By looking at the changing economic, institutional and cultural circumstances governing the production and circulation of British films since the 1980s, this chapter explores the emergence of various kinds of ‘British art cinema’ that emerged during this period. In particular, it indicates the way in which public funding, lottery revenues and television finance have underpinned the emergence of a range of British films that join a tradition of international art cinema. Although the films concerned exhibit many of the ‘classic’ features of art cinema – personal self-expression, formal invention, generic self-consciousness – the chapter indicates how the conventions of ‘art cinema’ have continued to mutate and extend in different directions. This chapter therefore attempts to map some of the diverse strands of British art cinema that have emerged since the 1980s and weigh up the critical discourses that have attached to them. In particular, it looks at the significance of the ‘realist’ tradition for British art cinema and the way in which this has fuelled debates about ‘poetic realism’ and ‘social art cinema’. It also looks at the more overtly modernist/postmodernist strand of British art cinema and its links with both other art practices and more general socio-political currents.
Released six years after Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture Oscar, Stage Beauty (Eyre, 2004) portrays Shakespearean performance history at the point in the Restoration when female impersonators were replaced by actresses on the English stage. Given the similarities between the two films, it comes as no surprise to find that the press response to Stage Beauty made frequent comparisons, describing it as: ‘bitchy half-sister to Shakespeare in Love’; ‘Shakespeare in Love II’; and ‘Shakespeare in Love for transvestites’. Those involved in making Stage Beauty were keen to differentiate its cinematic qualities. The film was adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from his stage play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, and directed by Richard Eyre, a former artistic director of the National Theatre. This chapter examines the textual features that mark this film out as a serious-minded depiction of theatrical heritage and gender play, along with the reception discourses that the film stimulated. It also considers possible barriers to cultural engagement with Shakespeare as manifested in ‘art cinema’ with reference to audience research.
The development of Latin American cinema in the 1960s was underwritten by a number of key texts that outlined the aesthetic and political direction of individual film-makers and collectives. Solanas and Getino’s ‘Towards a Third Cinema’ (1969), Glauber Rocha’s ‘An Esthetic of Hunger’ (1965) and Julio García Espinosa’s ‘For an Imperfect Cinema’ (1969) were not merely theorisations; they were manifestos written by and for film-makers working towards revolutionary praxis. Although asserting the specificity of Latin American politics and aesthetics, the theoretical foundations of its New Wave influenced oppositional filmmaking way beyond its own regional boundaries. This chapter looks at how the theory behind New Latin American cinema inspired and propelled film-makers in Britain, especially those of the Black Audio Film Collective, which represented a merging of politics, popular culture and art that was, at once, oppositional and melodic. Fusing postcolonial discourse with pop music, avant-garde aesthetics and reimaginings of subalternity, it provides us with a useful example of transcontinental counter-cinema, and its major figures have continued to produce challenging work that, as a recent interview with founder member John Akomfrah stated, is still drawing inspiration from the philosophy of New Latin America film.
The biopic and the composed film in British art cinema
This chapter focuses on some of the overlaps between the anti-realist tradition and British art cinema. It does this through an examination of two small, but artistically significant traditions in British filmmaking, the composed film and the artist’s biopic, and assesses how these forms have been exploited by two key figures in British art cinema: Ken Russell and Peter Greenaway. Attention is paid to Russell’s The Music Lovers, and Peter Greenaway’s Nightwatching, Goltzius and the Pelican Company and Eisenstein in Guanajuato. Before this, however, the chapter briefly examines the influence of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger on the composed film. ‘Composed film’ was Powell’s adopted term for a work that was substantially or entirely shot to a pre-existing music score. Particular attention is paid to The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman.
This book charts and analyses the work of Oliver Stone – arguably one of the foremost political filmmakers in Hollywood during the last thirty years. Drawing on previously unseen production files from Oliver Stone’s personal archives and hours of interviews both with Stone and a range of present and former associates within the industry, the book employs a thematic structure to explore Stone’s life and work in terms of war, politics, money, love and corporations. This allows the authors both to provide a synthesis of earlier and later film work as well as locate that work within Stone’s developing critique of government. The book explores the development of aesthetic changes in Stone’s filmmaking and locates those changes within ongoing academic debates about the relationship between film and history as well as wider debates about Hollywood and the film industry. All of this is explored with detailed reference to the films themselves and related to a set of wider concerns that Stone has sought to grapple with -the American Century, exceptionalism and the American Dream, global empire, government surveillance and corporate accountability. The book concludes with a perspective on Stone’s ‘brand’ as not just an auteur and commercially viable independent filmmaker but as an activist arguing for a very distinct kind of American exceptionalism that seeks a positive role for the US globally whilst eschewing military adventurism.
The chapter notes that Stone’s interests in social critique and politics have carried him some way ahead of art and commerce into the territory that can best be summed up as activism. Each of his films has been a piece of crafted drama with a range of distinctive attributes related to narrative and photography acting as a baseline for Stone’s auteur brand. What is striking, however, in the second period of his career, is the way those core elements of the auteur brand did not merely become retroactive career artefacts for a media narrative seeing his auteur heyday as belonging to the past. Stone’s auteurism acted instead as a platform for a political discourse that retained as much urgency and purpose as films like Salvador and JFK had in his early career.
This chapter traces two key threads in Stone’s exploration of corporations and their impact on wider society; one to do with the media, and the other concerning government. The first part of this chapter examines Talk Radio and Any Given Sunday exploring how and why the critique of corporations manifest itself in a particular way during this era. The chapter then considers the critique of mainstream media organisations offered in documentaries like Comandante and the Untold History series towards anything that might constitute a provocation to the dominant national narratives, before returning to consider what W., Wall Street: MNS and Savages had to say about corporate and government accountability.
Stone’s early film career, exemplified by productions like Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987) has often been contrasted by critics with a seemingly less vital period after the commercial failure of Nixon (1995). This chapter explains how a thematic analysis focusing on war, politics, money, love and corporations will be deployed to demonstrate a much more significant set of changes across Stone’s filmography and career. The chapter considers how Stone’s dramatic filmmaking shifted from specific critiques of the establishment in films like JFK (1991) towards more muted polemics in films like W. (2008) and a focus on morality. Accompanying this transition was the emergence of a distinct documentary style in films like Comandante (2003).
This chapter explores the representation of love in Stone’s filmmaking highlighting the importance of a transition that began in the mid-to-late 1990s with U Turn. The argument here posits that U Turn represents a marker in Stone’s career, not because of the loss of aesthetic vitality as some critics observed, that had been integral to earlier films, but precisely because the film marks the emergence of a distinctive melodramatic shift in Stone’s work, and a shift towards the darker aspects of parental love in particular. The significance of a melodramatic filter for viewing Stone’s later films is then used to assess Alexander and W. before investigating the way in which relationships and emotional love is worked into both these films and in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Savages.