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Simon Schama's Power of Art

145 customer reviews

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(Jun 19, 2007)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Beautiful. Fascinating. Emotional. Art is all of the above. But only a few are powerful.

Explore the dramatic moments behind the creation of eight masterpieces of painting, sculpture and design.

Special Features:
Audio Commentaries with Simon Schama, Clare Beavan, David Belton & Andy Serkis
Interview with Simon Schama

Watching Simon Schama's Power of Art is like taking an Ivy League course in art appreciation, with the folksy but knowledgeable Schama as guide and interpreter. A collection of hour-long films on eight seminal artists and their groundbreaking works, which originally aired on British television, this boxed set is as entertaining as it is enlightening, with Schama doing for Western art what, say, Steve Irwin did for Australian natural history. Eight artists are featured--Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rothko--and each portrait of the artist weaves biography and historical context to help explain the true power of his works.

The segment on Van Gogh is, as expected, emotional, yet Schama convincingly portrays Van Gogh as not consumed by madness, but fighting off the episodes with painting. Van Gogh painted one of his most evocative works, Wheat Field With Crows, which even his brother, Theo, recognized was about to put his brother on the artistic map. Yet, as Schama points out, within weeks, Van Gogh had killed himself. "Now why would he want to do that?" Schama muses--and then proceeds to narrate the tormented tale of the answer. Along the way, the viewer gains new appreciation for Van Gogh's signature works, including his famous sunflowers. "Technically, these are still lives," Schama says, "but there's nothing still about them... the sunflowers [seem to be] organisms landing violently from a burning sun." If the reenactments of the artists' lives are a bit overdone, it's forgivable, since the cumulative effect, in an hour, is a new appreciation of the work and the man.

Extras include frank and very funny commentaries by Schama and his co-producer, and lots of behind-the-scenes dish on how certain scenes were achieved. The teeming French opera scene in the "David" episode, for instance, was cast using just 20 French extras and then the rest created by CGI--"the scene works better, really, than [the film] King Kong," Schama says with delight. --A.T. Hurley

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Simon Schama
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 19, 2007
  • Run Time: 400 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000NTPG84
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,774 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Simon Schama's Power of Art" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on July 20, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Everyone interested in Western art will WANT to own this disc...we are confronted with the art works that make our brains spin and our hearts leap out. Simon Schama begins his discussion with Caravaggio's "David and Goliath." Rather than depict the artist as the heroic figure, Caravaggio astounds us by portraying himself as the severed head of the monster, the enemy. The film technique used by the director is to explore the biography of the artist, earlier works that lead up to this one, and the cultural moment to understand WHY the artist sees himself in this light.

In the next disc, one of the artists examined is William Turner. I had always associated Turner with wonderful use of light, color, and the birth of English impressionism. But Simon Schama shows us the dark side of
Turner...artworks like a limp Death riding a Pale Horse. The key artwork we are to contemplate is a painting of a slave ship...a deeply disturbing work of an infamous scandal in British history where slaves were thrown overboard alive into the churning shark filled sea. What Schama explains is that Turner's mother had gone insane after losing her daughter and been transformed into a screaming hysteric. Only after this film did I start to notice screaming heads in Turner's sunsets, vapors, and white clouds. Without the historical reconstruction, I would never have understood this side of the painter's work.

In the last disc, we confront Picasso and his greatest (political) masterpiece, "Guernica." We are taken on a tour of Picasso's interior life and witness his change: He grows from seeking liberation for creative art into seeking liberation of all people from aggressive power and fascism.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Alex E. Pajares on July 21, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Schama in a recent presentation of this documentary. I first became famliar to his work through his book "The Power of Art." His documentary is an excellent companion to a really great book. When the documentary began to be shown on PBS, I knew I had to have a copy (eventually,I bought two copies).

The most important aspect of this documentary, in my opinion, is connected to the fact that Simon Schama is not all too concerned with styles or techniques but with historical context and its impact in the work of each artist he selected. Each work is presented as a reaction to the events of the time. Simon Schama also goes deep into the lives of each artist and provides us with a better understanding of their motivations and personal relationships. These artists become very human and for that reason very much like us. The combination of these factors result in the creation of amazing works of art that are a universal manifestations of human nature and emotion. It is because the message of each piece is so human, so universal, that the art becomes memorable. It is for this reason that these masterpieces continue to talk to us beyond the limitations of time. This is the real power of art!

As an art history teacher, I truly enjoyed Simon Schama's approach to art history. I tend to teach in very similar lines. For those who are not necessarily interested in art (find that hard to believe) this documentary would provide a great deal of information tnat is exciting and entertaining.
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94 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 3, 2007
Format: DVD
I was fortunate to be able to see the BBC (Region 2) version of this series and I found it very compelling and interesting. Simon does a very persuasive job of explaining how and why (he feels) these greats (Caravaggio, Bernini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso) standout in the annuals of art. A very easily accessible series for even the most uninitiated in the subject; highly recommended by this art novice. I only wish there were more episodes in the series!
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Beckwith on July 21, 2008
Format: DVD
No doubt many are wondering: what was that haunting counter-tenor aria floating through the David episode: Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus in G Minor, RV 608: IV. In fact, there are a number of exceptional musical works that make up the soundtrack of this series, and that you should have to wonder what they are without mention of them in the credits is annoying. Mr. Schama's and his producer's failure to list music credits for each of the shows in the Power of Art, brilliant though the series was, was a grotesque oversight and they ought to be read the riot act. How such smart people could make so egregious and stupid an error as overlooking the power of the music they obviously spent so much time and attention selecting is beyond me. Quite infuriating! Details like these matter. After all, Mr. Schama has made a career looking at the details. He should know better.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ray TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 14, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Schama's latest foray into the world of on-screen documentary is also his latest smash hit. Although fundamentally different than his earlier documentary ("The History of Britain"), this latest of his entries into the genre is another solid performer, destined to find its way onto the list of "best documentaries ever made."

For this series, Schama has specially selected eight key artists to make his underlying point that art is indeed powerful, and all one need do is examine some of these personages and their key works to be convinced of just that point. Schama easily makes his case, but takes us on a riveting eight-hour journey from Caravaggio to Rothko in doing so. Our trip leads us to meet each of the artists (Caravaggio, Bernini, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Rothko), peer into the oftentimes emotion-charged lives in which they practiced their art, and survey of some of the major accomplishments of each, all flouted across the screen in high-resolution digital beauty. And yet, this is not really Schama's point at all: the point which he wants us to understand, to believe, to accept, to embrace, is that art can be powerful, often IS powerful, and that these eight people served as spectacular conduits of that power into their created works.

And so, for each of our eight personal witnesses called to the stand to defend Schama's thesis, we hear an often tormented roar of testimony, each of them having a unique story to tell in how art was powerful to them, and how that power impacted their and succeeding generations. Sometimes the power is, in Schama's words, a "lie" (for example, "Death of Marat" by David), and sometimes it is the power of guilt and redemption (Caravaggio's "David with the head of Goliath").
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Simon Schama's Power of Art - David
This is monterverdi's lamento Della ninfa (sorry this in the Bernini episode) it is nisi dominus (cum dederit) by vivaldi in the david episode. Also the opening music in the David episode is the masonic funeral music by Mozart. I love this episode!!!
Aug 13, 2011 by Chris Ke Lin |  See all 3 posts
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