A VIDEOTAPE OF AMERICA PRODUCED AT YORK UNIVERSITY
Janet Warner, John Sutherland, and Robert Wallace collaborated on a one-hour videotape called Blake’s “America,” which was made in October, 1970 at the television studio of York University. We wrote Mrs. Warner to find out more about the history, the nature, and the availability of the tape, and this is her reply:
The tape was very much a joint effort of John Sutherland and myself, who wrote the script, and Robert Wallace, my colleague at Glendon, who produced it. We wanted a program suitable for senior students, that is, those who were already acquainted with Blake’s work, which would allow them to see all the plates of America, hear the whole poem read dramatically, and at the same time interpret the poem for them in a way that would link it to past and present historical events.
To this end, we obtained photographs of the black and white America in the Rosenwald Collection, and we used slides and photographs of many other works of art, including some by Blake, and many by early American painters. We also used pictures of modern student riots and other political events which bore out the themes of political begin page 66 | and psychological revolution.
The poem was read by Michael Gregory, our department chairman at Glendon, who is also an experienced actor; his voice and that of another narrator were heard always off camera. We used no “live” actors. Suitable music and sound effects were employed throughout to add emphasis and interpretation. The music consisted mainly of snatches of Charles Ives’ “America Variations,” while the sound effects concentrated upon both natural sounds (such as wind, thunder) and sounds of war and revolution (air raid sirens, machine gun warfare, bugle calls).
Most of our problems during production arose from our limited budget and the fact that York’s television studio does not have a camera with a special close-up lens, which would have facilitated close examination of the plates and photographs. Consequently, because we could not afford to have all the graphics blown up to a suitably large size, some visual effects could not be maintained for every plate.
In addition, copyright stipulations covering both music and some photographs inhibited their expanded integration into the tape. Various other problems inherent to the process of adapting to a visual and rhythmic medium could only be discussed properly in a more academic paper, which, incidentally, Mr. Wallace is considering writing.
In general, we feel the tape was an artistic success and it has been well received at York, Glendon (a separate campus) and Colby College, Maine. In fact, it is likely we will receive money to do a second production on Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Regarding distribution rights and costs, any institutions interested in renting a copy of the tape can do so by supplying their own videotape to York, which will transfer the production for a fee of $75, with the stipulation that the transfer be erased after it is shown. Should enough institutions be interested in buying a copy of the tape, York would have it transferred to film, which could then be bought for approximately $200.
It is interesting to find how suitable Blake’s work is for adapting to television. We would be interested to hear if others have tried similar experiments.