British Cinema of the 1950s: A Celebration

By Ian MacKillop; Neil Sinyard | Go to book overview

Raymond Durgnat and
A Mirror for England

ROBERT MURPHY

If clearly marked personal style is one's criterion of interest, then few British films reward the concern given to such directors as, say, Dreyer, Buñuel, Franju and Renoir. But other criteria of interest exist, whereby many of the subtlest meanings behind a personal style may be related to the collective vision of a particular tradition, period, background or `school'. It's logical and usual to consider even impersonal and anonymous artworks as an expression of a general consensus (A Mirror for England, p. 4). 1

RAYMOND DURGNAT' S A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence, which deals extensively with British films of the 1950s, was written in the mid-1960s and was published in 1970. Given the shifts in attitudes over the past thirty years in society generally as well as in the little world of film studies one might expect the judgments expressed there, the choices of what is important, to have become dated and irrelevant. If one reads Roy Armes's A Critical History of British Cinema, which was published in 1978, one is propelled into a time warp where academics with long hair wore tank tops and flared jeans, and had posters of La Hora de los Hornos on their walls. Armes draws inspiration from a deadly cocktail of Althusserian Marxism and the languid snobbery of C. A. Lejeune to take to task an industry which `has never created an adequate working

____________________
Raymond Durgnat died in June 2002 at the age of 69. The Australian online journal Senses of Cinema devoted a substantial part of its June issue to a Festschrift planned to honour his seventieth birthday .

I am Professor in Film Studies at De Montfort University. My first teaching experience was a one-term class at Morley College in Lambeth on British cinema in the 1940s. The students were refreshingly enthusiastic and most of them enrolled for a second term on British cinema in the 1950s. Unfortunately this was a period I was weak on and I will remain eternally grateful to one of the students Richard Dacre, who runs the Flashbacks shop in Soho who agreed to teach it with me; and to Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England which proved to be a mine of useful and inspiring information about a period of British cinema no one else seemed to take seriously. My most recent book is British Cinema and the Second World War (Continuum, 2000). Robert Murphy.

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