I’ve researched quite a bit into the history of filming during the ‘classic’ period of Antarctica exploration, notably the expeditions of Scott, Mawson and Shackleton, and the films taken by those great cinematographers Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley. I contribute a commentary to the BFI DVD of Hurley’s documentary South (1919), on the ill-fated trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1916, led by Ernest Shackleton.
From my work with motion picture colour systems (Kinemacolor, Prizmacolor, Dufaycolor etc), I have grown interested in general colour theory, and the relationships between society and colour. If John Gage writes about ‘Colour and Culture’ (meaning ‘high’ culture), then my interest is in colour and popular culture.
I used to organise the annual Wisden (later Archive) Cricket Evenings at the National Film Theatre, and devised a touring show of cricket films, presented by David Frith, called That’s Cricket! which went round the UK in 1998. I’ve followed Kent County Cricket Club since the 1970s, though it’s never been quite the same since the lime tree that stood within the ground blew down (but they have planted a new one).
I am interested in all branches of my family history, particularly the history of the McKernans/McKernons of Co. Antrim. I have traced the McKernans back to the 1790s, and the furthest I can go back for any line is the Hills (on my mother’s side), resident in Worcestershire in the mid-1600s. My interesting ancestors include Thomas Pooley (a cause célèbre in the mid-19th century when he was arrested for blasphemy, mentioned in J. Stuart Mill’s On Liberty) and George Broad (who ran the foundry that cast the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus).
Bob Dylan, Dave Douglas, Gary Lucas, Alberic Magnard, Charles Ives, Hans Reichel, Kevin Coyne, Bukka White, Olivier Messiaen, Slim Harpo, Robert Johnson, Slapp Happy, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, The Necks, Karel Dalton, Toots and the Maytals, The Ganelin Trio, Bill Frisell, Wayne Shorter, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, Jaga Jazzist, Lee Perry, Christian Fennesz, Thomas Tallis, Young Marble Giants, Randy Newman, Medeski Martin and Wood, Eels, Barbecue Bob, John Prine, Elmore James, Ground Zero, Keith Hudson, Palestrina, Johnny Dowd, Iris DeMent, Los Straitjackets, Sir Douglas Quintet, Dr John, Ronnie Lane, T-Bone Burnett, Kate and Anna McGarrigle etc.
There are too many projects and too little time, but one subject that particularly fascinates me is the Olympic Games of 1908. This was the first time that the Games were held in London, and although they were probably the first truly successful Games and helped establish the modern Olympiads as a fixture to the present day, they were also marred by clashes between the British and the Americans which were a reflection of the changes in the balance of world political power. The presentation of the Games at the White City was mastermined by the remarkable Hungarian showman Imre Kiralfy, a grand project in himself for someone, someday.
I’m interested in the theory and science of memory, in particular how it applies to children and memories of childhood, and (inevitably) in its relationship to the moving image. I’m intrigued, for instance, by the parallels between the workings of memory and the brain’s apprehension of moving images, and in the largely discredited notion of eidectic (or ‘photographic’) memory, a facility that some believe many (all?) children possess to some degree or other but which is lost with age. Why?
How do films persuade? I’ve long been interested in pursuing the history of using the moving image as a means of British government propaganda or information, from the Official newsreel Topical Budget and Charles Urban’s collaboration with the War Propaganda Bureau in the First World War, to the distribution and exhibition of films and television programmes overseas by the Central Office of Information from the 1950s onwards.
Laurence Sterne, Karel Capek, William Hazlitt, George Orwell, Andrew Marvell, David Jones, Ian Buruma, Thomas Middleton, P.G. Wodehouse, Ben Jonson, Graham Greene, V.S. Naipaul, Norbert Elias, E.L. Doctorow, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, Derek Mahon, Christopher Smart, Katherine Phillips, Michel Pastoureau, Anne Finch, Miroslav Holub, Beryl Bainbridge, William Cowper, Wisława Szymborska etc.
The sociology of childhood
My studies into cinema audiences in London before the First World War have aroused my interest in the sociology of the section of society which often formed the majority of such audiences, namely children. This field covers social policy, education and child-parent relations, but more interestingly for me the society of children, child economics, oral history and memoir material, and particularly leisure. As usual, my interest is focussing on the late Victorian-Edwardian period.
Chimes at Midnight, The Big Swallow, Je Vous Salue Marie, The 400 Blows, Cutter’s Way, Our Hospitality, The Tempest, The Third Man, Partie De Campagne, Ma Nuit a Chez Maud, Five Easy Pieces, Aguirre Wrath of God, Les Quarte Cent Farces du Diable, Larks on a String, Soft Lights and Sweet Music, Shop Around the Corner, Burnham Beeches, The Ear, Closely Observed Trains, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Marius, Topsy Turvy, Who’s That Singing Over There?, Robinson Crusoe, The Battle of the Somme, Fox Hunt, Spare Time, Pas de Deux, The Fairy of the Phone, This is Spinal Tap, The Big Liebowski, In the Land of the Deaf, The Proud Valley, Trade Tattoo, The Europeans, Land and Freedom, Shadows, Pather Panchali, Raising Arizona, Solaris, A Matter of Life and Death, The Manxman, Free Radicals, Shooting Stars, Hue and Cry, About Schmidt, The Royal Tenenbaums, La Noire de… etc.