“In this presentation, I argue that They Shall Not Grow Old offers a parallel track of memory references within the film itself, a shadow narrative that emerges for the viewer who is familiar with heightened …
This symposium, hosted by the Centre for International Film Research under the Film department at Southampton, will explore the transnational relationship China has with other territories globally, exploring how technological innovations, aesthetics and such have …
“In this presentation, I argue that They Shall Not Grow Old offers a parallel track of memory references within the film itself, a shadow narrative that emerges for the viewer who is familiar with heightened moments of psychic extremity depicted in the history of the war film.
The experience of psychological trauma is registered not in the multitude of interviews with surviving veterans, but as a formal disturbance in the film, in the nearly obsessive repetition of certain shots and images.
Almost as if the film were restaging a haunted return, certain images and gestures are repeated again and again, rehearsed with an insistence that seems to call out for recognition — scenes that speak to us not in the voices of the interviewees, now settled into late middle age or older, but rather through a different mode of expression, through repeated shots of direct address to the camera.
These recurrent shots, underlined by the filmmaker, Peter Jackson, evoke the figurative memory of other films, other visual representations, embedded in the genre language of war cinema and photography, forming a secondary narrative memory space that allows us to read the archival images of the past in a different light.”
Robert Burgoyne is a writer and lecturer whose work centers on the theory and representation of history in film. The author of five books and numerous essays, his work has been translated into eight languages.
He has lectured in thirteen countries. He was formerly Chair in Film Studies at The University of St Andrews, and Professor of English and Film Studies at Wayne State University.
He is currently working on a book length project on post 9/11 American war films, provisionally entitled The Body at Risk: War Cinema in the 21st Century.
You can watch the seminar, which took place online on 9 March 2021, via the link below.
This symposium, hosted by the Centre for International Film
Research under the Film department at Southampton, will explore the
transnational relationship China has with other territories globally, exploring
how technological innovations, aesthetics and such have influenced and
traversed internationally. The event is organised by a group of PhD students in
Film Studies at Southampton (Yuan Li (Rebecca), Lucy Elizabeth McDonald, and
Ruohan Tang) under the advice of Dr Ruby Cheung. It will be open to the participation
of any students and academics from across the UK and further afield.
This symposium is sponsored by the Confucius Institute at
the University of Southampton.
Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston (1989) makes me cry every time I watch it. My first time seeing it was in the Lincoln Centre in New York City– privately–on a 35-mm reel via a projector. As it clicked and fluttered away in the darkness, spitting out visual poetry of black and white silhouettes of dark men in their most regal of forms on the wall; I saw them loving one another with no shame as if every breath and waltz was their last. I knew I had a place in time at that moment. Now that Langston is a permanent installation in the British Tate, I felt that the movie would finally reach those who never could grasp where modern queer cinema’s turning point actually took place. It was a new visual language crafted by Isaac Julien in order to express his retelling of a Queer Harlem Renaissance and the life of Langston Hughes in order to connect Blacks throughout the diaspora. It also was the fire that illuminated my reflection in my own Black American history and led me down the path to become the Black queer historian I am today. Everyone needs to have this moment! You need to find yourself in your nation’s past –you have to! I cannot stress how imperative this action is to build a sense of self and belonging in the present and future for the Black population. I, despite being queer and Black, benefit from American imperialism in ways that were not apparent to me until I left the states.
When I saw and heard that Black Britons were
being taught only MLK and Malcom X quotes for Black History month, and the
explosion that was the global acknowledgment of Juneteenth this year; I knew
right then and there that my Black American culture was global and rode on the
coattails of the empire to some extent–this scared me. It scared me a lot
because I wanted to know more about the Black British timeline–with an emphasis
on the queer leaders. I had to then remind myself of the past labor that was
required of me to find Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin,
Langston Hughes, Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, and other Black Queer folks of the
American past. But who were these Black queer British folks and where were they
on screen? Julien, being Black Queer and British himself, was a start for me.
Films like Young Soul Rebels (1991) took me to a place in Britain that
most Black Americans don’t get to see. The pressure and tension of the times,
and the class and racial alignment within the ongoing fight against fascisms,
racism, and classism were so prominent in the film’s narrative. But there were
other directors that I stumbled on during this search. Ajamu X’s Homecoming (1995) took me through South
London and gave me a queer history lesson on the thriving and distinctive Black
gay movement that took place there in the 1980s and 90s. While doing this, he
also showcased his focal point as an artist; which shows his pioneering framing
of Black masculinity through its subversion with fem-play and power.
Both Julien and Ajamu’s work scratch the
surface for me when it comes to Black queer British filmmakers. While short
films like BEYOND There’s always a Black
issue Dear (2018) explores and celebrates Black LGBT identities in Britain,
others like actor and director Rikki Beadle-Blair and his filmography of Black queer
British cinema, the film Adaora Nwandu’s
Rag Tag (2006), Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story (2017),
and other titles in between both commercial and on the art circuit, continue to
cave out stories for people like me in the UK.
Your history matters and seeing yourself on
screen is a part of that journey. Sadly, in a state of being Black throughout
the diaspora, in order to begin tracking one’s Black history, we must grapple
with the devastating systems of racism through the lens of colonialism and
white supremacy in order to even see ourselves in the past. But decolonization
and dismantling white supremacy is a process, not a single act. And in order to
find one’s own history, we must know that the story doesn’t stop and start at
any particular point.
Ivor Novello was the biggest male star of British cinema in
the 1920s and early 1930s, starring in 22 films in a career that spanned 1919
The handsome Cardiff-born star – with his celebrated ‘classic profile’ – first rose to fame in 1914 as the composer of hit WWI anthem, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, granting him a central place in British popular culture. This would be reinforced not only by his matinee-idol film roles, but his work as a playwright, actor-manager and composer of hit musicals until his death in 1951. Novello even had a couple of stints working in Hollywood; writing dialogue for Tarzan the Apeman (W.S. van Dyke, 1932) being one of the more curious additions to his filmography.
Novello’s final stage musical was ‘Gay’s the Word’, an
arguably knowing title that inspired the name of the UK’s oldest LGBTQ+
bookshop in central London. It is no secret now that Novello was gay (actor Bobbie
Andrews was his partner of 35 years), and most of those in theatrical and film
circles would have known. So too would many of his fans if they were able, or inclined,
to recognise the signs.
It is not surprising that the gay identity of a star such as
Novello was not explicitly discussed in public during his lifetime. Even today,
coming out as LGBTQ+ is viewed by leading agents and producers, especially in
Hollywood, as a career-restricting liability particularly for A-list players, although
this is gradually changing. Back in the 1920s, although we can presume the
population to include a similar proportion of queer people as now, there was no
chance that Novello, like his Hollywood contemporary, Ramon Novarro, would be
publicly ‘out’. However, in some ways, and particularly in the playful pages of
the booming industry of fan-magazines, the secret could be hidden in plain
As star studies scholars have observed, fan-magazines helped
satisfy the desire of audiences to engage with their stars away from the screen,
extending the mythic realm of cinema itself. There’s perhaps something about
the heyday of silent cinema that fostered such myths, with those huge glowing
close-ups in music filled auditoria inspiring the imagination. Cinemagoers
might wonder what their favourite stars sounded like, about the life they lead
away from the screen, and just who Ivor Novello might actually want to kiss
when his mouth moves in to nearly consume the screen in that famous close-up from
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1926 classic, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.
The setting of Hitchcock’s film brings us back to
Bloomsbury, not far from the aforementioned bookshop, where we find other queer
haunts, including those expressionistic fog-enshrouded streets in which the
film is set. His character can be called ‘queer’ in many different ways,
including his eccentrically nervous / camp behaviour, his sometimes-strange
appearance which veers from a gaunt vampire-like figure to an immaculately
dressed sophisticate. Then there’s his suspiciously unseen nocturnal life, the
Lodger sneaking out into the streets at night.
The film’s intertitles are peppered with references to the
Lodger not being ‘keen on the girls’ and one defence of the Lodger’s curious aversion
to his landlady’s risqué paintings of Victorian belles: ‘even if he is a bit
queer, he’s a gentleman’. The Lodger is hounded by the police and is attacked
by a mob while handcuffed; a provocative motif Hitchcock later associated with
a sexual fetish in his famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview. Novello is
made to suffer, and suffer beautifully, a trait of many of his roles where he is
burdened with some strange secret that ensures that a conventional heterosexual
dénouement falls persistently out of reach. But if Novello is queerly mannered
in The Lodger, in whatever sense, it serves the noirish plot – Novello the
homme fatal – and adds possibilities to this character and others.
The year The Lodger was first shown, Novello had established
his own queer space in London, the Fifty-Fifty club in Soho. This was a
sanctuary where theatrical folk could meet and dine, but one subjected to
police raids on spurious charges. Press reports alluded to ‘a certain type’ who
favoured the club, alerting us to the real reasons for those raids. That type,
no doubt, included Novello’s contemporary, Noel Coward. Variety seems to
think along those lines when helpfully explaining to its readers on 5th
September 1928 that the two men were ‘close friends; and were members of what
it termed ‘the same temperamental set in London’.
More direct is a line in the New York Times review of
The Lodger on 11 June 1928 which really leapt from the page at me when I
first started researching Novello. ‘There now enters Mr. Novello’, it opined,
‘looking pale and drawn and with a manner plainly saying that he very likely
doesn’t like blondes at all’. What else can this ‘manner plainly saying’ be
referring to but homosexuality? Notably here, the reviewer is referring to ‘Mr
Novello’ rather than ‘The Lodger’, as if it’s something that Novello brings
personally to the role.
Elsewhere in fan-magazines, as for other gay stars, one
finds more coded comments on Novello’s excellent manners, his romantic and
sensitive nature, and ubiquitous references to his devotion to his mother, as
well as an admiration for strong and often fabulous women. When the ‘talkie’
remake of The Lodger (Maurice Elvey, 1932), also starring Novello was
released in the US as The Phantom Fiend, Variety (24th
April 1935) sneered at ‘the lip pursing of Ivor Novello’, who ‘directs
suspicion towards himself by his queer antics’. The OED tells us that
the word ‘queer’ as a reference to homosexuality had been in sub-cultural use
at least since the 1890s, then becoming a mainstream slur before being
reappropriated by the LGBTQ+ community a century later. Variety thus
may, or may not, have had Novello’s sexuality in mind with this description,
but in context it’s difficult to miss the innuendo, especially if you were a
member of that aforementioned ‘temperamental set’.
Such oblique references, coding and stereotyping, does not
always read as homophobic, even though the hushed circumstances is redolent of
that context. Intentionally or not, such language made something visible,
however opaquely, to audiences then, and to us now, like eddies in the
heteronormative fog that continually conspires to obscure it.
Carefully articulating the sexual identity of stars could
even be commercially expedient. Ronald Gregg, in his research on gay Hollywood
heartthrob, William Haines, argues that there was a short period from the late
1920s where representing queerness was even seen to be of commercial advantage
in Hollywood before the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934 shut things
down once more.
In terms of those intertitles and apparently throwaway remarks
we find in fan-magazines and newspapers, it’s too easy to permit
heteronormative pressure to dismiss such references as reading ‘too much’
retrospectively, as if there were never any LGBTQ+ people in the past. There’s
often a reason why such identities and desires were not openly declared and so
had to be expressed a little more obliquely – queerly – so we should
celebrate those traces and give them their proper place in history.
So when I sit down this LGBT+ History Month and watch the
Lodger slipping out into the London fog, I’ll be thinking about the queer
antics of all kinds that both he, and Ivor Novello, brought to silent cinema.
Michael Williams is author of Ivor Novello: Screen Idol
(BFI Publishing, 2003), and has most recently written on Novello in Tamar
Jeffers McDonald and Lies Lanckman eds., Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century
Movie Magazines and Global Fandom (University of Iowa Press, 2019).
New Blood in Contemporary Cinema: Women Directors and the Poetics of Horror
Professor Patricia Pisters, our speaker, is a Professor of Media Studies with specialization in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam. She gave this seminar online on 10 November 2020 to a large number of attendees from all over the globe.
Since the turn of the millennium, a growing number of female filmmakers have appropriated the aesthetics of horror for their films. In this book, Patricia Pisters investigates contemporary women directors such as Ngozi Onwurah, Claire Denis, Lucile Hadžihalilović and Ana Lily Amirpour, who put ‘a poetics of horror’ to new use in their work, expanding the range of gendered and racialized perspectives in the horror genre.
Exploring themes such as rage, trauma, sexuality, family ties and politics, New Blood in Contemporary Cinema takes on avenging women, bloody vampires, lustful witches, scary mothers, terrifying offspring and female Frankensteins. By following a red trail of blood, the book illuminates a new generation of women directors who have enlarged the general scope and stretched the emotional spectrum of the genre.
Jill Craigie: Documentary, Realism and Histories of British Cinema
Professor Yvonne Tasker, our speaker, is Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Leeds. She gave this seminar on 3 November 2020 online to a large number of attendees from all over the globe.
This session will draw from an ongoing AHRC research project exploring the political and filmmaking life of Jill Craigie (1911-99). Focusing on Craigie’s work in documentary and realist modes of filmmaking during the 1940s, the talk will situate films such as Out of Chaos (1944), The Way We Live (1946) and Blue Scar (1949) in relation to Craigie’s filmmaking and her feminist/socialist politics. Focusing on the latter – Craigie’s only feature as director – in particular, the talk will explore some of the ways in which Craigie’s public persona was constructed during this period. It will also reflect on the ways in which Craigie might more effectively be included within accounts of British cinema history.
Film as Data: A Note on Behavioral Science and the Moving Image
Professor Vinzenz Hediger, our speaker, Professor of Film Studies at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main. He gave this seminar online on 20 October 2020 to a large number of attendees from all over the globe.
This contribution looks at the use of film in the study of human and animal behaviour in mid-20th century ethology. Based on a discussion of the “Human Ethology Film Archive“, a 600 hour collection of observations of patterns of human behaviour based on five long-term studies conducted by German biologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt and his team between 1966 and 2007, I will argue that film not only records and documents, but constitutes behaviour as an object of knowledge.
Vinzenz Hediger is Professor of Cinema Studies at the Goethe University, Frankfurt and the Director of the Graduiertenkolleg “Configurations of Film“. He is a co-founder of NECS – European Networks for Cinema and Media Studies and the founding editor of the Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft (Journal for Media Studies). He is a principal investigator of the Research Center “Normative Orders” at Goethe University and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz. His research concerns the aesthetics of film within the larger framework of a history of risk and uncertainty in modernity.
waft of buttered popcorn; the over-sized cupholder stuffed with empty sweet packages;
the stale soft-drink puddles you can’t avoid stepping in – and who can forget
that endless chorus of chewing and slurping?
consumption of food and beverages are, to say the least, heavily embedded in
the cinema-going experience – yet this is seldom acknowledged by film critics
and theorists. In Anne Bower’s 22-chapter Reel Food (2012), which explores
how acts of consumption are involved in constructing national, political and
sexual identities through film, only one chapter is devoted to the exploration
of food as an essential aspect of the cinema-viewing experience. And yet, as writer
James Lyons observes, the consumption of food is one of the most important
means by which audiences “embellish and enhance the experience of film
watching” – and, perhaps above all else, a crucial source of income for
In this post,
I aim to survey how a careful consideration of the relationship between acts of
consumption and cinema might challenge the prevailing theoretical assumptions in
the study of film aesthetics, history and politics.
Food in Film Criticism
First of all, it is worth noting that our ordinary critical language typically associates food with cinema as a ‘low-brow’ or ‘escapist’ medium. The terms ‘brain candy’, ‘visual feast’ and ‘popcorn film’, for example, are used to dismiss films that do not warrant much serious reflection, not least academic attention. In perhaps one of the earliest critical uses of the term, The Daily Times described Venom (1982) as a “spine-tingling brain candy” to complement its value as an artefact of entertainment while admitting to the suspension of disbelief required to swallow its premise.
The prevalence of these food idioms in our casual critical language allows viewers to create an ‘ironic’ detachment that justifies the enjoyment of a film they didn’t take too seriously. Like the junk food they reference, popular cinema is situated as an essentially harmless hedonic and sensory experience, as opposed to a strictly rational or intellectual one. This discourse, as I shall further explore, likely finds it origins in early film theory and exhibition.
Concessions and Class in Early Cinema
its history, the film industry has long tried to legitimate itself as an artistic
and culturally-valuable medium, often adopting conventions and practises from
the more established disciplines of literature, fine art and theatre. From the
early 20th century, many film exhibition venues in major cities across
the world were designed to resemble opera houses and theatres, and further
attempted to draw upon associations with the ‘upper-class’ spaces and
institutions of continental Europe from the preceding centuries.
In the 1913
program for the New Gallery Kinema in London’s Regent Square, for example, imported
beers and afternoon teas were advertised to wealthy patrons, while the June 1934
program for Edinburgh’s New Picture House drew attention to the four-course
lunch, smoke room and dining halls available in the venue. The consumption of
certain foods and beverages hence elevated cinema into a higher cultural domain,
emboldening the growing industry with more ‘genteel’ food rituals and symbolism.
On the other hand, early theatres in the United States typically distanced themselves from the association of public eating spaces with the more ‘profane’ carnival and burlesque industries. The admission of confectionery could risk spoiling the cinema’s theatrical rugs and carpets, and, more notably prior to the advent of sound cinema in 1927, would distract the audience away from the screen – and, worse yet, disturb the wealthier patrons.
Nevertheless, as the film industry began to trade intertitles for dialogue, literacy no longer provided a barrier for working class audiences, while the Great Depression brought even greater interest in cheap entertainment and distraction. Cinemas slowly give up their former high cultural aspirations when they realised that they would yield greater profit from opening up to wider audiences. Although food vendors rented spaces in or outside theatre lobbies during this time, theatre owners eventually decided to cut the middle man and include food consumption in their marketing and exhibition practises.
The Emergence of Popcorn
sugar and chocolate rationing provoked exhibitors to look for alternative
sources of revenue, a perfect solution was discovered in popcorn. Contrary to the
prior assumptions of film exhibitors, this would prove crucial to the survival
of the cinema industry: a theatre chain in Dallas is said to have installed
popcorn machines in all but their five ‘best’ theatres, only for those five to
close within the following two years due to falling profits. Overseas
servicemen brought popcorn around the world as a nostalgic ‘luxury’, making way
for American popcorn manufacturers to break into European markets after the war
– something that has never really changed to this day.
Although it is difficult to gather accurate data, Time magazine reported in 2009 that concessions make up to 20% of a film theatre’s revenue and 40% of its profits in the United States, since a large proportion of ticket sales goes back to the film studios, as well as funding staff costs and theatre maintenance. This data is loosely confirmed by private research and interviews with theatre owners, though some factors will inevitably vary in different locations – popcorn itself can gather 85-90% profit for every unit sold, with added salt motivating the additional purchase of soft-drinks.
This provides an unexpected incentive: films with uncomplicated plots and narrative structure might actually yield proportionately greater profit for film theatres, even despite lower admission prices, as the audience are more likely willing to leave their seats to buy more food mid-way through the film – this no doubt goes some way as to explain why, as explored previously, food vocabulary is utilised in modern film criticism as such. Regardless, as Epstein has concluded cinema theatres are as much in the fast-food and advertisement industries as film distribution – a thought that might greatly disturb prevailing theoretical understanding of cinema.
Food for ‘Alternative’ Markets
Although popcorn and fast food quickly became deeply embedded in the cinema experience after WWII, its absence was – and continues to be – offered as a hallmark of sophistication and originality. Post-war arthouse and independent cinemas across Europe and the United States began offering pastries and coffees in smaller, café-styled venues, as an alternative to the more infantile associations of sweets and refined sugar. As Lyons observes, popcorn in particular has remained “a peculiarly emblematic commodity” in the mobilization of cultural distinctions throughout cinema history; a totem for the ‘escapist’ associations that film exhibitors either attempt to capitalise on or distance themselves from. Today, individual cinema chains and film festivals continue to privately reconstruct cinema experiences through providing alternative and unique food-screen paradigms: the British Everyman cinemas, for example, claim that they are “redefining cinema” by swapping soft drinks for red wine and pizza in their “innovative lifestyle approach” to film exhibition, and the States-based Film Food Festival helps its audiences simultaneously taste what they see on the screen. These theatres and programmes, and others like them, thereby depend on the discourses associations that encourage the denigration of popular cinema as ‘junk’ entertainment to differentiate their services as unique, ‘event’-oriented experiences.
On the other
hand, the Planet Hollywood chain and its countless imitators somewhat invert
this process, embellishing the family restaurant experience with mounted props,
signatures and iconography from cinema history. Although this perhaps strays
too far from my focus on film exhibition, it is no small matter that entire
businesses are modelled on the premise that cinematic artefacts, sanctified by
their participation in popular culture, can somehow enhance, or otherwise
transform, the more profane activity of food consumption.
If it is true that acts of consumption are heavily
involved in how films are experienced, distributed, assessed and situated in
particular socio-political contexts, then it appears that cinema cannot be
simply described as a matter of sight and sound (sorry, BFI!); but also, of
smell, touch and taste –far from compromising its integrity, however, I would
argue that this privileges cinema with comparatively unique opportunities as an
immersive and engaging public institution. Much might be said on this topic, of
course, but I intend here to provide – if you forgive the pun – an appetiser
for further research.