Cinema of the United Kingdom
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The United Kingdom has been influential in the technological, commercial, and artistic development of cinema and probably second only to the USA in producing the greatest quantity of world-wide film stars. Despite a history of successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity (including economic and cultural issues) and the influences of American and European cinema, although it is fair to say a brief 'golden age' was enjoyed in the 1940s from the studios of J Arthur Rank and Alexander Korda.
Directors include Donald Cammell, Jack Clayton, Alex Cox, Terence Fisher, Terry Gilliam , Peter Greenaway, Alfred Hitchcock, Derek Jarman, Stanley Kubrick, Mike Leigh, Christopher Nolan, Tony Richardson, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, Peter Walker, Michael Winner and Michael Winterbottom.
The release of Derek Jarman'sJubilee (1978) marked the beginning of a successful period of UK art cinema, continuing in the 1980s with film-makers like Peter Greenaway and Sally Potter. Unlike the previous generation of British film makers who had broken into directing and production after careers in the theatre or on television the Art Cinema Directors were mostly the products of Art Schools. Many of these film-makers were championed in their early career by the London Film Makers Cooperative and their work was the subject of detailed theoretical analysis in the journal Screen Education. Peter Greenaway was an early pioneer of the use of computer generated imagery blended with filmed footage and was also one of the first directors to film entirely on high definition video for a cinema release.
With the launch of Channel 4 and its Film on Four commissioning strand Art Cinema was promoted to a wider audience. However the Channel had a sharp change in its commissioning policy in the early nineties and the likes of Jarman and Greenaway were forced to seek European co-production financing. Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg were two other directors whose highly personal visual styles and narrative themes might class them as 'Art Cinema'. They also struggled to finance their productions during the 1990s.
The spread of music videos now means there is a steady demand for emerging talent without the requirements of seeking feature film funding. Julien Temple and John Maybury are two examples of this. Also the widespread acceptance of video art as a form has made it possible for British artists such as Sam Taylor-Wood and Isaac Julien to make film works outside of the demands of cinema exhibition.
The British New Wave
The term British New Wave, or "Kitchen Sink Realism", is used to describe a group of commercial feature films made between 1955 and 1963 which portrayed a more gritty form of social realism than had been seen in British cinema previously. The British New Wave feature films are often associated with a new openness about working class life (e.g. A Taste of Honey, 1961), and previously taboo issues such as abortion and homosexuality (e.g. The Leather Boys, 1964).
The New Wave filmmakers were influenced by the documentary film movement known as "Free Cinema". Free Cinema emerged in the mid-1950s and was named by Lindsay Anderson in 1956. They were also influenced by the Angry Young Men, who were writing plays and literature from the mid-1950s, and the documentary films of everyday life commissioned by the British Post Office, Ministry of Information, and several commercial sponsors such as Ford of Britain, during and after the Second World War.
The films were personal, poetic, imaginative in their use of sound and narration, and featured ordinary working-class people with sympathy and respect. In this respect they were the inheritors of the tradition of Mass Observation and Humphrey Jennings. The 1956 statement of the Free Cinema gives the following precepts: "No film can be too personal. The image speaks. Sounds amplifies and comments. Size is irrelevant. Perfection is not an aim. An attitude means a style. A style means an attitude."
A group of key filmmakers was established around the film magazine Sequence which was founded by Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson who had all made documentary films such as Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas and Richardson's Momma Don't Allow.
Together with future James Bond producer Harry Saltzman, John Osborne and Tony Richardson established the company Woodfall Films to produce their early feature films. These included adaptations of Richardson's stage productions of Look Back in Anger with Richard Burton and The Entertainer with Sir Laurence Olivier. Other significant films in this movement include Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Kind of Loving (1962), and This Sporting Life (1963).
After Richardson's film of Tom Jones became a big hit the group broke up to pursue different interests. The films also made stars out of their leading actors Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Rita Tushingham, Richard Harris and Tom Courtenay.
The 1960s Boom
In the 1960s British studios began to enjoy major success in the international market with a string of films that displayed a more liberated attitude to sex, capitalising on the "swinging London" image propagated by Time magazine. Films like Darling, Alfie, Georgy Girl, and The Knack …and How to Get It all explored this phenomenon, while Blowup, Repulsion and later Women in Love, broke taboos around the portrayal of sex and nudity on screen.
At the same time, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli combined sex with exotic locations, casual violence and self-referential humour in the phenomenally successful James Bond series. The first film Dr. No was a sleeper hit in Britain in 1962, and the second, From Russia with Love (1963), a hit worldwide. By the time of the third film, Goldfinger (1964), the series had become a global phenomenon, reaching its commercial peak with Thunderball the following year.
The series success led to a spy film boom, with The Liquidator (1965), Modesty Blaise (1966), Sebastian (1968) and the Bulldog Drummond spoofs, Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1968) among the results. Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman had also instigated a rival series of more realistic spy films based on the novels of Len Deighton. Michael Caine starred as bespectacled spy Harry Palmer in The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), and the success of these ushered in a cycle of downbeat espionage films in the manner of the novels of John le Carré, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and The Deadly Affair (1966).
Overseas film makers were also attracted to Britain at this time. Polish film maker Roman Polanski made Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966) in London and Northumberland respectively, before attracting the attention of Hollywood. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni filmed Blowup (1966) with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, and François Truffaut directed his only film made outside France, the science fiction parable Fahrenheit 451 in 1966.
American directors were regularly working in London throughout the decade, but several became permanent residents in Britain. Blacklisted in America, Joseph Losey had a significant influence on British cinema in the 60s, particularly with his collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter and leading man Dirk Bogarde, including The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967). Voluntary emigres Stanley Kubrick and Richard Lester were also influential. Lester had major hits with The Knack …and How to Get It (1965), and The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), after which it became standard for each new pop group to have a verité style feature film made about them. Kubrick settled in Hertfordshire in the early 60s and would remain in England for the rest of his career. The special effects team assembled to work on his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey would add significantly to the British industry's importance in this field over the following decades.
The success of these films and others as diverse as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Zulu (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) encouraged American studios to invest significantly in British film production. Major films like Becket (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Khartoum (1966) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) were regularly mounted, while smaller-scale films including Billy Liar (1963), Accident (1967) and Women in Love (1969) were big critical successes. Four of the decade's Academy Award winners for best picture were British productions.
Towards the end of the decade social realism was beginning to make its way back into British films again. Influenced by his work on the Wednesday Play on British television, Ken Loach directed the realistic dramas Poor Cow and Kes.