In 'Angles of Approach', Lindsay Anderson delivered a fierce attack on contemporary British film culture, outlining a model for a devoted politics of creation, well in line with what we would later understand as auteurism and art cinema aesthetics. Anderson was one of the editors of the journal Sequence, a continuation of the Oxford University Film Society magazine, along with, from time to time, for instance, Gavin Lambert, Penelope Houston and Karel Reisz. Auteurism and art cinema, for good and for bad, came to dominate the European cinema after the 1950s. For bad, it possibly caused, as Angus Finney claims in The State of European Cinema, disastrous financial decline in comparison to the American cinema. For good, it created some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces.
Sequence and the rise of auteurism in 1950s Britain
Memory and popular film
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book considers memory as a specific framework for the study of popular film, intervening in growing debates about the status and function of memory in cultural life and discourse. It examines the relationship between official and popular history and the constitution of memory narratives in and around the production and consumption of American cinema. The book explores the political stakes of cinematic discourse in its production of national memory. It also examines the discursive and institutional apparatus that has come to support the memory of Classic Hollywood in British cultural life. The book also considers both the presence of music and colour in nostalgia films of the 1990s and the impact of digital and video technologies on the representational determinants of mediated memory.
The early British films of Joseph Losey
In an interview in Films and Filming in October 1963, Joseph Losey had declared: 'The Servant is the only picture he have ever made in his life where there was no interference from beginning to end, either on script, casting, cutting, music or on anything else. This chapter focuses on his two British films prior to The Servant, The Criminal and The Damned. The Servant could be seen as the completion of the first phase of Losey's English period, which had begun in 1954 with his first film in England, The Sleeping Tiger. The film in which Losey's background is most obvious is The Intimate Stranger in which the hero Richard Basehart is a former American film editor who, partly through an advantageous marriage, has become an important executive producer in England.
Consumerism and alienation in 1950s comedies
For every 1950s British comedy assimilated into the academic canon, there are many which have fallen into obscurity, reinforcing the alleged disposability of the form. The Horse's Mouth is a fascinating starting point for a discussion of 1950s comedy, because of its treatment of the genre's defining themes: consensus and its breakdown through the alienating individualism of consumerism. It shares key characteristics with such 'canonical' Ealing comedies as The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit. Rather than harking back to wartime collectivism, the decade's comedies are shaped by the general election of 1951, particularly its anti-collectivist sub-texts. The communities of The Titfield Thunderbolt and The Mouse That Roared reflect the triumph of the British spirit over Nazi Germany's unsportingly ruthless professionalism, but their villains, rather than being.
Woman in a Dressing Gown
Stephen Frears's response to Woman in a Dressing Gown seems laughably inappropriate. Woman in a Dressing Gown is a drama that counterpoints two different kinds of women: if Georgie is the ideal of 1950s femininity, serene, sexually attractive and 'mature', then Amy Preston is its unacceptable face, scatty, scruffy and loud. The most useful touchstone for approaching Woman in a Dressing Gown as a 'proto-feminist' film is Betty Friedan's groundbreaking study of the disparity between the happy housewife image and the malaise and misery that lies beneath it, The Feminine Mystique. The Feminine Mystique often discusses and illuminates exactly the same problems that Woman in a Dressing Gown indirectly hints at or alludes to, through its presentation of the character of Amy. Throughout Woman in a Dressing Gown melodramatic tropes such as the use of lachrymose music are important.
Serious Charge and film censorship
The story of British film censorship is inextricably linked with the system of censorship operated by the Lord Chamberlain over stage productions and the theatre. Both the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) and the Lord Chamberlain's Office employed a process of censorship which depended as much on the application of pre-production scrutiny as it did on post-production review. Moreover, both regularly informed each other of their respective activities and followed a policy of 'keeping in step'. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Terence Young's 1959 film, Serious Charge. The genesis of this film lay in Philip King's play of the same name which was first presented for consideration to the Lord Chamberlain's Office in March 1953 with an anticipated presentation date of November that year.
History, legend and memory in John Sayles’ Lone Star
John Sayles' Lone Star examines 'life beneath the ashes or behind the mirrors' by excavating the 'geological layers'. Sayles' film can be seen as in dialogue with the 'culture wars' debates in which issues of identity politics, multiculturalism and the representation of US history came to the fore, often embedded in the looser exchanges and controversies over so-called political correctness. Lone Star is a story of multiple borders, from the ever-present geopolitical southwest border, to those drawn through the diverse lives that intersect within the community of Frontera. Lone Star also refers ironically to the events of the Alamo as a mythic historic marker of border relations. As the film Lone Star ends, Sayles suggests that the latent possibility inherent in the experience of movies can be carried forward into life itself, that is, into the imaginative reconstruction of identity, community and nation.
The Festival of Britain aimed to provide respite from the effects of World War II by celebrating the nation's past achievements in the arts, industry and science, as well as looking hopefully to a future of progress and prosperity. Film was integral to the Festival of Britain. The Festival of Britain seemed a natural place to demonstrate the fruits of British film production. This chapter focuses five of the more high-profile productions: Forward a Century, Air Parade, Waters of Time, Family Portrait and David. The Festival of Britain site in London on the South Bank featured a purpose-built film theatre, the Telekinema, for big-screen public television broadcasts and the showing of specially commissioned Festival films. To discuss the role of film in the Festival, Jack Ralph established the British Film Institute (BFI) Festival of Britain 1951 Panel consisting of prominent members of the British film industry.
Pleasantville and the textuality of media memory
This chapter considers a cultural and theoretical development in the discussion of memory crisis, especially as it bears upon the notional 'amnesia' that has been associated with digital technology in, and as part of, the culture of postmodernism. It examines Pleasantville, a film that reframes the relationship between colourisation and cultural remembrance in a period where 'digital cinema' had become a sophisticated media genre. Dramatising the incursions of a colour present into a black and white past, Pleasantville creates a narrative based on the cultural apotheosis, 'not everything is as simple as black and white'. In the case of Pleasantville, this transcoding centres upon a liberal discourse focused on the rejuvenation of the 1960s. Discursively, the film intervenes in political debates about the status of the 1960s, reclaiming the decade as a positive metaphor against the more reactionary 'memories' of the period advanced in films like Forrest Gump.
The Pony Express at the Diamond Jubilee
Paramount's historical Western, The Pony Express, was one of a cycle of popular frontier epics released in the late silent era. This chapter discusses how American producers (especially Paramount) cultivated this cycle with a view toward exploiting its public relations utility. Writing a sequel to the cinematic document offered Henry James Forman an opportunity to educate viewers about the historical foundations of national growth as a means to garner civic commitment. Debuting The Pony Express during the Diamond Jubilee would help the studio build fruitful associations between cinematic text and historical pageantry, offering patrons a suitable commemorative document as well as evidence of their commitment to Americanism. The connections between The Pony Express and the Jubilee were made most concrete when, under the auspices of Wells Fargo, the film was named 'the official Diamond Jubilee picture' after a preview by the Jubilee committee.