Sir Tom Courtenay’s memories of his bespectacled character in Doctor Zhivago leads a quirky new exhibition on glasses in film.
Hosted by the Society of the Spectacles, a creative research group founded by a Manchester School of Art academic that observes the cultural significance of eyewear in art and film, Strelnikov’s Glasses and Other Stories opens at HOME in Manchester on September 1st.
Twenty-four international artists, designers and filmmakers have been invited to produce work inspired by a pair of glasses in a film of their choice.
The creations will be displayed in a 27” x 40” format, the same size as the traditional film poster.
Robert Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at Manchester Metropolitan and founder of the Society of the Spectacles, displays a gentle and witty e-mail correspondence between himself and Sir Tom Courtenay enquiring about any recollections the latter had of the glasses he wore while playing Strelnikov in the 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago.
Courtenay has also written a letter to be read out at the opening of the exhibition.
The Society of the Spectacles has partnered with General Eyewear, a London company who specialise in making bespoke glasses for movies, including for Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Hamilton said: “The idea came to me while I was watching a new print of Doctor Zhivago at HOME in Manchester. Courtenay’s idealistic Antipov character has his little wire-rimmed glasses knocked off his face, only to re-emerge later in the film as the revolutionary general Strelnikov in thick steel-rimmed specs.
“It brought home to me just how much glasses define a character, even when played by the same actor in the same film.
“When I decided to get in touch with Sir Tom to see if he had any recollections of being given the glasses and how they influenced his performance, I could not believe that he responded to my e-mail within an hour.
“Though he confessed to remembering little about the moment he was handed the spectacles during the production of Doctor Zhivago, his heartfelt response very much inspired this show.”
Elsewhere in the exhibition, the role of glasses in the characterisation of women in film is a key theme.
Fellow Manchester School of Art artist – and curator of the show – Susan Platt examines how women’s glasses have evolved in film over 75 years. Sourcing glasses from General Eyewear’s archive, she takes the viewer from spinster aunt Miss Charlotte Vale (Now Voyager, Irving Rapper 1942) to LA gallery owner Susan Morrow (Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford 2016) via librarians, writers, artists, doctors, social outcasts and fashionistas.
Louise Adkins then reveals the detail of the transformation of Bette Davis as Miss Charlotte Vale from Now Voyager as she translates, through a detailed over-layered drawing, the audio description of the action and subtitled dialogue that accompanies Charlotte’s glasses being removed by Claude Rains as Dr Jacquith.
Strelnikov’s Glasses and Other Stories opens at HOME Manchester on 1 September, and runs until 29 October.