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Vision of William Blake, The (1958)


Main image of Vision of William Blake, The (1958)
35mm, colour, 29 mins
DirectorGuy Brenton
Production CompanyMorse Films
ProducerThe Blake Film Trust
ScriptGuy Brenton
PhotographyFrank Kingston
 Alex Pearce
 Kit West
MusicRalph Vaughan Williams

Poems and narration read by: Bernard Miles, Robert Speaight

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The artistic and spiritual vision of William Blake as expressed through his books and illustrations.

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Guy Brenton's films are all about people on the margins in one way or another and he saw himself as a person apart from the bulk of society. This may be what drew him to the visionary poet and artist William Blake, whose deeply held spiritual beliefs were also very much at odds with his own contemporary society. Both men were drawn to the idea returning to a lost state of Innocence. Brenton's experimental film The Vision of William Blake (1958) was funded by the BFI Experimental Film Fund and shown at the Academy Cinema in London.

An anonymous reviewer in The Times was impressed by the match between Blake's poetry and Brenton's filmmaking style:

"Blake's flamelike bodies, writhing, strenuous, ecstatic, stream across the screen with a sense of movement beautifully liberated by the camera's ability to prowl about a picture and detail after detail fastened upon in the terrifying enlargement of close-up remains obstinately bitten into the memory. What they all mean within the detailed system of the artist-poet's metaphysical symbolism is more problematical. Mr Brenton rightly avoids anything but the most generalised interpretation."

Brenton keeps his focus on the work by favouring extensive camera pans across Blake's paintings over the more conventional use of expert talking heads. The soundtrack consists chiefly of Blake's verse set to music by Vaughan Williams.

Brenton's interests were diverse - he was a film critic, theatre director and actor, a scholar of anthropology and psychology as well as a television director and producer, and a documentary filmmaker. In the 1960s he left the UK to travel, in an attempt "to set in perspective the paradox of my own culture." This resulted in a book, The Uses of Extremity: An inquiry into man's malfunction and discontent (1974), the title of which sums up Brenton's philosophy of life. Though he was unsatisfied with many aspects of his life and was unable to build for himself an enduring career as a filmmaker, he made some remarkably vivid, life-affirming films, which illuminate both the harshness and the wonder of life.

Ros Cranston

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Video Clips
Complete film (27:06)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Brenton, Guy (1927-94)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
Vaughan Williams, Ralph (1872-1958)