Friday, January 09, 2009

A Pantheon for England

Though I have checked out Raymond Durgnat's A Mirror for England from the library several times, it is only this current go-round (where I am giving it a good thorough read) that I've paid much attention to the appendix of lists in the back. I'm not sure how I'd overlooked it before. At any rate the short appendix ends with a personal (how personal?) pantheon that Durgnat proposes for British cinema. He explicitly labels it a "first draft" and has drawn only from the films in his own index. Presumably he put this together in the very late 1960s or very early 1970s. The book, A Mirror for England, deals mainly with middlebrow British cinema from 1945 to 1958 (or from the end of WWII until the appearance of Room at the Top). But it branches out in terms of chronology and genre, as one would only expect from Durgnat.

Compounding upon Durgnat's own idiosyncrasies as a critic, it's interesting as always to see how great minds of the recent past have characterized historical developments and aesthetic achievements ... i.e., when they've done so in ways that have not been taken up as dominant paradigms or conventional wisdom. Durgnat (like the 80%-anti-Nouvelle Vague Noel Burch circa 1960, or Manny Farber who chose a humanistic Kurosawa [!] film to exemplify termite art) surprises. Who would have thought, for one thing, that this most insightful critic-advocate of Powell & Pressburger would consign all Archers' films (or Powell's individual works) to only the B list? (Could we surmise that he upgraded them in subsequent decades?) And it's difficult to dismiss Durgnat's embrace of what we think of as boring and mildewed middlebrow classics (1950s Asquith?); Durgnat was on the front lines for underground film and animated cinema, and wrote beautifully about "low" genre films (even when he didn't necessarily argue that they were artistic masterpieces, he accorded them greater attention and respect than many of those who do). This isn't like Judith Crist or other "respectable" older movie critics whose postures where that of the shepherd but whose opinions were those of the sheep.

Durgnat's tastes represent an alternate example, a robust one, for where debates and assumptions in film culture might have gone. It is this excavation of somewhat "off," even alien taste cultures that has fascinated me in recent months. I am trying to recalibrate my own eyeballs to this; starting to do things like thinking in terms of Positif as opposed to Cahiers (for example), and to rearrange the dusty old furniture that's accumulated in my brain (in general). Time to open up windows, add on a few new wings to the house, and rejuvenate things so as to retain the good things of my earlier cinephilia (and larger assumptions about art), but recontextualize them as necessary.

(Oh, and apparently Britain's greatest director was the American Mr. Losey! A nice reciprocity given how canonically Hitchcock is regarded as Hollywood's greatest director.)

* * *

'A First Draft Pantheon' - I've added the directors names & dates from the IMDB, my memory, and Durgnat's own filmography; feel free to let me know if I've made mistakes in my haste.

("drawn from all British films mentioned in the index")


Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963)
Blind Date (Joseph Losey, 1959)
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
The Browning Version (Anthony Asquith, 1952)
The Citadel (King Vidor, 1938)
The Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960)
Chance of a Lifetime (Bernard Miles, 1950)
The Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963)
The Entertainer (Tony Richardson, 1960)
Give Us This Day (Edward Dmytryk, 1949)
Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)
The Gypsy and the Gentleman (Joseph Losey, 1958)
The Happiest Days of Your Life (Frank Launder, 1950)
Heavens Above (John and Roy Boulting, 1963)
Housing Problems (Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, 1935)
How I Won the War (Richard Lester, 1967)
I'm All Right Jack (John Boulting, 1959)
It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1966)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (Richard Hamer, 1949)
King and Country (Joseph Losey, 1964)
Knave of Hearts (Rene Clement, 1954)
The Leather Boys (Sidney J. Furie, 1963)
The Little Island (Richard Williams, 1958)
Live Now Pay Later (Jay Lewis, 1962)
The Long and the Short and the Tall (Leslie Norman, 1960)
Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959)
Love Me Love Me Love Me (Richard Williams, 1963)
The L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes, 1962)
The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951)
Men of Two Worlds (Thorold Dickinson, 1946)
Millions Like Us (Sidney Gilliatt, 1943)
Next of Kin (Thorold Dickinson, 1943)
A Night to Remember (Roy Ward Baker, 1958)
Nothing But the Best (Clive Donner, 1963)
Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947)
Orders to Kill (Anthony Asquith, 1958)
Passage Home (Roy Ward Baker, 1955)
The Plain Man's Guide to Advertising (Bob Godfrey, 1962)
Poor Cow (Ken Loach, 1967)
Private's Progress (John Boulting, 1956)
The Queen of Spades (Thorold Dickinson, 1949)
Reach for Glory (Philip Leacock, 1961)
Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
Road Sweepers (Michael Ingrams, 19?)
Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959)
The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (Richard Lester, 1960)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz, 1960)
Secret People (Thorold Dickinson, 1951)
The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963)
Sewermen (Michael Ingrams, 1957)
The Singer not the Song (Roy Ward Baker, 1960)
The Skin Game (Alfred Hitchcock, 1931)
The Sleeping Tiger (Joseph Losey, 1954)
Sparrows Can't Sing (Joan Littlewood, 1962)
Tell England (Anthony Asquith, 1930)
Thursday's Children (Lindsay Anderson and Guy Brenton, 1954)
Time Without Pity (Joseph Losey, 1956)
Tramps (Michael Ingrams, 1958)
The War Game (Peter Watkins, 1967)
Waterloo Road (Sidney Gilliatt, 1945)
Woman in a Dressing Gown (J. Lee Thompson, 1957)
Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968)
Yesterday's Enemy (Val Guest, 1959)


The Angry Silence (Guy Green, 1960)
Battle of the Sexes (Charles Crichton, 1959)
Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov, 1962)
Black Narcissus (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, 1929)
The Boys (Sidney J. Furie, 1962)
Brides of Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1960)
Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
Brighton Rock (John Boulting, 1949)
Carry On Nurse (Gerald Thomas, 1959)
Children on Trial (Jack Lee, 1946)
Circle of Deception (Jack Lee, 1960)
Coalface (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1935)
Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith, 1928)
Cry the Beloved Country (Zoltan Korda, 1952)
Dance Pretty Lady (Anthony Asquith, 1932)
David (Paul Dickson, 1951)
Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, and Charles Crichton, 1945)
The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit (Bob Godfrey, 1961)
Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1959)
Dunkirk (Leslie Norman, 1948)
The Edge of the World (Michael Powell, 1937)
Everybody's Nobody (John Sewell, 1966)
The Family Way (Roy Boulting, 1966)
Fires Were Started (Humphrey Jennings, 1943)
The Flying Man (George Dunning, 1962)
Gaslight (Thorold Dickinson, 1940)
Guns at Batasi (John Guillermin, 1964)
Guns of Darkness (Anthony Asquith, 1962)
The Heart of the Matter (George More O'Ferrall, 1953)
Hobson's Choice (David Lean, 1954)
I Know Where I'm Going (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945)
Industrial Britain (John Grierson, 1931)
The Intimate Stranger (Joseph Losey, 1956)
Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963)
The Kidnappers (Philip Leacock, 1953)
Listen to Britain (Humphrey Jennings 1941)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
The Love Match (David Palthengi, 1953)
Love on the Dole (John Baxter, 1941)
Man in the Moon (Basil Dearden, 1960)
Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934)
The March to Aldermaston ("Under guidance of committee comprising Lindsay Anderson, Chris Brunel, Charles Cooper, Allan Forbes, Derrick Knight, Kurt Lewenhack, Lewis McLeod, Karel Reisz, Elizabeth Russell, Eda Segal, Derek York, 1959)
A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946)
Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)
Night Mail (Basil Wright, 1936)
Oh Mr. Porter (Marcel Varnel, 1937)
Old Bones of the River (Marcel Varnel, 1938)
Once a Jolly Swagman (Jack Lee, 1948)
One-Way Pendulum (Peter Yates, 1964)
Our Mother's House (Jack Clayton, 1967)
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
Polygamous Polonius (Bob Godfrey, 1960)
The Pumpkin Eater (Jack Clayton, 1964)
The Rake's Progress (Sidney Gilliatt, 1945)
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Refuge England (Robert Vas, 1959)
Revenge of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher, 1958)
Rich and Strange (Alfred Hitchcock, 1932)
Rise and Fall of Emily Sprodd (Bob Godfrey, 1963)
Rotten to the Core (John Boulting, 1965)
Sailor Beware (Gordon Parry, 1956)
Sapphire (Basil Dearden, 1959)
Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, 1936)
The Stars Look Down (Carol Reed, 1940)
The Stranglers of Bombay (Terence Fisher, 1959)
Summer of the 17th Doll (Leslie Norman, 1959)
Tales of Hoffman (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1951)
Term of Trial (Pester Glenville, 1962)
They Drive by Night (Arthur Woods, 1939)
They Made Me a Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947)
The Thief of Baghdad (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, 1940)
This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, 1963)
Tiger in the Smoke (Roy Ward Baker, 1956)
Together (Lorenza Mazzetti, 1955)
Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1962)
Tunes of Glory (Ronald Neame, 1960)
Up the Junction (Peter Collinson, 1967)
The Valiant (Roy Ward Baker, 1962)
Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)
The Way Ahead (Carol Reed, 1944)
The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945)
Whisky Galore (Alexander Mackendrick, 1948)
Windom's Way (Ronald Neame, 1957)
Yield to the Night (J. Lee Thompson, 1956)

C. "The category below this would include delightful, interesting or erratic movies, such as, Genevieve, Hamlet, Lawrence of Arabia, Passport to Pimlico, The Wicked Lady, etc."

1 comment:

Brandon said...

You have a great blog and I'd like to trade links with you. I have a blog called Demon Women that describes and provides clips from movies, short films and rock videos that depict women as bad girls, ghosts or villians. The URL is If your interested in trading links just let me know.