The ethics and politics of memory in an age of mass culture
This chapter argues that the effects of capitalist commodification and mass culture are not exclusively privatising and therefore conservative; these forces have also opened up the potential for a progressive, even radical politics of memory: such a politics instrumentalises called 'prosthetic memory'. 'Prosthetic memories' are 'personal' memories, as they derive from engaged and experientially oriented encounters with the mass media's various technologies of memory. Perhaps more than in any other realm, the political potential of prosthetic memory has been explored in science fiction film. John Singleton's 1996 film Rosewood raises the question of whether white Children, and by extension, a white audience, can take on memories of racial oppression and in the process develop empathy for African Americans. Singleton uses cinematic identification to create the conditions under which audience members can take on prosthetic memories.
Film festivals and the revival of Classic Hollywood
This chapter explores the circulation of old Hollywood movies, especially, those produced between 1910 and 1960, at the London Film Festival during the years 1981-2001. In 1981, the London Film Festival's parent organisation, the British Film Institute, published Water Under the Bridge, a dossier on the history of the festival's first twenty-five years, from its founding in 1957 to that date. The chapter provides a means of revisiting and updating some of the information contained in that dossier. The Thames Silent Classics series established a useful baseline for examining the revival of classic Hollywood cinema at the London festival. In 1999, the festival screening of How Green Was My Valley was advertised as a 'chance to see another of the impeccable restorations of classic American films to come out of the Academy Film Archive in Beverly Hills'.
Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence, which deals extensively with British films of the 1950s, was written in the mid-1960s and was published in 1970. Durgnat is much less time-bound and his analysis of British cinema has proved remarkably prescient. A Mirror for England deals with topics such as national identity and the decline of empire, realism and romanticism, politics, class, masculinity, sexuality and social problems. Durgnat emerges, despite his enthusiasm for Terence Fisher's gothic horror films and the artistically extravagant work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, as a rationalist rather than a romantic. In the early 1960s auteurism provided a battering ram to shatter the hallowed portals of the critical establishment and Durgnat was intent on attacking the British Film Institute and its house journal Sight and Sound.
Ralph Thomas's A Tale of Two Cities of 1958 occupies a secure if modest place among that bunch of 1950s British releases based on novels by Charles Dickens, including Brian Desmond Hurst's Scrooge and Noel Langley's The Pickwick Papers. Ralph Thomas's film of A Tale of Two Cities was released in the tense atmosphere of the Cold War. The influence of A Tale of Two Cities on film-makers was clear and is very marked in D.W. Griffith's Orphans of the Storm of 1921. A Tale of Two Cities certainly has its weaknesses, including the notorious Dickensian melodrama, sentimentality and theatricality of dialogue. A Tale of Two Cities was filmed several times, in silent and talkie versions, and frequently serialised on BBC radio and television. Arthur Benjamin's opera A Tale of Two Cities was premièred in 1950 and broadcast by BBC television in 1958.
This chapter focuses on two film adaptations, conceived in different genres: The Admirable Crichton, directed by Lewis Gilbert in 1957 from the play by J.M. Barrie written in 1902, and Look Back in Anger directed by Tony Richardson in 1959 from John Osborne's play of 1956. Both play and film are, therefore, comedies of social reversal; Crichton, the butler, champions the established social order, whilst his employer, the aristocrat, pontificates about the coming egalitarian society. The Admirable Crichton has an interesting relationship to another, earlier film based on a stage play from about the same historical period, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Look Back in Anger sits easily within the dominant conventions of the European naturalist tradition, its single playing space functioning as an embodiment of the forces of determinism that constrain the characters that inhabit it.
The Tempean films succeed in hooking the view with provocative opening episodes which have an element of ambiguity that one doesn't expect in budget film-making. Bob Baker recalled that Eros would buy American films outright for showing in the United Kingdom, then take a British film as a co-feature and distribute the double bill, an arrangement which was clearly to the advantage of Tempean. Baker and Monty Berman relied on the services of personnel they could trust and built up a roster of actors and others who knew their job and could be relied on to get it done in the required time and within the allotted budget. With an eye on the US markets, Baker and Berman very often secured the services of American actors.
Writing in 1991, Michael Kammen stated that, 'For more than a decade, the connection between collective memory and national identity has been a matter of intense and widespread interest'. In 1923 the Yale University Press undertook production of a series of educational feature films, the Chronicles of America, intended to instruct the nation's populace in their country's glorious history. The Chronicles' way of making better citizens was to persuade them of the virtues of Englishness and whiteness. This chapter looks in detail at the Chronicles' representation of Native Americans, briefly delineating the contemporary political situation that may have motivated the negativity and contrasting it with Hollywood's more positive or at the very least ambivalent portrayal. The Puritans details the hardships encountered by some of the country's first white inhabitants: 'Privation and sorrow are the common lot during these early days in Massachusetts', declares an intertitle.
Women of Twilight was adapted from the play of the same name by Sylvia Rayman. The play was first performed at the Embassy Theatre, London, in July 1951, going on to the Vaudeville Theatre. Women of Twilight hovers uneasily in the twilight areas of post-war British society, but also in the grey area between sets of competing and unresolved moralities. The film clearly and honestly depicts contemporary abuses, but seems unsure whether to blame respectable social prejudice, more simplistic caricatures of villainy or even, implicitly, the sexual behaviour of the girls themselves. Women of Twilight accuses contemporary Britain of negligence, and lays the blame for these girls' suffering at the door of the contemporary social prejudice and hypocrisy which leaves them with nowhere else to go. The film is consciously melodramatic, casting Helen Allistair as the villain of the piece whose abuse and exploitation are eventually appropriately punished.
Jean-Luc Godard remarked that all you need to make a film is 'a girl and a gun' and the opening sequence of Yield to the Night looks like a textbook illustration of his axiom. Yield to the Night is often mentioned in connection with the contemporary case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. The film is far from being a straightforward statement of social protest on the part of its makers, which is partly due to the casting of Diana Dors, a notorious and flamboyant British film personality of the 1950s, in the role of Mary Hilton. The realism of the film is a subjective, psychological realism, suggesting the strange and fearful state of mind of the person who knows she will die in a matter of days.
This book engages in a critical encounter with the work of Stanley Cavell on cinema, focusing skeptical attention on the claims made for the contribution of cinema to the ethical character of democratic life. In much of Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. Films are often viewed on television, and television shows can have "filmlike" qualities. The book addresses the nature of viewing cinematic film as a mode of experience, arguing against Cavell that it is akin to dreaming rather than lived consciousness and, crucially, cannot be shared. It mirrors the celebrated dialogue between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean D'Alembert on theatre. The book articulates the implications of philosophical pessimism for addressing contemporary culture in its relationship to political life. It clarifies how The Americans resembles the remarriage films and can illuminate the issues they raise. The tragedy of remarriage, would be a better instructor of a democratic community, if such a community were prepared to listen. The book suggests that dreaming, both with and without films, is not merely a pleasurable distraction but a valuable pastime for democratic citizens. Finally, it concludes with a robust response from Dienstag to his critics.