and commercials in the breaks? Others were VHS copies from the masters: should I preserve the clocks with their potentially valuable metadata? I have cut out commercials but have preserved one or two lead-in clocks. I have decided to break up the magazine programmes into their various items, and (purely for convenience) to upload longer single documentaries in their parts. But the ‘playlist’ function allows the whole programme to be played without a break. So each magazine item is searchable, but their nature as TV is compromised. The material also has that hazy soft-edged quality of VHS, far from the sharp-edged feel of the analogue video on which they were originally made. So the Large Door channel is, for the moment, a channel of content rather than of rigorous TV history, giving it (in internet terms) mass appeal for film scholars and those interested in popular culture.
Many of the programmes include film extracts, and the recent changes in copyright rules in the UKmean that both ‘fair dealing’ for the purposes of critical comment and review, and the right to use extracts for ‘parody, caricature and pastiche’ are now available for moving image and sound in UK law. Channel 4 had already handed some of the programmes back to Large Door Productions. So it seemed the right moment to start making the unavailable programmes available to what will be overwhelmingly study use.
Accordingly, I have used YouTube’s settings to exclude advertising (and thereby crowd-funding as well, it seems). I cannot see any real copyright violation in what I have done, but if any agency construes the issue in a different way, there will be no revenue to hand over and I can simply take the disputed material down. If there really is a copyright breach, that is.
I have entered some metadata and keywords, but so far it is quite amateurish, I am ashamed to say. There should be more details of exact broadcast dates, detailed credits etc, and those will come, especially if requested. As will many more items and programmes.
However, there are some programmes that may present problems if uploaded to YouTube. One is The Holy Family Album, written and narrated by Angela Carter: her last work before her untimely death in 1992. Carter treats Christian iconography as though it were the family photos of the holy family. It is a classic surrealist manoeuvre and JoAnn Kaplan’s programme caused controversy on its transmission late in 1991, as Charlotte Crofts has described in her analysis of it. Given the increase since that date of sensitivities around any criticism of any religious thought, should it be published again? Channel 4 have steered clear of any repeated broadcast. Any thoughts?
JOHN ELLIS is Professor of Media Arts at Royal Holloway University of London. He leads the ADAPT project on the history of technologies in TV, funded by a €1.6 million grant from the European Research Council. He is the author of Documentary: Witness and Self-revelation (Routledge 2011), TV FAQ (IB Tauris 2007), Seeing Things (IB Tauris 2000) and Visible Fictions (1984). Between 1982 and 1999 he was an independent producer of TV documentaries through Large Door Productions, working for Channel 4 and BBC. He is chair of the British Universities Film & Video Council and also oversees the Royal Holloway team working on EUscreen. His publications can be found HERE.