Tempo: Volume 1 DVD
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Directed by Various (TV)
Produced in 1961-68
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Graeme Hobbs takes a look at this treasure trove of programmes from ITV's Sunday afternoon arts series. Interviewees include Orson Welles, Jacques Tati, Duke Ellington and Harold Pinter.
No question about it, this first volume of programmes from Tempo, ABC Television's wide-ranging 1960s Sunday afternoon arts series, is quite a find from the archives. It contains twelve programmes made between 1965-67, in which the happy marriage of skilled practitioners (the majority of the programmes on the set were produced by Mike Hodges and directed by Jim Goddard) and the freedom of ratings-free television allowed them to get to the heart of the subject at hand in the manner they thought best. And some subjects these are too: Orson Welles, Jacques Tati, Duke Ellington and Yehudi Menuhin to name but four.
Film and music take up half of the set. There's a visit to Tativille a year into the shoot of Playtime, with Jacques Tati whistling and humming his way around his extraordinary set while he coaches the amateur actors and meticulously finesses the smallest details of his creation ('maybe it's crazy, I don't know, who knows?' he says with a chuckle). In an extended conversation he talks of his preference for directing over acting among other things (though, suitably, it's his dog who has the last word) while the women who play the tourists in the film - wives of American servicemen from a nearby base - talk about their involvement.
There are tightly-cropped profiles of Harold Pinter talking of his childhood, and a puckish post-Chimes at Midnight Orson Welles ('I began as a star and I've been working my way down ever since') discussing painting and acting in Ireland in his youth, writing pulp fiction and bullfighting in Spain, his Mercury Theatre years, experimentation, keeping his innocence as a moviemaker and retaining artistic integrity. And Zero Mostel (a man with 'a personality that's no good for people of nervous disposition') is interviewed by poet Al Alvarez on the set of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in Spain. 'I had a dream that I ate your beard' is a typical opening gambit from the restlessly clowning Mostel as he ducks and weaves around questions about his comic act, theatre, paintings and much else besides.
Jazz is represented by an interview with a genial Duke Ellington in which he discusses his 'pool-room education', early influences and civil rights, interspersed with clips of him rehearsing with his band while on tour in Britain in 1966, while we also spend a day in the studio with Stan Tracey and his big band as they record Alice in Jazz Land and the narrator (Alan Dell, who distanced, informative tones are on a number of the films in the volume) mentions the difficulty of making quality jazz records in Britain. By way of contrast, Menuhin on Music is as simple as it is rare - twenty-five minutes in the company of Yehudi Menuhin and his quintet in a room as they rehearse Mozart's Clarinet Quintet. By way of contrast, A Tale of Two Talents looks at the relative claims, expectations and stardom of two very different artists - 27 year-old Royal Ballet Company dancer Lynn Seymour and 23 year-old (so he says - the narrator is rightly sceptical) singer Tom Jones, seen belting out the Skye Boat Song and I Believe at the Stevenage Mecca Ballroom in 1966 to a crowd of teen screamers and worrying about whether he should have his tonsils removed.
Other profiles include a day in the busy life of female impersonator Danny La Rue as he skips through his venues and his astonishing 45 clothes changes in the line of his work and Painter at Work, in which Graham Sutherland gives his thoughts on drawing the forms and landscapes around his home in Menton in the Alpes-Maritimes. It's a film that gets right into the heart of a painter's mind and his studio practice.
In a typically unstuffy move, The Medium-Sized Cage gives the programme over to a short film created by soon-to-be graduates from the newly formed Film and TV Design Department of the Royal College of Art, on the subject of their predicament and expectations.
Finally, boundary-breaking though Tempo was, its programme with radical psychiatrist RD Laing (Take a Simple Action and Look at it and Look at it Again), in which he explores the effects of LSD, proved too controversial and was pulled before transmission. It's included here though and it's a fascinating piece of work - though you can see why the suits thought that a simulated acid trip on Sunday afternoon TV wasn't such a great idea. It begins simply enough: a man descends a staircase into a white-walled room, pours and drinks a glass of water and then lights a cigarette, but as Laing talks of the effects of the drug and its quality of dissolving sensorial boundaries and the rigidity of our habitual perceptions, the footage is repeated over and again and increasingly manipulated. By the time the visual fabric of the film has itself been stretched and distorted (to obligatory sitar music) and we watch as water filmed in super slo-mo seems to shatter at the bottom of a glass, a sparking match entrances with its aery winged magic and smoke appears like ectoplasm as it is exhaled, we are ourselves seduced by the drug's possibilities. If it's not active encouragement ('No-one who's got any respect for themselves will take a trip out of their mind casually. I think that it requires as much inner preparation and as much sense of responsibility as deciding to, say, climb the Matterhorn; but I wouldn't stop people climbing the Matterhorn, even though people fall off it,' says Laing), it's hardly dissuading anyone from experimentation.
The programme is pure 1960s in its subject and conception, and another marker of the era comes with the cigarette smoke that wreathes through all of the films. With the exceptions only of ballet dancer Lynn Ramsay and Danny La Rue, every other interviewee is pulling on a gasper as he is interviewed. Except Orson Welles that is, who has his trademark cigar.
Graeme Hobbs on 4th December 2012
Author of 276 reviews
ITV's seminal high-end arts programme, Tempo ran for eight years (1961-68) through a decade which saw a creative explosion within all aspects of the performing arts. Its fluid style of presentation allowed an almost open-ended remit, enabling it to cover subjects as diverse as painting, cinema, music, dance, photography, writing and much more besides. At a time when television was being criticised for dumbing down, Tempo showed that ITV could indeed go highbrow whilst still remaining populist - a philosophy and outlook that was to continue into the 1970s and beyond with its successors Aquarius and The South Bank Show.
This enthralling and valuable two-disc set contains interviews, reportage and features on Jacques Tati, Stan Tracey, Duke Ellington, Graham Sutherland, Tom Jones, Orson Welles, Harold Pinter, Yehudi Menuhin and more.
Contains: Painter at Work: Graham Sutherland, The Medium Sized-Cage: The Film and Design Department of the Royal College of Art, Menuhin on Music, Harold Pinter, Orson Welles, A Guided Tour of Zero Mostel, A Tale of Two Talents: Tom Jones and Lynn Seymour, Don't Let the Wig Fool You Mate!: Danny La Rue, Meet the Duke: Duke Ellington, Tativille, Jazz in Wonderland: Stan Tracey, Take a Simple Action and Look at it Again: RD Laing on LSD.
Length: 300 mins
Cat No: 7953701
Format: DVD B&W
- 2 discs