Kenneth Clark

Civilisation (1969) [Blu-ray]

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It’s all very well having a Glorious Summer of Sport on our TV screens, but it can be rather trying for those of us who are not so gripped by the prospect of wall-to-wall World Cup, Wimbledon and Commonwealth Games action. On the other hand, it does give us the chance to spend some quality time with our otherwise sadly neglected DVD collections, as was the case for me this week when I sought out a boxset that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages.

The BBC’s 1969 documentary series Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark is one of those programmes that is still hailed today as a genuine TV landmark. It might not look it to our modern eyes, but its approach of putting the presenter right into the landscapes and buildings that he is talking about was a revolutionary one at the time; and the fact that it was one of the first British documentaries shot in colour was also a radical idea by the then-BBC2 controller who commissioned the series, one David Attenborough. Whatever happened to him?

Over 13 instalments, leading art historian of the day Lord Kenneth Clark takes us on a journey through the civilisations of western Europe starting with the Dark Ages and moving through to the modern era. But despite the title, this is not so much the facts-and-dates history of civilisation as a concept or even a working system with Clark admitting that he doesn’t know how to define ‘civilisation’ in the abstract. Instead, it is the specific story of art down the ages and how it has been influenced by (and in return influenced) the societies in which it was created. Clark’s contention – and the ‘personal view’ of the extended title – is that the only way you can truly understand a civilisation is through its end products, and in particular its art and architecture. Read the rest of this entry »