The Great Ealing Film Challenge by Keith M. Johnston


The Legions of the Lost: Michael Klinger and the role of the film producer in the British film industry 1960-1980

Framegrab from Repulsion (directed by Roman Polanski and executive produced by Michael Klinger [uncredited], 1965)

During the 1970s, a period of economic decline, admissions to cinemas were down, there was a lack of public investment in the film industry and the Hollywood studios had pulled out of investing in British films. Despite this, Michael Klinger made 13 successful films [including ] Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966)] – he was the only consistently profitable indigenous producer in this decade – yet very little critical acclaim has been given to him. Film studies tends to focus on the director as having the main creative role, yet in the case of Michael Klinger, he was involved in all aspects of film-making, including casting, the writing of the screenplay and editing. [Andrew Spicer

Although Michael Klinger was the most successful independent producer in the 1970s, he has become one of the legions of the lost in British cinema. This occlusion, is symptomatic of the neglect of the producer’s role within British cinema studies (and within Film Studies in general […]), which, in Alexander Walker’s deft formulation, ‘has to be resisted if films are to make sense as an industry that can sometimes create art’ [Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the Sixties, London: Harrap, 1986 [1974]] p. 17). [Andrew Spicer, ‘The Creative Producer – The Michael Klinger Papers’, Paper Given at the University of Stirling Conference, Archives and Auteurs – Filmmakers and their Archives, 2 – 4 September 2009].

Film Studies For Free rushes you news of the announcement that the website for the research project on Michael Klinger and the role of the film producer in the British film industry 1960-1980 is now live. It contains a comprehensive catalogue of the Klinger papers housed at the University of the West of England as well as details about the project, images, selected documents, interviews, events and some excellent, openly accessible publications.

You can read a great overview of Klinger’s life and career here and an informative press release about the initial research project may be found here.

Andrew Spicer, Reader in Cultural History at UWE and the project’s Principal Investigator, and research associate Anthony McKenna would be very pleased to receive any feedback about the site and suggestions as to how it might be developed. They hope it will prove useful and informative and be the spur to other studies of producers. 

FSFF is absolutely certain that this project will be generative of further valuable work on film producers and it hopes its readers will join it in congratulating Spicer and McKenna on such a successful and, just as importantly, successfully shared project.

"Pity we aren’t madder": Ken Russell links in his magnificent memory

“I think we’ve all gone mad” [Jennie Linden as Ursula Brangwen]
“Pity we aren’t madder” [Alan Bates as Rupert Birkin] 
 Scene from Women in Love (Ken Russell, 1969)

An extract from one of Ken Russell’s very first films, Amelia and the Angel (1958) 

Film Studies For Free was saddened to hear of the death yesterday of the magnificent filmmaker Ken Russell. A monumental passing. But what a cinematic life he lived!

Russell’s weirdly, viscerally, brilliant Altered States (1980) was one of the first films genuinely to whet FSFF‘s author’s off-beat cinematic appetite, and his adaptation of Women in Love (excerpted above) and his portraits of Elgar (1962), Delius (1968) and Mahler (1974) are several of her favourite British films.

Below, FSFF has gathered some links to online scholarly studies of Russell’s work, and to related  resources. Readers should also check out David Hudson’s essential collection of tributes to, and other material about, the British filmmaker for the Mubi Notebook here.

      On Bill Douglas, Scottish Cinema and Magical Film Archives

      Film Studies For Free today presents an entry about Bill Douglas, one of the most interesting Scottish filmmakers ever, and a highly likely influence on anyone interesting working in that field today — in FSFF‘s undoubtedly Sassenach view, that would include, inter alia, fine film folk like Lynne Ramsay, Peter Mullan, David MacKenzie, and Gillies MacKinnon (plus, perhaps, the otherwise English Andrea Arnold and Shane Meadows).

      Douglas was known especially for his amazing Trilogy (My Childhood (1972), My Ain Folk (1973), and My Way Home (1978)), as well as for the wonderful 1987 film ComradesBut his lifelong collection of cinema artifacts and memorabilia also went on to form the basis of one of the most significant cinema archives in the world, named after him, at the University of Exeter. The Bill Douglas Centre also looks after one of the most important online and openly accessible cinematic archives, too: Everyone’s Virtual Exhibition (EVE). If you are so inclined, you may very much like to interact with the BDC at Facebook. 

      The particular occasion for this entry is an upcoming symposium on Douglas’s work at the University of Exeter taking place this week on Friday September 23. There are papers from eminent scholars Karen Lury, Andrew Noble, Brian Hoyle, Jonny Murray and Paul Newland and from filmmaker Sean Martin and the BDC’s principal donor, Peter Jewell, on all aspects of Douglas’s work; the Trilogy, Comrades, his unmade scripts, and his collection. There will also be the first ever screening of Charlie Chaplin Lived Here, Bill and Peter’s 8mm film made in 1966. The event is free but please register in advance by email. The full programme of papers is available here.

      FSFF has assembled some great, freely accessible resources below, including links to work on Scottish cinema and also on film archiving. The goodies include a highly informative and clip-filled 2006 documentary “Intent on Getting the Image” about Bill Douglas’s life and career, edited by Stuart Eade and produced and directed by Andy Kimpton-Nye.

      At the very foot of the post is a video about the incredibly valuable work of the Bill Douglas Centre. FSFF salutes you!

      On Bill Douglas’s Films, and related Scottish cinema:

        On Archive and Online Repository Matters, etc.:

        Laughing at Austerity Britain? Ealing Comedy Studies

        The year 1949 was a pretty miserable time in Britain. Postwar austerity was at its height. Many city centres were still largely bomb sites. The cold war was getting chillier. The British film industry was in crisis after the Labour government had imposed a punitive tax on American films, which led to Hollywood studios withholding their product. Then suddenly, in the early summer, three pictures opened on consecutive weeks that together defined what we now know as “the Ealing comedy“. The films got darker and Ealing Studios‘ reputation greater as the month wore on. [Philip French, ‘Whisky Galore – Review’, The Observer, July 31, 2011]

        [Michael] Powell after A Matter of Life and Death gives us three intriguing variations on the trauma picture, in which, intertwined are the central landmarks of British life after 1945: the end of war, the end of empire and the birth of a new consumer age.
               Before that, however, we should note that Ealing comedy of the period inverts the trauma film completely.
               If Ealing Studios produced the keynote Dead of Night, it also produced a triple antithesis in the post-war years: anti-trauma comedy in the form of [Robert] Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and Alexander Mackendrick’s scintillating double act, Whisky Galore (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955). Indeed, the best of Ealing comedy is premised very precisely on this inversion, where what might well be traumatic turns out to be the exact opposite.
               Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets is biting social satire, in which the serial killer, Louis (Dennis Price), as outcast of the family and excluded by the vacuous rich, is more sympathetic than any of his eccentric aristo victims (all played by Alec Guinness). As they fall like ninepins one after the other, we can all have a good laugh and applaud Louis’ elegant cunning. A perfect picture, you could argue, for a new social democracy.
               The wartime Whisky Galore, set on the remote island of Todday (toddy?), also plays on inversion: this time on the fear of occupation – an anti-The Next of Kin (Thorold Dickinson, 1942) or Went the Day Well? In Mackendrick’s film, the fear of invasion is now past but the Scottish island is ‘occupied’ by an English Home Army captain, Waggert (Basil Radford), who has marshalled customs officials to try and prevent the looting of a wrecked cargo ship carrying whisky. It is a comic version of Anglo-Scots antagonism, with its famous montage sequence of the looted alcohol being hidden by the islanders in rain-butts, water tanks, hot-water bottles and under a baby’s cot before bemused officials arrive to discover absolutely nothing. The gradual social exclusion of Waggert from the island has an edge and a cruel streak that prevents any lapse into sentimentality.
               Sentimentality is equally absent from The Ladykillers, where Mackendrick completely inverts the trauma-effects of Gothic expressionism. A motley gang of train robbers posing as a musical ensemble takes lodgings near Kings Cross station to prepare the next heist. At the landlady’s door, the figure of Professor Marcus (Alec Guinness) casts a dark shadow – shades of the opening to The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) – but thereafter the threat becomes internal as the eccentric old landlady ([Katie Johnson]), in her parody of a haunted house, has the gang tearing their hair out in annoyance and frustration at her blithe eccentricities. In Gothic melodrama, we expect villains to terrify, but here they are traumatised to the extent that, when found out, they are prepared to kill off each other rather than kill the ‘harmless’ old landlady. She who should be terrified is oblivious to the threat; those who should terrify show a collective failure of nerve and eliminate each other instead. Gothic melodrama morphs into dark comedy. And Ealing comedy runs happily on in a parallel world to David Lean and Michael Powell. [John Orr, ‘The Trauma Film and British Romantic Cinema 1940-1960’, Senses of Cinema, Issue 51, 2009 ]

        Ealing Studios, the oldest continuously working film studio in the world, is marking its 80th anniversary, according to a couple of enjoyable videos at the Channel 4 and BBC websites. A remarkable achievement, indeed, thinks Film Studies For Free, one of the finest in the history of British cinema.

        Founded in economically austere and politically troubled times, the studios escaped relatively unscathed from the recent riots in London (Ealing was a particularly tragically affected area). They seem set to continue to produce their distinctly transnational brand of cinematic goods for the UK film industry well into the future. 

        The current anniversary of the establishment of the sound stages at Ealing, and a number of other connected anniversaries coming up (e.g. 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the Scottish-American director Alexander Mackendrick’s birth, one of Britain’s greatest, and most undervalued, filmmakers) have felicitously ‘coincided’ with the latest cinematic and DVD release of three of the greatest products of those studios: the Ealing comedies Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton, 1951), and Whisky Galore (Mackendrick, 1949).

        FSFF loves a mildly subversive chuckle from time to time, and is particularly partial, thus, to a good Ealing comedy. So, in fond celebration of that wonderful cycle of movies, below is its little list of links to online studies of those films, as well as to other items of related, scholarly interest.


        PEEPING TOM Studies in Memory of Anna Massey

        Image of Anna Massey in her second film role as Helen in Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

        Film Studies For Free was very sad to hear of the death yesterday of the great British actress Anna Massey at the age of 73. For many years, she rightfully cornered the cinematic and televisual markets in kindly, kooky and/or downright spooky English ladies with lots going on beneath their surface.

        One of her best roles, in FSFF‘s humble opinion, was her BAFTA winning performance as romantic novelist Edith Hope in the 1986 BBC adaptation of Anita Brookner’s novel Hotel du Lac. But her most studied and written about cinematic appearance was her proto-‘final-girl‘ role as Helen Stephens in Powell’s Peeping Tom. So it is to the relatively sparse, but online and openly accessible studies of that film to which FSFF directly links in its little tribute to Massey’s work.

        This is a FILMANALYTICAL / FILM STUDIES FOR FREE video essay by Catherine Grant. It explores some of the obvious, as well as the more obscure, similarities between two films: PEEPING TOM (Michael Powell, 1960) and CODE INCONNU / CODE UNKNOWN (Michael Haneke, 2000). It was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License in June 2010.

        >In Defense of the Arts and Humanities: On Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein (1993)


        In Defense of Philosophy: Derek Jarman‘s Wittgenstein (1993): A discussion at London’s Tate Modern with the film’s producer Tariq Ali and Jonathan Derbyshire, culture editor of the New Statesman on October 22, 2010

        A seminal thinker of the twentieth century, Wittgenstein’s revolutionary ideas have had an impact in disciplines beyond philosophy including psychology, the natural sciences, linguistics, mathematics, logic, art, religion, artificial intelligence and software design.

        Like all right-thinking scholarly blogs, Film Studies For Free has been terribly alarmed by the increasing international attacks on, as well as actual cutbacks to academic Arts and Humanities subjects in the context of the global economic crisis.

        So, today’s posting of the latest film-studies related video published by the Tate Channel is a timely one indeed. In this video, film producer and writer Tariq Ali defends these disciplines at the same time as he celebrates the (more relevant than ever) film work of Derek Jarman, the marvellous British artist who created his best works against the backdrop of similar, short-sighted, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural attacks. 

        If these developments are of concern to you, why not join in with the dialogue about them at a newly launched, campaigning Facebook group DEFEND the ARTS and HUMANITIES? FSFF‘s author will be most pleased to see you sounding off there.

        In the meantime, below are a couple of highly worthwhile scholarly studies of Jarman’s take on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

        >Full Length Feature Films Free Online via BFI and Daily Motion


        Film Studies For Free can’t believe its eyes!!

        The British Film Institute has entered into a partnership with the advertising-supported, video-streaming site Daily Motion to provide access to some of the incredible wealth of films that the BFI has funded and distributed over many years.

        Currently, as of today, the new channel is hosting 47 films of varying lengths, from amazing silents to rare poetic documentaries (like Chris Petit’s Radio On), as well as some incredibly important live action and animated fiction films, including a number of otherwise hard to see works by Terrence Davies and Lotte Reininger.

        A must-visit site and a hugely laudable resource. Thank you BFI.

        >On "England" and "Englishness" in British Cinema and Television


        Updated July 27, 2010
        Image from Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)

        Film Studies For Free was recently very inspired by Nick James’s wonderful overview of the career of Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti for next month’s Sight and Sound magazine. As a huge fan of Cavalcanti’s work, and in particular of his (and Ealing‘s) Went the Day Well? (indeed, FSFF‘s author lives in a English village uncannily like that portrayed in this film), it immediately set about researching a list of links to online scholarly works on the Brazilian filmmaker, only to discover very few openly accessible ones in English (do check out, though, Kristin Thompson and David Cairn‘s essays on Went the Day Well?, and the latter’s other postings on Cavalcanti here, here, here, here, and here).

        FSFF‘s author’s rage at this overall lack of anglophone material (see the photographic evidence above) was eventually sublimated in a different curatorial project, one still connected to themes at the heart of Cavalcanti’s work, and also to some related topics explored in further August 2010 Sight and Sound articles (ones sadly not [yet] online: William Fowler’s ‘Absent authors: Folk in artist film’, and Rob Young’s ‘The pattern under the plough’).

        Anyhow, below you will find the fruit of this inspiration and frustration: a list of links to thoughtful and thought-provoking international scholarship on expressions of “England” and (multifarious) “Englishness” in (mostly) British cinema and television.