From the moment of its genesis in 1945, the Arts Council of Great Britain endorsed film as an art form, directly supporting and sponsoring art films for almost fifty years. On the way, it shaped a specialised strand of art cinema in Britain that nurtured experiments in film form and shaped the careers of many independent film-makers. This chapter focuses on the formative period of the Arts Council’s engagement with film and its role in the creation of an art cinema canon and related art film culture in Britain. It argues that we need to trace the beginnings back to a landmark (but curiously forgotten) exhibition, The Art of the Film, organised by Roger Manvell in 1945 in London. This is probably the first exhibition about film (its history and aesthetics) to have been staged in Britain – definitely the first supported by the arts establishment. It also happened to be the very first exhibition that the Arts Council organised. The chapter draws on primary research in the Arts Council archives and contemporaneous sources, and offers a new historiography about the beginnings of both the Arts Council’s art film schemes and the shaping of an art cinema canon in Britain after World War Two.
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.