15 February 2017
How Maps Got Into the Movies
This special guest blog post by the film historian Roland-François Lack looks at an entirely new cartographic genre which emerged during the 20th century - the cinema map or cine-map.
'Maps first appeared in films as narrative props or background décor. Only rarely, in the early years, could any detail on the map be read, but in what I think is the earliest surviving film to show a map, Georges Méliès's 1898 La Lune à un mètre or The Astronomer's Dream, we can see the disproportionately large outline of France on the globe in the astronomer's study.
La Lune à un mètre (Georges Méliès 1898)
The distortion foregrounds France as the source, and possibly setting, of Méliès's film. This is just the first of cinema's many cartographic manipulations to come, altering the pro-filmic reality for narrative effect.
The first map in a film I have seen on which a place name can be read is in Pathé's Le Fils du diable fait la noce à Paris, from 1906. A map is brought out in support of a recommendation that the Devil's sick son should travel to recover his spirits. London, Antwerp, Berlin, Berne and Rome are marked on the map, but it is to Paris, in the centre, that everyone points as the ideal destination:
Le Fils du diable fait la noce à Paris (Pathé production 1906)
These maps are confections created for the films in which they figure. Where a map is merely part of the décor it is likely to be a found map, used to give realism to the setting, as in this 1908 Gaumont film showing a schoolroom:
Les Chansons ont leur destin (Gaumont production 1908)
Cinema's interest in maps intensified when it discovered the close-up. Spectators could then read the map as they read the film, helped often by a finger pointing to the parts most relevant to the narrative, as here, in a 1910 Gaumont film about Christopher Columbus:
Christophe Colomb (Gaumont production 1910)
This cartographic close-up is the earliest I have found, and also the first instance where the filmmakers have put effort into finding an historically appropriate prop. The map is based on a fifteenth-century Imago Mundi, or more exactly on the simplified versions of that map found in nineteenth-century accounts of medieval cartography.
Travel, including adventurous exploration, is one of the four major narrative contexts in which films show maps. Of the others, I have already mentioned the schoolroom, where maps are generally background décor. Crime, whether in its preparation or investigation, also demands an attention to maps, but the narrative context that has most often put maps on screen is war. The cinematic representation of the 1914-1918 war brought with it an intensification of cartographic scrutiny. In war rooms and at the Front soldiers are shown studying maps:
Une page de gloire (Léonce Perret 1915)
The need to explain military action to those at home initiated a different mode of cartographic representation, the animated map. Now a convention in narrative fictions, it has its origins in documentaries such as F. Percy Smith's Fight For the Dardanelles (1915):
Fight For the Dardanelles (F. Percy Smith 1915)
Though manipulations of this kind have, in the twenty-first century, moved beyond the merely cinematic, the animated map remains the cinema's major contribution to cartography. The British Library's exhibition features two remarkable examples, McLaren and Biggar's Hell Unlimited (1936) and the opening sequence from Casablanca (1942), as testimony to that contribution.'
If you enjoyed this blog you'll enjoy the Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line articles contained in our exhibition webspace. Roland-François Lack's Cine-tourist site is fantastic, and very easy to lose oneself in. I'd like to say a big thank you to Roland-Francois for all the advice he has provided on maps in film over the past 18 months.
24 April 2010
The Beauty of Maps #4
BBC4's The Beauty of Maps ended on a high last Thursday night, with part 4 focusing upon political cartoon maps of the 19th century and since. Everyone will be familiar with political illustrations that incorporate maps, but it was good to be able to chart their beginnings through the octopus maps of Fred Rose, through to that horrifying yet utterly mesmerising Churchillian octopus map of 1944. Ouch. Not pulling any punches that one - but the lesson is surely that if you dish it out (as Rose's octopus did) you should also be able to take a few.
What always strikes me about these cartoon maps or 'serio-comic' maps is the wonderfully modelled, coloured and complex imagery, which seems to leap out of the page at you. They were designed specifically to be noticed, and through being noticed, their political messages found their way into people's minds.
To be honest, half an hour didn't seem like quite enough time to feature everything. Last night's programme wasn't able to look at, for example, the far earlier 16th-century maps which show continents as animals, and we didn't get a glimpse of the extraordinary map cartoons of Lilian Lancaster:
Nevertheless, the series was a triumph, with almost half a million people watching the first episode. I'd like to congratulate Stephen Clarke the director, and all of the British Library staff who made it possible. Of course, nothing would have been possible without the British Library collection to draw upon, and I should point out that nearly all of the maps featured will be included in the Magnificent Maps exhibition, the opening of which is almost, very nearly upon us...
23 April 2010
The Beauty of Maps #3
Ah, beauty is all around us: in the air we breathe, the people we meet... and the maps we look at. Last night's programme on BBC4 focused upon the incredible cartographic production of the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch printing houses, which managed to fuse scientific precision and elegant artistry within a range of maps, atlases and globes of supreme quality. We had a few surprises: for example, the fact that the atlas by Mercator - father of the atlas - bombed when it was first published. Who would have thought, from such an ignominious beginning...?
You were treated also to the now very well-known Klencke Atlas of 1660 being taken out of its case and looked at on a table. Not the sort of thing to take to read on a train, the Klencke has always been seen as one massive book, which of course it is. However it is really a 'composite' atlas: that is, a book made up of many previously published maps, especially for one purpose. The fact that these maps were all originally intended as wall maps says something of the huge over-the-top gesture made by Klencke when he presented it. Perhaps ironically, it is purely because of the fact these maps were bound up in a book that they have survive.
Early next week we shall be moving the atlas into the PACCAR gallery, which will be a photo opportunity in itself. But with all the photographs and coverage the atlas has had, I still do not think that anyone can properly appreciate its scale and conception until they've stood next to it. I've never been scared by a book before (not even Enid Blyton's Five go Down to the Sea), but the unnerving feeling of standing next to a book both bigger and heavier than oneself needs to be experienced by all. Opportunity to see it from next Friday.
21 April 2010
The Beauty of Maps on iPlayer
A tweet-like posting to say that all programmes in this excellent BBC4 series are now available to watch again and download.
Tom will be blogging about the third and fouth programme soon.
The Beauty of Maps #2
Part two of The Beauty of Maps, aired on BBC4 last night, tackled the history of London through its most notable post-1666 maps. The three featured - William Morgan's map of 1682, John Rocque's of 1746 and Stephen Walter's 2008 effort - will all be included in the Magnificent Maps exhibition, so if you want to gaze at them for hours, be my (and the British Library's) guest!
What the programme did so skilfully was to weave the sub-plots of each map into their appearance, adding voiceovers to some really quite beautiful close-ups of details. Maps can, admittedly, be quite difficult to decipher, but if the programme taught anything, it was that to trust one's eyes and to ask 'why' a map is so elegantly drawn, 'why' a map shows a cathedral that had not yet been built, can allow for a clearer understanding of the minds and mentalities of people .
As with Monday night's programme, we had an array of speakers including Laurence Worms and Tim Bryars, two of the most knowledgeable people I know.
Incidentally, you may have noticed the footage of myself and Peter arranging Rocque's multi-sheet map of London on a table. (The whole process was speeded up on film, in fact a bit of Benny Hill-esque music wouldn't have been out of place). The assembling of the sheets wasn't as straightforward as we would have liked - I found out later that the director had rearranged the sheets in the wrong order, so that it would take us more time to complete. Watch again and, at one point, we look rather confused.
Great stuff - world domination by maps is proceeding according to plan. Look out tonight for part three on the golden age of cartography, Dutch 17th-century maps. Watch especially as we take the BIGGEST atlas in the world out of its case, and then put it back again.
20 April 2010
The Beauty of Maps #1
Last night saw the opening episode of 'The Beauty of Maps', a four-part TV series being shown on consecutive nights on BBC4. The series was filmed last February in the British Library and elsewhere, and features some great footage of our collections, the St Pancras building and basement areas, staff and scholars.
It was great to see the finished product, and to see all the hard work and hours of filming condensed into half-an-hour.
... and if you look very closely, about 1 min 27 sec into the programme you can actually see my hand turning off a light switch. My Granny is very proud.
The programme has dove-tailed perfectly with the Magnificent Maps exhibition, especially since the themes being discussed tie-in with the specific spaces we have re-created in the gallery, and many of the exhibits contained therein.
Last night's programme focused upon the Hereford Mappa Mundi, in Hereford Cathedral. It brought out very strongly that the idea that the map is a complete summary of the world, its history, and everything in it. I found the sound effects that accompanied close-up shots of some of the map's many monsters and sea-creatures rather amusing. It gave me the idea of producing some sort of kids' pop-up sound effect mappamundi facsimile (copyright Tom Harper, 2010). Just for the kids, mind.
The programme featured the new facsimile of the original (and rather worn and battered) Hereford Map, produced this year by the Folio Society, a copy of which we will be featuring in the exhibition. The facsimile has, as far as possible, reproduced the original bright colouring the map would have once had. The director of the programme was keen to capture the surprise of map scholars when they saw it for the first time, something which came across very well. 'Better than the original!' Quite.
The Hereford facsimile will hang in the 'bedchamber,' the space in the exhibition that contains maps reflecting a spiritual or other-worldy power, suitable for the intimate space inhabited by rulers. You see, medieval world maps like the Hereford Mappa Mundi were not always hung in churches. In fact we can document instances of maps being presented and displayed in bedchambers, which incidentally were often used for meetings between a king or queen and his or her most trusted advisors.
Other maps we will be showing in this space are Grayson Perry's brilliant 'Map of Nowhere' of 2008 (also featured last night) which itself draws heavily on the now lost Ebsdorf Mappa Mundi of c.1300, represented in the exhibition by a true-size copy. Prepare to be amazed in a 'I can't see the top of it' sort of way.
In addition, we are pleased to be able to show the 13th-century Psalter world map, believed to be a copy of a much larger map owned by Henry III of England (reigned 1207-1272), and also the Duchy of Cornwall fragment, the only surviving section of a much larger medieval map.
So medieval map heaven, with added monsters.
Tonight on BBC4, 'The Beauty of Maps' looks at the mapping of London. Don't miss it.
16 April 2010
Magnificent Maps in the media
It's been a busy few months for maps in the media, as the opening of Magnificent Maps draws ever nearer.
Dovetailing very neatly with BBC4's map season, which begins this Sunday (18 April) at 21.00, the exhibition has aroused a great deal of interest - partly, I think, because of the swathes of opinion on the advances in digital mapping, but also due to a broader realisation that maps do not always speak the truth. Lots of juicy stories about propaganda, deceit and lies may be found within the borders of a map, where may also be discovered elegance and artistry.
Maps: Power, Plunder and Possesssion
episode 1 (of 3): Windows on the World
The series is hosted by the brilliant Jerry Brotton. It was great to be able to show Jerry around the British LIbrary basement areas where much of the filming for the series took place. Although he is no stranger to libraries and archives, I think he was impressed by the scale of the place, and the thousands of shelves and drawers which store the Library's 4.5 million maps.
And then on Monday night (19 April):
The Beauty of Maps
episode 1 (of 4): Mapping the Medieval Mind
of which more later.
Elsewhere, you might have seen an article 'Mad about Maps' in the Sunday Telegraph, and you may also have listened to Peter Barber speaking about maps on BBC Radio Wales. For those of you who missed it, the Guardian website has a wonderful slideshow of some of the exhibits we'll be showing in Magnificent Maps.
Prepare yourselves for a double-page image in the Radio Times of 'yours truly' and Peter standing on either side of the giant Klencke Atlas, the biggest (and possibly also the heaviest) atlas in the world. Suspend your disbelief at our incredible strength for a moment... there is somebody behind the atlas holding it up.
More about the life and hectic schedule of the world's largest atlas soon.
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