What TV’s on at the BFI in August 2015? Including Six Centuries of Verse: American Pioneers

The BFI’s August TV output this year is dedicated almost exclusively to the one and only Orson Welles, including some special excerpts from the Munich Film Museum of some of his rarer, European TV work. However, there’s also a season dedicated to poetry on TV, with the likes of Maya Angelou, Andrew Motion, WH Auden and John Betjeman all putting in appearances.

More after the jump. But first, Lee Remick, Stacy Keach and others reading some of the classics of American poetry in the American Pioneers episode of Six Centuries of Verse, presented by John Gielgud, which will be airing on Monday 24 August.

Sunday 2 August 16:00 NFT3
Poets on Poets
TRT 90min

Having one poet discuss the work of another has been a staple of poetry coverage on TV and this collection of such moments offers up some compelling insights and fascinating bedfellows. Films include Maya Angelou on Robert Burns, Craig Raine on Philip Larkin and Andrew Motion on Thomas Hardy.

Wednesday 5 August/Thursday 6 August
18:20 NFT1/20:30 NFT3
The Immortal Story (Histoire immortelle)
France 1968. Dir Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Roger Coggio, Norman Eshley. 57min. Video. EST. 15
Two titles that shed light on Welles’ intriguing engagement with television. The Immortal Story demonstrates Welles’ ability to apply his cinematic sensibility to the small screen in an intimate tale of storytelling and desire.
+ Person to Person
CBS 1955. With Orson Welles, Edward R Murrow. 31min.
Video In this interview show Welles discusses his views on the ‘dangerously important’ young medium of TV as well as honing his celebrity persona.

Thursday 6 August
18:10 NFT3
Ben Walters on Orson Welles and Television
TRT 90min
Welles was no less fascinated or inspired by TV than by theatre, radio or cinema, and he created several radical, wonderful programmes in the 1950s. The industry, however, found little use for him beyond talk shows, adverts and voiceovers. Using rare archive material, season programmer Ben Walters explores Welles’ bold – yet largely unknown – vision of TV as the ultimate storyteller’s medium.
Followed by Around the World with Orson Welles, ep 1 (see Saturday 8 August). Joint ticket available for all three programmes £26.40, concs £18 (Members pay £1.65 less)

Saturday 8 August
18:30 NFT3
Around the World with Orson Welles eps 2, 3 and 4
Associated-Rediffusion 1955. Dir Orson Welles. With Orson Welles. Video. TRT 78min
While based in London in the early 50s, Welles fell in love with TV. Having recorded a series of monologues for the BBC he embarked on a more ambitious series of travelogues for independent television. With locations ranging from Paris and Vienna to the Basque country and London, this series allowed Welles to develop his distinctive televisual language, combining a wry narratorial voice with a voracious, romantic curiosity about the world around him.
See Thursday 6 for a screening of ep1. Joint ticket available for all three programmes £26.40, concs £18 (Members pay £1.65 less)

Thursday 13 August
18:20 NFT2
Betjeman and Auden
TRT 90min
Popular poets WH Auden and John Betjeman made many TV appearances talking about themselves and reading from their works. This bespoke compilation features footage from the early 50s onwards and includes: Auden being interviewed in New York in 1960; a 70th birthday tribute to Betjeman; and Auden and fellow poet Stevie Smith singing whimsical songs at the Edinburgh Festival in 1965 in the BBC’s Poets in the Pub.

Wednesday 19 August 18:20 NFT3
Stage and Theatre + intro by Stefan Drössler, Munich Film Museum
TRT 100min
Before taking cinema by storm, Welles, still only in his twenties, made his mark as an actor-director in the theatre. In 1934 he shot his first film, The Hearts of Age, during the Woodstock Summer Festival: ‘It’s a little joke on Sunday afternoon. We’d all seen either Buñuel or Cocteau… We shot some dumb stuff and put it together just to amuse ourselves.’ This programme also shows him on stage in Dublin in discussion with the audience, and on TV remembering his early days. It also includes rare footage such as a version of Moby Dick and performances as Lear and Falstaff on American TV. In Orson Welles’ Shylock, Munich Film Museum has compiled different approaches by Welles to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

Wednesday 19 August 18:30 NFT2
C4 1987. Dir Richard Eyre. 35min
This powerful visualisation of Tony Harrison’s poem ‘v’ looks at the multiple meanings of the letter (eg Victory and Versus) to present a panoramic view of the divisions within British society.
Plus a special compilation (c.60min) of extracts showcasing diverse, radical and idiosyncratic voices including: John Cooper Clarke; Linton Kwesi Johnson; The Liverpool Poets; Ivor Cutler; Derek Walcott; Benjamin Zephaniah; Spike Milligan; John Hegley and Ogden Nash.

Wednesday 19 August 20:40 NFT3
Around the Globe + intro by Stefan Drössler, Munich Film Museum
TRT 100min
Welles was fascinated by television and tried to become popular as a TV director and TV host. He shot episodes for programmes such as People and Places, In the Land of Don Quixote and Orson’s Bag in which he’s seen as an indefatigable globetrotter visiting Europe and explaining its customs for American audiences. In Orson Welles’ London we see him as a musician, Churchill, a policeman, a flower-seller etc: ‘I am happily married to New York, I’m in love with Paris, but cannot resist London. I return again and again, as a man returns affectionately to a past mistress.’ The Spirit of Charles Lindbergh is one of Welles’ last recordings, and is preserved at the Munich Film Museum.

Thursday 20 August 18:30 NFT2
It’s All Magic + intro by Stefan Drössler, Munich Film Museum
TRT 100min
Welles had a lifelong obsession with magic and was always ready to perform magic tricks on stage, on TV and in films. He performed in Hollywood and Las Vegas with (among others) Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball and Angie Dickinson. For his unfinished essay Orson Welles’ Magic Show, he wanted to include different styles and tricks with stories of the great master magicians. The few scenes he managed to complete are included here alongside rare clips from his Mercury Wonder Show, his 1968 short Orson Welles’ Vienna, a TV commercial and his trailer for the American release of F for Fake.

Thursday 20 August 20:40 NFT2
Obediently Yours, The Storyteller + intro by Stefan Drössler, Munich Film Museum
TRT 100min
One of Welles’ favourite roles was as narrator, either on or off-camera. Take, for example, his little-known trailer for Citizen Kane. Or his TV presence: ‘On television you can say 10 times more in 10 times less time than in film. Above all one is addressing the ear… Because the most important thing is what one says and not what one shows.’ In his films for TV, Welles as the host might interfere with the action or he may simply be a pure storyteller in front of the camera, as in The Golden Honeymoon, based on a story by Ring Lardner. His unfinished Don Quixote was based completely on his narration – making it difficult to do much with the surviving fragments.

Friday 21 August 20:30 NFT3
Looking Back + intro by Stefan Drössler, Munich Film Museum
TRT 100min
The aesthetic behind Welles’ creations – his views on art and his filmmaking methods – are explored here by the master himself. For British TV Welles tells the true story of his famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Having completed Filming Othello for German TV, Welles embarked on a similar project about The Trial (since it was exempt from copyright in the USA he could use extracts freely). In November 1981 he was invited to talk after a screening of The Trial at the University of Southern California, where Gary Graver filmed the event on 16mm camera. In 2001, Munich Film Museum assembled and restored the material.

Monday 24 August 20:30 NFT3
Six Centuries of Verse: American Pioneers 1849-1910
C4 1984. Dir Richard Mervyn. With John Gielgud, Stacy Keach, Lee Remick. 26min
Channel 4’s epic 16-part history of poetry in the English language was a hugely ambitious undertaking which chronologically traced the development of the art form from Chaucer’s day to the late-20th century. This edition features Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
+ A Walk in the Lake District
ITV 1979. Dir William Cantner. With Hunter Davies. 44min
An elegantly filmed look at the life of William Wordsworth.

Friday 28 August
20:45 NFT3
Around the World with Orson Welles eps 5 and 6 + The Dominici Affair
Associated-Rediffusion 1955. Dir Orson Welles. With Orson Welles. Video. TRT 78min

The final episodes of Welles’ travelogues. The series provoked its share of controversy thanks to one episode featuring a bullfight and another – The Dominici Affair, unfinished but later reconstructed – in which Welles investigated the notorious murder of a British family holidaying in France.
See Thursday 6 and Saturday 8 for the first four episodes. Joint ticket available for all three programmes £26.40, concs £18 (Members pay £1.65 less)

Champions’ priority booking: July 6 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: July 7 11.30am
Public booking opens: July 14 11.30am

Prices (excluding gift aid)
£8.95 (members)
£6.65 (member concs)
£10.45 (non-members)
£8.15 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00

Prices (including gift aid and voluntary contribution)
£10 (members)
£7.50 (member concs)
£11.50 (non-members)
£9 (non-members concs)

All shows are £6 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.
As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.