LIBRARY - Reference(s)

F. M. Alexander 1949-50 [DVD]: Review by Anne Battye.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
This film footage of F. M. Alexander working in his flat at 16 Ashley Place, SW1, has been around since the fifties. It was made by Mr F. C. C. (Fred) Watts and his daughter Marion in 1949 and 1950. On this DVD there are two versions, the first about seven minutes and the second about twelve minutes long. Both have an almost identical commentary by Walter Carrington, delivered in a suitable reverential tone, but the second includes pauses where the viewer is exhorted to "see the lengtheining and widening." However, this holds up the rhythm, especially as Carrington's commentary does not always synchronise with the action. In general, though, the commentaries are matched nicely to the film. In the second version there is an unfortuante slip, where Carrington, filling in some background, says "in 1849 when Alexander was twenty-five years old", whereas the written commentary says 1984, which is correct. I wonder why this was not altered in the editing? Chapter 2 is a silent re-run of both the 8mm negative and the 16mm film, allowing the viewer to concentrate more on the visual impact without the distraction of the commentary.

The second part of the DVD contains footage, taken by Marjorie Barstow, of the students on Alexander's first training course in 1931-32. There are some interesting moments of seeing F. M., his brother A. R., his nephew Max and the students on the first training course working at Penhill (F. M.'s home in Kent) and Ashley Place. There are fascinating glimpses of the students working together, putting hands on each other in 'monkey', getting people in and out of chairs and handling objects such as wine glasses and champagne bottles - much as we did in the 1960s! The accompanying booklet identifies most of the participants. There is a too short sequene of Irene Tasker, Margaret Goldie and the pupils at the Little School practising walking and running. Much of the later footage is taken up by tennis parties and picnics at Penhill House, including swans, cows and A.R. and his dogs.

I am not sure for whom this DVD is intended - students, teachers, trainers or pupils? It would be of limited interest to the world outside the Alexander Technique, as it only describes the physical actions of F. M. moving people in and out of a chair, breathing and showing his ability to squat at the age of 80, without any indication of the mental and verbal input that allows us to learn and practise the Technique. Anyone hoping to understand the Technique using this video alone would be hard put to make sense of it. We can see what Alexander did, but there is no evidence of what he though when was doing it.

Mouritz and the F. M. Alexander Trust have done sterling work in preserving these films for the archive and putting them into an accessible format, although their quality is not brilliant. As teachers, we can disover something by simply watching the video again and again, not trying to copy what F. M. did, but endeavouring to understand the thinking behind his actions.

2011 © Anne Battye. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2011-2014. All rights reserved.