Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Movie" vs. British Cinema

The story of Cahiers du cinéma has been generously recounted and mythologized, but there is an important stream of film criticism from the 1960’s that is regrettably much less remembered and discussed today. I’m thinking of Movie magazine, a strong and early example of committed auteur criticism in Great Britain.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been poring over moth-eaten back issues in the library, attempting to piece together a picture of that turbulent film-cultural moment in Britain contemporaneous with the early days of the French New Wave.

* * *

Movie was founded in 1962; it grew out of the film section of an undergraduate magazine called Oxford Opinion. Influenced by Cahiers (or, more precisely, the example of Cahiers), it was nevertheless different in several important ways. Probably because it came out of a British literary-cultural tradition, Movie was less flamboyant, less given to allusion-making, more practical. The writers constructed detailed description of films; they believed in coming to grips with a film through close analysis, by examining its inner workings. Patient mise-en-scène analysis was the cornerstone of their method.

The best-known writers at the magazine in the ‘60s—like Robin Wood, V. F. Perkins, Ian Cameron, and Paul Mayersberg—were all distinct individuals, but it can be said that they broadly shared a certain classicist sensibility: they valued organic unity and harmony of parts in an artwork, and they viewed style as something that is used not gratuitously but instead at the service of content, as a vehicle to create meaning.

Film criticism in Britain in the ‘50s was dominated by Sight and Sound. As Pam Cook points out in The Cinema Book, S&S was not against personal cinema; but it championed only a certain kind of art cinema, primarily European, and it was unsympathetic to Hollywood cinema, which it viewed mostly as industrially manufactured mass-cultural product. As the decade wore on, S&S began supporting the newly-born Free Cinema and its filmmakers (Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson). Some of them even wrote for the magazine. The Free Cinema then gave rise to and became part of the larger British New Wave.

* * *

Movie attacked two kinds of British cinema: first, the British equivalent of “Tradition of Quality” pictures. In an essay on British cinema “by V. F. Perkins on behalf of the editorial board” in the first issue, he tries to account for the “badness of the British films” of the traditional kind:

So how can we explain it? Primarily we would point to the general climate of opinion in Britain, and in particular to the British concept of The Good Film. The traditional British “quality” picture follows a recipe for which the ingredients are: an important and if possible controversial subject (race prejudice, the idiocy/inhumanity of war, the dignity of the individual, etc.); a popular story; a fair representation of all points of view; a resolution which makes the audience “think”; a “cinematic” treatment; lastly, but importantly, a few “personal” idiosyncrasies (in the hope that mouthpieces will thus resemble people).

Movie also took up arms against the British New Wave, whose earnest commitment to social realism (according to Perkins) outstripped its talent for cinema:

… British opinion on the cinema … is concerned mainly with what a director ought to want to do. It is at this point that the beliefs behind the old and the new British films meet. Each is based on a preconception of the sort of film that ought to be made, whether it’s a “good story well told” or a “long, hard look at the well-springs of the human condition as it displays itself in the grind of living.”

* * *

Movie Reader (1972, ed. Ian Cameron) collects the enthusiasms and passions of the magazine in those early years. Drawing from its first 14 issues (1962-1965), the book includes devoted and detailed articles on Hitchcock, Hawks, Preminger, Nick Ray, Losey, Tashlin, and von Sternberg.

Movie’s enthusiasm and taste for Hollywood cinema can be seen in this interesting chart that I’ve taken the liberty of scanning and uploading; it appeared in the first issue of the magazine. (The page is divided into two halves: British cinema is on top and American cinema below.)

* * *

Perkins continues in his British cinema essay:

Given enough money to fill only a smallish piggy bank, a derelict airstrip and a few clips from a silent film, Edgar Ulmer can produce a little miracle, Beyond the Time Barrier. It doesn’t happen in Britain because no-one believes that a film with a title like “Beyond the Time Barrier” or “Fury at Showdown” can possibly be worth making.

But he doesn’t dismiss all British cinema:

Seth Holt’s Taste of Fear trickled by, apparently without being very widely noticed. It was a horror-cum-mystery picture with unaesthetic contents, like a decomposing corpse. And it was indeed, by serious standards, not very good. However we are convinced that, if any hope for the future of British cinema exists in visible form, it comes from Holt’s film rather than from—its only competitor—Reisz’s. To put it simply Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a good film, and we can’t imagine, on its evidence, that Karel Reisz will make a much better one. Taste of Fear is rather a bad film, and we can imagine Seth Holt making a masterpiece. […] What sets it apart from other British pictures? Simply that it reveals time and again a director who can create cinematically, where other directors are content with illustrating their scripts.

According to IMDb, Holt died in 1971 at the age of 48.

* * *

Seduced early by the Nouvelle Vague, I ended up neglecting the British New Wave. Of the few films I’ve seen, I admire Lindsay Anderson’s If, and remember liking (from a long time ago) Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Tony Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I’m looking forward to the Free Cinema 3-DVD collection that’s being released this month.

Your favorite films to come out of the British New Wave? And your thoughts on the ‘movement’?

pic: Cover of the Oshima issue, #17 (1970). For details, please see Robin Wood's bibliography.


Anonymous Marilyn said...

Definitely Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

I would really like to recommend this article by my colleague Roderick Heath on the British Free Cinema:

November 14, 2007 4:09 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Of possibly interest: Richard Armstrong on Reisz and Richardson’s Momma don’t Allow.

November 14, 2007 4:22 PM  
Anonymous dm494 said...

Well, I'd say Lindsay Anderson was the most talented member of the British New Wave: "If..." is a strong piece of work, and the kitchen sink realism of "This Sporting Life" is pretty fierce, thanks to Richard Harris. Tony Richardson, who was apparently a charming man and a good stage director, was also, sad to say, a terrible filmmaker. You have to have read "Tom Jones" to realize what a travesty Richardson's sloppy film is, and his other movies are almost as poorly organized, although a case might be made for "The Entertainer". Reisz is a more puzzling case. Like Anderson, he had a genuine feel for film form, but I find "Morgan!" unwatchable (I don't know how I sat through it), while "The French Lieutenant's Woman" seems like a sterile exercise in artiness. "Saturday Night" is one of the few British New Wave films I have yet to see, so I can't comment on that one. But what kind of reputation does John Schlesinger enjoy these days?

The issue of British film ties in with the accusation the Brits have always labored under, that they are an unvisual people. I wonder if this is fair. There are a decent number of English painters--Gainsborough, Blake, Turner, Constable--and the country also produced Michael Powell, Hitchcock, and Carol Reed, plus directors like Anderson and Reisz. Certainly British filmmaking has become more visually impressive on average. But how many good directors are there in contemporary Britain who "compose" in film rather illustrating scripts in a manner that happens to engage the eye? Frears is obviously dependent on writers (not that that's a bad thing), and so is Richard Eyre, who comes from theater but has developed into a skillful filmmaker. Mike Leigh is a different case, as is Ken Loach. Who does that leave? Jarman? Alan Clarke? Peter Greenaway?

November 14, 2007 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Dm494:

The problem for more visually-minded filmmakers in Britain (as elsewhere) has less to do with 'national temperament' (a dubious concept) than funding/production difficulties. Greenaway and Jarman were comparatively lucky in the 80s, but it is very difficult to get anything vaguely experimental off the ground, since the industry is small and commercially-minded (see the rants on this subject from Terence Davies).

In terms of a historical overview, one should not neglect the artists' co-operative movement of late 60s/70s (analogous to Jonas Mekas's activities in New York), which produced innovative work by the likes of Malcolm Le Grice, Peter Gidal, William Raban, Chris Welsby, etc. Of course, most of their work consisted of 16mm shorts, and was non-narrative in focus. The BFI is starting to release some of it on DVD.

You are right that there has been a dearth of visually-experimental narrative features since the emigration of Greenaway. An interesting exception is Patrick Keiller ('London', 'Robinson in Space'), who takes documentary-style footage and weaves it into a narrative meditation. Another unsung name is Chris Petit, who started promisingly with the austere Wenders-produced 'Radio On' (1979), but was subsequently reduced to television projects.

November 14, 2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

As my own blog indicates, (as well as the British film blog I regularly write for: I love British cinema and frankly I find the British New Wave just as vital and interesting as the French New Wave. I also think it's a shame that British cinema was so unfairly marginalized during the sixties due to shortsighted critics.

I highly recommend searching the archives at for articles, reviews and film clips. You'll find a ton of stuff there covering numerous British New Wave or “Kitchen Sink” era films.

Some of my own favorite British directors from the period are Joseph Losey, Tony Richardson, John Schlesinger, Lindsay Anderson and Bryan Forbes. In all honesty, I think all of their early films are worth watching. A few important favorites not mentioned above include Losey's Eve (1962) and The Servant (which I've written about in some detail), Richardson's pivotal Look Back in Anger (1958) and A Taste of Honey (1961), Schlesinger's Darling (1965) and Billy Liar (1963), Anderson's This Sporting Life (1963) and the entire "Mick Travis " trilogy which started with If.... (I’ve also writing about Anderson a bit as well this year), plus Forbes's The L-Shaped Room (1962) and Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Forbes place in the British New Wave is debatable, but like Marilyn above me, I think his work is worth a look.

I also totally disgaree with dm494 in reagrd to Reisz' Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966), which I happen to think is a really terrific film and well worth viewing.

Jack Clayton is another one of my favorite directors who's work is worth mentioning, even though his film Room at the Top (1959) is probably his only "true" contribution to the British New Wave, I think cases could also be made for his other films like The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and even The Innocents (1961).

This topic is obviously very close to my heart, so sorry for the long-winded response Girish! Hopefully I've offered a few worthwhile suggestions and tips.

As for Britsh filmmakers not being "visual" I can only suggest taking a look at the early work of directors like Losey and Clayton who worked with some of the best cinematographers who've ever picked up a camera - Douglas Slocombe and Freddie Francis.

November 14, 2007 5:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Marilyn, Flickhead, dm494, Anon, and Kimberly. Kimberly--Pl. don't apologize. I'm glad you took the time out to give me those ideas; it's what I was hoping for when I did the post.

I have Patrick Keiller's films on DVD but haven't seen them yet; I've read Le Grice and Gidal's writings (or parts thereof, I should say) but haven't seen much British experimental work.

I saw a fascinating documentary Chris Petit made on Manny Farber in '99 called Negative Space. It featured extensive interviews with Farber and Dave Hickey (whose Air Guitar is a wonderful book!). Speaking of, here's an interesting interview with Hickey in the new issue of The Believer.

November 14, 2007 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Jim Flannery said...

Darn, girish, you just missed the Lux Centre's "Shoot Shoot Shoot" touring program of classic British experimental work last week (Nov. 8&9 in Rochester). Less conveniently, it'll work its way back around to Cinematheque Ontario on the 24&25.

Bay Area folks should know that there's an added screening not on that page, at the SF Art Institute, December 3 at 7:30 (both programs in a 150-minute marathon).

I liked Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, but not nearly as much as Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner or This Sporting Life or the Forbes films mentioned.

If we're getting blobby with the boundaries, I gotta put in a word for Lester's The Bed Sitting Room which is several decades overdue for a home video release in any format.

November 14, 2007 11:53 PM  
Anonymous dm494 said...

Anonymous, I agree with you that the concept of a national character is a dubious one, though I don't think it's entirely bereft of explanatory value.

I'm not sure how commercial the British film industry is, but it can't be as bad as the American: could Davies have made "The Long Day Closes" in Hollywood?

One thing that needs to be recognized about British film is the respect the industry accords writers--they're taken very seriously. That's bound up with the strength of the British literary tradition and it's a good thing, but it also tends to entail a conception of the film director as an interpretive artist, the visual executor of scripts.

November 15, 2007 7:46 AM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

My exposure to British cinema has been unfortunately limited, but I do have the BFI's excellent Free Cinema set, which contains some real unexpected gems. Anderson's early documentary shorts are illuminating, combining a realistic visual aesthetic with a radically independent soundtrack. This is one aspect of these films often overlooked, how the limits of technology for sound-recording led to an interesting exploration of sound/image relationships that at the time was only paralleled in the French New Wave.

Momma Don't Allow is a great film, and its surface realism belies its inner poetic spirit. While appearing to be a simple documentary of partying teens, it digs much deeper than you would think at first, burrowing into the heart of its subject. Those who accuse British cinema of stodgy social realism should watch this one to see what could often be lurking unseen beneath that seeming realism. It's my favorite film from the Free Cinema movement.

Following closely behind is Nigel McIsaac's The Singing Street, a remarkably charming documentary on children's singing games in Scotland. Part of its appeal is the sense that it is capturing a lost, more innocent world, which even then must have been on the verge of disappearing for good in the face of encroaching globalization and the whiting-out of local idiosyncracies. But again, the inventive interplay between soundtrack and image, especially in this film where the sound seems to be the dominant component for once, is top-notch.

November 15, 2007 12:08 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - your interesting research on Movie magazine should probably lead you to V. F. Perkins' remarkable little volume Film as Film, which is still easy to find in used bookstores. I think you're on target about Movie's more Aristotelian tendencies, and Perkins' book is the culmination of that ethos: it's an attempt to identify and categorize cinematic value. I find it way too neat, and it's certainly not the way I want criticism to go, but you have to admire its ambition.

I tend to share the Cahiers/Movie tendency to write off the British New Wave. I do think that Reisz was talented, though his best work (especially the remarkable Who'll Stop the Rain was made outside of the British film industry.

In the 50s and 60s, auteurist writing from France, the US, and the UK shared the assumption that British cinema was unusually artistically barren. These days that just doesn't seem to me to be the case: there's so much exciting British cinema to be excavated, even before the Golden Age of British TV in the 70s and 80s. Of course, it's always easier to look back on choice products of a national cinema than it is to slog through its weekly product as a critic on the beat.

For me, one of the virtues of David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film is that it reversed the auteurist tendency to dismiss British cinema, and gave us valuable new starting points for exploration: Powell (who was not well appreciated when Thomson raved about him in 1976), Hamer, Humphrey Jennings, Thorold Dickinson. New Yorkers will have a chance to check out the amazing Mr. Jennings in an upcoming Anthology Film Archives retro.

November 15, 2007 12:42 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jim -- I discovered over the weekend that those films had just played in Rochester. As a result of which I'm now hooked up with that little experimental cinema group in Rochester that organized those screenings, and I'm looking forward to catching their monthly programs. It's only a modest drive, a little over an hour.

Ed -- You're whetting my appetite for that Free Cinema dvd set that is coming out in a couple of weeks!

Dan -- Zach turned me on to Perkins' Film as Film a year or two ago, and I loved it. In the beginning (before I became accustomed to it) it proved a bit of a dissonant read for me. Perkins' classical values are so strongly foregrounded that all my modernist sympathies were constantly and cavalierly repelled! But once I figured out his 'value system', I was able to continue reading while keeping his biases in perspective. Such an elegant, refined, patient writer...I immediately made a list of must-see films as soon as I finished the book (including Minnelli's The Courtship of Eddie's Father and Preminger's Carmen Jones).

I'm glad you reminded me of the David Thomson book. I don't really know it well (save a few famous entries like the ones on Hawks and Rivette). Despite its many oversights and blind spots, I need to get more familiar with it.

November 15, 2007 8:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dan, I wanted to add that Perkins is pretty sui generis but his 'civilized', careful, patient writing and his favoring of detailed close analyses to draw out cinematic 'meanings' is (for me) echoed a little bit in Gilberto Perez's writing. Perez's collection, The Material Ghost, has got to be one of the great books of movie close readings ever, e.g. an amazing 30-page analysis of Dovzhenko's Earth...and similar pieces on Renoir, Straub/Huillet, Kiarostami, Murnau, etc.

November 15, 2007 9:02 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - thanks for the tip on Perez, whose work I don't know (though I think I met the fellow once or twice in the lobby of the Walter Reade, and found him very pleasant and intelligent).

November 15, 2007 10:21 PM  
Anonymous James R. said...

Is it just me, or is there something at least slightly ironic about that Movie chart classing Hitchcock with the Americans and Losey with the British? (Not to mention those figures who were born neither American nor British.)

November 15, 2007 10:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yeah, that's funny, isn't it? Even though the chart says "directors" (to signal clearly its auteurist values), what they really mean to say is "cinema."

November 15, 2007 11:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

James - the chart was executed in 1962, when Hitchcock was working in the US and Losey in England. Movie was very tuned into the present: it made no secret of wanting to change the direction of British cinema.

November 15, 2007 11:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Movie was very tuned into the present: it made no secret of wanting to change the direction of British cinema."

Yes, this makes perfect sense.

November 15, 2007 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I use to have some of those issues of "Movie" from about 1968 through the early 70s. One of the things that thrilled me was knowing that these guys didn't like Lawrence of Arabia either. (And before anyone tells me to see it again, I have seen Lawrence in three different theatrical release versions.)

Of British films from that era, I finally saw Saturday Night and Sunday Morning a few years ago and liked that. It's been decades since I've seen Reisz's other films. After reading his autobiography, I saw more Richardson, and found Mademoiselle quite interesting. It's also been decades since I saw classic Anderson. Schlesinger's early films hold up fairly well. I've kind of enjoyed Seth Holt's films and am hoping Station Six Sahara finds its way to DVD.

November 16, 2007 2:54 AM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

dm494: I just revisited Lindsay Anderson's "O Lucky Man!" (based on star Malcolm McDowell's experiences as a coffee salesman) and found it even more fascinating and funny than I did in the '70s or '80s or whenever I saw it for the first time.

Girish: Robin Wood's "Personal Views" is one of my favorite books about film, with wonderful essays on some of my most beloved films, including Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" and (if I remember correctly) Ophuls' "Letter From an Unknown Woman." And the first edition Wood's "Hitchock's Films" may have been the first (and one of the most influential) film books I ever read. Found it on a remainder table in some shopping mall bookstore when I was in high school.

If you can get ahold of a March/April 1980 issue of Film Comment I highly recommend Richard T. Jameson's essential essay, "Style vs. 'Style,'" from which I've been quoting recently. In fact, I think I'll ask RTJ if I can post it -- more people need to read it.

November 16, 2007 4:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you can live very well without that mirage, a British New Wave which never was, either new (rather very old) or wave (perhaps a ripple at most). And they do not stand as more than passably boring, well-meaning, realistically intended, flat, very theatrical films. Born old, if not dead, they have aged badly. Reisz', Anderson's, Schlesinger's best films were made much later, and rather American(Who's Stop the Rain, Whales of August, Day of the Locusts). Personally, I'd recommend another diet. Better see the really great (or enjoyable, inventive and even very good) British movies (there have always been a few), made by Humphrey Jennings, Bill Douglas, Michael Powell (sometimes with Emeric Pressburger), Stephen Dwoskin, Alexander Mackendrick, Terence Fisher, Robert Hamer, Basil Wright, Herbert Wilcox, Joseph Losey (born American and American filmmaker until 1952), Alan Clarke, Charles Crichton, Jack Clayton, Basil Dean, Zoltan and Alexander Korda, David Lean, Carol Reed, the early Loach/Frears/Leigh/Hodges and still several others, most unreputed or excessively labelled "American" like Chaplin and Hitchcock.
Congratulations on your always interesting blog,
Miguel Marías

November 16, 2007 7:02 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter -- One Perkins bit I excerpted above on British "tradition of quality" films and their "badness" makes an explicit reference (that I didn't mention) to Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai.

Jim -- You know, I discovered Richard T. Jameson's "Style vs. 'Style'" this year as well! It's a terrific piece, and I'm glad you posted those excerpts from it last night.

Miguel -- Thank you for your thoughts and the useful list of filmmakers. I'm a great admirer of your writings, e.g. at Rouge and Undercurrent.

November 16, 2007 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

I can't believe I forgot to also mention Richard Lester. Like Losey he was American born, but he's often mentioned in the same breath as the British New Wave and often called a British filmmaker. I would personally recommend seeing The Knack ...and How to Get It too.

I don't know if my thoughts or suggestions will add much to the conversation at this point since British cinema still seems to be suffering from the same old criticisms of being old fashioned and visually dull, which would be sad if it wasn't so silly and just plain wrong. It's also obvious that no one's watching much of it, which is too bad.

I've got to ask Peter, why in the world did you pay to see Lean's Lawrence of Arabia three times if you disliked it so much? I'm assuming your multiple viewings must have been work related.

November 16, 2007 1:14 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Miguel - you mention a few directors with whom I'm not familiar. Would you care to tell us a bit about the virtues of Herbert Wilcox and Basil Dean? David Thomson mentions Wilcox in passing in his entry on Anna Neagle, but doesn't make a case for him.

November 16, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

In case no one's mentioned it above, Seth Holt's Taste of Fear occasionally plays on TCM as Scream of Fear, and is worth checking out.

November 16, 2007 3:41 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Kimberly: Hope you've seen some of the Lester interviews on the occasion of the DVD re-release of "Help!" (a criminally undervalued comedy from the word "Hold?"). Here's one from The Times of London.

November 16, 2007 3:52 PM  
Blogger Call Me: The Shamus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 16, 2007 5:43 PM  
Blogger Call Me: The Shamus said...

I wondered if Richard Lester would fit the bill. I would recommend not only his Beatles film, but "The Knack, And How To Get It."

November 16, 2007 5:45 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

How I saw Lawrence of Arabia three times - 1963 when it came to my neighborhood theater, the Coronet, in Evanston, Illinois. Second time was a critics screening in NYC on the occassion of the 10th Anniversary. I found this somewhat shortened version more enjoyable. Third time was the much ballyhood complete version in 70mm with previously deleted footage added, about ten years ago. I figured that as I was getting older, if not more mature, I might be able to see what I was missing in Lawrence as some people really love this film, and I found that there were some other films by Lean I enjoyed. I probably would like Lawrence better if I saw it the way I saw Dr. Zhivago - sipping rum and coke.

November 17, 2007 2:46 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, everyone. I just arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, for an all-working weekend (I'm at a conference) but thanks to my Interweb habit I'm sure I'll pop back up here from time to time. Thank you for all your suggestions.

November 17, 2007 7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan... Truffaut gave British cinema a very unfair bad reputation precisely at the time when views could have changed. Not that I know too many British movies, but such prejudices make me wonder - as if any whole country could be unable to breed great filmmakers, forgetting, by the way, where Chaplin or Hitchcock were born -, so I tried to take a look to as many British movies as I could. Nobody seems to think much, for instance, of Wilcox, but I got to see several on TV, then on VHS and DVD, and I think he is one of the best Brithish filmmakers ever (actually born in Ireland, but that's another question). He formed (since 1932, I think) a curious "auteur" couple with actress (and sometime screenwriter) Anna Neagle, which was a great comedian in all tonalities, and whom he married in 1943 (he died in 1977, still married to her) in what may be the longest-standing collaborative couple in history. He made great films from silents to the '50s, including "They Flew Alone", "Nell Gwyn", "Nurse Edith Cavell", "No, No, Nanette", "Piccadilly Incident", "Elizabeth of Ladymead", "Victoria the Great", "The Lady With the Lamp", "Odette", "Maytime in Mayfair", the "Quiet Man"-related "Trouble in the Glen". I wonder how feminists have not taken a look at "They Flew Alone" and several others, although the may look too British to some palates. Basil Dean was also a director, producer and writer since the silents, "21 Days" seems to me a very good film.
I could have mentioned as well Maurice Elvey ("Hindle Wakes", "The Clairvoyant"), Muriel Box, Alan Curtis, Victor Saville, Compton Bennett, Frank Launder & Sydney Gilliatt, Charles Frend, Ronald Neame, Terence Young, Harry Watt, John Grierson, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, John Gilling, Lionel Jeffries, Peter Ustinov (his "Billy Budd" is a very good film), the prematurely deceased Seth Holt and Michael Reeve. There are certainly very interesting British films, at least since John Stuart Blackton. By the way, I liked the beautifully titled "All the Ships at Sea", but more yet, I'm afraid, your earlier "Honeymoon". How come among so many so-called "indies" your films haven't reached Europe?
Miguel Marías

November 17, 2007 12:52 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

There was recently a substantial series of British New Wave films at the Pacific Film Archive, (including Lester's the Knack and How to Get It, shamus), but I let it slip through my fingers almost entirely. The only program I made it to was a set of Lindsay Anderson shorts, including the truly wonderful Every Day Except Christmas. Of the few on the program I'd seen before, my favorites are if... and the Servant.

November 17, 2007 12:58 PM  
Blogger craig keller. said...

There have been a few exceptions of genius — Hitchcock, Powell, Watkins, and Davies — but Godard's lines from episode 3A of the Histoire(s) always come to mind:

"What I'm asking is, what was the reason why in '40 to '45 there was no resistance cinema? Not that there weren't resistance films on the right, on the left, here and there, but the only film in the cinema sense that resisted the occupation of the cinema, by America, a certain uniform way of making cinema, was an Italian film. It wasn't by accident. Italy was the country that fought least, that suffered greatly, but that twice changed sides, and therefore suffered from loss of identity. And the reason it got back with Rome, Open City was that this film was made by people out of uniform. That was the only time the Russians made films of martyrdom. The Americans made advertisements. The British did what they always do in the cinema — nothing."

It is interesting though — Powell's/Pressburger's war-time films are for the most part very great, but in the context of the contemporary mass-audience they had to be essentially useless beyond providing "a sense of reassurance." Which was maybe, enough, I don't know. But it's interesting to compare and contrast them with, say, Hitchcock's Bon voyage and Aventure malagache.

BTW, there's a substantial Perez piece (runs 31 pages) included in the book that comes with the new Nosferatu release from Masters of Cinema. It's from The Material Ghost in 1998, but I included a lot of stills from the film that illustrate certain points being made in GP's text.


November 17, 2007 1:02 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Tonight (Saturday) on TCM, Tracy Ullman introduces some British films: Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I (1987), a comedy about actors—it was a cult item in the US but is regarded as a minor classic in the UK; John Boulting’s comedy about unions and management, I’m All Right Jack (1959) starring the woefully overlooked Ian Carmichael, with Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers, Richard Attenborough and Margaret Rutherford; and a rare telecast of Ken Loach’s Kes (1969), based on Barry Hines’s book, A Kestral for a Knave, suggested reading at one time in UK schools.

November 17, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger David said...

Craig, I love that quote from Histoire(s) and I'm really glad you posted it in full. But besides wondering what propaganda was ever useful, I'm curious how you think the Powell/Pressburger war films were reassuring. Something like An Airman's Letter to His Mother or the middling The Volunteer, which I couldn't get through, certainly are, but I don't think that The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, which Churchill tried to prevent from being made, and whose only parallel (in my incredibly limited experience) is The Leopard, is reassuring in the last--an elegy (not unlike Rules of the Game) to the morality, propriety, honor, and tradition that must be spent for the sake of winning a war over many of those exact same issues. I'm not saying the film affected the war much, but it's a deeply ambiguous, torn film; to be fair, much more than 49th Parallel, which still, incredibly daring, finds sympathy with the Nazis and pacifists alike, even as one of the latter attacks the former, yelling, "That's for Thomas Mann!"

November 17, 2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Miguel - I'm amazed that you tracked down my movies - I really appreciate it. Neither film has ever been accepted by a major festival, either in Europe or at home in the US. (All the Ships at Sea did show once at a smaller festival in the UK.) I used to hope that European festivals would be more receptive to that sort of filmmaking, but it didn't work out that way.

Thanks for your recommendations of British filmmakers - I'll keep your list in mind. Rereading David Thomson on Anna Neagle, I notice that he doesn't really take the Wilcox films seriously, though he seems a bit smitten with the woman.

November 18, 2007 12:59 AM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

Jim - Thanks for sharing that link to the Lester interview! I really enjoyed it.

Peter - I guess I was somewhat right since I assumed at least one or two viewings had to be job related. Sipping rum and coke would probably make a lot of movies go down easier.

I really think a lot of the bad reputation that the British New Wave has is obviously due to the bad rap it was given by guys like Godard and Truffaut. As much as I admire Godard & Truffaut, I've long had mixed feelings about their critical abilities and the effect that they had on British cinema.

I personally think it's impossible to watch a film like Reiz' Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (which was produced by Tony Richardson) and not be impressed with the films modern story and exterior shots, which were really unlike anything seen in British cinema at the time.

It's also important to keep in mind when watching British cinema made throughout the '60s and '70s that the directors and producers had to deal with the notorious British censor board and they often had a hard time getting their films made the way they wanted to. The original script for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for example was heavily censored and Reiz & Richardson had to fight to get the film made. The British New Wave struggled with these types of restrictions throughout its inception and into the '70s.

November 18, 2007 1:28 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Kimberly: I forgot to mention one other Richard Lester thing: Have you seen Lester's "Juggernaut" (1974), with Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Ian Holm, Freddie Jones, Roy Kinnear, Shirley Knight, Clifton James, Roshan Seth, Cyril Cusack, Michael Hordern, Caroline Mortimer, and Anthony Hopkins? RTJ wrote a great Opening Shot on this almost unheard-of thriller/comedy (at the link above) -- which is available on DVD. And which, now that I'm thinking about it, I may have to watch tonight, for the first time in 20+ years!

November 18, 2007 6:28 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Lester is a fantastic filmmaker--I have a video with The Bed-Sitting Room that has been sitting in my bedroom for years, unwatched. Juggernaut is (like Cuba) a fun, smart, and underappreciated little gem.

But I'm not the only one who's actually a bit put off by The Knack ... and How to Get It, am I? The film left me with a bad taste in my mouth ...

November 18, 2007 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

Jim - I have seen Juggernaut, but it was on late night television and many, many years ago. I should really give it a look on DVD since I've never seen it uncut and I remember laughing a lot. It has an amazing cast, but I can't seem to remember Anthony Hopkins in it at all.

Zach - The humor in The Knack ... and How to Get It is blacker than black, and it seems to turn a lot of people off or just plain confuse them. I personally enjoyed it and I think it's a really amazing looking film, but I would imagine that it won't appeal to everyone. My own favorite Lester film is the fabulous Petulia, but I've never seen The Bed-Sitting Room myself and I really should. It sounds like another funny Lester film with a good cast.

November 19, 2007 2:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Some reading:
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum on Pedro Costa's films in the Chicago Reader.
-- Craig on the frame rates/pulldowns discussion in the comments to the previous post. [scroll way down]
-- The Listening Ear expresses some thoughtful reservations about Akira Kurosawa.

Still in Arizona but heading home tonight.

November 19, 2007 7:53 AM  
Blogger Tucker said...

safe travels girish

November 19, 2007 10:05 AM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Good god it's in the mid-80s in Phoenix. Reminds me of living in LA when it could be 90 on any given day of the year, in June or January. Hurry back to real weather!

November 19, 2007 5:55 PM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

Truffaut claims about british cinema are unfair and it's very unfortunate how he encouraged a lot of laziness from many auteurists that should know better (I actually have a friend who refuses to see Powell's films out of fear that it would force him to reconsidere british movies). That's said it does come from somewhere, if one looks at the half dozen or so national cinemas a cinephile is more likely to have seen a larger number of films from (american, british, italian, french, german, russian, japanese), the british is easily the weakest (and that feeling must have being even stronger from a mid-50's context). Also, one can't ignore how much Truffaut's polemics at the time were driven by local cinema politics; it was easier to contrast american/british cinemas and there's a certain gentility in a good deal of 50's british films that had similarities of french films of the period; the idea that british cinema was so poor next to the vitality of american films certainly had an appeal for someone like him. That said, as Miguel's massage point out there's plenty of good british films waiting to be discovered (and I agree that the british new wave is not the best place to start).

Kimberly, it is not much fair to blame Truffaut or Godard for that, by the time Anderson or Reisz start to direct both barely wrote anymore (Truffaut pretty much only wrote the ocasional positive review promoting some french film that he thought could use his prestige, Godard talked and wrote more but I don't think he cared for those filmmakers enough to bother to dismiss them).

Dan, after years trying to understand how european festivals choose the brazilian films they play, I must say that they really have no criteria. BTW, I also saw Honeymoon and All the Ships at Sea recently and was quite impressed. If you ever direct another one (and I hope you do), you should include a note when sending the tapes to festivals pointing out that your previous films have probably the highest ratio between praise from known critics to little festival showing.

November 20, 2007 12:55 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tucker and Jim -- It was my first trip to the American southwest. Phoenix was bright and sunny and I liked the spartan vegetation and landscape (and the Mexican-influenced cuisine). But the conference was held at one of these new monster "resort hotels" that was so upscale and opulent and reeked of 'privilege' that it was suffocating; for that reason, I was glad to leave.

November 20, 2007 9:28 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Filipe - thanks! I get the feeling that festivals can't afford to care too much about what critics think. They seem to feel pressure to justify their existence with as many connections to real-world, marketable activity as possible.

I wonder if the terrific work done for British TV in the 70s and 80s (which was not recognized internationally until well after that time) would have silenced the critics of British cinema. Until then, Britain never had an obvious period of peak creativity (i.e., Italian neorealism, German silent expressionism, Russian montage) to put it on the world cinema map. (Of course there was the British New Wave, but it became a bit of a punching bag for critics.) Not that good work doesn't happen without this sort of label to hang on it - but critics do tend to notice films more easily when they are part of a recognized movement.

Girish - I once had to rescue a friend of mine from one of those Phoenix resorts (I think it was called the Phoenician), and it was a total nightmare. Too bad, because Arizona is such a beautiful state.

November 20, 2007 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Kimberly said...

Filipe Furtado - You make a point to criticize Truffaut for the way he helped shape opinion about British cinema, and yet point out that it was "unfair" that I did the same? I don't understand your complaint. Cahiers clearly had a rather huge impact on how critics viewed British cinema - including the British New Wave - and it still does. That was my main point.

November 20, 2007 1:46 PM  
Blogger Tucker said...

girish, I've spent a fair amount of time in some of those monster hotel/conference centers. At least once a year work takes me to one of them. Mostly it's awful. The only good part is when I can use the corporate card to get myself a good steak dinner with a quality wine. But I always can't wait to get back home.

November 20, 2007 3:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dan and Tucker -- It's sure good to be back home, even if the forecast calls for snow on Thanksgiving...

Some reading:
-- Dave Kehr has an interesting post on Robert Zemeckis.
-- David Bordwell's Law of the Adolescent Window:

"Between the ages of 13 and 18, a window opens for each of us. The cultural pastimes that attract us then, the ones we find ourselves drawn to and even obsessive about, will always have a powerful hold. We may broaden our tastes as we grow out of those years—we should, anyhow—but the sports, hobbies, books, TV, movies, and music that we loved then we will always love."

and its corollary, the Law of the Midlife/ Latelife Return:

"As we age, and especially after we hit 40, we find it worthwhile to return to the adolescent window. Despite all the changes you’ve undergone, those things are usually as enjoyable as they were then. You may even see more in them than you realized was there. Just as important, you start to realize how the ways you passed your idle hours shaped your view of the world—the way you think and feel, important parts of your very identity."

-- Seymour Chatman on Antonioni in Artforum:

"To an unusual degree, Antonioni’s art is governed by his keen attention to the ground against which he placed his figures. Like the Abstract Expressionists, Antonioni, with his telephoto lens, flattened things against broad surfaces. Particularly in the ’60s, he sought out framing boxes; for instance, to pin Monica Vitti against the wall in L’eclisse and Red Desert. Rothko’s signature bisection of the horizontal dimension (and Barnett Newman’s of the vertical, and Mondrian’s obsession with the whole box) may well have lingered in the filmmaker’s mind. (Antonioni once famously compared his work to Rothko’s, saying that it is “about nothing . . . with precision.”) In L’avventura, he revisited de Chirico, showing Sandro and Claudia fleeing a deserted Sicilian town built in the rectilinear Fascist style ... Like Rothko, Antonioni manipulated saturation, tone, and hue to suggest emotional turbulence.

"For the cinema, Antonioni’s use of color was revolutionary. Unlike Hollywood directors, who got rushed into Technicolor by their studios, Antonioni thought long and hard about it. As early as 1947, he published an article in Film Rivista in which he argued for a very different use of color than that favored in American films, whose saturated hues were accented by the sharp edging of characters and objects. In the spirit of Chagall, he felt that color should range as freely in intensity, arbitrariness, and changeability as a director wished. In a make-believe letter to Samuel Goldwyn, he asked why Veronica Lake’s face shouldn’t be the color of cabbages and Alan Ladd’s that of artichokes. He fantasized reshooting the scene in Double Indemnity in which Fred MacMurray meditates his crime: MacMurray’s cheeks should have been green, and, as he retreats to the shadows, a Gauguinian red should emerge on the wall behind him."

November 21, 2007 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, thanks for linking to that Seymour Chatman article on Antonioni. I just bookmarked it and will return to read it in its entirety soon. His book on Antonioini is one of the best I've read on the subject.

And, hey, I hope you have an enjoyable, relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. (I'm finally going to have a little time to catch up on some films!)

November 21, 2007 8:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Michael--Thanks, and wish you a good Thanksgiving as well.

I was just thinking today that in the 21 years since I moved to the US, the only Turkey Day I spent at home alone was my very first year, when I had just arrived, was reeling from culture shock, and hadn't befriended any Americans yet. But since then, some American family or other has always been kind enough to have me join them.

And I gotta say: turkey+cranberry sauce is nothing short of a chemical marvel!

November 22, 2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi, y'all. I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I had a most lazy weekend, laying about, watching movies, taking it easy. The week begins with a jolt of classes but I'm hoping to scribble out a post in the next couple of days or so. Meanwhile, here's the new issue of Senses of Cinema. Have a good week.

November 25, 2007 8:43 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Thanks for the SoS link. Dan did a great job synopsizing Toronto.

November 26, 2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, he sure did!

Dan (if you're within earshot)--I liked the sheer number of films you covered and gave careful attention to; and the fact that you were able to fold in films you happened to see a bit later as well.

Michael -- I enjoyed the Evening Class post on the 3rd I South Asian film fest in the Bay Area. Were you able to catch any films there? Any favorites?

November 26, 2007 10:40 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Thanks, Michael and Girish. Senses doesn't seem to mind when writers stretch out a bit, which is nice.

November 27, 2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Only had time for one film myself, Lav Diaz's 9-hour Death in the Land of Encantos. Pretty good, one of the best this year, easy, his most assured work yet in this extra long format.

November 27, 2007 6:21 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm not Michael, but I caught three from the 3rd i festival. John and Jane Toll Free was terrific, one of my 'favorite' new documentaries seen all year. Pyaasa (my first Guru Dutt film) was also wonderful despite major problems with the Castro Theatre's projection of this fragile print. Dosar (my first Ghosh film) was visually striking but I fear I lack the cultural context to really understand what was going on narratively that was so interesting. Most of the audience of South Asians seemed to really get into it.

November 28, 2007 4:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, I was halfway through TIFF '06 when I started to hear some heavy good buzz about John & Jane, but it was too late to get a ticket. I've been waiting for it to be released ever since. (I hope it has US distribution.) I've only seen one film by Ghosh, Chokher Bali, which I liked but which didn't blow me away. His new film (with icon Amitabh Bachchan) called The Last Lear, played TIFF this year. Re: South Asian films, I'd recommend watching for anything by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (a quiet and understated contemporary master).

November 28, 2007 8:56 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I'm not Brian but Pyaasa--despite the technical glitches--was beautiful and heartbreaking! I absolutely loved it and felt so blessed to catch the final existing print with English subtitles on the big screen. 3rd i did a great thing as well soft titling the lyrics to the songs.

Dosar, the Companion was sumptuously shot but, man, I found it to be quite the soap opera slog. Not my cup of tea at all.

December 02, 2007 3:53 PM  
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