Angry Young Men by Emily Vine and Sophie Noke

 

Second Year History students studying the ‘Gender and Citizenship’ course curated a temporary exhibition on ‘Angry Young Men’ – the movement that spanned both literature and cinema in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Museum volunteer Emily Vine led a team of fellow students in this project and writes:

One of the reasons I’d chosen the Gender and Citizenship module was its use of the resources in the Bill Douglas Centre. As a regular volunteer I already had a good idea of how extensive the collection is, and how useful it could be to a module based upon nineteenth and twentieth century social history. I’d wanted to get involved in putting together an exhibition which was related to the module and was very pleased to have the opportunity of leading the group.  

I was nonetheless apprehensive when we were told that the subject of the display would be British New Wave cinema; an area I was woefully ignorant about. Phil suggested we started by researching the subject in general, as well as the significant films of the genre and its leading stars. This research was particularly interesting, as it gave an insight into the earlier works and lives of actors who to me had always been old, such as the turbulent personal life of Richard Harris, who I will always know as kind, mild-mannered Professor Dumbledore.

After initial research, the group met to discuss possible approaches to our exhibition and titles for our display case. As last year’s group had focused upon female film stars (they looked at women and consumerism in the 1920s), we decided to concentrate upon the depiction of masculinity, and gave our display the snappy title ‘Angry Young Men.’

There were a number of items which we’d already looked at in seminars based in the BDC, so we selected those which were relevant to our subject of masculinity and continued searching the catalogue for more. We selected items from the archive on the basis of their relevance to the topic and visual appeal, and tried to utilise material which focused on some of the leading male actors of the genre, such as postcards of Laurence Harvey, Stanley Baker and Michael Caine. We also used fiction tie-ins of films such as ‘Look Back in Anger,’ ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ and cinema publicity material to demonstrate the wide-ranging cultural impact of these films.

We had to accept that there was a lack of 3D items available; our subject matter did not really lend itself to figurines or other objects and the vast majority of our items were postcards, film stills, publicity leaflets and books. We also came across a number of interesting posters which we had to reject because they were just too large to fit in the display case. We did manage to find a good balance of colour items, and tried to make use of different levels to display the items in as aesthetically pleasing a way as possible.

My personal favourite items were the Daily Cinema cover depicting a still from ‘Room at the Top’ and the James Dean lobby cards, showing stills from ‘Rebel without a Cause.’ The bold red-pink colour and risqué nature of the image on the Daily Cinema cover makes it one of the most eye catching items; it gives an insight into how radical these films would have been at the time. The stills from ‘Rebel without a cause,’ although not directly linked to British New Wave cinema, work well in showing alternative contemporary depictions of disaffected youth in cinema and the influence of American popular culture on Britain. The immediacy of the threat of violence in these images and the use of vibrant colours is striking against the predominantly monochrome background.

Sophie Noke, another member of the team, writes about the social and historial background to the British New Wave:

The ‘Angry Young Man’ can be culturally constructed through the issue of ‘class’. Many of the characters we see in films might be considered to be a reflection of the writers who conceived of and invented the characters through their plays and novels; such as Alan Silitoe, Stan Barstow and John Osborne.  During the 1950s and 1960s, the label became associated with young working-class or lower-middle class writers who were cynical about traditional British society and its obvious class distinctions, and we see this concept illustrated  through various characters in films of the British New Wave. In films such as Look Back in Anger 1959, the issue of class is certainly prevalent; the ‘anti-hero’ Jimmy Porter (played by Richard Burton) is a quintessential example of an intelligent young individual whose opportunities were restricted due to his ‘lower’ social class. He demonstrates his angst towards society through lashing out at those around him, and through his turbulent relationship with his wife, Alison who comes from a wealthier middle-class family which Porter loathes. Although Porter has a university degree, he demonstrates the complexity of his character by choosing to work in the local market instead of aspiring to a well-paid job that might have been on offer to him. This has been said to demonstrate his hostility towards authority and the growing conservatism and class distinctions of 1950s Britain, although he feels unable to fight for his grievances or push for change.  More widely, the struggles of post-war society are highlighted through the film’s rough, urban and claustrophobic setting, which helps to highlight the difficult reality of life for the under privileged classes.

Look back in Anger

These genres of films have been considered to encompass the theme of ‘kitchen-sink’ realism, portraying the typical domestic lives of the under-privileged classes or working class groups in poorer industrial areas such as the Nottingham depicted in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, or the Yorkshire of ‘Room at the Top’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’. Typical ‘gritty’ relationship dramas might take place in the confines of a small urban house or in a local pub environment which includes copious amounts of drinking and themes of social alienation. The legacy of the ‘kitchen-sink’ drama is seen in Soap Operas today in the twenty first century such as Coronation Street and East Enders, which in turn explore similar themes within a similar environment as the traditional 1950s British New Wave Dramas.

Room at the Top

The Search for Beauty: Italian Women on Screen 2 by Grazia Guila Gigante, Emily King, Isabel Davies, and Sophie Adams

Whilst studying an Italian film module which focused on the representation of beauty in contemporary cinema, we developed a personal interest in the culture and history behind popular Italian film stars. We relished the opportunity to explore this further through the research and compilation of our exhibition at the Bill Douglas Centre, focusing our research on the glamourous era of the 1950s and 60s.  Whilst our module had given us an excellent introduction to Italian contemporary film, researching at The Bill Douglas Centre provided us with a unique opportunity to discover primary sources firsthand. We had access to an extensive selection of extra-textual material, ranging from artists’ sketches to popular magazines of the time, with a vast array of material showcasing both the on-screen and off-screen personas of famous film stars of this era.

 In an interview with Barbara Walters Sophia Loren affirms:  ‘I’m not Italian, I’m Neapolitan! it’s another thing’. The question of national and regional and class identity is particularly interesting when analysing the ‘maggiorata’ phenomenon from an Italian point of view. The bodies of Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida are not only stereotypically Italian they are ‘napoletani’ and ‘romani’.  Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida both played roles that enhanced these regional characteristics, emphasizing not only their physicality but also their accents. Their pin up bodies were regularly placed and shot in agricultural environments, around fields and rivers, as were other Italian female stars of the period.  During our research in the Bill Douglas centre we have seen how this was the case, as seen in this iconic image from “Bitter Rice”.

Milky Way Group Women

Their social upbringings are also significant; most of the beloved 1950s actresses came from a poorer background, usually rural. Audiences experienced a glamorizing portrayal of the lower classes. A great number of people now saw, with these women, a representation of their values and customs on screen. The depiction of the lower classes interested the Neo-realism movement too, but with a different focus, with contrasting aims. Films starring these beautiful women were usually comedies, comedies that did not have an explicit primary interest in social comment and critique.  But it would be wrong to think that Italian actresses of the 1950s engaged only with light comedy roles.  In La Ciociara Sophia Loren demonstrates that she was also an established actress.

 

We also focused on the film industry’s heightened fascination on the female body and its sexualisation. As we have seen in films of this period that we watched as part of our module, there was a very conscious effort from directors and the stars themselves to draw attention to the ever popular ‘maggiorata fisica’ and this in itself drew large audiences. This refers to the exaggerated female shape with voluptuous curves that was the common throughout the film stars of this period. From the fetishistic stockings of Silvana Mangano in ‘Riso Amaro’ to the corseted costumes of Sophia Loren in ‘La Bella Mugnaia’, the female shape started to take a starring role in Italian cinema and this was apparent in most of the sources we found as the media exploited these women’s shapes and rarely printed an image without a hint of Loren or Lollobridgida’s famous busts.

We also explored the cultivation of Loren’s image as a film star and her transition from sex symbol to maternal figure. In the 1950’s and 60’s the notion of paparazzi was still a relatively new phenomenon, and thus the film stars could still control more easily the image of themselves that was portrayed in the mass media.

Looking more closely at Sophia Loren, her exuberance and vitality were positive aspects for which she was admired but she also developed a maternal appeal over the course of her career as we discovered through several interviews with her in magazines of the time. As she already strongly embodied femininity with her overtly feminine physique, being a mother was another form of femininity which she could portray. 

The transition of her image from sex symbol to an actress of substance and a maternal figure can be largely attributed to her aforementioned role as Cesira in Two Women or ‘La Ciociara’  in 1960. It was interesting to put the images next to each other in the exhibition and see the juxtaposition between her well put-together beauty of many of the star portraits and the more dishevelled portrayal of her in the film.

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Two Women Loren

This role greatly contributed to the cultivation of a more robust image of Loren which ensured that she would be remembered not just for her beauty but for her skills as an actress too.

Overall, this experience was extremely rewarding as it gave us the chance to build upon our knowledge of the films that we have studied through the use of invaluable artefacts contemporary to the era. The Bill Douglas centre gave us the opportunity to access relevant sources that allowed us to delve deeper into the personal lives of these Italian film stars and their representation in English and American press. This provided us with an alternative viewpoint to that which we had already explored in class, and a more extensive grasp of this dynamic topic, which we felt lent itself excellently to a visual exhibition.

 

 

The Search for Beauty: Italian Women on Screen by Zoe Wolstenholme

When Phil, curator of the BDC, asked me to lead and put together a new display cabinet on Italian Women in film I could not think of anything more fabulous. However, at the same time I felt nervous. All I could hear was the Spanish voice of FawltyTowers’s Manuel saying “I know nothing!” – I couldn’t even find an Italian expression for my amateur understanding! But then Phil explained I would have a team of Italian film students to work with and suddenly it all became much less daunting.

My team, Emily, Isabel, Sophie, and Guilia are discussing the history and background to the themes and pieces we included in our collection in their accompanying blog post. In this post I will go on to describe the process of putting the display together and then I will concentrate on Belinda Lee, the British actress who was captivated by Italy in the 1950s. 

We began by pouring over the material that Phil had selected from the BDC, reading and comparing images to work with. Then we moved on to searching the archive ourselves, taking boxes from shelves and opening up filing cabinets to find items like the Studio Beauty Contest Exhibitors Guide entitled “The Search for Beauty” (EXEBD 77034) which, although dating from the USA in the 1920s, became the inspiration for our title for the display, because it is so resonant of the role of women in Italian Cinema of the 1950s.

Exhibitor's Guide to Paramount Beauty Contest

Inevitably there were too many beautiful pieces that we wanted to fit into our small space. Of the many things we left out of the final display, I found one set of photographs of Sophia Loren particularly interesting. The images showed her with some US soldiers in Italy before going over to Hollywood. She was playing snooker and picking up their accent, showing Loren in the transition from Italy to Hollywood. Another image I wanted to include, which was unfortunately too large to fit into our cabinet, was an image of Anita Ekberg “as a huge symbol of eroticism, dwarfing the models specially built to reproduce the monumental architecture commissioned and erected by fascists in Rome for the… universal exhibition that never took place.” This image and this quote came from a book in translation by the Italian director Fellini on Cinecittà film studios.

To help us narrow down our selection we decided upon a few key themes for our display to showcase the most beautiful and significant images. We wanted to explore how the private lives of these actresses were presented in the public eye, moving on through this to stress the serious and often powerful female characters that were a part of the Italian film industry at the time. Finally, to me, the glamourous “maggiorata” “Italian movie goddess” image had to be central to the display. It defines the sensual Italian glamour associated with Italian women on screen in the 1950-60s.The companion piece to this post written by my team of Italian film students explores these categories in much more detail.

We decided to include Belinda Lee in our display as she was an outsider seduced by the Italian film industry, highlighting the allure of its uncensored passion. The British Rank Organisation starlet from Budleigh Salterton, only 15 miles south of Exeter, left behind the wholesome roles offered at home for more sensual parts in Italian films. In England, Belinda Lee had never really been allowed to break from the on-screen image of a privileged but naive young woman.  When she moved to Italy her scandalous private life seemed to match the scandalous roles she played. Not only was she seduced by the sexual liberation she was given on screen but she began an affair with an Italian aristocrat, Prince Filippo Orsini. They entered into a suicide pact, which they did not go through with, but which made Belinda Lee into a European celebrity. In 1958 she was dropped by Rank Organisation but the scandal worked to her advantage. She was offered many more risqué roles, showing how her private life was being used to define her on-screen persona.

The fact that Belinda Lee had lost fame in Britain by the time of her death in 1961 shows the divide between British and continental film at the time. In the issue of Picturegoer from 5 December 1959 we included in our display there is a section ‘On the Covergirl’ which discusses Belinda Lee:

“Our cover picture reminds you of the beauty that is Belinda…of the beauty that we are not likely to see on British screens for a long time to come. For what a transformation in the curvy, blonde Belinda Lee who was, at one time, one of our top glamour girls! Quitting this country, the RankOrganisation and cameraman-husband Cornel Lucas for the delights of Rome, Miss Lee is now an Italian-accented beauty living quietly on the Continent.”

So Belinda Lee was the British starlet who became mesmerised by Italian cinema and in this way I felt like I could relate to her. Surrounded by my Italian film students I felt like I was undertaking a much more sedate and curatorial version of Belinda Lee’s adventure into the new and exciting world of Italian film.

Belinda Lee Picturegoer

You can look at images from the exhibition at our Facebook album “The Search for Beauty: Italian Women on Screen” on The Bill Douglas Centre’s facebook page.

‘All Work and No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy’: The Lighter Side of Stanley Kubrick by Chris Grosvenor

Stanley Kubrick was a director who, perhaps most prominently in the latter part of his career, came to be defined by his demanding yet mysterious persona; one crafted through years of troubled productions, and a generally reclusive nature. He very rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, preferring instead to lock himself away in his Xanadu-like home in Hertfordshire, working away on films, many of which were destined to become masterpieces. His films, as it has often been claimed, did the talking for him.

In this sense,the subject matter of Kubrick’s filmography is one of sombre, often profound observations on humanity, dealing with subjects ranging from war, social taboos, behavioural conditioning, criminal underworlds, the fragility of the family unit and, in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), ‘death, infinity and the origin of time’. Can any other directorial output be said to cover so much ground? The scope of Kubrick’s films, paired with his cold, detached cinematic style certainly shapes a certain reading of his cinema; largely as very serious. 

However, alongside the serious, scholarly discourses surrounding Kubrick as an auteur, there exists a lighter, more playful body of ephemera surrounding some of his greatest films. There are a number of examples of this in The Bill Douglas Centre.

To begin this small exploration of such artefacts, one baffling example, can be seen in the 7” single for I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor, a single which combined the military chants of Full Metal Jacket‘s Sgt. Hartman character with a pumping guitar and drum track. Composed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian under the pseudonym Abigail Mead, this musical oddity becomes even more endearing upon learning that it reached number two on the U.K. Pop chart upon release. Certainly at odds with the kind of items one would normally associate with the work of Kubrick, its proves an interesting example of the attempt to make a notoriously difficult type of film a commercial product.

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Perhaps of greater interest, however: the aforementioned 2001, a film of great visual power and philosophical awe, spawned a Marvel comic book in 1976. It is difficult at first to grasp how a film like 2001, a film which radically departs from the more conventional adventure-based narratives of the sci-fi genre, can be adapted for the graphic novel medium which usually favours more hyperbolic content. The comic, however, does make for an incredibly interesting read, above all, as a curiosity. The bulk of Kubrick’s version is surprisingly kept intact within the (now fading) pages of the comic book. Instead of constructing its own visual style, many of the panels make direct reference to scenes from the film itself. Its a text abundant with nostalgic reverence for a film which had only come out 8 years prior to its own publication.

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Moreover, the comic makes an interesting use of original dialogue; sourced in parts from abandoned drafts of the film’s screenplay, as well as Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name which was released in conjunction with the film. During scenes in which little or no dialogue is heard within the film, the comic in contrast supplements such sections with dialogue or exposition; an effect which more than often undermines the power of its filmic source material. The scene in which astronaut, Frank Poole’s oxygen supply is cut short and ejected into space by the menacing HAL 9000, a scene in which only the pacing breath of fellow astronaut Dave Bowman is heard, the panels of the comic, feature such garish lines as:

 ‘Frank Poole screams in vain! The Killing pressure increases with relentless rapidity… Then, the screams stop as life stops… Frank Poole dies in space’.

 This kind of melodramatic rhetoric is littered throughout the comic; Part 2 of its narrative outlandishly titled ‘The Thing on the Moon’. Used to initiate and promote a short-running 2001 comic book series, this artefact, confusingly stands as a testament to Kubrick’s eye for cinematic visuals, whilst simultaneously undercutting his story-telling ability; the comic feebly attempting to explain and characterise the incomprehensible monolith, the enigmatic centre of 2001, in order to be more accessible to, what we can presume to be, its target child/teen demographic.

Alongside these artefacts The Bill Douglas Centre also has a range of other Kubrick related memorabilia, including posters, postcards and books on both himself and his films. The Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts in London holds a mass of material from his productions and the BDC holds some publicity cards they have produced, such as this one from A Clockwork Orange.

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One of the most poignant discoveries to come across is the souvenir leaflet from An Academy Tribute to Stanley Kubrick held at the BFI in 2007. Featured within this document is copy of a letter signed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair which begins:

 ‘Stanley Kubrick was a cinematic visionary. His films were daringly innovative and beautifully crafted. He was often controversial, but always moving and thought provoking’.

 In my opinion, whilst the aforementioned artefacts may prove interesting to academics and researchers in their rarity or peculiarity, I’m thankful that it was always the films which ‘did the talking’, even if they were ‘daring’ or ‘controversial’, and not plethora Jack Torrence action figures or A Clockwork Orange boardgames. Kubrick’s filmography is one that, broadly speaking, transcended such commercialisation leaving items like the Full Metal Jacket single or the 2001 comic book, certainly of interest, but at the same time jarring and uncanny.

 Chris Grosvenor

See Chris’s own blog at https://projectionreviews.wordpress.com

 

Making our film for the Bill Douglas Centre by Olivia Luder

I realised just how brilliant the Bill Douglas Centre was at the end of last year. As a first year English student, I had been full of the conviction that I wanted to work in film and television. I had taken a film studies module, become Screen Editor of Exeposé Online and had generally watched as much Netflix as I possibly could. However I felt that my practical engagement with film was lacking. As much as I’d enthused over my favourite Werner Herzog and forced those around me into loving The West Wing, I hadn’t actually done anything immensely proactive myself.

Both with this concern in mind and a small chunk free time before final exams, I emailed Phil Wickham, curator of the Bill Douglas Centre, to ask about volunteering. To my surprise, he encouraged me to make a short film to promote the Bill Douglas Centre. Wanting practical filming experience and having enjoyed visiting the museum, I was more than happy to take up the task.

After proposing a few ideas, it was decided that the film would feature two new visitors to the Bill Douglas Centre and follow them as they toured the museum.  Once I had corralled flatmates and friends into forming my crew and begged the ever-wonderful Joe and Olya to let their first visit to the BDC be filmed, we were off.

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A tight schedule meant we could only film for a few hours on one day. This presented several limitations: we didn’t have enough time (or battery life!) to film pick-ups or extensive b-roll, and Joe and Olya’s visit was dictated by the shots and interviews we needed to get rather than objects they wanted to see. It was also a lesson in how a series of shots may look organic on-screen but be convoluted and tricky to set-up, though the general rigmarole of filming became something we all quite enjoyed grappling with. The editing period was also limited to a few days but again we enjoyed learning how to make an interesting and lively film from the many shots we filmed.
 
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While various issues did occur, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. My crew, consisting of Leo, Jon, Jess, Emily and Izzy, were enthusiastic from the get-go. As it was a new experience for all of us, it was nice to see where each of our strengths lay and discover how much fun both figuring out shots and filming them could be. With the goodwill and trust of Phil Wickham, we had been given complete freedom with our filming and we all enjoyed exploring the vast range of creative decisions we were able to consider.

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The Bill Douglas Centre proved itself to be an incredible resource and the film only touches on the various exhibits and artefacts. That we were able to couple filming with learning about the history of cinema and see our camera beside a ‘cinématographe’ and its other predecessors made it particularly special. Learning about the Magic Lanterns was just as intriguing as the more recognisable memorabilia upstairs of which Harry Potter and Disney were favourites, Furthermore, both Joe and Olya came away genuinely enthused by the museum’s contents which was an important goal of the film itself.

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While I do hope the film reflects the hard work put in, my main aim is that it does inspire people to visit the Bill Douglas Centre. Having given me such an empowering learning experience, I know first-hand how fantastic it is not only as a museum and research centre but as an educational tool. If you are interested in film or are just looking for a way to enrich your studies, make sure to take advantage of how valuable a resource the BDC is.

I would like to thank Joe, Olya, Leo, Jon, Izzy, Jess and Emily for joining me and bringing their dedication and enthusiasm. Most importantly, I would also like to thank Phil Wickham and the entire Bill Douglas Centre for giving me this opportunity which I know will prove fundamental to any future projects I embark upon.

The film is now on the BDC’s facebook page and on youtube under ‘The Bill Douglas Experience’.

A ticket to the dream palace: Teaching modern British cultural history at the Bill Douglas Centre

A  ticket  to  the  dream  palace:  Teaching  modern  British  cultural  history  at  the  Bill  Douglas  Centre  by David Thackeray, Lecturer in History, University of Exeter

 

Ask  any  History  student  starting  their  second  year  at Exeter  which  module  they  find  most  daunting  and  they  are  likely  to  say  ‘Doing  History’.  For  the  first  time  you  are  faced  with  the  prospect  of  conducting  an  independent  research  project  in  which  you  have  to  fashion  a  question  and  select  a  range  of  different  types  of  primary  sources  to  consult.  There  were  certainly  some  eyebrows  raised  when  my  students  learnt  that  there  were  over  70,000  items  to  consult  at  the  Bill  Douglas  Centre  for  Fiilm  Studies.  After  all,  many  had  not  heard  of  the  centre  before  moving  to Exeter.

 But  why  should  this  come  as  a  surprise?  Film-going  was  arguably  the  main  leisure  activity  in  Britain  during  the  first  half  of  the  twentieth  century  with  cinemas  according  weekly  attendances  of  nearly  twenty  million  during  the  1930s.  But  film’s  importance  went  beyond  these  mere  figures,  it  was  arguably  the  main  medium  for  the  development  of  popular  culture.  As  the  resources  of  the  BDC  vividly  demonstrate,  film  generated  an  enormous  range  of  ephemera:  cigarette  cards  of  movie  stars,  fan  literature,  magazines,  postcards,  and  innumerable  adverts  for  fashion  products.  The  current  ‘Film  and  the  rise  of  female  consumerism’  exhibition,  curated  by  History  students,  provides  an  excellent  introduction  to  the  ways  in  which  cinema  pervaded  everyday  life  and   influenced  social  identities  in  the  golden  age  of  film  culture  during  the 1920 and 1930s.

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   Teaching  at  the  BDC  provides  a  unique  window  on  these  lost  worlds  and  an  opportunity  for  students  to  consult  a  wide  range  of  sources  which  they  are  unlikely  to  uncover  elsewhere.  Moreover,  it  is  enormously  fun.  Most  students  have  seen  and  enjoyed  The  Artist,  but  at  the  BDC  they  can  learn  about  the  silent-age  stars  who  inspired  the  film,  such  as  Clara  Bow,  the  rags-to-riches  ‘It’  girl  who  came  to  fame  after  winning  a  magazine  talent  contest. 

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 To  date,  I  have  organised  seminars  at  the  BDC  focusing  on  gender  roles  in  inter-war  Britain  and  social  change  in  the  1960s,  but  there  are  a  range  of  other  potential  uses  for  the  collections  beyond  the  confines  of  British  history,  as  evidenced  by  recent  student-led  exhibitions  focused  on  African-Americans  in  film  and  the  depiction  of  Chinese  culture  in  cinema.

  Moreover,  being  the Exeter  History  department’s  Employability  officer  over  the  last  year  has  made  me  more  aware  of  the  value  that  the  BDC  holds  in  providing  students  opportunities  to  develop  transferrable  skills  beyond  the  confines  of  the  undergraduate  curriculum.  As  well  as  organising  an  exhibition,  and  undertaking  independent  research  projects,  students  from  my  course  have  volunteered  at  the  BDC,  cataloguing  incoming  items,  supporting  school  visits,  and  contributing  to  this  blog! 

    The  BDC  is  only  part  of  a  vibrant  film  culture  in Exeter  promoted  by  organisations  such  as  the  Bike  Shed  Theatre,  Campus  Cinema,  the Exeter  Phoenix,  Ignite  Festival  and  the  Picturehouse.  After  a  successful  start,  I  hope  to  see  next  year’s  group  of  students  use  this  blog  as  a  means  to  talk  about  their  experiences  using  the  BDC’s  collections  and  to  discuss  their  research  projects. 

 

 

Homosexuality and British media in the 1960s:What you can find in the BDC by Victoria Rogers

Homosexuality and British media in the 1960s:What you can find in the BDC by Victoria Rogers

When I began my second year research project on media representation of homosexuality, the thought of utilising the resources at the Bill Douglas Centre never even crossed my mind. I focused specifically on media representations in the period between the Wolfenden Report and its recommendations to decriminalise homosexuality in 1957, and the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality. Initially, I stuck to the familiar ground and cosy shelves of the university library for research, but when information was getting low on the ground, I thought that the Bill Douglas was unlikely to save the day, but was worth a shot! Soon after searching the online collection, I was surprised by the resources the museum held, and the extent of knowledge and help provided by its curators which led me to sources otherwise not utilised in my research. In particular, I was eagerly directed to a swathe of information on the 1961 film ‘Victim’ and the BBC Radio sketch ‘Julian & Sandy’ hidden away in the depths of the Old Library.

Released in 1961, ‘Victim’ was the first English-speaking film to deal with the topic of homosexuality, and explicitly mention the word itself. Producers Michael Relph and Basil Dearden had worked on a number of social problem films previously to ‘Victim’, and were seen as pioneers in their approach.

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The plot follows a successful married barrister Melville Farr who risks his career and reputation to uncover a gang of blackmailers who are extorting money from both Farr and other homosexual men. Through the filmmakers portrayal of Farr (played by the popular heart-throb Dirk Bogarde) and the other extorted men, they aimed to legitimise homosexuality and highlight the hypocrisies of the law, as they believed that it encouraged blackmail by hardened criminals on innocent, respectable men. Resources in the Bill Douglas Collection gave me a broad overview of the film and its response, from books containing essays on the topic, photographs of the actors and press publicity packs, to original copies of The Daily Cinema  containing promotional material and reviews. Not only could I watch the film, but discover the popular culture and wider themes that surrounded its conception and response.

When researching the popular BBC Radio sketch show Julian & Sandy, the Centre provided invaluable resources. Running from 1965-8 the sketch followed two flamboyant and coded gay out of work actors played by Kenneth Williams (also starring in the Carry On films) and Hugh Paddick, accompanied by Kenneth Horne, who would act as their comic foil.

The diaries of Kenneth Williams were particularly revealing of behind the scenes tensions in the show, and his growing dissatisfaction with the overtly camp character as one of the only representations of homosexuality at the time. He also stated in these published diaries that despite its faults, the team had great fun producing the show, and how he felt that the sketch had an intimate feel, making the queer world more accessible and familiar, and therefore less threatening and deviant.  Furthermore, transcripts from the show held in the BDC explained the use of double entendre and ‘polari’- a lexicon used by gay men in theatre in the 1930s, but which had extended into the British gay subculture in the 1950s/60s- in Julian & Sandy. Words such as ‘drag’ and ‘camp’ were introduced into mainstream vocabulary by the show, and reflected the evolution of homosexuality from a taboo topic, to one that could be represented across the airwaves, provoking and allowing discussion of homosexuality.

The Bill Douglas Centre not only provided the resources for me to research selected sources in greater depth, but also led me to discover other primary materials and artefacts that I would never have found on my own accord. Magazines, diaries, autobiographies, essays and books held by the Centre gave me a more vibrant, and rounded picture of popular culture at this time, and provided an unprecedented insight into coded gay subcultures of this period. From thinking the Centre would have nothing to interest me, I ended up with a plethora of information hidden in the depths of the Old Library and moved away from my comfort zone amongst the library bookcases.

Considering a new way to find literature and sources definitely paid off- the only problem was tearing myself away from the resources available, and actually getting down to writing the mammoth 7,000 word essay!

Victoria Rogers

BA History with Study Abroad