All 27 entries tagged A Level Film Studies

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March 21, 2008

Guerilla Cinema: The 'Other' of Contemporary British Cinema

Cannes in a Van 2

This was an entirely refreshing find for a Good Friday Morning when I didn't have to get up early. Check this site out and send them some sponsorship money this is such a great idea!!!! Architecturally ands in terms of urbanism this has to be a good 'parafunctional space'.

Guerilla Cinema: The 'Other' of Contemporary British Cinema

Cannes in Van Van


I have entitled this posting 'guerilla' cinema because it is there to signify that ongoing tension or little war between mainstream cinema which is primarily about creating an ongoing business which feeds the creation of a cycle of stars, festival goings, critics and articles and slots in TV wotz'on this weekend on Friday nights. The more "artsy" it is the later it is broadcast. Film festivals by themselves or as a part of larger festivals are increasingly a part of the shift towards a "cultural industries" agenda which seeks to 'colonise the lifeworld' as the social theorist Habermas might describe it. For those of us who attend these things you are doubtless overburdened with evaluation  forms given out to gain audience feedback on the event space etc. Of course these are done as much as anything to cover the bums of the events organisers as anything else. They can be used to justify the event and to argue for "quality improvements" next time around. Of course this kind of surveillance of culture can kill any poetry in an event stone dead. 

The idea for the posting came from reading an article in the latest Sight and Sound about the difficulties of distribution and exhibition for British independent filmmakers when even the "Arthouse" cinemas are increasingly showing the same fare, in a sort of mainstream for the middle-classes. Some of these issues of control are already covered elswhere in the blog. combining this perception with flicking through an issue of Architectural Design entitled Poetics in Architecture reminded me of how staid, sterile and boring everything which smacks of the 'New Labour' is or has become. This whole blog started out as an aid to Open Studies Learning which has emerged as "Lifelong Learning" in the New Labour lexicon of control terms. Whilst under the aegis of extra-mural studies this form of learning wasn't controlled in terms of having to make the students perform some work. The space of learning was poetic in as much as an enthusiast delivered a course and a group of people interested came and interacted with the content and in that specific learning space in a dynamic and performative way which wasn't subject to measurement and control. If people were disatisfied then they would move on. Many of the attendees had good qualifications in other areas but simply wanted to extend their ideas and knowledge base into different areas at a more informal level without writing essay etc. Now this form of education has become instrumentalised. Humans on the whole are inquisitive if they are not browbeaten into accepting false limitations. 

The increasing commercialistion of spaces of alternative cinema at the same time create a residue 'a surplus' in which expressive and creative acts and desires find no menas of expression. The exponential explosion onto the web of YouTube and similar sites bears witness to this surplus of creativity which is largely outside of the commercial. Yet this is still unsatisfactory for cinema in its origins was a social space of F2F interactions amongst the audience. Here cinema intersects with architecture. This posting is the beginnings of an investigation into the possibilities of creating spaces of exhibition for an ever expanding multi-media consciousness which like many popular music forms seeks recognition but is also part of an unfolding cultural dynamic in which a search for 'poetry' which is defined here as a resistance to the rationalisation and control of all aspects of social life. It is a search for performative cinematic space which is 'parafunctional' in the words of Nikos Papastergiadis

Parafunctional Spaces

The term parafunctional space: 

Refers to zones in which creative, informal and unintended uses overtake the oficially designated functions. In parafunctional spaces social life is not simply abandoned or wasted; rather it continues in ambiguous and unconventional ways. 

Now Papastergiadis was thinking of older industrial cities where areas are becoming rundown or corners where people resist the instrumentalism of everyday life under New Labour by glue sniffing -See This is England. But as he points out this fits in with Bachelardian notions of poetics of space because it is dreaming and an attempt to break free of colonisation. 

Everythihng 4 Everyone

The Campaign over the Dalston Cinema is a good example of a parafunctional space.  

7 Inch Cinema as Parafunctional Space

What they say about themselves:

Two things helped give birth to 7 Inch Cinema: masses of good films out there, particularly shorts, that never get near our cinemas or TV screens; and more and more people choosing to watch film online or on beefy home entertainment systems. We are firm believers in the old-fashioned communal film experience. Our job is to sift through festivals, archives, DVD submissions and the web for interesting work and then to screen it in a relaxed setting for people to enjoy, perhaps alongside a discussion, a bit of music or a quiz. The setting could be a pub, an art gallery, a church, a warehouse, a military decontamination tent. It could even be a cinema. The main thing is to create a sense of occasion, and to show people something they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Flatpack Festival Birmingham

Good news for Flatpack
Monday 16th Jun 08
The UK Film Council have selected Flatpack Festival as one of the seven recipients of their national Festival Fund. Whoop! If you don't believe us you can get it straight from the horse's mouth, and there's also some info on the 7inch blog.

Flatpack Film Festival


Here are some interesting links when I used the search term "Guerilla Cinema".

Camcorder Guerillas

Chorlton Film Institute: guerilla cinema

Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow 

Cannes in a Van (Seems togive a nice sense of the general ethos)

BBC Film Network John Wojowski

Document 2: Documentary Film Festival  

Machinima 1

Guardian on the rise of Machinima

It's not British Cinema but its a great Idea. Check out this Parasite site for a metro projection system in Berlin

Well my search turned up Moviola which is a small charitable organisation which provides screenings in villages across several South Western Counties.  OK it's not exactly the normal concept of Guerrilla but it is provinging alternatives and developing film culture.

Well I found the above link on Mad Cornish Projectionist who seems to be well linked.

March 01, 2008

Mise–en–scène & Textual Analysis: Part One

The Importance of Mise-en-scène and Textual Analysis: Part 1


For those visitors who are reading this piece to help them with an 'A' level textual analysis exam, you will find that the term mise-en-scène is a contested one. The OCR Textual Analysis paper specification is largely following the position of the writers Bordwell and Thompson in their book Film Art: An Introduction. Consequently there is a clear list of its expectations. an on-line page from Northallerton College has usefully put the OCR details up. You do need to be aware that there is a debate about exactly what constitutes mise-en-scène. Learning at A level should partially be a matter of recognising that things in the world aren't entirely black and white.  

At the end of the day, the essay you are expected to write based upon an unseen scene from an action-adventure movie needs to discuss the creation of meaning using the various elements of film-making. In that sense the film as presented to you on the screen can be considered as an organic whole which stimulates a range of meanings and interpretations. You need to write about how these various elements contribute towards the holistic meaning. You will need to say why certain shots, for example, created a deeper sense of meaning for the audience.  


The issue of mise-en-scène and textual analysis in terms of the importance of creating meaning within a film is a very large topic. Below there is some discussion about the term mise-en-scène. There is some discussion of depth of field with some video links. Use of depth of field creatively is a very important tool.There is some discussion around the notion of cinematic space and the use of different types of shots to help organise the cinematic space. Sound, which is a very important component creating meaning, is not discussed at all here and must be discussed elsewhere in order to keep the article of a manageable size. There is an extract from Once Upon a Time in the West followed by a shot and spatial analysis to show how meaning can be created. There is doubtless more that can be said here and some aspects will probably be revised and developed in due course. There are also some definitions and a Webliography and Bibliography.

What is Mise-en-Scène?

Mise-en-scène is an extremely important aspect of cinema and in many ways it is surprising that there is relatively little misè-en-scene criticism in recent film studies writing. John Gibbs (2002) focuses in the problem of misè-en-scene criticism in the opening page of his small handbook on the subject which I have paraphrased:

...mise-en-scène is sometimes used as a straightforward descriptive term but it is really a concept complicated but central to a developed understanding of film...

...Thinking and writing of misè-en-scene which is concerned with visual style in the cinema - helped the study of film reach maturity. Yet many of the textbooks of today, including those which aim to give an introduction to the subject area, underestimate the importance of misè-en-scene. (Gibbs 2002, p 1) 

This term misè-en-scene originally came from theatre and meant staging. Its literal translation from the French means:

having been put into the scene

It crossed over into cinema relating to the production practices involved in the framing of shots. This covers the sets, costumes and lighting and also movement within the frame. As this is the expressive tool available to a filmmaker analysis of mise-en-scene is a way of identifying a particular filmmaker. As a theory it was developed by those interested in how the director and sometimes the team could participate in the construction of meaning. 

Mise-en-scène is a term employed in theatre to designate the contents of the stage and their arrangement. In cinema however the reference is rather to the film frame, including the arrangement of the profilmic event, of everything, which is in front of the camera – settings, costumes and props. mise-en-scène also refers more broadly to what the spectator actually sees on the screen – the composition of the image and the nature of the movement within the frame. As an element of mise-en-scène, composition of the cinematic image , for example, may produce narrative meanings relating to the spatial location of the story …..In any one film, mise-en-scène will work in conjunction with other codes to produce narrative meanings. ( My emphases;Kuhn, Annette, 1982 :37 )

But it is worth challenging whether this analysis is fully adequate. Gibbs (2002) is keen to emphasise the importance of the interaction of all the parts of the film. Gibbs argues that there are many variables and elements of mise-en-scène at a film makers disposal:

...these elements are most productively thought of in terms of their interaction rather than individually - in practice it is the interplay of elements that is significant.

There is a history of mise-en-scène criticism which goes back to France in the 1950s and then  taken up in the UK through the magazine Movie as Adrian Martin (2004) points out. Originally this discussion was linked to the notion of the Auteur - the idea of the director having at the moment of taking the shots the possibility to impose his (usually) / her creative vision and methods of making meaning upon the film. This was always an aspect of film criticism which was overemphasised and nowadays anybody who mentions the word auteur rapidly qualifies the expression by emphasising the team making aspects of a film.  

Problematising the meaning of mise-en-scène

As is becoming apparent the notion of mise-en-scène isn't quite so 'deceptively simple' as it first appears. In the argument put forwrd by Martin below there is a concern expressed that Gibbs is in danger of making the term mise-en-scène mean everything that is the director's work and risks losing the specificity of the separate aspects of the process : 

Gibbs it seems to me never frontally tackles let alone tries to resolve the foundational ambiguity that has long haunted mise-en-scène criticism. Namely: does it indicate a quite specific phase in the filmmaking process—which would be the shooting or ‘principal photography’ phase in which the scenes are blocked and shot within the décor—or is it a looser term a metaphor almost for film style taken more broadly and holistically? If it’s the former then the definition of mise-en-scène must be meaningfully limited and not allowed to ‘bleed’ over other phases of the  filmmaking process; and if it’s the latter then is the displacement of the word style by mise-en-scène blocking our full appreciation of the complex levels of aesthetic form in cinema? This is what I believe has indeed happened in many places where film criticism is practiced.(Martin, Adrian 2004)

To some extent it seems as though film criticism is short of a concept around which consensus can be constructed. Should we use the term style to define the overall effects of what is created through the whole film-making process and which combines together in an organic whole to create layers of meaning which are available for interpretation by audiences? How does this relate to the notion of the use of the term poetics which is sometimes used to describe more artistic films and is the subject of  a recent book by David Bordwell? Perhaps Martin's use of Bertolucci is helpful at this point in helping to giveus a feel of an essence of good cinema. Strangely in the spirit of serendipity this turned up on a search after I had completed the analysis of the scene of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West co-scripted by Bertolucci.

If  in this sense mise-en-scène is taken as the essence of film art, and of the auteur’s ‘gesture’, it enshrines the three-point diagram with which Bernardo Bertolucci paid fond homage to Sergio Leone and, behind him, a vast tradition of ‘organic’ cinema: what matters, fundamentally, is that mobile, modulating, sinuous relationship between the camera, the actor, and the environment (whether natural or constructed).(My emphasis: Martin Adrian 2004)

For those visitors who are reading this piece to help them with an 'A' level textual analysis exam, the next part of Gibbs' argument will not become available to them as they must currently view a five minute extract unseen from a film. This means that you are likely to have only a narrative perspective which is given in that 5 minutes which is clearly very limited. This attitude to the teaching of  whilst it is useful up to a point can have its limitations and is in danger of leading to  mechanistic approaches to mise-en-scène analysis. Those particular visitors to this page may wish to add that mise-en-scène on Gibbs' argument needs to take into account the narrative structure as well:

Additionally we need to consider the significance acquired by the individual element by virtue of context: the narrative situation, the 'world' of the film, the accumulating strategies that the film maker adopts. (Gibbs, 2002 p 26)

Gibbs' second chapter is entitled 'The Interaction of Elements' and he notes here the importance of casting:

In addition to the expressive skills which a performer brings to a film, the casting of a role has consequences for our understanding. (Gibbs 2002 p 33) 

Gibbs' third chapter is about the coherence of relationships within a film and below he refers to an examination of a scene with the film Lone Star which he examined in chapter two however the argument is relevant across cinema: order to make sense of the one moment, we have had to balance a detailed examination of the sequence itself with perspectives derived from an understanding of the rest of the film, knowledge of the traditions and conventions within and with which the film is working (those of the Western for example), and information from the world outside... (Gibbs,2002 p 39)

Gibbs argues that within a film there can be two elements contributing to a sense of coherence. In the first instance this would be taken across the whole of the film. From the pespective of those reading this to help with an unseeen extract for example Gibbs' second point will probably be prioritised. We can be talking about how the form and the narrative content merge together to make a coherent whole. In this sense it is artifical to separate out form and content. We can say on that basis that style is substance providing that there is an overall holistic sense of coherence achieved. Where a film becomes known as simply being about style then it is likely to fade in people's memories fast. If it is a truly substantive film it will probably stand the test of time.

Later on in his book Gibbs makes very clear the differences between a form of criticism and analysis which values coherence (and by implication complexity) in a film compared to an older form of criticism that wasn't so aware of the issues raised by
mise-en-scène. There is always a danger of being mechanistic in applying the notion of "rules" to an analysis of say the camera angles. The mechanistic approach suggests the a high angled camera is ALWAYS signifying a position of power and a low camera angle ALWAYS signifying a position of inferiority. Of course this is not the case at all. In the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus is introducing Neo to the concept of The Matrix they start in a sterile white space containing two retro leather chairs and a retro TV. When Morpheus shows Neo the real world of The Matrix he ends up sitting down in a clear position of authroity reinforced by his dress code compared with Neo's. The dark mirror shades simply add to the position of power. Neo is standing up very much as a minion might to a sovereign lord and master! ANALYSIS MUST ALWAYS BE GUIDED BY THE FILMIC CONTEXT!

Other Critics versus Bordwell and Thompson

Gibbs moves on to challenge the evergreen Bordwell and Thompson and their classic book on Film Art: an Introduction which many students end up with on their shelf.  Gibbs argues that to fail to think about the issue of the interaction of elements is a fundamental problem with Bordwell and Thompson's work:

It is my belief that the definition of mise-en-scène offered in the book is misleading. Bordwell and Thompson restrict thier definition of mise-en-scene to those elements common to film and thatre. The definition of of mise-en-scene therefore makes no reference to framing, camera movement or the position of the camera. Instead Film Art devotes a separate chapter (entitled "Cinematographic Properties") to the discussion of these areas. (Gibbs 2002, p 54)

Gibbs powerfully contributes to his cause when a little later he comments that the actual reality of film making supports his position:

...on set or location, film-makers do not stage the action and only subsequently think about where the camera is going to be placed in order to record it. Similarly to discuss the lighting of a shot without reference to the position of the camera is to misunderstand how films are made, one does not light a set and then set about where the camera is going to be placed. Rather a set is lit with the framing and the movement of the camera absolutely in mind. (Ibid)

Currently I don't have an up to date version of Bordwell and Thomson's book and Gibbs' comment relates to the 7th edition which may have changed I've taken it at face value for now. I guess it's time to update). There isn't the space to specifically discuss lighting in any depth precisely because of its importance. Cinema is after all 'writing with light'. Something on lighting will be added in due course. There is something very brief below.

Jacob Leigh is coming from the same direction as Gibbs (this is confirmed by looking at the bibliography. Immediately below though he cites the famous art historian Gombrich which is awarnig against reductionism when it comes to creating criticism:   

When it comes to criticism, articulating levels of meaning or describing parts of a harmonious whole risks tearing what Gombrich calls the ‘web of ordered relationships’; Gombrich notes that ‘as soon as you single out a certain relationship of forms you upset precisely that balance between all the relationships of which you want to speak’ (Gombrich 1993: 73). Further on, he emphasises: ‘It is partly a matter of taste and tact how far we want to go in articulating these levels of meaning, for they, like all others, can only be singled out at the risk of tearing that miraculous gossamer web of ordered relationships which distinguishes the work of art from the dream’ (Gombrich 1993: 79-80) [Cited Leigh Jacob]

In the early years of Hollywood lighting wasn’t meant to draw attention to itself. In some countries such as Germany lighting was used very early on to create dramatic effects. Low angle , low key lighting was used in German Expressionist cinema . There are three main aspects to lighting:

  • key lighting – hard light, used to highlight focused on a particular subject
  • Fill lighting – used to illuminate the framed space overall
  • Backlighting – this can distort and brings out silhouettes (commonly used in  horror / film noir / expressionism).

Deep Focus / Shallow Focus Photography and the Construction of Cinematic Space

The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover

Mise-en-scène is, as Kuhn  and also Gibbs (2002) have pointed out, a way of organising what appears to the spectator on the screen

Space is a vital expressive element at a film-maker's disposal (Gibbs p 17)

The Term deep focus means that both the foreground and background of a shot are in focus at the same time. Correctly Andre Bazin links this technique of photography with the concept of mise-en-scène. Bazin argues that deep focus  helps to make a film more realistic, however it will be argued below that this is not necessarily the case . For Bazin deep focus has three advantages:

  1. It brings spectators into closer contact with the image
  2. It is intellectually more challenging than montage which manipulates spectators to make them see what the filmmaker wants them to see, whilst deep focus gives the viewer choice in what they see;
  3. It allows for ambiguity essential to works of art. For example Andrè Bazin thought that Italian Neorealist film kept 'reality' intact. By shooting in deep focus less cutting is necessary so the spectator is less 'manipulated' by the narrative and more free to read the set of shots in front of them. Ideologically (see ideology) as an editing style it can be considered as counter to the Hollywood style of film making which is found in action adventure films for example.

Whilst Bazin was keen to link the concept to realism deep focus photography can of course be used for all kinds of films. It is frequently used in action adventure movies and if we add another element to that of Bazin's we can see that deep focus can often link characters together on screen whereas shallow focus could bring out the presence of one character and make a different impact upon the spectator by isolating that character from their surroundings. This would probably encourage a spectator to think in terms of the psychological state of mind of that character at that particular moment. 

Deep focus is derived from the technical term within photography called depth of field. A photographer can gain greater depth of field (keeping more of the image in frame in clear focus by decreasing the aperture and taking a slower exposure. Of course if the lighting is low as well then fast movement can be a problem to capture. The diagram below taken from the wikipedia article clearly shows the effect of a shallow depth of field. Here the butterfly is only in focus in the centre ground.  To capture a butterfly flying requires a very 'fast' lens with a very wide aperture. This wide aperture makes the depth of field narrow / shallow.

More photographic examples are available on this entry.

Wikipedia Depth of Field Diagram

A photographer can of course use depth of field to create certain affects upon the audience. In the image below the photographer simply wants to highlight the term 'depth of field'. There are also some web based videos in the webliography which explain the basic photgraphic conects effectively. 

Shallow Depth of field

Connecting the Characters in Cinematic Space

Best years of our lives

In this image from the William Wyler film the Best Years of Our Lives players of the piano duet are intimately connected to the rest of the bar as can be seen by the reactions to the music from the two men sitting at the bar who are plainly in focus because it is a deep focus shot.

Touch of Evil Deep Focus

In this shot from Touch of Evil both characters are intimately linked through the use of deep focus. This is very important in terms of narrative development. Narrative and cinematography are integrated.

Sergio Leone was an adept at utilising a low placed camera combined with a deep focus shot to link characters together within cinematic  space:

Sergio Leone Deep Focus

The lead up to the final shoot out in The Good the Bad and the Ugly starts with a wonderful establishing shot of the scene which places all the characters literally within an arena of death which is even coloured with the pall of death to emphasise the point. Perhaps it is Leone's familiarity with amphitheatres which gives him this sense of space:

Good Bad and The Ugly 2

In Once Upon a Time in America the gang arrive at the farmhouse to deal with any witnesses. The small boy is linked to the gang through a deep focus tightly cropped long shot. The colour of the clothing evoke notions of a bleak dustiness and a bitter wind seems to be blowing in the desert in a shot full of forboding. There is a strange sort of symmetry constructed with the three central gang members wearing dark hats and the ones on each end wearing light hats:

Once Upon a Time in America 4

The following extract from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America is an excellent example of the construction of a cinematic space through the use of deep focus and long takes. For Bazin this might have meant reality however this is a highly stylised and choreographed scene where the villain finally meets his nemesis * in the ultimate of rvenge movies. I'm afraid this extract has got a dreadful soundtrack as somebody has made a "music video" out of it so forget that and concentrate on the visual and camera techniques!!! 

An analysis of some of the film language which Sergio Leone has utilised in the extract

If one was presented with the extract as an unseen piece it is immediately obvious from the clothing and buildings that the film is a Western of sorts and it quickly transpires that  there is some sort of stand-off which  looks as though it is a prelude to a shoot out and that it is to the to the death. This is shown by the way the space is represented and by the way the characters are moving through the space.

Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of the whole scene is how the cinematic space is constructed as an arena which becomes a fight to the death. This fight is handled in a highly ritualised and symbolic way utilising the iconography* of the western but embedding a combination of unusual shots and a deliberately slow unfurling of the narrative which is the climax of the film wherein poetic justice is exercised. The extract has a European flavour to it in the way it utilise longer takes than Hollywood style films and Leone's style emphasises a lot of deep focus work in this extract. 

The scene starts with an LS at a normal persons height Frank's (Henry Fonda) symbolic black outfit stands out in stark contrast to dusty browns and beiges of the slightly tumbledown buildings.  There is a cut to deep focus extreme close up from behind Frank's right shoulder. We see Harmonica (Charles Bronson) in the distance. Behind him is a greyish looking hill. The arean and its protagonists are established. There are no witnesses other than the spectators voyeurs in this fight to the death. There is a reverse shot with an ECU of Harmonica's left side of his face lit up facing a black figure himself set against the background building which is in deep shadow and very dark. The manichean symbolism is hard to avoid. On a crane the cameras zooms out whilst gaining height and Harmonica walks to the left. Meanwhile Frank walks slightly forward. There is a cut to an LS of the whole area taken from behind and to the right of Harmonica. The sun is casting shadows from Harmonica's left / Frank's right. They are manouvering within the arena to ensure they are not facing into the sun. Behind Harmonica there is a low wall reinforcing the sense of an arena or theatre (of death). It is a ritualistic space. In a cut the camera is now position further to the right- now only Frank is in frame. Dust gently wafts from the right hand side of the screen to emphasise the isolation of the gladiators. There is a cut to a camera position directly behind Frank at his boot level. Still in deep focus we see Harmonica who looks relaxed with his left foot on what appears to be a tree branch in the distance as Frank sheds his black cloak which is flapping in the wind as the tension is gradually built up. The grey cliffs and the sparsely vegetated hills lends an unremitting bleakness to the proceedings. The camera cuts to a MLS of Frank with the buildings still very much in focus behind him as he moves forwards and to his right. Tracking him the shot changes to an ECU of Frank head turned towards Harmonica looking concerned this time though it is in shallow focus. The spectator is only concerned with what is going through the mind of Frank. suddenly the supreme predator has a hint of doubt. The camera pans and dollies with Frank for about 7 seconds. There is a cut to Harmonica MLS still motionless. The camera tracks to the right for amoment then there is an ECU of Harmonica who is deadpan. Still in ECU the camera dollies around him to the right whilst Harmonica is watcing Frank who is clearly moving in that direction.  There is a reverse cut to Frank who is still moving to his right in ECU. Then the camera cut to a full on CU of Harmonica zooming into an ECU. Then all is dark for a transitional to a flashback.

A hand is holding a harmonica which is being forced into the mouth of a youngish teenager. Only at that moment is the audience privileged to understand what has happened in the past. as the scene unfurls the narrative details become clear.   The camera zooms slowly out to reveal that there is somebody standing on the teenagers shoulders. The camera continues to zoom out to reveal the rest of the surrounding scene. A young man is talking to the boy. There are a group of horses grazing in the background there is a man tending them. There are mountains in the extreme distance. This is all in deep focus. Continuing to zoom out whilst the camera is tracking backwards and going higher on a crane the spectator now sees the full scenario. The man on the boy's shoulders has a noose around his neck which is attached to something that itself is a part of a strange arch structure in the middle of a desert. Probably marking agateway to the property of the man and boy. Some other cowboys are symmetrically lounging at the bottom of each side of the arch.  The camera cuts to an ECU of a younger Frank smiling viciously; there is then a reverse shot to the boy in CU who is wobbling from the strain and the heat with the harmonica in his mouth knowing that eventually he will collapse and the man on his shoulders will die. The camera tilts upwards tracking up the man man to a very low angle shot of his face in CU. As he wobbles there is a cut to the distressed features of the boy in ECU in shallow focus with the boots just showing. Again the audience is drawn into wondering what is going through his mind as the sweat drips of his face. It is clear that his hair is also drenched in the sweat of fear / physical strain / heat.  Cut to a reverse slightly low angle shot of the younger Frank with a contemptuous sneer on his slightly curled lip. A moment of blackness. The camera reverses to a cut of the boy in MCU with camera at waist height. It is a shallow focus shot with the legs of a gunman whos is leaning nonchalantly against the archway to the boys right whilst behind the boy who has clearly collapsed to his knees are the pair of boots dangling at an angle which makes it clear that the wearer has now died. The camera tracks the boy down as he collapses face first into the dusty soil at a slightly high angle as he hits the ground. We see the harmonica by his mouth then there is a cut to the draw with the camera positioned at waist height behind Frank,  Harmonica appears as a 'Plan Americaine' so the camera is at a slightly low angle. We seem them swiftly drawing their guns with Frank's holster in CU and in the deep focus shot we see the smoke from the muzzle of Harmonica's revolver.   There is a reverse cut and the spectator sees Frank wheel to his left jerking backwards. There is a cut to a blurry shallow focus ECU of Frank. Here the audience is led to identify with Frank's subjectivity or point of view (POV)*- he has been critically wounded and his vision is going. The image snaps back into focus for a moment and then cuts away to Frank's right with the background slightly out of focus.  For a couple of seconds the audience sees the hand trying to reholster the gun while the body is shaking hard in the background. Then the gun drops. There is a CU of Frank tottering forwards unbelievingly. The camera tracks back and zooms out slowly as Frank staggers forwards after it, refusing to give up on life. He comes to a stop as the camera tracks up on him whilst at the same time he falls to his knees.  The camera stops moving and zooming and the head of Harmonica appears in the bottom of the frame behind and to the right of Frank. He walks forward implacably into frame in slightly low angle shot.  Frank collapses to the left of the screen just the brim of his hat showing as Harmonica moves towards the right of the screen. The camera cuts to a high angle deep focus shot from behind Harmonica's left shoulder. Looking down on the stricken Frank.  The shot is held for some seconds whilst Frank queries Harmonica. There is a cut to an extreme low angle shot of a now smilingly scornful Harmonica in ECU in a position of absolute power. He says nothing. There is a reverse cut high angle ECU to Frank staring up, then it cuts to a low angle medium close up of Harmonica ripping the harmonica of its string.  The camera pans left following Harmonica down as he gets to his knees beside Frank.  In a low angle two shot from behind Fonda with the camera seemingly at ground level Harmonica leans forward with the harmonica in his left hand. The audience know what he is going to do. The camera cuts to a very high angle shot with Frank in ECU and Harmonica's hand so close to the lens it is blurred.  Frank's performance manages to combine a look of fear and loathing knowing what Harmonica  is about to do.  The hand implacably moves into full focus and thrusts the harmonica into Frank's mouth. Frank takes a few breaths and his eyes wander. There is a cut to the teenage boy falling into the dust and Frank knows who his nemesis* is. There is a cut back to Frank from the same high angle - he gives a slight nod of recognition then starts to fall to his side. There is cut to a two shot ECU of Frank's head from beneath him with Harmonica looming up. The camera tracks him down as he collapses dead onto the ground the camera is at ground level and Frank's face is in ECU with the harmonica so close to the lens it is slightly out of focus.

In terms of its wider meaning the film's climax is about the delivery of poetic justice (see also definition of nemesis below*), as this whole piece is about trying to get better definitions of meanings then this too needs defining. My fairly ancient Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms has this in the entry:

...the morally reassuring allocation of happy and unhappy fates to the virtuous and the vicious characters respectively, usually at the end of a narrative or dramatic work...the term may also refer to a strikingly appropriate reward or punishment , usually a 'fitting retribution' by which a villain is ruined by some process of his own making. (Baldick,1990 : Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms )

There are layers of meaning within the mise-en-scène which simply are not available to those who see the film as just this extract however on Gibb's notion of coherence in terms of the film as a whole as well as the extract in isolation we can begin to weave together certain aspects of the scene's overall coherence through the clothing and make up and performance of the actors.  Even in this scene the viewer can see the difference in the way the actors are dressed. Frank in this scene and also throughout the film has a certain sartorial elegance which is amplified by his dress, posture and attitude. He is a man of the city, articulate and, knowing and powerful, able to be a leader of men albeit of the most unpleasant sort. By comparison Harmonica is taciturn in the extreme. He is almost the colour of the earth into which he collapsed in the scene and he blends with the countryside.

Bronson in Once Upon a Time in America 1

Bronson playing the taciturn Harmonica looks and dresses as though he has come from the earth itself, dusty and bleached out. Signifying perhaps a force from beyond the grave.

Frank's city clothes stand out he is not of this space, but he feels he can control it. However throughout the extract we see that his supreme confidence starts to take on elements of doubt. The fact that he feels the need to move. The fact that had we seen the previous scene Harmonica already had the drop on him and has given him what appears to Frank to initially be an easy chance to win in a formalised showdown sees consternation begin to emerge in his face. Why would this seemingly implacable enemy even give him this seeming chance to avoid death unless he was so confident he could beat Frank. Here Henry Fonda's performance and indeed his casting fit beautifully with the role just as Bronson's for those familiar with The Magnificent Seven know him to be both taciturn and brilliantly fast with a weapon. This of course relates to Gibbs' point about knowledge and expectations about the genre. 

Fonda as Frank

One can get an impression here that Frank has a better dress code than Harmonica. In the scene below Frank is is in a position of power in the ornate railway carriage interior, smoking a cigar. Here the image is in quite shallow focus. With the horses out of focus the viewer is led towards the meeting between the two men. Not only does the high angle shot make Harmonica look inferior it can be sen that Frank's dress is more in keeping with the interior. Harmonica looks out of place: 

Fonda as Frank 2

*Iconography: Buscombe came closest to arguing the position that a genre’s visual conventions can be thought of as one of the defining features of a genre such as guns, cars, clothes in the gangster film. It is hard to argue this with any great consistency because the possible connections between the items or icons is unclear. More importantly it is actually very difficult to list the defining characteristics of more than a handful of genres, for the simple reason that many genres – among them the social problem film, the biopic, the romantic drama and the psychological horror film – lack a specific iconography. The genres of the western and gangsters discussed by critics McArthur and Buscombe happen to fit the concept of generic iconography very well. Others that fit well are the gothic horror film, and the biblical epic. Neale argues that the failure to apply the concept productively to other genres suggests that the defining features of Hollywood’s genres may be heterogeneous.

*Nemesis: "retribution or punishment for wrong-doing; or the agent carrying out such punishment, often personified as Nemesis, a minor Greek goddess responsible for executing the vengeance of the the gods against erring humans".(Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms.)

*Point of View: The following definition is taken from the Dictionary of Literary Terms and of course literature is not cinema although there are obvious cross-overs. More work will be done on point of view (POV) later. The position or vantage-point from which the events of a story seem to be observed and presented to u. The chief distinction usually made between points of view is that between third-person narratives and first-person narratives. A third person narrator may be omniscient, and therefore show an unrestricted knowledge of the story's events, another kind of third-person narrator may confine our knowledge of events to whatever is observed by a single character or small group of characters, this method being known as 'limited point of view. A first-person narrator's point of view will normally be restricted to his or her partial knowledge or experience, and therefore will not give us access to other character's hidden thoughts. Many modern authors have also used the multiple point of view, in which we are shown the events from the positions of two or more different characters.


Filming Shakespeare's Play. A Google search of this book provides an explanation and shows how deep focus helped create a relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. go to pages 48 / 49.

Depth of field Wikipedia entry

Photography tutorial on depth of field from 'My Cambridge'

Yale Cinematography notes

An interesting and in depth for the more advanced visitors. This  blog posting and discusssion on the importance of Bazin and misè-en-scene and takes issue with some comments by the well known critic David Bordwell.

This Film Lexicon from MIT is particularly useful providing information and ideas about film language well beyond the notion of  deep focus.

TV Critical Methods and Applications  

Category D: A film and Media Blogspot

Adrian Martin Film Philosophy

Jacob Leigh from the Screen Studies postgraduate training site 

A useful basic glossary of moving image 'grammar'.  


Baldick,1990 : Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gibbs, John. 2002. Mise-en-scène: film Style and Interpretation. London: Wallflower Press

Kuhn, Anette. 1982. Women's Pictures. London: Routledge

January 01, 2008

British Directors: Paul Andrew Williams

British Directors: Paul Andrew Williams

Go to London to Brighton (2006)


Director Paul Andrew Williams

Brief Overview

Paul Andrew Williams  has proved to be a highly successful new British director. His first feature film London to Brighton was very successful for a low budget film. This has helped to attract more support from the purseholders. 

Williams' next film is going to be The Cottage. It is a thriller which includes in its acting line-up Andy Serkis who was in Lord of the Rings. The UK Film Council's Premiere Fund has provided £770,000 of backing. Isle of Man Film, Screen Yorkshire and Pathe have also provided support. 


London to Brighton won the Skillset New Director’s Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film has also won the Jury Prizes at Dinard and Raindance, and earned three nominations at the British Independent Film Awards.

London to Brighton named by The Guardian as “best British film of the year”


london to Brighton Kitchen

London to Brighton. Pimp Derek orders Kelly to get him a girl for a client 

London to Brighton (2006)

The cottage 1

The Cottage 2008 ' anarchic, gory horror-comedy'

The Cottage (2008)


Sight and Sound London to Brighton Review

BBC  Film Network. Includes video extract.

Shooting People Blog: Interview with Paul Williams

Kingston University: Paul Williams becomes a visiting professor

Guardian Interview with Williams on bad critical reception of The Cottage

Guardian Review of The Cottage

Film Availability: 

A DVD is currently available 

London to Brighton DVD Cover


December 26, 2007

In This World: Michael Winterbottom

In This World: 2002. Dir. Michael Winterbottom


This entry is currently going to be limited to being a webliography. It is part of an ongoing analysis of contemporary British cinema and its responses to the processes of globalisation and diaspora which are a major feature of contemporary networked society. As such it is cross linked to this entry: Contemporary British Cinema: Representing the World Locally

Awards and Accolades

Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear 2003

BAFTA Film Award 2004  best film not in the English Language category.  


BBC Review In This World

BBC Interview with Michael Winterbottom

Wikipedia In This World 

Indiewire disussion with Michael Winterbottom

Daily Telegraph review: In This World

Chris Darke on Globalisation and In This World

Guardian on In This World

Observer commentary on In This World. (Very useful comments on the industrial and exhibitionary background)

Tony Grisoni on his role in In This World 

Screenonline Bibliography of Michael Winterbottom 

Daily Telegraph Film Makers on Film: Michael Winterbottom

Senses of Cinema on Michael Winterbottom

Philip French Observer Review

Film Availability :           In This World DVD Cover

In This World is available from MovieMail here.  


October 29, 2007

What is a British Film?


Qualifying as a British film & tax relief


One of the puzzling questions for A Level Students is what counts as a British film. It isn't very obvious as the murky world of film financing , tax dodges (sorry  breaks) can make  very unlikley films "British. Because of this there are several benchmarks that can be applied. Everything below the introduction  is taken from the UK Film Council site. Clicking on the links will bring you to the current definitions.

For most normal people rather than international financiers, the so called "cultural test " is the one which we would apply. To pass the cultural test the proposed film must get 16 out of 31 marks. The full table of how to get this can be found by clicking on the appropriate link. This cultural test is largely in accord with the principles of "Cultural Citizenship" which seeks to ensure a diverse set of representations of people within a particular culture at a particular historical moment. 

However for the purposes of the exam you will need to be aware of the differing benchmarks and definitions. It is worth pointing out again that the British film industry is much more than British Films.  Many people are employed in software or technical positions which are largely dependent upon Hollywood. Thus the British film industry can be doing well when the range of British films produced can be very thin on the ground  


Qualifying as a British Film

Qualifying as a British film provides a number of advantages; productions are eligible to apply for UK Film Council funding and for the benefits of the UK’s tax relief structures. Films can qualify as British in one of three ways. They must meet the requirements of one of the following:

    • One of the UK’s official bilateral co-production treaties, or

    • The European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production

    • The Cultural Test (Schedule 1 to the Films Act 1985)


    For information on qualifying as a British film via the UK’s official bilateral co-production treaties or the European Convention, click here.

    Cultural Test
    For information on qualifying as a British Film using the Cultural Test, click here.

    Tax Relief
    For information on the UK's system of Tax Relief for British Films, click here.

    European Certificate of British Nationality
    British qualifying films are eligible for an European Certificate of British Nationality. For information on qualifying for an European Certificate of British Nationality, click here.

    September 06, 2007

    Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City

    Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City. 2006. Mark Shiel. Wallflower Press Short Cuts Series Paperback

    Italian Neorealism Rebuilding the Cinematic City

    Return to film Studies Book Reviews

    In all of this, the notion of representing ‘the real’ – real society, real cities, real people – has become more and more compromised and indeed commodified. In this cultural climate, perhaps the time is right to reclaim the real for its radical potential. (Shiel p 127)


    Visconti's Ossessione


    I still think that Italian Cinema from 1943 to approximately 1980 is the most productive and interesting one of any national cinema. Sadly it is becoming less well known as this period disappears into history. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly any  serious study of the period is embedded in Italian departments and knowledge is thus limited to a few cognoscenti. Neorealism is one of the few aspects of Italian cinema taught more generally on film studies courses however this is often restricted to a brief chapter in a more general film history book. Yet ,as Shiel’s last paragraph cited above notes, rather than the solidarity of early neorealism being an historical occurrence perhaps the sentiments and general approach of neorealism are due a revival. As globalisation runs its course leaving pockets of bitter poverty in even the richest countries and in countries like Brazil leading to bullet proof cars and helicopters for the upper classes representing the real seems to be becoming a priority.

    Shiel’s recent book on neorealism is therefore more than welcome because it allows the interested follower of Italian cinema and also students an accessible but authoritative route into this fascinating period of European and Italian history in greater depth. The reader won't put of by the intensely theoretical work which is aimed at a very small target audience of those already in the know which is in part unfortunate outcome of the pressure of the research assessment exercise in Universities.

    I strongly recommend this to colleagues in the tertiary sector who teach courses such as the neorealism option on the World Cinema unit for the WJEC A level. It may also be useful for student supervisors of the OCR critical research project area for those taking the World Cinema option. Whilst the book will be too difficult for most sixth formers it will prove a remarkable useful resource which is very well informed indeed as well as original and imaginative and well written as one would expect from somebody who is teaching on the recently upgraded film studies depart at Kings College London.

    Technical Aspects of the Book

    It may seem a little churlish and pedantic to be critical of the book’s organisation but it would have been useful to have had pages references in the index to mentions of specific films, perhaps under the name of the director as Bondanella does in his large general history of Italian cinema. It is very useful to be able to navigate straight to comment upon a particular film without having to trawl through the book. As none of the other books in this series do this perhaps Wallflower will think about doing this should the titles come out in revised editions which many of them deserve to.

    What is Neorealism?


    The iconic image of Anna Magnani as Pina moments before being gunned down in Rossellini's Roma Citta Aperta  

    (Link to BBC interview with Rossellini on this Rossellini page)

    Defining Neorealism very precisely is fraught with difficulties. Discourse around Neorealism tends to fall into two schools of thought however Shiel neatly sidesteps this with a convincing argument. Defining any cultural moment is notoriously difficult and the more closely the object of research is gazed upon the more heterogeneous it can seem. Shiel notes that the term Neorealism can be used ‘flexibly’. For some, Neorealism runs from Visconti’s Ossessione (1943) until Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957). Other have preferred a more tightly defined range of films from Rossellini’s Rome Open City to De Sica’s Umberto D (1952). This kind of discussion can quickly fall into point-scoring and it is more useful to see the whole period as being inextricably linked and indeed being strongly influential well beyond 1957. In this sense Raymond Williams’ notion of ‘structures of feeling’ is a useful term to call upon when discussing cultural moments and movements. Shiel chooses the following approach:

    Neorealism is also thought of not so much as a particular moment defined by starting and end dates, but as a historically – and culturally – specific manifestation of the general aesthetic quality known as ‘realism’, which is characterised by a disposition to the ontological truth of the physical visible world. From this perspective, the realism of Italian Neorealism manifested itself in a distinctive visual style. (Shiel: 2006 p1).

    Importantly Shiel points out that not all neorealist films contain all of the cinematic strategies that neorealism is know for – location shooting, use of non-professional actors etc. There isn’t a precise formulaic set of rules to describe neorealism.


    De Sica holds to the notion of having a non-professional actor in the leading role in Umberto D

    Neorealism as a Wider Cultural Movement

    Neorealism was a much wider cultural movement than just cinema. Many people will be familiar with writers such as Calvino who were strongly associated with neorealism however the movement extended to photographers and painters and interestingly also architects. This link to architecture was something new to me and is dealt with in chapter three of the book called neorealism and the City. Calvino’s book Invisible Cities is of course one link and Deleuze of course wrote about the different city space of post-war cinema because the spaces of the cities were opened up by the devastation of the fighting. Rossellini deal with this in Paisa particularly in the episode based upon Florence, but nowhere is more marked than in his Germany Year Zero where he was specifically invited by the authorities to film in Berlin because of Paisa and of course Rome Open City. Other critics and theorists apart from Deleuze also wrote extensively about the city and cinema especially Kracauer and Bazin.

    Germany Year Zero

    Rossellini's Germany Year Zero

    The Structure of the Book

    The book is well structured with an initial chapter describing neorealism, here the importance of the French pre-war directors Renoir, Carne and Clair is emphasised. The chapter also contains some useful synopses of the emergence of neorealist directors under the Fascist regime such as Rossellini and De Sica. The book then moves on to examine the first phase of neorealism as Shiel understands it because he sees work of the 1950s as being part of neorealism which is adapting to changing circumstances rather than being a complete break with what had gone before. In the first phase the dominant feel of the films are built around a notion of solidarity.

    I found chapter three perhaps the most interesting because Shiel has applied the growing interest within the fields of film and cultural studies with the city and representations of the city to the realm  of neorealist cinema.

    Neoralist images of post-war urban crisis are an especially important legacy because Italy was the only one of the defeated Axis powers whose cinematic representations of the city achieved iconic status internationally so soon after its military defeat. (Shiel p68)

    He has also extended the concept of neorealism to movements in architecture allied to notions of building for community. Shiel also draws parallels in the shift from phase one of neorealism (solidarity), to the second phase (focusing more on disaffection and alienation) to shifts in architectural discourse and practices.

    Rocco and his Brothers 11   Rooco and his Brothers 12

    Modern Northern Milan meets Southern emigrants in Rocco and his Brothers from Visconti.

    It is a great film and thoroughly embedded with the concrns of modernisation and modernity. Visconti meets Dickens with politics perhaps. It is a film which seems to be a direct descendent if not a continuation of  neorealism. Its treatment of the city is well worth considering in depth.  However it isn't a film which Shiel mentions, whilst writers like Bondanella rather sweep aside its powerful political insights suggesting it is more operatic and melodramatic than having the spirit of " a naturalist novel or a neorealist film". (Bondanella 2002, p198)

    Chapter four is entitled “The Battle for Neorealism”. It focuses upon the rapidly changing circumstances within Italian society as Italian politics consolidated around the Christian Democrats who were victorious in the 1948 general election a time when Hollywood comes to dominate Italian cinema. Shiel also notes the demands from the more hard-line left such as the critic Umberto Barbaro ( ) for a move towards an aesthetic based upon Socialist-Realism, which had less to do with reality and more to do with creating mythical heroes. In this chapter Shiel also makes a brief comment upon Visconti’s Bellissima largely following Geoffrey Nowell-Smith’s position in which Bellissima carries:

    neorealist hallmarks but its light-hearted comedy and melodrama set it somewhat apart from the rest of Visconti’s generally political oeuvre. (Shiel p 93).

    As can be seen from my review of the recently released DVD of Bellissima from Eureka Video I have a reading which gives Visconti credence for having a sharp political cutting edge whilst still maintaining the solidarity of neorealism which is hammered home (perhaps unconvincingly but that is an artistic comment not a political one).Hopefully readers won’t be put off Visconti’s excellent film by this comment.


    A moving moment in Visconti's Bellissima as the built in advantages of the middle classes aremade abundantly clear

    Cronaca di’un amore poster

    Poster of Antonioni’s Cronaca di’un amore

    In chapter five Shiel reviews neorealism’s second phase. In this analysis he is in agreement with Andre Bazin who considers that it was in the closing shot of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria that finally closes the door on neorealism. The chapter opens with an analysis of Antonioni’s Cronaca di’un amore. Sadly I haven’t seen this film which along with I think all of Antonioni’s early work is unavailable in the UK so I’m unable to comment upon Shiel’s analysis beyond noting that there is no reason to think of it as anything but thorough.


    Rossellini's Voyage in Italy

    In chapter five Shiel also comments upon the films of Rossellini from this period, with some time spent on Voyage in Italy one of several from this time made with Ingrid Bergman. This film at least is available in an excellent BFI version with a very interesting analytical commentary by Laura Mulvey as an extra. Shiel says of Voyage in Italy:

    Comprises an expansion of neorealism in the direction of the metaphysical or spiritual concerns and resembles the direction taken by Antonioni. (p 104).

    Rossellini had commented as early as 1949 very soon after the Christian Democrats came to power that “ You cannot go on shooting in ruined cities forever”, a clear recognition of the rapid changes and that European reconstruction was beginning to have an effect. Shiel argues that in Francis God’s Jester (available from Eureka video) Rossellini was playing with a metaphor where the relationship with God and other humans was played out in the absence of material. A comment perhaps on the priorities of the CD party and the values being expressed as what became known as the ‘economic miracle’ got under way.

    Nights of Cabiria 3

    Above from Fellini's Nights of Cabiria

    From here Shiel moves to examine the work of Fellini who made six films during this period of the early to mid-fifties. The focus here lies upon Nights of Cabiria. Shiel suggests that Fellini:

    Employed realism as a window onto internal character although like the films of Antonioni and Rossellini they never strayed far from social concerns and presented their personal tragedies as narratives with real social implications. (p 113)

    Shiel notes that it was this film which initially working within a neorealist framework grows out of it in its final moments. It was Bazin who noted that whilst the film remained largely neorealist he noted that Cabiria was looking at the spectator in a way that changed the relationship of the spectator to the film moving away from the objectivity of the spectator prized by neorealism.

    Shiel’s conclusion which I have noted at the beginning of this review notes the legacy of neorealism. Here Shiel claims a wide range of important films on a global scale were influenced by neorealism. Whist I don’t wish to decry these claims I think that the social concern expressed in We are the Lambeth Boys by Karel Reisz (1959) may be underplaying the British documentary connection especially the influence of Humphrey Jennings many of whose films are considerably underestimated. In that sense the notions of realism which Shiel clearly thinks have been seriously downplayed in academia in recent years partially because of the rise of post-modern discourse has a wide and deep roots running through European film culture. Certainly the work of Francesco Rosi and Olmi kept the neorealist flame alive in Italy itself.

    Tree of Wooden Clogs 2

    From Olmi's Tree of Wooden Clogs


    As an excellent, readable, rigorously researched but accessible book this is the best that I have read on neorealism from the perspective of the more general reader. It would be an excellent book to have as a reference for those new to neorealism as it provides enough contextual information to place this loose movement in a holistic sense, it chooses a good range of films to use as brief case studies and provides an historical scope which includes both the origins of the movement and the long-term influences of this movement which has had a critical success which far outweighs the box-office returns of the time. The book provides a good range of films to be followed up and an excellent range of references which opportunities for the more committed reader to follow up. This book is a must for students, teachers and those interested in Italian and / or European cinema and comes strongly recommended.

    August 23, 2007

    Rossellini and the French New Wave

    Roberto Rossellini & the French New Wave 

    Roberto Rossellini

    It is generally acknowledged by most critics that Roberto Rossellini was an enormous influence in the development of the French New Wave. Andre Bazin considered that Rossellini was hugely important in the development of a realist aesthetic within cinema and his viewpoint strongly influenced the young critics cum filmmakers especially Truffaut and Godard. McCabe in his recent biography of Godard emphasises the point:

    It is impossible to overstate [the] Rossellini’s importance for both Godard and the Nouvelle Vague. Bazin’s theories are unthinkable outside of a continuous dialogue with Rossellini’s brilliant war trilogy, but he was also the director for the young critics in the fifties... Roberto was sans pareil. He was the man who had not only provided a totally new film-making practice for Europe in the postwar years but who had gone to Hollywood and won the most beautiful of Hitchock’s actresses, Ingrid Bergman. The series of films he made with her... For Cahiers were the very definition of modern cinema. (McCabe, 2004, p 161)

              McCabe argues that it was Voyage to Italy that was the most admired. McCabe notes that Le Mepris by Godard can be read as a remake of Voyage to Italy although of course the endings are radically different with Rossellini being immensely optimistic at the end whilst for Godard there is death. I argue elsewhere on this blog discussing Visconti's Bellissima that Godard's metacinematic approach to Le Mepris links his work to that of Visconti as well.  

    Bergman and Sandrs in Voyage to Italy

              The connections between Truffaut and Rossellini are if anything even stronger as Ingrams and Holmes (1998) point out. Bazin had introduced Truffaut to Rossellini in 1954 and Truffaut worked with him ‘intermittently’ as an assistant director between 1955-1956. Rossellini didn’t make any films in these years but Truffaut gained experience of pre-production in the preparation of scenarios rather than the process of practical production.

    Andre Bazin

              The recent re-release of Voyage to Italy from the BFI with a commentary option by Laura Mulvey opens up an opportunity to reassess Rossellini’s work and its influence upon the Nouvelle Vague Cahiers critics. For Rossellini location shooting was a pre-requisite of cinema and although he used the well established Hollywood lead actors Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders part of the reason that they were affordable was because they had already peaked in Hollywood. Mulvey notes that Rossellini gave Sanders a hard time during the shooting and that Rossellini was seeking to breakdown the Hollywood professionalism of Sanders and to get the real Sanders to come through. As for the rest of the cast it was a mixture of minor actors non-professionals and friends. The music was scored by Rossellini’s brother who had worked with him on many occasions. This then was a classic authorial approach to production. With regard to the realism of the shooting it is worth noting the many shots taken from the point of view of the car and in the car. There is a marked contrast between the way these are shot and the studio work of Clouzot’s car scenes in Les Diaboliques made two years later.

    Ingrid Bergman in Voyage to Italy

              Apart from the actual conditions of film-making the film can be marked out as distinctively modernistic in terms of how it treated narrative. Mulvey emphasises this aspect of the film describing it as ‘the first modern film’. By this she means that the film is resistant to a modernity marked by its instrumentalism and its emphasis on driving forward narrative goals in a way which emulated the instrumentalist ethic of capitalism itself. By comparison Rossellini had chosen a short story by Joyce upon which to base the film. As such the film meanders, there are cinematic asides such as Mr. Joyce’s little adventure to find some wine during siesta time. Mulvey notes that this scene was cut by many distributors when the film was released. The narrative itself marks time and the content at this point highlights the northern Protestant impulse ‘to do’ marked against the different Neapolitan time. This attitude to time is something which Mulvey sees as an elemental theme throughout the film. The narrative structure itself still seems to fall within the schema suggested by Todorov who argues that stories have distinct phases in which the balance of equilibrium is upset, there is a recognition of this and eventually a balance is restored. In Voyage to Italy the equilibrium of the London life is upset by the dislocated space of holiday and the chance for self-reflection by the couple. The crisis develops is identified and then in this case somewhat miraculously the couple are brought back together again.

              Mulvey also emphasises that in Voyage to Italy it is Naples itself that is the star of the film seeing the film as largely an excuse for Rossellini to film in and around Naples. This is of enormous importance when one comes to think about the representations of Paris in the work of the New Wave for most of the early films of the Cahiers group were shot in and around Paris. In a bout de souffle Belmondo specifically enters into a verbal architectural discourse. The full length feature films of Truffaut also resonate with the sounds and the feel of Parisian streets.

    Rossellini and Bergman

              It is in the representations of cityspace that a sceptical or nostalgic form of modernism is given reign. There is a certain nostalgia for the old which in Voyage to Italy becomes quite literally archaeological whilst the archaeology is more metaphorical in the Nouvelle Vague. It is the ambiguities of modernity that are also explored in Tati’s satirical cum slapstick films with Mon Oncle (1958) being a fine example of the juxtaposition of the modern Corbusian ‘machine for living’ set against Hulot’s labyrinthine pre-modern living space which is softer, more human and more in touch with nature itself where a song-bird sings when the sun shines on it whilst the fish fountain a modern vanity only comes to life when the visitors bell is pressed.

    Bruno Atlas of Emotion

    For more on notions of cityspace try the work of Guiliana Bruno 

    July 08, 2007

    Francois Truffaut's New Wave Films: Issues of Youth, Sex, Stars & Gender


    Of all the new young French directors who came to prominence between 1958-1964 Francois Truffaut is currently the most written about. Truffaut’s key films from this period are 400 Blows (1959), Shoot the Piano Player (1960) and Jules et Jim (1961). In 400 Blows the character Antoine Doinel a schoolboy, who is at odds with his parents, school and society  is introduced. The film won Truffaut the best director’s  prize at Cannes in 1959 and firmly placed him on the map of French film directors.  Below some of the circumstances of these films are explored. Firstly the article notes the position of the changing representations of youth, it then develops some issue, themes and concerns within Truaffaut's three key films of the Nouvelle Vague. Finally the article relates these films to issues of gender and the specific kind of femininity represented in the New Wave. It also questions whether Truffaut's films can be understood as being misogynistic.  

    A Celebration of Youth Begins

    In Europe  and the USA the phenomenon of youth as having a separate cultural identity had started. 400 Blows gains much of its vibrancy from a representation of youth which is totally different to anything which had come before. How far its elements are autobiographical are unclear however this to some extent irrelevant for Doinel acts as an allegory for the position of youth in France. France in this representation was seen as repressive and thoroughly hierarchical suffering the hangovers of an imperialist nation which had been invaded and was undergoing severe post-war stress as problems in Algeria and Vietnam started to emerge.   

    There is something of the freshness and vigour of both Vigo the pre-war French director and the neo-realist approach of Roberto Rossellini in Truffaut’s approach - Truffaut had worked for Rossellini who was even a witness at his marriage.  In Rossellini's Roma Citta Aperta (1945) a young tearaway and his followers played an important role in symbolising resistance to Nazi occupation and the closing scene of children walking into a future Italy was symbolically powerful. 

    400 Blows is not so clearly optimistic as Roma citta aperta. It challenges the audience through its open ending.  Antoine having successfully escaped from the institution and standing at the seaside is in a state of confusion: where next? is the question posed by the closing shot on his face. The shot begs the question what is the future of this boy. Does the audience want him to go back to the reform school, how do they want Antoine’s life to proceed? are his parent’s good influences? There are no straightforward answers for Antoine is in a very confused and ambiguous position. Antoine has been mistreated, yet at times is dishonest as the interview with the psychologist makes clear. It is the underlying quest of the film to place the audience in a position of reflexivity which makes the film so effective and makes it a part of a distinctly modern tradition. The film thus  poses a question for France. Its politics are thus linked to its form.

    400 Blows

    Doinel appears as a character in many of Truffaut’s subsequent films. There are strong autobiographical references in this film and it is claimed that the film contributed to the divorce of Truffaut’s parents.  Apparently they were very upset by the contents as Doinel’s parents are very unsympathetic characters. Apparently Albert Remy who played the father bore quite a strong resemblance to Truffaut’s father. Gillain points out that interviews with Truffaut revealed two contradictory positions on the film’s status as autobiographical having claimed that he had experienced all the hardships represented in the film and denied that the film was his autobiography. Gillain argues that the denial was down to aesthetic reasons.

    Just as the world view of a director, especially an auteurist one, will operate at both a conscious and unconscious level, it is possible to over-read a text and construct it as totally autobiographically determined:

    The need to understand oneself better, the desire to establish one’s unique identity or the urge to interpret one’s life- all these motives account for the autobiographical impulse. In order to treat the self as a narrative object, the author must select the facts that he or she recalls to reconstruct the unity of his or her life. The author must also impose an order on its individual events and bestow upon them narrative coherence , as well as achieve the creation of an imaginary self.

    Truffaut’s autobiography can be seen as being spread over twenty-one feature length films. Although each film is self-contained an auteur structuralist perspective argues that the whole of his _oeuvre_ can be read in the light of each being a part of a greater whole. Gillain’s (2000) contention is that all Truffaut’s films offer a variation along themes of repression and secret aspects of the self in what she describes as a ‘Script of Delinquency’.

    In 400 Blows a spatially organised set of relationships can be discerned which revolves around a binary opposition between outside and inside. Inside, whether at home or at school the shots are mainly static and in close-up, whilst outside there is mobility and a sense of freedom. The streets and the outside come to represent freedom of thought, action and movement.

    Stylistically 400 Blows is influenced by the camera-person Henri Decae. The camerawork is fluid and combines ...a modern mobility with classical depth in many of the location shots suggests Neupert (2002) as the filming of the rotor ride sequence indicates. Gillain takes a more psychoanalytically inflected analysis of the rotor scene suggesting the space is womb-like and represents a compensation for lack of affection.

    The narrative style constructs the film as a series of separate scenes or segments. This is very different to the continuity codes of the classical Hollywood cinema. This use of segmentation opens the text up so that the audience can quickly recognise that these activities and scenarios are everyday ones, in which there is no single cause and event structure, rather, the life of Antoine is consistently one of being alienated from the institutions and his parents. That he ultimately gets into trouble for stealing a typewriter - clearly an act driven by some level of internal frustration rather than maliciousness or even to try and make money - spurs the drift into his institutionalisation. In France at that time parents were able to ask the French authorities to take their children into reformatory care if they thought that they were behaving in a very uncontrollable manner and Doinel’s father did this. 

    The film acts as an opportunity for liberal modern reflection upon an archaic disciplinary structure which has no place in contemporary French society, and transcends the purely autobiographical, moving from the micro ethnographical approach to the everyday. In doing this it serves to create a meaning which challenges the dominant discourses based upon the discipline of the time.  This trend can be seen in a wider context across western countries with the disciplinarity of imperialistically minded discourses. Resistance against the system was represented in the British New Wave by The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner for example.

    Behind the Production   

    400 Blows was co-produced by Truffaut’s father in law who was a mainstream producer and distributor in the French film industry. 400 Blows proved a critical and popular success as well as a financial one. The American rights were sold for between $50,000 - $100,000 (depending on which version is listened to). The film was also the fifth largest grossing one in the French box office that year. This catapulted Truffaut from being one of the best known young critics to the best known young film maker. It enabled him to engage in new feature length projects as well as putting him in a position to help influence producers to back other projects from the emergent new wave directors.

    Shoot the Piano Player

    Shoot the Piano Player was Truffaut’s next project. It was based on a pulp fiction American novel Down There. Here it is important to note that Truffaut hadn’t been against literary adaptations as such but the treatment of adaptations by the French studio system which prioritised a visual syntax that was explanatory of the words in the book rather than trying to translate the book into what Truffaut understood to be a properly cinematic language to convey the essence and spirit of the original. Truffaut and the other participants of the French New Wave prioritised a visual and cinematic language as a means of expression.

    Shoot the Piano Player was a parodic take on the American 'B' movie thriller and for several reasons was unpopular with both critics and the audiences alike at the time. Sellier argues that it is a modernist work by being both critical of established Bourgeois culture of the quotidian but also of the mass culture of entertainment.

    bq. Analysing mass market American films the Cahiers du cinema critics - by emphasising the most abstract aspects of their  mise en scene and by disregarding the socio-cultural context of their production and consumption - gave impetus to the modernist, distanced gaze on cinema that the most innovative  films of the New Wave worked to mobilise' (Sellier, Genevieve, 2001, p127)

    It is in retrospect that the qualities of the film emerge Neupert (2002) describes it fulsomely as of Truffaut’s great stylistic triumphs and one of the freshest, loosest and even funniest films of his career. Truffaut used Raoul Couthard who had worked on Godard’s a Bout de souffle as the camera-person which helped give the film a grittier less polished feel to it. 

    Truffaut’s editing was also a fundamental part of the film's aesthetic. There were shifting visual rhythms moving from the long takes, favoured by Andre Bazin, to discontinuous montages far distant from the Bazinian naturalist aesthetic. The text also plays with genre systems of narrative which has encouraged some in need of a publication to suggest that the film is in some sense ‘postmodern’ however this is taken as mere critical discursive construction, for it is in this that the film is decisively modern in its approach.  

    As Sellier  argues the film takes a modernist mode, of what Astruc describes as cinecriture, to construct and represent a wounded masculine subjectivity. Sellier describes the process as one of an admixture between the modernist sensibility and the romanticist one leading to a dual cultural inheritance that was to strongly mark the aesthetics of the New Wave. 

    The Political Context

    The film became beset by political problems. In the post production phase Truffaut's editor Cecile Decugis was arrested for allowing her flat to be used by the Algerian resistance movement. Truffaut used several thousand dollars from the production budget to establish a defence fund. Truffaut also signed the ’Manifesto of the 121’ encouraging soldiers to desert rather than fight the Algerian war. It had soon been signed by 400 intellectuals, artists and other well known people, including Truffaut. As a response the state owned media prohibited the appearance of the signatories which reduced Truffaut’s opportunities for publicity. The right dubbed Truffaut as ‘anti-French’, although the left-wing cinema journal Positif were led to revaluate their position on Truffaut.

    Jules et Jim

    Jeanne Moreau Jules et Jim 1

    Truffaut’s next film was in the mould of an historical melodrama, however, it could hardly be described as ‘generic’. Jules et Jim came from Henri Pierre Roche’s novel of the same title  . The film was shot on a budget that was high by New Wave standards of $280,000, nevertheless with the death of his father in law Morgernstern during production there was an increased level of financial vulnerability.

    As a result, shooting was in borrowed locations with costs pared as far as possible. The film is based upon a menage a trois consisting of: Jules, an Austrian living in Paris; Jim, a writer who meets Jules in Paris; Catherine who becomes their muse.  Catherine  resembles a Greek statue which they saw together on a spontaneous trip after seeing a slide show and becoming fascinated by it. Jules eventually marries Catherine, then World War 1 breaks out and Jules and Jim fight on opposite sides.

    After the war Jim visits Jules and Catherine who by this time has a daughter Sabine. Catherine is unsettled and has taken on other lovers and is currently having an affair with Albert the person who showed Jules et Jim the slide show in the first place. Catherine seduces Jules who has always wanted her and the menage live in the same chalet for a few weeks together. Catherine gets bored with her romance with Jim and seduces Jules again. The men pretend that they aren’t jealous of each other although one evening it comes out that they are. 

    Catherine is represented as wanting to have men on her terms and as being mentally unstable. (how often is this the case when men are wanting women on thier terms?) Jim eventually returns to Paris but wants to be with Catherine who has declared that she wants to marry him and have children. Jules who has given up hope of a stable relationship with Catherine favours this as he can’t bear the idea of losing Catherine altogether.

    From Paris Jim corresponds with Catherine whilst being with Ghilberte who  is represented as being little more than somebody who brings Catherine’s letters to Jim and is wetly prepared to accept her lot. The relationship between Jules and Catherine seems to have broken down irretrievably when Catherine who is pregnant by Jules has a miscarriage. By ‘chance’ Jules and Jim meet up in Paris and Jules goes to meet Catherine again in the mill house near Paris where she and Jules have moved to. Jules is determined to try and break the spell and announces that he is going to marry his girlfriend Ghilberte whereupon Catherine draws a revolver and threatens to kill him .

    Later, there is a seeming attempted rapprochement when Jules, Jim and Katherine go out for a drive together in Catherine’s car.  Catherine asks Jules to come with her for a drive and asks Jim to watch them carefully. Catherine then proceeds to drives them both off an bridge which has no central section and they both drown. It was a film about amour fou or mad love.

    The use of Jeanne Moreau and the nature of the story were good marketing ploys. It was criticised by the Catholic church in France and the Legion of Decency in America which might well have helped its success.  The film employed  long takes and montages alongside freeze framing, handheld wide screen shooting, and 360 degree pans. This combination of techniques break decisively with the ‘cinema of quality’s’ approach to the historical melodrama. 

    The larger budget also allowed for more refined lighting techniques and more sophisticated work on the soundtrack so in this sense the film was moving away from the rougher edged early films. Many critics see the film as the beginning of the end of the New Wave (Nouvelle Vague ) as many of directors gradually became part of a different structure of cinema.

    Issues of Stars and Gender in Jules et Jim

    Jeanne Moreau Jules et Jim

    It is worthwhile reading Jules et Jim through the lenses of both gender and star criticism. Here the work of Sellier and Vincendeau is especially useful in beginning to open up the discourse. The typical new wave film coming from ex-Cahiers critics can be seen as being an aesthetic project which was highly critical - at times vituperative in Truffaut’s case - towards the establishment. The aesthetic also functioned from a necessity born of material limitations.

    In a move typical of rebellious youth, Truffaut had announced that he wasn’t prepared to work with established stars such as Michele Morgan and Pierre Gabin on the grounds that they influenced the mise en scene by demanding close ups in accordance with their status as stars. An argument that was more polemically based than factual.

    It was an argument which Godard would effectively dispel in Le Mepris which critiqued the role of the producers and their control of the financial package to ensure that the audience were given what they ‘wanted’ as the key determinant. (Godard's treatment including the ways in which Bardot was filmed will be dealt with elsewhere(.   Nevertheless, in relation to the issue of the usage of stars Truffaut made an aesthetic vision the rationale for not being able to afford well established actors.

    The Eroticised Star of the New Wave

    Of course this very materially influenced approach to film-making brought forward new actors. Less established women actors such as Jeanne Moreau and entirely new women such as Anna Karina became central to the French New Wave. In a tradition that emanated from 19th century romanticism the leading women were often associated with the directors. In Moreau’s case with firstly Louis Malle and then Truffaut and in Karina’s case with Godard.

    Vincendeau perceptively places Moreau as central in this process for Moreau was associated with Malle in the prefigurations of the New Wave in Lift to the Scaffold, and then Les Amants. This was followed by her work with Antonioni in La Notte (1961). Moreau then played a key role as Catherine in Jules et Jim.

    Jeanne Moreau La Notte

    Above Jeanne Moreau in Antonioni's La Notte

    Moreau had been firstly reconstructed by Malle and her early acting work within the mainstream played down. As Catherine, Moreau fits in well with one of the trends in the representation of women in which they are objects of desire who function to lead the male protagonists to their downfall. Moreau played this role in Lift to the Scaffold (1958), Les Amants and Jules et Jim. Truffaut can be identified along with Malle by establishing this approach in Tirez sur le pianiste as well.


    Jeanne Moreau in Louis Malle's Les Amants(1958)

    The attraction of Moreau is that through her performances she helped to establish a new definition of femininity which was an essential part of liberalising modernity. It was a representation that was fresh, alluring and different suggests Vincendeau.

    This wasn’t a position solely occupied by the French New Wave for the ‘phantasmic male projection’ of new woman was also created in Britain through the character of Julie Christie. Unlike Moreau, Christie was to gain international star status in films such as Dr Zhivago moving on from the ‘will o the wispish’ persona exemplified in Billy Liar (1963).

    Christie can also be associated with the more gamine actresses associated with the New Wave such as Karina and Jean Seberg. Moreau’s role as a slightly older actress was to reflect the sophisticated, intellectual mood of the films. But all echoed the ideology of the New Wave: authenticity, modernity and sensuality. In Jules et Jim, Moreau was positioned in a different hierarchy to mainstream cinema as the star wasn’t dominant in the mise en scene, just an element within it.

    In common with other films from the New Wave such as A Bout de souffle and Bande a parte, both by Godard, there was a different regime of the look in which a less sexually but more erotically inscribed construction of femininity was installed. Vincendeau compares this look with that of Bardot: New wave actresses were young, good-looking and sexy, but not too overtly glamorous. Bardot was so extraordinary that her beauty conceptualised as an effect of  surface, became the theme of her films. In the New Wave films committed to authenticity and depth, beauty appeared more ‘realistic’ coming ‘from within’.  Vincendeau argues that in contrast to the female nudity increasingly exploited by the mainstream the New Wave achieved a more erotic effect by shifting the focus of attention from women’s bodies to their faces.

    This attention to ‘surface modernity’  of the stars also fitted well with the liberalising modernity of modernising France which was moving to a consumption based model of capitalism as the more classically bourgeois fourth republic, which was also a moment of post-war reconstruction and austerity, gave way to TVs, holidays and cars a harbinger of greater leisure as the post-war boom progressed and the bonds of empire began to fall away.

    In terms of space and the representations of women in the city  the New Wave saw Jean Seberg in a Bout de souffle follow Moreau’s roam through the city firstly in Lift to the Scaffold and then in La Notte. This public space was still fraught with danger that accompanied those who tried to became a sort of flaneuse.  Moreau was taken as a prostitute on occasion and Seberg ended up being chatted up by a thief and a murderer. In that sense these representations of modernising women were rather more conservative than that of Julie Christie in Billy Liar for it is she who travels everywhere, even to France (perhaps a reference to the new wave representation of women?), by hitch-hiking on lorries if necessary.

    New Wave Directors as Misogynists

    Christie represents the fearlessness of modern female youth in a world apparently without danger. She is contrasted with the dreaming Billy Liar who is unable to turn his fantasies into reality. By contrast the French representations of femininity end in the misogyny of the femme fatale of a neurotic Catherine in Jules et Jim, a femininity based upon a romanticist notion that it is women through their deadly sexuality who foil the projects of the heroic male. 

    The final sentence of Vincendeau’s article encapsulates the gendered limitations of the New wave directors take on liberal modernity: Concentrating the values of romantic love, sensuality, sensitivity and modernity, Moreau brought a feminised surface to the New Wave which superimposed itself on its male and misogynist foundations.  

    If Jules et Jim  epitomises a masculinised notion of freedom through the carefree images of an idealised woman and set of relationships in its first part the darkening mood of the film could be seen to represent a post-First World War in which the mechanised killing fields mean that nothing is ever quite the same again. It is a position which relates to the expressionist mood of early Weimar cinema. As a story of amour fou looked at in hindsight the film seems somewhat vacuous. Characterisations are thin and inconsistent and Catherine as an object of desire is constructed through the look rather than through any intellectual or emotional capacities.

    Enigmatic Romanticism and the Suspension of Materiality

    In Jules et Jim this enigmatic romanticism was constituted around an enigmatic statue of a woman in a way which establishes an essential female eroticism which transcends both time and space and inscribes femininity with both an exotic and erotic otherness fundamental to romantic thought. The film also suspends materiality, for Catherine manages to afford her own car at a time when to have a car meant to be extremely well off yet she has no obvious independent income. Jules as a hermit style ecologist in his post-war character can hardly afford that.

    The audience is informed that Catherine has both an aristocratic and a commoner background however this is not expanded. The voice-over narration is used to describe the feelings of the characters functioning to allowing the mise en-scene a certain amount of autonomy. In that sense the film is working as a part of New Wave aesthetics. Unlike La Dolce Vita (1959) the film tends to ignore society, and it fails to achieve the necessary depth in its characterisations. Its romanticised modernism doesn’t go as far as Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) in terms of alienation and the difficulties of communication between people but it is nonetheless following this path.

    All these films feature suicides which is the ultimate breakdown of interpersonal communications and alienation and still a feature of contemporary life. In hindsight the explanation from Tartan video’s opening that the film is a ‘cult’ classic is probably fitting. Whilst it was a massively important contribution to a defining cultural moment in French cinema it ultimately fails to satisfy as a piece of art when set alongside the contemporary contributions from Italy. 

    Bibliographical Note

    References here can be accessed in the bibliogaphies section of the blog in the French bibliography.  

    June 16, 2007

    British Women Film directors

    British Women Film Directors

    Return to British Cinema Hub Page


    Whilst of general interest to those dealing with issues of gender and cinema this posting should prove useful to those studying Women and Film within the current OCR specification.

    Given the large number of British films and the very small number of Women directors the average rocket scientist can swiftly work out that there is a serious gender imbalance within the industry in the UK.  

    The Directors

    This list of directors is taken from the BFI list of Directors in British and Irish Cinema
    plus some additions. Sue Clayton isn't in the list although appears elsewhereon the site. Nor does Andrea Arnold feature in the list. Arnold recently made the film Red Road (2006) and has won at the Oscars and at Cannes. The list amounts to 11 women film directors in the history of British cinema. Not a good record over the last 100 years. Of these several are active film makers and can be included in the specification for OCR Contemporary British Cinema. Of these 11 directors five are currently active and include: Andrea Arnold, Antonia Bird, Gurinder Chadha, Sally Potter, Lynne Ramsey.

    Adler, Carine (1948-)

    Arnold Andrea (1961 -)

    Bird, Antonia (1959 -)

    Box Muriel (1905 - 1991) 

    Chadha, Gurinder (1960 -)

    Clayton Sue (? )

    Craigie, Jill (1911 - 1999)

    Grierson, Ruby (1904-1940) 

    Mander, Kay (1915 - ) 

    Mulvey, Laura (1941 - )

    Potter, Sally (1949 - ) 

    Ramsey Lynne ( 1969 -)

    Toye, Wendy (1917 - )


    Guardian feature on the 'Celluloid Ceiling'

    Kate Kellaway Guardian blog: Why is that film-making continues to be the most gender inequitable career in the arts?

    Rachel Millward Guardian blog: Kate Kellaway asked what could be done to encourage more women into film-making. Here are my suggestions.

    Birds Eye View Women

    Rachel Millward is the organiser for the Bird's Eye View Women's Film Festival. It is solely to celebrate women film makers and started in 2005 in venues across London.

    Return to British Cinema Hub Page

    British Cinema: Social Realism – Webliography


    This page functions as a portal into the important strand of British filmmaking described as social realist. Laid out chronologically this portal will be particularly useful for:
    * Those unfamiliar with the history of the British cinema 
    * Students following undergraduate film studies course to provide an overview before tackiling more in depth work 
    * 'A' level media students following the current (2006 /07) OCR Media A2 Unit on Media Issues & Debates: Contemporary British Cinema. For the OCR unit it will historically contextualise the continuing use of social realism as a successful film form
    * The WJEC Film Studies A level "British & Irish Cinema" Unit.


    Social realism has played an important role in both British cinema and TV. The British documentary movement which developed under the leadership of John Grierson  was enormously influential in stimulating what became a strand of fiction film described as social realism.

    Humphrey Jennings who started out with this movement brought a sense of the surreality of popular culture in everyday life to his work. His wartime docu-dramas and documentary work are exemplary pieces of art working across genres to produce some of the best work ever made by a British director.

    Jennings was an inspiration to Lindsay Anderson and those who gathered around him in the British 'Free Cinema'. Technical discoveries by cameraman Walter Lassally were to influence the work of the French New Wave Filmmakers and cinematographers. 

    Free Cinema DVD from BFI

    The documentary work made by them led into the 'British New Wave' at the beginning of the 1960s.

    This in turn led to social realist films and TV documentaries in the mid to late sixties with Ken Loach and Producer Tony Garnett being exemplary. Cathy Come Home was a TV drama which heldped the housing charity Shelter to set up. Poor Cow and Kes are classic Loach films from this period.

    While the 1970s and 1980s saw less work of this style films such as Meantime by Mike Leigh were very influential. The actor Gary Oldman was outstanding in this and returned to this form as a director in Nil by Mouth made in the late 1990s.

    There was a return to popularity for this kind of film in the 1990s particularly by Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. This has continued up until 2006 with Ken Loach winning the Palm d'or at the Cannes festival for The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) combining social realism with history.

    Brtish social realism has also been strongly influential in other types of films which have combined genres into hybrids such as social-realist / comedy. The Full Monty (1997) and Brassed Off (1996) are good examples of this. Perhaps the first hybrid of this type was Billy Liar (1963) at the end of the British New Wave. This film provided a bridge into the 'Swinging Sixties' particularly in the next film by John Schlesinger Darling which starred Julie Christie  as well.

    The BFI "Screenonline article on comedy" cites several films which also appear  elsewhere as social realistically inflected. Films dealing with changing British identity often combine social realist aspects of life with comedy including East is East (1999) and Bend it Like Beckham (2002).

    Webliography laid out chronologically

    This covers the British documentary movement and via Free Cinema moves into British Social Realism 

    John Grierson Trust

    John Grierson Director Page

    Empire Marketing Board

    Documentary Film Units and Film Sponsorship

    BFI Screenonline Biography of Paul Rotha

    Humphrey Jennings

    Kinoeye:  Humphrey Jennings page.

    Links previously on this page are now on the above page plus many more. The page is still under development and further links to analysies of his films are in the pipeline.  

    Lindsay Anderson director page.

    From Lindsay Anderson to the Free Cinema

    The British New Wave: Social Realist film of the 1960s

    The Impact and Influence of Social Realism in British Cinema a useful Screenonline article.

    Tony Aldgate of the Open University discusses British Social Realism

    Social Realists in British Cinema from 1990

    These two directors have a reputation for working mainly within the social realist tradition although the approaches are still very different. Loach tends to be more macro whilst Leigh is more micro with a style closer to Kammerspiele or chamber plays.

    Ken Loach

    Mike Leigh

    Other British Directors who have used social realism

    These directors have made films at times which have been strongly influenced by social realism:

    Stephen Frears with Dirty Pretty Things, 2002

    Lynne Ramsey Ratcatcher

    Michael Winterbottom Welcome to Sarajevo (1998) is a social realist influenced film based upon a true story. His recent The Road to Guantanamo (2006) is a political response to the events and aftermath of 9/11.

    Some Social Realist Films From 1990

    Life is Sweet, 1990: Mike Leigh. It is marketed as a 'bittersweet comedy" which is quite a good description of many of the social realist / comedy hybrid films

    Raining Stones, 1993: Dir Ken Loach

    Nil by Mouth 1997: dir Gary Oldman

    Authors of British Social Realist Films

    Alan Sillitoe

    Here is a link to Alan Sillitoe author of Saturday Night Sunday Morning commenting recently on the coming ban on smoking in public places

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