Social realism draft presentation

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An attempt at understanding the broad media term 'social realism'

An attempt at understanding the broad media term 'social realism'

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  • 1. The following slides feature key information about the media term ‘social realism’ Katie Ranns, 12A/Me1
  • 2. Social Realism in the British Context
  • 3. Realisms or ‘realisms’ Popular film critics generously use the term ‘social realism’ but often fail at using it to the critical standards it requires. Being an catch-all there is no singular description so it can lack careful thought about a piece of works intentions and background. The criteria for what succeeds as ‘social realism’ are when texts are depicted as ‘gritty’, ‘raw’- presenting a ‘slice of life’ or an outlook on ‘life as it really is’. For the most part, the phrase ‘social realism’ is often used as one of the same with other terms – for instance ‘working class’ and ‘kitchen sink’ realism. To successfully converse when using the phrase ‘social realism’, we must unpack the term and then proceed to exploring its context in British cinema.
  • 4. Realism in the Western world has the critical consensuses as the dominant representational form. The first impulses towards realism were created when there was a need to feed the growing industrial infrastructure of thousands of workers who were created by the industrial revolution. They moved from the country to the city which brought with them new political ideas of communism and socialism. The new political ideas tried to offer an answer for the new working classes which contributed to the secularisation of society; science had also evolved with categorisations and changing methodologies that helped to draw British society from religion. Carroll advised that the term ‘realism’ should only be used with a prefix attached. This is so the realisms can be specified into ‘what’ and ‘when’ of the movement; prefixes such as neo- or social- have the ability to link it to specific historical points.
  • 5. Realism and the cinema Literature, theatre and the fine arts were already promoting realist aesthetic towards the end of the nineteenth century and showed this by using a variety of formal and stylistic advances, including new devices. With the growth and development of photography also came new possibilities for capturing ‘life as it is lived’ due to photographs being able to confine reality in a still image. The media then began to pursue the ‘real’ and made it its duty to display reality or the Truth. The Truth however is chained to the problem that there are more faces to the Truth than the eyes that witness it; nothing can ever be true unless it’s in the present because everything else is re-presented. The truth has many different perspectives so there cannot be one singular reality.
  • 6. Naturalism Its believed that ‘naturalism’ and social realist texts should have many similar traits; fictional representations should aim to study, observe and record peoples interactions just like the way naturalists catalogue and study the animal kingdom - the goal of naturalism was ‘to resurrect the complete illusion of real life using the things characteristic of real life’ To capture such a natural representation it was argues by theorist Andre Brazin that realism should use techniques such as long takes - this would give the audience enough insight to find their own realism within the text. There is not one but several realisms; each has its own look depending on the technique and the visuals that best captured it.
  • 7. Branston and Stafford Hollywood After analysing the “realistic” nature of Hollywood with other “realistic” texts, they concluded that there were multiple differences between the two. For starters, Hollywood films can be regarded as realistic due to setting, characterisation and situation but this does not mean they’re a realistic text; for a film to be realist and not ‘realistic’ it must include one of two characteristics. 1.To capture the experience as the actual event illustrated must be the film-makers intention 2.There must be a specific message or argument the film maker wants to deliver to its audience about the social world – this can be done by harnessing realist conventions as its mode of expression
  • 8. Defining social realism Being dependent on both the political and historical aspects of society, social realism is constantly evolving and changing so it can never be eliminated to a single definition. A key feature of social realist texts is the way a character and place are linked to explore a trait of modern life in similar ways to naturalism – films whose aims are to show how environmental factors affect the progression of a character through illustrations that highlight the link between location and identity. Raymond Williams argues that there are four criteria’s that are common in all forms of realism. 1. Realist texts are secular; propelling mankind towards reason and logic and away from superstition and mysticism so it is preferred to illustrate human truth than divine truth 2. The setting, character and social issues in realist texts are grounded in the contemporary scene 3. To include marginal or previously under-represented groups/issues in society, characters and topics tend to be extended 4. Most realistic texts are influenced by the artist and their political intent.
  • 9. British Social Realism – Practice and Politics Practice and politics are all about the traits outside of the text which can influence the form, structure, content and style. Practice are the methods that construct a film. In this context it is referring to the independent production conducted with lots of skilled workers which use real locations and little-known actors – sometimes unprofessional actors. Most of the time, the practice of a film is influenced the ‘politics’ of its producer/film-maker. They may seek to be free or distinct from the mainstream and would then want to exhibit a devotion to certain ideas about the social world. Ken Loach states that ‘The way you make a film is an important way of validating the ideas in it’, meaning that the message of a film can be controlled by how you create it. Due to Hollywood being highly organised and a group of professional industries all in the business of consumption and entertainment, when a filmmakers intent is to show life ‘as it really is’ they are reacting to how the world is ‘constructed’ by these mainstream produce rather than commenting on the features of present social life.
  • 10. The Past, escape and ‘truth’ Many social realist texts look to the past for inspiration – they are often looking how people from previous eras worked around realism, which social realist texts tend to correct or break away from. Practice and politics are so entwined it is near impossible for either to escape from one another; they inform each other to the extent that if one was to change, so would the other. The politics of a film-maker dramatically influence their mode of cinematic expression thus shaping the practice of a text and therefore its place in the market. During the 1930s and 40s their was a significant lack of funding and resources for the media which subsequently encouraged the documentary movement and its collaborative style – where the aim was to inform and educate audiences. The commitment to documenting the ‘truth’ was far less aesthetic and more sociological when analysing their practice as they used non-actors and ‘ordinary people’ on locations that were used.
  • 11. British ‘New Wave’ British ‘New Wave’ film-makers’ had their practice shaped by their politics as well, thus eventually placing them outside the British mainstream film industry. By quoting Lindsay Anderson, Stephen Lacey is able to connect their practice with their political and critical stance to demonstrate: by rejecting the studio system in film (practice), the film makers are also rejecting a particular view on the world (politics) and by doing so, both theatre and cinema brandished this as ‘anti-intelligent, wilfully blind to the conditions and problems of the present’ British New Wave filmmakers’ ambitions were to extend the range of cinematic representation with the intent of including the working class beyond London in industrial towns and northern England cities. To do this they used unknown stage actors and authentic locations. New Wave directors established that environmental factors were the reason behind a characters fate and fortunes and so realised that character and place were interconnected.
  • 12. Loach was a large importance to social realism due to his practice and politics. He refused to use stars and his location must be shot in naturalistic settings. As well as being a committed socialist he used documentaries to explore the inequalities and conflicts in society.What makes him more interesting is that much of his work was censored due to these political views but continued to use his talents against the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Unfortunately, as a consequence many of his documentaries were never screened. Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson and Lorenzo Mazzetti formed the Free Cinema group to produce short films and documentaries that were visually exciting and creative - the term ‘Free Cinema’ defied the principles of filmmakers as it made independent films free from profit and studio tampering where they could make their own subject decisions. It succeeded in helping aspiring directors grasp a place in the film industry. Directors Reisz, Anderson and Richardson helped form the ‘British New Wave’
  • 13. British New Wave movement The British New Wave movement has be promoting films as the unique product of one artistic imagination; in other words, the vision of a film piece is now left to the single director (co-directors/screenwriters) as author. ‘Content’ ‘Content’ is described as a term made up of two conjoined and essential aspects; 1.The exploration of issues and themes though social realist texts 2.The types of representations created Content issues help tie films and texts to their exact moment of production and consumption. They also grant points of contrast between the separate moments, movements and cycles.
  • 14. Content is usually linked to the film-makers intent. The intent of British social realism is frequently reformist, educative or somehow socially purposive with themes bound up within a message or mission of some kind. Issues and Themes Understanding why certain issues and themes are brought forward at different moments can reveal a substantial amount of background knowledge about the social and cultural attitudes in that moment. When looking at the way an issue is dealt with in a different time period we are able to seek and reveal answers to questions relating to why certain themes might have been central, why were they popular at that time. It is of key importance to understand social realist texts in their socio-historical context so you are able to judge for yourself if the ‘reality’ it is representing is in close relation to what you already know about that time in history. Lay says all texts constructed in a realist mode are exactly that, constructs, and so through an analysis of issues and themes we can then conclude what reality is to be constructed and from which point of view.
  • 15. Defining Issues Issues relate to the variety of social problems promoted in films which were common around that films time period. Issues tend to be subject to change due to realist texts being in the ‘now’, a rise and fall in fashion, a constant flux. An example would be the issue of promiscuity which was of high concern in the 1950s and not so much in the 80s/90s. Presently there is the high media profile of drug and alcohol abuse, and more recently child sexual abuse has been seen in forms of British social realist texts such as Eastenders. Social issues are more immediate that involve visible social fears and concerns; mostly they have a high media profile but also have a short shelf life. Issues are known to be obvious and explicit: ‘an emotional tale of the troubles of a depressed teen, living with a dysfunctional, abusive family etc.
  • 16. Defining Themes - Themes are in fact a contrast to issues; they’re not as explicit but have a rather implicational tone. Themes are much deeper than issues; their threat to social cohesion and stability are less obvious. Issues tend to work as labels but themes are a descriptive power. Themes are usually broad concerns implied within a given text; recurring themes include changing gender roles, national identity, anti-consumerism, capitalism negativity, and the demise of traditional working class.
  • 17. Representation
  • 18. Social Extension Film is more of a large commercial medium rather than an education tool and so social realist texts tend to focus on characters that would not be seen in mainstream films. ‘Social extension’ is used to extend the range of a character as a way of including groups and individuals rarely explored in mainstream cinema. Hill notes that social extension largely involves working class representation at moments of social/economic change in British social realism and that these characters are represented from specific social perspectives: products of distinct moments to the social reality. Hallam and Marshment note the character types who dwell in the margins of society and would most likely appear in the background of Hollywood productions are drawn into social realist texts.
  • 19. Working Class In British social realism, the redress of social and representational inequalities of classes was because of the social extension urge on film makers. The aim was to show aspects of 'the working class way of life‘ that social realist directors conjured from certain political standpoints which had been formed by specific assumptions on what is deemed social realism via issues and characters – this means representations will change over time and each social realist movement would aim to improve on what had previously been represented. Dodd and Dodd investigated Griersons documentaries on the working class from the 1930s. They argued that the working class male was fetishized by his documentaries; hard, 'honest' labour was often used to represent the male and the 'victim' portrayal grew a counter representation of the male 'hero‘. Lindsay Anderson believes British cinema severely unrepresented the working class and his work strives to improve on past ideas of realism.
  • 20. Anderson and his contemporaries departed from what they believed to be 'stuffy and sterile' realism documentaries. The way he represented the working class people/characters in their documentaries/feature films was far more energetic and vibrant. The reason for this was partly due to film makers regarding traditional working class as being threatened by consumerism and influenced by American culture; the film makers had much respect for the 'earthy' and unpretentious working class, not to mention a fascination for the new youth culture.
  • 21. Women Both the 30s and 50s documentary movements shared an overwhelming need for working class males. In the New Wave Films of the 50s and 60s women were seen as a threat to masculinity because of their obsession with marriage, motherhood and romance and were often the target of bitter criticism. Women were partially blamed for the demise in traditional working class culture and were seen as agents of consumption. There were very little social realist texts in that moment of British social realism that would offer a perspective on working class women but there were some exceptions - 'A Taste Of Honey' (1961), Tony Richardson and Ken Loache's 'Poor Cow' (1967) - these texts depicted women as poor decision makers but they were represented largely in television; with dramas such as Coronation Street featuring feisty working class female characters.
  • 22. The social realist texts in the 80s reflected on the great importance of women in the work force and society whilst addressing the gender gap. (Letter to Breshnev, Rita Sue and Bob Too, Sammy and Rosie get Laid). This reflection continued to grow throughout the 90s (Ladybird Ladybird, Secrets and Lies, Career Girls) but toward the end the representation of women took a few steps back with women being portrayed as unsupportive of their husbands and proficient consumers (The Full Monty) or sometimes the victims of sexual or domestic abuse (Stella Does Tricks, Nil by Mouth).
  • 23. Working Class Overall Representation Hallam argued that the overall representation of the working class in British social realist cinema has shifted from a class of labourers to a class of consumers It was a shift from production to consumption that was accompanied by a narrative change; from the working class characters/communities being capable of collective bargaining and action to now envisioning them in a more private domestic and leisurefilled settings, more individualism and less social groups are being expressed. The representation of working class in British social realism is based on the privileges of the working class white male who are depicted as being 'prone' to the psychological traumas of society e.g unemployment, drug/alcohol abuse, violence and addiction. This move from public to private, political to personal, eliminates the inequalities in society not only nationally but globally.
  • 24. Public and Private Higson argues that the changing definitions of public and private space is also entwined with a feature of British realism: the history of traditional British realist cinema is also the history of the changing ideas between 'the public and the private, the political and the personal, the state and the citizen'. Hill agrees by suggesting the shift from political to private was exhibited by the British New Wave movement; a continuing strength in British social realist texts of the 80s/90s. Early films were majorly political (marksism, socialism, republican) but the approach to the 21st century films became more personal and film makers want to tell individual tales.
  • 25. Ethnicity Lay comments on ethnicity in British social realist texts and says the representation of the working class tends to focus on the white working class male (women are seen as the opposition). She states that there is a deplorable crime being committed; Britain is a multi-faith, multicultural society and yet lacks working class characters like Anderson's 1950s contemporaries. Working class has been over concentrated but hasn't focused on ethnic groups enough. Further investigation concludes that there is an even larger invisible truth that is rarely explored via social texts; masses of asylum seekers, refugees and illegal workers are a part of the British population but are rarely seen on British screens beyond documentaries and news bulletins.
  • 26. Form and Style
  • 27. Form and Style - Introduction ‘Form’ is a social realist texts mode or shape as well as the types and kinds. The artistic practices used and the creative choices used by the filmmakers is referred to as the ‘style’. The specific formal and stylistic techniques used by the filmmakers aim to capture, comment and critique society. It is possible that the elements inside the realist text (the form and style) can be informed by practice, politics and content. Characters in social realisms are inextricably linked to the place or environment as the characters location can help emphasise the message of the film/film maker; social inequalities can be seen by using character placement. Gritty low budget films and/or television dramas are often associated with social realist form by the critical establishment but in truth, there is no one form. The ability to be able to distinguish between reality and avant garde, animation, experimental film etc. is given to us in the form of social realism.
  • 28. Intent The intent of any realist work largely depends on the artist/film maker/producer. Ken Loach, Gary Oldman, Lindsay Anderson, John Grierson all have different intentions for their work but what links their work to one another is that their purpose is beyond fame and profit Extending the representations in art and in the previously underrepresented social groups is a common goal; dealing with the issues and problems mainstream cinema has ‘forgotten’ to address is also a feature social realist texts work towards.
  • 29. Form over the years Social realist texts have varied greatly in British screen culture and have influenced the forms of 1930s documentary shorts, 40s popular story documentaries and beyond 50s feature films, soaps operas, docu-soaps, documentaries and supposed ‘reality’ tv. These forms contain many of the features of a social realist text. Most of the forms have verisimilitude and can suggest that there is a link between person and place by involving social situations with emphasised character casts. These films, documentaries and series continue to exhibit ‘things as they really are’. The ‘form’ of a social realist text includes how the practices and techniques are represented through different modes of representation; film, radio and television are popular modes but literature, fine arts and theatre are just as common. The level of form can be affected by the type of mode used.
  • 30. Structural Differences Mainstream texts are likely to follow a linear narrative which is controlled and motivated by the central protagonist. The majority of the texts show quite stable resolutions such as the protagonist achieving their goal; monster is killed, crime is solved/criminal is caught, the guy gets the girl/girl gets the guy and so on. A significant difference between mainstream and social realist narrative is social realist texts are likely to operate in recurring circles (cyclically) with rarely bright futures to be seen. They resist clear resolutions. Cyclical Nature A cyclical nature featured in a film would be that the story line would appear to be at its end but in fact is just getting closer to the beginning again; Nil By Mouth is an excellent example of this narrative style as is greatly resists resolution. It shows a family filled with many social issues reunited at the films end but we know that none of these problems have been resolved so the cycle of familial abuse continues beyond the finishing line of the film.
  • 31. Failures and Television The ambitions of British cinema are too small and too televisual hence the reason it has failed (James Park, 1990). The funding for cinema has become dependent on the lesser forms such as television and video so the distinction between film and television is very slim (John Hill, 1999). Television is an excellent advertisement medium and emphasise for the intent of the artist/producer/film maker. Ken Loach saw this and used it to his advantage by airing Wednesday Plays straight after the news: ‘We were very anxious for our plays not to be considered drama but as continuations of the news’. By stating this, Ken Loach has found a new way of interacting with an audience which depends on the placement times of social realist texts.
  • 32. Style Social realist texts are often simplistic and thought of as a form of naturalism to obtain as much of a realist feel as it can but this led to the label of ‘kitchen sink; a derogatory term which describes the texts ‘tedious’ depictions of working class settings and character. When social realist texts use an observational style it tends to create a distance between text and spectator. ‘Gritty’ can be employed to describe the way landscapes and characters are filmed as well as character behaviour and attitudes.
  • 33. Industrial Romanticism and Poetic Realism First of all, ‘industrial romanticism’ is the transformation of industrial landscapes by the poetic realism of British New Wave films. Powerful romantic terms were how used by Roger Manvell as a description, ‘man against the black blue sky, factories again the rolling clouds’ For Higson, ‘poetic realism’ is where moral realism and surface realism meet- surface realism being the visuals that imply a relationship between the specific environments used and ‘life as it is’ within these environments. It can be seen as a kind of antidote that works against the distance made by the cold and analytical documentary ‘look’. It helps to control unnecessary aestheticism by representing ‘the real’.
  • 34. Higson sees that poetic discourse is something that tries to hold the significantly different artistic endeavours of public and service together. To create poetic realism it is advised to use a wide range of camera shots that give a sense of place such as wide shots and long shots of the landscape or a shot described as ‘The Shot Of Out Town From That Hill’ – Higson. Expansion Social realist style has expanded greatly over the years and is not just as simple as portraying a ‘slice of life’. The style has been adopted by a range of genres that include comedy, horror and science fiction with mainstream cinema now using some realist techniques.