The Lanternist by Patrick Crawford

 ‘Art and Film have a troubled and incestuous history’ writes Douglas Fogle in his article Cinema is Dead, Long Live the Cinema (Frieze Magazine, Issue 29, 1996). Fogle’s article looks at the relationship between Art and Cinema while reviewing a series of exhibitions that have taken place to mark one hundred years of filmmaking including an exhibition entitled ‘Spellbound’ at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition attempts to fuse the mediums of installation art and film together by inviting artists and filmmakers alike to try their hand at crossover projects with contributors including Damien Hirst, Douglas Gordon (with his piece “24 hour Psycho”), Terry Gilliam and Steve McQueen. Fogle is less than complimentary about the success of these projects and insinuates that the increasing importance and seductiveness of cinema has meant that the medium already plays a major role in contemporary art and that crossover projects that attempt to glorify this importance suffer as a consequence. There is a strong argument that contemporary film is the essential medium for creative expression in our culture today. Indeed Fogle states quite candidly that a lot of static art has paled in comparison with the dazzling visual edifices created by filmmakers such as Orson Welles. ‘The world has rocked to the rhythm of 24 frames per second for over a century and hasn’t looked back’ he says. However, film still remains a difficult medium to master. Fogle points out that there are apparent gaps between the moving image and static art and that ‘visual artists trip over cinematic land-mines when crossing into film’. Film, Fogle maintains, is still alarmingly evasive despite its alluring qualities.

 Spellbound

Promotional leaflet for ‘Spellbound: art and film’ at the Hayward Gallery (EXEBD 41644)

It is interesting comparing this article (written in 1996) with Christopher Kenneally’s 2013 documentary Side by Side, which looks at the advent of digital film images and the decline of celluloid. The exhibitions the article reviews seek to highlight how far film has come since its invention in the 1890s and the important and dominant role it plays in contemporary art. However, film itself has developed remarkably since its centenary celebrations. The introduction of digital film has begun to supersede its photochemical counterpart. This is due in part to its accessibility. Side by Side seeks to illuminate this transition in optical media by interviewing many of the world’s leading filmmakers and cinematographers and noting their preferred methods. It is clear to many though, even to those filmmakers who prefer traditional methods of film practice, that digital is fast becoming the dominant medium. Accessibility is democracy, the film points out, and democracy is becoming vital to the arts.

Visual art is as unsentimental as the high street in many respects. Nostalgia is saved for the museums, the galleries and the antique auction houses. The supersedure of art forms and the beguiling nature of more accessible optical media is the subject of my short film, The Lanternist. Lanternists, who were sometimes referred to as Savoyards or Galantys, were traditional small-time visual entertainers in the early 19th century. They would travel between villages and towns putting on magic lantern displays in public places or in the houses of the wealthy. However, their trade began to decline towards the end of the century, due in part to the mass-production of magic lanterns and slides which made it possible for families to organise private lantern displays in their own homes.

LanternistNorton

 

Alex Norton as The Lanternist in Bill Douglas’ ‘Comrades’ (EXEBD 60820)

 

Partly inspired by Alex Norton’s brilliant turn as an itinerant lanternist in Bill Douglas’ film ‘Comrades’, my short film portrays the galanty in a less than fortuitous light. However, unlike Bill’s Lanternist, who through the course of ‘Comrades’ takes on many different guises in order to tell the parallel stories of the history of pre-cinema and the struggles of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and who eventually appears as a successful showman in the final reel, the Lanternist in my film is tortured by the redundancy of his trade and desperately wanders the fringes of society searching for an audience. He engages in crazed and ritualistic dances as part of a defunct show that he performs to no one. He cuts a wraith-like figure walking a lonely pilgrimage. Along the way he finds discarded objects that reflect his own futility. I was inspired largely by Bill’s use of the Lanternist as a metaphorical figure in order to give his film a more harrowing visual, cultural and social context. In the final shot of my film I have included a Mutoscope display, that can be found in the Centre. The Mutoscope, like the Magic Lantern before it are all part of the progression in optical entertainment that has led to contemporary cinema as we know it today (my film is shot in digital). We should celebrate this progression, and indeed the progression of all art forms, and while innovation may be ephemeral it is vital to our culture. However, there are many Lanternists left behind along the way.

 

Bluebeard

Magic Lantern Slides: Bluebeard (EXEBD 64515)

 

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Image from inside The Bill Douglas Centre’s Mutoscope (EXE BD 69076)

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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. 

 

 

Collecting Disney by Katie Newstead

Collecting Disney

 

 

by Katie Newstead

I’ve always been a big fan of Disney, particularly the animated films, and I’m yet to find anyone that doesn’t like at least one character from the studio’s 89 year history.  Last year, while studying for an MA in Film Studies, I decided to use this interest as the basis for my dissertation, which looked at the portrayal of women in The Little Mermaid (Clements & Musker, 1989) and Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale & Wise, 1991), in comparison to their literary forebears.  Let’s just say, Disney didn’t come off brilliantly, but my findings certainly didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the franchise.  On the contrary, I loved the research; reading the novels by de Beaumont and Andersen to get a sense of the change in attitudes, and reviews, published at the time of the films’ release, which gave me an insight into how the films were received.  Watching the films was fun too! 

The Bill Douglas Centre proved invaluable to my research, thanks to the vast array of archive material, such as film publicity, press packs, toys, and magazine and newspaper articles.  I actually wasn’t expecting to find so much helpful stuff for my fairly contemporary subject, but the museum really does seem to have something from every era and genre of film. 

After completing my MA last September, and before that a three-year BA degree in the same subject, I felt I needed a bit of a break from being a student, and began volunteering for the Bill Douglas Centre.  Phil Wickham, the museum’s curator, knew of my interest in all things Disney, due to the hours I spent in the reading room, and the fact that his wife, Helen, was my MA supervisor, and put me in charge of cataloguing the Robin Allan collection.  Robin is the author of Walt Disney and Europe: European Influences on the Animated Feature Films of Walt Disney (1999), and a renowned Disney scholar who conducted years of research on the subject, particularly the role of European Art as an influence on the animation within the films. Robin gained his PhD on Disney from Exeter in the 1990s and very kindly donated his vast collection of Disney research and ephemera to The Bill Douglas Centre . This includes interviews with Disney animators (82672), original artworks and concept drawings (82621), and a lot more besides.

It’s fascinating, looking through this collection, and now I find myself always on the lookout for items that might be worthy of a place within the Disney collections at the BDC, or even on display in the gallery.  To this end, I’ve been [somewhat obsessively] collecting the trading cards that Morrison’s supermarket has been giving away free, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disneyland Paris, which opened on April 12th, 1992. http://www.morrisons.co.uk/disney

There were 99 cards in all, each depicting a well-known character or characters from a number of Disney films and eras.  It became quite exciting, opening the packets each week to see if I’d finally found that elusive Sebastian (the lobster from The Little Mermaid – number H3 in the sticker album), and swapping with other people (via Facebook) to get those that just seemed impossible to track down.  I never did find a gold card, and win a trip to Disneyland though.  It reminded me of the whole Pokémon card craze, back in the ’90s, not that I was ever into it then, but I remember the hype.  Anything can be deemed collectable for, as well as collecting one type of item, such as stamps or coins, people may collect things that relate to a certain event, like the Queen’s Jubilee, or period in history; the 1960s is currently very popular in terms of fashion and iconography.  It goes without saying that film provides a huge range of collecting opportunities, from cigarette cards with images of famous actors (80431-80475), to all things Star Wars, all of which can be seen on display at the Bill Douglas Centre.

Other than anything David Tennant-related, I don’t collect, but I really can understand the enjoyment that dedicated collectors get from adding a much-desired item to their hoard, or finding that one missing piece that they’d long been searching for – like the blessed Sebastian!  I think a lot of people just want to own a bit of history, kind of like saying you ‘were there’, almost.  With sites such as eBay and gumtree.com, collecting is even easier and more accessible to a larger number of people and, as practically anything can be considered collectable, I can’t see this phenomenon ever going out of fashion.

Katie Newstead.