I've been reading a lot about cinema during the war years and had a BRILLIANT idea of presenting a weekly series of films that I've been watching. Problem is my lap top has gone skewiffy and I can't insert YouTube clips from the iPad. So I'm going to have to do it at work during my lunch break, which may not actually be possible. Anyway, here's a sample of what's to come...
Now I'm simply crazy about old movies. And I love to read about the war years. So when it came to watching old movies it simply wasn't enough to just watch the darned things, I needed to research to find out about what it was I was seeing. As with the I'll fated History of the Thriller project (Abandoned. The Cold War did me in) my watching has outstripped my reading and each book I read just generates an even longer list of films to watch. We have hundreds of DVDs but there are always more on my list!
I started with Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War (note - please feel free to buy me any of these titles!) It examined key films made in Britain during the war in pertinent genres and the relationship of studios and film makers with the Ministry of Information. Through this I discovered that I love George Formby, the peculiar approach to documentary film making (where non actors re enacted loosely scripted scenes) and that Gainsborough melodramas are an absolute hoot. It also made propaganda look like a pretty good thing, using cinema as a way of uniting a nation.
I then read We Can Take It: Britain and the Memory of the Second World War. Which, in part, looked at how cinema has shaped our understanding of the war. I realized things were starting to get out of hand when it started talking about depiction of WW2 in post war years. Needless to say, my list of films was getting pretty long! To get some perspective I read The World War Two Combat Film, an excellent little number that sadly stops pre Saving Private Ryan. It is a very readable survey of how the key features of the genre are adapted for each generation and each conflict.
For a look at things across the pond I tackled When Hollywood Went to War, which discusses many of the same films as the combat book, but from an appreciation of the film as propaganda, often with quite different conclusions. I may be naive but Britain seemed far more unified. Hollywood, in contrast, was simply interested in making a buck. Here the notion of propaganda becomes infinitely more troublesome and dubious. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. These days we automatically view the term with some suspicion, with shades of Big Brother. But I think there's much to be said about its ability to unite a community and help them deal with a common situation. Anyway, still thinking about this one...
I love cartoons so I was always going to end up looking at them in wartime. Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films 1939-1945 is a rare gem. Almost as rare as the cartoons themselves. With their loaded political content these shorts are rarely screened these days - through both incidental and overt censorship (what's known as the Censored 11). It's these that I'm keen to show you. It's important these important pieces of history don't disappear. Yes, they're racist. Yes, they present views that are considered abhorrent today. But they are products of their time and need to be appreciated as such. You can't white wash the past. And some of them are just damned funny.
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