Beyond the small screen
Central as television was to the fashioning of Henry Moore for the post-war public in Britain, the artist and his works also appeared in films seen in contexts beyond the domestic screen. There were, for example, at least ten appearances between 1945 and 1969 of Moore and his works in British Pathé newsreels. These include ‘Fame in Fabric’ (1945) with Zika Ascher at the National Gallery looking at a Shelter drawing; ‘Open Air Sculpture’ (1960), which has a view of Moore’s Upright Motive No.1: Glenkiln Cross, 1955–6 at the Battersea Park open air sculpture exhibition; and ‘Henry Moore Receives Dutch Honour’ (1968), with the artist receiving the Erasmus Prize from Prince Bernhard and views of an exhibition at the Kröller-Müller museum in the Netherlands. As with television news coverage, the newsreels consistently treated Moore with respect and maintained a celebratory attitude.
Moore was also the focus of documentaries created for educational and other non-theatric forms of distribution. The British Council after 1955 made available a filmstrip of illustrations and a tape-recorded talk by Moore titled Sculpture in the Open Air. The main provider of cultural documentaries, however, was the Arts Council of Great Britain, which in the winter of 1950–1 organised the first ‘art films tour’. This offered a 16mm projector and operator, together with selections of films, to colleges and community organisations across Britain. Initially, these were prints of films purchased from abroad, and occasionally from the BBC (John Read’s Henry Moore was included in the 1951–2 tour). The Council then began to part-finance new productions, as it did in partnership with the British Council for Dudley Shaw Ashton’s Reclining Figure: Henry Moore’s Sculpture for the UNESCO Building in Paris (1959), with an adulatory commentary written and spoken by Philip Hendy, then Director of the National Gallery. Ashton’s film featured a number of the maquettes that Moore considered for this commission and travelled with the sculptor to the quarries at Carrara where the familiar comparison was made: ‘Here Michelangelo came to choose his marble.’ The conclusion celebrated the installed work with strong colour cinematography and a grand peroration from Hendy stressing the separation of Moore’s work from its inevitably politicised context of UNESCO’s headquarters:
While the typewriters click in the battery of office rooms behind the plate glass, and while men and women strive together in the conference rooms to raise themselves, and mankind with them, above the fears and doubts and pettiness of life, this Reclining Figure lies there, and there is watchful, courageous, empowered, a force on the side of greatness, a reminder of the grandeur to which the idea of humanity can reach.
Other organisations also created films for non-theatric distribution as 16mm prints. British Transport Films (BTF) produced numerous documentaries to promote railways and other forms of nationalised transport as well as their various destinations. In 1960 John Piper presented the BTF film An Artist Looks at Churches,
in which Moore’s Madonna and Child
1943–4 features towards the close.26
Accompanying dramatically-lit images in colour of the Northampton work, Piper’s narration proposes that the sculpture, ‘draws out nineteen centuries of love from the stone where it has been hidden for that length of time and longer ... When our eyes are adjusted to these works of our own time [Graham Sutherland’s The Crucifixion
1946, also in Northampton, had been shown], they take their place naturally enough beside the treasures of the past.’ At which point an image of the Virgin’s face dissolved to a precisely aligned, worn visage of a medieval figure in stone. A montage of other faces, in stone, wood and stained glass gave way to pastoral shots of churches in the English landscape. As in the contemporary television films, Moore’s work was fixed reverently in a timeless pastoral tradition. Moreover, it was expressive of what art historian Andrew Causey identified as a ‘fervent Englishness’ and ‘essentialist nationalism’ that he saw as having been mobilised by the pre-war politician Stanley Baldwin. ‘This involved stressing the length and continuity of English history,’ Causey wrote in 2003, ‘the importance of land, the regions, craft and artisanal traditions, and social and class interaction.’27
Films featuring the artist’s drawings and sculptures were also made for education, both by the broadcasters and occasionally by independent companies. In 1964 Anthony Roland Films produced the short Henry Moore, London 1940–1942, which focused on the Shelter drawings. Moore himself appeared in the documentary Figures in Space (which also featured the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti) for the 1962 BBC Schools series Cubism and After, made by critic David Sylvester and television director Michael Gill, and in Fusion: Sculpture (Thames, 1971) directed by Richard Gilbert. Both schools programmes went to Perry Green to hear directly from the master, and the 1971 programme accompanied hand-held shots of works displayed in the grounds with an accompanying score of musique concrete.
David Sylvester was also central to the production of the Arts Council film Henry Moore at the Tate Gallery
(1970). As a member of the Arts Council Films Panel at the time, he was involved in funding a number of films documenting major exhibitions. He was also the curator of the 1968 Henry Moore retrospective organised by the Council at the Tate Gallery, and the film of the show carries the credit ‘A film by Walter Lassally and David Sylvester’. Lassally was a great British cinematographer (his credits include The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
(1962) and Tom Jones
(1963)), and the choreography of his fluid developing shots through the show remains impressive. The fourteen-minute film carries no commentary and no accompanying music, and simply records the display of Moore’s sculptures installed in Michael Brawne’s innovative exhibition design within the Duveen Galleries and (briefly) on the exterior lawn.28
To begin with the sculptures are seen in daylight, with visitors and the sounds they make in the spaces around the artworks. Then a dissolve between shots removes the people, and the camera – and viewer – is left alone with the works, with just a distant rumble from the city beyond. The camera in these later sequences grants the viewer privileged access to the show, at the same time as removing Moore’s work from the historical moment. Although the film acts in some ways as a catalogue for the exhibition, there are no captions to indicate titles or dates, nor is a chronology or other narrative apparent from the sequencing of shots.
One of the rare presentations of Moore that set his work in an explicitly contemporary context is Opus
produced by James Archibald and directed by Don Levy for the Central Office of Information (COI). The film was commissioned to be shown at Expo 67 in Montreal, inside Basil Spence’s modernist British Pavilion, for the exterior of which Henry Moore loaned a cast of Locking Piece
1963–4. With no narration Opus
is an impressionistic and freewheeling study of ‘the work of British artists, architects, composers, designers and sculptors’. After sequences, among others, featuring Eduardo Paolozzi, Centre Point, the GPO Tower, theatre and film productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company and artworks by Alan Davie, Francis Bacon, Reg Butler, Kenneth Armitage and Bridget Riley, the climactic ninety seconds, following the briefest of glimpses of Moore with a maquette, show Locking Piece
and other sculptures. These are shrouded and veiled by branches in the landscape, with insistent focus-pulls discovering affinities between the creations and the natural world. By this point in the film, also, an early aggressively modernist score has changed to a romantic, strings-based accompaniment. Moore in Opus
may be as of-the-moment as popular fashion designer Mary Quant, yet unlike that of all the other artists his work appears in this film as at home not in the city but in the country where it takes forms as seemingly timeless as the trees of England.
Responding to growing interest in Moore abroad, the COI made two further documentaries with the sculptor in the 1970s. Henry Moore (1976) celebrates the artist as a European figure, with a focus on the presentation of Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped 1975 to the European Court of Justice. More interesting is the eightieth-birthday portrait of the artist made in 1978 for the COI series This Week in Britain. Although the film carries no credits, it was directed by Peter Greenaway, who was working for the COI at the same time as making his imaginative and often witty avant-garde shorts like A Walk Through H and Vertical Features Remake (both 1978). An unidentified female presenter explains that this is a ‘report on the sculptor from the contemporary point of view’. One of the supposedly vox pop interviews that are featured only in voice-over sets up the film’s questioning tone: ‘I feel that Henry Moore’s work was fairly relevant in the sixties, but at the moment I don’t think is terribly relevant, and in fact is a bit of a yawn.’ The modest irreverence also infects the images and editing, as details of Moore’s works are shown in fast-cut montages and with children using them as slides. There is the spoken suggestion, too, that ‘particularly with the bigger works, [Moore’s sculpture] tends to fall into a kind of empty rhetoric, rather like the speech of an international statesman’. The artist himself, however, is on hand to reassert is distinctiveness. ‘I don’t worry about the other sculptural directions now,’ he says. ‘My own direction is enough to last me, if I was given it, two or three other lifetimes.’ And at the end he once again compares himself with Michelangelo, and with Titian, in saying that neither of them retired towards the ends of their lives, and that he has no intention of doing so either.