Arena Online: 'Bringing the past into the present into the future'

Thursday 24 October 2013, 17:29

Alex Jones, Arena Alex Jones, Arena Online Producer, Arena

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Hotel Arena

Jack Nicholson lights a cigarette and the first post of the Arena Gazette is published. It’s 1980 and Nicholson takes a long walk down a series of corridors strewn with camera equipment. He passes Stanley Kubrick, enters a bedroom, grabs an axe from the bed and works himself up into a frenzy. 33 years later in 2013, Stephen King is on BBC Breakfast talking to Will Gompertz about his recently published sequel to The Shining and how he disliked Kubrick’s interpretation of the original.

Hardly a day goes by without there being a story in the news that relates to a story from the Arena archive. On Friday 20th September it was Stephen King promoting his latest book, in the following weeks it has been the death of Carolyn Cassady, the privatisation of the Royal Mail, the Edward Snowden spy leaks and Alex Ferguson’s memoirs. For these news item there have been rare interviews and moments from the archive that provide a unique perspective to the story, such as interviews with Carolyn Cassady in 1988 on her love for both Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, Alex Ferguson in 1997 recalling the inspiration of his mentor Jock Stein, the film-makers from the Post Office Film Unit discussing in 1983 how they made their masterpiece The Night Mail and Kim Philby, former head of MI6, recounting in 1993 how he had recruited the author, Graham Greene, for the Secret Service.

The Arena archive, encompassing around 600 films, is a one-off record of the cultural life of the planet over the last 75 years. The Gazette is fed from this archive, bringing the past into the present into the future - that’s become our motto for Arena Online. The Gazette repositions the stories from their original context into today’s rolling news agenda.

Until recently it would have been fair to regard archive as primarily a record of past phenomena of use for historical research or the illustration of those phenomena. In this case it carried a halo of academe. The concomitant is to see archive as a ready source of nostalgia comfortable or uncomfortable, the provenance not only of the past but of those who live in it. Either view suggests images of piles of dusty, forgotten cans and tapes with the musty ambience of a bygone age.

But the notion of archive and our relation to it is changing rapidly. Anthony Wall, Arena series editor, outlined why in a document who wrote early on in Arena Online’s life:

With the multiplicity of contemporary media and its ever more various capacity not only to capture but to record, transmit and cross refer material, the opportunity is here to reinterpret the very meaning of ‘archive’ and put it at the centre of a new kind of creative endeavour.

There are virtually no people in the UK at least below the age of 50, who do not have a comprehensive experience of life recorded in moving word and image, ubiquitously available through the television. There is no-one in the UK who has not been exposed to that experience at least through radio and cinema.

The result is a sensibility without precedent in recorded human history. The possibility exists of making film, out of archive (in its broadest sense), that would provide an experience of time travel through one’s own life and times, and the lives and times of others.

With the ready availability of camera phones etc. on which anyone can record their lives it goes so far as to disrupt any supplier/viewer relationships. The distinction between the two is no longer a reliable index. It’s now feasible to go beyond Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, life on screen is now virtually a matter of course.

I believe the amalgamation of these propositions provides the ground framework for a new kind of creative endeavour in which archive will be the raw material. And is the term archive any longer adequate to describe what it has become?” 

Our most ambitious venture to date seeks to create a new virtual world constructed exclusively and uniquely from the Arena archive. Its ambition is to reimagine the characters and moments that have informed the cultures of the last century as residents in a virtual hotel. The Arena Hotel substitutes the conventional categories of artistic and cultural aesthetics - music, film, politics, literature etc. with the peculiar (and equally rigid) codes of the ‘hotel’ with its bars, dining facilities, spa complex, ballrooms and nightclubs. So William Burroughs finds himself in the tearoom alongside Ozzy Osbourne and the creators of Spitting Image, Fluck and Law. Anita Ekberg, Robert Crumb and Pavarotti, in their unique way, relax in the spa and the ballroom is filled with the ANC party of 1994, the George Formby Appreciation Society and the entire town of Luckenbach, Texas.

The experience is informed by graphic adventure games (Myst in particular) which enables each visitor’s experience to differ from one another depending on the floors and characters they come across. The ambition is to develop the Hotel with an even greater array of facilities and accommodate more guests and their stories. The result we hope will be to inform, educate and entertain in a virtual world. Above all we want it to be fun, so we invite you to log on, check in and enjoy the five star facilities.

Coming up we have a films featuring 50 years of the National Theatre, Spitting Image, Martin Scorsese on the New York Review Of Books and American Epic, a the 3 part film about how US roots music came to be recorded and changed the course of history.

The Arena Hotel is a resting place for rare individuals.

The Arena Team:


  • Anthony Wall – Series Editor
  • Alex Jones – Online producer
  • James Leeds – Software Developer
  • Issabelle Goodrich – Researcher
  • Andrew Wright – Archive Producer
  • Guro Eide – Production Manager



Alex Jones is Online Producer, Arena.


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