The end of “Civilisation”?

I might say that I continue to “work through” Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series about the history of Western art, Civilisation — I’ve pointed to Clark here and there in the recent past — but “work” is the wrong word. The series is more an extended pleasure, and alas I have just a few more episodes to go. Fortunately, the version available on Britbox has restored the original 35mm film, so the pleasure is unencumbered by faded color or annoying scratches.

Civilisation maintains its fan base — I’ve heard from someone who expresses similar enthusiasm for it, which I must admit cheered me up quite a bit — but to some the presentation is dated. I have to disagree; maybe the best thing about the program is that, to my mind, it hasn’t dated at all. Apparently the BBC came to the conclusion that it was time for an update, and in 2018 released Civilisations (note the plural), a nine-episode do-over hosted not by a single person (therefore the subtitle to the Clark series, “A Personal View”), but by three — Simon Schama, Mary Beard, and David Olusoga — and when it was released in the United States by PBS, narration by Liev Schreiber was added as well. Although I haven’t seen the 2018 series yet, I fear that it may be even more dated than Clark’s, driven as it were by a need to dismiss Clark’s emphasis on the “great man” and “genius” approach to art and a similar need to dress up the history of art in classist social criticism. At the time, Andrew Ferguson contributed a wry comparison of the two series for The Weekly Standard; you can find it here, and it makes interesting reading. (It may take a while to load;  you’ve been warned.)

2 thoughts on “The end of “Civilisation”?”

  1. My wife and I quiet enjoyed “Civilizations”, watching it on the edge of our seats as if it were some sort of thriller. Don’t dismiss it. Give it a watch if it’s still available.

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