British New Wave Cinema made its appearance during the late 1950’s in the world of European cinema representing Britain as a nation in a socio-political aspect during a time where Britain was divided and defined by social class. Some of the issues portrayed in British new wave cinema are issues such as the economic state of Britain at the time, poverty issues, employment,racism, sexual orientation, and gender, all these as a reality of the country. The representations of these films at the time were presenting the country through personal and emotional stories of the characters in the film.
The two sects of British film, “new” and “old” British new wave cinema depicted issues that concerned society at the time. However, they have been slightly different as British cinema had the tendency to portray and “document” the lives of these characters realistically but by using by using a coming effect within the story’s narrative. This phenomenon has its links to the two concepts of social realism and socialist realism where despite sharing similar themes they differ regarding the principles they “obey” and the reasons they have appeared and under whose “influence” they are.
The way in which these films were directed where influenced by the events that were taking place at the time and different movements and establishments which again were part of political and social issues such as post world war two which had influenced that generation. Such movements that have influenced the British cinema where the Italian Neorealism movement which is seen as one of the major influences of British new wave, literature in Britain at the time, free cinema movement or kitchen sink and angry young men.
All these contributed to the way British new wave cinema was formed regarding its narrative, aesthetics and themes used forming the cinema itself and setting it “apart” from Britain’s mainstream cinema and the US cinema. Looking at Social realism or and in particular Italian Neo-realism during the 1920s and 1930s, which has been affected by the documentary movement during the 1930’s and 1940’s there is a noticeable sense of realism within British new wave cinema. Italian Neorealism focuses on telling and reflecting the story of post-war two involving poverty and desperation.
There is a sort of exploration regarding important issues within society in a way that not only portrays the existent reality of that particular time but also is a way in which social realism works as in an educational aspect all regarding gender inequality, social class inequality, religious beliefs, race, and sexuality. These issues are also portrayed and “argued” in British new wave cinema as one of the main issues including social class inequality, gender, race and political views.
In the social realism movement, the characters used in the films are characters who are unprofessional and do not have experience and which are unknown. This was one important element of the films of British new wave as the reason these unprofessional characters were used was in order to achieve a more realistic feeling within the film. A Kind Of Loving” (1962) is an example of a British new wave film of low budget of around one hundred and eighty thousand pounds (Murphy, 1992:25), starring nonemainstream actors such as Alan Bates and June Ritchie.
In this film there is a very “lyrical” or” expressive style” concerning the film’s visual style as some of its characteristics include regarding its mise-en-scene include long shots of locations, not much music, and when used it is non-diegetic, however, an important statement which shows the mindset of filmmakers at the time is a statement by Manvel (1969: 70). Manvel states how he prefers using ordinary people for the cast, in the location where the film will be filmed as well as he prefers to work outdoors and not in a studio.
One more important aspect of this film which “highlights” the issues around gender is how women are portrayed throughout the film, and how their activities are a way of self-definition. Women are only interested in duties involving the house, clothing and their appearance which according to Murphy (1992:30), is a way of “expressing anxiety about the erosion of masculinity”. Also, another reason unprofessional actors were used in Italian realism was because of the fact that during that period of time filmmakers were not able to afford mainstream actors, as there were financial difficulties in the country and minimal resources.
This lead to them also using real locations instead of studios such as in most Hollywood films, leading to a completely different and new cinematic style, a realistic one used that was then also adopted by British new wave in cinema for the same motives. There is also a major emphasis on the emotions felt by the characters drawing attention to them rather than the situation they were living in as a lot of their emotions are emotions of frustration, dissatisfaction, desire, and hardship as a main.
The editing of the films is also quite simplistic as well as the script is more natural and conversational rather than dialogical. All this contributing to the documentary style of the films. These elements were all part of the Italian Neorealism movement which developed in other countries across Europe and outside Europe, such as France, Brazil, Latin America, the US and the United Kingdom referred to as “Kitchen sink realism”.
Kitchen Sink Realism which is also described as free Cinema movement was the kind of cinema which was “free of” commercial and mainstream television allowing a more experimental cinematic style. The kitchen sink was developed during the 1050’s and 1060’s with and it whose protagonists in films was called angry young men due to the kind of messages they would transmit and the ideologies that they were based on.
A great of example would be the film “Look Back In Anger” (1959) which is a film about a smart young man, his wife who belongs a middle upper class and her best friend who are in a love triangle and at the same time is angry because of his living situation where he is not offered any social opportunities in society because of the working class he belongs to in which he feels trapped. Through his character, he is representing the British class and the emotions they were experiencing at the time reflecting the feelings of anger towards the economic establishment in the country and the socio-political state of it.
It also represents issues regarding gender inequality as females are positioned in the “kitchen”, taking care of home duties. A great example is a film called “A Taste of Honey” (1961) where one of the main characters is a female called Jo. Jo does not fight for social desires of regarding political issues as she is a female and settle for the situation as it is as well as she gets “trapped” because of her situation as she dates a black sailor and gets pregnant at the age of 17. She is then forced to deal with the negative and harsh criticism of society just like her mother because of her teen pregnancy.
According to Hill (1986:139), there is also this portrayal of the working class people in general or the females in which they are “willing victims of bad faith”. There was an interesting aspect of kitchen sink realism is the fact that a lot of the films were based on plays who themselves belonged to the working class. The fact that these films were based on plays also gave a theatrical sense. Since these films were also a form of education, British filmmakers during the 1930’s and 1940’s were also labeled as “Documentary film Movement”.
This was because some of these British filmmakers such as John Grierson who was considered as one of the most influential of all, began this the movement in order to educate society and in order to help them acquire a much better understanding of how democratic principles worked and political norms in general that were “unknown” to them due to lack of education (Palmer, 2006:57). This action was described as a “creative interpretation of reality” (Higson, 1933). British New Wave is also described as free cinema as it “autonomous” and works independently and uncommercialized.
British New Wave is also a way of confrontation and can also be seen as a challenge towards other previous British films. The free Cinema movement is one of its “characteristics” as it has been influenced by this movement. The world “free” represents a kind of movement that is free from the government propaganda or any parties. “… Freedom from commercial constraints and considerations and freedom to choose the subjects that interested them as artists” (Lay, 2002: 55).
Such films that belong to the free movement are formed independently with the vision of the filmmaker himself alone. All these combined together had contributed to the way British filmmakers had made their films creating a different and again new kind of realism based on their own theoretical sense. According to Lowenstein (2002:55), free movement cinema was a link to British New Wave Movement as they have they have similar “intentions” such as representing everything that was happening at that period of time in the United Kingdom.
Looking at escapism, it does not really exist within the films of British new wave as these films are formed in a way in which the viewers themselves are part of the film as these films are aimed at a high percentage at them. The viewers are now part of cinema and are the ones that create is as well as they are the ones taking part in. It becomes more of a “social activity” in which they are the protagonists, rather than a way of escaping, which is the phenomenon of “escapism”. Billy Liar (1963), is an example of how escapism which used to be used with film as a tool in order to escape reality is now seen within the film itself.
In this film the young male protagonist called Billy (Tom Courtney), lives with his parents’ grandmother. Billy creates this imaginary life, and pictures himself I this fantastic world where he sees himself as a hero of the military, as well as he also forms stories of his own about his family members as well as him, himself. The reason why Billy decides to create this reality that do not exist is a way of escaping from the harsh reality he lives in or of the reality he does not enjoy.
This links to the way people used to dream of seeing themselves somewhere in a better place, for example through education but these dreams were not later on fulfilled. Also, the film’s general message or the film as a representative of British New Wave pays attention mainly to the characters in the film and their attitude and behaviour presenting the people living in that era and mindset and how some of them would not take advantage of the opportunities or were just not able to take advantage of the opportunities offered based on various reasons.
The film, however, “encourages” the youth to find the courage and advantage of these new opportunities that have been given to them. Also, the film portrays the “changing” society to some extent, of the early 1960’s where females begin to have even a small voice in a society where gender is a major issue. There is a focus on the new emerging lives in the “new” films of British films such. Finally, the film called Darling (1965). Darling is a film starring young model Diana Scott (Julie Christie), who is on her way to rising as an actress and as a model.
The way in which the film is set aesthetically and cinematically which links to the whole concept of social realism, but there are however a few noticeable differences regarding the representations that are aimed to be achieved through the protagonists roles regarding gender. Diana portrayed as the character in control with the story of men falling in love with her but decides to distance them from herself, this is something that is never really seen in older British films.
The female character also is independent and there are a lot of visual meanings and symbolism in the film which makes it more creative and artistic when it comes to its style. To sum up as British Cinema has evolved and developed in different aspects and has developed through realistic events taking place at the time, and with the influence of other different movements, all which play major roles as seen from above as to the way the film narratives are shaped, the mise-enscene, cinematic styles, themes, and the way the film is aesthetically formed.
British new wave owes their formation to the way society had been constructed not only during the 1950’s and 1960’s but also to the way other important movements had been contrasted in the 1930’s. The stories of the films change in accordance to the way society changed and as main examples, gender is one of them with the female protagonist roles changing they’re whole previously stereotypical and traditional personalities of the housewife and “victimized” one. British New wave is a movement that has emerged in a way in which it is known as one of the most important movements in the world of not only European but International Cinema.