From James Bond to the Beatles, the New Wave to swinging London, the 1960s saw a resurgence in the creative vitality and international appeal of British cinema. Our research project ‘Transformation and Tradition in British Cinema of the 1960s: Industry, Creativity, and National Branding’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and carried out over the past three years in partnership with the British Film Institute, offers a major reconsideration of the British cinema of the 1960s.
As its title suggests, the project engages with the tension between the decade’s reputation as a period of innovation and transformation (in line with popular understandings of the sixties as a time of change) and other historical evidence which suggests instead a deeper continuity with what had gone before and the continuance of certain traditions. This tension is writ large in cinema of the period, in both the industry and its products.
The project is run across two universities, York and East Anglia. The team at the University of York (Prof Duncan Petrie and Dr Laura Mayne) have focussed on key developments in the industrial frameworks of production and distribution during the 1960s, and the extent to which independents constituted a new and transformative entrepreneurial culture. The team at the University of East Anglia (Dr Melanie Williams and Dr Richard Farmer) have explored the creative process of film-making during the period, focussing on the contributions made by various creative personnel (beyond the usual focus on directors) and the influence of other cultural forms and industries – notably television, advertising, popular music and fashion – on British film culture of the period. Both teams have also investigated the extent to which cinema became part of Britain’s new ‘national branding’ in the 1960s, offering new modes of self-definition for a country emerging from its previous status as a global imperial power into a powerhouse of ‘soft power’ through cultural export and tourism instead.
A book based on the project’s findings, entitled Reassessing Sixties British Cinema: Industry, Creativity and National Branding will be published with Edinburgh University Press in 2019. And we plan to continue sharing our research across a range of platforms, carrying on the conversation about one of the most dynamic and fascinating decades in British film history.