14

New Cinemas in Britain and
the English-Speaking Commonwealth

14.1 Part of the futuristic "Everytown" set in Things to Come (William Cameron Menzies, 1936).


GREAT BRITAIN

Postwar British Cinema and Its Context

While the French were experiencing the New Wave, the British were enjoying a film renaissance of their own. Before World War II, Britain had produced a vastly important contribution to documentary cinema in the government-funded work of John Grierson (see Chapter 9) and his protégés Alberto Cavalcanti (1897-1982)—Coalface, 1935; Paul Rotha (1907-84)—Shipyard and The Face of Britain, both 1935; Basil Wright (1907—87)—the four-part Song of Ceylon, 1934, and Children at School, 1937); Arthur Elton (b. 1906) and Edgar Anstey (1907-87)—Housing Problems, 1937; Stuart Legg (b. 1910)—BBC—The Voice of Britain, 1935; Harry Watt (1906—87)—Night Mail, codirected with Wright, 1936, and The North Sea, 1938; and Humphrey Jennings (1907-50)— Spring Offensive, 1939. All of these directors had trained under Grierson in 1933 at the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit, which had succeeded the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) Film Unit. It was renamed the Crown Film Unit in 1940 and became part of the Ministry of Information (MOI).

During the war, the Crown Film Unit moved toward a blending of narrative and documentary form in such films as Watt's London Can Take It (1940) and Target for Tonight (1941); Jenning's Heart of Britain (1941), Words for Battle (1941), Listen to Britain (1941), and Fires Were Started (1943); and Pat Jackson's Western Approaches (1944; Technicolor). Meanwhile the commercial industry produced quasidocumentary features praising the armed forces—the navy, in In Which We Serve (Noel Coward, 1942); the army, in The Way Ahead (Carol Reed, 1944); the air force, in The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945); and the home front, in Next of Kin (Thorold Dickinson, 1942), Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942), and Millions Like Us (Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, 1943). Since the innovations of the Brighton school at the turn of the century, however, Britain had produced little significant narrative cinema, outside of the work of Alfred Hitchcock; the films directed or produced by Alexander Korda (1893—1956)—The Private Life of Henry VIII, 1933; Rembrandt, 1936; Things to Come, directed by William Cameron Menzies, 1936; The Thief of Bagdad, codirected by Tim Whelan, Ludwig Berger, and Michael Powell, 1940; The Jungle

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