Origins of Working Class Cinema

Another series of short films (hey, there’s a season going on) followed by an interesting discussion with John Digance.

Digance explained very interestingly how these films (alongside the oeuvre of Gracie Field and George Formby) were amongst the first to show working class people without patronising them. However, he said, they were largely made by left-liberal Oxbridge graduates. He might have added, that although these were films about workers, they weren’t really for workers. If you spend your days working in factories and going to the pub, you don’t really want to spend your spare time watching people without any real agency doing the same.

There was also a couple of films which seemed to have been made by Tories or right wing Labourites, saying how giving “your” workers a canteen increases productivity and bemoaning how austerity and rationing also hits nice men in suits

The most interesting film for me was the final one, called “Refuge England”. Made in 1959 it was about a Hungarian refugee in England. I couldn’t quite place it in time. He mentions Hungary beating England 6-3 at Wembley (which must put it after 1953) but talks of having fled to England from “the camps”. Refugee of the 1956 uprising, maybe?

That’s all a bit secondary. It was an astoundingly humane story of a stranger in a strange country who is finding it hard to communicate and is struggling finding somewhere to sleep – every bit as relevant 60 years on. But, unlike the first couple of films, there’s no sense of slumming it with the proles. Anyone could watch this and feel immediate empathy.

Another film afternoon well spent

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