A study day jointly organised with Screen Studies Group, School of Advanced Study, University of London

21 November 2003
10:30 - 17:00

Senate House, University of London


A decade after David Bordwell identified the ‘basic story’ of film history, with its attendant aesthetic assumptions, does this still hold sway in Britain? Has the history of cinema taken account of other historians’ debates? Has it had any impact on their work? Can film history be regarded as a legitimate field of historical inquiry, or is it merely a branch of criticism? Could it be part of art history, or of ‘comp. cin.’? Where does national cinema history stand today?


Richard Brown
David Curtis
Christine Gledhill
Malcolm Le Grice
David Mellor
Claire Monk
Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
John Sedgwick

I           The history of what, exactly?

Film texts, genres, periods, aesthetic positions, makers, audiences, industries? Perspectives on what objects and processes film history can or should study – from Richard Brown (co-author, A Victorian Enterprise: the British Biograph Company); Christine Gledhill (Reframing British Cinema, 1918-1928; co-ed, Reinventing Film Studies, etc); John Sedgwick (Popular Film-Going in 1930s Britain)

II          Where do we put the avant-garde (and where do we find it)?

Fringe or foundation? Avant-garde film occupies different places in different national traditions, with Britain as chronically ambivalent about film as about its other art-forms when these are compared with other cultures. Is avant-garde film best kept apart from histories of the commercial medium, or does it need to be integrated? Discussion by David Curtis (Experimental Film; programmer); Malcolm LeGrice (Abstract Film and Beyond, leading film artist); and David Mellor (A Paradise Lost: Neo-Romanticism in Britain 1935-55).

III        Britain in the world; the world in Britain

Do national cinema histories still make sense? Did they ever? How should British film history reflect European affiliations as well as American indebtedness? How does film history relate to national history: can we read the latter in the former, and vice-versa? Discussion by Claire Monk (co-editor, British Historical Cinema); Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (Oxford History of World Cinema); and another speaker to be confirmed.   
format of the day will consist of three panels, in each of which three speakers will outline their position on the production and uses of history of film/cinema for about 15-20 mins, followed by discussion in a round-table format. This is intended to launch an on-going debate about film history research, writing and publishing in Britain; and also to contribute to the shaping of the Centre's London project and its proposed new history of British cinema.


Dean's Office, School of Advanced Study

Conference Organiser:

Professor Ian Christie, Birkbeck, University of London


Last modified 5 November, 2003 ;