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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of a Great Documentary Series
I confess to knowing a little bit about art, i.e. not as much as Sister Wendy Beckett, but probably more than Prince William. I am, like a lot of people, casually fascinated by it, without necessarily being able to articulate my feelings about the power of a certain piece or why it moves me. However, I know what I like, and I like what I know.

Simon Schama's...
Published on 2 Jan 2011 by G. J. Oxley

versus
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different views
The narrator, Mr. Schama, has strong opinions about the works he discusses, and gives a very interesting narrative.
I am sure never to forget the artists he focuses on, some of which I had only given a quick glance before.
It is easy to be excited by Mr. Schama's superlative, maybe sometimes over-the-top narrative and obvious love for
the subject. And I...
Published on 31 May 2011 by Tryggvi EDWALD


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of a Great Documentary Series, 2 Jan 2011
By 
G. J. Oxley "Gaz" (Tyne & Wear, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I confess to knowing a little bit about art, i.e. not as much as Sister Wendy Beckett, but probably more than Prince William. I am, like a lot of people, casually fascinated by it, without necessarily being able to articulate my feelings about the power of a certain piece or why it moves me. However, I know what I like, and I like what I know.

Simon Schama's documentary series - which aired in 2006 in hour long programmes - looks at eight artists (seven painters, one sculptor - Bernini), who, in Schama's opinion introduced something new to the art world, or made a big splash. He focuses on one particular key work per artist, but discusses both their earlier and later pieces to demonstrate their progression. Presented in chronological order, his subjects are:

Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 - 1680)
Rembrandt (1606 - 1669)
Jacques-Louis David (1748 - 1825)
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851)
Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)
Mark Rothko (1903 - 1970)

In each case he sets their chosen work in both a personal and historical context. For example, much of the focus on David is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution - the main featured painting of his being `The Death of Marat'. (Schama is also the author of `Citizens' - a monumental history of the period.)

Similarly, the key work chosen for Turner - `The Slave Ship' - is set in the days when major countries (USA, Spain) were still to abolish the heinous slave trade; while, for Picasso he chooses `Geurnica' (naturally) which symbolically represents the bombing of a small Spanish town by Italian and German air forces during the Spanish Civil War.

Personally, I consider that there are seven geniuses represented here, together with one baffling inclusion - Mark Rothko - whose major works consist of nothing more than large floating blocks of colour, which he daubed with a decorator's paintbrush. The title of his key work - 'Black on Maroon' - speaks volumes to me. Some of Rothko's canvasses look like they were completed in twenty minutes. Some of them look like they took even longer. The best I can say about him is he appears to have been marginally more talented than Jackson Pollock

But I'm not here to bash Rothko. Although I don't agree with his inclusion among the other true giants (but what do I know?), his life story is haunting and worth telling - and I have to hand it to him, the bloke did have his principles.

How much you'll enjoy the programmes depends on whether you like Schama's highly characteristic delivery. Often addressing the camera full on, with his marvellously mobile countenance, he can be florid, pretentious, overblown... but for me he's also completely riveting. He pitches the series perfectly: it's not academic, but it isn't dumbed-down either.

He can however be a bit of a revisionist. He decides, for example, that Van Gogh wasn't all that mad and frail when he painted the featured work `Wheatfield with Crows'. Received opinion would argue otherwise!

As well as Schama's talking head, and the huge library of images and footage used throughout the series, in each instance an actor is used to portray the featured artist. The performances are all excellent, but my favourite two come from Allan Corduner, who is totally spellbinding as the chain-smoking, boozing, melancholic Mark Rothko, and Andy Serkis as Vincent. Andy could have ended-up showboating and turning Van Gogh into a Serkis act, instead he plays the tortured genius with a touching sensitivity. This despite bearing no physical resemblance to him at all, handicapped as he is by a totally unconvincing dye job on his barnet.

Schama gets to visit the cities in which the artists worked, and the photography is often stunning. For example beautiful natural images of rolling clouds and crashing waves are used to accompany commentary on Turner's seascapes. Not particularly subtle, but still very effective.

This series is recommended not only to those who love art, but also to neophytes who enjoy the romance of a good story. None of these artists lived what you would call a conventional life: two of them committed suicide (Van Gogh, Rothko), one ended up on the run, accused of murder (Caravaggio), while another died bankrupt after alienating the gentry he painted (Rembrandt).

Beautifully shot, and featuring some fantastic, specially commissioned incidental music - alongside the obligatory classical stuff - this is a visual and educational delight. It provides everything a documentary series should; high production values, erudition, entertainment, and pure theatre.
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72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding testimonies, 18 Dec 2006
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
A remarkable and certainly, precise in adulation, series of programmes. The 'Turner' programme is the highlight for me with it's stirring challenges visually segued by superb haunting music - the music itself should be released as a CD in similiar mode to Sagan's "Cosmos" of the early 80s. Schama is honest, to the point, and non-melodramatic (unlike other presenters). The 'Rothko' programme is a revelation as this artist is forgotten outside the walls of the Tate Modern; and I enjoyed the contrast with the earlier rennaissance painters. But it is worthy of purchase for the 'Turner' programme alone - first shown on BBC2 and thank goodness not lost among the hideous television schedules that we have today. Well done all involved and well done Prof.Schama for holding our hands in the minefield that is Art History interpretation.
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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eight Great Stories, 12 Dec 2006
By 
Fareed Suheimat (Amman, Jordan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Once I heard Professor Schama was making "Simon Schama's Power of Art" series I snatched up the DVD and the accompanying book, having greatly enjoyed Schama's "A History of Britain" and his superb biography "Rembrandt's Eyes".

"Power of Art" is a look at eight remarkable artists with eight remarkable stories. Each artist receives a different approach, in terms of presentation and direction, which keeps things fresh. Sure, there are awkward moments in the series, such as having a Caravaggio with an accent from northern England (he doesn't even try to have an Italian accent!), or some ham acting elsewhere, but these are minor moments.

So much Picasso literature is merely breathless adulation, telling us little about the great man, but in the Picasso episode we hear that the last thirty years of his career were the "longest and saddest anti-climax" in art history. Schama is not afraid of the grand statement.

The Rothko and van Gogh episodes were particularly well done, in part due to the excellent actors (Andy Serkis as van Gogh and Allan Corduner as Rothko). Usually I don't like "re-enactments" of artists, but here they were so well done I had forgotten my prejudice. The Bernini episode was also a delightful surprise, as his sculptures came alive under the moving eye of the camera.

Schama is very likable and approachable, yet remains authoritative. I hope he will do more TV series and/or lectures on art. 5 Stars (the Rothko episode in particular is very special).
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different views, 31 May 2011
By 
Tryggvi EDWALD "T Edwald" (Vienna, Austria) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
The narrator, Mr. Schama, has strong opinions about the works he discusses, and gives a very interesting narrative.
I am sure never to forget the artists he focuses on, some of which I had only given a quick glance before.
It is easy to be excited by Mr. Schama's superlative, maybe sometimes over-the-top narrative and obvious love for
the subject. And I really appreciate his viewpoint, which is fresh and exciting to me. Take his discussion of Turner,
for instance; I wasn't aware of Turner's darker side at all, and had overlooked his best work.
But even if I have only watched half of the series so far, I am tiring of the episodes. Each episode has several
"grand finale" kind of statements, fine end-points, --but then keeps going. In the end, I find each episode a bit
too long, and repetitive. Of course, working off a few pieces of art, there will be some repeated views.
Maybe I just need to view the episodes with a few days in between, not one every night. The superlative grinds
you down after a while. And, finally, I am not sure I like the acted scenes; people running in empty corridors, etc.
I find that the scenes, especially when repeated many times, don't add to the drama.

All in all: fine, thought-provoking material, fresh views on artists I had come to ignore, but a bit long and repetitive.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great place to start - stories of art, 6 April 2007
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Schama is a wonderful story-teller and he captures and conveys the stories, both of the pictures and the artists. I agree (with a previous reviewer) that sometimes the role-playing can be a bit irritating but when they work, they do manage to portray a sort of mood-music to accompany the story as it's told. These programmes have a real gift at engaging those who are not initially inclined to get into such things. And the poignancy and pathos of the artists lives, and their consequent effects on their art, are never far from the surface. A great achievement and very watchable
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A certain viewpoint, 13 Dec 2006
By 
Amazon Customer "Boo62" (Ilkeston Derbyshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
It's true that Simon Schama's view is fairly narrow and that the reconstructions can be a bit distracting but these are small points when compared with what this series has to offer.

The paintings selected are all fascinating and their history and their artist's life stories are delivered in a captivating and entertaining manner. The problem with replacing the reconstructions with various experts giving their opinion is that it becomes yet another 'arty' programme that will not have much appeal to those not generally interested in art.

The programme keeps up a rapid pace throughout and Schama is certainly passionate about his subject. Well filmed and paced this may be somewhat 'dummed down' but it should not be dismissed out of hand. If you're interested in art then you will likely do your own research but perhaps only into those paintings or styles that are of interest to you, here a wide variety of styles and times are included and may well open an interest in something or someone you had previously overlooked, ( I previously knew little of Carravagio ),.

There is much to enjoy in this series and Schama is a refreshing change from the usual monotone that accompanies so many art studies. If you haven't seen this I would recommend you give it a try.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Power of Art or Power of music., 11 Dec 2010
By 
G. Atkins (Portugal) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Why, why, why does a brilliant programme on art need music that has the same vulume as Simon Schama's narration. Back ground music should be back ground. At times the music was completely unnessary and silence would have had a greater effect.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 22 Jan 2008
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Simon Schama's DVD set "The Power of Art" is an excellent intellectual try to make the connections between the art and the human perception of the world and with it, its influence on the world history. With it he tries to cope with the very important question, what art is for, and what purposes it fulfils except of being esthetical addition to our world. According to Schama the very best examples of politically influential artists are David, Goya and Picasso. Schama successfully shows the power of art in political troubled times, while according to him Goya and Picasso standed in the morally correct side of the fence, opposite to David whose paintings were part of the murderous machinery of the French revolution.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bitchy & Uncharming & A Bit Tragic, 14 Nov 2012
This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I bought three sets of BBC art DVDs from Amazon. I watched Nigel Spivey's 'How art Made The World' first and hated it (go see my review for why). Next I watched 'Private Life of a Masterpiece' and found it an improvement on Spivey but a bit dull (go see that review too). Lastly, I watched Simon Schama's 'Power of Art'.

The first couple of episodes (Caravaggio and Bernini) were very, very thin. They had almost no content in terms of art and/or criticism. We were rationed to glimpses of various works of art (was access to the art, in Rome and Malta, an issue?) These episodes were very heavily padded with boring "historical re-enactments" apparently only there in order to make up enough content for a full episode (the enactments looked liked they'd been done by some amateur dramatics company and seeing them repeated over and over again only allowed us to see how badly done they were - wince). Later episodes had far less by way of historical re-enactment and much more screen time for actual works of art (these were art works currently in the UK and northern Europe so was it just easier to get access to these and is variable access to art the reason why the series was so uneven? A 'Making Of...' documentary that explored issues around "access to art" could have been very interesting...)

Dealing with British and north European art, Schama warmed up and started to have something to say - actually I don't recall much about the art just some bitchy, look-at-me-I-am-such-a-terrible-old-queen gossip about the artists. I think the bitch-queen affectation he adopted as his screen persona undermined what he wanted to say. After hours of seeing him smirking in a cynical I-am-so-clever way at the camera, when he wanted to say something with sincerity e.g. that was moved by Bernini's Teresa and not just to some sordid nudge-nudge, wink-wink about her oh-surely-it's-merely-sexual "ecstacy" he was, frankly, unbelievable. Schama has a spiritual side? Who's he kidding? You can't be a git and an enthusiast at the same time. Schama spent so much screen time being a git he was unconvincing when he tried to be an enthusiast for art. It's a pity because I think he aspires to being an enthusiast for art like e.g. Clark or Hughes but he just doesn't allow himself to be passionate and unequivocal. He always wants to have it both ways - 'Oh I do mean it, this is great art, but no I am just being ironic, simper, smirk'. Does he have any colours to nail to the mast and say I love this, this is great art, and it is great for this reason...? Apparently not. And since he does not, there's not much to say for several hours of telly time, is there? Once you have smirked and been ironic and mocked the art you are presenting to the viewer where is there left for you to go? Schama is his own worst enemy. After a while I started to watch him as I would a person who is not a friend but an acquaintance, when he is drunk at the office party and making a complete arse of himself, and he is tedious but also pathetic and pitable, and looking on one feels divided between compassion and contempt, not being a friend one can't help him, it would be an unwarranted intrusion, but one hopes his friends will find him and take him home before he does himself any more harm.

So, that was what it was like for me watching these DVDs? It was like being trapped in a lift with an old queen who could smirk and simper and bitch for the Olympics but who could not convince me that he either knew anything about art on an experiential level (I mean knowledge gained by encountering art and not something he had read in a book) or cared on a personal level about art. Here was someone who could never say anything about art that would not implode and sound ironic and mocking and a send-up. There are things that need to be sent up but I don't think that great art is one of them - it marks something worth respecting and defending from mockery including the better part of ourselves (and I am not being ironic). Watching Clark's Civilisation and Hughes' Mona Lisa Curse left me feeling enriched - I might not agree with them but I loved their passion and desire to make their case. I found that defence of art life affirming - it defended a better part to me. By contrast, Schama's self-destructive ironies fill me with sadness - he has mocked his own better self and mine. I think I can reach out to the likes of Hughes and re-build my hope about art and humanity. Judging by this series, Schama does not have access to the same hope - you can't be ironic about hope. He seems a really tragic character to me and I find it painful to watch his programmes. So, I wont be buying any more DVDs from Schama any time soon. I need my hope.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Powerful, 2 April 2007
By 
P. Richards "Trigger" (GB) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Simon Schama's The Power Of Art: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I really enjoyed this series. At times Schama tries a bit too hard with quite a lot of modern slang that will quickly date and can become very irritating. I have to say though, that despite this, you do warm to him for the real passion he conveys for the art. I quite like the dramatisations of the artists themselves that helps you to remember them and makes you care about their art. Some of the acting isn't brilliant though. If you're a cultural junkie and want an accessible introduction to some important artists this is a good starting point. I'm told that Kenneth Clark's Civilisation is better though. It's on my list to watch next.
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