Auteur Books on 60s British Cinema

Witchfinder General
By Ian Cooper
Auteur 105pp £9.99

Let the Right One In
By Anne Billson
Auteur 112pp £9.99

Studying British Cinema: The 1960s
By Danny Powell
Auteur 254pp £18.99

Auteur Books produce informed and approachable texts aimed at undergraduate students – but of interest to the general film enthusiast. They have recently published several books in two of their specialist lines that are worthy of attention. In the Devil’s Advocate series they have two new offerings, Witchfinder General and Let the Right One In. In their already established and well-received Studying British Cinema series, Danny Powell’s Studying the 60s offers a solid and informed overview of this boom and bust period of British cinema history. After an introduction that maps out his approach to the period along with a useful contextualisation of the truths (and myths) about the 60s, he proceeds to look at the decade through key films from each year. From Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) up to the ‘self-parodying… anachronism’ The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969), Powell takes the reader on an often fascinating journey through that much maligned (and over-praised) decade.

Some observations though: more might have been made of the gender issues implied by the fact that Anne Jellicoe wrote The Knack, and although the book does not intend to be comprehensive, the lack of even cursory mention of important players like Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Tony Tenser, Michael Reeves and Ken Russell, and production companies like Tigon and Amicus, is to be lamented. And what of quintessential period films such as Smashing Time, Morgan, Isadora, Charlie Bubbles, Up the Junction or Poor Cow? These omissions are all the more striking as valuable space is given over twice to Clive Donner’s Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

In contrast, Ian Cooper’s Witchfinder General covers much of the same period but is paradoxically able to consider a wider cultural field by virtue of honing in on one particular movie. There are inevitable differences in interpretation in both works and this is sometimes a result of the research: Cooper cites Julian Petley’s key text, ‘The Lost Continent’ while Powell does not make any reference to it. In his 1986 article, Petley argued for a consideration of aspects of British cinema that fell outside the then predominant critical view that only films of social realist tendency and toned down emotional excess or spectacle were of import. Reflection on Petley’s thesis might perhaps have allowed Powell’s cinematic net to be cast over a slightly larger area.

Nonetheless, both books are informative and assured and as neither is intended to be definitive or comprehensive both succeed in their brevity. The same can be said of Anne Billison’s succinct account of the Swedish milestone Let the Right One In and her contextualisation of vampirism in respect to this post-modern cinematic contribution to the genre. We can look forward to more sparkling titles in these worthy series.

James B. Evans

To kick off this new and regular bonus addition to Cine Lit – in which the column’s intrepid editor pays homage to wonderful film books that are out of print or just plain ‘missing in action’ – it seems only right to highlight one of the most sought after, and as a consequence one of the more valuable, tomes to appear (occasionally) on second-hand websites, Mark Thomas McGee’s Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures. McGee offers what must be the authoritative history of the drive-in circuits’ favourite provider of thrills, spills and chills. Exchanging hands at prices of up to £200, the 1996 edition of his book is a scholarly but non-academic account of the rise and fall of that legendary production/exhibition/distribution hothouse of low-budget ‘youth’ films within whose ranks Roger Corman and his ‘school’ of first-time directors passed: Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, Monte Hellman, Robert Towne, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich – to name but a few. This warts-and-all tale of the fabulations and near-cons of owners Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson is a terrific read and a valuable addition to American cinematic history. Save this book! JE