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Ed Driscoll

Civilisation and its Discontents

March 25th, 2014 - 7:21 pm

The London Telegraph asks, should the BBC remake its landmark 1969 TV series Civilization?

On the face of it, the idea of remaking Civilisation, Kenneth Clark’s television series of 1969, needs some justifying. The original hasn’t gone away, or been wiped from the tapes. In fact, the BBC repeated the whole thing on HD TV in 2011.

The subject of the series – the visual arts, architecture and philosophy of the past 1,000 years or so – might be thought not to have changed very much. Kenneth Clark was a highly intelligent and incisive man, and the book of the series, consisting of the scripts with illustrations, is still in print in 2014.

We don’t feel the need to remake a great novel after a few decades. So what has changed so radically, since 1969, to justify a remake? And what chance is there that a remake will come anywhere near the quality of the original?

As I wrote last year in a post on Civilisation, the cultural chasm between when the show was produced and today makes looking at Clark’s series the equivalent of “Notes from Atlantis:”

Another influential British documentary series from that era, which may well have influenced the style and quality of The World at War, would also have a very different tone were it made today. In fact, it probably couldn’t be made today. To help promote the BBC’s embrace of color television, in 1968 the network commissioned a 13-part documentary series titled Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark — or simply Civilisation, as it’s almost universally called.

Civilisation debuted on February 23, 1969; to further advance the acceptance of color TV, each episode featured luscious cinema-quality photography of globe-hoping historical locations and numerous key pieces of art and sculpture, with all sorts of stately camera moves, all shot on 35mm film, rather than the cheaper-looking 16mm format or videotape.  (Many, perhaps all of the episodes, are currently available in full-length form at YouTube, but the series is available on Blu-Ray, and in terms of cinematography, it’s worth it.)

It’s fascinating, in 2013, witnessing the ongoing collapse of our own culture — and in particular, the complete collapse, decades ago, of what was once called “middlebrow culture” – to watch a show titled Civilisation  – that itself is from a civilization that effectively no longer exists. At the very least, the network that created the series no longer exists in the same form (QED).

And QEDX2: “Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals” read the headline yesterday — also in the London Telegraph – which in six words perfectly sums up what has happened to British “Civilisation” over the last 40 years. The rest is commentary, as Hillel would say, and for that, a perusal of Peter Hitchen’s equally devastating book, The Abolition of Britain will provide the backstory of how postwar Britain went deeply off the rails.

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All Comments   (3)
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We already have the updated version, on TV's now, which is every bit as appropriate to the age we have created for ourselves and Western Civilization as Clarke's was to his.

It's called 'Life Without People'.

They built, we decay. And both generations feel equally proud of themselves for it. (Scratch that. Today's are MUCH more smug about their deconstruction than their forefathers ever were about their construction.)
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
You cannot even post an episode of a 1960s sitcom on YouTube without at least one or two holier-than-thou types coming on to point out every racist, sexists or homophobic thing about the show. In the past, people like that would have simply be seen as hyper-political cranks and ignored; today, they're the arbiters of popular culture and in large part determine what is and isn't shown to mass-market audiences.

In short, the BBC or PBS execs couldn't show the original "Civilization" today even if they wanted to (a dubious notion to begin with), because the PC police would come after the show and their jobs. They'd rather remake it and factor in the Daniel Patrick Moynihan "Defining Deviancy Down" social decay as something to celebrate, in the name of cultural individuality.
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
NO!!!! Behold how they ruined COSMOS. Take notice and beware.
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
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