Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Social Realism

[I'll be updating this with Warp/WT egs]

The film genre that is most associated with British cinema (costume/historical/heritage drama also: Elizabeth, Pride and Prejudice...). Features:

  • Few films from the genre enjoy major box office success, because...
  • they have low budgets, because...
  • they rarely feature any stars (maybe some TV actors that are quite well known in the UK only, but not internationally), and even...
  • often cast non-professional actors; This is England's Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) was a kid Meadows spotted bunking off school (truanting)!
  • they often have no script, instead actos improvise - Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are famous for this approach, which makes it hard for them to convince studios to fund their films!
  • whereas most successful, hit UK films are set in London/the South of England, these often use locations around the UK: Sweet Sixteen in Scotland, Mickybo and Me (WT2) in Northern Ireland
  • most UK hit films also use middle or upper class characters, or central protagonists (all those Hugh Grant Working Title rom-com characters...), but social realist films typically centre on working [DE] (or lower middle [C2]) class characters: look at the opening shot of This is England, with the peeling wallpaper in Shaun's bedroom, or the opening scene of WT's debut film back in 1985, My Beautiful Laundrette, seeing the homeless lead being kicked out of a 'squat'
  • Thats the 'social' bit of social realism - this generally means focussing on underprivileged or minority sections of society, including ethnic minority and sexual minority characters too (MBL's co-lead is a gay Asian man)
  • the 'realism' bit comes from their documentary style: they aim to present 'the truth' about the country, not an idealised version that sells, and use documentary-style approaches to do so: handheld cameras, natural lighting, which of course also means...
  • that, coming full circle, they are cheap to produce!
  • See links below: the genre comes from earlier historical film traditions

British films that fictionalise real-life social issues, using a filming style similar to documentary (handheld, shaky, natural lighting, comparatively limited non-digetic music, usually unknown or minor actors). Developed out of the 1920s-40s BDM, 40s/50s Italian neo-realism, 50s/60s French New Wave, and British New Wave around the same time.

There are at least 25 posts on this blog which reference social realism; see also: (teacher PowerPoint) (student PowerPoint)

A classic BDM eg: Night Train (Watt & Wright, 1936) follows the journey of a mail train across Britain and the working men who see our mail gets delivered. [Watch on YouTube here.]
Here's some excerpts from a PowerPoint I've done (full version available on request)

  • British cinema’s dominant genre, partially due to the lack of finance available
  • Its roots go all the way back to the 1920s-40s British Documentary Movement
  • SR movies tend to be low budget as…
  1. Handheld cameras are common; slightly shaky camera work is often intentional as it signifies a documentary (realist) style
  2. Tend not to feature major stars (though have a good track record of creating new stars: Jamie Bell (BillyE’t), Daniel Day-Lewis (MBL), Tom Courtenay & Julie Christie (Billy Liar, 1963 – shot in Bradford!)
  3. Often uses improvisation instead of adaptation of books (rights for which can cost millions, eg Atonement, BJD), something the director Mike Leigh in particular is famous for. Naked (in F6 to borrow) saw his cast live the lives of their characters for weeks and come up with their dialogue
  4. SFX, which would detract from the realism, are rarely used
  5. Don’t confuse realism with verisimilitude – space aliens help provide verisimilitude for a sci-fi movie, but not realism!
l  Tackles social issues such as racism, homophobia and poverty
l  Typically set in working-class communities; focusses on minority groups (having an Asian lead in MBL was unusual – it still is, 25 years on!) and the socially excluded (white working-class skinheads are rarely seen as anything other than simple thugs, but TisEng takes a more detailed look beyond the stereotype. NHill’s ‘Spike’ (Rhys Ifans) is a typical portrayal of the working class slob in mainstream British cinema.
l  Unlike WT rom-coms, set in all parts of the UK as not usually seen as commercial films likely to appeal to a US or other foreign audience. Even the London we see in MBL is a very different one to that in NHill/BJD etc!
l  If BJD/NHill etc act as glossy ads for the UK, the likes of This is England, with its rundown council estates and mobile hut as a church (featuring the “Maggie is a twat” graffiti), reflect a hidden side

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