Reviewed August 2014
Karyn Hinkle, Reader Services Librarian
Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture
Masterclasse is a group of video programs on luxury goods: fashion, fine and decorative arts, jewelry, restaurants, classical music, travel, cars, and watches. The videos are produced as TV series by Exero Films, an Australian production company, with series titles such as "City Chic," "Hunters and Collectors," "Kings of the Kitchen," "The Watchmen," and others. Collectively, all of Exero’s episodes are now being packaged and marketed for educational institutions as "Masterclasse."
Although each series presents a distinct topic, the Masterclasse episodes, all between twenty and thirty minutes long, generally follow the same format: an expert (such an art dealer, a musician, a chef, an executive in a luxury goods house) discusses his or her field inside their workplace (such as a gallery, a concert hall, a restaurant, or a factory and/or retail store), while electronic trance music by a DJ collaboration called Odessa plays in the background. Shots of the interviewee alternate with panning views of the venue and close-up looks at their products, similar to what one can see in corporate promotion videos, or on cable channels such as the Luxury Channel or the Food Network. They are filmed in cities worldwide, mainly in Europe, but also New York and Australia, and all interviews are conducted in English.
The Masterclasse episodes are made available for educational institutions to purchase either on DVD or in a password-protected online streaming option through Vimeo. The Masterclasse website lists all episodes available and also offers short previews of selected episodes along with a number of full episodes one can watch for free if he or she requests a temporary password from the company. I reviewed the trial episodes on my mobile devices and desktop and laptop computers, but have not seen the DVDs. Online, the videos are presented in standard definition rather than HD, and picture quality depends on the speed of one’s Internet connection and screen size, but the stability and ease of watching videos on Vimeo provides for a very straightforward viewing experience in any browser. Because they are on Vimeo, the Masterclasse videos would be very easy to incorporate into most any library setting, classroom learning management system, or institutional video services such as Kanopy.
The streaming option can be licensed for educational use in one-year, three-year, or five-year increments for an unlimited number of simultaneous users. The one-year price for any episode or series is the same as the DVD price for the same episode or series ($95 per twenty-to-thirty-minute episode; series prices vary in the low four-figures), and the three-year and five-year streaming licenses are two and three times the one-year price, respectively.
Having been produced for other markets, the Masterclasse videos are not explicitly academic or educational, and their tone hovers between the documentary and the promotional. For instance, episodes on cars and watches are branded as “mechanical design” in the Masterclasse setting, but they come from an existing series called "Ultimate Boy Toys," which is described as "Fast cars, complicated watches, bespoke tailoring, highest of hi-fi for big boys who need their big toys."
However, the interviews with practicing designers, chefs, gallerists, musicians, and others, while brief, are very contemporary, and not easy to find in libraries. I showed the series to a colleague who teaches history of design, and he was excited to see glimpses of factory tours and the live footage of craftspeople working in a real-life setting, which are also not easy to find. Thus, Masterclasse could appeal to those teaching fashion and design history as well as in applied fields such as marketing, culinary studies, and arts administration. Studio art and music students may find the recorded performances and episodes on new media art useful.