This book explores the role of mise-en-scene in melodrama criticism, and considers what happened to detailed criticism as major theoretical movements emerged in the 1970s. Mise-en-scene, and other ways of conceiving visual style, has been central to so many important debates that the writing examined in the book shaped the field in enduring ways. The book provides a cross-section of the British culture and its attitudes to film. It also considers a range of important contexts, from material conditions of film viewing (and therefore criticism) to the cultural and political shifts of 1956. The book further investigates the frequently asserted connection between literary criticism and the approaches developed in Movie. It identifies the range of different approaches to interpreting mise-en-scene advanced in Movie, drawing out sections on action, camera movement and placing, connections between different parts of the film, and a range of further debates. 'Tales of Sound and Fury' is an extraordinary article, and Elsaesser's appreciation of the plastic and expressive qualities of domestic melodrama and the broader melodramatic tradition is exemplary. In the early 1970s, writing on melodrama provided some of the richest expressions of mise-en-scene criticism. The book embodies a number of approaches which were to undermine the emergent interest in the interpretation of the film style. Melodrama criticism is a crucial focus for shifts in film criticism and theory, and for this history.
This chapter explores the attributes of 'poetry' and its interaction with important related concepts, and recognises Sequence's place within a tradition of British criticism characterised by its concern with visual style. For two issues Sequence was the journal of the Oxford University Film Society but was subsequently published independently from London. Sequence's discussion of 'film artists', to use Ericsson's phrase, is partly dependent on comparison across a body of films. A passage from Lindsay Anderson's 'They Were Expendable and John Ford' brings an interpretative dimension to cross-career comparison. For the Sequence writers, the work of the script-writer can determine the qualities of the finished film. The introduction of poetry into the equation helps to clarify Sequence's attitude to the director, as regards both the significance attributed to the script and the nature of the authorship argument advanced.
Oxford Opinion existed as a student magazine prior to the involvement of the figures later to be associated with Movie. The issues of the magazine under consideration typically contain a film section of six or seven pages. This chiefly consists of articles on directors or articles on individual films, which were lengthy in comparison to the conventions of Sight and Sound and Monthly Film Bulletin. The first issue of Definition opens with a call for a new film criticism and a recognition that existing methods are inadequate. Robin Wood expressed concern 'about the "new" criticism Definition proposes to offer: it seems suspiciously like the old, in all essentials'. Of the articles in Granta, Charles Barr's 'Critics', from the film issue, is of particular interest. Barr's remarks on Nicholas Ray's The Savage Innocents might be said to combine influences from all of the traditions.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book provides a history of the analysis of visual style in British journals in the postwar period, both the 'British school' referred to by Adrian Martin and other critical movements, more hazily remembered. It looks at the influential journal Sequence, which emerged from the Oxford University Film Society in 1946 and was written and edited by a number of significant figures including Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert and Karel Reisz. The book examines the exciting qualities of the journal in the first part of the decade and their gradual erosion to the point where Sight and Sound could embody staid orthodoxy by the end of the 1950s. It addresses the role of mise-en-scene in the discussion of melodrama in journal articles of the 1970s.
This chapter addresses one of the most perplexing shifts in the history of postwar criticism: the movement by which Sight and Sound. It focuses on two significant moments within the decade which embody stages in Sight and Sound's transformation. The first of these has been chosen to illustrate some of the accommodations that Gavin Lambert was obliged to make in moving from an editorial role on an independent journal to Director of Publications at the BFI. The second is represented by the Autumn 1956 issue of Sight and Sound, enabling consideration of the broader cultural changes associated with the social and political events of that year. The chapter describes the developments in the careers of some of the key contributors: the first Free Cinema programme, Gavin Lambert's departure for Hollywood and Penelope Houston's accession to the editorship.
In the introduction to Movie Reader, published in 1972, Ian Cameron characterises the film criticism of 1962 as a 'set of liberal and aesthetic platitudes which stood in for a deeper and more analytical response'. Cameron exemplifies Movie's approach by juxtaposing Don Siegel's Hell Is for Heroes with two British war films, 'well-liked, more or less' by British critics: The Guns of Navarone and Bridge on the River Kwai. In interview, V.F. Perkins suggested that one of Movie's demands 'was that criticism should actually be based on more than one viewing of a film and that's still not accepted'. The impact of the work of Andre Bazin is conspicuous in Barr's 'CinemaScope: before and after', which quotes from two of his essays, and is surely discernible in Perkins's River of No Return.
One of the recurrent features of the criticism of early Movie is the description of effects directed at the spectator of which the characters remain unaware. This integrated understanding of mise-en- scene is an important and distinctive element of Movie's writing, and is observable in a range of articles. In an article coinciding with the re-release of Giant, V.F. Perkins reflects on Movie's aversion to the 'over-calculation' of 'the senior oscar-winners'. 'The Wyler school of quality direction also betrays itself by its concentration on inessentials. In the article, 'The Cinema of Nicholas Ray', Perkins uses the word 'resonances' to describe the qualities, so difficult to define, of the complexly suggestive visual image. Perkins's preference for the popular over the avant garde can be linked to a concern with the egalitarian possibilities of mise-en- scene criticism that runs through his work.
Tales of Sound and Fury' is a wide reaching essay, partly concerned with the history of melodrama as a form. It indicates the development of what one might call the melodramatic imagination', in Thomas Elsaesser's words and partly with the stylistic features of the 1950s Hollywood melodrama. Elsaesser's first model of mise-en-scene is unusual in that it incorporates sound. Elsaesser argues that one factor in the development and reception of the post war family melodrama was America's 'discovery' of Freud: 'the connections of Freud with melodrama are as complex as they are undeniable'. Elsaesser's description of the moment from Written on the Wind emphasises Robert Stack's performance. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's article 'Minnelli and Melodrama' extends both the Freudian conceptualisation of melodramatic mise-en-scene and the positive evaluation of the breakdown of coherence.
In the article, David Bordwell provides an account of the history of mise-en- scene criticism and the importance of widescreen processes to those arguments. Bordwell is setting out his stall, making the case for the approaches to be expounded at length in these substantial works. Bordwell makes clear his scepticism about Movie's interest in the integration of 'how' and 'what', but this last claim overlooks the other element of the journal's organicism: coherence across a work. Strategies that operate the length of River of No Return, such as the systematic use of long takes, are a major concern of V.F Perkins's article. Bordwell appeals for a critical account of directorial decisions which refers to the 'prevailing representative norms set upon all such choices'. The most striking feature of Bordwell's 'historical poetics of Hollywood cinema' is the impoverished results which the directly stated ambitions of the method promise.
The scope of the history excludes the 'Return of Movie' discussion, when the journal reappears in 1975, after one of its longer hiatuses, and specifically the debate around 'the death of mise-en- scene'. The timeframe also leaves little opportunity to consider the later issues of Movie more generally, and therefore the work of Michael Walker, Jim Hillier, Deborah Thomas, Douglas Pye or the peerless Andrew Britton. The synthesis is possible because of, rather than in spite of, the existing nature of mise-en- scene criticism. It is striking how frequently the writing in early Movie, or Hitchcock's Films, centres on the same evidence that critics today would wish to foreground. The Sequence conception of poetry embodies the understanding, even if it is not always clearly articulated beyond the terms of the personal.