Jeffrey Richards and Anthony Aldgate / “Feature Film and the Historian” / British Cinema and Society / 1983

Gracie Fields.

[This introduction briefly summarizes film studies historiography, and argues for applying new historicist methodology to film] In the 1960s, historians began to use film. Newsreel and documentary. But, those did not represent “reality,” as often was assumed: productions were highly selective and controlled. Raymond Durgnat: “Far from being progressive, these films are, in spirit, just what they were intended to be: literally speaking, commercials for the EMB or the GPO or any other part of the Establishment, and therefore the status quo of– of all periods– the Thirties.” The real value of the documentary movement was as a training ground for directors who made features during war, bringing patina of realism to fictional films. Feature films seen and enjoyed by the bulk of cinema-goers, and received least attention from historians [this was written 1993]. 1960s auteur theory argued for single artistic vision in film-making, assigned to director, as part of desire to confer autistic respectability to film. Commercial films are more often artefact or product than art, and because of this, more useful to social historian. Films of Gracie Fields more valuable to social historian than W.H. Auden poems, or Virginia Woolf novels. 1970s, structuralism and semiology up, influenced film critics, mix of avant-garde English lit studies, France, Marxist ideology, linguistics, and psychoanalysis for conceptual approach.

Reaction against this, and intention of this book, is to find inspiration and methodology in history. “This development comes not from France but from the United States of America, finding its inspiration…[in the] real world.” Emphasize context of film production.


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