Sarah Sands: The great British blockbuster – big, bold and brilliant

Share
Related Topics

As I skipped to the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy last week, I experienced that first-day-of-the-sales feeling, excitement hardened by determination. Not only was I going to see one of my favourite painters, but he was everyone else's favourite. The world was converging in its taste, if not in its pronunciation. It was a blockbuster.

No matter that one had to sidle past some dreary drawings and endless depictions of peasants' bottoms. Or that Brian Sewell had observed that Van Gogh's accompanying letters were not quite as psychologically revealing as billed. The one that stuck in my mind was about the texture of a pencil that the artist had acquired. The point was that there were enough paintings of Provence to make your spirits waltz. Even the painting of the asylum looked gorgeous. How could someone so disturbed paint landscapes of such dazzling colour and joy? Crowds of us gathered round the self-portrait and the lovely boat at sea. Everyone lip-read the letters in case of references to ears. It was a truly satisfying exhibition.

If you mention blockbusters to heads of arts organisations they groan. A friend who ran an opera company used to hate the unspoken pressure upon him to stage La traviata. The current fashion is for blockbuster casting. Hamlet with Ben Whishaw. Hamlet with David Tennant. Hamlet with Jude Law. Judi Dench as Titania, perhaps followed by Helen Mirren as Titania and maybe Nicole Kidman as Titania. Big-name directors, big-name stars, big-name playwrights.

The argument against blockbusters is that they crush what is new and fragile. I would be sad to see the modest charm of the film An Education bulldozed by the expensive, blue-faced banality of Avatar at the Baftas. What of the delicate hopes of a debut novelist drowned out by the fanfare for a bestselling writer?

The culturally nutritious course is the punishment reward system of an event such as the Proms. If you dutifully make it through the post-20th-century section, you can have Chopin and Mozart. But a balanced diet is not as exciting as a blockbuster. My dream is of Barenboim's five Beethoven concertos at the Royal Festival Hall. Blockbuster casting, sponsored by Shell.

The sponsorship issue was always part of the agony of my old opera director friend. Verdi was produced by a beseeching coalition of opera wives, American sales and corporate sponsorship. Where there is a blockbuster exhibition there is usually a bank.

Our museums are centres of civilisation, and all the better when they are civilisations we have come across in Tintin books. The British Museum is a master of the blockbuster, giving us China's Terracotta Army, the blood and treasure of the Aztecs and the imperial might of Hadrian.

Size and clout are impressive. The 02 arena is a blockbuster venue – big names, big crowds, Beyoncé, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. It is a formula that eluded it in its previous incarnation as the Dome. If you want to find Britain's centre of intellectual gravity, it is a few notches away from the critics (A Prophet! Yuk!) but well above the lowest common denominator of reality TV. It is conservative and discerning and family minded.

The blockbuster West End show is War Horse. Obviously the First World War with horses is a sure-fire emotional combination, but the twist is that this is a puppet show. Don't patronise the public and don't underestimate the power of the past. And think big.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the London Evening Standard

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum