Realism or ‘Realisms’
What are the problems with the phrasal term “social realism”?
The problems with the phrase “social realism” is that it is often used to describe
situations that do not approve to it ((without care, imprecise - confuses true
meaning)) and also that it is used with out any negative meaning to it. It is commonly
used with other phrases such as “kitchen sink” and “working class realism”.
• What is the critical consensus about “realism”?
The critical consensus ((general agreement)) about ‘realism’ is that is being the
dominant ((top/most important/main)) form being used to represent people’s lives in
the western world.
• What factors helped to create the context within which the realist impulse
Factors that helped to create context during the first real impulse of social
realism was a number of factors. Firstly, with more people moving from the
country to towns and cities allowing the industrial infrastructure to grow at a
much faster rate ((prolonged social change)). Secondly, with the new political
ideas of communism and socialism rising from the industrial revolution
((secularisation of society - moved away from religion)) and lastly the new
ideas of god, science and religion. These all helped to create context in which
the idea of ‘realism’ was developed.
What was the development of realism in the nineteenth century?
During the nineteenth century realism became a way of resisting or seeking reform
and also representing. During this time many people debated around this topic and is
where the term ‘critical realism’’. ((realism arrived as opposition, wanted change))
What is Carroll’s suggestion?
Carroll’s suggestion that the term ‘realism’ should only be used with a prefix attached
to it, such as ‘social-’, ‘neo-’ so that it specifically explains the ‘when’ and ‘what’ of
what moment or movement it is trying to capture. ((historically accurate))
Realism and Cinema
Describe the development of realism in the arts at the end of the nineteenth century.
The development of realism in the arts during the end of the nineteenth century through a wide
array of different formal and stylistic approaches and also new devices. ((as photography/film
progressed, realism became more real))
What new possibilities did photography bring?
Photography bought about new possibilities to ‘capture’ a moment in a person’s everyday life,
appearing to see how ‘life as it is lived'. Without a writer’s opinion, people are easily able to see
what a person’s life looks like without any biased opinions that a writer may include.
What was the common quest shared by all media?
Even with all these new types of media the goal was still to present reality or the Truth of people’s
What is the problem with Truth?
The problem with the truth is that they are many different views of it as many people will interpret the
same idea in many different ways. ((different perspectives))
What did Kracauer believe and what did his ideas about realism in film have in common with Zola’s
Kracauer believed that that film was especially able to capture the real and should be done with using as
little tricks and devices as possible. These views are similar to that of naturalism. Zola believed that
fictional media should aim to study, observe and record people and their everyday interactions just like
naturalists do with the animal world.
What did Gerhardie believe to be the goal of naturalism?
Gerhardie believed that the goal of naturalism is ‘to resurrect the complete illusions of real life using the
things characteristics of real life'.
Describe Bazin’s arguments.
What Bazin argued is that realism should allow the audience to find their own realities while watching
realist films and he also argued that the use of camera techniques would allow the realism of the film
to show. He also added that there is not just one realism but many. And that each era of time, there is
a technique and aesthetic which best captures it.
What do all of these approaches commonly seek?
All these approaches commonly try to seek out to present the truth using any code and conventions
that have been associated with being able to do this.
How do Branston and Stafford differentiate between the “realistic” nature of a Hollywood film and other
Even though Hollywood films use realistic characters and settings they are not necessarily regarded
as realist text. Branston and Stafford argued that for a film to be realist instead of ‘realistic’ it must have
two defining features to it. Firstly, that the producer/director has intended to represent the actual
moment ((real events)). And secondly, that the film maker has a specific message/argument to deliver
about the social world we live in and uses realistic conventions to do this.
Defining Social Realism
Why is social realism so difficult to define?
Social realism is so difficult to define for a few reasons. Firstly, because it is dependent on both politics
and the culture of the current time. So has a consequence, the definition of social realism is always
changing along with the time. The term has also been conceived in a variety of ways making
everybody’s definition slightly different. ((morphs))
How according to Hill are current realist texts linked to those from the past?
According to John Hill realist texts are linked to past realistic texts. This by the uncovering reality and showing
the human made situations are not actually natural, and that these passed for realistic texts.
What does Samantha Lay say is a key feature of realist texts?
What Samantha Lay says is an important characteristics of social realist texts, is how the character and
settings are both linked together to explore some part of normal life, in a similar way that naturalism does.
How do Hallam and Marshment explain this defining characteristic?
Hallam and Marshment agree that is a key defining characteristic of social realism texts. They define this as a
term covering a wide range of subjects that is uses to describe films that attempt to present the effects of
environmental factors on how a character develops through representations that highlight the relationship
between location and identity. ((discursive- to do with discussion. ))
How does Lowenstein see social realism?
Lowenstein see’s social realism as being ‘bound up with moments of contemporary social crisis.’ Many other
people feel the same way that social realist texts are used to explore moments of crisis in society. ((things of
huge importance but in a negative way happening now))
What are Raymond Williams’ four criteria for defining realist texts?
Raymond Williams gives us four criteria for defining social realist texts. The first stating that ‘realist texts are
secular’ ((not religious/bound in mysticism)). This briefly means that humans have been of superstition and are
more inclined for reason and logic. The second of William’s criteria is that realist texts are grounded in the era
of when they were made in terms of setting, character and issues ((bound to the now/the present)). In
addition, the third criteria is the issue with social extension. This means that realist texts normally try to extend
the range of characters and also topics to include previously under-represented groups in society ((brave
enough to focus on the 'little guy' - small characters/unknown but big impact, micro/macro)). Lastly, the fourth
criteria is focuses on the intent of the artist ((also politics may influence the film)), though he said that this may
not always be the case. He says that most realist texts are to some extent influenced by the intent of the
How is “practice” defined and what does it mean in British Social Realism?
Practice is defined as how a film is made and also how it is produced. In British
social realism ‘practice’ generally means an independent production, though
this term means different things throughout time.
• How does politics influence practice?
‘Politics’ in this term is used to describe the intentions of the film maker. Their
politics will influence the way that the film is made and to a certain extent how
free or distinct they would like to be from mainstream films. And will also
looking to demonstrate specific themes and ideas abut the social world.
What is Ken Loach’s point?
Ken Loach’s point is that they way that a film-maker produces a film is an
important way of verifying the ideas that are in the film.
In terms of the film text itself what does the phrase “practice and politics” refer to?
In terms of films, the phrase ‘practice and politics’ refers to any aspect outside of the text that
helps to influence any of the form, structure, style or content.
What exactly are filmmakers who want to depict “life as it is” reacting to?
Film makers who are trying to depict ‘life as it is’ are reacting to many features such as how
the world is around them is constructed by majority of mainstream films and also the
practices that are shaping them while commenting on aspects of everyday life.
What do social realist texts often comment on?
Many social realist texts normally comment on any correct or even try to break away, from
any conventions that have been associated with being ‘realist’
What does Samantha Lay tell us British Social Realism movements been informed by?
What Samantha Lay tells us about British social realism movements have been formed by
either a ‘reforming’ or even sometimes a ‘revolutionary’ political ideas.
What does Andrew Higson mean by the phrase “moral realism”?
What Higson means by the phrase ‘moral realism’ is an idea that grows in circumstance like
this: ‘British social realist texts have been propelled by either mission, idea or goal’.
How does Lay explain the inextricability of practice from politics?
What Lay says about the difference between practice and politics is that in many of the
movements they have informed each other. She also says that the film maker’s politics can
influence what is their preferred method of cinematic expression, which then influences and
shapes the practice and also production that the text uses.
What was John Grierson’s mission and how did his productions stand in relation to the
mainstream British film industry?
10.John Griersons mission was to ‘educate and inform audiences through documentary’. This
made him particularly unfavorable by the government. His productions stood quite far away
from the mainstream British film industry.
What affected documentary production styles in Britain in the 30s and 40s and what were
the results of this?
Things that affected documentary style in the 30’s and 40’s in Britain was the lack of funds and
also resources. This resulted in a collaborative style that is widely associated with the time era.
The use of non-actors and locations gave them a more realistic look and closer to the truth
What does Lay say about the filmmakers’ commitment to documentary truth?
Lay says that the filmmaker’s commitment to the truth was that it was more ‘sociological’
instead of ‘aesthetic commitment’ meaning that they focused more on the social issues then
instead of looking good and pleasing to watch.
Quoting Lindsay Anderson, how does Stephen Lacey link practice to politics in the work of the British
New Wave filmmakers?
Stephen Lay puts together their practice and their politics and quotes Lindsay Anderson: “The rejection
of the studio system was tied closely to a rejection of a particular view of the world, which both the
cinema and the theatre attacked as being ‘ snobbish, anti-intelligent, emotionally inhibited, wilfully blind
to the conditions and problems of the present, dedicated to an out-of-date, exhausted national idea”.
Who formed the Free Cinema group, what was it and what were its principles and objectives?
The people that formed the free cinema group were: Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson
and Lorenza Mazzetti. They had the aim of ‘producing creative and visually exciting short films and
What were British New Wave filmmakers’ ambitions and intentions and how did they operate?
The ambitions of the new British filmmaker’s was to make independent films that were free of profit
consideration, studio interference and having a freedom to choose their topics.
On what were British New Wave directors’ claims to realism based?
These new directors made new claims to ‘realism’ by using regionally, unknown, realistic
actors such as Tom Courtney and Albert Finney acting in regionally authentic locations to
make their films/documentaries more accurate and true.
What did New Wave directors establish about character and place?
New wave directors established about character and place was that they were
‘interconnected’ and that environmental factors had a huge part to play in an characters
Summarise the key points that Lay uses to affirm Ken Loach’s importance in social realism.
Lay shows that Ken Loach was important in social realism by avoiding using big actors, and
shooting in settings that were realistic to the film. He also made aggressive documentaries on
the Thatcher government and as consequence, many of his films were not screened
How has the collaborative, unit-style approach to filmmaking changed over time?
The collaborative, unit-style approach to filmmaking as changed over time being now that
films are now promoted as being the product of an individual (normally the director) or
screenwriter for a TV show. Before this, some documentaries was near impossible to pin on a
How does Samantha Lay define the term “content” and what does she say about the
relevance of content issues?
For this text, content has been described as being made up of two aspects. Firstly, the issues
and themes that any realist text attempts to explore. The second being any type of
representations that has been created in the text.
Issues and Themes
What is content usually linked to?
Content, in terms of any themes and issues, is normally linked to the filmmaker’s aims.
What does Lay say about intent and filmmakers’ choice of issues?
What she says about the intent of filmmakers choice of issues was that is often ‘reformist,
educative or socially purposive in some way’ and that the choice of these, along with themes,
was normally to deliver a message or complete a certain mission.
Understanding how and why specific issues come into prominence at different points in
history can reveal what?
Understanding how and why specific issues come into prominence at different points in
history is important at revealing what social and culture attitudes were of the time.
Why is looking at the way an issue is dealt with in different time periods important?
Looking back at way that certain issue was addressed is important as it can tell the answer to
how an issue that was central in films, had been pushed back in present films
What is implied by the phrase “slice of life”?
What is implied by the phrase ‘a slice of life’ is looking a certain moment of a person’s life.
Such as a working class man during the industrial revolution.
Why is an understanding of the socio-historical context important?
An understanding of the socio-historical context is important first as you will not understand
what issues the film makers are trying to show and how they are important for that time
For Lay, what is significant about the idea that film texts are “constructs”?
For Lay, what is special about the idea of films being constructed is that you can analysis any themes or
issues, and from this being able to determine ‘what reality is being constructed’ and also being able to
see what point of view it is.
Explain fully how Lay differentiates between issues and themes?
Lay differentiates between issues and themes firstly by defining each theme. She describes an issue as
being ‘a social problem’ that is portrayed in films and is used by the filmmaker to produce concern about
it to the wider audience. Due to time, issues tend to change and old issues are forgotten/solved and new
issues are then used. In addition, issues tend to be more obvious then themes eg. Drug addiction in a
She then describes what a theme is. She describes a theme as a being not so obvious. They also work in
creating a ‘deeper meaning’ and can be seen across multiple different texts, whereas issues tend to be
specific to a text and similar ones to it. Common themes in British social realist films are: changing
gender role, working class/benefits, class structure.
What does Samantha Lay say should be acknowledged about film?
What Samantha Lay says that should be acknowledge about films is that film is largely a
‘commercial medium’ rather than a tool that could be used to educate audiences.
What is Williams’ observation?
Williams observation to the representation of specific characters in realist texts is that they
tend to be social extended. This means to extend the range of characters to types/groups that
are not often included in bigger films.
What is meant by the phrase “social extension”?
Social extended means to extend the range and types of characters in a film, to include less
represented characters that are normally found in more mainstream films.
What is noted by Hallam and Marshment?
What Hallam and Marshment have noted is that social realist texts often represent characters
who ‘inhibit the margins of society’ or even characters that are normally found in the
background of mainstream/Hollywood films.
What point does Hill make about social extension and how does he develop his thinking?
The point that is also made is that social extension is not just a way of representing the unrepresented, but instead being able to look specific social groups from a specific social view.
He also mentions that these perspectives are normally key moments in time.
What has the social extension urge led British filmmakers to do?
Social extension has urged British filmmakers to recreate how social inequalities and
representations are done in relation to the social class structure.
In addition to depicting the ‘working class way of life’ what does Lay argue is also constructed by
social realist directors?
What Lay argues that has also been created is ‘visions from a specific political standpoint’ that has been
caused by from certain sets of assumptions that are about what really is realist and also the ‘issues and
characters deemed to be within the remit of social realism’.
What do Dodd and Dodd argue about the representation of the working class in the documentaries of
What Dodd and Dodd argue about the representation of the working class in documentaries of the
1930s is that they started to represent the working class in a ‘hard-working, honest labour’.
What was Lindsay Anderson’s opinion of cinema’s treatment of the working class and what did he
strive to do?
Lindsay’s opinion on the cinemas treatment of the working class was that it was under-represented
and also that his works are examples of how social-realist filmmakers drove to improve upon previous
attempts of realism
What did the work of Anderson and his contemporaries signal a departure from?
What Anderson and his contemporaries broke from what the perceived as the ‘stuffy’ and
‘sterile’ documentary realism.
Describe the representation of working class people in their films and explain the rationale
provided for this.
The representation of the working class in these films/documentaries where that they were
more ‘vibrant’ and ‘energetic’. This was due to filmmaker’s interest in the new culture of young
working class. And also having respect for the ‘earthy’ working class that was before them.
Leaving their differences aside, what did both the 30s and 50s documentary movements
What the 30’s and 50’s documentaries share was they both presented an urge for socialextension in their films.
Describe the representation of women in the New Wave films of the 50s and 60s.
The representation of women in the New Wave films of the 50s and 60s was that they were showed as
victims of attacks by their working class hero’s. They were also represented as a threat to masculinity
(Due to them wanting marriage and to settling down), and least partially to put blame on for destroying
traditional working class culture.
What were the exceptions to the way women were typically depicted during this period and what was
different about their representation?
The way that women were normally depicted at the time was that they were expected to stay at home
and support their husbands. However, this is different to the way that they were represented as they
were represented as being very rebellious and disobedient to their husbands.
What changes occurred in the way women were represented in the 80s?
The changes to the way that women were represented in the 80s was that they were shown to be more
important in the workforce and society.
How did the situation change again in the 90s?
The way that they were then represented during the 90s continued from the 80s only until the
early 90s did it change. It changed to women being represented as being more rebellious, for
example being supportive of their husbands.
What has Hallam suggested about the shift in the way the working class has been
represented in realist film texts?
What Hallam has suggested about the shift of how the working class has been represented is
that they have gone from a time of being seen as ‘producers of labour’ and shifted to
‘consumers of goods’.
What significant change in narrative accompanies this shift?
What accompanies this shift is the way how working class have gone from being seen in more
community or workplace settings, to more domestic and recreational settings.
What is Higson’s contention and how is it explained by Hill?
Higson’s contention is that a feature of British realism is bound up with the changing definitions of what
is public and private space. He describes this as ‘The history of realist tradition in British
cinema…becomes the history of the changing conceptualization of the relation between the public and
private, the political and the personal, the state and the citizen’.
What point does Samantha Lay make about ethnicity when drawing her initial conclusions about
The point that Lay makes about ethnicity when she draws her initial conclusions about representation is
that there is a large part of Britain that are illegal workers and refugees and that they are not
represented in many realist films that are featured on British screens.
What does this lead her to observe about new areas that representation could explore?
This leads her to see that there could be an opportunity for filmmakers to explore this area of social
realism, that it of refuges and illegal workers.
Summarise Lay’s conclusion in her final paragraph about representation in social
realist film texts.
Summarizing Lays conclusion on representation she says that social realist texts
normally do social extension, but also privilege white working class men. She also
adds about the issues and themes that they are normally ‘prone’ to any social or
psychological traumas that may be attached to unemployment, violence or addiction.
She also mentions on the move from public to private, political to personal that it also
narrows the vision so much that wider ‘structural inequalities are lost from the text.
She also talks about autobiographies and how this shows that films have declined
from being public to personal.
How is the term ‘form’ being used?
The way that form is being used here is to indicate the ‘shape’ or ‘mode’ in which social realist texts are made,
but also refers to how it is put together eg. ‘Arrangement of parts’.
What foes ‘Style’ refer to?
Style refers to any aesthetic devices that have been used by the filmmaker and also any of the ‘artistic choices’
that they made. These specific formal and stylistic techniques used by filmmakers, are often used by them to
‘capture, comment on, and critique’ how society is. The last conception that Lay talks about is the term ‘social
realist form’ describes the last point in which social realist texts were different to any ‘mainstream texts’.
Explain the first conception of ‘Form’ has said by Lay.
The first level is that social realism must be regarded as a form of realism. This is can be confirmed by Williams’
four fold conception of ‘the impulses of realist artists and their subsequent work’. It says that, especially in
British cinema, that character and place are also linked together tightly. Then she mentions that social realist
texts normally have contemporary settings, so that they can either comment on or judge some aspect of the
way life was when the film was made. Then talks about that social realist texts normally extend the range of
characters that are normally under-represented. And also explore issues that any mainstream film would
normally shy away from. The final criteria for William is that the filmmaker, producer etc. has a specific intent
to why they want to make the film. Such to educate the viewer or highlight specific social issues.
Explain the second conception.
The second is that ‘form’, in terms of social realism, is considering the variety the artistic forms that use any social realist
practices, or even techniques. Social realism is a way of representation in film radio etc, and this has an impact on the ‘form’.
Explain the third conception.
The third conception of form is that it can be used to distinguish between different genres such as fantasy and animation. In
the book, it does not give one singular definition of social realist ‘form’ but is normally associated with television drama, or
‘gritty, low budget films’. Where in fact, social realist texts have varied in British culture. It started during the 1930s with
documentary shorts, then popular documentary stories of the 40s, then feature films from the 50s onwards.
Explain the final conception of form.
The last conception that Lay talks about is the term ‘social realist form’ describes the last point in which social realist texts
were different to any ‘mainstream texts’. She says how the narrative structure is different to more mainstream films.
What comment does she make on the narrative structure of social realist texts?
She says that mainstream films will normally have a simple resolution that is caused by the protagonist e.g. the monster is
killed, couple is re-united. But in social realist texts, they normally have a more ‘cyclically’ resolution where the ending isn’t
always bright and can also go on even after the movie has ended.
What does she say about how film and television are
She says that for some, such as James Park (1990) that British cinema has too small ambition and also
looks too much like it is actually made for television. But for some, like John Hill (1999) he says that ‘any
distinction between film and television might be abandoned since all cinemas have become dependent
on television and videoing for funding and revenue.’
How does she say about understanding social realism in Britain?
She says that to understand social realism in British cinema, you must look influences and also the
developments that have been made in television, otherwise she says that it is almost ‘impossible’ to
What did British social realist texts initially do and what term did this lead to?
She said that initially, British social realist texts preferred to show off their content over style. This lead
to them being labelled as ‘kitchen sink’.
What does this term describe?
This term describes the ‘perceived drab’ of the way that the working class were represented.
Realist texts were also described as ‘gritty’ that is used also to describe the location/settings,
and also the characters attitudes.
What type are social realist texts commonly associated to?
They are normally associated with a more observational/documentary type of filming which
also makes the viewer feel more distant to the characters in the text.
What did social realism texts feel against ‘sociological realism’ and what is it?
They feel tension towards sociological realism which is described as privileging a documenting
way of capturing situations and moments. This is also known as ‘poetic realism’.
Describe what poetic realism had done in the British New wave films and how did Manvell describe it.
The use of poetic realism exhibited during the new wave of British films was said to of ‘transformed the
scarred industrial landscapes’ of the north of England. Manvell then describes it has “man against the
black-blue sky, factories against the rolling clouds”.
What influenced the poetic realism of Anderson, Richardson and Reisz?
What had influenced their work was the work done by Humphrey Jenkins, whose work has been said
about being a good example of what Andrew Higson said “an undercut to the educative-sociologistic
tendency within the [documentary] movement which acknowledged and foregrounded the aesthetic
aspects of texts.
What is poetic realism for Higson and what its effects are?
Poetic realism for Higson is where surface realism and moral realism meet. This helps to reduce the
distance that has been created by the more documentary side of realism, while still providing a ‘slice of
life’. So for Higson it is a way of allowing it be aesthetically pleasing but still raising awareness of the
What stylistic techniques are widely used?
A widely used technique mentioned by Lay is the use of an establishing long shot so that they
audience have an idea of the location. She also mentions the use of wide angle shots as well.
What is evident in contemporary British socialist texts?
That there is still presence of tension between sociologistic and poetic impulses. So in Britain
we have a range of films, such as Ken Loach’s approach, which is more documentary style and
shows little attention to aesthetic devices such as ‘Nill by Mouth’ and the work of Lynne
What is style not in British social realism texts?
Style, in this case, is not just simply a way of presenting ‘a slice of life’.
What has happened to social realism in mainstream films?
Now social realism has been adopted to may different genres, such as comedy and horror, and
many of the techniques also been adopted by mainstream films. For example, hand held
camera in films like Jaws.
What stylistic techniques can be used to identify the filmmakers time period?
Techniques such as camera work, iconography, editing and soundtrack. Theses all stand in
relation of contrast not just too mainstream films, but also to social realist filmmakers that
have preceded them.
How are contemporary British social realist texts identified?
They are identified increasingly by their use of stylistic techniques of a single director and/or
producer as opposed to the earlier way where in some cases it was almost impossible to pin
the credit of the film to a single man.