Post War Film and Television

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Post-war British film production, like other aspects of British post-war culture, built on the experience of producing a consensual national identity during the war. This tendency in British film was epitomized by Ealing productions, which flourished during the early 1950s, with their portrayal of a cosy, middle-class southern English community -much like the Ealing Studios themselves (Barr 1977). For example, Passport To Pimlico (1949) and The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952) revelled in the warmth of the ties in the local community and dealt with outside threats effectively. Hints of a disturbing, psychological/sexual presence had begun to surface at Ealing, for example in the work of Robert Hamer, It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). However, most represented a rather dowdy, realist rendition of the British way of life set in contemporary times. More challenging were the works of British film-makers Powell and Pressburger, including A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and Red Shoes (1948), which were outside this reassuring, realist tradition and dealt, in full colour, with themes of sexuality and desire. However, they did not offer available glamour for emulation, as Hollywood films of the same period did.

Challenged by the popularity of television, Hollywood strove to create greater spectacles for enlarged cinema screens. The British cinema attendance peaked in 1946 with 31.4 million visits per week, but then entered a steady decline, with 25.2 million weekly visits in 1952 and 9.6 million by 1960 (Hiley 1999: 46). One of the most popular and the most spectacular American genres of the post-war era was the Hollywood musical. Television had made an impact earlier in America, and so the industry responded to the threat with the production of fuller-colour, wide-screen extravaganzas. Colour was gradually introduced during the 1940s and 1950s, although not universal until the 1960s (Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson 1988). CinemaScope was introduced in 1953, beginning with The Robe and How To Marry A Millionaire. This involved using an anamorphic lens that widened the image and gave the impression of three dimensions. Other methods for projecting the film in wider format followed, in the form of VistaVision in 1954 and

Todd-AO in 1955. My mother recalled spectacular musicals like An American in Paris (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), Oklahoma (1955) (the first film to be produced in Todd-AO), and Carousel (1956) and The King and I (1956) (the first two films to be produced using the improved CinemaScope 55 process) as the most enjoyable and popular after the war. The huge images on the spectacular screen and improved sound systems were fantastic compared to the variety shows on offer in Newcastle at the time. An American in Paris was one of MGM's first colour productions; designed by Cedric Gibbons, it won an Oscar for Best Film. The lavish sets and complex dance routines of Gene Kelly were far more attractive and alluring than the worthy displays of Ealing Cinema. When glamorous British stars were created and enjoyed popular acceptance, as was the case with Diana Dors, she emulated an established Hollywood ideal of the attractive and available woman. In both Good Time Girl (1948) and Dance Hall (1950) she represented the Rank Charm School's bad girl (Street 1997: 134-5).2

Beyond the musical other American genres that exploited special effects to increase their impact included film noir, science fiction and horror, which dominated British cinema screens during the 1950s. Apart from films created for the mainstream, a new type of film made for a younger audience had a major impact in Britain and on definitions of glamour for the teenager. For example, The Wild One (1953), starring Marlon Brando, was based on a real-life but exaggerated event when a gang of motorcyclists invaded the small town of Hollister on 4 July 1947. The same sense of post-war teenage alienation was portrayed in East of Eden (1954) and Rebel Without A Cause (1955), both starring James Dean, and Rock Around the Clock, released in Britain in 1956. Further examples of youthful rebellion included Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock - the continued presence and popularity of Hollywood was a problem for the British authorities, who sustained pre-war attempts to control the exhibition of American film and groom a home-grown industry. This was marginally successful during the following decade, when London became the centre of youth fashion and glamour, overshadowing Hollywood for a brief window of time.

The cultural leadership of glamour passed briefly to Britain during the mid- 1960s. This leadership was reinforced by popular film and reworked American themes of teenage rebellion and black music. For example, the figure of government secret agent James Bond underwent an important shift in meaning from the 1950s to the 1960s. When Ian Fleming's novels were first published and serialized in the 1950s he was constructed as a Cold War hero. The Daily Express ran extracts of

From Russia with Love in 1957, when his struggles with the shady powers of communism behind the iron curtain were fully dramatized. The first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1961, when the Cold War scenario was still dominant. However, the heterosexual interest of the Bond figure also formed an important part of the narrative with Ursula Andress emerging from the sea like a Renaissance Venus, in a daring bikini. By the mid-1960s interviews with Sean Connery in men's magazines, particularly Playboy, constructed him as the hero of a new cultural revolution in Britain. As Tony Bennett has argued: 'The Cold War inscription that was dominant in the 1950s, for example, rapidly gave way, in the early 1960s, to Bond's inscription within a new discourse of modernity as the most prominent fictional embodiment of a new image of cultural and political leadership constructed by the media's projection of a rising generation of public figures as a new talent-based, classless, untraditional, anti-Establishment elite destined to lead Britain into the modern age' (1982: 13). The glamour of the James Bond figure appealed particularly to young males. The British toy manufacturer, Dinky, produced its best-seller James Bond car with bullet-proof window shield, ejector seat, revolving number plates and retractable guns at the front. A popular set of bubblegum cards were also bought, collected and swapped avidly by schoolboys. The films also influenced clothing and behaviour: when my husband first travelled on his own at the age of 16 he bought Kent cigarettes to mimic his hero, James Bond. The suavely dressed Bond, driving around glamorous European locations in his Aston Martin DB5, was a great fantasy figure for an apprentice fitter. The clothing worn by Bond, handmade shoes and dinner jackets, was a stark contrast to the male working-class reality of early British 1960s realist cinema, including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

A new powerful and sexually charged feminine identity was constructed in a new wave of British cinema that began to make an impact from the early 1960s with films such as A Taste of Honey (1961). As Christine Geraghty has argued, changing social mores, particularly exemplified by the Profumo affair and the subsequent Denning Report of 1963, acknowledged the sexual power of young women, in this case to cause the demise of a cabinet minister (1997). British films such as Darling (1964) and Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (1967) centred around the lives of young, sexually attractive women as consumers in the heady context of Swinging London. This image was reinforced by the popularity of The Beatles on both sides of the Atlantic. Their first film, A Hard Day's Night, was released in 1964. Its black-and-white form and mix of documentary and fiction directed by Dick Lester was distinctive at the time. I remember seeing it upon release in Newcastle and feeling excited by the sheer cheek and irreverence of the four longhaired, working-class lads.

This image of London as the centre of young glamour, underpinned by a new sense of powerful, female sexuality, was to also permeate popular television series, particularly 'The Avengers'. Produced during 1961-1969, it is recorded as the 'highest grossing British television export ever', broadcast in 120 countries (T. Miller 1997: 5). The fantasy spy series was immensely popular in Britain, spending 103 weeks in the Top Twenty series between the years of its production. The sexual tension lay between Patrick MacNee as John Steed in the British upper-class, traditional male dress of black bowler hat, rolled-up umbrella and three-piece suit with camel overcoat and the direct contrast of the black leather and fetishist-inspired clothing of his female partners, played by Honor Blackman and then Diana Rigg. The hint of black leather and sado-masochism again reinforced the sexual power of the female leads, reasserting glamour as a mysterious and highly-charged energy.

At this point in time the American film industry was in considerable decline, as television took audiences away from the cinema in its home and overseas markets. The studios were still controlled by the pre-war greats, and new ideas for productions were not realized until the revolution that began with the independent blockbuster, Easy Rider, in 1969.

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