Listen To Britain & Stories We Tell

This week, I begun a degree in Film Studies and Creative Writing. I'm incredibly excited, I had to switch from my first degree for health reasons and move back home, but already this seems more suited to the kind of learning I'm good at. That is to say, it's Film Studies and not Media Studies, focused more on the reading of film as an art form, rather than the more abstract and industrial study of the way ideas are mediated culturally. I am great at the former, and am terrible at the latter, at least in terms of engaging with the academic language.

In addition to more official pieces, I want to use this site to try to keep as I progress through the academic year. Mostly as a tool for me than, as I'll use them to point to interesting readings, to texts that may come in handy in future assignments, to things I will need to remember when it comes to getting the grades. But I want to do it in an interesting way, things will be written super informally, and if you're reading along you'll get something out of this too!

The first week was mostly an induction, in which we were introduced to the University's practices and structures, whilst being given outlines for each half of the course. At the early stage, both sides seem cool, Film Studies being highly structured with detailed module guides full of wider reading and related viewing. Creative Writing on the other hand is a little less forward, instead encouraging us to just begin writing anything before we start worrying about the little things like craft, structure and if we're any good. I think both of these approaches are fairly spot on for their subjects.

But being an induction, we've not really got into the meat of things yet, which means this post is also going to be a bit of a short introduction, and next week we'll start to talk about the topics being studied, and what I'm taking from the teaching! AHHHH I'M SCARED, LEARNING IS HARD.

We did, however, watch two films as part of this induction week, and I'm going to make notes about all the films watched as part of the course, so here we go:

Listen To Britain (1942)

dir: Humphrey Jennings & Stewart McAllister

For a piece of wartime propaganda, Listen To Britain displayed a striking amount of nuance in its ability to tap into the deep sense of terror that lies beneath the 'stiff upper lip' persona of the time. Musical montages of community are contrasted with uncertain shots of coastlines with German voices heard on the radio. It's an effective and honest display of vulnerability, from a genre that perhaps you may assume would stay away from weakness.

That's not to say the film is subversive, far from it. As a work of propaganda, it's astoundingly effective. It uses this sense of collective sense of unease to enforce a sense of hegemony, to create a false sense of togetherness and promote an ideological status quo. Listen To Britain, despite the mission statement of the  Mass-Observation movement,.makes no attempt to display the truth of the lives of normal people. Instead people are dehumanised, reduced to signifiers of their class in order to promote this idea of unity from the factory worker to the royal family. Do your part.

Mostly, what watching it revealed was that there is little ideological difference between this form of Wartime Propaganda, and any other form of Capitalist Propaganda. David Cameron, his status as elite so codified that he can engage in acts of excess so ludicrous as pig fucking and still get to be Prime Minister, while using this idea of Austerity to enforce cruel policies which kill thousands of disabled people like me.

We're all in this together. We were always all in this together.

Stories We Tell (2012)

dir: Sarah Polley

I've been thinking about the final shot of Stories We Tell ever since I saw it. The film is beautiful, an overwhelmingly powerful look at the intimate and the epic, at the way the mundanities of our lives contain emotions infinitely vast if only we took the time to look. This film hit me so hard that I was in bawling, ready to give up my obligation writing, the things I do because I think I should, and instead embark on some doomed carpe diem quest to truly find purpose.

And had it ended there, Stories We Tell would have been a masterpiece. But then comes the ending, an almost secret second ending which comes after this film which almost aches with import and profundity fades to black. The screen fades back up, and Geoff Bowes delivers the final punchline, puncturing the balloon that is this movie and letting out all the air. Instantly, what was heavy immediately becomes light, and we leave the room reminded that none of us know a fuckin' thing and that's okay.

I could talk about Stories We Tell's study in narrative perspective, in familial dynamics or even in the emotional truth of the documentary form, but that's not what I took from me. What I took was this perfect singular moment, this confidence to completely undercut what the entire movie had been building to in a manner that didn't take away any of the truth from the earlier revelations.

What a beautiful movie, and a fantastic beginning to the course.