The moral-political undertow of London’s Hindi cinema presence
From the now famous culture-clash blockbuster Purab aur Paschim (East and West, 1970) that pits supposedly real and patriotic Indians against the deracinated diaspora, London has appeared in hundreds of Hindi films. This chapter examines how sometimes London is filmed sparsely and with such banality that it is a meaningless and cliched backdrop of consumption and romance (as in the Camden sequences of Mujse Dosti Karoge? which could be set in any city), but with increasing frequency as a metaphor which epitomises the tensions of secular, globalised modernity, longing for home, and identity, for those in the diaspora. In the wake of Aditya Chopra’s phenomenally successful Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (The One with the Heart Will Win the Bride, 2001), this chapter notes a significant change that began to take place in Hindi films set in London, with the city playing an ambivalent role as a semiotic marker of personal choice, anonymity and modernity which ultimately sours and leaves the protagonists longing to return to their roots, their homeland and their traditions. At the heart of these films (including Namastey London and Patiala House) lies a desire to attract viewers to London only in order to reject its supposedly ephemeral allure. This chapter asserts that most of the plots end by putting London in its place – a place which is fun to shop in, to walk through, but which has no heart; they end with a re-entrenchment of essentialised Indian characteristics. London’s complex material identity as the former capital of the British empire and now an important global financial centre, in both Bollywood and English-language films, is often reduced to a screen identity centred upon global consumption in late capitalism.
The increasing mobility of people, goods and information around the globe has resulted in an increasingly interconnected world with a high potential for cosmopolitan encounters. Both dividing lines and borderlands have the potential to either curtail or promote cosmopolitan moments of self-transformation. So-called ‘border films’ structure their narratives around different types of borders, usually highlighting their paradoxical nature. This chapter looks at London River as an example of a border film that can be inscribed within the category of ‘cultural exchange’ narrative as theorised by Deborah Shaw, Tom O’Regan and others. The film tells the story of two parents: Ousmane, a black Muslim from Mali, and Elisabeth, a white protestant from the Channel Islands, looking for their children in the city of London after the 7th July terrorist attacks. The narrative crosses various geographical borders and was filmed in different locations: France, London and one of the Channel Islands. It was a French–British co-production and it features a multinational cast and crew, including a French director of Algerian origin working in the city of London. This chapter looks at the film’s representation of today’s extremely complex borders, in society in general and particularly in global cities. As argued in the chapter, the movie constructs different spaces of the city of London as both dividing lines and as borderlands, emphasising the dual nature of borders theorised by border scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Mike Davis and Anthony Cooper and Christopher Rumford. London River is an accurate representation of the complex social networks occurring in large cities all over the world.
The Brazilian diaspora in London as depicted in Henrique Goldman’s Jean Charles
Jean Charles (2009) is the work of London-based Brazilian director Henrique Goldman. It is a free adaptation of the story of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian mistaken for a terror suspect and shot dead by British police in Stockwell tube station in 2005. As well as providing a context to the story of Jean Charles and the making of the film, this chapter focuses on the portrayal of London as a space of work and play for the sizeable Brazilian diaspora (between seventy and one hundred thousand Brazilians live in London), in what, at first, is a veritable celebration of Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilians are depicted as being left to their own devices until post-national forces denominated global terrorism spoil this slice of Brazilian life in London, and Jean Charles is shot dead. At this point the language focus notably shifts to English, and London is transformed. Without the safe haven of their language, the Brazilian characters are quite simply lost. Given the difficulties that Goldman experienced in getting this co-production made, this chapter argues Goldman’s film can be just as much read as an exposé of the trials of South American ‘transnational’ filmmakers working in the UK in general as it is a damning critique of the treatment of immigrants at the hands of the UK authorities.
Interiority, claustrophobia and decadence in cosmopolitan London cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
Kevin M. Flanagan
This chapter identifies and surveys a counterintuitive strand of London films made by non-native filmmakers whose thematic and spatial focus is not on the breadth, freedom and possibility of the public city but rather on its private spaces. These ‘inner space’ films dwell on issues arising from the obsessive over-identification with interior spaces (apartments, flats, studios, workplaces), often to the extent that the central characters forsake the city streets in favour of private worlds of their own making. The chapter traces a cosmopolitan strand of inner space cinema that gels with issues explored by key British writers of the moment, but that very deliberately defines the city from the position of the outsider looking inward. American director Joseph Losey and Hungarian writer George Tabori’s film Secret Ceremony (1968, adapted from a novella by Argentine writer Marco Denevi) explores an obsessive, codependent relationship between mother and surrogate daughter that largely plays out inside Debenham House in Holland Park. The other film explored in depth is Tabori and Losey’s Leo the Last (1970), about the coming-to-political-consciousness of a deposed European aristocrat (Marcello Mastroianni) who is exiled to a West London home and who undergoes a personal transformation based on his gradual engagement with the outside world. Taken together, the films explored in this chapter advance an unconventional notion: the inner spaces of London, as represented and explored by those who look at the city from without, are key sites for dramatising and defining a full understanding of the metropolis. With their attention to issues typically outside the remit of urban experience (small-scale observation, confinement), they provide new windows on a frequently studied moment.
This concluding chapter focuses on Zed Nelson’s 2019 film The Street, filmed in the East London borough of Hackney. The film has a simple project: to track the transformations in inner-city Hoxton Street over the four years of filming. Through this undertaking, Nelson tells a more complicated story than the familiar narrative of the changing built environment of the cinematic city. His achievement is to record a micro-history of the changing street as long-established businesses like Anderson’s the bakers and Lawrence’s the carpet shop close, to be replaced with bars and galleries, in a broader context of the continuing spread of the City of London into adjacent previously working-class areas. Framing the changes in the street within the 2010 coalition government’s austerity project and the 2016 Brexit referendum, Nelson explores, using only the careful editing of his informants’ words, the way in which voting to leave Europe could be understood as a response to the loss of a familiar way of life, a familiar street, to the hipsters and incomers of gentrification. This chapter asserts that the detail of the film’s documentation with the careful contextualisation of so many of its characters is what makes the film vivid and compelling. Individual voices linger on, with their rich registers of emotion and attitude long after the images – and their homes and businesses – have faded. It would be a foolish mistake, however, to understand it as a film which is just about Hoxton Street.
This chapter provides a consideration of London's role in the global film industry and its status as a production centre for Hollywood tentpole blockbusters. It addresses a series of questions: beyond being an impressive piece of genre spectacle, what does this scene have to tell us about the intersecting industrial, political-economic and cultural factors that shape the production of high-budget franchise films in the UK? What are the qualities and affordances of such spatially dynamic set pieces, and how do they relate to questions of industry, genre, aesthetics and politics? And how might we place this brief but impactful action sequence into the histories of London on screen that have been mapped out by scholars such as Charlotte Brunsdon? Paying attention to production histories, marketing, critical reception and textual analysis, the chapter argues that London’s attraction for the Hollywood studios is a complex mix of financial incentives, institutional arrangements and cultural/aesthetic considerations. London offers filmmakers both difference and familiarity, and a layered, versatile mix of spaces that range from generic global city architecture to highly resonant landmarks. The creative topography of the city in the action sequence is mobilised to create what we might term a kind of ersatz cosmopolitanism: a relatively superficial embodiment of global diversity that engages with ‘foreign’ locations primarily as backdrops for action rather than as rich local cultures. As opposed to focusing on an individual visiting filmmaker, this chapter examines the systemic relationship between Hollywood and the UK and considers the cinematic experience of London that arises from the industrial and cultural dynamics of that relationship.
Globalisation is often depicted as the enemy of ordinary citizens and the destroyer of cities. Global London on screen counters this narrative by exploring high points of cosmopolitan and multicultural worldliness on film, while not neglecting the more troubling migratory histories, exclusionist enclaves and criminal connections that often underpin them. Made by visiting filmmakers from all over the world, these films destabilise and confront conceptions of English or British London. They represent a wide variety of periods and genres, from the 1950s to the present day, and from noir and arthouse films to Hollywood blockbusters. Seldom has a group of London films been conceptualised to challenge universalist assumptions about London’s cultural status to outsiders. Steering clear of British localism, Global London on screen embraces the complexities of this nation and of the world’s most famous city.
Engineering the immigrant landscape of Emeric Pressburger’s Miracle in Soho
Jingan MacPherson Young
In this chapter Jingan MacPherson Young historicises the émigré director working in London’s Soho district. The chapter focuses on the film Miracle in Soho (Julian Amyes, 1957) written and co-produced by émigré filmmaker Emeric Pressburger. Miracle in Soho is a rare post-war British film which arranged the social, urban and cultural topography of London’s Soho through the depiction of the immigrant-as-cosmopolitan. Despite the film initially being a failure critically and at the box office, the topographical specificity that is found within Pressburger’s script suggests a fundamental and instinctive understanding of the urban arrangement of Soho’s commercial economies. The chapter asserts that Miracle in Soho provides an underlying criticism for the disorganisation of urban life but through the prism of an isolated locality and its engagement with the city. Does the film’s representation of Soho merely function as a backcloth for staging the Hungarian Jewish filmmaker’s imaginary conceptualisation of a community where ‘Church’ is erected directly opposite ‘Pub’? By placing Miracle in Soho in the historical and social context of post-war Soho, which during this period attempted to rebrand its disreputable pre-war reputation, this chapter uncovers the ways Pressburger's outsider gaze on the metropolis moulded the film’s depiction of the cosmopolitan and commercial locus.
Visitors, cosmopolitans and migratory cinematic visions of a superdiverse city
Keith B. Wagner
This introduction establishes art cinema as the key mode of filmmaking that is analysed in Global London on screen. Rather than cinema telegraphing a city’s domestic and dominant character, its larger-than-life-presence and stereotypical imagery, in this collection many of the films analysed counter this notion. Visitor filmmakers tend to make art cinema–styled films, recognised by their international aesthetic that provides a renewed sense of this global city. These cityscapes honed by filmmakers challenge precise geographical, ethnic and historio-cultural contexts. At their peak, creative worlds in London from 1990 to 2016 corresponded to a high period of media content produced in the capital. One consistent element associated with this boom was British genres, institutions and individuals going global, and this drew significant attention from others from around the world, fans who appreciated the customs, uniqueness and particularity of national specificity that London held as an admirable and fashionable multicultural city. London, therefore, means so very much and so very little to people everywhere, in and outside of the city’s limits. The one consistency regarding this idea of London as a global city is how much it summons a totality about its greatness, inconsequentiality and fallibility, often simultaneously, when it is named.
This chapter complicates the notion of the ‘outsider’ film through an analysis of Black Audio Film Collective’s Twilight City (1989). An essay film about the birth of a new, global London, Twilight City’s central project involves a depiction of London from ‘outside in’. If the nation’s imperial history and its enduring legacies rendered most visibly in form of migration are generally considered to be an ‘outsider’ or external experience in the British context, Twilight City positions these histories as constitutive components of the rise of global London. As such, this is a film that privileges an ‘insider/outsider’ position, one that oscillates in deliberately unsettling ways between the two. The central conceit of the film concerns a daughter who responds to a letter from her mother, who left London for Dominica thirty-five years ago and now longs to return. The film’s structure already poses a complex ‘insider/outsider’ relationship between one who never left and the other who wants to come back after a lengthy period away. Moreover, in utilising archival imagery, inserts of historical monuments and interviews that are interwoven in classic essayistic fashion, Twilight City activates what Homi Bhabha refers to as the ‘past-present’. This chapter argues Twilight City situates itself in exactly this transitional phase by staging a series of entanglements between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ that suggests the impossibility of viewing the city’s global future without consideration of a host of previous ‘Londons’.