A New History of British Documentary by J. Chapman

By J. Chapman

A brand new background of British Documentary is the 1st finished evaluate of documentary creation in Britain from early movie to the current day. It covers either the movie and tv industries and demonstrates how documentary perform has tailored to altering institutional and ideological contexts.

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It produced relatively few films but focused on quality. 58 However, Woolfe had loftier ambitions than supplying what the trade referred to as ‘interest’ subjects. In 1921 he and cameraman Herbert Lomas produced a three-reel reconstruction entitled The Battle of Jutland, using maps and models to tell the story of the major naval engagement of the war. 59 To put these figures in context, they were towards the higher end of the cost range for British features but were still less than the average Hollywood picture.

23 And this was also the view of John Grierson, who drew a clear distinction between documentary and early actuality films, which he regarded as ‘dim records . . of only the evanescent and the essentially unreal, reflecting hardly anything of the times they recorded’. ’24 It is the prevalence of Grierson’s idea of documentary in film history that is largely responsible for the marginalization of this earlier tradition of non-fiction film. Mitchell and Kenyon: ‘See yourself as others see you’ The example of Mitchell and Kenyon demonstrates how the map of early non-fiction film has been redrawn in recent years.

14 Urban’s preference for non-fiction film ran against the trend towards story films that was emerging by this time: his success was due in large measure to astute marketing as well as the superior quality of his films. Yet Urban was more than just a successful producer: he also developed an interest in the social utility of cinema. He was quick to spot the potential of film to serve the needs of education and preceded John Grierson as an advocate of a more socially purposeful cinema. 16 He recalled Matuszewski in acclaiming the ‘accurate and truthful eye’ of the cinematograph and in calling for ‘motion pictures of current events .

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