Film Objects and Everyday Life by Naomi Holliday

Film Objects and Everyday Life


As a material culture student I have always been interested in stuff; the things we use to interact with and define our world. However before I began volunteering at the Bill Douglas Centre I hadn’t given much thought to the impact film and television has on everyday life. Looking through the archives here there is a never ending collection of objects associated with film. As it turns out E.T didn’t go home he is sat in a drawer here at the Bill Douglas Centre [13139].


The Bill Douglas Centre started with a collection of anything associated with movies and movie making. The most casual of moviegoers may think themselves unaffected or uninterested by these items, however the deeper I dug into the collection the more I realised that film has a massive effect on our view of the world. This link between movies and everyday life means that the collection here is much more than just ‘movie stuff’. I thought that I didn’t own any of this memorabilia myself until out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a signed Star Wars film cell, and a rucksack shaped like an Ewok. My love of Star Wars is undeniable, but I was unaware that it had crept into my everyday life. The collection of Star Wars items here is a good place to begin to explore the ideas of merchandising and film, as it ranges from the everyday to the weird and wonderful.


When making Star Wars George Lucas famously waved his director’s fee taking the licensing and merchandising rights for himself instead, a move that would make him millions. Lucas understood that film does not end at the cinema. Associated merchandise allows you to interact with characters long after the film has finished. For the devoted fans out there it would have been easy to introduce Star Wars into every aspect of life. The collection here includes Star Wars table cloths [48019], place mats [34278] and even underpants [34326]. This realisation that just about anything can be merchandised can be seen in the upper gallery of the museum with some of the  strangest Star Wars items. R2D2 [74242] and C3PO [74243] soaps prove that even your shower is not safe from Lucas’s pop culture phenomenon.

In the same display is a Darth Maul spin pop candy dispenser [31547], an easy and inexpensive way for children to buy into the Star Wars franchise. At times it would have seemed impossible not to buy into the Star Wars craze. The collection here provides proof of just that with a Kellogg’s corn flake box [48924] promoting Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Every area of your life was made available for advertising from your shower, to breakfast.


It was even possible to learn with characters from the films. The Star Wars question and answer book about space [52365] provided the answers to many questions about physics and space. Can rockets fly to the stars? Are there moon creatures? Can humans explore Mars? All these questions and more were answered by everyone’s favourite robots; C3PO and R2D2. No where was safe from advertising, not even the work place. An interesting item in the collection here is a Star Wars episode II: Attack of the Clones t-shirt [39953]. This promotional item was worn by Woolworth’s staff in early 2005 to promote the DVD release. The t-shirts owner did not necessarily choose to associate themselves with the movie or merchandising. Star Wars became part of their uniform, and the owner of the t-shirt became advertising space.


Because advertising space exists quite literally everywhere we instantly recognise images of iconic films. In the collection here we have a 2009 calendar from Total Film of iconic movies [55209]. Star Wars happily sits in December among iconic movies such as Fight Club, Trainspotting, Taxi Driver, and Blade Runner. These are images we see over and over again, they become deep rooted in the mind long after the movie has completed its run at the cinema. It is these images that can be used again and again to sell things. Of course Star Wars no longer needs to advertise and so there has been a switch, the iconic image of Star Wars can now be used to sell other things, even in 2012. Who can forget the viral advert for the Volkswagen Passat which used a boy dressed as a mini Darth Vader to sell cars.


From these few examples I have spoken about from the Bill Douglas Centre collection we can that see our need to consume movie merchandise is easy to recognise. Our love of these iconic films is never ending, and so is the amount of stuff associated with it. I wonder how many items like this you can find in your own homes, and how many of those we have at the collection here. I am sure we will never stop collecting objects associated with films and television. We can’t help ourselves. Just don’t tell that to the people who work at the Bill Douglas centre. This is where all that ‘movie stuff’ ends up, and it all has to be catalogued.




Naomi Holliday



African-Americans on Screen, and this blog

What is the point of this blog? In conception it hopes to offer a form of expression for students, staff and volunteers around the Bill Douglas Centre.The curator also hopes that classes using BDC artefacts can use the blog as a forum for discussion around teaching and research. In honesty, I myself know no more about film than a casual film-goer, so what follows will utilise simply what I have learnt from working on a cabinet for Black History Month. I hope to inspire others to write about projects they have been involved in or publish thoughts which are bottled up inside after volunteering here, people knowing less or more than me.

As mentioned, I helped to compose a cabinet for Exeter Univeristy’s Black History Month. With the articles we chose he hoped to chart the change in Black representation and participation in cinema, with particular focus on America. This included early lantern slides, named (gallingly for a modern observer) ‘Ten Little Nigger Boys’ (I myself continually referred to them at ‘Ten Little Ninja Boys’) and ended with Eddie Murphy’s, Shrek character, Donkey. 

‘Ten Little Nigger Boys’, though titled in an unsavoury fashion and deplorable in morality, was a small smear in Black representations in comparison with the reach and impact of the white-supremacist ‘Birth of a Nation’. White actors blacked-up and depicted black men as unintelligent and sexually agressive to white women, whereas Klu Klux Klan origins are represented as heroic. In, classic, ‘Gone With the Wind’ the presentation of Black people has been criticised as being akin to ‘Birth of a Nation’. Black people represented as servant slaves, lacking independence and dutiful to their white masters. These negative depictions are harrowing, perhaps especially so as, at least in the latter case, they are often viewed as seminal works of cinema.

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

As Black people were more accepted in society as a whole, so began a steady influx of Black actors eventually ending with Black people as leading stars and directors. Paul Robeson was one of the trail-blazers of this influx, working prior to the Civil Rights movement, and directed and starred in his films. Our cabinet contained a photograph of him and the book of his film Sanders of the River, which he disowned for its depiction of Africans and apparent vindication of imperialist aims. The next figure we focussed on was Sidney Poitier, the first mainstream black star and male Oscar winner. His film ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ portrayed interracial marriage in a positive manner. The signs of an improvement of depiction can be seen here.

Pioneers like Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier led the way for the Black people we currently have on, and behind, our cinema screens. Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ was a seminal black film and is considered a classic. Eddie Murphy has been a star since the 80s. Who doesn’t want a voice like Samuel L Jackson and the effortless coolness of Will Smith? Positive representations of Black people in film is now strong. The journey of Black people in cinema can thus be tracked from racist representation to positive role-models and icons of cinema. Society still has its troubles with racism, but through cinema we have seen, and do see, positive and truthful representations of Black people.

The difficult issues around race in cinema continue however. With the recent ‘The Help’, which attempts to expose the racism maids face from white families, positively winning an Oscar (Olivia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress) and being nominated for Best Picture this positive trend seems to be continuing. Yet the film has been met with criticisms as it is seen as patronising, the White protagonist fixing racism for Black people. Race is still, then, a contentious issue and something which cinema has yet to reconcile.

So, there is what I, a third year Ancient History student, learnt during my first bit of work for the Bill Douglas centre. Here I invite you to get involved in this blog. Tell your own stories of what you’ve done, maybe an artefact has caught your eye or you have not expressed something of film in an essay you’ve written or lecture you’ve given. I hope that this blog becomes a platform for discussion, and invoke interest in the endless depth to be found in the Bill Douglas Centre as a resource.

Nick Abbey