The 1940s represent a high point in the history of British film, characterised by the works of such recognised greats as David Lean and Michael Powell. But alongside this ‘quality cinema’ there exists a body of popular productions by film-makers who have not yet been the objects of detailed scholarly attention. Four from the forties addresses this oversight, drawing attention to four directors whose career trajectories had a good deal in common and can tell us much about what British film-goers expected from the cinema in this crucial decade. Leslie Arliss, Arthur Crabtree, Bernard Knowles and Lawrence Huntington were all born at the turn of the century. All had been active in a range of film-making functions in the 1930s, and all would do their most proficient and popular work in the 1940s, thereafter prolonging their careers into the 1960s through ‘B’ movies, co-features and television. Taken together, they offer a commentary on the changing fortunes of mid-century British cinema.
This book is about the British film director Terence Fisher. It begins by setting the context by detailing Fisher's directorial debut to Hammer's horror production and the importance of the Hammer horror to Fisher's career. Hammer's horror production represents one of the striking developments in post-war British cinema. The book explains some professional and industrial contexts in which Fisher operated and shows how these relate both to the films he made and the way in which these films have been judged and valued. It presents a detailed account of The Astonished Heart, Fisher's sixth film as director, highlighting the benefits and some of the problems involved in thinking about Fisher's career generally in its pre-horror phase. The successful Hammer film, The Curse of Frankenstein, both inaugurated the British horror boom and established Fisher as a film-maker whose name was known to critics as someone who specialised in the despised horror genre. After The Curse of Frankenstein, Fisher became primarily a horror director. The book presents an account of the highs and lows Fisher faced in his directorial career, highlighting his significant achievements and his box-office failures. It also shows Fisher as a director dependent on and at ease with the industrial and collaborative nature of film-making. In a fundamental sense, what value there is in Terence Fisher's work exists because of the British film industry and the opportunities it afforded Fisher, not despite the industry.
This book argues the centrality of hybridity to Terry Gilliam's films. Gilliam had a collaborative approach to filmmaking and a desire to provoke audiences to their own interpretations as other forms of intertextual practice. Placing Gilliam in the category of cinematic fantasist does some preliminary critical work, but crudely homogenises the diversity of his output. One way of marking this range comes from understanding that Gilliam employs an extraordinary variety of genres. These include medieval comedy; children's historical adventure; dystopian satire; the fantastic voyage; science fiction; Gonzo Journalism; fairy tale; and gothic horror. Gilliam's work with Monty Python assured him a revered place in the history of that medium in Britain. As a result, the Python films, And Now for Something Completely Different, The Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, along with his own, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, and Brazil, show him moving successfully into the British film industry. Most of his films have been adaptations of literary texts, and Jabberwocky forges an extended tale of monsters and market forces. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen builds on some tales from the original texts, constructing a complex examination of fantasy, representation and mortality. Taking crucial ingredients from medieval and older mythologies, the screenplay of The Fisher King resituates them and reworks them for modern America. Gilliam's complex interaction with Britain and America explains his ambiguous place in accounts of American and British films.
David Lean has been characterised as a director of highly romantic disposition whose films offer a vision of 'the romantic sensibility attempting to reach beyond the restraints and constrictions of everyday life'. This book proposes new perspectives on the work of David Lean and offers a fuller and more varied appreciation of his manifold achievements as a filmmaker. In so doing, the book makes interventions in wider academic debates around authorship, gender, genre and aesthetics in relation to the British cinema and transnational cinema of British cultural inheritance of which Lean was such a remarkable exponent. It first deals with Lean's early career, covering his entry into the film industry and flourishing formative years as an editor, honing skills, and his official entry into direction. It then examines Lean's four forays into the nineteenth century, encompassing his two Dickens adaptations as well as his two later Victorian dramas, both centred on rebellious females. Each film presents a vivid instance of the twentieth century in the process of 'inventing the Victorians'; put together, the quartet of films show how perceptions began to change during the pivotal postwar year. The book also focuses on the gender by focusing on a trio of films about women in love and three films centred on male visionaries.
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.
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.
Lance Comfort began to work in films between the age of 17 and 19, more or less growing up with the cinema. When he came to make 'B' films in the 1950s and 1960s, his wide-ranging expertise enabled him to deal efficiently with the constraints of tight budgets and schedules. He was astute at juggling several concurrent plot strands, his prescient anticipation of postwar disaffection, the invoking of film noir techniques to articulate the dilemma of the tormented protagonist. Comfort's reputation as a features director seemed to be made when Hatter's Castle, made by Paramount's British operation, opened at the Plaza, Piccadilly Circus, after a well-publicised charity première attended by the Duchess of Kent and luminaries such as Noel Coward. He had been in the film business for twenty years when, in 1946, he directed Margaret Lockwood in Bedelia. Comfort is not the only director who enjoyed his greatest prestige in the 1940s and drifted into providing fodder for the bottom half of the double-bill in the ensuing decades. There were six intervening films, justifying the journalist who described him in early 1943 as the Busiest British film director. Great Day, Portrait of Clare, Temptation Harbour, Bedelia, Daughter of Darkness, and Silent Dust were his six melodramas. He was an unpretentious craftsman who was also at best an artist, and in exploring his career trajectory, the viewer is rewarded by the spectacle of one who responded resiliently to the challenges of a volatile industry.
Peter William Evans
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.
Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman as a true 'Renaissance Man' in the colloquial sense of the word, as well as having a strong and permanent interest in the art, thought, and literature of the Renaissance. Although the tone of Jarman's films is frequently melancholic, the threat which death poses for desire is sometimes modulated by an apparent desire for death. He was never comfortable with the label 'gay', regarding it as both too stable and too self-satisfied, too concerned to present a 'positive' image. He preferred the more fluid and mobile term 'queer'. Jarman's first feature-length film was remarkable in many ways and in at least three respects was virtually unique at the time for a commercially distributed picture. In 1977, the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, punk had spread beyond a handful of clubs and bands in London and New York and was starting to look like a complete new youth culture in the making. From 1978 to 1985, whatever else he was engaged in, Jarman's life was dominated by his desire to make a film about the life of the Italian painter Caravaggio. Wittgenstein had been a completely unexpected commission which Jarman, despite his failing health, had rapidly and brilliantly converted into 'A Derek Jarman Film' through his usual intense personal identification with his subject. Blue was one of a cluster of films addressing the issue of AIDS which were released in the early 1990s.
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.