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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for January, 2013

Cleopatra (Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ)

Edmund Connolly30 January 2013

Upcoming event: Caesar and Cleopatra, February 6th 2013

By Andie Byrnes

Britain’s first million-pound film, starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains, was Caesar and Cleopatra.  Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1901 play of the same name, with a screenplay written by Shaw, it opened on 12th December 1945 in the Odeon at Marble Arch in London, and was released in the U.S. in September 1946.  It is showing at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT), hosted by John J. Johnston, on February 6th 2013.

Made during World War II, it was hoped that the investment of over £1,250,000 into the film would help to establish Britain in the American cinematic market.    Filmed in Technicolor, it took two years to complete, most of it set within a custom-built studio in Denham, England. Over 500 pieces of jewellery and 2000 costumes were created for the film and 400 tons of sand were imported into the Denham studio.  The largest scene included more than 1500 actors.  Conceived on an epic scale, it produced an Academy Award Nomination for Best Art Direction for John Bryan.  The main stars of the film, Claude Raines, Vivien Leigh and Stuart Granger, were all household names.  Vivien Leigh was particularly famous for her role as Scarlett O’Hara, six years earlier, in Gone With The Wind, which was one of the highest-grossing films of all-time.

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Eight

Emma-Louise Nicholls28 January 2013

Scary MonkeyThis week ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls, we are going to discover what makes shelf six in Vertebrate Case 17 tick. It is not the wombat skeleton that dominates the horizon, nor the 20 or so tiny brush-tailed possum babies that are oh so cute until you look closely and realise that disturbingly many of them are missing their head. It could be the marsupial moles which are so gosh darn pretty with their golden fur (not to be confused with the actual golden moles which are around the other side because yes, they are not related). Nope, it is in fact a jar containing a lovely creature that sits nonchalantly at the back, watching passers by with an air of ambivalence. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

More than just Technicolor camp

Dean W Veall25 January 2013

Shown Wednesday night, Fantastic Voyage (1966), was a Technicolor film of epicly camp proportions. And was brilliant for it. What could be better than a plot involving shrinking a crack team of surgeons to microscopic levels in a military submarine to operate on inoperable brain damage of an agent carrying intel of national importance? How about shoddy science. shaky sets, a casual swim through the inner ear, Raquel Welch in a skin tight full body suit brandishing a laser gun and a shady covert military organisation where generals smoked cigars in dimly lit conference rooms. All classic film night fare.

But one audience member had an altogether unexpected response to this “silly old film*”. Here is an email that landed on my desktop this morning:

What a great film night this was, not least for its rousing introduction by Professor Joe Cain.

But as the film ran, Joe’s words of wisdom began to fade as I became increasingly engrossed by the music … which does not properly begin until the main characters are injected into the body of the patient. Here was a fully composed orchestral score (no electronic short-cuts here) … time and again evoking the sound world of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1851), and his early twentieth-century disciples.

After some quick homework I uncovered the (new to me) name of New York composer Leonard Rosenman (1924-2008) … no surprise to find he was pupil not only of Schoenberg, but also of other twentieth-century musical pioneers Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) and Roger Sessions (1896 –1985).

The score for Fantastic Voyage is notable not only for its large orchestral forces and the huge range of orchestral colours drawn out by Rosenman, but for its uncompromising atonal serialism, perhaps unique in film scores up to that point. Unsurprisingly, for many listeners the score is cold and unrelentingly sterile, but such critics would no doubt think this true of so many 20th Century musical modernists and their disciples.

Rosenman’s highly structured compositional techniques produce a soundscape that feels not out of place today – so ubiquitous has that serial atonal sound world become in accompanying such suspenseful visual media – indeed these days a pastiche might be thrown together in no time at all by a talented undergraduate composition student with a laptop. But for Rosenman every note and colour combination had to be not only imagined in silence (no ready sound samples for him) but also set down on paper by hand before the whole could be brought to life by a symphony orchestra of (I guess) 80 or so musicians; the real effect unknown until finally performed.

A cd lifted from the soundtrack of the 35mm reels is available, and I have now ordered it. Never mind Film Studies, lets hear it for Musicology!”

Here’s the link to the TV spot from 1966. Listen to that score.
Fantastic Voyage (1966) TV Spot

*Quote from Professor Joe Cain

A Review, of sorts, of Treasures at the Natural History Museum

Jack Ashby24 January 2013

Treasures is the new permanent exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) which “displays 22 of the most extraordinary specimens that have ever been on show at the Museum”. I’d been excited about it since I first heard about it a couple of years ago.

As we all know, the best side of most museums isn’t the one that faces the public, and that is definitely true of the NHM, which for obvious reasons can’t display all 70 million objects in its care, or indeed all of the brilliant scientific research it undertakes. I’ve been critical before of the NHM missing opportunities to display real objects in its exhibitions, and so a gallery dedicated to showing what everyone actually comes to museums to see is exactly what I want them to be doing.

Being lucky enough to do the job I do means that I’m privileged in knowing quite a lot about what the NHM has behind the scenes. Before visiting, I made a list of what I thought the NHM’s treasures are, and ticked it off as I went around: (more…)

The Saddest Microscope Slide Ever(?)

Mark Carnall23 January 2013

We’ve been sifting through slides like a slick slide sifter for an exciting project the Grant Museum team have been working on and I discovered this leech slide which caused me to pause for a moment of deep reflection and sadness. I think it’s the word ‘clinging’ that adds some poetic tragedy to this scene.

Grant Museum Helobdella  microscope slide labelled Helobdella stagnalis with young, which were in life carried clinging to the Underside. When I saw this my allergies kicked in and I started to cry. My fake allergies.

Why does this get to me more than the Africa Elephant sequence?


What’s in a name? Outreach with a capital “O”…

Alice M Salmon22 January 2013

So the time has come for me to write my first blog post and, after an initial panic, I decided that this would be an opportune moment to talk about Outreach: What it is, why we do it, and what it actually involves.

Now I know that discussing outreach in this forum is pretty much preaching to the converted but, for my role, there is a distinct difference between outreach and Outreach and, although this might be incredibly pedantic of me, I want to talk about it.

Participants of the 2012 Language and Study Skills Summer School celebrating their achievements at the end of the two week programme.


Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Seven

Emma-Louise Nicholls21 January 2013

Scary MonkeyIn less than three months, my sister is going to fly to Morocco. To run one hundred and fifty six miles. Within six days. Through the Sahara Desert. Carrying everything she needs on her back. No, I’m not kidding. To add to this already incredible (or incredibly insane) feat, she is battling a hip injury AND, will be camping in the desert quite probably surrounded by armies of her worst nightmare. SPIDERS. Not original, but not to be made light of, arachnophobia is a real issue. Besides spiders (for which I fear there is no hope for her rehab), there is another species she may well also come across, that is in severe danger of, at first glance, resulting in arachnophobic shrieking. In an attempt to avoid slipper and flip-flop deployment should the two of them meet, I want to introduce you and her to this special species, in the hope that you both will reach a level of peaceful appreciation, or at the very least an understanding that they are not in fact spiders to be feared, and squished. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

The Fellowship Continues

Edmund Connolly15 January 2013

A new year has begun and our Fellows are now developing their projects back in their respective institutions. The Cultural Heritage Fellowship, which was established in 2012, aimed at promoting and analysing means of community engagement in cultural institutions in the MENA region. With Fellows from such a range of countries and institutions the projects are developing in unique and original ways. Following from our post last year, I will briefly profile our Jordanian Fellows, Nada Sheikh-Yasin and Mohammad Shaqdih.


M Shaqdih

Mohammad Shaqdih started as the Education Officer at Darat al Funun, a pioneering institution for Jordanian and Arab world arts and artists, and now is the Assistant Director for the Outreach Program. Founded in 1993, Darat al Funun has a holistic melange of facilities, including library, gardens and performance spaces, as well as the exhibition galleries and workshops. The current exhibition, “The power of the word”, uses pieces from the private collections from more than 20 artists from a mix of Arab Countries (such as Muna Hattoum, Rashid Quraishi, Lila Shawwa, Adel Abdin etc.). By choosing artworks that include  words and writings, this lively collection seeks to: “provide the public with a bird’s eye view of works of art created by Arab artists and gives the opportunity to witness, as closely as possible, the development of the Arab Art Movement”. With a background in graphic design and a degree in Applied Arts, Mohammad proved a very insightful Fellow, with experience of working on both side of the art industry, as artist and, now, Director. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Six

Emma-Louise Nicholls15 January 2013

Scary MonkeyHaving been suffering from Yersinia pestis (aka the Black Death) for the last few days, this morning I should first like to apologise for Specimen of the Week being a day late (I’m sure there were oodles of disappointed faces staring in disbelief at the lack of a new Specimen of the Week on their computers yesterday), and secondly introduce you to a specimen full of warm fuzzies to make aid my recovery. It is a species that is gorgeous to look at, completely loveable and has a delightful personality to make me feel better and cheer up any post-Christmas/New Year blues that may be festering in the audience. It isn’t related to poisonous reptiles, scary spiders, or bitey insects. Ladies and gentlemen, for your enjoyment, this week’s Specimen of the Week is…


Cleveite [not Clevite] and helium

Wendy L Kirk11 January 2013


Specimen of cleveite

Curating one’s office always brings to light something interesting, and recently I came across an article written by one of our Geology graduates, Danny Howard, who stayed on for a period in Earth Sciences to work on the Johnston-Lavis collection of minerals and rocks.  However, he found time to write for UCL News “Private View”, a series of articles about objects in the UCL collections.  For the 2004 issue, he wrote about the specimen of cleveite in the labelled glass jar shown here.  I remember finding this specimen a year or two previously in the Geology sub-basement store – as you do – when burrowing through the collections with Jayne Dunn, currently the UCL Collections Manager.  Quite how it came to be there, I don’t know.  Many years previously – maybe a decade or  two – the store had belonged to the Chemistry department, but it had long been cleared out and shelved to receive geology specimens.  Nonetheless, there it was on a shelf that day, neither of us having knowingly seen it before. (more…)