David Forrest
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Art cinema and the British poetic realist tradition
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From the documentary movement through to the present day, a consistent strain in British social realism can be defined by an impulse towards poetic, image-led narration. The classical principles of taut, cause-and-effect, goal-oriented narrative patterns are eschewed in favour of characteristics more commonly associated with the art cinema convention: authorial self-consciousness; episodic narrative and open-ended narrative; and complicating combinations of objective and subjective realism(s). This chapter points to some of the ways in which art cinema might provide a series of reading strategies that begin to unlock and help to anatomise the underexplored poetic realist tradition in British cinema. Central to this argument will be a close focus on the representation of space and place in social realism. The self-conscious and conspicuous use of space in social realist cinema – often in convergence with highly poetic treatments of rootless, goal-bereft young protagonists – is the dominant and uniting aesthetic trope of poetic realist cinema. In approaching these questions through the lens of art cinema, we may in turn begin to destabilise hitherto reductive approaches to social realism more broadly.

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