You might be aware that the Sixties Project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), but what you might not know is that, like other UK research councils, the AHRC champions the idea of ‘Open Access’ – which basically means free and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly research (like journal articles). As an AHRC project, all of the work that our project team publish is to be made available to the general public rather than (as is often the case with academic work) being locked behind a paywall or requiring an institutional subscription. So if British cinema history is your thing, read on for a summary of our work so far (as well as links to the journal articles we’ve published!).
Despite the fact that advertising was an important part of cinema programming in the 1960s, this remains an area which has been under researched. Richard Farmer, our project post-doc based at East Anglia, looks at the relationship between cinema and advertising in his article ‘Cinema advertising and the Sea Witch “Lost Island” film’ for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. ‘Lost Island’ (1965) was a 90 second cinema advert for Sea Witch, a popular brand of hair dye, and featured a group of sirens (‘sea witches’) who sought to lure intrepid explorers to their doom. The ad looked to emulate a particular ‘epic’ cinematic style – and (despite the fact that the video below is in black and white) the ad was shot in colour, too. Colour was one of the key features which differentiated cinema from television, and was an important draw for advertisers, particularly as colour commercials were not broadcast on British television until 1969. You can read/download Richard’s article here.
Some readers may be old enough to remember the publicity generated by Michael-Caton Jones’ 1989 film Scandal, a dramatised account of the Profumo Affair which rocked British politics in 1963. Readers almost certainly won’t remember The Keeler Affair (1963), a film of a much cheaper and more exploitative nature which sought to capitalise on the Profumo controversy when it was still at its height. The film was (unsurprisingly) never released in the UK, but it is well worth reading about, for reasons Richard explains in his latest journal article.
Sticking to the lesser-known byways of film history, our project researcher Laura Mayne has been focusing on a forgotten staple of postwar British cinema – the second feature (or ‘B’ movie). These were often cheaply shot crime thrillers of the ‘whodunit’ variety which would have been shown as part of the old cinema ‘double bills’. The dominant historical account of British cinema in the 1960s is one which often emphasizes the importance of the Hollywood presence in the film industry and the international success of British films (like the James Bond series) abroad. While this is absolutely correct, there is also another narrative running parallel to the story of ‘Hollywood, England’; one in which beleaguered independent producers struggled to find finance and distribution for low-budget British film at a time when state support was drying up and the major circuits in Britain were dominated by the monopoly of Rank and ABC. You can read Laura’s article on the death of the British ‘B’ movie in the 60s and its consequences for filmmakers here.
Talking of state finance drying up in the 60s, our Principal Investigator Duncan Petrie has been looking at the relationship between commercial cinema and state support in the form of the National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC). The NFFC was a specialised film bank which was set up by the British government in 1949 to provide financial support to a declining production industry. In 1965 the NFFC agreed to co-finance a slate of medium budget films with Rank, Britain’s biggest commercial film company. The venture was not successful, but Duncan’s case study provides a real insight into the fortunes of the NFFC and the wider structure of the film industry in the 1960s. Read more about it here.
(Films produced through the joint NFFC/Rank financing initiative)
Unfortunately our project Co-Investigator Melanie Williams’ article on costume designer Julie Harris was not published as part of our AHRC open access agreement, but we still should really draw attention to it here, as it’s a fabulously interesting case study of a ground breaking British fashion designer. Mel’s article will definitely be of interest to any fashion historians in the room. Get it here (institutional access may be required).
(Costume design for Julie Christie by Julie Harris for John Schlesinger’s 1965 film Darling. Image courtesy of the BFI)
Post by Laura Mayne (@laurajanemayne)