British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Film Review Shows


The Visions cinema series was produced for Channel 4 by British company Large Door.  The founder members of the company John Ellis, Keith Griffiths and Simon Hartog, first pitched their idea for this programme to the channel in July 1981 and produced a pilot episode in June 1982.   Prior to receiving the contract to produce Visions, Ellis, Hartog and Griffiths had each independently played an active role in Britain’s film production sector.  Hartog had directed and produced episodes of Panorama for the BBC and was a founder member of the London Film-Makers Co-op.  Griffiths been deputy head of the British Film Institute production board, where he produced experimental films such as Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey’s Riddles of the Sphinx (1977) and Chris Petit’s Radio On (1979).  Although also a member of the BFI Production Board, Ellis was employed on a full-time basis as a media academic at the University of Kent.  It can be argued that Ellis’ relationship with academia and Hartog and Griffiths’ industry experience were equally responsible for informing the content and tone of Visions.  The three series broadcast on Channel 4 between November 1982 and July 1985 adopt a cultural studies model of film analysis drawn from academic approaches that came to prominence in American and British universities during the 1970s.  Subjects such as a gender, sexuality and race were frequently discussed by the programme’s onscreen contributors, who analysed new releases and older films using these critical frameworks.

As a Press Pack database search reveals, while Visions was predominantly broadcast late on Wednesday evenings[4], single episodes appeared in a range of time slots with different start times throughout each series.  These varied from 9pm through to 11:30pm, with episodes commencing at varying increments between these two points.  It can be suggested that late-night scheduling allowed the programme to maintain a scholarly tone that may not have been acceptable in an earlier viewing slot.  Visions implicitly addressed an audience of cineastes, providing a context in which cultural critics, artists, filmmakers and academics could engage with film culture.  An episode broadcast on 10th November 1982 included a review of Peter Greenaway’s art film The Draughtsman’s Contract, presented by feminist author and critic Angela Carter.  Carter’s review reveals the freedom that Visions gave to its film critics, consisting of an emotive, stream-of-consciousness monologue that engages with the film’s aesthetic traits and thematic concerns.  The following excerpt gives a sense of Carter’s style as a reviewer:

‘[The Draughtsman’s Contract is] highly self-conscious; it makes few gestures towards naturalism; and, above all, it possesses a visual glamour of the most seductive kind…a luscious sensuality mostly to do with light, with the way light falls…with candlelight on flesh; With sunlight on brick; Most ravishing of all, the light that Turner painted, the light that irradiates the mists of mornings of high summer.  The whole film is, in a way, a tribute to the uncertain glories of English light, light of an Atlantic island, various, changeable, subtle…the light of pure romanticism…With which Peter Greenaway bathes a movie that is profoundly sardonic, bitterly funny and utterly without sentimentality.’

When contrasted with the more conventional film reviews of television presenters such as Barry Norman, this lyrical speech can be seen as a significant departure from the genre’s conventions.  Furthermore, in including feminist critics such as Carter in the programme, the creators of Visions opened up this area of cultural criticism to new voices.  Typically film review programmes that appeared on British television at this time were presented by men, reflecting the wider absence of women from senior creative roles in the film industry.  Although many of the personnel involved in the production of Visions were indeed male, regular interventions by feminist and lesbian critics encouraged viewers to engage with film in new ways.
em>Visions represented a significant, yet short-lived, innovation in British broadcasting.  It was both formally and conceptually experimental, combining elements of the film showcase and the review programme in a way that was previously unfamiliar to British audiences.  As the programme notes for 10th November 1982 put it: ‘This fortnightly series marks a radical departure from most other regular British TV programmes which have concentrated on Hollywood’. It can be argued that Visions was indicative of its time, both as a reaction against Barry Norman’s Film programme, and as a response to the new opportunities for experimentation offered by fledgling broadcaster Channel 4.

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