All entries for April 2008

April 30, 2008

British Crime Films

British Crime Films 


Brighton Rock 1

Poster of the Boulting Brothers Brighton Rock from the prewar novel by Graham Greene

Chibnall and Murphy (1999) note that whilst in other cinematic cultures such as the USA, Japan and France there has been a lot of discussion about the crime genre and its relation to the respective national cinemas this has not happened in Britain. It has been estimated that approximately 26% (just over a quarter) of British films released between 1930 -1983 can be classified as crime films. Of course many more have been released since. They argue convincingly that there is a critical lacuna or gap between production and audience and the critical establishment.

Chibnall and Murphy argue that many writers on film in the 1940s who pursued the notion of a ‘quality’ British cinema:

largely dismissed indigenous attempts at making crime films as both imitative of American originals and in poor taste. Their views reinforced an ideology of censorship that approached any sordid subject matter with suspicion and viewed an emphasis on criminality as essentially un-British.’ (Chibnall and Murphy, 1999: 1).

Chibnall and Murphy note that this critical attitude extended to an overt political attitude coming from the future Prime Minister Harold Wilson who as President of the Board of Trade in 1948 condemned gangster films and wanted the industry to promote ‘more films which genuinely show our way of life’. Wilson’s attitude is unsurprising as the post-war Labour Government of the time was concerned with reconstruction not just physically but with promoting morale linked to maintaining a post-war consensus built around the welfare state and meritocracy. Representations of criminals which could be seen as positive in any sense or as representations of a social reality that the government was desperately trying to eradicate were not to be encouraged. Breaking of rationing could be seen as undermining the Government’s attempts to stabilise the post-war economy. Furthermore, a positive representation of Britain at a time when overseas capital was desperately needed to help with post-war reconstruction was a diplomatic requirement. For further details on the parlous state of the British economy of the time one can refer to the rather polemical thesis promoted by Corelli Barnett (1986 /1995) of Britain in dire decline or the more optimistic but critical Hennessey (1992)

Alongside this more repressive outlook from the government, various forms of critical orthodoxy effectively conspired to void the crime film as an area of academic and critical interest. The supposed 'naturalism' of the crime film received little sympathy from Marxist criticism as the representations of an underclass that was anti working class in terms of social solidarity promoting selfish, egotistical forms of adventurism. Liberal and conservative critics were also complicit in marginalising the genre. Chibnall and Murphy highlight the position of Jeffrey Richards who they categorise as a ‘sentimental student of British identity’. Richards who has a long-time reputation as a British film historian sees the crime drama as source of concern as ‘there has come to be greater interest in , and sympathy with , criminals than victims’ (Richards cited Chibnall and Murphy p2). Feminist critiques of the crime film have largely considered these films to be strongly patriarchal celebrating forms of unreconstructed masculinity. Paul Dave (2006) notes that recent crime films such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch combine: excremental vision of the city and nostalgic images of 'unreconstructed' forms of working-class masculinity found in Guy Ritchie's films fits closely with Stallabrass's account of the urban pastoral in contemporary Britart'. (Dave 2006 p 12)

Whilst there is much to sympathise with in some of the above positions it is still necessary to actively critique rather than be dismissive of powerful cultural discourses within society.

In their 1999 edited study of crime films Chibnall and Murphy have chosen to focus upon a specific sub-genre of what they describe as ‘underworld’ films which they note are outnumbered by murder mysteries and espionage thrillers. In general they note that thematically these films have not followed the themes of US underworld films. They are less about the rise and fall of a gangster, there are few films about police infiltration into gangs and police corruption tends to be downplayed. There is more about the gang bosses with empires spiralling out of control, and revenger style films which focus less upon the avenger’s character than upon the moralistic aspects of rough justice. There are few films which cover actual robberies with the best known ones such as The Italian Job (1969) Collinson being strongly comic in orientation. A few focus upon the tough criminal hero who often are not made out to be so bad after all.

Brighton Rock 3

Richard Attenborough as 'Pinkie' in Brighton Rock

‘Spiv movies’ of the 1940s epitomised by Brighton Rock (1947) are focused around doomed figures. Whilst films like this can be thought of alongside more internationalised ones such as The Third Man (1949) and can be seen as having expressionist or noirish tendencies thematically they are more complex in terms of their female characters who are less the femme fatale stereotype playing the temptress than as victims and helpers although Chibnall and Murphy comment that it is the hero’s weakness and naiveté which leads them into trouble. But weakness and naiveté are also a hallmark of the doomed anti heroes that people those films constructed as classic films noir. By comparison the difference in the form of masculinity represented in The Third Man is more of a clear moral stance  with Holly torn between bonds of friendship and masculine bonding and the need to make a choice to the greater but more abstract needs of citizenship and reconstruction in a war-torn Europe.

The 1940s Spiv Cycle

Post-war Britain was a country of rationing and shortages with a strong black market which had emerged during the war. It was a market which was controlled by those dubbed as ‘spivs’. This had a paradoxical effect of shifting the margins of criminality. Many, otherwise ‘respectable’, people would bend the regulations to satisfy short-term desires colluding with illegal subcultures yet would not count themselves as criminals in much the same way as there are currently thriving micro markets for cigarettes and lager brought in Calais superstores for ‘personal consumption’.

Dancing With Crime Pressbook poster

Films such as Dancing With Crime (Carstairs 1947) with Richard Attenborough as its ex-soldier taxi-driving protagonist deals explicitly with the post-war transition to civilian life. An ex-military mate of Attenborough’s tries to take a ‘short-cut’ to societal success becoming mixed up in the black market and being double crossed and shot. Attenborough gets the blame and spends the rest of the film clearing himself. The handling of the content is more graphic than pre-war films with more brutal scenes emerging. In this film the criminals aren’t specifically identified by an iconography of ‘spivishness’ unlike later films in the cycle such as Noose (1948). In this film journalists finding evidence of vice in the sports world are threatened by the criminals. As an ex commando Farr the sportswriter mobilises old comrades in arms to overcome the threat, with the police mopping up. Whilst Pulleine finds this a ‘frankly incredible subplot’, this very much mirrors a theme present in the American film noir by Fritz Lang The Big Heat. Here too, social solidarity cuts across class to defend the values fought for by active participants in the war. The film can thus be seen as supportive of the "what we are fighting for" theme central to wartime propaganda films. Visually Noose is innovative with a sense of disequilibrium maintained aesthetically through the use of inverted reflections in puddles, cocktail cabinets and so forth. At the end of the film the mirrors in the criminal leader’s office are broken and the world takes on a ‘normal’ perspective again as its narrative resolution.

Extract from YouTube of Alberto Cavalcanti's They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive (1947), for Pulleine is ‘British cinema’s most elaborate, as well as most expressionistic, study of post-war malaise’. The aesthetic approach is strongly expressionistic. The action takes place largely at night and the narrative resolution is a little ambivalent with the innocent Clem (Trevor Howard) who has been pursued by both police and criminals being condemned by the dying breath of Narcy a criminal. There is hope that justice will be done but a policeman who is reasonably sympathetic to Clem comments that the process of justice will take a long time to complete with many forms. A sideswipe at a rapidly bureaucratising post-war society perhaps?

The Seventies Closure on Peace and Love: Get Carter

Get Carter 3

Michael Caine starred in Hodges 'Gangster Heavy' Get Carter (1971)

The late sixties and early seventies saw a cinematic reaction to the swinging sixties era of peace and love. In the US Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver saw differing reactions to sexual commodification / sexual liberation and Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange was soon withdrawn as it was seen as encouraging mindless violence. Get Carter (1971 Mike Hodges) was more of a revenge tragedy and unlike the Dirty Harry film which spawned sequels celebrating a cop able to administer ‘rough justice’ in the face of failure by the state a precursor to ‘zero tolerance’, arguably Get Carter can be read as a meditation on what were becoming at the time anachronistic forms of masculinity.

1971 saw the release of Get Carter starring Michael Caine who had risen rapidly in the 1960s as a working class recalcitrant hero represented as an anti-Bond hero in the character Harry Palmer from adaptations of Len Deighton novels. Later he was a comedic criminal in The Italian Job following on from his comic 1960s a-moralism in Alfie. Gilbey reviewing Hodges most recent film describes Get Carter as ‘one of the most purely miserable experiences in English language cinema'. Murphy notes that the film was produced by Michael Klinger a man who had entered the entertainment business running strip-clubs in Soho. His production company had also been responsible for Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), and Cul de Sac (1966) alongside some typical exploitation films. Klinger had decided to exploit the recent interest in English gangsterism stemming from the trials of the Richardson and Kray gangs in the hard-hitting realist style and had bought the rights to Ted Lewis’ pulp fiction novel Jack’s Return Home. Hodges adapted this for Get Carter.

Hodges persuaded Klinger to cast John Osborne (of Look Back in Anger fame) for the part of Kinnear whilst Klinger was keen to cast Michael Caine building on his developing star status. The choice of Newcastle and the North-East as a location combined a resonance with the recently exposed corruption of the T-Dan Smith era with a backdrop which was still in a phase of transition between modernist conformity in its planning with older urban spaces. Hodges at an NFT discussion of Get Carter noted that he had come from a World in Action documentary TV background. Investigating Newcastle as a potential location he:

...came across this story of the murder of a man outside of a nightclub called ‘La Dolce Vita...It was remarkable how far that sort of thing went on in reality’ (Hodges in Chibnall and Murphy, 1999 : p 119).

Critical reception of the film in Britain was often centered around the plot with Elsaesser for example, attacking British films in general as ‘seeking realism on the level of location and atmosphere’ whilst ‘ exploiting a social milieu simply for its spurious exoticism’. (Cited Murphy, 1999: p 128). The plot was seen by many as incomprehensible to mechanical. Other criticisms centred upon the violence. As far as the violence went most of the worst scenes were actually off-screen. It is about a sense of implacable violence which will stop at nothing until the end is achieved. Murphy describes Caine’s acting as central to achieving this ambience His nuanced realist acting is central to the film’s achievement in combining the mythological and the mundane’. (Murphy, 1999: p 129).

The plot is convoluted but linear eschewing flashbacks and sub-plots. Sub-plots usually function to give psychological depth to a main character whilst affording an opportunity to explore themes. Carter though is incapable of forming relationships, an old mate and someone who helps him is sacrificed and although Carter has three sexual relationships within the film none reach any emotional level, rather the characters can be seen as being subordinated to the needs of the plot. Elsaesser describes the film as a protracted sado-masochistic fantasy’ and Murphy notes that the film is an uncomfortable reminder that nostalgia for unacceptable pre-feminist representations of women accounts for ‘Get Carter’s current popularity...’ (Murphy, 1999: p 131).

As a Revenge-tragedy it is clear that Carter must die once revenge is exacted and indeed the ethos of Carter throughout the film is less concerned with his own survival per se than achieving his end. Here it is interesting to pursue the construction of a sense of 'family honour' which persuades men to perform these acts of vengeance. In his essay on Get Carter Murphy draws upon an extract from Francis Bacon (the philosopher):

Revenge is a kind of Wild Justice, which the more Man’s Nature runs to the more ought Law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the Law, but the Revenge of that wrong, putteth the Law out of office.

Bacon’s analysis points to the establishing of Enlightenment notions of the State and the responsibilities and rights of the citizen within it at least in principle. Whilst some Marxist analyses of the state see it as little more than an institution dedicated to the protection of capitalism, a state which depends upon notions of citizenship with responsibility also requires reason as a fundamental feature of both state and citizen. Those who position themselves outside of the law as in the case of Carter are unable to access any benefits of the state when it is needed. Older more tribal responses based upon notions of blood and honour are features of pre-Enlightenment societies and are usually based upon intensely patriarchal ideologies. Perhaps Carter’s tragedy is less that he is doomed to be killed than that he caught up in criminal system which at one point impinges on his own status when his niece is involved in pornography. Yet his own income and his sexuality are anyway constructed by commodified sex. From the perspective of narrative resolution this doom laden film imparts a sense of the implacability of repetition. The unknown contract killer of Carter is only another Carter character after all.

Perhaps what is most disturbing about this film is that in retrospect it is less a film about a dying breed of gangsters as the world continues to modernise but a harbinger of a reassertion of the more unacceptable and retrograde constructions of masculinity which have surfaced since the turn to Thatcherism during the 1980s and the subsequent globalization of the market.

Get Carter has achieved cult status amongst the readers of Loaded the ‘lad mag’ representing a current crisis in masculinity and in Men Only has received ‘5 Hammers’ for ‘hardness’. These are the sort of magazines which have flourished under post-modern consumerism contributing to a recuperation in the cultural sphere of gains made by third wave feminism. The collapse of the Soviet system afforded new opportunities for criminality globally much of which was related to sexual commodification and the growth of criminal gangs to run the operations. At the same time the growth of cheap global tourism has allowed new sex capitals of the world to develop only a few hours flying time away.

A recent Radio 3 interview with Hodges discussed the issues of masculinity in which Hodges discussed his time in national service and the fact that he is a small man. Much of the representation of masculinity of the film was not a celebration of violence but rather a social-realist mode of representation of constructions of working-class masculinity at the time. Research on gang-land Newcastle of the early 1970s had revealed this side of life. It wasn’t according to Hodges conceived of as any sort of celebration. Arguably the recuperation of Get Carter by the readership of Loaded is a reading ‘against the grain’ of the film however unlike most readings against the grain which are seeking a perceived progressiveness to a text Get Carter has found a retrograde readership. Arguably as a well made thriller Get Carter transcends the genre to act as a critique of regressive masculinity with its refusal to accept the norms of the enlightenment project.

British cinema has so far largely failed to explore issues of revenge and masculine constructions of honour in relation to British Asian society with the partial exception of Gurinder Chadha’s Bahji on the Beach. Yet revenge and or patriarchal control is a serious issue within these social groupings which operate on feudalistic relationships rather than enlightenment ones, it is not just the traditional gangster society. 

The 1980s Underworld Allegories of Globalisation

The changing nature of genre cinema in Britain as TV continued to grow and cinema audiences continued to decline, tended to weed out the worst of the practitioners. Cultural space was opened up in which genre codings were eroding or mutated into new hybrid forms. A little strangely the underworld crossed over with the world of ‘art’ cinema. Some of the best known British underworld oriented cinema of this period represents a range of ideological conflicts as they emerging in Britain during the decade. The Long Good Friday (1979-81) was not only prescient about the rise of Thatcher / Reagan marketisation but represented the heady mix of competing discourses of the moment. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) emulated this mix of ideological confusions, the leaky edges of criminality and legal businesses interlaced with emergent sexual and ethnic identities which are simultaneously overlapping and contradictory. Mona Lisa (1986) explored the rapidly changing 1980s through the eyes of a minor gang member recently released from jail having played the fall guy which makes him an honourable crook.

Mona Lisa 1

Bob Hoskins in Mona Lisa

Changing opportunities within the deregulated marketplace have also changed the nature of the criminal operations fordist style payroll robberies are replaced by networked sexual commodification which constantly weaves in and out of legality but in a strongly hierarchical way. Older white male heterosexual monogamous desire is represented as outmoded as the notion of ‘honour amongst thieves’. It can be read as a post-modern’ representation of the conflicting mores and social realities of the Victorian era. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) promoted high aesthetic values of the art film which cocked a snook at the Thatcherite nouveau riche besotted with power and imagined status yet lacking the cultural capital to carry it well, leading ultimately to downfall.

The Long Good Friday (1980):  Case Study

The Long Good Friday was the first of the underworld films to really register the new era of deregulated market economics and the impact that this was likely to have. The film explored the strange bedfellows of global criminal capital always on the look out for rich opportunities which can also legitimise and consolidate its gains set against parodies of naive and outmoded British patriotism, set against a ruthless ideologically motivated enemy , the IRA, itself a hangover from an imperial past, contemptuous of a bourgeois ideology which for them creates an artificial divide between politics and criminality in which the ends justify the means. Shand the gang leader played by Bob Hoskins displayed a lack of politics in terms of recognition of nationalist ideologies. The way in which the IRA operates leads to his Dunkirk spirit evoked early in the film when he was laying out his dreams to the Mafia team he was hoping would bankroll him.

The Long Good Friday

Bob Hoskins in the Long Good Friday

Unlike the period of the Second World War the power of American capital runs to safer pastures when the going gets tough. Criminal capital like real capital prefers to apply risk reduction strategies to its investments. The 1980s is the moment of hot money circulating the world through legitimate and illegitimate enterprises seeking low risk high return opportunities. Like Britain Hoskins hasn’t fully recognised his place in the world order. Betrayed internally Hoskins’ refusal to negotiate with a more powerful enemy once he established who the enemy is and why they have taken vengeance upon his organisation leads to his downfall.

All the participants are seen as cruel and ruthless. Hoskins has intimidated and corrupted the local police as well as local politicians. It is his connections to the corrupt local politicians that is of real interest to the international Mafia. This film clearly shows that ‘the underworld’ and the world of enlightenment democracy and progress don’t run in parallel along separate lines of development but constantly interweave between, the world of politics, finance, desire, greed and ideology. It has been pointed out that the representation of the IRA in this film chimed with a British government led discourse that branded the IRA as gangster organisation undermining the rule of law and becoming a self-serving group of criminals living off the proceeds of protectionism, drug-dealing and other criminal activities. Hill has argued that the film reproduces a stereotype of IRA violence which seems largely unintelligible. Certainly it is the case that on mainland Britain to most of the populus the Northern Irish situation was made unintelligible through a combination of weak reporting and a political military consensus which saw the IRA as the main enemy rather than the terrorism and political violence embedded within the Loyalist supremacy.

The worm is turning as the understudy of the gangster hierarchy tries to get a bit too familiar with the gangster's 'moll' played by Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday (1980)

In one sense The Long Good Friday could be read as a need to understand the enemy better. Until this process is achieved other plans for the future would always be exposed to destruction. At the same time the film could also be read as representing a need for a more open, less corrupt and more consensual state. When the state loses its way there are pickings to be had but the competing forces of chaos and anarchy could make no-one a winner. Originally made in 1979 although released in 1981 the film could be seen as an allegory of Britain which seemed directionless torn between recursive and recidivist quasi-political violence, week instruments of governance and a land of opportunity for quasi-gangster capital. That the London Docklands project came to fruition through state planning overriding local interests is indicative of the need for even quasi gangsterism to operate within the embrace of state which offers stability.

The generic gangster aspects of Long Good Friday are redolent of the violence and brutality of Get Carter (1971) released at the beginning of the decade. Gangster Number 1 made at the end of the nineties also emulates this gangland violence. These are films which have become cult ‘movies’ and have a strong appeal to an unreconstructed form of misogynism although in each of these films the narrative resolution ends in the death of the main protagonist and in that sense an unreconstructed machismo based in cultures of violence, brutality and betrayal are seen as self-destructive. Rather than being in some way ‘tragic’ in the sense that an essentially good character but as with all people having weaknesses, falls due to some combination of fate or contrivance by those seeking to bring about a downfall.

Gangsterism in British Cinema of the 1990s and early 2000’s

Steve Chibnall (2000) in a recent overview of the British gangster film suggests that the end of the decade and the beginning of first decade of the millennium argues that the British Gangster genre can be seen ‘...British cinema’s most significant cycle of films since the New Wave of the 1960s. ’ (Chibnall, 2000: p 289). This is a strong claim does the reality match up or is this an academic hyping his favourite cinematic object of study?

Chibnall’s enthusiasm for his subject evokes a piece of writing more redolent of a film critic writing about the French Nouvelle Vague who has just seen A bout de souffle (1960) for the first time:

The intertextual referencing, disorienting editing, dynamic cinematography fractured and elliptical storytelling and sardonic and amoral sensibility of postmodern film style is everywhere on display. (Chibnall, 2000: p 289).

Chibnall provides these examples of film form to note that Britain is not isolated from the aesthetic and narrative trends of international cinema. One thinks here of the Tarantino recycling of the early ideas of Godard but as with the shift from Godard’s representations of the modern to Tarantino’s merely humorous pastiche which takes the viewer nowhere, it is necessary to contextualise the British gangster movie within the context of he changing nature of crime itself. Whilst Brighton Rock, Get Carter and The Long Good Friday all seminal examples of the British genre owed much of their content and mise en scene to aspects of British social reality at the times of their making, what Chibnall sees as ‘Gangster Light’ and ‘Gangster Heavy’ is perhaps better seen as a form of masculinised nostalgia a ‘laddish’ heritage cycle. Palinowski’s Last Resort and Frear’s Dirty Pretty Things give the viewer better insights into the types of crime conducted by minor opportunists who can also occasionally connect with the criminal networks to which Castells refers when he discuss the rise of globalised criminal networks in his series on the informational society.

Chibnall also argues that these films can be seen as containing a regressive notion of Britishness, a conclusion with which it is hard to disagree for the white heterosexual urban lower-class ‘Englishman’ is foregrounded in combination with the current fashions of film aesthetics and form:

‘a distinctive national cinema is still identifiable in the way international influences are applied to texts that are decidedly British in their subject matter. But in contrast to the determined efforts of many indigenous films of the last twenty years to present an inclusive, multi-ethnic portrait of modern Britishness, the gangster cycle indicates a retrenchment and narrowing of view.’ (Chibnall, 2000: p 289).

Chibnall also argues rather more contentiously that these films are representative of the tradition of popular film making in Britain providing a balance between social realism and the needs of melodramatic narrative. It is at this point where it is important to keep a handle upon what counts as social realism. Social realism has traditionally in Britain been associated with progressive political positions, sometimes the form has been a little patronising or representing the working class in a heroic mould as in the pre- Second World War documentaries. Social realism has also been criticised by feminist critics who have suggested that the critical establishment itself is patriarchal by devoting more attention to these sort of films  and ignoring genres such as melodramas targetted at a a female audience.

Social realism of the 1950s in the form of the social problem film dealt more critically with its subjects whilst nevertheless exploring the possibilities of social reform, whilst the social realism of the British New Wave shifted the parameters of what was ‘real’ within Britain helping to legitimise a whole class of pot-war grammar school ‘wannabees’. As pointed out above The Long Good Friday functioned to note the changing nature of criminality at a global level, and the later 80s Mona Lisa picks up on the changing nature of gender identities mediating these concerns of cosmopolitan 1980s London through the genre.

Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa (1986) 

The decade’s first contribution to the genre The Krays can be seen as an alternative heritage nostalgia film hallowing a reference back to London’s ‘golden’ 1960s in an anti-heroic mould. As social realism it was at least a biopic based upon a social reality long superseded by the machinations of globalization. It seems as though the ultra-macho films such as Gangster No 1 and others modelling themselves on Get Carter are targeted at a respectable sized niche market of youngish men into the laddish culture espoused by lifestyle magazines such as Loaded. The films have a clear but fixed market, can access the multiplex system of distribution and can make a fairly predictable profit.

Gangster Light’

Chibnall has identified two primary modes of British gangster film within the generic cycle. Firstly there is ‘gangster light’ which encourage a more distanced viewing position from the ‘Gangster Heavy’. The spectator is more likely to be aware of the artifice of film-making with characterisation and one-dimensional performances often highly stylised and exaggerated played upon for laughs. How else can one view Vinnie Jones in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Ritchie 1998) for example?

Above YouTube extract from Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Viewing conditions and their relationship towards the perceived and seemingly actual audience for the British gangster cycle and links this into these two fundamental sub-genres he has identified within the British 1990s gangster cycle:

'Gangster light’ is not for solitary spectators but invites a more gregarious viewing situation in which comments can be exchanged and excesses of style and performance noted. These are the conditions associated with video rental (and to a lesser extent the viewing of sell-through videos) rather than theatrical exhibition. A greater success on video is also suggested by ‘gangster light’s’ lack of cinematic spectacle and elaborate special effects best appreciated on the big screen, and the masculinist subject matter which renders these films problematic as ‘date’ movies. (Chibnall, 2000: p 283).

The narrative structures accompany the kind of viewing and audience expectations that Chibnall has outlined above. They are more fragmented and episodic with a plot that is reliant upon complexity and surprise. They attempt to create ‘cool’ moments.

This is an important point which goes beyond the sues of the generic category itself and raises issues about developing successful strategies for audience development which focuses upon a guerrilla approach to the Hollywood domination of Cinemas as the main exhibition space which is reinforced by the distribution systems. If production casts can be kept relatively low their is always likely to be audience and an exhibition combined with a system which allows for audience fragmentation.

‘Gangster Heavy’

Chibnall considers that these films require a suspension of disbelief rather than a parallel critical engagement by the audience. A depth of characterisation, convinced and powerful performances, naturalistic dialogue alongside close attention to the details of period and place. The narrative structure of these ‘is usually one of tragedy in the Shakespearean or Jacobean mode. (Chibnall, 2000: p 282).

The use of Malcolm McDowell in Gangster No 1 neatly summed up by Chibnall as a ‘grim tale of cruelty and damnation’ was a clever use of intertextuality as McDowell will be associated in many minds with the anti-hero of Clockwork Orange which in its strangely choreographed violence in the beating of the tramp, the gang fight and the rape still contains the power to shock audiences now far more used to representations of violence on screen than they were in the beginning of the 1970s. McDowell also provides a link into British social realism as well as radical fantasy through the director Lindsay Anderson. If (1968) was Anderson’s shift from the social realism of This Sporting life in 1963 as an essential aspect of the British New wave. If was a film of its moment in which a rebellion in a public school against the harsh and petty disciplinary regime again starring McDowell. This film acted as an allegory of British social rebellion against the empire ridden ideologies as well as echoing the youth rebellions across Europe.

Above extract from Gangster Number 1 (2000)

As a film Gangster No 1 eschews comedy: ‘It deals with weighty themes of classical drama: obsession, ruthless ambition, treachery deception, moral decay and the possibility of redemption’ (Chibnall, 2000: p 287). The film’s production designer saw it as The Duchess of Malfi but with guns. This description links into a ‘heritage theme’ within a contemporary setting. As a character-driven story rather than a cause and effect driven Hollywood style story a lot of attention was paid to the style. Great Train robber Bruce Reynolds acted as a consultant providing another intertextual link into the 1960s a golden period of British film-making. This helped to create a convincing criminal milieu and sub cultural sense of style of 1960s London.

This attention to the construction and representation of place again links intertextually to Hodges Get Carter with its exceptional representation of Newcastle echoing a degenerating industrial landscape with the post-war reconstruction of the late 1960s with in this case oblique references to the corruption of T. Dan Smith and the architects of the time. An implicit recognition of different types of crime. The mise en scene favoured by Hodges was also a link to British social realism of the beginning of the decade.

This complex type of intertextuality which is consciously playing upon British cinema history allows the film to be attractive to a wider audience than would have been the case had the film been totally reliant upon the relatively unknown actor Paul Bettany.

The British Gangster 2000  Onwards

Gangster No 1 arrived on the cusp of the new Millennium as a ‘Gangster Heavy’ film. As a heritage reference has been followed by Alex Cox’s Revenger’s Tragedy (2002) a highly stylised futuristic version of the original 1607 play set in Liverpool. Again the intertextuality is reinforced by Cox’s contributions to the film noir ‘genre’ in the 1980s.

Mike Hodge’s latest film I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead (2004) although another revenge theme crime thriller moves away from the solid misanthropy of Get Carter. Gilbey comments (Sight and Sound May 2004) that the film attempts to question the macho values expressed in recent British crime genre. Based around vengeance for a male rape of his brother the insertion of two pauses in the narrative around encounters with a coroner and a counsellor inject a tone of realism into the revenge fantasy genre which acts as a disjunction to shock the audience. Doubt about the sexuality of Davey the murdered brother’s sexuality and the possibility of bisexuality fracture the more typical discourses of the male gangster film genre.

YouTube extract from Mike Hodges'  I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003)

Chibnall (2003) notes Hodges’ relationship with film noir stylistics, the ‘neon-washed streets, shimmering nightscapes, sudden violence, tough gangsters and a resolute investigator’. (S&S No 9: p 13). Most interestingly is Hodge’s take on the question of identity. The concept that identity is not something fixed has become commonplace amongst many in recent years. In ‘Get Carter’ Margaret tells Carter that ‘We are what we are, like it or not’. In I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003) this theme of the fixity of identity re-emerges when a London gangster tells Will (Clive Owen) that “You think you’ve changed. You haven’t changed. People like us don’t change. Not deep down.” In interview with Chibnall Hodges argues that ‘We do tend to remain the same... the core self is still there’.

Hodges is in some senses sentimental about the working class idealising them against his perceptions of the middle class where the latter has a certain coldness at the centre of family relationships noting that is why ‘we’ (a personal slippage) want to escape them compares to an inculcated sense of family as demonstrated in Get Carter as well as I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Hodges considers that the elements of the Jacobean tragedy within Get Carter are absent in his latest film rather he considers it as about the changing role of the male within society. Male rape and homoeroticism is usually set within the prison in cinema. Revenge is usually about jealousy and control of women here the existence of male rape and the possibility that the victim enjoyed it (perhaps not really rape?) Counters the ideas of fixed identity perhaps leading to an underlying ambiguity within the film. As an intertextual piece the casting of Malcolm McDowell as the brutal rapist echoes his brutal role in Gangster No 1.

2007 saw the launch of a successful budget gangster film with a twist in London to Brighton:

Above YouTube trailer of London to Brighton (2007) Paul Andrew Williams

Whatever else the film does the glorification of British gangsterism isn't part of it's Zeitgeist.  


For Bibliographical References please follow this link to the British Cinema Bibliography. If you wish to make frequent reference to the bibliography it may be useful to have another tab open which can be doen in both Firefox and now Explorer. 


Recent Guardian Blog on the apparent demise of the British gangster film. Deeper critical insight is lacking but it's all part of the discourse around British gangsterism.  It rates Gangster Number One highly however there is dissent in the comments box.  

The Cinema, Culture and Society site has a useful page here.  

Senses of Cinema on Mike Hodges

NFT Interview with Mike Hodges

Get Smarter.  A Sight and Sound (June 2000) article by Danny Leigh on the contemporary state of British gangster films. 

A British Crime Filmography (Under construction)

Blue Lamp The

Brighton Rock

Challenge (1963) 


Dancing with Crime  

Gangster No 1 

Get Carter 

Hell Drivers (1956) 

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead 

Informers, The (1963)

It Always Rains on a Sunday, (1947): Robert Hamer

Joe Macbeth (1955) 

Lavender Hill Mob

Layer Cake 

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

London to Brighton(2006) 

No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) 


Payroll (1961) 

Passport to Shame (1959)

Performance (1971) 

Revenger's Tragedy 

Sexy Beast

Shopping (1994) 

Small World of Sammy Lee The (1963)

Smalltime  (1996)

Spin a Dark Web / Soho Incident (1956) 

Strange Affair, The (1968) 

They Made Me a Fugitive

Third Man (The)

April 27, 2008

Contemporary British Cinema Hub

Contemporary British Cinema Hub

British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1997-20010

This entry is part of the British Cinema and Society Chronology which goes from 1939 until the present. It maps major social and political events and cultural and film policy changes as well as the films themselves enabling contextual comparisons to be made. 

Contemporary British Films

Atonement, 2007. Joe Wright

Brick Lane. 2007. Dir Sarah Gavron

Bullet Boy, 2005. Saul Dibb

The Calcium Kid, 2002. Dir: Alex de Rakoff

Control, 2007: Anton Corbijn

Dirty Pretty Things: 2003. Dir. Stephen Frears

Elizabeth the Golden Age, 2007 . Dir Shekhar Kapur

Ghosts, 2007: Nick Broomfield

Happy–Go–Lucky(2008): Mike Leigh

Hot Fuzz, 2006. Edgar Wright

In This World, 2002. Michael Winterbottom

It's A Free World,2007: Dir: Ken Loach

Last Resort. 2000. Pawel Pawlikowski

London to Brighton. 2006. Paul Andrew Williams

Of Time & The City (2008)

This is England. 2006. Shane Meadows

Contemporary British Directors

For contemporary British Directors please follow link to Contemporary British Directors page 

Institutional Issues  

The Irresistable Rise of the Multiplex

Contemporary British Cinema: Representing The World Locally

Digital Projection: Foundation of a New Exhibition System in the UK?

Film Marketing

Guerilla Cinema: The 'Other' of British Cinema

Mobile cinema in the UK 

Representing Changing Britain: Ethnicity and Hybridity

The Heritage Film in British Cinema Part 1

Working Title. Brief history of the production company  

British Film Institutions

British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

British Council British film website and information hompage

British Film Institute Strategy Statement (Last update June 2007)

Sight & Sound Home Page. Sight and Sound has been the monthly film magazine produced by the British Film Institute since before the Second World War.

Department of Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) Film Policy Page
UK Film Council

BECTU reponse to DCMS consultation on the "Cultural Test" for the definition of a British film

Film Council to take on role of whether a film is British certification test

Vertigo Magazine: The Film Parliament

Future of British Film Archives Secured Purnell awards £25 million

Women and Film: Research Findings Essay

Women and Film: Research Findings Essay

Uma Thurman Kill Bill 1

Powerful woman in control or eroticised male fantasy? Whose gaze is it ?


You should by now have finished off your  research methods essay on 'Women and Film'. you should have discussed the different methods you employed on your project and how effective you thought they were. You should now be ready to write up your research findings

Research Driven by Your Findings  

You will need to make it clear in your introduction that you research was driven by what you found out as you went along (the process). For example you needed to do secondary research in order to start to map the field of knowledge and relate to what has already been found out. 

In doing so you should have engaged a little with the ideas of researchers such as Laura Mulvey, Jackie Stacey and Richard Dyer amongst others. They are dealing with the representation of women in film and how audiences engage with these representations. You should have then chosen your extracts to show audiences informed by some of these theories. Part of what you are trying to find out is how well these theories actually relate to the experiences of real live audiences. This live experience of the audiences is the core of your research findings and your conclusion should be relating how your research findings relate back to the theories and other findings of those who have already been researching in this area.  

Plan of the research findings essay

Introduction - summary of what you will be writing about

Summary of scondary research findings

  • Mulvey & the 'Male Gaze'
  • Stacey & negotiated readings by the audience
  • Dyer & the importance of Stars and Star Theory
  • Secondary research can also involve looking at the cultural reception of a cultural icon. A brief 'google' of 'Lara Croft' Images shows a mass of eroticised images presumably the products of male fantasists which is an intersting area in itself to research
Lare Croft 2

Powerful representation of woman or eroticised male fantasy? Who's gaze is it?

Choice of extracts

How the theories helped you choose specific extracts

  • Explain in some detail how cinematic conventions like camera movement and camera angles might have contributed to the construction of a 'male gaze' by creating the woman as an object of a voyeuristic gaze
  • The extract might also have been a woman in a powerful position. Powerful women action adventure heroes as in Kill Bill or tomb raider could be contradictory offering both a voyeuristic eroticised view and at the same time portrayed a powerful female figure.  One object of your research might have been to see if the male audiences you are using for research read the representation of the women differently to  your female  research audiences.

Results of the Focus Group Research

Here you should be writing up the responses of your focus group (qualitative research) to the extracts which you showed them. Remember to remind the reader about whether these were mixed sex or single sex focus groups. You should have noted if there were different responses from different sexes and genders (some people may have been gendered gay).  You should have noted down responses  which were informal. (Perhaps focus group memebrs shouted comments during the screening which may also have influenced responses).

When you write up the responses you should draw attention to whether these responses fit into the theories and discussions you used in your secondary research.  If they didn't then this is worth commenting upon. It might be an area for further research. (That is how knowledge becomes created). 

You should then say whether these results will influence your questionnaires being used for quantitative research.

Quantitative Research Results

Here remind the reader how many questionnaires you gave out and to whom. If it was in your media class then it was a 'knowing' audience who would have been more aware of cinematic codes and conventions whereas an untutored class may have had different responses.

Summarise your findings and use some basic statistics. You should know what percentage of your sample were male and female for example. You are allowed to take the statistical findings in with you in note form so you don't have to remember them. Accuracy not memory is being assessed here. 

Comparing Results

You should be able to make a comparison of your findings to see if the responses a re tending to agree or whther they tending to diverge.  Your qualitative results might have been very different from the quantitative results for example.


In your overall conclusion you should whther you think that you findings tend to agree with or challenge the previous research work you used in your secondary research. whereever there is a divergence either within your comparison of your own results or these results set against others you need to come up with a possible explanation. It might have been that you didn't organise your focus group very well therefore the results weren't as good as you had hoped for.

Finally in your conclusion you should comment about what you have learned about the whole process of doing social research and how you might improve it in the future.  

April 23, 2008

John Grierson

John Grierson (1898-1972)

John Grierson

John Grierson from the Grierson Trust site

Return to the British Documentary Film-makers Hub 

Under Construction

John Grierson was the founder of the British documentary movement. He was born in Stirling Scotland 1998. He was going to go to Glasgow University on leaving school but with the outbreak of World War I he joined the Royal Navy serving on a minesweeper.

After the war he went to Glasgow University ending up with a Masters Degree in philosophy and literature. He took up a temporary appointment at Durham University. He didn't complete the research fellowship he was awarded. Instead he moved to the United States to examine immigration problems there in 1924. Grierson returned to Britain in 1927 in January. 

Whilst in the USA Grierson had become interested in issues of communications. Grierson developed a position that democracy and mass communications were highly compatible with democratic structures being able to work effectively providing there wre good public information systems.  This was when Grierson developed the idea that film was able to communicate a system of public education that was able to develop democratic structures themselves. This became the underlying theory of the documentary film movement.

In 1927 Grierson contacted the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) which was a large British government publicity organisation.  He was appointed to the post of Assistant Films Officer. After developing a production plan over the next couple of years Grierson emerged with his first film project Drifters (1929). This led to the establishing of the EMB film unit in 1930. 

The EMB Film Unit

Grierson soon started hiring apprentice film-makers after 1930.  His initial choices wer Basil Wright and John Taylor. A little later several other people were chosen including J. D. Davidson, Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey, Paul Rotha, Marion Grierson John Grierson's younger sister, Margaret Taylor (John Taylor's sister), Evlyn Spice, Stuart Legg and Harry Watt. Aitken comments that very few of these people were old enough to have been directly affected by the significant events taking place in the first quarter of the century. Although Grierson grew up near a hard pressed area in Scotland he was relatively distanced from this, and even his service in the first World War was well away from the trenches. Aitken notes that there are few references in his writings to the General Strike even though he was 28 at the time and it was clearly a highly significant event within British politics and society at the time. 

There were quite significant differences in the approaches to life and culture amongst the membership of the EMB film unit. Grierson was on the whole anti-scholasticism at some point notes Aitken being scathing about 'bespectacled professors'. Grierson was also distinctly anti-gay whilst Wright and Cavalcanti and several others were gay. Grierson was also very masculinist despite the fact that he was prepared to employ women as directors. However none becoame significant figures within the documentary movement and few were employed after 1940.

The EMB was to prove an unstable organisation from which to build a documentary movement base.  After the introduction of major tariff legislation in 1932/33 its reason for existence disappeared and it was abolosihed in 1933. Fortunately Stephen Tallants the sectretary of the EMB who had originally taken on Grierson scured a post at the General Post Office (GPO). One of the conditions of his accepting the post was that the EMB film unit should be transferred to the GPO. 

Drifters (1929)

Drifters 1

Drifters (1929)

Drifters notes Aitken (1998, p 11)

"...remains one of the most important films in British cinema". 

The Empire Marketing Board wanted to produce a film on herring fishing however Drifters was very different from what was expected:

It was a poetic montage documentary , which drew heavily on the film-making styles of  Sergei Eisenstein and Robert Flaherty and on Grierson's understanding of avant-garde aesthetics. (Aitken, 1998 p 10)

The EMB film committee wanted some of the spectacular film montage sequences removed however Grierson sneaked them back in again. The film received its premier on Sunday 10th  November 1929 sharing the bill with no less a film than Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin at the London Film Society meeting and received favourable comparisons. 

Drifters is an impressionistic account and is rather more an evocative representation than one based upon descriptive detail examining the relationship between the herring fishers and nature. Nevertheless there is still a lot of information within the film on the working practices of the Fishermen. It tends to prioritise the working activity in its represntation rather than the institutions involved which depend upon that activity. The film focuses primarily upon working class activity which makes it an unusual one. The film:

...comments on the way that labour is commodified and degraded by market forces. (Aitken, 1998 p 14)

Drifters 2

Drifters (1929)

Drifters became the only film specifically credited to Grierson although his influence upon large numbers of films that followed was highly significant in contributing towards their final look and feel. Although the film wasn't in the slightest way Marxist it did mark a radical shift in the fact that the working class were represented at all. Aitken cites Montagu Slater writing in Left Review 1935 who argued that this was a revolutionary act in itself. (Aitken, 1998 p 34). 

This early documentary model was only used by Grierson in the EMB period and was gradualy superceded. Aitken puts this tendency down largely to the development of sound which reached the documentary movement in 1934. 

The GPO Film Unit  

Shortly after coming under the aegis of the GPO the unit gained larger premises and sound facilities. Quality was therefore improved and of course sound films were now produced. However Aitken (1998) comment that the overall quality of resources and quality of output remained relatively low over the 1930s. In 1935 Stephen Tallents left to take up an appointment with the BBC. Several other filmmakers shortly followed. Grierson himself followed in 1937 to establish Film Centre which was an organisation which had the objective of co-ordinating documentary.

Cavalcanti, Watt and Jennings remained with the GPO unit giving a more artistically based inflection to the work produced. Aitken comments that:

Cavalcanti had always disagreed with Grierson's conception of documentary, and had argued instead for a broader definition of realist cinema which could accommodate a variety of film-making styles. (Aitken, 1998 pp 21-22)

Grierson and the National Film Board of Canada

In 1939 Grierson took up the position of Film Commissioner at the National Film Board of Canada which he held until 1945. grierson had initially been approached by the Canadian High Commission in London with a request to create a report on developing government film-making in Canada. The report was submitted in June 1938 and became the basis of what was to become the National Film Board of Canada. Subsequently Grierson was offered the post of film commissioner at the new institution. Although it only started out with a personnel of 5 it expanded thoughout the war and by 1945 there were nearly 800 people employed there. It was the largest organisation Grierson had worked in and he also had far more autonomy than when he worked in Britain. He had deliberately ensured that the NFB wasn't subordinated to the Canadian Civil Service to avoid the constraints which had been faced at both the EMB and the GPO.

Sadly Grierson established a very instrumental regime himself which didn'y encourage creativity and imagination amongst his film-makers:

...on the contrary, to impose a tightly regulated regime based upon the mass production of  standardised, formulaic propaganda films. (Aitken, 1998 p 27)

In Canada Grierson created a model of film making which was drawn from the compilation film which had first been used in 1930 in the documentary movement in the film Conquest. The principle was that footage would be used that had been shot inside the organisation where possible. Grierson adopted this model in Canada to allow more control over the propaganda messages. furthermore this type of film could be made quickly and inexpensively. Grierson combined this approach with a "threshold specialisation" model of labour in which people learned about one area and then moveed onto another one rather than become highly specialised. This was a more collaborative model of film-making. As well as thecontent and the labour system involved Grierson was also influential in the exhibition model. Here he strongly encouraged non-theatrical distribution. The rural circuit scheme was very successful with screening in schools, halls and other public sites across the country. There were over 170 projectionists employed screening to over 250,000 per month by the end of 1941.

Aitken points out that that there was considerable resistance to Grierson's intrumentalist approach from both inside and outside the documentary movement. In 1941 Cavalcanti made Film and Reality which is an aesthetic study of the documentary film as a critique of this method. Also Jack Beddington who had become head of film propaganda at the Ministry of Information (UK) thought that they were ver propagandistic whilst some in Canada thought the approach too authoritative. 

Grierson from Central Office of Information (CoI) to Group 3

Early in 1948 Grierson returned to Britain to take up the position of Controller of Film at the Central Office of Information (CoI) which had replaced the Ministry of Information (MoI). In 1950 Grierson resigned and in 1951 he established Group 3. 

Group 3 was the production arm of the National Film Finance Corporation with a brief of producing good quality 'socially purposive films'. The purpose of the whole NFFC was to develop the British film industry as a whole and the mandate of Group 3 was to produce a number of high quality low budget films. Grierson was placed in charge of production but as there were concerns about his administrative capabilities John Baxter (Director of Love on the Dole, 1941) was placed in charge of administration. Out of 22 films produced only one was considered a success (The Brave Don't Cry,1952). The overall project lost about half a million pounds in 4 years.

Whilst Grierson can be held as partially responsible particularly because he was a hard person to get on with - he fell out with firstly Baxter and then Michael Balcon who was the Chief Executive of the project - he was also inexperienced in developing full length feature films. 

Aitken is also concerned to apportion a considerable amount of responsibility onto the commercial film industry blaming the lack of support in distribution and exhibition as the core reasons for the project being killed off. They disliked social-realist film-making because it lay outside of their control and also it was outside of their own commercial concerns:

The failure of Group 3 illustrates a continuing problem within the British cinema of finding adequate funding, distribution and exhibition for independent , innovative or experimental films. (Aitken, 1998 p 58)

By 1955 Group 3 had stopped production. Grierson left a little later in 1955.  

Grierson and the World Union of Documentary

Increasingly there was a crisis developing in the British documentary movement towards the end of the 1940s. Grierson was central to the failures to respond to change in two areas.

Firstly there was Grierson's branding of the World Documentary Movement as a Communist front which caused most British documentarists to leave. This hostility stems in part from Grierson being accussed of having Communist associations and being refused a US visa. The large numbers of Eastern european countries having members in the World Documentary Union furnished Grierson with a reason to attack it and to ensure it was noted he was suitably anti-communist. 

Grierson also failed to take on board the changing models of documentarism and realism particularly the Italian Neorealists. The neorealists had made a major impact upon the intellectual film cultures of Europe at the time - although it must be said that outside of Rome Open City most were box office failures in Italy. Grierson notes Aitken:

...rejected the model of independently produced realist films offered by neorealism, and insisted, instead, that documentary films must be made in close relationto the needs of governement departments, and to the imperatives of 'civic education'. (Aitken 1998, p 59)

Lindsay Anderson and the Free Cinema Movement which emerged during the 1950s were also very critical of Grierson. whilst they were keen on Humphrey Jennings the doumentarists in general were accused by Anderson of being largely protective of thier own position. For Anderson Grierson's post-war contribution was 'disastrous'. Certainly between the 1930s up until the 1950s Grierson was concerned to argue that documentaries should not be concerned with aesthetics. This led to the critical marginalisation of the Documentary Movement as the post-war cultural change followed the neorealists into post-neorealism in the work of Visconti, Rossellini and Fellini. 


Cavalcanti who had many differences with Grierson summarises his contribution like this:

Grierson's achievements can now only be analysed in perspective. He was basically a promoter. He had little impact as a director or producer, but his flair for finding collaborators, his ease in providing wonderful titles to our worst films, his capacity as a great publicist and above all, his curious background, half Presbyterian half Marxist made him one of the most influential personalities in the movement. (Cavalcanti 'The British Contribution' in Aitken 1998 p 205)

Getting the Work of the Documentarists

Many of these films will be readily available on the forthcoming BFI multiple DVD

Land of Promise available from 28 April 2008 

Land of Promise DVD


Aitken,  Ian. 1998. The Documentary Film Movement: an Anthology.Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press

Aitken, Ian. 1990. Film and Reform. London: Routledge

Hardy, H. Forsyth (ed.). 1979. John Grierson: A Documentary Biography. London: Faber and Faber

Ellis, Jack, C. 1986. .John Grierson. a guide to references and resources. Boston: G. K. Hall

Pronay, Nicholas (ed.) 1989 'John Grierson: A Critical Retrospective',  Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 9/3


A useful podcast can be downloaded from this site on Grierson and the documentary movement featuring an interview with Ian Aitken a leading researcher on Grierson and the documentary movement.

The Grierson Trust

April 22, 2008

Acorn Classification System for Lifestyles

Acorn Classification System for Lifestyles

Return to Lifestyle Magazines Hub


This is a map showing all ACORN classification categories, groups and types. Click on a category, group or type to view some sample lifestyle information comparing that classification to the rest of the UK population.

ACORN is a market research company which breaks down the population in a myriad of different ways in order to allow comapnaies to analyse and create and construct their target market / target audience more effectively and cost-effectively than ever.

The tools are geodemographic ones. This means that areas are broken down into postcodes (postcode lottery) and the people living there (the demographic) is researched so that as much information about core indicateors and variables is gathered and assessed.

How ACORN describe their product

ACORN categorises all 1.9 million UK postcodes, which have been described using over 125 demographic statistics within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 287 lifestyle variables, making it the most powerful discriminator, giving a clearer understanding of clients and prospects.

Creating and constructing a market

Markets for goods or services are constructed and created rather than "found". Goods and services have products which may be services or physical products.

Because consumers are becoming increasingly fragmented in their tastes and spending habits it is difficult to invent a new product or servicve to compete with older ones. However rich the target market there is an upperlimit on what people are going to spend. to create a market for another product / service is to compete with something else for the same pot of money. This is why branding and advertising are very important tools of marketing. 

Geodemographics are very important as a marketing tool. You need to know how many people there are in a particular area and what amounts of money people have and what they are likely to spend thier money on. Clearly  spending money on advertising of expensive cars in newspapers usually consumed by the category described as hard-pressed in the ACORN system below would be pointless.

The core indicators include:

  • Income
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity

ACORN Classifcation Map

This is a map showing all ACORN classification categories, groups and types. Click on a category, group or type to view some sample lifestyle information comparing that classification to the rest of the UK population.

Wealthy Achievers Wealthy Executives 01 - Affluent mature professionals, large houses
02 - Affluent working families with mortgages
03 - Villages with wealthy commuters
04 - Well-off managers, larger houses
Affluent Greys 05 - Older affluent professionals
06 - Farming communities

07 - Old people, detached houses

08 - Mature couples, smaller detached houses
Flourishing Families 09 - Larger families, prosperous suburbs
10 - Well-off working families with mortgages
11 - Well-off managers, detached houses
12 - Large families & houses in rural areas
Urban Prosperity Prosperous Professionals 13 - Well-off professionals, larger houses and converted flats
14 - Older Professionals in detached houses and apartments
Educated Urbanites 15 - Affluent urban professionals, flats
16 - Prosperous young professionals, flats
17 - Young educated workers, flats
18 - Multi-ethnic young, converted flats
19 - Suburban privately renting professionals
Aspiring Singles 20 - Student flats and cosmopolitan sharers
21 - Singles & sharers, multi-ethnic areas
22 - Low income singles, small rented flats
23 - Student Terraces
Comfortably Off Starting Out 24 - Young couples, flats and terraces
25 - White collar singles/sharers, terraces
Secure Families 26 - Younger white-collar couples with mortgages
27 - Middle income, home owning areas
28 - Working families with mortgages

29 - Mature families in suburban semis

30 - Established home owning workers
31 - Home owning Asian family areas
Settled Suburbia 32 - Retired home owners
33 - Middle income, older couples
34 - Lower income people, semis
Prudent Pensioners 35 - Elderly singles, purpose built flats
36 - Older people, flats
Moderate Means Asian Communities 37 - Crowded Asian terraces
38 - Low income Asian families
Post Industrial Families 39 - Skilled older family terraces
40 - Young family workers
Blue Collar Roots 41 - Skilled workers, semis and terraces
42 - Home owning, terraces
43 - Older rented terraces
Hard Pressed Struggling Families 44 - Low income larger families, semis
45 - Older people, low income, small semis
46 - Low income, routine jobs, unemployment
47 - Low rise terraced estates of poorly-off workers
48 - Low incomes, high unemployment, single parents
49 - Large families, many children, poorly educated
Burdened Singles 50 - Council flats, single elderly people
51 - Council terraces, unemployment, many singles
52 - Council flats, single parents, unemployment
High Rise Hardship 53 - Old people in high rise flats
54 - Singles & single parents, high rise estates
Inner City Adversity 55 - Multi-ethnic purpose built estates
56 - Multi-ethnic, crowded flats

ACORN updated to suit  contemporary "lifstyles"

Consumer habits and behaviour has changed over the past decade, and the new ACORN takes into account these key shifts.

Avon and Somerset Police As the wealth of the nation increases and borrowing gets easier, car ownership has risen and more people commute by car.
Avon and Somerset Police More consumers are asset rich, with a growth of 20% of homeowners having paid off their mortgages.
Avon and Somerset Police Conversely there is much less unemployment.
Avon and Somerset Police New building has increased with more detached and semi-detached properties. There are now different types of people living in traditional housing.
Avon and Somerset Police The workplace is now more flexible, illustrated by an increase in people working from home.
Avon and Somerset Police The population is becoming more educated and the number of students has nearly doubled.
Avon and Somerset Police Family structure is changing, with significant growth in single parents. Despite an increase of grown-up children remaining in the family home, there are more “empty nester” consumers than ever before as older couples become free of the financial responsibility of schoolchildren.
Avon and Somerset Police We are seeing a significant growth of the very elderly, the population is getting older.

Lifestyle Magazines and ACORN

Lifestyle magazines like Grazia and GQ exist to act as vehicles for advertising.  These magazines aim at relatively small sections of the population and their content and advertising are interwoven into atight mesh with which to trap the unwary person and turn them into a consumer.

Lifestyle magaziners are especially useful for those advertising in them because the magazines will often be "read" by much larger numbers than the official circulation figure suggests.

See How ACORN assesses the area you live in:

upmystreet. You will neeed to type in your postcode.

April 18, 2008

Google 2008 Advertising Results

Google shrugs off ad sales fear

See BBC Business for full report

Google Image

For the first time, the California-based firm earned more revenue abroad - 51% of total sales - compared to its home market. This was partly due to a slump in the weak dollar which increases the value of non-US earnings.

Shares in Google, the darling of the technology sector in 2007, saw its shares reach a peak of $741.80 in November last year, making it the fifth biggest US company by market capitalisation.

But since then, its shares have been hammered on worries that it faced an advertising slump amid mounting evidence that the US is slipping into a recession.

Clicks on Google's sponsored links in the US slowed from a growth rate of 25% in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 1.8% in the first quarter of this year, according to comScore.

Google's Change of Adverstising Tactics

But its upbeat results suggest the reason for this reflects a deliberate reduction in the number of ads on each search results page to deliver to advertisers better matched visitors who are more likely to buy their products.

What's Happening to Google's Competition?

Yahoo is desparately looking at ways to escape being bought by Microsoft.  As a result it has even even teamed up with arch-rival Google in a two-week experiment which will see search-driven Google adverts alongside the search results of Yahoo's website.

Google: 59.8%
Yahoo: 21.3%ut
Microsoft: 9.4%
AOL: 4.8%
Source: comScore March figure

From these figures which summarise the search engine market in early 2008 it is clear that the Microsoft bid for Yahoo is a very sensible one. Yahoo is gradually losing market share to Google. It desperately needs to get this market back but Microsoft which started trying to take-over Yahoo nearly 2 years ago should be confident that it is doing the right thing. Certainly there is no clear evidence that Yahoo has the capability to win back users from Google.  

Google and the British Advertising Market Place  

Extract below from Rory Cephlan-Jones the BBC Technology Correspondent:

And what are most of the eager young Googlers doing? Selling advertising or talking to Britain's biggest brands about how they can move more of their marketing budget online. Because it's easy to forget that as well as being an extraordinarily innovative firm, Google is also rapidly becoming Britain's biggest advertising business. The latest figures - released on Thursday evening - show how rapidly it is growing in the UK, earning $803 million( about £407m) in the first three months of 2008, about 40% up on a year ago.

Let's put that into context. Last year, ITV's net advertising revenue was £1.5 billion. So, even if you just multiply Google's earnings by four and assume no further growth this year, Britain's biggest commercial television business - the original "licence to print money" - is about to be overtaken by an American upstart which only arrived in the UK in 2001. You could not ask for a starker example of the threat to traditional media from the online world. (Emphasis added)

April 17, 2008

Alberto Cavalcanti (b Rio de Janeiro, 1897 – Paris 1982)

Alberto Cavalcanti (b Rio de Janeiro, 1897 – Paris 1982)

Went the Day Well 1

The traitor is rumbled in Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well (1942)

Alberto Cavalcanti was a director and producer and enjoyed a distinguished career as an avant-garde film-maker in France. Rien que les heures (1926) shot on the streets of Paris. It was the first of the ‘City Symphony’ films made in Europe during the 1920s and preceded the better know Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) by Ruttman. It was very influential amongst the documentary movement at the time. He was making ‘quota quickie’ comedies for Paramount’s Paris studio in the early 1930s when he was invited in 1934 to come to England by John Grierson to join the GPO Film Unit. Cavalcanti was enormously influential in this British documentary movement encouraging realist film making to have a wider aesthetic dimension. He was very influential in the making of Night Mail (1936) and other of the best known works of the GPO Film Unit (See filmography below).

Exploring the possibilities of montage and sound he was foundational in developing the poetic style developed by his leading disciples Ken Lye and Humphrey Jennings. In 1940 when the GPO Film Unit became the Crown Film Unit and was intimately connected with making propaganda films it was more appropriate that as a Brazilian and therefore an ‘alien’ that he not be head of the Crown Film Unit. Cavalcanti therefore joined Ealing studios supervising both documentary and feature out at the studio and directing the influential propaganda film Went the Day Well? (1942). He made the musical Champagne Charlie (1944) making Ealing comedies more sophisticated. He made another three films with Ealing including the crime drama They Made Me a Fugitive (1947). From 1949 he divided his time between Europe and Brazil where he helped to establish its nascent film industry and founded the Brazilian Film Institute.

Michael Balcon credited Cavalcanti with having a special role within Ealing Studios because his most important job was training new directors who included Robert Hamer, Charles Frend and Charles Crichton all of whom went on to make important British films in the 1940s and 1950s. Balcon talking about Ealing has commented “The whole of the Ealing output has a certain stamp on it. Whether I would have done it on my own I don’t know. But most certainly I acknowledge… that of all the help I got his is the help that is most important”.

Filmography (Important British Films)

As director 

Pett & Pott (1934) 

Coal Face (1935)

Went the Day Well (1942)

Dead of Night 'Ventriloquist's Dummy' episode [Portmanteau film] (1945)

They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

Producer & Sound Supervisor 

Four of the best known documentaries from the GPO film Unit

Song of Ceylon (1934)

Night Mail (1936)

North Sea (1938)

Spare Time (1939) Humphrey Jennings

Many of these films will be readily available on the forthcoming BFI multiple DVD

Land of Promise available from 28 April 2008 

Land of Promise DVD

For full filmography please go to IMDB


Screenonline Alberto Cavalcanti

Sexton, Jamie.  Scope May 2004. The Audio-Visual Rhythms of Modernity: Song Of Ceylon, Sound and Documentary Filmaking

Glossary of documentary terms  


Aitken, Ian (ed.) 1998. The Documentary Film Movement: An Anthology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (pp. 179-214)
Aitken, Ian, Alberto Cavalcanti: Realism, Surrealism and National Cinemas (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 2000)

Caughie, John & Rockett Kevin. 1996. The Companion to British and Irish Cinema. London: Cassell
Cavalcanti, Alberto, Filme e realidade (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Artenova, 1977)
Hillier, Jim, Alan Lovell, and Sam Rohdie, 'Interview with Alberto Cavalcanti', Screen v.13, n. 2, 1972, pp. 36-53
Monegal, Emir Rodriguez, 'Alberto Cavalcanti', The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television v. 9, n. 4, 1955, pp. 341-358

Russell, Patrick. 2007. 100 British Documentaries. London: BFI  

April 15, 2008

DD201 Research Methods

DD201 Research Methods: For Day School & TMA

by Ieman & Mike


Research 'Methods' as a title can sound very dry and uninspiring, but research is one of those areas which can actually prove to be rather exciting and animated. Responses to research findings may not be well thought out (as responses to a link below show), as well as challenging.

Before we go on to think in more depth about research methods let's pause for a moment to think how "Research" in society can effect you. Frequently on the news or in a magazine we see, hear or read about the "latest research" which tells us something. Usually the stories are prefaced "The latest research..." or "Researchers from .... have found that...". It could be that people who eat only bananas lose weight fastest. As news itself is constructed to find a target audience it could be news in a fashion magazine or at the end of a broadcast to provide light relief after more miserable tales about car bombs in Iraq or elsewhere.

Research findings announced like this can influence us at the micro-level perhaps persuading us to buy or ignore bananas or some other product. Usually some other piece of research will be announced in a similar fashion on the news, frequently seeming to contradict the first finding. Confused? Well you will be better off thinking about research methods. You might want to find out if the 'Bananas Research' was sponsored by the 'Banana Marketing Board' (My invention I think). If it was you might be inclined to be sceptical of the findings. Most of us prefer independent research findings from authoritative bodies who in this case know their bananas and are unlikely to slip up :-).

Things to do for discussion and the dayschool

Here is an example of a recent report.

  • How authoritative do you think it is?
  • How typical is it of the way we receive information?
  • How might it have been presented more authoritatively?  
  • What are your responses to the comments box the Herald has established ? (please create some responses in the comments box below this posting. Comments will be moderated so academic English please) 
  • Did you spot somebody like this cartoon character in the Herald comments? 

Gender Cartoon 2

Here is a link to the actual report perhaps they should have used web power to underpin their newspaper report. It might have given it more authority. Scottish Gender Equality Scheme March 2008

Research findings can also have massive effects at the level of policy and practice in large organisations and institutions such as local or national governments or health authorities. It can also influence international institutions such as the World Health Organisation for example.

Research is therefore incredibly important and correspondingly how that research is conducted is extremely important. There is then the issue of how the results of the research are interpreted.

Different disciplines and subject areas use different research methods not all research methods are useful to research all things in the world. Sociology as a social science generates particular kinds of knowledge about society and social structures.

Methodology & Methods 

No form of social research can be value free or 'unbiased' although that research may be unwittingly biased. For many years male sociologists didn't think to explore issues such as equal pay at work for example. This was largely because they were from a gendered culture that didn't think that women at work were that important an issue to be investigating. This was because many though that women just worked for 'pin money', therefore it was of no great social significance. It took feminist inspired researchers to find out about the issues of low pay and unequal conditions for women. Even now there isn't full equality in terms of overall life opportunities but thanks to this sociological research equal pay acts have been in place for many years as has a sex discrimination act. This means that most women at work are much better off than working women before the middle of the 1970s.

In order to generate the sociological knowledge that lead to these changes in the law required specifically feminist oriented research. This research defamiliarised society and seeking to examine all the ways in which gender assumptions impacted on society used a different METHODOLOGY. The term methodology refers to:

...the underlying assumptions and analytical structures that inform the choice and use of methods, together with the process of critical reflection on these. (Uses of Sociology xi)

The methodology which one uses is guided by ideology. Nobody is outside of ideology and ideology isn't just something ojne picks up out of a book it is deeper and more pervasive and can often translate into the way in which we see the "normal" everyday world. If women are "naturally" meant to be at home looking after children then a sociologist of work (probably a male sociologist in the 1940s-1960s) may well have not thought that there was any other way of doing the research. This constituted a failure in thinking about how society was constructed in all its social relationships.

How research is conducted is also very important and can significantly influence the basis of sociological knowledge. The 'How' of research is all abouts sociological methods.

Sociology has traditionally been thought of as being divided into two main areas for methods with many different methods being used under each category. Firstly there is the realm of qualitative methods and secondly there is the realm of quantitative methods. For a long time quantitative methods were considered as more "scientific" because the figures and statistics generated were closely linked to the physical sciences like chemistry or physics. This gave the the figures more credibility as being "rational" and unbiased. However, as has already been shown, if a particular method is used coming from a particular ideological base the researcher is not going to extend their knowledge of society outside of a pre-defined circuit of knowledge.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative methods have become far more popular in social research nowadays and some of the methods are shared with many other subject areas for example anthropology, cultural studies, media studies,social and cultural history and social psychology. Qualitative methods also develop, and new ways of researching people are being constantly thought through and refined.

Qualitative methods imply quality which can mean care and attention to detail if you are buying a piece of 'quality' clothing or other 'quality' product. Quality implies a depth and quality implies good value. In terms of research it should mean that the research is conducted ethically, and that the person or people researched are properly represented (this can be a problem with participant observation research). It should mean that a person or persons are having their viewpoints and experiences accurately recorded.

Of course qualitative research can be carried out badly and quantitative research can be carried out well; this is why it is important to carry out everything methodically and carefully paying attention to the nuts and bolts of research. For example Peter Redman conducted research with Sixth Form college students and their relationship to romance he made a point of dressing differently from the adult educationalists in the college. He did this to try and ensure that he would not be identified with college and therefore as some sort of authority figure.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative research, as it's name implies, relates to quantity in other words number crunching and statistics. That research is quantitative doesn't imply that it is bad quality - often it is very good.  Quantitative research is very good at showing up tendencies over large numbers of people as a whole. Very often the larger the number of people involved the better an idea of society in relation to those specific questions is. The key thing about quantitative research is whether the right questions are being asked. In the example about women and equal pay given above sociologists of work and industry were not asking the right questions therefore they were generating no data about pay and conditions in ways that related to gender. How does quantitative research help the trade unions in this story about equal pay for example?

Is Qualitative better then Quantitative?

This isn't a very good question it's like comparing chalk and cheese. Different methods generate different types of information. Once that information is gleaned then it may well be possible to generate more and better knowledge by using another method. Governments want to have information about large numbers of their populations so that they can quickly adjust policies. This means that they are going to be most influenced by large scale studies becuase they are interested in voters. It is undoubtedly useful in a national census to get accurate data across the whole of the population about things like how many people use outdoor toilets. That would show a government what it needed to do in terms of housing policy. If a government wants to put a green bulding agenda in place it might want to know how many people have invested in solar panels and how many had high quality loft insulation. They might then wish to make improvements grants available in certain regions. But these kind of questions wouldn't show what people's experience of having solar panels was.

If the question in the national census was based on some qualitative research then it would be a good question. If a survey of those who had invested in solar panels said that it was a good experience and that the house was warm and well lit and that fuel bills had been significantly reduced and that solar panels were paying for themselves then the government could usefully identify the whereabouts and numbers of houses with this facility. It might cross reference this to incomes and owner-occupancy. It could then come up with a policy such as giving housing associations extra money to install solar panels in newbuild houses. This might stimulate the private market to do the same. 

Triangulating research

It can be seen that cross referencing research findings from different methods could be very useful and could lead to social changes. Let us look at what happened with the issues of equal pay and gender in a rather schematic way. 

With the rise of feminism in the late 1960s many feminists at university discovered that women were not necessarily receiving equal pay for equal work. They may have discovered this doing holiday jobs for example. Once they progressed to become researchers they were able to use qualitative research to see if the anecdotes and life experiences of these gendered conditions was more widespread and how it was constructed. They could then publish these research outcomes perhaps in trade union or left wing newspapers. Women who were trade union representatives could take these findings to their unions. Once there was quite a lot of small scale qualitative evidence amassed then there was a good reason for a Trade Union research department to carry out research into the conditions for its workers. This was done by a number of unions and it was soon discovered that unequal pay for doing the same work was a common practice across the country. At this point it could then become  an issue for government to start to put into place equal pay legislation.

In this case the research methods were tiered and combined and the social reality was gradually made abundantly clear so that government had little option but to act. The important thing to note here is that the research methods complemented one another. In order to achieve change both were needed. In the previous book four which has now been replaced by the smaller book you now have, Anne Oakley, a feminist researcher who started out in the 1970s when equal pay legislation was introduced was very careful to make this point. Oakley was concerned that many feminist researchers had decided that quantitative methods of research were necessarily 'positivist' and as such part of a patriarchal system. Qualitative research on the other hand could be seen to be inherently feminist as it sought to understand women's experiences of the real world that they lived in and would provide them with a 'voice'.

Oakley used the equal pay legislation argument to illustrate her concerns with this more idealist form of feminism:

Feminism's interest in an emancipatory social science suggests a need for a range of methods within which 'quantitative' methods would have an accepted and respected place.... the underlying gendering of structural inequalities that occurs in most societies could not be discerned using qualitative methods on their own. (Oakley: The Uses of Sociology First Edition p 296)

The Need to be Critical and Analytical about Research Findings

If, as has been suggested, it is the case that research cannot be value free what does this mean? Well it doesn't necessarily matter if research has values. Research after all must have some aims and objectives however research into a phenomenon such as poverty could come up with radically different results depending upon the outlook of the researcher. What this means is that as active citizens we must all become more crtiical and competent at being able to critique research projects. We need to be able to ask a whole range of questions when we are presented with research. Below is a list of questions which you need to ask when you are being presented with the results of a research project.

Research Methods – some possible questions to ask

· What are the Weaknesses and Strengths?

· What are the key claims? – Do they relate to counting data or locating meanings?

· How does the chosen research method support our understanding of the claims?

· What are the underlying epistemological claims around what counts as knowledge?

· Are different or opposing research methods being used? – If so what might be the impact of this?

· Who is the researcher?

· Who is being researched?

· Might there be any areas of bias?

· For example might there be any gender, class, ethnicity assumptions?

· Are there any gaps in what is being researched in relation to the claims?

· Are the research findings representative of the general population or the specific population under enquiry?

· Are the particular events/information being researched likely to produce relevant findings in relation to the claims?

· Are there other events/areas of research that might produce relevant findings?

· Are there any ethical concerns that the researcher(s) takes into account?

· Are there any ethical concerns that the researcher(s) should have taken into account?

Remember the checklists in The Uses of Sociology which outline the strengths and weaknesses for

  • Qualitative (p67) 

  • Quantitative methods (pp96-7) .


As this link shows research can have some important financial outcomes and go a long way towards changing societal attitudes. The link again to the Scottish Government website on their programme against violence against women shows how far the outcomes of feminist research have come since the very early 1970s when Erin Pizzey first set up Women's Aid. Before then the issue of domestic violence wasn't formally recognised. Police would stay away from a 'domestic' ith has taken a lot of qualitative  and quanitative research to get to the point of government awarding organisations money to combat unacceptable social behaviour. The responses in the comments box show why the money is necessary.

DD 201 Hub Page

DD 201 Hub Page

Under construction


Welcome to students of DD201 the purpose of this hub page is to allow you to navigate the range of entries that will develop which are concerned with delivering this specific course. The purpose of the DD 201 blog pages is to provide you with extra support for the course delivery.

You are strongly encouraged to take part in creating an ongoing and dynamic discussion about various aspects of the course as the programme runs. Currently we are near the end for 2007 / 2008 however the need for revision should allow some discussions to happen. If there is something you are uncertain about or if something has just happened which you think has contemporary relevance to the course then you might wish to add a link and make a comment in the comments box. We can start off with TMA 06 which is concerned with research methods something we will be running a day school on very soon.

If you can't attend please join in on the page and attached comments box in this way we can created more of a blended learning environment which will allow you to engage with the thinking of other students and tutors apart from your own tutor. We are hoping that this will lead to a range of exciting exchanges and might create new insights.

TMA 06 

TMA 06 is about research methods and so is the next day school so please click on the link for Research Methods and TMA 06 here which will take you to the page we have set up.


Who's Who? Quiz on Sociological Theorists in DD201. This link will take you to the the list of theorists. There are further links from there.

April 10, 2008

Listen to Britain (1942): Dir Humphrey Jennings

Listen to Britain (1942): Dir. Humphrey Jennings

Home on the Range Listen to Britain

A Scots regiment singing 'Home on the Range'  in Listen to Britain

Return to Humphrey Jennings main page


For formal perfection, for essence of Jennings - albeit extracted by McAllister - probably 'Listen to Britain' would be the one to put in the time capsule. It never palls I must have seen it hundreds of times, but still every time I notice something I hadn't seen before. Somehow it has captured life's rhythm and texture. To watch it is to experience life afresh with an awareness that usually eludes us. The tiniest things...There's the pleasure of recognition, but also I think a revelation of the poetry in the everyday. (Drazin, 2007 pp 155-156)

The Importance of Naturalness

Jennings seemed to be better than most at capturing people being very natural 'capturing it how it was'. Jennings didn't work to much of a preconceived script which was to be disadvantageous when it came to trying to raise money for a feature film, but it worked brilliantly in documentary. Listen to Britain has certainly proved to be a very influential film for Britian's documentary and realist film makers as Mike Leigh notes:

I also admire Jennings's Listen to Britain. It is a fantastic piece of film-making for all of us (and this includes me) who in our films have tried to build film stories in an atmospheric way, using all kinds of elements, including sound and music. Listen to Britain does this extraordinarily well, and with an incredible ease of editing. Although it is not a narrative film, it is an exemplary piece of film storytelling and it raises the hairs on the back of your neck every time. (Mike Leigh Channel Four Website)

Probably to be great at documentary you have to be opportunistic and take advantage of moments of serendipity. Drazin discusses how in the shooting of Listen to Britain at a primary school it was impossible to shoot inside because of the lighting conditions so the children were asked to do a dance in the playground. One of the girls had made a mistake and the cameraman wanted to do a re-shoot Jennings wanted the naturalness of a child making a slip:'... the child's half-stumble, with its quality of truth made the scene.' (Drazin, 2007 p 157).  However the Film Maker Mike Leigh makes an interesting point about the way many people are scratching on Jennings films:

If you look very closely at Jennings's work, you start to see some very interesting behavioural detail. For example, he often gets people to scratch - all over the place, across all of his films. You can see that he told them to do it when the camera gets to a certain moment. On your first viewing, you just accept it as part of the texture but it actually does look very self-conscious. The reason he's doing it is to introduce some kind of realistic movement into the very static style of documentary at that time. Don't forget that it wasn't until after the war that BBC radio realised that you could interview a working-class person spontaneously. Before that, they used to go out and talk to ordinary people, then write a script, and then get them to read the script. (Leigh ibid)

Despite his powerful intellectual capacity Jennings and his own taste for so-called 'high culture' he was concerned to capture tastes and cultural practices across the board. The filming of Flanagan & Alan doing a show in a factory canteen has a well timed cut to Dame Myra Hess playing Mozart in the National Gallery to the Queen amongst others. There was nothing judgemental there, all were enjoying themselves and the music they loved providing a unity in difference. Jackson points out in his introduction to the Humphrey Jennings Reader that Jennings:

...would not turn people into allegories or types, no matter how benign the typing might be, and the outcome was that he was able to show the British at war as nobody else could. Those singing factory girls are neither dupes of capitalism nor Stakhanovite heroines: they are the women Jennings chanced to meet when he took his cameras down to the shop floor, and thier faces are vivid and unforgettable after half a century. (Jackson, 1993 p XV).

In the Editing Room

Jointly on the credits with Humphrey Jennings is Stewart McAllister an editor with whom Jennigs worked a lot. Joe Mendoza who was a young assisstant in the GPO film Unit at the time was asked to work with Jennings because he was the only person who could read a musical score in the unit. This was a prospect he found intimidating as Jennings had a reputation for shouting at people according to Drazin. Mendoza thought that Jennings had the visual brilliance whilst McAllister worked more on the issue of the music and creating a progression thorugh the film giving it some structure even though it isn't a narrative documentary.

In Listen to Britain McAllister has been credited with several important sections such as the build up of aircraft sound over the cornfield and the crucial cut from the Flanagan and Allen factory floor show to Myra Hess  in the National Portrait gallery.  Creative editing was especially important in teis film as around 25% was taken from existing sources note Aldrich and Richards.

Despite the importance of McAllister's contributions and his ability to work well with Jennings Aldrich and Richards comment:

Nevetheless it is hard to to accept that the overall conception, the continuing preoccupations, the structure even of the films are not ultimately those of Jennings. (Aldrich and Richards p 224)

They point out that Jennings always did the scripting and of course all the shooting of the footage and even where some of this was spontaneous it was also done in the framework of the masterplan in Jennings' mind. It is they note Jennings belief in a pattern but one in which:

...artistic form was a wider reflection of British history and of English life and culture. It is this consistent and coherent world view which ultimately marks Jennings out as the directing intelligence of the films... (Aldrich and Richards 2007 p 225)

Critical Reception of Listen to Britain

In many quarters a jingoistic 'up and at them' form of propaganda was the only thing worth having, Aldgate and Richards cite Edward Anstey of the Spectator who was a s scornful of the film as were the documentary purists writing in Documentary News Letter who were scathing about Words for Battle:

By the time Humphrey Jenings has done with it, it has become the rarest bit of fiddling since the days of Nero. It will be a disaster if this film is sent overseas. One shudders to imagine the effect upon our allies should they learn that an official British film-making unit can find the time these days to contemplate the current sights and sounds of Britain... (Cited Aldgate and Richards 2007, pp 222-223)

However, in reality it went down well with audiences in fact the description below sounds closer to a rock group reception than a 'documentary' screening. The deputy head of non-theatrical distribution for the Ministry of Information (MoI) reported that:

All sorts of audiences felt it to be a distillation and also a magnification of their own experiences on the home front. This was especially true of factory audiences. I remember one show in a factory in the Midlands where about 800 workers clapped and stamped approval. (Aldgate and Richards 2007 p223)

Roger Manvell then working as the Films Officer in the South West and later North-West of the country reported that he always showed a Jennings film because of the :

...poetic and emotional life they gave the programmes as a whole. I do not exaggerate when I say that members of audiences under the emotional strains of war ... frequently wept as a result of Jennings' direct appeal to the rich cultural heritage of Britain.... (Manvell cited Aldgate & Richards 2007, 223 )

Overall Listen to Britain is a powerful film which through a very creative notion of documentarism manages to not only capture fragments of everyday life but unify them in a way which is at the highest level of myth-making thus comfortably achieving the aims of the MoI. The Spectator commentator was proved spectacularly wrong. This geninely was propaganda as art an extraordianry feat and one which Triumph of the Will doesn't come near thankfully.

Listen to Britain Women in fields


Screenonline: Listen to Britain

Screenonline: John Krish. Editing asisstant on Listen to Britain

Pembroke College International Programme: Theory and Practice of Documentary Film

Victor Burgin Exhibition inspired by Listen to Britain

Corner, John. Sounds Real. Cambridge Journal of Popular Music. (Reality Check: You'll Need to Pay for this one)

Guardian on a documenting Britain exhibition in Liverpool 2006


British Cinema and The Ideology of Realism Chapter 1. (Somebody's interesting looking thesis)


Please follow link to the British Cinema Bibliography

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