Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour

Having declared April to be the month of documentaries, its now incumbent on me to prove it. Prove it I will with one grand suggestion:

"Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour" is a 4 episode miniseries from 2009 that is one of the most delightful and appealing viewing experiences I have ever had. For starters McCloud is the bomb. Charming, sweet, intelligent and personable -- he is a treasure.

Being American, of course I had never heard of him before -- surely one of the things that sucks about being American. And, being in America, it also seems I also must resign myself to have little else that he has "done" available to me. I have to assume he is fairly famous elsewhere -- my brilliant deduction from the fact that his name precedes that of the film -- but in the states we're too busy paying attention to Kim Kardashian to notice talents such as Kevin McCloud.

In any case, the good news is this documentary at least is freely available on Netflix which is how I stumbled across it.

This documentary idea, whosever it was, was an excellent one -- retracing the route that the great British high class youth would have taken on their "grand tour" of Europe when they came of age. Not just the route, but the experience and its full flavor is depicted in sumptuous detail.

The photography is stunning and the program is valuable at its most basic as a travel guide. But it is so much more than that.  McCloud's forte seems to be architecture, and he applies his tremendous charm and skill to the topic. We learn about the roots of city planning as well as why they went, where they went, what they saw and what they (likely) did, what they brought back, and what it all meant. And if that doesn't somehow sound engaging then I am not doing my job right.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Search of Shakespeare

I'm on a little hiatus from drama -- both in my own life and on screen. April has been the month of documentaries and I have a few good ones to recommend.

Available on Netflix, In Search of Shakespeare, hosted by Michael Wood, consists of 4 hour-long episodes. Its beautifully filmed and conceptualized and Wood is an engaging tour guide. He strikes me as someone genuinely knowledgeable about history -- which somehow matters . . . there is a much stronger flavor of truth and meaning when you don't feel that you're watching an actor, but rather someone who really cares about the topic and can share his insights with you. Testament to this, when Wood is speaking with curators and experts who are sharing documents with him -- he reads along! In the insanely hard to visualize script of the Elizabethan draftsmen. Anyone who can read that stuff has to have spent some time with the subject matter.

The documentary is highly evocative of the time is explores. For instance, scenes where Wood guides us through the streets of London pointing out landmarks (present and vanished) giving the flavor of what Elizabethan London would have been like, are incredible.

Scattered throughout the work are excerpts from Shakespeare's plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. These are simply breathtaking. I know they always say this, but plays are meant to be performed, not read. You really see why that is when treated with a glimpse of these brilliant actors at the height of their craft performing Shakespeare. An incredible treat and great choice to include in the documentary.

I am not a Shakespeare expert. Just a fan. So I can't speak to the total accuracy and details, but I can certainly speak to its entertainment and educational value.