Herbert Mason

M.: Arthur Crabtree; Int.: Sydney Howard, Muriel George, Wylie Watson, Irene Handl; Prod.: Sidney Gilliat Beta D.: 8’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Was London-born William K. Everson (1929-1996) the first American film historian? He treasured and respected American cinema, which he knew better than anyone else, as a form of art long before the “cult movie” or the “guilty pleasures” attitude, and long before a new generation of film buffs started taking their cues from European cinephilia. Reading his books and program notes, looking at the “special events” he carefully composed, one is struck by the rigorous choices. His method was originally shaped by his action as a film society curator and a film collector. It is strictly pragmatic: there is no history without the films. He would not fit in the framework of “film studies” (his name does not appear once in a serious collection called Recherche, Quellen und Methoden der Filmforschung), whereas film studies should learn from him. Reading him or listening to him is/was always a source of ideas, of discoveries, of suggestions, not precluding productive disagreements! To mention one example, I was impressed, at a seminar in Venice in 1981 (Il film come bene culturale) to see him advocate the preservation of the B-movies heritage, which he described as “just already gone beyond the state of preservation”, for their social and occasionally artistic values. Everybody had the feeling those films were saved, simply because they could be viewed in poor 16 or mutilated TV prints (and soon on 3d generation video).

On Wednesday, December 29, 1977, Bill Everson introduced two programmes of “Wartime propaganda shorts” at the London National Film Theatre. They were en eye-opener for me, and I suggested that Il Cinema Ritrovato try and reconstruct them.

The difficulties encountered in obtaining the films are a sad testimony to Everson’s Cassandra-like prescience. While his legendary collection has not been dispersed, many of the 16 millimeter prints that made up the double bill cannot be screened any more and had to be found elsewhere. One representative programme has now been compiled out of the two.

Here is the beginning and conclusion of his written introduction, deprived of course of the enlightening introductory comments Everson made before the shows.
«During World War II, film was very much a weapon – an instrument for information, training and propaganda as well as, obviously, for morale-boosting entertainment. It was a huge area of activity, with top Hollywood (and British) stars, writers and directors working side by side with army personnel and documentarians. It is much too vast a field to be covered adequately in one evening (we have eliminated animation entirely, holding over Disney and the others as possible future programme material) but tonight’s films should serve to give a good cross-section of the quite ambitious films made largely for propaganda purposes. The American ones have not been shown here before, and the British ones are, in many cases, lost in their country of origin! Side by side, they provide interesting comparisons in propagandist methods, with the American ones dominated very much by studio style and type- casting (Barbara Britton appears twice as the girl next door, Lionel Barrymore is “Grampa” and Walter Brennan is the postman!) and also displaying a romanticism and an almost vicious revenge motif quite absent from their British equivalents. (…)

“Bear in mind that these films were all designed for instant, hard- hitting propaganda usage. They were never intended for either “entertainment” or “study” usage in a compilation such as this, and a brainwashed reaction is likely to set in fairly early in the evening. However, in terms of their place in film and social history, they certainly provide more basic information when screened en masse like this.»

Bernard Eisenschitz


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