All 4 entries tagged British Cinema History
No other Warwick Blogs use the tag British Cinema History on entries | View entries tagged British Cinema History at Technorati | There are no images tagged British Cinema History on this blog
June 06, 2008
100 British Documentaries by Patrick Russell British Film Institute 2007: Review
Cover of 100 British Documentaries. The cover image comes from Kötting's Gallivant 1996. It features his Grandmother and daughter who has Joubert syndrome. She speaks in yelps and some sign language. She isn't expected to live into adulthood. The film took 3 months to make as they travelled around the country it combines bringing out the everyday with much formal experimentation and is a film that Russell clearly thinks highly of.
I recently purchased a nice little book from the BFI Screen Guides series called 100 British Documentaries by Patrick Russell who is Senior Curator for non-fiction film with the National Film Archive. The book doesn't set out to be about the very best of British documentaries, although very many of the ones covered are, rather it sets out to cover the scope of the documentary field since British documentaries started being made. The earliest one covered is from 1896 on the Yarmouth Fishing Fleet and covers 2 very recent documentaries Touching the Void 2003 and Supersocieties (Life in the Undergrowth) 2005. Many well known documentaries such as Night Mail (1936)are covered as well as many lesser known ones. In this sense it is a careful examination of the genre not a "Best of guide". One good thing about the book is its compact size and the way it has a range of fairly short entries which makes it an excellent book for reading in the bath or on train journeys which can easily be interrupted. One can pick out themes such as Second World War documentaries or documentaries of postwar politics: a Hugh Hudson party political documentary on Neil Kinnock (1987) is covered and a rather longer film Tracking Down Maggie (1994) on Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher is also included for example.
Russell makes it clear at the outset that he has chosen his selection:
...because each illustrates something specific about the many forms British documentary has taken, and the numerous use to which it has been put, as it has developed historically
From Paul Rotha's Land of Promise (1946)
This seems to be an excellent academic criteria upon which to base a choice and gives the book an underlying committment to developing knowledge about the twists and turns of documentarism over the decades. Russell is clear that these films may not necessarily the best, neither are they necessarily his personal favourites. Russell makes it clear that there are many good documentaries missing. However the tome isn't meant to be a complete history of the Britiish documentary. Hopefully this is a step towards that. However at over 270 pages there is plenty to get stuck into and in terms of signalling imprtant aspects of documentary development this is a 'must buy' book for British cinephile and film students alike. It was recently reviewed in the June issue of Sight & Sound. Mark Cooke the reviewer who also read it on a train ride suggests the book is flawed in that it doesn't represent architecture or issues about sexuality in the changing 20th century. I agree these are both important issues but in fairness the book squeezes an awful lot in and hopefully will contribute towards a greater academic interest in British documentarism, beyond the 'greats' of the 1930s.
What Counts as Documentary?
Russell spends a little time commenting on the documentary form itself at the beginning of the book. Rather than just being as truthful a representation of "actuality" which is what many consider to be the ideal documentary form there can be a considerable amount of experiment:
Hybrids are the rule not the exception (p3)
notes Russell. Many of the films discussed in the book are experimental + documentary, documentary + entertainment, documentary + politics, promotional and educational tools. Russell points out that narrative structures can be very different as well. In brief the documentary is an ever changing field of expression and this book through its use of examples elaborates upon this very effectively.
Well Known and Well Loved Documentaries
Some of the best known documentary film-makers are included such as Paul Rotha with two of his films covered: The Face of Britain (1935) and Land of Promise (1945) which is the name of an excellent multi-DVD collection of British documentaries which has been recently released by the BFI and will be covered on another occassion. The titles of these films cover a period when Britain was struggling with the aftermath of the Depression and was still a country of deference, compared with 1945 when the country had undergone something of a sea-change with the Labour Party gaining a landslide victory in the aftermath of the defeat of Hitler in Europe but before the Atomic bombs had devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki irrevocably changing the nature of the world to come. The social democratic moment and a land of social unity was in the air and the successful prosecution of the war had put the building of a welfare state and a planned economy with nationalisation of the worst run industries firmly on the agenda.
From Listen to Britain (1942)
Another very different stylist of the documentary Humphrey Jennings is also represented with perhaps his best and most poetic work Listen to Britain (1942) with editor Stewart MacAllister also on the credits being one of his wartime films. For my money it is is easily the most powerful propaganda film I have ever seen and knocks the infamous,lamentable and much over-rated Triumph of the Will by Riefenstahl into the proverbial cocked hat. It is a film which through its very essence could not be made by an authoritarian regime. If effective propaganda is about creating foundational national myths then this one is unlikely to be surpassed. Also by Jennings is his well known A Diary for Timothy (1946) following the birth of a baby boy made at a time - 1944/1945- when Britain was in a war weary mode and just looking forward to getting the job done and starting to rebuild Britain as a better place for all. Timothy was to become a teacher later in life signifying the hopes for the future that are inevitably bound up with education. The film was produced by Basil Wright and had a script from E. M. Forster with a voice over by Michael Redgrave.
Drifters (1929) by John Grierson was the foundational film of what was to become the British Documentary Movement Other films from this important grouping are also represented such as: The Song of Ceylon (1934) Housing Problems (1935), Night-Mail (1936) with the famous poem by Auden driving its rhythms and Today We Live : A Film of Life in Britain (1937) by Ruby Grierson (John Grierson's sister) and Ralph Bond.
March to Aldermarston (1958)
Many important political documentaries are also covered which signify very important moments in the social history of post-war Britain upuntil the present. March to Aldermarston (1958) was given a collective credit but is widely recognised to have had the guiding hand of Lindsay Anderson behind it. CND and the anti-nuclear Movement was to become a powerpul political force in the UK and as such represents a deep polarisation that was to exist in the country for decades until the Cold War collapsed. Nightcleaners (1975) Berwick Street Collective represents the shifting gender balance in Britain, for it was during the 1970s that Equal Pay Legislation came in that decade. It also signifies the battle to unionise marginalised areas of the labour force and to get recognised the importance of women in doing that work.
A Conservative Party election Broadcast of 1979 from the image campaign managed by Saatchi and Saatchi is included. This powerful campaign was undoubtedly important in providing some impetus to set Britain down the political path of Neo-liberalism as the way out of the recession triggered by oil crisis but which really marked an end to the long economic boom of the West since the end of the war. In that sense this marks a turning point in British post-war politics, economics and society.
From Handsworth Songs (1986)
Handsworth Songs (1986) John Akromfrah represents the changing ethnic composition of Britain which had been going on since the 1950s and unlike two other documentaries covered in the collection was made by a radicalised person from one of those communities. The film covers the Handsworth rioting of the mid 1980s and used several different formal techniques. Russell suggests that it lacks a strong enough interior logic to make it more than the sum of its parts. On this basis he considers the film as being overrated seeing a sort of 'inverse racism' at work. I didn't get to see the film at the time and I'm not certain about its current availability. I certainly remember the riots and despite Russell's criticism that the the film is hiding behind an academic "jargon" in a BFI publicity handout of representing
"... the riots as a political field coloured by the trajectories of industrial decline and structural crisis"
that is really what it was. The hand of Stuart Hall the then director of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies defended the film against (predictably) Salman Rushdie who according to Russell thought it pretentious. Russell points out that the film in his mind has dated badly and that it is still praised because there is still an invidious situation of ethnic under-representation. This leaves us some food for thought.
From Lockerbie: A Night Remembered (1998)
Lockerbie: A Night Remembered (1998) can be read as signifying the continuous exposure to terrorist violence faced by Britian and the West in general since the 1960s whther from the Red Brigades, nationalist movements such as the IRA or religious fundamentalist inspired violence such as the London Tube bombings as as 9/11 of course. McLibel (1998/2005) signifies the growth of corporate power embodied in Macdonalds throughout the 1980s and 1990s and the fight back which individuals have made on a continuous basis.
Many other themes can be dug out of the book such as music documentaries from Let it Be (1970) to Johnny Cash in San Quentin (1969) -which is a British film perhaps surprisingly -. this marks the swinging sixties and the rowth of pop and rock music as an important cultural force.
Setting up the roof concert at the end of Let it Be
One obvious theme is coal mining. A Day in the Life of a Coalminer (1910)is the first of these, Cavalcanti's Coalface (1935) follows. Mining Review Fourth Year Number 12 (1951) is a report from the recently nationalised caolmining industry which under private ownership had become outrageously exploititative and also underininvested. Lastly there is The Coal Board's Butchery (1984), a Miner's Union campaigning video against the pit lcosures put into operation by the Thatcher government. As such it encompasses a key turning point in British society which has lead to the diempowering of the Trade Union movement. As was recognised by the Miner's leaders at the time it was a battle against neo-liberal politics and as such was much more than about coal miners jobs. Deindustrialised Britain has been the net outcome.
There are many other themes to be dug out of the book. It represents excellent value and is an enjoyable way of spending some time. It's breadth deals not just with the various forms of documentary film making themselves but provides a range of insights into British culture and society in a poignant way. One can only hope that the BFI put together a matching set of documentaries to accompany the book. That would make a truly excellent package.
May 19, 2008
British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1997-20010
Please note still under construction but current links may still be useful to visitors so opened as a 'work in progress'
This section takes us from the inception of the Tony Blair led 'New Labour' government which initially was interested in a 'Third Way' approach following on from the work of the sociologist Anthony Giddens up until a likely time of the next election. currently the tide seems to be turning against 'New' Labour which seems to have lost its zeal as well as its ideological perspectives.
From the perspective of cinema the period has seen many interesting changes and film. Many artidcles and references to them can be found on the Contemporary British Cinema hub page. This chronolgy follows earlier ones in providing links to external events of which one of the most significant has to be "9'11". Cinema often provides a social and cultural barometer of mood changes in the country and it will be interesting to see what tensions are explored in the next couple of years. With the growth of the concept of 'Cultural Industries' the links to film and cultural policy should also be of interest.
Major Historical Events
Major Film Industry Events
Main films Produced
May 2nd: Tony Blair and
Chancellor Gordon Brown frees
Chris Smith Secretary of State for New Department of Culture Media and Sport previously the Department of National Heritage
Boyle: A Life Less Ordinary
Madden: Mrs. Brown
Winterbottom: Welcome to Sarajevo
|1998||Creation if British Independent Film Awards (BIFA)||
Ritchie: Lock, stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Sofley: Wings of a Dove
|1999||Joint Tory and Labour Cultural Policy sees opening of Millenium Dome||Shakespeare in Love wins 7 Oscars
The New Cinema Fund replacing the BFI production board
Premiere Fund was also founded at the UK Film Council to support the more commercial end of British filmmaking
May 2nd: Towards a Sustainable Film Industry. Key Film Council Policy Document.
Pawlikowski: The Last Resort
September 11:Attacks destroy World Trade Centre in New York
October 7th. US War against Afghanistan begins
|Funding the UK Film Industry
|2002||Launch of the Broadcasting and Creative Industries' Disability Network (BCIDN)|
|2003||February: US & British and some others invade Iraq||
|2005||May 2005: Third Labour election victory
||June: James Purnell new Minister of Broadcasting announces review into UK Film funding|
|2006||April: United 93 by British director Paul Greengrass||Winterbottom: The Road to Guantanamo|
July Northern Rock financial statement hints at future problems of the credit crunch
The project of digitising all British media broadcasting begins in Whitehaven in Cumbria
October: The Day the Music Industry died. Radiohead offer pay what you think download
January: James Purnell is replaced by Andy Burnham as Britain's Secretary of Culture
Feb: UK Film Council submission to Future Framework of State Funded Public Service Broadcasting
February. Tilda Swinton wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actress
Atonement wins Bafta Best Film
This is England wins Bafta Best British Film
Maybury: The Edge of Love
May 11, 2008
British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1939-1951
Preface: This page is still under development. Many of the film links are the same as an earlier page British Cinema of the Second World War which will be restructured. The grid system providing links and reminders of the context of developments in British cinema and politics and society in general seems to be a more effective way to proceed. It has also been decided to develop the chronology linked to changes in national government rather than by decades as this will better reflect the changing contextual moods within the country.
This is one of a projected series of chronologies which provide visitors with the opportunity to gain a panotpical overview of developments within British Cinema from the outbreak of the Second World War until the present day. A key aspect of the project is to allow visotors to quickly cross reference the social attitudes expressed in films and references to responses from the audiences of the time as well as responses from critics. As other entries are developed links will be made to articles on the films. It is always important to get a quick overview of the course of events in gneral to contextualise the film industry in general and indvidual films within this. The years chosen cover the period of World War Two through the Atlee led Labour landslide visctory and subsequent Government. The start of the welfare state as well as the years of post-war austerity in a country nearly bankrupted by the war. 1950 saw the return of a Labour government but it only had a very narrow majority and was soon to fall to a Conservative party about 18 months later who in turn had 13 years uninterrupted in power.
Chronology of course is not history films do need a context in which to be able to be able to devlop a fuller understanding of them, as Robert Murphy has rightly commented:
With film aesthetics are never enough. Viewed in isolation 'In Which We Serve', 'Brief Encounter',even 'The Red Shoes' degenerate into kitsch. Films need a context, whether as the work of a particular director, the product of a studio or... as a part of a cycle of films emerging from a particular society over a particular period. (Murphy, 1992 p 233)
Major Historical Events
Major Film Industry Events
Main films Produced
March: Czechoslovakia invaded by Nazi Germany. Britain made an alliance with Poland.
September third. Britain declares war on Nazi Germany after Nazis invade Poland.
'Phoney War' in western Europe starts. At sea the Nazi pocketbattleship Graf Spee is defeated at the Battle of the River Plate.
September: The Great Evacuation
After the outbreak of war only 6 films in production were completed. another 11 were made in the rest of the year.
Immediate governmental response to the outbreak of war was to close the cinemas. When mass bombing raids didn't materialise they were reopened.
Korda: The Lion Has Wings
Let George Do It
Powell and Pressburger: The Spy in Black
April Hitler invades Norway
May 1940. 'Phoney War' ends as Nazis attack Belgium and Holland on 10th.
Churchill takes over as British Prime Minister after the Nazis successfully invade Norway.
28th May: Belgium surrenders.
26th May - June 4th British and French troops evacuated at Dunkirk.
22nd June: France surrenders.
30th June - September: Battle of Britain
September London Blitz begins.
51 British films released. 24 were comedy / comedy-thrillers.
The Stars Look Down (1939 Released January 1940) Carol Reed
Britain at Bay: (1940) Harry Watt (Often attrubuted to J. B. Priestley) [Documentary]
Night Train to Munich (1940) Carol Reed [Nazi Opression in Central Europe]
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) Ludwig Berger /Michael Powell /Tim Whelan [Alexander Korda producer]
The Proud Valley (1940) Penrose Tennyson [Ealing]
Pastor Hall (1940) Boulting Bros [Nazi oppression in Central Europe]
Let George Do It (1940) Marcel Varnel
Pimpernel Smith (1940) Leslie Howard
Britain at Bay (1940) Harry Watt [GPO Film Unit / sponsor MOI documentary]
Tomorrow is Theirs (1940) James Carr [Ministry of Information documentary]
They Also Serve (1940) Ruby Grierson [Gender & Work documentary]
Westward Ho! (1940) Thorold Dickinson [Documentary]
December: Japanese Fleet attack America at Pearl Harbour
47 British films released. 31 from the 6 studios mentioned under the 1940 entry)
Most popular film of the year was 49th Parallel.
The 49th Parallel (1941) Powell & Pressburger
That Hamilton Woman (1941) Alexander Korda
The Young Mr. Pitt (1941) Carol Reed
Ferry Pilot (1941) Pat Jackson [Documentary]
Cottage to Let (1941) Anthony Asquith
Ships With Wings (1941) Segei Nolbandov [Ealing]
Love on the Dole (1941) John Baxter
Eating Out With Tommy Trinder (1941) Desmond Dickinson
Jane Brown Changes her Job (1941) Harold Cooper [Gender & Work]
Ordinary People (1941) Jack Lee & J.B. Holmes
May RAF organise the first 1,000 bomber raid attacking Köln
June 1942. US win the Battle of Midway
October British Army wins Battle of El Alamein
Mass murder of Jews at Auschwitz begins
The Beveridge report published. This was the founding document of post-war social policy.
45 British films released. The majority were about the war. 13 / 16 comedies has war thmes. Several others were 'heritage' films. Independent companies like Two Cities make an impact.
Independent Producers established by Arthur J. Rank
Went the Day Well (1942) Alberto Cavalcanti [Ealing]
Listen to Britain (1942) Humphrey Jennings [Documentary]
One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) Powell and Pressburger
In Which We Serve (1942) David Lean / Noël Coward [Two Cities]
The Foreman Went to France (1942) Charles Frend [Ealing]
The Goose Steps Out (1942) Will Hay, Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Thunder Rock (1942) Boulting Bros
The Next of Kin (1942) Thorold Dickinson [Ealing]
Night Shift (1942) Paul Rotha [Gender & Work, Documentary]
The Countrywomen (1942) John Page [Gender & the War Effort]
Men of Tomorrow (1942) Alfred Travers
February German Army at Stalingrad surrender. First major Nazi defeat.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Powell and Pressburger
The Silver Fleet (1943) Gordon Wellesley and Vernon Sewell [Produced by the Archers - Powell and Pressburger]
Fires Were Started (1943) Humphrey Jennings
The Silent Village (1943) Humphrey Jennings
The Bells Go Down (1943) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Millions Like Us (1943) Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat [Gender & Work]
Nine Men (1943) Harry Watt [Ealing]
San Demetrio London (1943) Charles Frend [Ealing]
The Man in Grey (1943) Leslie Arliss [The first "official" Gainsborough costume melodrama]
Journey Together (1943) John Boulting [ RAF Film Unit in 1943 as a public information film]
D-Day invasion of Nazi occupied France
William Haley becomes director General of the BBC
|Rank takes over Two Cities production company
Clayton: Naples is a Battlefield (Documentary)
A Canterbury Tale (1944) Powell and Pressburger
This Happy Breed (1944) David Lean [Two Cities]
Fanny by Gaslight (1944) Anthony Asquith [Gainsborough melodrama was made to cash in on the success of The Man in Grey]
Love Story (1944) Leslie Arliss
Henry V (1944) Laurence Olivier [Two Cities]
The Way Ahead (1944) Carol Reed [Two Cities]
The Eighty Days (1944) Humphrey Jennings
Waterloo Road (1944) Sidney Gilliat
Two Thousand Women (1944) Frank Launder
The Halfway House (1944) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
Champagne Charlie (1944) Alberto Cavalcanti [Ealing / Musical]Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944) Arthur Crabtree
May 7th: Germany surrenders.
July 5th: General election, Labour majority of 150 seats.
August 24th: Japan surrenders after atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Immediate Post-War films
I Know where I'm Going (1945 December) Powell and Pressburger
Brief Encounter (1945) David Lean
The Wicked Lady (1945) Leslie Arliss [Gainsborough melodramas.]
They Were Sisters (1945) Arthur Crabtree [Gainsborough melodrama]
The Seventh Veil (1945) Compton Bennett
Homes for the People (1945) Kay Mander [Documentary]
Rationing in Britain (1945) Graham Cutts
Dead of Night (1945) Alberto Cavalcanti / Robert Hamer / Charles Crighton / Basil Dearden [Ealing]
National Insurance Act
New Towns Act 1946
Bank of England Nationalised
July 21st Bread Rationing introduced
Squatters settle in disused military bases
|39 films released
The Way From Germany (1946) Terry Trench [Crown Film Unit - Documentary]
I See a Dark Stranger (1946) Frank Launder [Individual Pictures. Comedy Spy Thriller]
Piccadilly Incident (1946) Herbert Wilcox [This melodrama was the second most successful film of 1946 at the box office, after The Wicked Lady]
A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Powell & Pressburger ['Begun towards the end of the war as a propaganda exercise to encourage Anglo-American understanding']
Caravan (1946) Arthur Crabtree [Gainsborough Melodrama]
The Magic Bow (1946) Bernard Knowles [Gainsborough, 'biopic': the end result is aimed far more at fans of Stewart Granger Gainsborough costume melodrama than to anyone seriously interested in Paganini's own work.]
Hue and Cry (1946) Charles Crighton [Ealing comedy]
Men of Two Worlds (1946) Thorold Dickinson [Two Cities]Great Expectations (1946) David Lean [Cineguild Independent Producers. Literary Adaptation]
January-March. Extraordinary winter freeze combined with power cuts. Followed by serious floods in the thaw.
April 1947: Raising of the School Leaving Age to 15.
August 1947: India receives its independence
Government attempts to reduce imports lead to punitive taxes on Hollywood films
Hollywood boycotts UK market
Rank restructures his interests to increase production
Black Narcissus (1947) Powell & Pressburger
Brighton Rock (1947) John Boulting: Spiv
Fame is the Spur (1947) Roy Boulting
Good-Time Girl (1947) David Macdonald [Gainsborough Melodrama]
Jassy (1947) Bernard Knowles [Gainsborough Melodrama]
The Odd Man Out (1947) Carol Reed [Two Cities]
Captain Boycott (1947) Frank Launder [ Individual Pictures. Biopic]
Holiday Camp (1947) Ken Annakin
February: Criminal Justice Act: abolishes hard labour / penal servitude / flogging
July 5th: Vesting day for the NHS. The new social security legislation also came into force.
Electricity industry nationalised
24th June 1948 Blockade of Berlin. Berlin Airlift goes on until 1949.
Children of the Ruins (1948) Jill Craigie [Documentary]
The Fallen Idol (1948) Carol Reed [ London Film Productions]
The Red Shoes (1948) Powell & Pressburger [One of Powell & Pressburger's best-loved films, 'The Red Shoe' , released in 1948, is perhaps the definitive ballet movie.]
Daybreak (1948) Compton Bennett [ General Film Distributors. Brit Noir]
London Belongs to Me (1948) Sidney Gilliat [Individual Pictures. 'Never quite clear whether it's a suspense thriller, a psychological drama, a comedy or a slice of social realism.']
Gas industry nationalised
96 films released
Harold Wilson President of the Board of Trade attempts national film policy
National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC) established
The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed [London Film Productions]
The Blue Lamp (1949) Basil Dearden
Boys in Brown (1949) Montgomery Tully
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Robert Hamer [Ealing Comedy]
Passport to Pimlico (1949) Henry Cornelius [Ealing Comedy]
Whisky Galore! (1949) Alexander Mackendrick [Ealing Comedy]
The Queen of Spades (1949) Thorold Dickinson [ABPC /World Screenplays. Pushkin short story]
The Spider and the Fly (1949) Robert Hamer [Mayflower Pictures Corporation. Thriller]
Diamond City (1949) David MacDonald [Gainsborough. Based on the Western but set in South Africa / Colonial Adventure?]
Feb 23rd 1950: General Election. Labour majority of 6
Klaus Fuchs arrested as a spy
|82 films released
Lee: The Wooden Horse
Deardon: The Blue Lamp (Social Problem Films)
Odette (Biopic / War)
The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) Frank Launder
The Pool of London (1950) Basil Dearden [Ealing]
|1951||Oct 25th 1951: General Election. Conservatives majority of 17.||
Boulting: High Treason (Anti-Communist)
Man in a White Suit (1951) Alexander Mackendrick [Ealing Comedy]
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) Charles Crighton [Ealing Comedy]
Hotel Sahara (1951) Ken Annakin [Comedy-Drama]
February 10, 2008
British Cinema Hub Page
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
Industry & Production
Film Marketing (Not currently open)
Male British Actors
Themes in British Cinema
Historical Aspects of British Cinema
Non-Contemporary British Cinema (Not currently open)