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The art of Randy Thom

 Sound designer (FW35)

Sequence and the flowering of postwar film culture. A history of film magazines (part 1)
Sequence and the flowering of postwar film culture. A history of film magazines (part 1). By Richard Armstrong
In the middle decades of the last century the assumption that film offers unmediated access to experience was not widely questioned as it has been since. Film brought the world to the spectator, as it were, and was seen to be vital to the education of a modern society. All the key political figures of the time recognized this. Lenin had written: “Film is the most important thing we have.” Hitler commissioned astonishing footage of the 1936 Olympic Games. European documentarists Pare Lorentz and Joris Ivens made films about soil erosion and universal power for the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression. In Britain public policy and film aesthetics combined in a respected documentary tradition.
The documentary movement is still seen as Britain’s main contribution to film art. In the 1930s the public information film was regarded as key to the role film would play in modern Britain. Documentaries such as Housing Problems (Arthur Elton and Edgar Anstey, 1935) and Coalface (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1935) showed Britons to themselves, informing and educating in the attempt to encourage social cohesion. But the political aim did not always result in such inspired films as Night Mail (Harry Watt and Basil Wright, 1936), one of those on which the movement’s reputation now rests. As John Caughie pointed out in the Encyclopedia of European Cinema (Ed. Vincendeau, 1995): “It is somehow appropriate to the empirical and utilitarian traditions of British thought that documentary should be its contribution to world art cinema.” Such an apparently bland aesthetic ladled with patrician zeal seemed crudely self-evident and boring to some postwar commentators. It was the conservative wing of the documentary movement represented by its founder, the producer John Grierson, that fed into the patriotic and consensual ‘quality film’ of the war years and after. Meanwhile, the experimental wing of the movement represented by the work of Len Lye and Humphrey Jennings that had looked towards the Continental modernist project, was largely lost to the mainstream. This was a loss that the postwar Oxford University undergraduate magazine Sequence felt keenly. Prewar British film writing tended to fall into two camps. On the one hand, journalists saw movies as novelties that sometimes rose to the status of art. On the other, the coterie writers at publications such as Close-Up (1927-33) and the Edinburgh Film Guild’s Cinema Quarterly (1932-35), saw film as a great art form fallen into the hands of grasping capitalists. Established in 1932, Sight and Sound magazine emerged out of an Institute of Adult Education initiative to “consider suggestions for improving and extending the use of films for educational and cultural purposes and to consider methods for raising the standard of public appreciation of films.” Yet Sight and Sound remained a classroom aid and film society journal during the interwar period, its influence on the British film industry limited. Typical in its pages were the advertisements for projectors, and manuals of film appreciation written by eminent champions of the film like Basil Wright and Ernest Lindgren. The international focus, an ongoing commentary on the film industry, the close aesthetic analysis that we associate with Sight and Sound today date from the early-1950s as the magazine came under the influence of Sequence amid a climate of fresh intellectual impetus. The modern Sight and Sound is the product of a shift in film appreciation that took place across Europe and America in the postwar years.