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March 17, 2008

Humphrey Jennings (1907–1950)

Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950)

Under Construction  

One always hopes - without too much presumption - that one is helping to keep the work alive...Yet as the years pass these films, which should be familiar to every schoolboy and girl in the country, seem to be seen and known by fewer and fewer people. (Lindsay Anderson, cited Drazin 2007 p 159-60.)

Jennings Swiss Roll

Above Humphrey Jennings' Swiss Roll which is in the Tate collection


It is only recently that there has been some attention paid to the legacy of Humphrey Jennings yet many consider him to be one Britain’s best filmmakers if not the best yet the medium of documentary shorts that he worked in doesn’t gain the attention of the more flamboyant aspects of feature film narrative cinema. It was gratifying to find a comment which I very much agree with in book which arrived yesterday by Charles Drazin (2007) who draws attention the the fact that Sir Dennis Foreman who was director of the BFI in the early 1950s put on an exhibition of British films for the Italian government showing only Jennings films. Foreman reported that:

The Italians were absolutely stunned. They said "This is neorealism 10 years before we invented it"' (Foreman cited in Drazin 2007 p160)

Jennings was renowned for his very ‘poetic’ style of documentaries. Jennings studied English at Cambridge working as a poet and painter specialising in surrealism. 1934-36 he worked as a designer, editor and actor at the GPO Film Unit. Jennings was one of the least likely people to be in the British Documentary Movement given that’s its style of documentary realism was very distant to the sort of activities Jennings participated in. His restless eclecticism meant his energies were spread across a range of activities. Jennings partook in intellectual activities and was a poet, painter, critic, an organiser of the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition which famously featured Salvador Dali speaking in a deep-sea diving outfit. In 1936 he also founded the Mass Observation Movement with two others. On top of all this he was a film maker.

Jennings: from GPO to Crown Film Unit  

In 1936 he was one of the three founders of the Mass Observation movement along with Madge and Harrison. In 1939 he made Spare Time for the GPO film unit. It was only around ten minutes long yet its Kazoo band scene is highly memorable for Jennings’ more than almost any other film maker was able to capture the surrealism of everyday pastimes in which strange juxtapositions and ‘found objects’ are but a natural cultural occurrence.

During the war he made many ‘propaganda’ documentaries including London Can Take It!, Words for Battle (1941), Listen to Britain (1942) as shorts. His full length drama documentaries were Fires Were Started (1943), The Silent Village (1943) reconstructing the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice by the Nazis. Diary for Timothy was shot in 1944 and the beginning of 1945.

MacDougall has commented that documentaries influenced by the Grierson School had been the film maker confronting reality rather than exploring the process of reality as a ‘flow of events’. They could be seen as a style of synthesis which used images to develop an argument or impression. In this style comments MacDougall:

Each of the discrete images... was the bearer of a predetermined meaning. They were often articulated like the images of a poem, juxtaposed against an asynchronous soundtrack of music or commentary. Indeed poetry was sometimes integral to their conception, as in the The River (Lorentz, 1937), Night Mail (Wright and Watt, 1936), and Coalface, (Cavalcanti, 1936)”. (MacDougall in Nichols, 1985 p 277).

On this argument it can be seen that JenningsListen to Britain - for many his ‘masterpiece’- belongs to this sub-genre of documentary. Certainly it was entirely observational in attitude as might be expected from one of the founders of the Mass Observation Movement. It is also clearly a propaganda film but one with a ‘voice’ which is very different from the propaganda documentary of a Leni Riefenstahl. As Dalrymple who became head of the Crown Film Unit commented:

“When we make propaganda we tell, quite quietly, what we believe to be the truth. The Nazi method is to bellow as loudly and as often as possible, what they know to be absolutely and completely false…We say in film to our own people ‘This is what the boys in the services, or the girls in the factories, or the men and women in the civil defence, or the patient citizens themselves are like and what they are doing. They are playing their part…be of good spirit and go and do likewise.” (Dalrymple cited Aldrich and Richards 2007 p 219)

Listen to Britian 4

Above a range of stills from Listen to Britain. At the bottom the Queen listening to Dame Myra Hess playing Mozart in the National Gallery which is bereft of pictures as they have been sent to the safety of old slate mines.

Whilst the approach of Dalrymple is clearly very patronising towards the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ it is also a denial of the myth-making of national ideologies that is essential to a propaganda agenda - where propaganda can be taken to be having specific aims and objectives or a strong preferred reading. What is especially interesting about Jennings’ wartime output is how they tended to avoid making direct reference to the Nazis altogether the fact that the Queen was in the National Portrait Gallery listening to a concert of German composers strongly signified an internationalism not an anti-German position. In Listen to Britain, Britain effectively became the defender of the civilised world for at the time it was made Britain and Greece which was about to fall were the only two European countries not under Nazi control apart from neutral countries. One must remember at that moment the Hitler – Stalin pact was still in force. But what Dalrymple said can certainly be applied to Listen to Britain for Jackson (2003) points out it is ‘free of these Riefenstahlian properties’ (bombast, overblown rhetoric and melodramatic theatricality). It seems to be commonly accepted that his wartime output were probably his best films.

"Voice" in Documentary

Bill Nichols suggests that as the documentary has developed one of the major contests between different forms has been centred upon the question of “voice”. “Voice” he argues is a narrower concept than style. It gives a sense of the text’s social point of view and of how the materials are organised to present the materials. Therefore “voice” isn’t restricted simply to one code or feature - spoken commentary for example: “Voice is perhaps akin to that intangible, moiré-like pattern formed by the unique interaction of all a film’s codes, and it applies to all modes of documentary”. (Nichols.B, 1985, p 260-61).

Nichols points out that very few documentary filmmakers are prepared to accept that “through the very tissue and texture of their work that all film making is a form of discourse fabricating its effects, impressions and point of view”. JenningsListen to Britain is clearly a documentary form which isn’t reflexive in the way that the work of Dziga Vertov is and is clearly in a different ‘voice’. Man With a Movie Camera isn’t merely a symphony to the modern industrial city, or modernity in general it is modernistic in its reflexivity about the very making of a film itself as well as incorporating audience and exhibition. By comparison Jennings’ work has a deeply poetic quality which seduces the viewer. With strong justification the filmmaker and critic Lindsay Anderson described Jennings as “the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced

Pat Jackson another director who was working with the Crown Film Unit at the time described him as a painterly director:

It was terribly like a painter in a way; it wasn’t a storyteller’s mind. I don’t think the dramatic approach to a subject, in film really interested him very much. It was an extension of the canvas for him. Patterns, abstractions appealed to him enormously, and those are what people remember most you know”. (Jackson cited Aldgate and Richards 2007 p 220)

Jennings went to Germany in 1945/46 and made the short documentary A Defeated People (1946)

The film is an excellent piece of visual reporting, ably assembled and edited with a pointed and impartial commentary. There is no attempt to work up pity for the Germans, only a desire that we should realise what the war they started has brought back to them on recoil. The film ends with shots of children dancing in their schools, alternated with shots of German judges being sworn in to administer justice in the new Germany of democratic control. (Monthly Film Bulletin review March 1946)

Jennings' Postwar Period 

Many suggest that his post-war period was less fruitful than during the war where he reached the height of his powers. Jennings’ last film before his tragic fatal accident falling of a cliff in Poros Greece whilst doing location work for a film was a documentary short for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Graeme Hobbs in a MovieMail review describes it as follows:

a film ‘on the theme of the Festival of Britain’, it is propaganda for the nation that urges the nourishment of tolerance, courage, faith, discipline and mutual freedom. Jennings’ central conceit is that the fabric of the nation takes its texture a mixture of poetry and prose, the poetry of imagination combining with the prose of industry and engineering, with its culmination coming in an invention such as a ship’s radar, which perfectly matches the two. Jennings took his cue for the theme from one of the Festival displays, that of the Lion and the Unicorn symbolising the two main qualities of the national character, ‘on the one hand, realism and strength, on the other, fantasy, independence and imagination.


Seemingly Jennings was always engaging with the enigma that is the ‘national’ character. Certainly he was never patronising towards those he represented and he carried his brilliance lightly able to empathise with his subjects who were ordinary people well before the Italian neo-realists started to carry out their post-war aesthetic approach. Arguably Jennings was a neorealist in methods before his time his content was far more poetic represented than Rossellini’s and was probably a more powerful representation of nation and a call for unity than a film such as Paisa. Hopefully Jennings will not always remain so under-recognised and hopefully he will be inspirational to new film makers who could do worse than to study Jennings closely.


  1. The Changing Face of Europe (1951) (segment 6 "The Good Life")
    ... aka The Grand Design (UK)
  2. Family Portrait (1950)
    ... aka A Film on the Theme of the Festival of Britain 1951 (UK: subtitle)

  3. The Dim Little Island (1949)
  4. The Cumberland Story (1947)
  5. A Defeated People (1946)
  6. A Diary for Timothy (1945)
  7. Myra Hess (1945)
  8. The Eighty Days (1944)
  9. V. 1 (1944)
  10. The Silent Village (1943)
  11. Fires Were Started (1943)
    ... aka I Was a Fireman
  12. The True Story of Lilli Marlene (1943)
  13. Listen to Britain (1942)
  14. The Heart of Britain (1941)
  15. This Is England (1941)
  16. Words for Battle (1941)
  17. London Can Take It! (1940) (uncredited)
    ... aka Britain Can Take It!
  18. Spring Offensive (1940)
    ... aka An Unrecorded Victory
  19. Welfare of the Workers (1940)

  20. Cargoes (1939)
  21. The First Days (1939)
    ... aka A City Prepares (UK)
  22. Spare Time (1939)
  23. S.S. Ionian (1939)
    ... aka Her Last Trip
  24. Design for Spring (1938)
  25. English Harvest (1938)
  26. The Farm (1938)
  27. Making Fashion (1938)
  28. Penny Journey (1938)
  29. Speaking from America (1938)
  30. Farewell Topsails (1937)
  31. Locomotives (1934)
  32. Post-haste (1934)
  33. The Story of the Wheel (1934)


Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings: Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

Screeonline Biography of Humphrey Jennings  

Channel Four. Humphrey Jennings: The Man Who Listened to Britain

British Film Resource page on Humphrey Jennings  

Guardian: Derek Malcolm on Humphrey Jennings

Kevin Jackson in the Guardian on Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings The Man who Listened to Britain. Channel Four documentary available on DVD

Telegraph on Jennings 2007. "True Poet of Cinema"

English Heritage awards Jennings a Blue Plaque. (Recognition at Last).

Simon Garfield on his book Our Hidden Lives about the Mass Observation Movement 

The Mass Observation Movement archive

Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Humphrey Jennings Issue (Winter, 1961-1962)

Guardian: The Buried Secrets of British Cinema  

BBC The Film Programme Radio 4. You can download a Realplayer file here of a discussion with Kevin Jackson Biographer of Jennings 

BBC David Puttnam on Movies With a Message. You can download a Realplayer talk here on Diary for Timothy

Radio Prague pages in English on Lidice and Jennings portrayal of the Nazi massacre there. Many Associated links.  


Aldgate, Anthony and Richards, Jeffrey.2nd Ed. 2007.   Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. London: I. B Tauris

Jackson, Kevin (ed.) 1993. The Humphrey Jennings Film Reader. Manchester: Carcanet

Jennings, Humphrey (ed.).1987. Pandaemonium. London: Picador

Jennings, Mary-Lou (ed.)1982.  Humphrey Jennings: Film-maker, Painter, Poet. London: British Film Institute

Lovell, Alan and Hillier, Jim. 1972 Studies in Documentary. London: British Film Institute/Secker and Warburg,

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. 1986. 'Humphrey Jennings: Surrealist observer'. In Charles Barr (ed.). All Our Yesterdays (London: British Film Institute,

Orwell, George, 'The Lion and the Unicorn', in Sonia Orwell (ed.) Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Volume 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970)

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

February 10, 2008

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

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

Digital Cinema Montage


The world of films is changing dramatically as the installation of digital technologies develops. In the future the term film will become a term of historical sentiment rather than an existing object. Many European countries are promoting the development of these technologies such as the UK Film Council. Getting the digital strategy right from the outset has been a concern fo rht major Hollywood studios. Competing systems could mean that take-up i slow until a standard is established. As this BBC story shows thet were anxious to avoid that risk: 

Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

Studios unite for digital standard
Digital films
Films could be sent by satellite
Seven major movie studios in the US are to establish technical standards for the development of digital cinema, in a rare joint venture.

The aim of the as-yet-untitled project will be to set the agenda so that rival digital projectors, software and distribution will use a universal language.

Digital Cinema in the UK 

The UK Film Council make it very clear how important they thin it is to change to digital projection systems and point out that it could change cinema-going behaviour considerably. Below is an extract from thier strategy document for 2007-2010:

Film in the digital age

UK Film Council policy and funding priorities

April 2007 – March 2010

In the digital age, UK film has the
potential to flourish as never before.
Digital technology is starting to transform
the way in which film and moving images
are financed, produced, distributed and
consumed. Many of the historical barriers
which have made it difficult for audiences
to gain access to a wider range of film are
beginning to tumble. The UK Film Council
recognises that it needs to take a lead.
With the help of our strategic partners,
we intend to act as a strong advocate
for change by putting in place policies
and funding measures which encourage
and support innovation.

Digital Projector

The latest leap forward in cinema projection systems is the reality that ‘films’ can be digitally downloaded onto servers at a cinema. This has several advantages for the distributors and exhibitors.

There is a huge potential saving in the costs of prints, and profit margins are potentially greater. The film can be released on a global basis by being transmitted digitally via satellite in an encoded form which is to military specifications. This reduces the impact of piracy. From the perspective of the exhibitor it allows more flexibility in terms of screenings. The number of screenings can be locally managed according to local demand especially if co-ordinated with the pre-booking systems. The number of screenings can then be increased or reduced. There is no need to be reliant upon the number of prints in circulation. Each screening would be paid for on the equivalent of a ‘just in time basis’.

Fifteen million pounds of capital funding has been delegated to the UK Film Council by the Arts Council of England, which is allocated as follows:

Digital Screen Network

The largest proportion has been used to create a network of screens dedicated to the exhibition of specialised films in locations across the UK where there is no such provision currently.

The UK Digital Screen Network how the (Film distribution Association) FDA see it

FDA welcomes and supports an initiative by the UK Film Council, to invest up to £13 million of National Lottery funds in what will become the world's first digital screen network, placing the UK at the forefront of D-cinema.

It is planned that up to 200 screens in 150 cinemas across the UK - a quarter of the total - will be equipped with digital projectors. In return, cinemas will be asked by the Film Council to show a broader range of specialised (non-blockbuster) films such as documentaries or foreign language titles on a regular basis.

Hopefully, such a substantial investment will help the hardware costs to fall, which in turn could facilitate extra installations.

How the Digital Cinema Chain Will look  

You will notice on this model from the European Digital Cinema Forum that a live event venue is included in the possibilities for digital uplinks to satellite. Large sporting events are increasingly likely to be viewed in cinemas forget Sky down the Pub!

Digital Business Model

History of Projection Systems 

It is still important to know a little of the history of the technological development of film as a material as well as matters of projection and the types of projectors that have been used and are being used now which depend upon the physicality of film.

A useful web site which gives some historical and practical information is the Goethe Institute website which is linked to the possibility of exhibiting actual films. An excellent site with many contributors of international standing is the Victorian Cinema site. There is a mass of information on projection machinery as well as a general fund of knowledge on many aspects of early cinema.

Inside Digital Projection

Anatomy of Digital film Projector

The images projected onto the screen from the projector, are formed from the projection source using a reflective technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Arts Alliance Media  List of Advantages of Digital Projection 

Digital prints are delivered to cinemas on hard drives, and the content is then loaded onto a server. This has two advantages:

    • The central server can hold many films, meaning that films can be changed more easily (so, among other benefits, one-off bookings are easier).
    • The prints don’t need to be returned after the run, so holding over successful films is always possible.

    Different versions of a film can be easily sent and managed:

      • Subtitled/dubbed versions
      • Hearing-impaired versions
      • In the future, different cuts of films can also be used

      Micro markets can be served – giving the audience more of what they want, for example:

        • Bollywood films can be played in areas of high demand
        • Special themed events can be held – i.e. showing of restored Casablanca for Valentines Day.
        • Special seasons – i.e. late night horror screenings
        • Mother and Baby screenings – appropriate films can be played during traditionally quiet times (such as weekday mornings)

        Sharing the costs of Installation

        The costs of installing new projection equipment can be prohibitive a system called the Virtual Print Fee model is a popular method of persuading cinemas to invest in this equipment below is the explanation from the Arts alliance Media site about how it works. Please note that it specifically mentions Hollywood Studios. This could mean that more independently inclined and less Hollywood driven Cinemas are disadvantaged.

        What is the VPF (Virtual Print Fee) Model?

        The big question over digital cinema is who is going to pay for it? One proposed solution is what is known as the Virtual Print Fee model – which involves both exhibitors and distributors contributing towards the cost of the equipment.

        The way it works is:

        • A third party pays up front for the digital equipment.
        • Distributors and exhibitors pay over time to recoup the cost.
        • Exhibitors sign up to agreed service & maintenance commitments, as well as paying a ‘usage fee’ to cover cost of lease.
        • Distributors save money every time a digital (rather than 35mm) print is shipped, therefore;
        • Every time a digital print is shipped, distributors pay a Virtual Print Fee towards recoupment of equipment. Approximately 80% of costs will be paid for by Hollywood studios.
        • When cost is recouped, the cinema will own the equipment.

        For more information on the VPF model, and how it works, click here to read our FAQ

        How the Film Distributor's Association See It

        Now the cinema industry stands on the threshold of a great, rolling transition from celluloid to digital, which is expected to receive a big boost in early 2005 and then gather momentum over the decade ahead. In time, digital technologies are likely to exert as profound an impact on the cinema sector as on the broadcast and other media sectors.

        Digital or D-cinema has already been piloted in the UK for ten years. Disney/Pixar's Toy Story was supplied and presented digitally (on a Texas Instruments DLP prototype) at London's Odeon, Leicester Square, in 1995. But only a handful of cinemas have had digital projectors whilst further quality advances were achieved. Now, with D-cinema giving state-of-the-art clarity on screen, audiences may be unaware that they are watching a digital, as opposed to a film, presentation.

        The UK is one of the most expensive markets in the world in which to release a film. FDA members spend approximately £125m a year on prints, duplicated in high-tech laboratories. A digitally produced or converted film could be delivered quickly and reliably via disc (a much smaller, cheaper physical medium than a 35mm print), fibre optic cable or satellite - triggering a huge systems change for the whole industry.


        It is clear that the gradual roll out of digital cinema over the next few years provides a number of opportunities for quite different screen experiences in Cinemas. Live events can be viewed in on a huge screen bringing a far better sense of spectacle. By the same token it should be far simpler and cheaper for independent cinemas to have a flexible and varigated programme of new films for quite small audiences. Both these tendencies should revive cinema audiences in the UK which have become increasingly dependent upon the 14-27 year old market along with a few family type blockbusters.  


        Arts Alliance Media Digital Cinema Projection systems details 

        BBC September 2002 on Minister Kim Howells welcoming the early digital projection initiative

        BBC on the 2005 news of establishing a UK Digital Projection Network  

        CNet 2005 on introduction of digital projection technology

        CNet 7 March 2007 on US  film studio coperation over installation of digital projection

        Comparative Report on the penetration of digital screens in the US compared to other regions 

        British Cinema Hub Page

        British Cinema Hub Page

        Orson Welles as Harry Lime

        Orson Welles as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's Third Man currently top of the British favourite 100 films

        A Chronology of British Cinema & Society

        British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1939-1951

        British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1951-1964

        British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1997-2010

        Industry & Production

        Working Title: History of a Production Company

        Handmade Films: Production Company

        BBC Films

        Channel 4 Films / Film Four

        Film Marketing (Not currently open)

        What is a British Film?

        British Directors 

        British Contemporary Directors: Hub Page

        British Directors (Non–Contemporary) Hub Page

        British Women Directors

        British Actors

        Women British Actors

        Male British Actors

        British Genres  

        British Crime Films 

        Heritage Cinema Part 1

        Themes in British Cinema

        Contemporary British Cinema: Representing the World Locally

        Representing Changing Britain: Ethnicity and Hybridity

        Historical Aspects of British Cinema

        Non-Contemporary British Cinema (Not currently open)

        British Cinema of the Second World War: Key Films

        Free Cinema the Precursor to the British New Wave

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

        British Cinema and Social Realism: A Webliography  

        January 19, 2008

        Paul Greengrass

        Contemporary British Directors: Paul Greengrass

        Return to Contemorary British Directors hub page here.  

        Paul Greengrass

        Biographical Details  

        Paul Greengrass has had a history of working at the cutting edge of documentary and also writing making firstly with the Granada World in Action TV documentary series. Although he should not be regarded as politically radical his career has been one which has sought to make liberal democracy become more transparent and it appears as though he sees the role of media as making a powerful contribution towards this. His treatment of events in Northern Ireland, his contribution to the Spycatcher book, which tore into the British establishment in the 1980s. His documentary United 93 underpinned the power and determination of ordinary people who will sacrifice themselves for others in the face of a totalitarian terrorism expressed on this occasion by the despised Al Quaida. Most of his early work has trodden where many other filmmakers and creative people have feared to tread. As as John Patterson in The Guardian puts it:

        Five years ago, Paul Greengrass was an avowedly political, low-budget British filmmaker working within the documentary-style tradition that constitutes the core - the deepest, oldest thread - of British cinema; now he's a big-name director making kinetic, visceral Hollywood movies that are eagerly awaited at multiplexes worldwide. Ultimatum, budgeted at $125m (£62m), looks set to become one of the biggest hits of the summer. Funny how things turn out.

        Born Aug. 13, 1955 in Cheam, Surrey, in the United Kingdom, Greengrass showed an interest in film at an early age. While still in secondary school, he directed several short Super-8 films. He attended Cambridge University and afterwards joined Granada Television.

        Greengrass went to school in Kent, winning a scholarship to Sevenoaks School, and started his film-making career with a super 8 camera he found in the art room. He made a series of animated horror films, using old dolls and bric-a-brac props. He went on to Queens' College, Cambridge, and then, inspired by the story of Woodward and Bernstein's uncovering of the Watergate scandal in All the President's Men, decided to become an investigative journalist. (Guardian overview of Greengrass).

        He worked with the "World in Action" (ITV, 1963-99) - TV documentary series. The series itself gained a reputation for being cutting edge and hard hitting often being more controversial and less mainstream than the main BBC competitor of the time which was Panorama. As Greengrass commented in a Guardian interview:

        I arrived there 1978-79. The great days of World in Action had been the 1960s and it had lost its way somewhere, somewhat, in the mid-70s, but the onset of Margaret Thatcher gave it this tremendous new lease of life. (ibid)

        During the 1980s, Greengrass also co-authored the controversial book Spycatcher with former MI5 Assistant Director, Peter Wright. The book, which detailed Wright's attempts to ferret out a Russian spy from the ranks of the British intelligence agency, was banned by the government and held from release until 1988. In the mid 1980s Greengrass met the controversial filmmaker Alan Clarke who had made Scum and had had a strong influence upon his thinking. Greengrass has also been influenced by the realism of Ken Loach particularly Kes and also Peter Watkins’ controversial documentary The War Game.

        Spycatcher Cover

        It seems as though Greengrass’s film Resurrection (1989) taught him a lesson about drama and film making which allowed him to break with the strongly social realist mode of his previous work enabling him to film an event which it wouldn’t be possible to witness – a brutal mock court martial. It allowed him to take his aesthetic approach to a different level. The film was nominated for a Golden Bear winning some jury awards at the Berlin Film Festival.

        We were using the dispassionate, observational documentary eye I had developed, if you like, on recreated events, and the collision between the two allows you to get at a bigger truth than you could by using just the one approach or the other. (ibid).

        From Gritty documentaries to Hollywood Action Adventure with an Edge

        For many  followers of Greengrass who seemed to be following a path well trodden by many British directors working within a social realist mode it came as a great surprise when Greengrass was chosen to direct the Bourne Supremacy (2004). It was so successful - apparently netting $175 million in the box-office that he directed the Bourne Ultimatum (2007). It hasn't won Greengrass friends everywhere as a summariser from the Independent on Sunday noted in an interview with Harold Pinter and Time Out magazine which was scathingly critical: 

        I saw a film, The Bourne Ultimatum," Pinter begins, "and I thought: Fucking hell! This guy is clearly the strongest man in the world. He can beat up about 12 people in about 35 seconds and kill half of them.

        "The whole thing is totally unreal. I was stupefied by it, it was so lacking in intelligence." He adds that he sat in the cinema "seething, thinking: What am I doing here, being bombarded by this sound? It knocks you out."

        The interviewer pointed out that Oscar-nominated Greengrass is considered a master of dramatic realism.

        "Paul Greengrass?" replies Pinter. "I saw Bloody Sunday, I also saw United 93: that fellow is no chump."But: "I've never been able to write a film which I didn't respect, I just can't do it."

        John Patterson in the Guardian was rather more sympathetic to the project than Pinter and in doing so comes to a position which finds cross-overs between auteurism and genre cinema almost identifying a British hybrid genre of the 'political-realist action-action thriller':

        Bloody Sunday may be political and tragic, but it's also an action-movie manqué. Indeed, the idea of a left-progressive action-movie director isn't even that novel: in Britain it's almost a mini-tradition. Peter Watkins is an action director without compare - witness Culloden or Punishment Park. And no one shot mayhem and violence more compellingly than Clarke. Given such forebears, the move from Bloody Sunday to Jason Bourne is an entirely natural and seamless one.  (My emphasis; Guardian ibid).

        Patterson has a point for it is clear that Pinter has little notion of the action adventure genre and in this sense we can point to  the subversion of the sterotype.

        And instead of the usual boringly indestructible, mindless right-wing macho man in the lead, the left-leaning Matt Damon plays the isolated and existentially solitary Bourne as a man whose memory may have been erased, but not his sense of morality or his essentially liberal strain of patriotism. It's all subtly embedded within a framework of thrills and violence, but it's there none the less. Greengrass wouldn't be Greengrass if it wasn't.

        Whilst Pinter from a more realist mode is right to criticise the impossibility of Bourne being able to whisk aside several hardened CIA operatives just like that this is merely a convention of this type of  film. This can be seen in films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It is a dramatic device for when Bourne meets the Arabic operative sent to kill him in a hand to hand he only just makes it similarly he only survives the car chase by chance. Here he is taking on his own kind the super-killer of which he is the Ur-figure gone wrong. As a political thriller there is a long tradition of defending the supremacy of the American political system against corrupt methods which would ultimately undermine the very raison d'etre of the United States Constitution itself.   This appears on John Gresham novels and  films and older films such as Clear and Present Danger dealing with drug cartels. Although not directly dealing with an American theme these kind of highly secretive undercover operations by states are also critiqued in films such as Spielberg's Munich.

        What Greengrass brings to this more American sub-generic category is a decidely British aesthetic which arguably has its heart in European cinema itself. Greengrass brings a gritty realism which belongs to the tradition of the British gangster-heavy (Chibnall) tradition which hasdeveloped thought films such as Brighton Rock, Get Carter (made by Mike Hodges who also worked for World in Action), The Long Good Friday. All of these involved corruption of some sort usually amongst police and local government. Greengrass is well placed to deal with higher level governmental corruption because of his involvement with the Spycatcher affair. all those British gangster films are strong on a sense of place. This is an aesthetic that Greengrass has brought wioth him. One can compare the car chase scene in the Bourne Ultimatum with the ridiculous street shoot out in Heat, to gain a real sense in the difference aesthetic which as Patterson notes is one which is a:

        ... patented newsreel-style, quasi-documentary, highly organic aesthetic - non-professional casts, few effects or soundstages, lots of hand-held and SteadiCam, much wobble and blur, extremely long takes, cut together in sequences often made up of hundreds of microscopically attenuated shots -... (ibid)

        In the Guardian interview with Patterson Greengrass comments that he sees the Bourne character as analagous to Patricia Highsmith's Ripley character becuase there is a duality:

        I love Matt in it. He's not only a brilliant actor, but also brilliant in that part because he's a wonderful player of duality - you think of [Tom] Ripley and other parts he's played. You don't know which side of that duality he's on at any moment. And that's Bourne: a duality, a killer who's redeemed himself, the man on the run with a dark past, so he's perfect. You couldn't ask for a better actor in the part than Matt.

        I don't think that this is a good analogy at all because Ripley is an entirely amoral opportunist. The comparison revolves around the issue of individual agency. Ripley sees an opportunity and takes it and gradually becomes involved in murder and then serial murder and his character declines. Bourne is an allegory for the honest truly democratic USA which has literal agents within who are suborning the true nature and aims of the country. Bourne represents this tension, this duality. We know he has truly broken with this dark instilled past when he fails to kill the other super-agent at the end of the car chase. When this person is positioned to kill Bourne a little later he lets him go asking why Bourne failed to kill him. Here the conversation allows for self-reflexivity for it is a question which many americans including their military are asking themselves: is what is going on in Iraq just? Are we making things better or worse? By what authority are we here? Given the CIA information about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was the excuse for the USA to go to war and for the British Government to follow suit despite there being no clear evidence then means that we can see the Bourne Ultimatum as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy.

        It is this lack of recognition by Pinter of the necessity to work within popular genres in order to subvert them if one is able to amount any critique at all within the American cinematic system. It is a reading that will have flown over the heads of many viewers of the film inevitably but audiences have many ways of viewing a text.

        Other recent non cinema work

        The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999). ITV Documentary. Directed by Greengrass.

        Omagh Channel Four TV Documentary. Greengrass was the producer and writer of this.


        The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007

        United 93, 2006

        The Bourne Supremacy,2004

        Bloody Sunday, 2002

        The Theory of Flight, 1998

        The Sweetest Thing, 1995

        Resurrected, 1989

        Indie London interview with Greengrass


        BBC the Writer's Room a Q & A with Paul Greengrass

        BBC Interview on United 93

        A Times overview of Greengrass's work

        Guardian:  Hollywood's Favourite Brit

        Guardian overview of Paul Greengrass

        Independent on Sunday. Noting Harold Pinter's disgust at The Bourne Ultimatum

        Working Title entry on Greengrass winning BAFTA with United 93

        Sight and Sound Review of Bloody Sunday

        British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) for Bloody Sunday 

        An interesting comparative review by the well respected David Tereshchuk who was actually at the Bloody Sunday Event reporting for the BBC

        Return to Contemorary British Directors hub page here.

        January 04, 2008

        Kinoeye Reference Hub

        Kinoeye Reference Hub Page


        As the Kinoeye film and media blog develops a range of reference pages are being made available. You may wish to bookmark this page to be able to quickly refer to what is currently available at any time.  

        Reference pages will include: bibliographies glossaries, chronologies, convenient list of directors, actors etc.  

        Reference Pages 


        British Cinema Bibliography

        French Cinema Bibliography 

        Italian Cinema Bibliography and Webliography

        Repetition or Revelation: Film Genre and Society. 2003 (Bibliography)

        Weimar and Nazi  Cinema Bibliography


        A Chronology of Important European Films  1918 - 2003


        Directors in Contemporary British Cinema

        Directors in Italian Cinema

        Weimar Directors Hub Page  

        National Cinema Hub Pages

        British Cinema

        European Film Institutions


        Glossary of Documentary Film Terms

        European Cinema and Media Glossary A-E

        European Cinema and Media Glossary  Ed-Mo

        Media and Film Studies Glossary N-Z

        Glossary of New Media Technologies (A-N)

        Glossary of New Media Technologies (O-Z)

        In depth individual explanations of terms 


        January 03, 2008

        Atonement, 2007. Dir Joe Wright

        Atonement, 2007. Dir Joe Wright

        Still under construction. Critical review to follow later but the links will be useful.

        Atonement 7 Redcar Set


        This has been the most vaunted British film of 2007 and was chosen to open the 2007 Venice film festival which is an accolade in itself. Based upon the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan the film is a literary adaptation which works within the heritage format as it can be seen as a costume drama and a reflection upon a particular historical period but not based upon events, rather historical events act as a backdrop for the drama. It may well be possible to offer a reading of this film as one which partially deals with a crisis in national identity. The 'Dunkirk spirit' has become a metaphor for the creation of national unity and determination to succeed in the face of victory. The film itself comes from Working Title Productions which indicates that the film is not going to have a seriously critical social ar political edge. 

        Perhaps it is no coincidence that another cinematic repreat of an historically great moment and an equivalent potential turning point the Spanish Armada is coming up in the form of Kapur's Elizabeth the Golden Age a mainstay period of reconstituting national identity. This does seem a rather overweighty response to the perceived threat of the mythical 'Polish Plumber' from Britian's cinematic establishment. I'd have thought something from Edgar Wright combining a sort of slapstick 'Carry On: Sticking it up Your Pipes' launched at the ICA would be a more appropriate response to BNP paranoia but there you go...

        By the middle of December following an early autumn release the film had been nominated for seven Golden Globe awards and on the shortlist for another 8 prizes. The nominations have been forwarded by the London film Critics circle. 

        What are the Golden Globes?

        The Golden Globes, handed out each year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is one of the main events in the film awards season in the run-up to the Oscars. Unlike the Oscars, the Globes ceremony has one set of categories for dramas and a separate set for comedies and musicals.


        Venice, London and Redcar is an unusual mix of cities and towns to visit to promote a feature film. But Wright is passionate about his need to fullfil his promise to the people of Redcar, to return once the film was completed. (Northern Film and Media). 


        Atonement 8


        Working Title Site on Atonement 

        BBC entertainment news on Atonement award nominations

        BBC on Atonement leading the field in the Golden Globes awards 

        London Film Critics Circle site

        New Statesman on Atonement

        Guardian on Atonement

        January 02, 2008

        Hot Fuzz, 2006. Dir: Edgar Wright

        Hot Fuzz, 2006. Dir: Edgar Wright

        Hot Fuzz Flying Cops

        Bye Bye The Matrix !

        Production by Working Title



        Well I haven't fully investigated it yet but the marketing of the film was clearly brilliantly organised. The BBC website below provided the materials for a very carefully orchestrated launch. Perhaps even more unusual was a preview in the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). This was clearly an attempt by Working Title to build on its considerable reputation and target an much wider audience than might usually go to what might seem to be a typical 'Britcom'. The success of the low budget Shaun of the Dead also by director Edgar Wright also created an air of anticipation.  

        Film Availability: DVD available in UK

        Hot Fuzz DVD cover


        BBC Hot Fuzz  Special Feature

        This is an abslotue must go to site if you are interested in the film at all. There are a host of interviews etc off the landing page. First class pages *****!   

        Working Title  Video Blog of Hot Fuzz

        Guardian Film Review  

        ICA Preview of Hot Fuzz

        Working Title: History of a Production Company

        Working Title: History of a Production Company

        (For a larger case study of a production company please see Channel Four / Film Four)

        Fellner and Bevan of Working Title

        Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner co-chairpersons of Working Title Productions


        The Co-chairpersons of Working Title  are  Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. It has been an extraordinary British cinematic success story as the following comment notes:

        They have been listed as the most powerful figures in the British industry and in 2002 Premiere magazine put them at 41st in the world-wide movie power list.( BBC News story (2004

        Without well positioned and highly effective producers film makers would have an even more difficult time. Firstly this article will look briefly at the role of the film producer, it will then look in more detail at Working Title as a case study of a success story. Without good producers in the last few years British Film culture would have been much poorer.  Good producers are essential for the success of any national cinema especially given the outside pressures from the big guns. Film making is a high risk business and good producers know how / learn how to reduce risk. 

        However according the the Daily Telegraph NBC Universal already holds a majority stake in Working Title Films, and has been looking to create a European TV studio in London. 

        Working Title Red


        Extract from Guardian interview

        Bevan had founded Working Title in 1984 with Sarah Radclyffe, and in 1992 went looking for a corporate backer. Polygram was the one, and Fellner came on board, Radclyffe having left. According to Bevan: "Before that we had been independent producers, but it was very hand to mouth. We would develop a script, that would take about 5% of our time; we'd find a director, that'd take about 5% of the time and then we'd spend 90% of the time trying to juggle together deals from different sources to finance those films. The films were suffering because there was no real structure and, speaking for myself, my company was always virtually bankrupt."

        What the film producer does

        A film producer creates the conditions for making movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls matters such as fundraising, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of the filmmaking process from development to completion of a project. (Wikipedia entry 2nd Jan 2008)

        Here is the blurb marketing a training course for potential producers:

        The producer is at the sharp end of the film business. They are required to

        keep all options open, develop networks of potential funding and talent,
        identify outlets and new markets for their productions, keep a range of
        projects live, ready for pitching
        . This Film School will provide an
        invaluable insight into the working practices and strategies, of the lives
        of a variety of producers. They will range from those working exclusively in
        shorts, in the UK, through to feature films and working in a global market.
        It will provide essential information and tips for up and coming producers,
        how to pitch a project, where to seek funding, how to maintain networks of
        contacts. Everything you wanted to know about the producers’ job description and the detail of producing film will be revealed in this film School.
        (My emphasis, Encounters Short Film Festival )

        Films Produced by Working Title

        Working Title's breakthrough hit was 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral, a romantic comedy which made the term British blockbuster seem less of an oxymoron.


        Films which have been critically and financially successful include both British and American films:  

        British films

        Atonement 1

        Atonement has been a great success for Working Title functioning as a film in the "heritage genre"

        Four Weddings and a Funeral
        Notting Hill
        Bridget Jones's Diary
        and American films
        Dead Man Walking
        The Man Who Wasn't There
        O Brother Where Art Thou?
        But there are plenty of risks as this comment on Captain Corelli's Mandolin shows:
        Flops include Captain Corelli's Mandolin. It was their most expensive film and, ironically, the one that seemed most likely to succeed.

        This is even more ironic given that the prices in Kefalonia have risen as the tourist trade increased dramatically after the film's release.

        How Working Title chooses the films to support 

        How does Working Title choose which films to make? Fellner says projects get championed by individuals in the development department and these 'percolate' their way up to the top. Bevan and Fellner then both take the decision on what to greenlight (Skillset)

        Recent Films Produced Include

        More recently WT co-produced the successful Hot Fuzz comedy released in July 2007. See also Hot Fuzz)

        Elizabeth the Golden Age : Shekar Kapur

        Targeting Audience: The Secret of Their success?

        The Working Title philosophy has always been to make films for an audience - by that I mean play in a multiplex. We totally believe in this because we know it is the only hope we have of sustaining the UK film industry. (Lucy Guard & Natasha Wharton)

        Working Title 2 / WT 2: Making the Small Budget Feature

        As Working Title became more bound up with larger productions it became more awkward to deal with smaller ones so WT2 was established to deal with low budget titles.  

        Despite its famous name, the structure at Working Title is pretty lean. It employs just 42 full time staff, split between the main Working Title production arm and its low-budget offshoot WT2, run by Natascha Wharton, which since 1999 has produced films like Billy Elliot and Ali G Indahouse. (My emphasis, from Skillset )

        WT2 has had a good success rate and clearly the whole organisation is run very effectively.

        Other films it has produced are the less than well received Calcium Kid starring Orlando Bloom

        Extract from a Channel 4 Film Feature

        Lucy Guard, Head of Development for Dragon Pictures and Natscha Wharton (left) who co-runs WT2 share with us their secret to developing talent..

        How did WT2 come about?
        When I was at Working Title we set up a New Writers Scheme to develop new talent. Normally we do not accept unsolicited material (scripts that do not come from an agent or producer) but for the scheme we had to relax a bit and open the doors. The problem was that at Working Title, smaller films would inevitably get less attention than the bigger budget projects so we decided to set up WT2 to give proper attention to those smaller films. Quite a few of the writers we were developing on the Scheme we are now working with us at WT2 while others have set up their projects with other companies, which is great.

        Available films produced by Working Title /WT2 include:

        elizabeth_dvd_cover_special_edition.jpg Four Weddings and funeral DVD Cover Bridget Jones Bean DVD Cover

        WT2 Films available include:

        Inside I Billy Eliott Ali G Indahouse



        Guardian Interview with Fellner and Bevan

        BBC News story (2004)

        Film File Europe recording Working Title / WT2 films 

        Skillset Film entry on Working Title & WT2 

        BBC on Inside I'm Dancing a WT2 title (This is technically an Irish film) 

        BBC Review on Inside I'm Dancing

        Working Title plans TV Shows:By Juliette Garside. Daily Telegraph Jan 2008

        Film Four Productions Interview with Tim Bevan

        Screenonline Working Title entry + links to individuals concerned

        Independent Film Producer Rebecca O'Brien. Who works with Ken Loach 

        (For a larger case study of a production company please see Channel Four / Film Four)

        Stephen Frears

        British Directors: Stephen Frears (1941-)



        Stephen Frears has had a fine film making career making many notable British films some of which have had a controversial edge live My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammie and Rosie Get Laid. With these films and with Dirty Pretty Things Frears has shown he can make films with his finger on the pulse of social change.  His most successful recent film was The Queen which won many accolades. A fuller evaluation will appear in due course however there are a good range of web links established to aid research. 


        2006: The Queen

        2005: Mrs Henderson Presents

        2002: Dirty Pretty Things

        2000: High Fidelity; Liam

        1998: The Hi-Lo Country

        1996 The Van

        1995: Mary Reilly

        1993: The Snapper

        1992: Accidental Hero

        1990: The Grifters

        1989: Dangerous Liaisons

        1987: Prick Up Your Ears

        1987: Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

        1985: My Beautiful Laundrette

        1984: The Hit

        1979: Bloody Kids

        1971: Gumshoe

        Film availability 

        dirty_pretty_things_dvd_cover.jpg    the_queen_dvd_cover.jpg Mrs Henderson Presents DVD cover Liam DVD Cover


        Screenonline Biography.(Excellent range of other links to specific films here) 

        Guardian Interview Stephen Frears

        BBC Interview on Dirty Pretty Things

        Daily Telegraph. Film Makers on film: Stephen Frears

        BBC Film Network  page on The Queen. Clip and trailer available here. 

        BFI Governors page on Frears 

        Guardian on Frears as Chairperson of the Cannes Jury 2007 

        David Thompson in the Independent 2nd Jan 2008 on Stephen Frears

        Britfim Frears heads Cannes Jury

        Guardian interview of Frears 2004 (who reveals that he watches Big Brother) 

        Skillset Frears takes part in mentoring scheme


        British Directors: Mike Hodges

        British Directors: Mike Hodges (1932 -  )



        Mike Hodges is still known for his 'gangster heavy' film Get Carter which seems to get number one in the 'Lad's Mags' lists for the 'well 'ard'. In fact it was an insightful view of relationships between British Gangland and various local businesses and of course the police. In terms of representations of Newcastle and the North East at the time the corruption of the Poulson affair.

        The film was a continuation of the representation of British Gangland from Brighton Rock through The Long Good Friday which also dealt with corruption and was prescient about developments in the London docklands. Hodges has contributed another gangster heavy film in recent years I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

        For more on the theme of British Crime Films please follow this link.  

        A fuller evaluation of Mike Hodges work will follow however there are some useful links here to help with your research.  


        1970 Get Carter
        1972 Pulp
        1974 Terminal Man
        1979 Flash Gordon
        1985 Morons from Outer Space
        1987 A Prayer for the Dying
        1990 Black Rainbow
        1998 Croupier
        2001 Murder By Numbers
        2003 I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
        2004 Murder by Numbers

        Films Available:

        Get Carter DVD Cover Croupier DVD Cover I


        Screenonline Biography of Mike Hodges 

        Guardian interview with Mike Hodges

        NFT Interview with Mike Hodges

        Sight and Sound Review of I'll Sleep when I'm Dead

        BBC Radio 3 series of interviews with Mike Hodges about work in progress on I'll sleep When I'm Dead

        BBC Interview with Mike Hodges on Croupier

        Culture Wars Review of I'll Sleep When I'm Dead


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