Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

12 posts categorized "Publications"

07 September 2018

The MiniDisc revival starts here (maybe)

Sony launched the first MiniDisc players and recorders in 1992. MiniDiscs were small (around 2¾" square) floppy-disk-style cartridges with an 80-minute recording capacity, intended to supplant the tape cassette format.

Some major-artist commercial albums were issued as pre-recorded MiniDiscs, and the Library has a few examples of these in its collection. In its heyday, however, at least in the UK,  the MiniDisc arguably found more favour as a recording medium, particularly among broadcasters (and oral historians). The Millennium Memory Bank project, for example, created by BBC local radio stations across England, together with Radio Scotland, Radio Ulster, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru - and held at the British Library - alone comprises more than 6000 MiniDiscs.

Sony ceased production of MiniDisc machines in 2013 so the format may be considered officially obsolete. For Paul Maclean, though, and his fellow H. P. Lovecraft appreciators in the Cthulhu Breakfast Club, who have just released their first 'MiniDisc Exclusive Release', the format is very much alive.

Photo of Paul Maclean's MiniDisc and outer packaging

I asked Paul to say a few words on the attraction of obsolete recording formats:

I've been by training and trade, an archaeologist and museum scientist. I’ve always had a 'backwards-looking curiosity' combined with a love of the technological. In more recent years my work has focused on the web and especially net-based audio such as podcasts - they are a wonderful and practical way to reach people around the world almost instantly - but at the same time I think something is lost by the lack of the physical: the particular, more direct connection between audience and creator that can exist with physical artefacts.

In 2017 I produced a wax cylinder recording of a podcast (through Poppy Records), which proved popular - likely due to the novelty of using some of the latest technology (Ambisonic high resolution digital recording) married to one of the earliest recording formats. The cylinders were manufactured for us by Paul Morris. However a wax cylinder meant a very short show: only 2 minutes!

Our normal shows tend to run over an hour. Having both a love of obsolete audio formats and fond memories of Sony’s short-lived but superbly engineered MiniDisc system, the MiniDisc format seemed a logical next step.

Photo of Paul Maclean's Denon-brand replicating machine

Over the past few years I’ve collected a number of MD players and was also lucky enough to acquire a Denon DN-045R MD replicator (above) which allows me to produce pristine new MD recordings in quantity. The last Sony MiniDisc machine may have left the factory in 2013 but the format still has its loyal fans (of which I am one).

These days the typical audio I produce is distributed online in high resolution AAC format - it’s efficient and effective, but so are millions of other web audio files in an ocean of new content every day - but sometime’s what’s old is new again. Perhaps one day Sony may release a new version of the format (with less draconian DRM), in the same way vinyl has made a revival. One can but hope!

16 February 2017

Leafscape: an exhibition

Botanical artist Jess Shepherd has spent the past few years immersed in the world of leaves, both from a visual and sonic point of view. In this special guest post, Jess writes about how field recording became an intrinsic part of her creative process.

As a botanical painter, I specialise in painting very large watercolours of plants and am always working to surprise the viewer. Between 16th and 25th February, I will be holding my first solo exhibition of over 30 new watercolour paintings in Bloomsbury, London. For this exhibition, I explore my vision of a botanical dystopia, challenging our own sense of scale, its value and how we measure it.


The story began when I picked up a leaf from a London pavement in July 2014. At the time I was moving house and felt that the condition of the leaf told my own story. It had been scuffed by the streets of the city and was no longer attached to the tree, but blowing across the floor in the wind. Like me, it was on the move.

After carefully painting this leaf larger than life size I was drawn to paint another and another. Eventually, after months of painting these leaf portraits, all from different moments in time and place, I have created a visual story. Some of these leaves measure over a meter in length.

041120151210Leaf 041120151210, Cercis siliquastrum, Watercolour on paper, 760 x 560mm

For the past two years I have also collected the environmental sounds from where each leaf was growing using an Olympus LS-14 recorder. These sounds document a journey from the East End of London, through the avenues of Hyde Park and streets of Chelsea into the deep rural countryside of Granada in Spain where I now have a second studio. I started collecting these sounds because I became interested in documenting the elements of our existence that I could not capture with paint. I also began to wonder how leaves would interpret their spaces if trees could hear. By recording the sounds from the precise locations of my source material, I feel I have been able to add a new dimension to botanical art; that I am able to communicate the importance of plants and our environment more poignantly. It is my way of catapulting botanical art into the 21st Century whilst also looking at topics close to my heart such as what is reality and what it means to exist.

Spain_birds and rain

Spain_goat bells

All of these environmental sounds have been skilfully arranged by musician Derek Thompson (Hoodlum Priest) who, through a process of both precise and random digital manipulation, has created a composition where place, time and space become intertwined. This multimedia journey is our vision of a botanical dystopia; the natural world in a state of decay through interaction with the encroaching urban environment.

Leafscape extract

The idea of recording sound introduces a completely new element to botanical art and I hope that this interpretation of both the natural and human worlds will encourage listeners to be as aware of the diversity and beauty of sound in the city as much as that of the countryside.



Leafscape will be on show at Abbott and Holder from 16th-25th February 2017.

A copy of the accompanying book & soundtrack has been donated by the artist to the British Library and will soon be available in our Reading Rooms.

Audio clips and images courtesy of Jess Shepherd.

23 October 2015

Africa Writes vox pops: What’s new about West African Literature?

Africa Writes blog

Africa Writes vox pops is a new collection of 32 video interviews made at the Africa Writes festival 4-5 June, 2015. See BL reference C1705.

Africa Writes is an annual literature and book festival organized by the Royal African Society in partnership with the British Library. 

The interviews were filmed by the British Library in collaboration with Afrikult to produce a short film now on show at the British Library's new exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song co-curated by Marion Wallace and Janet Topp Fargion.

The collection comprises the raw unedited footage of 32 five-to-ten minute interviews, including set-ups, tests for focus, cutaway shots etc. Highlights can be viewed in the exhibition. The videos capture Africa Writes’ international audience of readers discussing contemporary trends in West African literature.

Participants were asked what is new and exciting about West African literature; how West African literature has changed since Chinua Achebe’s generation of writers; how West African literature connects with people's experiences in Africa and the diaspora today; what role do women play in West African literature; and how could West African literature be described in just three words. The results of the final question are expressed in the word cloud shown below.

Wordle 3__

The interviewees agreed unanimously that West African literature has contributed to their lives by helping them to shape their identities and to make sense of their experiences of migration, diaspora and transculturation. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie topped the list of recommended authors.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is seen as great empowerer of women and an inspiration for the young. Women are considered more prominent in West African literature than ever, not just as characters, but as writers too.

The value of this collection goes beyond the subject of West African literature, delving into what literature means, how it resonates with its readers and how it has helped Africans to reclaim their own history and to engage with the diaspora.

Several interviewees touched on how social media helps to connect writers, publishers and audiences, making African literature more visible and internationally accessible.

The digital space has also helped to circumvent restrictions on publishing in languages besides the hegemonic English and French, providing opportunities to authors who write in West African languages. Furthermore it has expanded the possibilities for online publishing in general and for multilingual and multimedia e-publications such as the Valentine's Day Anthology 2015  of short stories, published by Ankara Press, which includes audio readings by the authors and can be downloaded for free.

When asked what would they like to see more of in the future interviewees' thematic concerns were heterogeneous, including topics and genres such as queer, different gender dynamics and disability stories, thrillers, crime fiction, romance, pop culture, traditional stories, science fiction and non-fiction.

If you haven't read much West African literature and don't know where to start this vox pops collection will set you up. And if you were already into West African literature it will probably help you to expand your reading list until the next Africa Writes festival in 2016. 

A big thanks to the 33 interviewees and Afrikult members: Zaahida Nalumoso, Henry Brefo and Marcelle Akita. And please come to the exhibition which is on until 16 February 2015.

21 January 2015

Documenting the Fringe

A guest post by John Park, Editor of Fringe Report.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering the years 2002-2003, is now available exclusively for consultation by readers at the British Library.

Fringe Report was a website based in London which reviewed fringe theatre, arts, independent and arthouse film, dance, performance, poetry, music - anything that fell off the edge of the mainstream - though it often covered that too. There were no rigid lines.

It published two or three items a week all year round, was an accredited reviewer to Internet Movie Database and did in-depth interviews, features, gossip, and reports on parties. 

Over the coming years, the whole content of Fringe Report 2002-2012 is being put into book form and donated to the British Library as a historical archive, a snapshot of the off-mainstream arts at the start of the twenty-first century.

The next volume, currently in preparation, will cover all the Fringe Report Awards - there are 250 of them - from 2003 to 2012, with the award certificates reproduced in colour.  It is due for presentation in spring 2015. 


The cast and company of Yard Gal (Oval House Theatre, London, 2008), including actors Stefanie Di Rubbo and Monsay Whitney, and director Stef O'Driscoll, accept the Fringe Report Award 2009 for Best Production. Fringe Report Awards 9 February 2009, Leicester Square Theatre. Photo © Stefan Lubomirski De Vaux, 2009.

Fringe Report started in July 2002 and ran until 2012. It covered 50 shows each year and reviewed at the London Film Festival, the Dublin and Brighton Fringe Festivals, with reports over the years from other locations including Camden, Bath, Newbury, Reading and Montreal.

It had permanent writers in London, New York, Dublin, Denver, Edinburgh, Dallas, North-east England, St Petersburg and Hawaii; with up to 12,000 regular readers spread across the globe.  Most of them were in mainland Europe, England, Canada, United States, Republic of Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with others in the Middle East, across Asia, in Vietnam, China and Australia.

There was a monthly newsletter in English and Spanish as a briefing and gossip loop to PRs, actors, producers, directors, composers, performers, the public, theatregoers, arts enthusiasts, venue managers, promoters, impresarios, journalists, and other industry and showbiz professionals.

Each year there were 25 awards - the Fringe Report Awards - announced in January and presented on any day mid-February that wasn't Valentine's Day.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering its first two years 2002-2003, was delivered to the Library on 18 December 2014, where it is now uniquely available.  It contains 478 pages of reviews of over 250 shows, plus interviews and articles.  A feature of the book - and of forthcoming volumes - is a comprehensive index of over 4,000 entries including shows, venues, companies and people.  Fringe Report always where possible contained full credits for the shows and events it reviewed or reported, and the index includes the names of 3,000 people involved.

When the whole archive is complete it will comprise 12 books including all published and previously unpublished material, 750 photographs, audio soundtracks of award acceptance speeches (including Sir Arnold Wesker, John Antrobus, Kevin Sampson, Dr Elliot Grove, Kiki Kendrick, Abi Titmuss, Holly Penfield) and film of the several years of the awards.

04 July 2013

Field Recording Fanzine

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

Earlier in the year I was invited by Caught by the River to guest edit a special field recording edition of their fanzine, An Antidote to Indifference. The plan was to cover as many aspects of field recording as possible and give a broad overview of the current goings-on in this fascinating community. After spending a few months gathering mostly unique works from a variety of field recordists, sound artists and writers all engaged in their own ways with this diverse genre, I'd like to think that this has been achieved. Wildlife recording trips, urban soundscapes, sound maps, installations and personal reflections on recording experiences and the importance of listening are some of the topics covered. These pieces sit alongside a range of reviews, interviews, blog posts and other snippets of news. Some of my favourite contributions include:

 Jez riley French - A Quiet Position | Polyphonies

Des Coulam - Urban Soundscapes: a Parisian perspective

Mark Peter Wright - Severing all Ties

Jonny Trunk - Basil Kirchin

La Coza Preziosa - Between Presence and Absence: capturing transitional states

Rick Blything - Field Recording in Northern India

JD Lopez - Listening to Art

Field recording special

I'm lucky enough to work with field recordings on a daily basis so guest editing this fanzine was a great opportunity for me to bring together a range of material from a subject area that I love.
I hope you get as much joy from reading this edition as I did from putting it all together.

An Antidote to Indifference is available through the Caught by the River shop

09 May 2013

Wild Scotland

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds curator writes:

Can't tell your Capercaillie from your Ptarmigan? Then the British Library might be able to help. The latest title in the Library's series of wildlife & environmental audio publications, Wild Scotland, brings together the vocalisations of 30 species commonly found in this part of the world.

Several species, such as the Black-throated Diver, Crested Tit, Corncrake, Capercaillie and Pine Marten can only be found in Scotland, being absent from the rest of Britain. The Crested Tit, for example, is a highly specialised bird that is mainly restricted to the ancient Caledonian pine forests and Scot’s pine plantations of the Highlands. Likewise, the Capercaillie, a large woodland grouse that can reach almost a metre in height, is only found in the remnants of these once widespread and now vulnerable native pine forests. The Black-throated Diver, with its mournful, wailing song, only breeds in the northwest of the country, as does the secretive Corncrake. The distinctive ‘crex crex’ song of this member of the Rail family was once a familiar sound among the grasslands of Britain and much of Ireland, but changes in agricultural practices led to a dramatic population decline. Today, the Corncrake is mainly found on Orkney and the Hebrides, but conservation efforts are afoot to expand the geographical range of this bird.

Wild scotland

One of the most evocative images of Scotland is that of the Red Deer stag. This ‘monarch of the glen’ is a powerful symbol of the Scottish wildness and its bellowing roars during the annual rut are no less impressive. Another longstanding symbol of the Scottish wilderness is that of a Golden Eagle soaring over the barren moorlands and rugged mountainous ranges in search of prey. The Golden Eagle is one of Britain’s largest birds of prey and its breeding territory lies mainly in the Scottish Highlands and islands. Although mostly silent, it can be identified by its strong, yelping call. Other key species may be smaller in stature but are just as characteristic of Scotland’s wild places. The Red Squirrel is Britain’s only native squirrel species with around 75% of the UK population occurring in Scotland. This is due in part to some areas remaining free from the invasive Grey Squirrel, which has been responsible for Red Squirrel declines in other parts of Britain. The Pine Marten, though elusive and difficult to spot due to its nocturnal nature, has its stronghold in the woodlands of Scotland and is finally on the road to recovery after suffering significant persecution during the 19th century.

The majority of the recordings featured on this disc were recorded on location in various parts of Scotland. The remaining examples were recorded in England and were selected on the basis of superior audio quality or required vocalisation type. Despite being recorded in another country, all are accurate depictions of calls produced by their Scottish cousins.

Wild Scotland is designed to act both as an identification guide and an audio celebration of the many natural sounds of the country’s diverse and glorious habitats. Whether you are an armchair traveller or preparing for a holiday, this collection of field recordings showcases some of the marvellous wildlife that can be experienced in this inspiring land.

 (Wild Scotland is available from the British Library shop priced at £10.00)

05 September 2010

Recommended reading no. 4 - Halliwell's Film Guide


Here's number 4 in an occasional series that reviews unfamiliar or neglected books on film (which of course you can find here at the British Library). Today's choice is Leslie Halliwell's Halliwell's Film Guide (London: Granada, 1977, 2nd ed. 1979, 3rd ed. 1981, 4th ed. 1983, 5th ed. 1985, 6th ed. 1987, 7th. ed. 1989).

At first sight, Halliwell's Film Guide may not seem a suitable choice for an unfamiliar or neglected text, since it is hardly an obscure work in need of championing. It's the one film book that anyone is likely to have (in the UK, at least) if they have just the one film book on their shelves. But as far as I am concerned, there are two Halliwell's Film Guides. One is the work that ran to seven editions and ended in 1989 with its original author's death. The other is the 1396-page behemoth in its umpteenth edition, edited by John Walker from 1991 and David Gritten from 2008. It is the former that has become the neglected work, and which is worth examining once again.

Leslie Halliwell (1929-1989) was, by profession, a buyer of films for television, for the ITV network for much of his career and for his final years the buyer of US films for showing on Channel 4. He had previously been a film writer and cinema manager, and became a household name through his Filmgoer's Companion (first published 1965) and his Film Guide (first published 1977). He wrote several other books on film history.

The original Film Guide listed 8,000 English language films. With successive editions, foreign language and silent films were added, as well as new films. The history of the Guide, its predelictions, omissions and variations, you can read about at Halliwell was notoriously traditionalist in his tastes (the most recent film to which he awarded one of his coveted four stars was Bonnie and Clyde, from 1967), loathing most of the trends that were to characterise the cinema of the 1970s onwards. Halliwell revered the 30s and 40s, which of course just happened to be the cinema that he knew when growing up, and it is the values of the films from that so-called Golden Age of cinema that determine for Halliwell what cinema should be, and now no longer was.

The Halliwell's Film Guide that we find on the bookshelves now is a bizarre creature, because the greater part of it is still Halliwell's original writing, but the entries for more recent films and patently written by a different hand with diametrically opposed opinions and system of scoring. Films that Halliwell would have decried are now praised to the skies and older films that once he marked down have been revalued, sometimes with a peculiar mix of modern and traditional editors' comments. It makes for a very strange read, and again is the place to go if you want to see some of these anomalies analysed.

Cinema has moved on, and the new editors are right to produce something for the readership of today. Eventually, one assumes, they will over-write everything that Halliwell himself originally produced - if they ever have the time to view all those films again. So that's why one has to go back to the sixth edition and before to uncover the original work with its unadulterated authorial mind, and to discover its virtues.

Those virtues are of two kinds. One is the record of a view of cinema from someone with an intelligent knowledge of every aspect of its production, exhibition and social history who grew up in the period when traditional Hollywood was at its height. It is a sometimes curmudgeonly, sometimes nostalgic view, but there is value in the precision with which it sets out its opinions. Cinema was once the ugly upstart that supplanted the theatre and music hall and was representative of all that was vicious about the modern age. Wind forward a few decades, and it is the rosy home of steady virtues (social, technical, artistic) that is in its turn threatened by all that is new.

The second virtue - and that which appeals to me - is in the writing. Ernest Lindgren in his book The Art of the Film (another candidate for a neglected text) writes of the 'single action' or 'plot-theme' which characterises the well-constructed film. He says:

The film ... represents its action as taking place before us while we sit and watch it, and it requires to be viewed in a single sitting ... The story of the most successful kind of film ... will confine itself to the representation of a single action.

Lindgren then says that it is possible "to summarize this central action in the form of a brief statement" and proceeeds to give several examples of classic films whose essence can be boiled down to a line or two that describes the essential action. It is in the writing of the plot-theme of films that Leslie Halliwell achieves greatness. He is the plot summariser par excellence, but it is more than a hack boiling down a work of art to the barest point - it has a particular poetry of its own, and one which none of Halliwell's many imitators has come close to emulating. He reveals the film - one sees it, or recalls seeing it, or feels a great compulsion to go and see it, not because he has said all that there is to say about it but because what he says is a doorway to the film's discovery.

Some of Halliwell's plot summaries are deservedly famous: "Two students marry; she dies" (Love Story); "An egotistic Southern girl survives the Civil War but finally loses the only man she cares for" (Gone with the Wind). But there hundreds if not thousands of examples, which sum up the film with wit and haiku-like insight. Of course, the descriptions are complemented by further comments, where the author's opinions creep in, but it is the plot summaries that are so acute. See if you can identify these films from how he describes them:

  • An adventurer's life with the Arabs, told in flashbacks after his accidental death in the thirties.
  • A 12-year-old boy, unhappy at home, finds himself in a detention centre but finally escapes and keeps running.
  • An English housewife survives World War II.
  • A stuffy heiress, about to be married for the second time, turns human and returns gratefully to number one.
  • A count organizes a weekend shooting party which results in complex love intrigues among servants as well as masters.
  • In old Arizona, the proprietress of a gambling saloon stakes a claim to valuable land and incurs the enmity of a lady banker.
  • A beautiful girl is murdered ... or is she? A cynical detective investigates.
  • A mysterious stranger helps a family of homesteaders.
  • The path of true love is roughened by mistaken identities.

(Answers at the end of this post - and garlands and prizes to anyone who gets the last one)

Of course there is more to film than plot, and more to Halliwell than plot descriptions. It is his opinions that give the book life, and which ultimately send us to see the film or, having seen it, to turn to his option and either agree or argue with him. But in his plot-themes Halliwell shows what makes movies tick. It's like the opening scene in The Player, when the ideas for new film are being sold as one-liners, only there the intention is to boil down folly to its essence. Halliwell shows us, ultimately, how films work. That, along with astute if reactionary opinions that are of his age, make the original Film Guide well worth visiting, and not the door-stopping, muddled hybrid that you will find in the shops today.


Lawrence of Arabia, Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows), Mrs Miniver, The Philadelphia Story, La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), Johnny Guitar, Laura, Shane, Top Hat

04 May 2010

The film bookshelf


Sight & Sound has published a poll of the most useful and/or inspirational film books ever written. Not the best books ever, but those which have proven of the greatest value or which are most important to the fifty or so critics invited to take part. I was one of those invited to contribute, though I'm no film critic - but, heck, you don't turn down the chance to contribute to a Sight & Sound poll. It's a badge of honour.


The results are fascinating. The full list of titles is published in the June edition of the journal, while editor Nick James has written a thoughtful introduction, available online, alongside information on the top five titles. They turned out to be:

The list is very much a reflection of the background of most of those invited to take part. They are critics of a certain age, whose enthusiasm for cinema was lit in the 60s and 70s by Cahiers du Cinéma and auteurist cinema (Ford, Hitchcock, Hawks etc). As James points out, it was also an age when films were less readily available. Before videotape and DVD, one could go years before catching up on some classic titles, and the descriptions in such key texts told the reader what they really had to see one day, or else served as an aide-memoire for a film experienced once and unlikely to be readily available again. Apart from the above, some of the books cited by a number of the contributors include Robin Wood, Hitchcock's Films (1965), Peter Wollen, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (1969), Kevin Brownlow, The Parade's Gone By (1968), James Agee, Agee on Film (1948), and Stanley Cavell, A World Viewed (1971).

James seems to express some disappointment at the narrowness of some of the choice, bemoaning the neglect of documentary as a subject (represented by just a couple of choices) and wondering where classic titles are such as Halliwell's Film Guide (which must have been useful to so many of those canvassed), John Alton's Painting with Light (technical books are absent apart from Karel Reisz and Gavin Millar's venerable The Technique of Film Editing) and Carol J. Clover's Men, Women and Chainsaws.

However, there are some surprises among the parade of greats: Chris Darke wins some sort of prize for selecting Plato's The Republic (for its 'Myth of the Cave' whose tale of shadows on the cave wall fool an audience into thinking that they are reality, a favoured metaphor for cinema - and television); Sukhdev Sandhu picks a Channel 4 Guide to Francois Truffaut from 1984 as an example of a handy little booklet that could inspire someone new to the joys of world cinema. Particularly interesting are the novels that have been chose. David Thomson's Suspects is easily the most popular choice here, but others have gone for Theodor Roszak, Flicker, Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet, Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon.

The rest you will have to discover in the journal yourselves. But there's my choices, over which I agonised for some hours. Here they are:

The last of those was meant to be a bit of left-field choice, though I'm firmly believe that it is an historically important work that pointed out at the dawn of cinema that film wasn't just there to entertain but was there to instruct, inform and document. The others are an anthology of originals texts on silent cinema, the film reference book that I most admire and have made most use of, a critical analysis of a film studio that is brimful of social and political intelligence, and the most observant of all film review anthologies - to my mind at least.

Had I chosen nothing but those books which had been most use to me, then I might have gone from Halliwell's Film Guide (and Filmgoer's Companion), Brian Coe's The History of Movie Photography, Rachael Low's The History of British Film series, or the list to beat all lists, the Library of Congress Catalog: Motion Pictures 1912-1939 - the very last book one would ever choose to read cover to cover, but constantly useful, a monument to thorough cataloguing.

But were I to choose only books that inspired, then I could just as easily have gone from Antonia Lant's marvellous anthology on women and early film, Red Velvet Seat; Lisa Cartwright's intellectually exhilarating study of medicine and visual culture, Screening the Body; Douglas Gomery's Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States, which has created a new discipline of cinema audience studies; Karl Brown's delightfully evocative account of early Hollywood, Adventures with D.W. Griffith; Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence, which conjures up more wit in half a sentence than most film books can find in an entire chapter; Jacques Aumont's The Image, which is one of the few theoretical books that I thoroughly enjoy; or Brian Winston's Technologies of Seeing, which knows equally the how and why of what is offered to us on our screens large and small. Then, mindful of the complaint about documentaries being left out, why didn't I include Dai Vaughan's For Doumentary, as wise and insightful a selection of essays as you will find anywhere? Or Erik Barnouw's Documentary: A History of Non-Fiction Film, for being so consistently handy, or Jay Leyda's Film Begets Film, for covering a subject no-one else has thought to cover, the compilation film?

And so on and so on. I did feel, when scanning my bookshelves for this exercise, that the number of great film books was actually rather small. The number of titles ranging from the purely functional to the frankly dreadful (as reading experiences) is dispiritingly high. Finding the words to capture the experience of film is an elusive art. Film books are like poetry in translation - they follow the form but can never absolutely capture the spirit. The best they can do is to lead us back to the screen, or to conjure up a feeling that evokes for us the experience of having once viewed that film. So they have to inform, and inspire - which is precisely what the Sight & Sound poll asked its contributors to identify. Hopefully the list will inform and inspire others to read and explore for themselves.

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