Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Social Realism Research

Social Realism is the most ‘typically British’ of all film genres and has been Britain’s richest gift to world cinema. Better than any other genre Social Realism shows us to ourselves by pushing the boundaries in the effort to put the experiences of real people onto the screen and shaping our ideas of what British cinema can be.

Social Realism in cinema is a style that takes it roots from the Italian Neorealist movement known for its naturalistic and substance-over-style works of filmmakers such as Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and also Federico Fellini; but is considered as Britain’s main form of cinematic style.

Although Britain is seen as Social Realism’s home in terms of it being Britain’s main cinematic style, many other countries have also produced several Social Realism films with countries such as India producing Social Realism films such as ‘Indian Shylock’ and ‘The Unexpected’ since the early 1920s and 30s. The United States however was one of the last countries to adopt this form
of style in cinema.

For Britons their early Social Realism films often used common social interaction found in Dickens and Thomas Hardy novels. Two of the first Social Realism films produced by Britain are ‘Rescued by Rover’ made in 1905 by Cecil Hepworth and ‘A Reservist before the War, and After the War’ made in 1902 by James Williamson. ‘Rescued by Rover’ catches Edwardian England at a particular moment while ‘A Reservist before the War, and After the War’ offers a portrait of the Boer War serviceman returning to a life of unemployment and was one of the first films to emphasise realism’s value as social protest.

Britain’s contribution to cinema in the 1930s lay in documentaries that would lead into 1940s mainstream cinemas. Producer Michael Balcon combined the objective temper and aesthetics of documentaries with the stars and resources of studio filmmaking, which suddenly made 1940s British cinema appealing to a mass audience.

One of the strongest images of post-war British cinema is that of factory worker Arthur Seaton downing a pint in one at the end of another week in ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ made in 1960. Several other films followed including ‘Room at the Top’, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’ all bringing wide shots and plain speaking stories of ordinary Britons negotiating the social structures of post-war Britain; and thanks to the relaxation of censorship characters now had sex lives, money worries and social problems. British ‘auteurs’ such as Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and John Schlesinger all dealt with tackling issues such as prostitution, abortion, alienation and relationship problems. Identified with their directors rather than with the industry, these New Wave films tended to address issues around masculinity that would become not uncommon in British Social Realism films. Directors from Ken Loach to Patrick Keiller, and films from Mike Leigh’s ‘High Hopes’ made in 1988 to ‘The Full Monty’ made in 1997 have both addressed the erosion of regional and class identities amid a landscape rendered increasingly uniform by consumerism.

After the realist flowering at the BBC in the 1960s publisher and broadcaster Channel 4 attempted to cultivate a cinema audience for Social Realism in the 1980s; and as the funding grew more precarious throughout the 1990s, a formulaic ‘triumph-over-adversity’ narrative combining the streets and city landscapes of traditional British realism with the feel-good vibe of Hollywood individualism emerged; with ‘The Full Monty’ made in 1997 epitomising a new and entertaining conception of British Social Realism and suggesting a national cinema with a genuine and vital commitment to the way we live.

Textual Analysis

I am going to be analysing the first two minutes of the introductions to two different social realism films so that I am able to see for myself how professional social realism films begin and what conventions they hold. I will also be investigating how the micro elements of camera, sound, mise-en-scene and editing are used within these films to create a macro set of themes and issues. The films that I am going to be analysing are ‘Made In Britain’ and ‘Life Is Sweet.’

The first film that I am going to be analysing is ‘Made In Britain’ made in 1982, directed by Alan Clarke and written by David Leland. ‘Made In Britain’ is a docu-style drama that stars Tim Roth as Trevor; a 16 year-old skinhead who is on a rant against authority.

The film begins with a close-up of our main character Trevor who we see with a shaven head and a swastika etched onto his forehead; along with this close-up we also hear non-digetic heavy metal music that the director has intentionally chosen to use as it sets the atmosphere and tone of the film and also represents this character’s personality and destructiveness. The use of the micro element of sound here conveys the films main theme of violence to the audience, this is also conveyed through the symbol of the swastika which represents racism. Here the director is using the technical elements of sound and mise-en-scene to explore the theme of violence while creating a representation of Trevor; this representation being that he is a violent, destructive, racist youth. The director also explores the theme of racism through the swastika we see etched onto Trevor’s forehead, as this symbol has a high social significance and carries around certain connotations and beliefs; therefore informing the audience that Trevor believes in the ideologies of the Nazis and believes in what the swastika represents.

The director’s rationale behind his choice of opening shot is to introduce the main character to the audience and to make them understand what this character is like and what they are feeling, he does this by the use of the non-digetic music and the overall look of this character. The director then follows this character in a close-up as he gets up and walks to where we later find out is a courtroom, throughout this shot the non-digetic heavy metal music is still playing, the music then suddenly stops and the next shot we see is a medium shot of a police officer reciting details of Trevor’s offences. The director then pans the camera around the courtroom where we see Trevor slouched down, Tim Roth to does this as it conveys the message that this character has no respect and that he is a thug. The name of the film then comes up along with the writer’s name and the non-digetic heavy metal music again, this music then stops and we are back in the courtroom where we hear some digetic dialogue between a judge and Trevor himself. The non-digetic music then starts back up again as we see Trevor leaving the courtroom and walking free. The director’s rationale behind this opening scene has been effectively portrayed particularly by the use of non-digetic music as the music effectively sets the violent tone and atmosphere for the rest of the film and conveys the message to the audience that this character is a rebel.

The second film that I am going to be analysing is ‘Life Is Sweet’ made in 1991 and written and directed by Mike Leigh. ‘Life Is Sweet’ is a comedy-drama about a family and the issues they face in their day to day lives such as one of their daughters being bulimic.

The film begins with a long shot of a group of children and a middle-aged woman dancing in a gym to an upbeat song. The director then cuts to a medium shot inside the gym where our focus is on the woman, as we lead into this shot the digetic music suddenly becomes louder and more upbeat. The director uses the camera here to tell the audience that this woman will be one of the main and most important characters to the film and its storyline as our focus is primarily on her.
The mise-en-scene of this opening sequence is used to the director’s advantage as the colours seen and used in this are bright and so therefore give the audience a sense of security, that this film is a happy and positive film when in fact it isn’t as the family struggle from time to time. The digetic music also helps to lull the audience into a false sense of security as the music is upbeat and happy. The director then uses a sequence of long and medium shots of this character and her dance class. We then see a long shot of this woman getting her dance class ready to go home, in this scene we hear some non-digetic music which is fairly slow and has quite a negative effect, the director intentionally uses this music to let the audience know that this next scene is not going to be like the previous one and that it is going to have more of a drab tone. In comparison to the bright and happy atmosphere of the previous scene the next scene we see is drab and washed-out, this is shown by the mise-en-scene and non-digetic music used. The director’s rationale behind his choice of opening has been effectively portrayed particularly by the mise-en-scene and music as they both lull the audience into a false sense of security and then push the audience out of this.

Overall both films have particularly effective openings as they engage the audience and throw them straight into the character’s lives by use of camera, sound, mise-en-scene and editing.