AA310 Film and Television History Tutorial 4: British Cinema
Structure for the Session
Overview of general themes and considerations when analysing British cinema and society
Detailed study of British film genres
British Cinema and Society - General Considerations
Units 11 & 12 are essentially about the changes in Britain from 1950-1970, as seen via gender, youth, class and taste
Covers all four approaches
Aesthetic - Is there a British style? How important is realism?
Social - What do British films say about 1950s and 1960s Britain?
Economic - What does the success of British genre films between 1950 and 1970 say about society?
Technological - How does the shift to colour affect the representation of Britain in its films? What about the rise of TV?
Also consider what is meant by British cinema? Traditionally, discussion of British cinema has invariably meant English cinema, but even this can be broken down into various sub categories
British Cinema and Society - Aesthetics
P. 4 - ‘In ethos and outlook, in technique and approach, mainstream 1950s films were essentially conservative, middle class and backward-looking.’
‘ Respectable’ British Films of the Fifties
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Animal Farm (1953)
The Belles of St Trinians (1953)
The Dam Busters (1953)
The Ladykillers (1955)
Reach for the Sky (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Time Without Pity (1957)
Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
Room at the Top (1958)
I’m All Right Jack (1959)
We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)
Alternative History of Fifties British Film
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Trouble in Store (1953)
Doctor in the House (1953)
Devil Girl From Mars (1954)
The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
Yield to the Night (1956)
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Night of the Demon (1957)
Carry on Sargeant (1958)
Beat Girl (1958)
Fiend Without a Face (1958)
Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)
British Cinema and Society - Social Approach
P.4 - By the end of the 1950s young adults (16-24) constituted 44 per cent of those frequenting the cinema regularly (once a week or more) - What does this say about the audience for British cinema at the end of the 1950s?
1950s Britain in Context
In British Society Since 1945 , Arthur Marwick suggests that the idea of ‘consensus Britain’ is not as clear cut as it may appear.
1948 - British Nationality Act confirms the right of Commonwealth citizens to enter the UK, and the Empire Windrush arrives the same year.
In 1951 Labour secured 48.8% of the vote compared to the Conservative’s 48% - yet there was consistent Conservative rule throughout the decade
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation 1953 - First major TV event
Rationing ends in 1954
1957 - Statutory Eady levy introduced, providing qualifying British film producers with funding and exhibitors with a rebate on entertainment tax
Macmillan becomes PM in 1957 and Conservatives win the 1959 general election with an increased majority
1957 - Publication of the Wolfenden Report on Homosexual Offences
1958 - Notting Hill racial clashes - The same year as the Institute of Race Relations was established
1958 - John Trevelyan appointed as Secretary of the BBFC
The Blue Lamp (1950)
The BBFC feared that the film might end up as the British equivalent of an ‘American Gangster Story’ - Fears of loss of British qualities were an important factor of British censorship
Now watch the clip from The Blue Lamp on the course video and compare with the MFB review on the following slide
MFB Review of The Blue Lamp
Volume 17, No.193, January-February 1950, page 2 - The latest production from Ealing Studios unavoidably challenges comparison with Hollywood in style and verisimilitude; it must be said that comparison on all major counts is unfavourable…In the choice of actors lies one fatal flaw of the film. The two main policemen are played by Jimmy Hanley and Jack Warner…Their dialogue - quips, quirks, and Cockney bonhomie - is effectively prefabricated. Scotland Yard, represented mainly by Robert Flemyng, upholds the public school tradition, converses in clipped, earnest phrases reminiscent of a prefect's meeting.The representation of criminals is less conventional in so far as the actors, Patric Doonan and Dirk Bogarde, have individuality and flair, but inevitably one of them inhabits an immaculately flyblown room right on top of the underground railway, and his girl-friend is a peculiar amalgam of Ealing and Hollywood - the inept Purley blonde, trying to masquerade under a Cockney accent (Ealing), alternately kissed and slapped (Hollywood), and worked up by the director to a state of perpetual hysteria…One has only to compare such scenes as Gladys Henson reacting to the death of her husband, P.C. Warner, with Adelaide Klein (the mother of the murdered girl) being interviewed by the police in The Naked City , or the effortless ménage of Richard Widmark and his floozie in The Street With No Name with the painstakingly squalid tiffs between Bogarde and Peggy Evans, to see how spurious is the attempt here at characterisation. The American films may only be two-dimensional, but at least they achieve a spontaneous and convincing re-presentation of the orthodox. The attempt in The Blue Lamp to go beyond this, to put all kinds of real British life on the screen, results in the mixture of coyness, patronage and naive theatricality which has vitiated British films for the last ten years…
‘ Respectable’ British Films of the 1960s
The League of Gentlemen (1960)
Whistle Down the Wind (1961)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Billy Liar (1963)
The Servant (1963)
This Sporting Life (1963)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
The Ipcress File (1965)
Alternative History of Sixties British Film
Peeping Tom (1960)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Naked as Nature Intended (1961)
The Damned (1963)
Day of the Triffids (1963)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Dracula, Pricnce of Darkness (1965)
One Million Years BC (1966)
The Sorcerors (1967)
Witchfinder General (1968)
Baldwin’s Nigger (1969)
Carry on Camping (1969)
1960s Britain in Context
Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial 1960
Profumo affair in 1963 brings sexual scandal to the forefront of the public eye
1964 - Mary Whitehouse begins her ‘Clean up TV campaign’
1967 - The Abortion Act, The Sexual Offences Act and the National Health Service (Family Planning) Act
Theatrical censorship abolished in 1968
By 1958, less than 25 per cent of British households owned washing machines, compared to over 60 per cent in America.
In 1960, only 25 per cent of British households owned a refrigerator, compared to 56 per cent in America.
‘ Given the starkness of these contrasts, it is hardly surprising that British commentators were concerned about the messages audiences might receive from American films.’ - Lawrence Napper, The British Cinema Book , p. 38
Harold Wilson wins election in 1964 and the subsequent election in 1966 - sense of a modern approach (and of course the formation of the Open University in 1969)
1960s Britain in Context
1962 Immigration Bill initiated a quota system for immigrants - Seen to actually encourage longer term settlement for skilled workers
1966 - Race Relations Act - Same year as the formation of The National Front
1967 - Welsh language placed on a par with English in Welsh law
1968 SNP membership reaches 80,000
The Representation of the People Act (1968) lowered the voting age to eighteen
1968 - Strengthening of the Race Relations act to cover discrimination in housing and employment - Same year as Enoch Powell saw the ‘River Tiber flowing with much blood’
1960s Britain in Context
Following from: http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/Happy-families.cfm
P. 9 - 'From the end of WW2 until the early 1970s, people married earlier, marriage rates increased and marriage became almost universal. [Reasons for this] are likely to include the increasing evenness of the sex ratio and improved living standard, which enabled more people to marry and at earlier ages.'
P. 10 - The Law commission hoped that the 1969 Divorce Reform Act (which established irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground for divorce) would 'buttress rather than undermine the stability of marriage'.
P. 13 - 'In 1962 the sociologist Ronald Fletcher presented evidence that the family had never been stronger...He acknowledged, convincingly, that families had problems but fewer, not more, than in the past.'
Victim was scripted by Janet Green, yet authors such as Harper and Aldgate still believe women were ‘marginalised in the film’s narrative discourse as well as by means of its visual style, acting and mise en scene ’.
Homosexuality was still a criminal offence until 1967
Consider Bogarde’s influence - The ‘I wanted him’ scene was added on his insistence
Watch the clip from the course video and compare with the MFB review on the following slide
MFB Review of Victim
Volume 28, No. 332, September 1961, page 126 - To schematise a moral, psychological and social problem like homosexuality is as tempting for a busy writer as it is to schematise the life of any well-known literary figure who happened to be an invert…More diligent in her research than in Sapphire , her colour-bar picture, less voluble as a woman's magazine raconteuse , Janet Green (with a co-writer) has dressed up her new subject, male inversion, in a cleverly designed Crime Club dust-jacket. Surprisingly, the device - though again schematic - works rather well…It is directed by Basil Dearden with something of his old slickness, pace and economy; it has the drive and staying-power of the better Pinewood product - still superficial, but less shock-punctuated than most. And all this, added to Otto Heller's predominantly grey, half-world photography, disguises much of the picture's underlying glibness of conception. This glibness comes most clearly to the surface in all the scenes involving Farr's wife - the school for problem children, the interview with her bigoted brother, her brave attempt to understand her husband's proclivities; these, and the implied happy ending, set their seal on the facile if well-intentioned thought and emotion behind Janet Green's fragmented story and much of her dialogue.The performances, on the other hand, have a definite passion. Dirk Bogarde suggests the anguish of the "uncommitted" homosexual with sincerity and restraint - this is his best work in years…
British Film Genres
Distinct focus on the 2nd World War - Why?
Legacy of Government cooperation via the Ministry of Information
Belief in the power of film as propaganda, and more particularly as a force for positive views of the war effort
In addition, the memory of the war was ever present - Ruined buildings, rationing (until 1954), Korea in the early 1950s
American war films were not as successful in Britain
Robert Murphy argues that the myths of British military achievements were most important to the public
War Films - Aesthetic Issues
The ‘Middle Ground’
James Chapman asserts (on p.61) that 1950s British war films, while not reflecting social concerns in the way that the New Wave films did, had a sober visual style that meant they lacked the flamboyance of Hammer
Shift away from the home front, as seen in British war films of the 1940s
Watch the final sequence of The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955) and see how this relates to these issues
War Films - Male Duty
Gibson’s suppression of feelings is presented as appropriate rather than problematic - James Chapman p.72
In many ways, lead characters in British war films are the male equivalent of the notion of self sacrifice and duty, seen in American melodrama.
The Decline of the War Film
Consider why the British war film declined from an aesthetic, social, economic and technological perspective
Britain’s declining role in world affairs
Ambivalence about war aims
Excessive production costs
New Wave directors focused on small scale drama
David Pirie argues that the horror film is the ‘only staple cinematic myth which Britain can properly claim as its own…’
P. 76 - ‘The Hammer films…were made in colour and were inspired by the traditions of Victorian melodrama’ - Not always - Just look at Taste of Fear (1960)
Societal Factors for Hammer Horror
Consider the similarities between 1930s America (home of the first horror film boom) and 1950s Britain
Financial hardship for audiences
Good financial conditions for studios
Relaxed censorship conditions
Watch the final scene from Dracula - How does this fit with the established conception of 1950s British cinema?
Hammer Horror and Competitors
By the mid-sixties, Hammer attempted to reflect the lack of certainty prevalent in British society (see my article on The Witches - http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1063814/index.html ).
However, a comparison with product from other British directors, most notably Michael Reeves, suggests these attempts were futile - See the conclusion of Witchfinder General (1968)
In many ways spy films are the natural development of the 1950s war film, and reflect the development in international relations
There are major stylistic differences between the Bond films and other British spy films
North American influence (e.g. Saltzman and Broccoli, United Artists)
Colour vs Black & White
Representation of the hero
Each of these can be addressed via the economic approach
Spy Films - Aesthetic Differences
The Goldfinger title sequence was a separate entity designed by Robert Brownjohn. He had previously worked on From Russia With Love , with an £850 budget - The budget for the Goldfinger titles was £5000
Compare the opening sequences of Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) and The Ipcress File (Sidney J Furie, 1965 ) - What are the differences in the respective representations of the spy in these films?
Consider how The Spy Who Came in From the Cold contrasts with the Bond films
Some Thoughts on British Cinema
Are we discussing British or English cinema, and even then, what groups are represented?
Consider fears of Americanisation
Was British cinema between 1950 and 1970 a conservative cinema? Did genre characteristics influence your response?
What factors influenced British cinema between 1950 and 1970 and did British films influence/reflect British society?
Details of the Next Tutorial
At the Aldwych (LSE) Campus, from 7-9pm
15 June - TMA04 Deadline 7 July
Covers the entire European Cinema unit
Any further questions?
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