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Civilisation(s)

January 7, 2018

Yes it excludes all but Western art. Yes, there are, incredibly, no women represented significantly in its 13 one hour episodes. And yes, Kenneth Clark is not the most engaging man ever to host a TV series.  


Yet the 1969 series, Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark, is undeniably one of the most informative and epic series ever to be presented on television.

 

 Exploring the rise of Western Civilization through visual arts and architecture, from the end of the Dark Ages through the early 20th century, this series redefined what educational television could be for a mass audience.    It was to television and art what Janson's History of Art was to art history books (including Janson's also deliberate exclusion of anyone but men).

 

Commissioned by BBC-head David Attenborough specifically to show off the new technology of color television broadcasts, Clark and his director Michael Gill go beyond merely showing off "color TV" and managed to create a genre-defining series over three years of shooting.

 

I would venture that not until the widely-imitated but never-duplicated BBC series Planet Earth in 2006 did another documentary series do as much to inform what was technologically and narratively possible.

 

 

Carl Sagan's 1980's The Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a direct descendant of Civilisation: A Personal View (Pitch: "Civilisation, but in space!") as is Attenborough's own Life on Earth.   Here's an episode of the original Cosmos with the (correct) original electronic score, rather than the classical music that replaced it on most versions that have been released since.

 

 

With Civilizations (new spelling, and pluralized) scheduled to air in spring 2018, and Planet Earth 2 having aired in 2017, it can be worth revisiting the classics to see where these visions originally came from.

 

Planet Earth 2 (2017)

Civilizations news (coming to PBS 2018)....

 

 

 

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