Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema

Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema

John Orr
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema
    Book Description:

    In a fresh and invigorating look at British cinema that considers film as an art form among other arts, John Orr takes a critical look at the intriguing relationship between romanticism and modernism that has been much neglected in the study of UK cinema and downplayed in the development of Western cinema. Encompassing a broad selection of films, film-makers and debates, this book brings a fresh perspective to how scholars might understand and interrogate the major traditions that have shaped British cinema history.Covering the period between 1929 and the present, this book examines outstanding directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Carol Reed, Nicholas Roeg, Terence Davies and Bill Douglas, and articulates two genres vital to British cinema - the fugitive film and the trauma film - which bridge the gap between romantic and modern forms. Two detailed chapters also assess the powerful impact of major expatriate directors like Losey, Antonioni, Polanski, Kubrick and Skolimowski on modernism in the 1960s and 1970s. Detailed critical readings explore Blackmail, The Lady Vanishes, Black Narcissus, Odd Man Out, The Passionate Friends, The Innocents, Lawrence of Arabia, The Servant, Blow-Up, A Clockwork Orange, Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man, Moonlighting, the Bill Douglas trilogy and The Long Day Closes. The book concludes with an analysis of the persistence of romantic and modernist forms in the 21st century in two recent prize-winning features, Control and Hunger.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4230-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: romantics versus modernists?
    (pp. 1-4)

    Is there a case for seeing cinema as a contest between ‘romantics’ and ‘modernists’? Yes and no. If there is a clash between romanticism and modernism in what is called ‘British’ cinema – strictly UK cinema if we include Anglo-Irish production in Northern Ireland – it is as much internal as external. There are clusters of romantics and modernists (external): but there are also internal struggles of the soul between romantic and modernist forms of feeling that affect nearly every important filmmaker. Romantic and modernist aesthetics are contrary impulses which inhere in most directors in varying degrees, so that no...

  6. CHAPTER 1 1929: romantics and modernists on the cusp of sound
    (pp. 5-24)

    In the UK, we could say, the silent cinema perishes in its moment of triumph. The five landmark films of the silent era came at the instant of transition to sound in 1929. Let us list them: John Grierson’s documentary of North Sea herring fleets, Drifters, Anthony Asquith’s fugitive narrative, A Cottage on Dartmoor, E. A. Dupont’s racial city drama, Piccadilly, Alfred Hitchcock’s psychosexual melodrama, The Manxman and finally his famous transition to sound, Blackmail, which exists in both silent and talkie versions and whose title, plot-wise, says it all. If we call these films ‘avant-garde’ because they are path-breaking...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The running man: Hitchcock’s fugitives and The Bourne Ultimatum
    (pp. 25-43)

    In the first chapter we looked at the romantic origins of the fugitive film in A Cottage on Dartmoor. In this chapter we go further and examine its central figure, the ‘running man’ in talking pictures. In this let us go back to front. Where today would we find this fugitive figure? The most common answer, in box-office terms, might well be The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – American Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in a film most would think American, but is in part British, made with a partly British crew and a Surrey-born director, Paul Greengrass, who sprang to...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Running man 2: Carol Reed and his contemporaries
    (pp. 44-63)

    Carol Reed makes the same shift as Hitchcock from romance to disenchantment but takes a very different route. He works closely within a mimetic idiom: his films rival those of the Italian neo-realists in the immediate post-war years. Here he is part of a wider movement in which fugitive film is just one dimension, the historic moment of romantic realism in British film, which is over, we could argue, almost as soon as it has begun. Romantic realism has three main components, all variations on the new mimesis. The first is the wartime documentary series of Humphrey Jennings, in particular...

  9. CHAPTER 4 David Lean: the troubled romantic and the end of empire
    (pp. 64-85)

    We have already looked at Lean as a contemporary of Hitchcock and Reed, but of course he was more. It is usual for admirers to make a critical leap from the post-war success of Brief Encounter and the Dickens’ diptych (Great Expectations and Oliver Twist (1948)) to the big-budget location shoots produced by Sam Spiegel, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia, both of which set up Lean as a global figure in the film industry. Within that period, however, and bridging the gap, are three neglected films in which the English stage and film actress...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The trauma film from romantic to modern: A Matter of Life and Death to Don’t Look Now
    (pp. 86-114)

    What is trauma if not, as in the Greek, a kind of wound? Here it is something more – a wound that seldom heals, a wounding of body and soul from which, often, the subject does not recover. Hence the critical formula for the outcome of the trauma picture: at the least, significant damage; at the most, violent death. If film horror often sources the supernatural, film trauma focuses on the fears of the human and natural world. What is out there as waking nightmare in a dangerous world is often a mirror of what is hidden in here, in...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Joseph Losey and Michelangelo Antonioni: the expatriate eye and the parallax view
    (pp. 115-140)

    The expatriate eye is an outsider’s gaze. Usually this means London from the outside looking in, as in The Servant, Repulsion, Bunny Lake, The Deadly Affair, Blow-Up, A Clockwork Orange and Moonlighting. The 1960s was the seminal decade, and 1960s London is now mythical in its status as a cultural magnet for the shock of the new in music, theatre, art, fashion, scandal – and cinema. Classical Hollywood joined in, dashing across the pond and modifying the old rules in the Old World: not only Otto Preminger, but Martin Ritt, Sidney Lumet, William Wyler, Stanley Donen, Joseph Mankiewicz, Stanley Kubrick,...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Expatriate eye 2: Stanley Kubrick and Jerzy Skolimowski
    (pp. 141-163)

    On the face of it Kubrick and Skolimowski are like day and night. The American director had settled in England to film big pictures that revolutionised the genre and indeed cinema itself. He had easy relations with the chief studio executives of MGM and Warner Bros and a large country home in rural Hertfordshire from which he ran pre- and post-production on his projects with the special luxury of the final cut. Located in London, the self-exiled Skolimowski tended to live from hand to mouth, was nomadic like Polanski, and chased money and producers everywhere for independent, on-the-hoof projects. Kubrick...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Terence Davies and Bill Douglas: the poetics of memory
    (pp. 164-179)

    In the latter part of the twentieth century we could argue that two indigenous visions dominate: in Scottish cinema that of Bill Douglas, in English cinema that of Terence Davies. That is to say, they dominate in terms of vision, not in terms of output. Both careers were haunted by failure to realise key projects. Douglas had devoted much of his time to a screen version of James Hogg’s classic Scottish novel The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, for which there exists an extant screenplay but little more; Davies has tried for many years to bankroll a version of Lewis...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion: into the new century
    (pp. 180-184)

    One of the striking features of the new century is that three major UK films to date (June 2009) are identical in two ways. All three are biopics and all are dèbut features by visual artists who have come from outside cinema. They are Douglas Gordon’s Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait (2006), Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) and Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008). Gordon is a famous Scottish installation artist, Corbijn a highly regarded photographer and director of music videos, and McQueen a Turner Prize-winning video artist (Gordon and McQueen are also ardent cinephiles). A third element is common to all three...

  15. Select bibliography
    (pp. 185-188)
  16. Index
    (pp. 189-196)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-198)