Mike Leigh may well be Britain's greatest living film director; his worldview has permeated our national consciousness. This book gives detailed readings of the nine feature films he has made for the cinema, as well as an overview of his work for television. Written with the co-operation of Leigh himself, it challenges the critical privileging of realism in histories of British cinema, placing the emphasis instead on the importance of comedy and humour: of jokes and their functions; of laughter as a survival mechanism; and of characterisations and situations that disrupt our preconceptions of ‘realism’. Striving for the all-important quality of truth in everything he does, Leigh has consistently shown how ordinary lives are too complex to fit snugly into the conventions of narrative art. From the bittersweet observation of Life is Sweet or Secrets and Lies, to the blistering satire of Naked and the manifest compassion of Vera Drake, he has demonstrated a matchless ability to perceive life's funny side as well as its tragedies.
This book combines mainly chronological coverage of all major stages of Carol Reed's career with special attention not only to the acknowledged masterpieces but also to films that deserve re-appraisal (e .g. Outcast of the Islands, Trapeze, Oliver!) . Reed's interest in the parent-child relationship, an interminable inquest across all the films into the origins of the self, is remarkable from the outset. Reed's characteristic fondness for low angle shots intensifies the atmosphere of doom from which none of the characters ever ultimately finds relief. Followed by The Third Man, Outcast of the Islands, The Man Between and A Kid for Two Farthings, The Fallen Idol was the first of five films made for Alexander Korda's London Films. Looking back at the film now it is clear that Outcast belongs to that group of 1950s films that challenge the conformist reputation of British films made during the decade. Reed's eye for detail and for creating atmosphere through photography or editing is unsurpassed in the British cinema. While the preponderance of father/son narratives may indeed be partly attributable, as some have argued, to feelings prompted by his illegitimacy, Reed's closeness to his mother is an equally significant contributory factor to the films' representation of personal and family relationships.
Richard Attenborough has long been recognised as a significant figure in British cinema history and film culture. After his screen debut in the war-time film In Which We Serve, Attenborough's cinema career developed through acting and later through producing and directing to become one of the industry's most renowned figures. Concentrating on his work behind the camera, this book explores his initial role as a producer, including his partnerships with Bryan Forbes in Beaver Films and with Allied Film Makers. Attenborough's own belief and affection for the genre has arguably been responsible for establishing the biopic within the pantheon of recent British cinema. Thus Young Winston captures elements from the action and historical genres, Gandhi and Chaplin from the political and historical, and Cry Freedom the political and action film. Shadowlands combines the heritage, historical and romance, In Love and War the historical, romance and war and Grey Owl the historical and nature/conservation film. A similar fusion of genres can be detected in Attenborough's two war films which both offer an anti-war revisionist perspective. Oh! What a Lovely War merges the historical and action genres, while A Bridge Too Far, in contrast, is a serious and vivid portrayal of war merging with the historical and action genres. Closing the Ring, although based on a true story, merges fiction and reality within a romantic setting.
Michael Winterbottom is the most prolific and the most audacious of British filmmakers in the last twenty years. His television career began in the cutting-rooms at Thames Television, and his first directing experience was on the Thames TV documentaries, Ingmar Bergman: The Magic Lantern and Ingmar Bergman: The Director, made in 1988. Winterbottom has featured in top ten lists in Britain and his name has become a moniker of distinction in the promotion of his own films. This book articulates the ideas which have led to the name 'Michael Winterbottom' being associated with a particular body of work and, second, by turning to those factors which tend to dissipate the idea of Winterbottom as the single source of a world view and style, and to relocate his films within a constellation of directors, films and (principally European) national cinemas. It is important to acknowledge that all of his films employ realism across a variety of styles, genres and historical representations. The book focuses on Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland, In This World and The Road to Guantánamo, with a brief reference to 24 Hour Party People as five very different films that have particular relationships with the historical world that they represent. It considers what Winterbottom has done with such popular genres as the road movie, the musical and the sciencefiction thriller, how far he has adapted their conventions to contemporary film practice and ideology, and whether these films, in reworking Hollywood genres, exhibit any peculiarly British inflections.
Humphrey Jennings has been described as the only real poet of British cinema. His documentary films employ a range of representational approaches – including collagist narrative structures and dramatic re-enactment – in ways that transcend accepted notions of wartime propaganda and revise the strict codes of British documentary film of the 1930s and 1940s. The resultant body of work is a remarkable record of Britain at peace and war. This study examines a productive ambiguity of meanings associated with the subtle interaction of images and sounds within Jennings' films, and considers the ideological and institutional contexts and forces that impacted on the formal structure of his films. Central and lesser-known films are analysed, including Spare Time, Words for Battle, Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started, The Silent Village, A Diary for Timothy and Family Portrait. Poet, propagandist, surrealist and documentary filmmaker – Jennings' work embodies a mix of apprehension, personal expression and representational innovation. This book examines and explains the central components of Jennings' most significant films, and considers the relevance of his filmmaking to British cinema and contemporary experience.
In a long and varied career, Lindsay Anderson made training films, documentaries, searing family dramas and blistering satires, including This Sporting Life, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital. This book is about a director whose work came to public attention with Free Cinema but who, unlike many of his peers in that movement did not take the Hollywood route to success. What emerges is a strong feeling for the character of the man as well as for a remarkable career in British cinema. Making use of hitherto unseen original materials from Anderson's extensive personal and professional records, this book is valuable as a study of how the films came about: the production problems involved, the collaborative input of others, as well as the completed films' promotion and reception. It also offers a finely argued take on the whole issue of film authorship. It prompts renewed respect for the man and the artist and a desire to watch the films all over again.
In a pair of interviews during the 1970s, Karel Reisz himself acknowledged this clear line of continuity in his work, he always thought of himself as a cinematic auteur, but stressed that it was a continuity of neither British nor Czech sensibilities. Like many exiles and outsiders, Reisz was able to balance an emotional investment in his adoptive country with the ability to remain critically distanced enough to recognize and then de-familiarize the cultural tropes that make it tick. Given his lifelong affinity for outsiders and exiles, it is clear that Reisz's personal background is crucial to any understanding of his cinema, not only because of his own exile from Nazism and subsequent displacement into a foreign culture. Because of his graduation into film-making from the academic world of film criticism, a realm largely alien to many of the veterans of the British film industry. The book discusses the 'kitchen sink' realism of the Angry Young Men, the birth of the British New Wave, and the Gorilla war. Morgan is an important film in the Reisz canon, not only because it reinforced his continued move away from the last vestiges of social realism associated with the first British New Wave, but also because it was his first truly self-reflexive film. The book also discusses Momma Don't Allow, We Are the Lambeth, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Night Must Fall, The Gambler, Dog Soldiers/, Who'll Stop the Rain, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and Everybody.
More English than the Brits' proclaims one of the chapter headings in Michel Ciment's seminal series of interviews with Joseph Losey. Losey's life embraces a major crisis in political commitment and public tolerance (the blacklist); his career, his oeuvre, spans the most fundamental cultural confrontation of the century, between Marxism and Modernism, between progressive "realism" and the avant-garde subversion of optimism. Losey began his directorial career in the leftist political theatre of the 1930s. For Losey, as for many leftists of the period, Communism meant allegiance to the Soviet ideological model, and by extension, to Stalin's policies. The 1950s proved to be a difficult decade for Joseph Losey, a period marked by prolonged exile, the ever-lengthening reach of the blacklist and the constant fear of betrayal. The Sleeping Tiger, The Intimate Stranger and A Man on the Beach were made during his period of exile in the 1950s. There was an experimental, writer-oriented focus in Joseph Losey's later work, opening the way for collaborations on a more equal footing. Losey collaborated three films with Harold Pinter: The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. His involvement in Secret Ceremony, Boom! and Figures in a Landscape was a case of blatant economic necessity. Most of his work directly explores and addresses the ideological interpellation of women by analysing the cultural assumptions that both construct and perpetuate it. Losey officially became a tax exile after relocating himself from Chelsea to Paris because of tax problems.
Since his first directorial commission at Welwyn Studios in 1950, Lee Thompson has directed forty-five pictures for theatrical release, covering almost every genre of the cinema. His remarkable ability to adapt his style to suit the material has made him perhaps the most versatile director ever produced by Britain. This book intends to plot the trajectory of a unique film-maker through the typical constraints and opportunities offered by British cinema as a dominant studio system gave way to independent production in the two decades after the Second World War. Thompson was born in Bristol just before the First World War. By the time Thompson left school his ambition was to be an actor, and he joined Nottingham Repertory, making his debut in Young Woodley in 1931. Thompson's opportunity to direct a play came when he received an offer from Hollywood for the film rights to his play Murder Without Crime. His debut box (or ottoman) of tricks went out on the ABC circuit as a double bill with an American film about a GI finding romance in Europe, Four Days Leave. Although the cutting room remained sacrosanct, directors of Thompson's generation had more influence over the final cut of a picture than their predecessors. The Yellow Balloon may be frustratingly limited in its social critique, but as a piece of film making, it was rightly praised for its performances and technical proficiency.
This book explores why Jack Clayton had made so few films and why most of them
failed to find a large audience. It examines the kind of criticism they
generated, sometimes adulatory but sometimes dismissive and even condescending.
The book hopes to throw light on certain tendencies and developments within the
film industry and of film criticism, the British film industry and film
criticism in particular. The fact that Clayton's films fit David
Bordwell's paradigm of the art film is one explanation why producers had
difficulty with him and why mainstream cinema found his work hard to place and
assimilate. Clayton's pictorial eye has sometimes antagonised critics: they
often take exception to some aspect of his mise-en-scene. Clayton had come to
prominence with Room at the Top, around the time of the British 'Free
Cinema' movement and immediately prior to the so-called British
'new-wave' films of the early 1960s from directors such as Tony
Richardson and John Schlesinger. Thorold Dickinson's evocation of the
Russian atmosphere and, in particular, his use of suspenseful soundtrack to
suggest ghostly visitation undoubtedly had an influence on Jack Clayton's
style in both The Bespoke Overcoat and The Innocents. The critical
controversy concerning the status of Jack Clayton as director and artist is
probably at its most intense over The Pumpkin Eater. Clayton stressed the
importance of an opening that established right away the situation of 'a
woman in crisis' but wanted to delay the Harrods scene so as to build up an
atmosphere of suspense.