Dr. James Fox walks through Manhattan. All photos via BBC World News.
History buffs should look forward to a BBC World News mini-series on October 24th and 25, Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: The Tale of Three Cities, to learn about what art historian, Dr. James Fox, describes as New York’s most defining year: 1951. The series walks us through the story of three cities, in three exceptional years, whose artists, intellectuals, writers, and musicians set the world on a new course. In addition to New York, 1951, Dr. Fox focuses on Vienna, 1908 and Paris, 1928.
The series breaks down how New York reached its “Babylonian” era by 1951 through both its appeal to consumerism and to counter culture. The start of this transformative year, according to Fox, happened when the city was granted the rights to the United Nations Building. Placing the United Nations in Manhattan, which wasn’t even a United States capital, marked what a great power the city had become by the 1950s. While many European cities still struggled from World War II, New York rose as global city and confidence and affluence ripped through the country.
New York uniquely shaped the world of advertising and conformity, especially, as Dr. Fox discusses, with the successful “eyepatch ad” campaign David Ogilvy did for Hathaway shirts. But even as the city developed into its “Mad Men” persona, the downtown counter culture was also reaching its full potential. Fox discusses Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the Beat generation; Thelonious Monk and the rise of Bebop jazz; and of course, Jackson Pollock at his artistic peak. Composer David Arman describes how Greenwich Village was a place for individualist people to gather and be free and Thelonious Monk’s son, Junior, explains how the sophistication of the music provided an atmosphere for intellectuals of every type.
Dr. James Fox reenacts the life of author Jack Kerouac.
Moreover, during this year, actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando headed to New York’s The Actor’s Studio, where they were trained in the revolutionary style of “method acting” by legend Lee Strasberg. This raw, authentic style rebelled against the country’s conservatism. Yet, simultaneously, the boom in live-T.V. and sitcoms like I Love Lucy still subscribed to the country’s growing fascination with consumerism.
Dr. Fox uses exclusive interviews with people from the era; recreates epic moments in time; and takes us to the places where all this New York Magic happened. Be sure not to miss out October 24th and 25th on BBC World News.
For Paris, which airs on October 17th and 18th, Fox explores the confluence of rich, poor and artist culture that made the city the place to be in the 1920s in the years after WWI. The Vienna episode, airing October 10th and 11th looks at the year 1908, when Sigmund Freud reveals the Oedipus Complex, Gustav Klimt paints The Kiss, and Adolf Hilter arrives to town as a struggling artist.