The art history documentary is clearly not an easy thing to pull off; unless you’re dealing in household names, single subject programs risk alienating the more lay members of your audience, but try and deal with a topic too broad and your lecture starts to take on the feel of a list of truncated biographies.
Romancing the Stone fell halfway between these two, with varying results. It did feel a little rushed through, with a fair number of names being mentioned only in passing, in a way which felt far more annoying than just leaving them out entirely.
RtS’s sole visual reference to Barbara Hepworth, (4th from the left) clearly more informative than say, an image of something she actually made?
But, on the other hand, some significant time was given to lesser known names, and the interviews with contemporary artists working under their influence and with some of their methods, made for a much more interesting approach than just sticking to a series of academic talking heads.
This said it did risk tipping into gimmickry on occasion, which brings me to the reason I felt the need to blog on this: series presenter Alastair Sooke.
I’m just not sure where I stand with Sooke, the factual content of both the documentaries I’ve seen him front so far (this and Modern Masters) have been quite good, and it’s certainly always nice when someone talks on a subject with enthusiasm, it’s just that his particular brand of enthusiasm can feel a bit, well, Blue Peter.
Also is it just me, or does he look a bit like Prince Eric from Disney’s Little Mermaid…?
Romancing the Stone treated us to several pointless sequences of Sooke “having a go” during the artist studio visits, and included an awful lot of shots of Sooke gazing doe-eyed at, round and through* various sculptures, in a way where it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d let out an actual “Ooo”.
When trying to encourage a new audience into a subject enthusiasm is obviously good, but actual fawning is risky, you’re as likely to annoy as anything else, and whilst there wasn’t much in the way of harsh criticism (at least not from Sooke himself) this element was noticeably toned down from the pervious Masters series.
So that in mind, I’ll keep my place on the fence for now, and see what he gets up to next series.
*Art documentory makers of the world, please stop using this shot, you don't have to prove to us the thing you were filming was three dimentional, we believe you. Also this has the effect of making the presenter look like they've gotten lost.