Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945: Reading between the Frames

Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945: Reading between the Frames

Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945: Reading between the Frames

Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945: Reading between the Frames


Literature, Cinema, and Politics, 1930-1945 is a detailed study of the relationship between politics, literature, and cinema in the 1930s, tracing the unfolding narrative between 1920s cinematic modernism and postwar cinematic neorealism.

The volume explores the rise and fall of a distinct genre of politically committed cinematic literature, which merged high literature with popular narrative and film. It discusses working-class communist novelists and the Auden generation; examines avant-garde Soviet and German Expressionist cinema alongside John Grierson's British documentary movement; and takes a close look at popular British cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. Throughout the book interrogates the genre it simultaneously maps, drawing on cultural theories from the 1920s on to investigate the vibrant crossover between cinema and literature.


The 1930s was a decade as black and white as it was red. When left-wing writers were not observing the working classes in the north of England or fighting on their behalf in Spain, they were side by side with them in the picture palaces, glorying in the black-and-white shadows projected onto the flickering screen. Often, as with Christopher Isherwood, who took a turn as a camera while frequenting the Berlin slums, the two went together. Isherwood, W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender brought home from Berlin a commitment to socialism and a love of avant-garde German and Russian film. Both passions fitted comfortably into late 1930s London, home of May Day demonstrations, vehement anti-fascism and one of the most enthusiastic cinema-going publics in Europe.

It was also a decade of movement. While George Orwell rushed from Paris to London to Wigan to Spain, Auden was dashing round Berlin, Iceland and China, furiously snapping his Leica camera along the way. J. B. Priestley covered the whole of England, and crew from the peoplewatching group Mass-Observation followed the Bolton workers to the seaside to dizzy themselves on the rollercoaster. Wherever they were, 1930s writers were accompanied by the rhythm of the cinema, which defined and was defined by the rhythm of the modern metropolis. For the intellectual Left, the movement of this popular art form came to seem symbolic of its power to shock. Its fast contrasts were ideally suited for mimicking the painfully abrupt contrasts of the capitalist city; its flickering sensual overload brought the potential for a radical appropriation of distracted spectatorship.

This book reads between the frames of 1930s literature and cinema, exploring the politics of the engagement (or entanglement) of the two media. The 1930s and 1940s saw the birth and death of a tradition of politically committed filmic British writing which overtly aligned . . .

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