Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
British Genres

British Genres: Cinema and Society, 1930-1960

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 592
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    British Genres
    Book Description:

    In this unprecedented survey of British cinema from the 1930s to the New Wave of the 1960s, Marcia Landy explores how cinematic representation and social history converge. Landy focuses on the genre film, a product of British mass culture often dismissed by critics as "unrealistic," showing that in England such cinema subtly dramatized unresolved cultural conflicts and was, in fact, more popular than critics have claimed. Her discussion covers hundreds of works--including historical films, films of empire, war films, melodrama, comedy, science-fiction, horror, and social problem films--and reveals their relation to changing attitudes toward class, race, national identity, sexuality, and gender. Landy begins by describing the status and value of genre theory, then provides a history of British film production that illuminates the politics and personalities connected with the major studios. In vivid accounts of the films within each genre, she analyzes styles, codes, and conventions to show how the films negotiate history, fantasy, and lived experience. Throughout Landy creates a dynamic sense of genre and of how the genres shape, not merely reflect, cultural conflicts.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6218-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Author’s Note
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-22)

    THIS BOOK is a study of British cinema and its relationship to British society through an examination of feature films produced between 1930 and 1960. The justification for writing a book on British cinema is made more easily today than it would have been a decade ago. Critics have recognized that an important part of cinema history has been overlooked and misrepresented. In an effort to correct the distortions and silences surrounding British cinema history, scholars have undertaken a reexamination of all phases of the British film apparatus: the relationships between British and American producers, the character and nature of...

  7. CHAPTER ONE British Cinema History
    (pp. 23-52)

    HISTORIES of British cinema have emphasized the fluctuating fortunes of the industry, often at the expense of its achievements. After early successes in the area of technology, the cinema was beset by a number of problems: inadequate confidence in the industry, weak incentives for investment, and American hegemony after the Great War. The cinema in Britain began as an artisanal form of production which expanded unimpeded by large financial interests. As Michael Chanan says, initially “cinematography was more than a means of mechanical reproduction. In creating so suddenly a huge and hungry following, the primary characteristic of the film, in...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Historical Film
    (pp. 53-96)

    THE HISTORICAL film is a major British genre. FromThe Private Life of Henry VIII(1933) toGandhi(1982), this genre has been popular and often financially lucrative. It has served to dramatize myths of national identity, monarchy, empire, personal heroism, and consensus. It has also served to call these same myths into question. The genre has not received the same critical attention accorded to other genres, but like other genres, the historical film has a specific identity and employs a number of conventions and codes that define its character. These films take history as their subject, foregrounding it conspicuously...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Empire, War, and Espionage Films
    (pp. 97-139)

    FILMS that celebtate patriotism and myths of national identity are a staple of most national cinemas. The American western and the Japanese samurai film are probably the most enduring of the genres that enact the establishment of law, order, and community. These “genres of order” are characterized by the presence of “an individual male protagonist, generally a redeemer figure, who is the focus of dramatic conflicts within a setting of contested space. As such, the hero mediates conflicts inherent within his milieu. Conflicts within these genres are externalized, translated into violence, and usually resolved through the elimination of some threat...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The War Film in War and Peace
    (pp. 140-188)

    WAR FILMS are a fertile source of information not only about official attitudes toward the war but also about underlying anxieties and contradictions created by wartime conditions. In discussing the Hollywood war film, Dana Polan has argued that a too rigid separation between the war film and the postwar cinema obscures the fact that the war films, while working to create a sense of collectivity and unity, contain signs of the breakdown of classic representations: “With the war, narrative finds a solution to the problems of representing history in a coherent frameworkwhilediscovering that it can do so only...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Woman’s Film
    (pp. 189-236)

    MELODRAMA is a major genre in the British cinema, and, like its Hollywood counterpart, it provides a significant index to cultural aspirations, dreams, and fantasies. Although for purposes of narrative classification melodrama can be distinguished from war films, films of empire, horror films, and social problem films, there is a sense in which it is intrinsic to all these genres. In its moral polarities, its preoccupation with sentiment, its focus on violence and spectacles of suffering and vindication, and especially its translation of public conflicts into the language of individual struggle, melodrama constitutes a worldview which encodes the transformation from...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Tragic Melodramas
    (pp. 237-284)

    MELODRAMAS that center on male conflicts are more numerous than women’s films, and the British cinema’s output of these tragic melodramas has been especially prolific. The distinction between women’s films and tragic melodramas can be determined by the ways in which female or male protagonists are positioned in the narrative, especially in relation to action or affect, power or impotence, and, most importantly, authority. However, the problem of deciphering the treatment of sexual difference is not so simple. It is necessary to uncover the specific ways in which the films center, de-center, or “pseudocenter” male and female experience. For example,...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Family Melodramas
    (pp. 285-328)

    IN ONE SENSE, most of the films I have considered in the chapters on the woman’s film and the tragic melodrama are family melodramas, since the problematic of home and the nuclear family haunts the narratives. For purposes of distinguishing the relative emphasis on female and male identity, differences in male and female point of view, I separated the woman’s film and the tragic melodrama from films that isolate issues of family succession, legitimacy, and continuity. The films discussed in this chapter focus overtly on the family as an institution, and tend to subordinate individual conflict to the maintenance of...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Film Comedies
    (pp. 329-387)

    AS A MAJOR genre in the British cinema, comedy is represented in a variety of forms: romantic comedies, comedian films, musicals, genre parodies, comedies of manners, family comedies, and satires. Though this genre is a staple of British cinema, and though production of comedy films continued unabated from the 1930s through the 1950s, there are few studies devoted solely to the subject aside from certain studies of British comedy stars, the influence of the music hall on the cinema, and studies of the Ealing films. The low esteem in which British cinema has been held, the predilection for the realist...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. CHAPTER NINE Horror and Science Fiction
    (pp. 388-431)

    IN THE STUDY of genie, horror films have, until very recently, suffered in comparison to other genres. Their stylization, seeming preoccupation with a psychic—not overtly social—landscape, popularity with audiences, roots in mass culture, and focus on violence had served to dismiss them from serious consideration. One of the earliest critics to read the horror film as expressive of profound cultural malaise was Siegfried Kracauer in hisFrom Caligari to Hitler, an examination of the social and political significance of the popular German cinema from a psychological perspective.¹ Such horror films asThe Student of Prague(1913 and 1926),...

  17. CHAPTER TEN The Social Problem Film
    (pp. 432-482)

    THE POST-WORLD WAR II era saw the development and popularization of the British social problem film. The social problem film was directed toward the dramatization of topical social issues—capital punishment, prison life, juvenile delinquency, poverty, marital conflict, family tension, and, to a lesser degree, racism. Unlike the prewar genres—films of empire, comedies, and melodramas—these films were eclectic in nature, fusing melodrama, docudrama, and social realism. According to Peter Roffman and Jim Purdy, “The problem film combines social analysis and dramatic conflict within a coherent narrative structure. Social content is transformed into dramatic events and movie narrative adapted...

    (pp. 483-486)

    A NEW LOOK at British cinema through the lens of genre challenges long-held prejudices: that the British cinema was not a popular cinema, that it was a monolithic instrument of upper-class ideology, that it made no contact with history, that it was a cinema of repression, that it was inferior to Hollywood genres, and, above all, that it offered little in the way of pleasure. Ironically, although the British discovered their cinema only recently, Hollywood discovered it decades ago. In raiding British studios for actors, in emulating British historical and adventure films, and later in capitalizing on the immense popularity...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 487-502)
  20. Filmography
    (pp. 503-520)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 521-534)
  22. Index
    (pp. 535-553)