The eminent art historian Sir Kenneth Clark was commissioned to write and present an epic examination of Western European culture, defining what he considered to be the crucial phases of its development. Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Clark would be more than two years in the making, with filming in over 100 locations across 13 countries. The lavish series was hailed as a masterpiece when it was first transmitted in 1969.
Civilisation, A Personal View by Lord Clark, may be the definitive documentary series of the past 50 years. Aired in 1969, this ambitious British undertaking which spanned an "80,000 mile journey visiting 13 countries, 117 locations, 18 libraries, and 118 museums," not only reconfigured the public view of documentary style, but also cemented BBC Two and its new Controller, David Attenborough, in history. In watching this thirteen-episode series, one clearly sees how Attenborough, as well as narrator Kenneth Clark, pioneered the direct-gaze speaking style of the narrator along with the concept of placing the narrator in the setting he refers to. In episode one, The Skin of Our Teeth, Clark stands in front of Notre Dame to question first, if civilization worth preserving, and secondly, what the difference between art and culture is. Heavy. In subsequent episodes, cultural history is viewed through an art historical lens. Especially wonderful is The Worship of Nature, discussing 18th century England's obsession with landscape painting in relation to religious beliefs of the period. Deep philosophy colors each 50-minute segment. This DVD set includes an interview with Attenborough. Undeniably educational, Civilisation feels eternally significant, and improves with repeated viewing. --Trinie Dalton