Bill Haley and the rock ’n’ roll cinema riots
Anna Ariadne Knight

Chapter 4 reconstructs the stardom of Bill Haley to explore the ‘rock ’n’ roll riots’ that accompanied the first screenings of Rock Around the Clock in British cinemas. The film was a low-budget feature that showcased many of the most popular rock ’n’ roll musicians and performers of the day. The British Board of Film Censors considered the film ‘harmless’ and classified it ‘U’ (Universal) for family audiences to enjoy. Nonetheless, screenings of Rock Around the Clock caused the dreaded ‘organised hooliganism’ that British censors had worked so hard to avoid. In time, the censors were accused of being ‘oblivious’ to the ‘intoxicating’ effects of the exciting ‘live’ performances of Haley and the Comets; the media sensationalised localised outbreaks that pitted Teddy boys and girls against cinema managers and police. The chapter argues that ‘riots’ were the logical outcome of the censors’ generational disconnection from British teenagers and their enthusiasm for rock ’n’ roll. The BBFC was widely criticised by the press and prominent members of the clergy for failing to anticipate and avert these public disturbances. Proving a phenomenal success at the box office, Rock Around the Clock introduced mainstream audiences to rock ’n’ roll. The chapter provides a timely exhibition history by recounting the interactive in-cinema behaviours of British teenagers, which anticipated the participatory screenings of cult movies. Furthermore, a homely appearance and scathing reviews did not hinder Haley’s rise to fame; he toured the UK with his Comets. In this way, his British stardom demonstrates the unflagging ‘power’ of the teenage consumer.

in Screening the Hollywood rebels in 1950s Britain
Elvis Presley as a rock ’n’ roll rebel
Anna Ariadne Knight

Reconstructing the discursive surround of his early film appearances, Chapter 5 demonstrates that Elvis Presley was promoted in Britain as ‘the rock and roll rebel of the screen’ and as Marlon Brando’s and James Dean’s logical successor. Focusing on the films, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, the chapter illustrates that Presley was reformulated as the archetypal juvenile delinquent imbued with the popular currency of rock ’n’ roll music. Ensuing public censure of Presley’s music and sexualised performance style invigorated the discourses of Americanisation. In contrast to the amiable Bill Haley, who had recently made a nationwide tour of Britain, film (and music) critics disliked Presley and reported concern over his anticipated (and dreaded) live performances. The chapter demonstrates that Presley’s British fame was developed and sustained by the purchasing ‘power’ of his young fans in spite of (and because of) the widespread criticism and apathy of an older generation. As such, the chapter considers Presley’s stardom as the glorification of a humble American working-class ‘Teddy boy’ adulated by ordinary teenage consumers. In addition, the chapter argues that the blueprint of his fame (and his enormously successful branding) was used by entrepreneurial producer-managers to nurture and develop a new stable of British talent. Adam Faith and Billy Fury, among others, became popular for their proletarian qualities. Regional or cockney accents no longer hindered careers in the performing arts but, rather, recommended emerging stars to those teenage consumers with surplus income, eager to worship home-grown heroes.

in Screening the Hollywood rebels in 1950s Britain
Open Access (free)
James Baldwin’s Search for a New Film Form
Hayley O’Malley

James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.

James Baldwin Review
Marlon Brando and The Wild One ban in the UK
Anna Ariadne Knight

Chapter 1 contextualises Marlon Brando’s early stardom in Britain to re-evaluate why the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) chose to impose a fourteen-year ban on The Wild One. Conversely, it chronicles how some local authorities and private clubs overturned the ban and screened the film. Brando’s early persona as a wayward but talented stage-trained actor, who became a Hollywood ‘anti-star’, meant that he occupied a unique position in cinema. This partly explains why the BBFC was overly concerned with releasing a film that allied an established and forceful method actor with reckless juvenile delinquency. The censor board publicly defended its decision to ban the film (deny it a certificate) through recourse to the excessive screen violence. Confidential records demonstrate that British film censors actually considered Brando’s screen delinquent to be too ‘attractive and imitable’ and worried that the film was a blueprint for yet more ‘organised hooliganism’ by British Teddy boys. Through an analysis of Marlon Brando’s early popularity, sustained by his persuasive interpretation of method acting techniques, his kudos with film critics and his appeal to British film fans, the chapter demonstrates that Brando’s stardom was the major factor behind the controversial decision to ban the film. Paying close attention to the aspects of mise en scène which heighten Brando’s sexuality and sympathetic qualities, the chapter demonstrates how his screen delinquent emerged as an admirable anti-hero – a far more complex and enduring character than anticipated, which surpassed even Hollywood’s expectations.

in Screening the Hollywood rebels in 1950s Britain
Maureen Kelleher

James Baldwin’s arrest in Paris in December 1949 gave birth to his perfect storm. His ten days in Fresnes jail weakened him physically and emotionally. He made it out, but upon release he was mired in self-doubt and enveloped in a bout of depression. He returned to his hotel, ready to try to get back to his life, however daunting that effort would be. The hotelier’s demand that he settle his bill, and do it quickly, awakened his obsession with suicide. He simply could not handle one more obstacle in his path; he chose to kill himself in his room. Ironically, he saved his life when he jumped off a chair with a sheet around his neck. In a matter of seconds his death wish was replaced by his equally obsessive need to write, witness, think, party, drink, challenge, and love.

James Baldwin Review
Elliot Vernon

This chapter explores the role of London’s presbyterians in the formation of the parliamentarian ‘political presbyterian’ alliance. It analyses the presbyterian clergy’s dispute with Parliament in 1645 over the authority and jurisdiction of the projected settlement of the church. This dispute triggered the London clergy to mobilise a campaign for presbyterianism and, in so doing, mobilised a body of pro-presbyterian, ‘Covenant-engaged’ London citizens to seize key city institutions. The purpose of this was to pressurise Parliament into establishing presbyterian church polity. This campaign would ultimately end in disappointment and compromise. However, the London presbyterians’ sophisticated campaigning network and control of important city institutions would prove critical for the rest of the period.

in London presbyterians and the British revolutions, 1638–64
Open Access (free)
Cora Kaplan

The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995) and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and honor her legacy.

James Baldwin Review
Abstract only
Populism in Europe – lessons from Umberto Bossi’s Northern League

This chapter seeks to answer the question of what lessons can be drawn from the experiences of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord/Northern League by looking at (1) the party’s position within the political system, assessed in terms of its programmatic stances, electoral strength and policy impact; (2) the role of its organisation; and (3) the role of its leadership. Our main conclusion is that Bossi’s League was generally successful, thanks to a clear, distinctive political message well suited to incentivising the creation of closed political communities based on post-material, identitarian values, a rooted organisation and strong leadership. At the same time, we highlight that even in a highly institutionalised “mass” party there are always risks of “organisational decay” associated with the excessive centralisation of power in the hands of one personality surrounded by a small circle of faithful allies, as the case of the League illustrates very well. We also point to the multidimensionality of party ideology and the tensions that may emerge in apparently consistent political platforms. Ultimately, through this comprehensive review, based on the evidence of the preceding chapters, we aim to highlight the limits of the existing literature, which tends to conceive of the evolution of parties in a rather deterministic and teleological way. On the contrary, we show the complexity and plurality of models coexisting within party systems today and even within individual parties. We argue that the ideological and organisational repertoire from which today’s political entrepreneurs can draw is much wider than is commonly believed.

in Populism in Europe
Abstract only
Elliot Vernon

This chapter provides a summary of the book’s main findings. Offering a narrative and analysis of the London presbyterian movement from the inside, the book has sought to complicate the common characterisation of London’s religious presbyterians as an arch-conservative or even ‘counter-revolutionary’ force which held back the parliamentarian revolution. The London presbyterians stood in the tradition of a mixed constitution based on ‘co-ordinate’ powers in Parliament and an ecclesiastical settlement. They remained committed to this as events took an unsustainably extreme  turn in the late 1640s and early 1650s. While the movement was a historical failure, that does not mean that it did not leave a legacy. In religion, the most obvious example is the worldwide use of the Westminster assembly’s confession of faith and its other confessional standards. In politics, we can point to the English culture of protestant dissent. Furthermore, the movement reveals important aspects of the nature of the British revolutions in particular and the religious culture of the early modern (and indeed modern) Anglophone world in general.

in London presbyterians and the British revolutions, 1638–64