I'll be posting more once I've had a chance to re-watch it and take notes, but here are some first impressions.
(1) while there are some interesting bits, anyone coming to this with great expectations after listening to the excellent BBC Radio half-hour interview w. Denis Gueroult will be sorely disappointed. In that case, the interviewer had clearly done his homework; he came to Tolkien with specific questions to ask, and made follow-ups to make sure he got answers, even if they were often obviously not the answers he'd expected. By far Tolkien's best interview.
(2) here, the documentarians seem to have shown up at Tolkien's doorstep and, finding him a thoughtful, rather shy and self-effacing man, not at all the bon-homme self-promoter some authors are, seem to have been rather at a loss what to do. So their back-up plan turns out to have been to make him wear a big furry hat and go out to watch some fireworks. Other footage shows him wandering around various college grounds and gardens, murmuring inaudibly about the trees and various other topics. They fill the rest of the half-hour with students and other people expounding upon what they like or despise about Tolkien's works.
(3) far too much of it is their attempt to coyly depict something of 'the Tolkien phenomenon'. Thus they ask one Oxford student to summarize the plot of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. After a minute or so, they cut away, then come back to her some time later, then cut away again, over and over throughout the half-hour. Their last time is particularly cruel, since they show a bit of someone talking about how fans of the book will drone on and one about it if given the chance, then immediately cut away to her, then cut away yet again.
(4) the final shot is surreal, starting with a shot of Tolkien on a wall (the old city wall? one of the college gardens?) and then panning out into the far distance -- apparently it was shot from a helicopter over Oxford.
(5) Tolkien's favorite part of the whole proceedings was clearly the part where they asked him about food (given the hobbits' enthusiasm for the subject), then whether he liked to drink (he obliged by happily demonstrating that he did indeed like beer) and smoke (the most animated his face ever got was during the lighting of his pipe and happily filling the air with smoke).
(6) we shd all be grateful to have this material -- it's wonderful that they got some live-action film of Tolkien more or less in his element, however modest its achievements as an interview or lacking it is as a documentary. We'd gladly have a few pages of original manuscript from one of Shakespeare's plays, even if it was one of the real stinkers like TITUS ANDRONICUS or TIMON OF ATHENS. So here: we'd all love to have some well-informed, well-intentioned interviewer sit down for half an hour's lively discussion with Tolkien. But we have this instead. So, I'm grateful for what we do have.
Many thanks to both Jessica (who's actually in it, twice) and Charles for drawing it to my attention. Now if the BBC would only sell copies . . .
As for the content of the thing, that's a subject for another post.