Nureyev dances Romeo at the Royal Ballet, 1966
You may prefer Rudolf’s Swan Lake duet with Miss Piggy (also on YouTube). But a more traditional pas de deux with Margot Fonteyn from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet delivers a glimpse of Nureyev’s sublime physicality as a dancer; the balcony scene in particular gives him plenty of room to flex his muscles, with lifts and leaps aplenty.
Documentary on Trevor Nunn’s Nicholas Nickleby, 1981
The RSC stage adaptation (by David Edgar) of Dickens’s novel was eight hours long, featured a cast of 39 and was a landmark success. The South Bank Show that charted its progress through from rehearsal to performance casts a richly illuminating light behind the scenes, particularly on the tensions (and bitching) that arose when, after seven weeks of workshops, casting began. Not everyone got the parts they wanted and six cast members duly quit.
Pina Bausch’s Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue), 1977
Posted (in 12 parts) in its entirety, Bausch’s ‘tanztheater’ piece based on Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle is typical of her assault-on-the-senses style of choreography. A meditation on male-female relations perhaps, the piece is interspersed with snatches of Bartók’s opera, features a stage carpeted with dry leaves and a cast of 28, and opens with a scene of repeated attack/ravishment. Disturbing and engrossing in equal measure.
DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, 1990
Adapted for film from their original 1988 stage show, physical theatre company DV8’s dance work for four men is loosely based on the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who murdered up to 15 men between 1978 and 1983. On being gay and the tragic consequences of homophobia, it’s bleak but at times also rivetingly beautiful. Russell Maliphant, Lloyd Newson, Douglas Wright and Nigel Charnock star.
Interview with Eugène Ionesco, 1961
At age three, French dramatist Eugène Ionesco wanted to sell chestnuts. Who’d have thought it? Other curious insights about the French absurdist playwright crop up in this interview given at the age of 52. ‘Theatre for me must be simplified and grotesque. To me, the world seems that way.’
Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, 1989
Acclaimed director Brook worked on his adaptation of the epic Sanskrit poem for up to 10 years before it reached the stage in 1985. The abridged TV mini-series aired a few years later. Key to its vision was its international multicultural cast, the point being how universal this story was. A marvel that so much of Brook’s almost six-hour TV version has been posted on the web.
Donna McKechnie in the original show of The Chorus Line, 1976
Incredibly grainy, but you can still pick out McKechnie’s jazzy moves and oh-so-high-kicks (a colour version of the same number from 1988 is also on YouTube). As the original Cassie, the star on the slide who’s desperate to get into the chorus (a role based largely on herself), McKechnie won a Tony. One helluva singular sensation…
John Coltrane performs ‘My Favourite Things’, 1961
The title song on Coltrane’s seminal album My Favourite Things really is the bomb, all 13 minutes of it. YouTube’s longest version, at just over 10, comes from a live performance in Baden-Baden, Germany, and weaves in improvs by pianist McCoy Tyner and flautist Eric Dolphy, as well as Coltrane on the soprano saxophone, which he took up for the first time on this album. This is a long long way from The Sound of Music.
Billie Holiday sings ‘Strange Fruit’, 1959
Apparently Holiday used to break down every time after singing ‘Strange Fruit’. Seeing her perform it here (five months before her death), with that agonising, cracked voice of hers, you understand why. She invests so much in it. Based on a poem about the lynching of two black men in the American South (‘strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees…’) the song, which she originally recorded in 1939, went on to become her biggest hit.
Ella Fitzgerald duets with Dinah Shore, 1960s
‘How’s this?’ asks Ella, clicking her fingers to a mid-tempo beat. ‘It seems good. A nice beat like that, I think I’ll give it a sound,’ answers Dinah before both of them launch into the most gloriously upbeat ‘blues’ medley ever. Ella was a regular on Dinah Shore’s TV show and an earlier duet from 1959 (also on YouTube) shows off both singers’ dazzling virtuosity just as well. Breath control to die for.
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie perform ‘Hot House’, 1952
Parker and Gillespie firstmet in 1942. Ten years later, they happened to pitch up at the Dumont TV Studios in New York to be handed two Down Beat magazine awards. Host: ‘You boys got any more to say?’ Gillespie: ‘Well, Earl, they say music speaks louder than words so we’d rather voice our opinion that way.’ What they did turns out to be the only footage extant of Parker playing live.
Barbra Streisand on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, 1961
Streisand’s first television appearance is proof of what a natural performer she was even then (both as singer and comedienne). She was 19 years old and the host Orson Bean, standing in for Jack Paar, had spotted her performing at Bon Soir, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and booked her on the strength of it. Here she sings ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ before chatting on the couch.
Pop, rock and folk
Sid and Nancy on New York cable TV, 1978
Morose, foul-mouthed and dismissive, a shirtless Sid Vicious is joined by a very vocal Nancy Spungen (with co-guests Stiv Bators and Cynthia of the B Girls) on a live New York cable TV show recorded shortly after the break-up of the Sex Pistols. When a drippy female caller flirts with Sid over the phone, Nancy wades in: ‘You better keep your fucking hands off him…’ A slanging match ensues. Viva la punk.
Madonna at the Danceteria, 1982
The first ever live performance of ‘Everybody’, Madge’s first single, at the downtown nightclub where she was a regular and got a demo of the song played. Her three backing dancers – in matching shorts, blazers and pork pie hats – were her friend Erica Bell, former roommate Martin Burgoyne and black dancer Bags. Gotta love those moves.
Oasis’s TV debut with ‘Supersonic’, 1994
There’s also footage on YouTube of early Oasis rehearsals at the Boardwalk pub in Manchester, where the band played their first live gig in 1991. But Oasis’s first appearance on TV, on Channel 4’s shambolic late-night show The Word, delivers a headier dose of live entertainment, nostalgia and Terry Christian. Loud and in yer face (and that’s just the decor).
The Who and Hendrix equipment smashing, 1968
In a clip from the slightly po-faced TV show All My Loving, the Who and Jimi Hendrix provide an extreme masterclass in onstage destruction ‘The cost of a pop group’s equipment… is about a thousand pounds,’ the narration offers, by way of context presumably, before the Who totally trash both stage and equipment. By way of encore, Hendrix then humps his guitar. Totally rock’n’roll.
Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul TV Special, 1968
That was Aretha’s year, when she scored some of her biggest hits with ‘Respect’, ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman’, which all get an airing in this funky black and white Swedish TV broadcast recorded at a concert held that year in Stockholm. She’s on stonkingly good form. Not just a little bit, just a little bit…
Joy Division do ‘Shadowplay’, 1978
The band’s TV debut on Granada Reports, the show, as Tony Wilson puts it, dedicated to showcasing ‘the most interesting new sounds in the North West’, has a peculiarly forlorn efficiency to it, each band member stranded on a pill-like blue podium, yet adding to the effect. A neat counterpoint is a live performance of the same song at an Altrincham pub, with more of Ian Curtis’s shimmying, which is half the pleasure, surely.
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan sing ‘With God on Our Side’, 1963
Around this time Baez and Dylan became an item off stage too but on stage it was really this duet at the Newport Folk Festival that set the tone for their many future collaborations. Plaintive and heartrending, their voices are a perfect complement. Their personal relationship ended a few years later, thankfully not to the detriment of their professional relationship on stage.
Dolly Parton sings ‘Dumb Blonde’, 1967
The perfect country song for Dolly to launch her career on. Certainly she’s spent the rest of it ironising the title. Because, of course, if there’s anything we know for sure about Dolly Parton, it’s that she ain’t dumb and she sure ain’t blonde. Here she is, making her TV debut on The Porter Wagoner Show
Nirvana rehearse in a garage, 1988
Before they hit it big (with their 1991 album Nevermind) and minus drummer Dave Grohl, Nirvana got down to bassist Krist Novoselic’s mum’s house for a jam through ‘Love Buzz’, ‘Scoff’ and ‘About the Girl’. Hangers-on drink beer and smoke in the background, Kurt sings into the wall and someone turns on a strobe light for effect. Grunge in the making.
Bette Midler and Barry Manilow at the Continental Bath, 1971
Who’s better suited to perform at a New York gay bathhouse than the Divine Miss M (aka Bathhouse Betty)? With that voice and raunchy banter, she had those boys wrapped round her finger. Drop in Barry Manilow on piano (sometimes, like the punters, in no more than a towel) and you couldn’t get it any camper. Poor quality footage but top quality versions of ‘Fat Stuff’, ‘Easier Said Than Done’ and ‘Marahuana’.
James Brown and Pavarotti sing ‘This Is A Man’s World’, 2002
Who and who? Yep, it’s certainly an odd pairing. And off the bat you worry this duet might tip over into the disaster area of other opera-pop couplings. But not a bit of it. A slow build through one of the most enduringly brilliant songs ever finishes with one of Brown’s signature funk yowls. And then the clincher, Luciano and James pull together for a final touching man-hug. Aww!
The Beatles Rooftop Concert, 1969
Staged up on the roof of their recording studio building, the Apple headquarters at 3 Savile Row, the Beatles’s rooftop gig was filmed to be an ending for their 1970 film Let It Be. The band was already drifting apart and this was their last live performance before effectively splitting in December 1970. Not a bad swansong though.
Jack Kerouac reads from On the Road (called Project 2), 1959
US TV presenter Steve Allen liked to do things differently. When he invited Kerouac on his show to read from On the Road, Allen decided it was a good idea to give him a jazzy piano accompaniment. It shouldn’t work but it does, thanks largely to Kerouac’s inordinate skill as a reader, his intonation curiously in tune with the slightly daft tinkerings in the background.
Zora Neale Hurston sings ‘Uncle Bud’, 1939
Author Neale Hurston started off studying anthropology and, according to this posting, the footage here comes from one of her own anthropological films, presumably shot while at university. Overlaid, in her joyous voice, is a ‘jook’ song (ie dive-bar dancing song) popular at the time in the South called ‘Uncle Bud’: ‘Uncle Bud’s got gals long and tall/ And they rock their hips like a cannonball, Uncle Bud.’
Vladimir Nabokov discusses Lolita, 1950s
On the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s Close Up, Nabokov defends his ‘shocking’ book in the company of literary critic Lionel Trilling and the show’s bow-tied host. ‘I don’t wish to touch hearts or affect minds. What I want to produce is that little sob in the spine of the reader.’ The set-up recalls three gentlemen scholars in a conversational cut-and-thrust in the drawing room. Nabokov, reading off his trademark file cards, is clearly amused by his own florid explanations. In two parts.
William Burroughs on cut-ups, c1980
Gaunt and spectral (aged about 65) in this BBC documentary, Burroughs recalls the time he spent in London during the Sixties and his artistic interest in cut-ups: a collage technique of cutting up pages of prose, pasting them back together at random and transcribing the resultant mishmash. An archive recording of one of his cut-out poems pops up as does Allen Ginsberg. Then Burroughs name-checks Wittgenstein. Meaty stuff.
Sylvia Plath reads ‘Daddy’, 1962
Unfortunately no footage of the poet reading herself, just a kind of morose interpretative montage and Plath’s voiceover, but what a rendition. Plath’s mesmerising voice – refined, meticulous, scathing – gets stuck into ‘Daddy’ with considerable bite. There are also versions on YouTube of ‘Ariel’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’ if you really want to depress yourself.
Martin Scorsese’s Back on the Block, 1973
Worth checking out just for the shot of Martin Scorsese tucking into a plateful of meatballs with his white bee-hived mother. Eat up, Marty. This six-minute documentary, an extended trailer for Mean Streets, sees the director reminiscing about the scrapes he and his friends got into growing up in Little Italy. You can practically smell the grime and machismo.
Kurt Russell’s Star Wars audition, 1975
Just think. Kurt Russell could have been Han Solo (‘Look at those radiation readouts. It’s impossible!’) if Harrison Ford hadn’t completely outclassed him. Same goes for drippy teen idol Robby Benson up for the role of Luke. For Mark Hammill, alas, we now count our blessings. Extra titbit: George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Star Wars and Carrie; rumour has it Lucas’s first pick for Princess Leia was actually Sissy Spacek. You can see Carrie Fisher’s audition for Leia too.
Katharine Hepburn gives a rare interview, 1973
‘Can’t we have a stationary table?’ thunders Katharine Hepburn, 66, to one of the producers on The Dick Cavett Show. Hepburn rarely did interviews. When she did, she wanted it just so. In this case, in prep for the actual recording, Hepburn went on set to veto a wobbly table (‘nail it down!’) and joke about the garishly russet-coloured carpet: ‘Gee whiz. Put a rug over it. Who’s idea was that?’
James Dean and Paul Newman screen test for East of Eden, 1954
Just 40 seconds but a real gem. Then newcomers Dean and Newman, both impossibly good-looking, face off in a screen test for East of Eden. Dean got the role (Newman’s big screen debut came in 1954’s The Silver Chalice), but it makes you wish they’d starred together for real. Dean: ‘Kiss me.’ Newman: ‘Can’t here.’
Marlon Brando screen tests for Rebel Without a Cause, 1947
Brando was 23, weighed 170lb, was 5ft 10in and had three years’ stage experience (at least so the marker plate tells us) when he auditioned for the role that went, years later, to Jimmy Dean. Still, Brando nails it. After his scene, there’s a chat about his career to date. With his bashful smile, you can see why he melted hearts.
When the interviewee begins by saying they hate being interviewed, it bodes pretty ill. So, asks BBC Scotland broadcaster Mark Cousins, why are you here? Lynch grins widely, pats young Cousins on the back and, like a father indulging his son, says ‘to do you a great favour’. What follows (over five instalments) is truly revealing and, Lynch is actually a real charmer.
Eveready Harton in Buried Treasure, 1929
Comic book art or seminal smut, we give you the first ever porn cartoon. Parental caution advised because, animation or not, this is a still pretty explicit tale of well-endowed Harton and his efforts to get it off. Supposedly drawn by a group of animators for a private party in honour of fellow animator Winsor McCay (an inspiration to Walt Disney).
The Seashell and the Clergyman, 1928
Less well known than that other surreal benchmark Un Chien Andalou, which followed a year later, this work based on a screenplay by French auteur Antonin Artaud is nonetheless considered the first surrealistic film. The story covers the erotic fantasies of a priest lusting after a general’s wife.
Marlene Dietrich’s screen test, 1929
In this screen test for the role of cabaret singer Lola Lola in The Blue Angel, Dietrich steps on to a piano, kicks out a leg, rolls up a flesh-coloured stocking and jauntily wends her way through a rendition of ‘Wer wird denn Weinen, Wenn Man Auseinandergeht?’ (‘Why Cry at Parting?’) the toe-tapping title song from a popular German musical comedy. Pure showmanship.
Film by Samuel Beckett, 1965
Shot in black and white, Beckett”s only cinematic project (supervised by him but directed by Alan Schneider) stars the aged Buster Keaton. Entirely silent (apart from an extended ‘shh’ near the start), it’s a creepy tale about voyeurism in which Keaton tries to avoid being seen by an all-seeing eye. So acutely unnerving it could be a horror film.
Jackson Pollock drip paints outside his East Hampton home, 1951
Though German-born photographer Hans Namuth didn’t much rate Pollock’s work, he was fascinated by the man. Having taken over 500 photographs of him already, he turned to film. His resulting documentary captures the artist dressed head to toe in black, a cigarette hanging from his lip, drip painting on to glass. Best of all is Pollock’s curiously droning narration: ‘The method of painting is a natural growth out of a need.’
Andy Warhol’s Blow Job, 1963
Titillating or just plain dull? Warhol’s original black and white silent film stretches to all of 35 minutes and frames the face of a pretty young man (DeVeren Bookwalter, who just happened to be lolling round the Factory that day) while he’s fellated off screen by person or persons unknown. This version lasts an adequate eight minutes. Honestly, who’s got the time?
Francis Bacon interviewed, 1985
About half way through this excellent South Bank Show on Francis Bacon, the interviewer Melvin Bragg and artist sit down to lunch. In Bacon’s case that’s really a liquid lunch through which he proceeds to slur his way. ‘Cheerio,’ he clamours, presumably meaning cheers, while topping himself up. Then it’s off to the Colony Room for more. (‘I’m not one of those made-up poofs…’ he toots at another punter). Priceless.
Jean-Michel Basquiat interviewed by Glenn O’Brien, 1978
Basquiat, aka SAMO, was about to become a New York art sensation and all-round celebrity thanks in no small part to his regular appearances on this live public access show called TV Party. Slapdash and piss-takingly earnest, it ran until 1982 and was hosted by Glenn O’Brien, also rock critic for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In 1981 O’Brien scripted a thinly veiled biopic (about Basquiat) starring Basquiat called Downtown 81, a trailer for which is also on YouTube.
Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema, 1926
Shot in Man Ray’s studio and officially the brainchild of Duchamp’s female alter ego Rrose Sélavy (a pun on ‘Eros, c’est la vie’ and my, how convincing Duchamp was in drag) this hypnotic short film features a rapidly spinning disc on which a series of punning phrases appear. As much spiritual meditation as work of Dadaist anti-art. Man Ray’s dotty Le Retour à la Raison makes an interesting companion piece.
Bill Viola’s The Reflecting Pool, 1977-1979
American video-artist Viola has carved out a very definite niche: ultra slow-motion films, imbued with an almost painterly quality, and often tackling twin issues of mortality and spirituality. This early film fixes on a woodland pool and a man frozen mid-air over it. With intimations of birth and death, it’s ultimately both creepy and moving.
Maria Callas in Zeffirelli’s Tosca, 1964
First staged at the Royal Opera House in 1964, Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s Tosca became a benchmark. It’s rousing stuff, particularly with its original cast, Callas near perfection in the title role (it was her last stage role before she retired in 1965) and good friend Tito Gobbi as Scarpio. Callas used to say she had a ‘love affair’ with the London public; from the rapturous post-show applause you can tell it’s mutual.
Karajan conducts Beethoven’s Fifth, 1966
Of all the recordings made by the notoriously demanding Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan during his 35-year tenure at the Berlin Philharmonic, you’d be hard-pushed to plump for just one. His renditions of Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss and Wagner amply show off his skill for extracting that agonisingly beautiful ‘Karajan sound’. But for sheer edge-of-seat showmanship, Beethoven’s Fifth gets top billing.
Bernstein conducts West Side Story, 1985
When Deutsche Grammophon asked Leonard Bernstein to conduct a new version of his West Side Story, with every member of the orchestra and chorus hand-picked, it’s a shame he settled on opera singers Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras for the leads. Maria and Tony? Not really. This documentary about the recording still gives us plenty of Bernstein – jaunty, emotional and brilliant.
Glenn Gould’s The Art of the Fugue, 1980
Gould was one of classical music’s standout eccentrics and in this studio-based performance and commentary given by him (aged 48) on the works of Bach, you see every bit of his strangeness (and genius) as a performer, with him hunched over his Steinway, muttering who knows what to himself. Among the pieces he plays are Bach’s Fugue in E Major, Partita No 4 and Art of Fugue.
Stravinksy conducts the Firebird Lullaby Suite, 1965
The premiere of Stravinsky’s Russian folk ballet was performed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris in 1910. Young Igor was just 28 and Firebird was his breakthrough. (Over the next three years Stravinsky, in collaboration with Diaghilev, came up with Petrushka and his masterpiece The Rite of Spring.) Here he is at 82, looking every bit his age, conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Marvellous.