The Great Ealing Film Challenge by Keith M. Johnston


Free Sample Chapters from 50+ New Palgrave Macmillan/BFI Film and TV Books

Professor Jon Lewis of Oregon State University on his BFI Film Classics book on The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972). See the 41 page sample from this book linked to below.

Once again, Film Studies For Free celebrates the fabulous, free, Film and Television Studies book samples available for perusal and download at the Palgrave Macmillan website. 
These are not properly Open Access works, but this blog chooses not to be purist when there are some amazingly generous PDF excerpts — from soon-to-be as well as recently published works — available online by scholars of the renown of those listed below. Thanks to the British Film Institute and Palgrave Macmillan! For an earlier list of great, free Palgrave Macmillan/BFI excerpts linked to at FSFF, click here.
      BFI Film Classics: 

      "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.

          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.

          Memory Screens: New Issue of IMAGE AND NARRATIVE

          Frame grab from 1975 (Shaun Wilson, version 1 (2005), DV as single channel DVD, colour, sound, 5mins). Visit Shaun Wilson‘s website here and read his article about ‘home movies’ here

          The concept of memory screens is an overarching term exploring the relationship between forms of media, viewers, practitioners and memory. The notion of memory screens alludes to the ways in which memories become remembered, layered, forgotten and transformed. The range of articles in this volume reflects the relationship between memory and history, both public and personal. [‘Thematic Cluster: Introduction’ by Teresa Forde]

          Film Studies For Free continues to be impressed by the excellence of the online journal Image and Narrative which has recently published a special issue entitled Memory Screens.

          FSFF particularly appreciated film and video artist Shaun Wilson’s essay on the art of vintage home movies, Jenny Chamarette’s study of the dynamics of the ‘spectre’ or ‘spectral body’ of the auteurist figure of Agnès Varda, Peter Kravanja’s exploration of narrative contingencies in Rohmer and Akerman and Teresa Forde and Erin Bell‘s discussions of memory and British television. But this is a very high quality issue throughout and, as always at I and N, particularly characterised by the thoughtful integration of close analysis and film and moving image theory.

          Image and Narrative, Vol 12, No 2 (2011): Memory Screens

          Table of Contents

          • ‘Thematic Cluster: Introduction’ by Teresa Forde ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Remixing Memory through Home Movies’ by Shaun Wilson ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Video Installation, Memory and Storytelling: the viewer as narrator’ by Diane Charleson ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Spectral bodies, temporalised spaces: Agnès Varda’s motile gestures of mourning and memorial’ by Jenny Chamarette ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Television and memory: history programming and contemporary identities’ by Erin Bell ABSTRACTPDF
          • ‘Television Dramas as Memory Screens’ by Teresa Forde ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘The Lives of Others: re-remembering the German Democratic Republic’  by Margaret Montgomerie and Anne- Kathrin Reck ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Nostalgic [re]remembering: film fan cultures and the affective reiteration of popular film histories’ by Nathan Hunt ABSTRACT PDF

          Various Articles

          • ‘Cinema, Contingencies, Metaphysics’ by Peter Kravanja ABSTRACT PDF

          Review Articles

          • Hillary Chute’s Ambivalent Idiom of Witness’ by Charlotte Pylyser  ABSTRACT PDF
          • ‘Naissances de la bande dessinée de William Hogarth à Winsor McCay’ by Pascal Lefèvre ABSTRACT PDF