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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


More than just Technicolor camp

By Dean W Veall, on 25 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

Call My Bluffalo: The B-Roll

By Mark Carnall, on 8 May 2012

Last week the Grant Museum hosted Call My Bluffalo, a panel event in the format of the popular game show Call My Bluff albeit with a zoological twist. The panel was made up of Dr Ian Barnes (Royal Holloway Univeristy), Dr Anjali Goswami (UCL), Professor Kate Jones (UCL, Institute of Zoology) and Dr Victoria Herridge (Natural History Museum). The star-studded panel do what they do best had to put in a lot of effort to contrive science lies and to try to dupe each other into believing made up etymologys of a range of zoological names. A task made difficult by the fact that sometimes the truth is far stranger than fiction. The event went very well judging from the audience reception (and of course the evaluation forms) but we ended up not using a round of questions we had planned. Rather than waste the effort putting them together we thought we’d put them up here for our readers to have a go themselves.

7 awesome months plus 1 day at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

By Debbie J Challis, on 28 February 2011

From August 2010 to March 2011 I did an Internship at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. During that time I did many different things for the Petrie. One of my last jobs is it now to write about my experience and let other people know what a great place the Petrie Museum of Archaeology is.

To start I would like to introduce myself first. My name is Katrin and I am a German student of Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the Freie Universitaet Berlin. I was always very curious about museum work and decided to take a holiday semester to do an Internship at a museum to see what is going on from the professional side. I had never worked in a museum before and never heard of the Petrie Museum until the day one of my Professors in Berlin highly recommended me there for an Internship. That is how, luckily for me, one thing led to another and I was hired as a “special project administrator”.; soon I could find myself in the middle of the Petrie world (or how my supervisor Debbie would call it “in the middle of Madness”).