Click here to buy Michael Proudfoot’s new album…
Ella’s reflections on “The Festival of Britain” film
For those of you who saw our BBC2 doc about The 1951 Festival of Britain last weekend, something that you may have picked up from the film was the prevailing sense of ‘togetherness’ that seems rooted in the general British consensus during the war and post war years. Through consistently meeting and speaking to people in the early research stage of the project, this became more and more evident to me – it wasn’t a theme, but a fact, a symbol of the time.
I am very thankful to have been involved in this project because it gave me a chance to speak to and learn from a generation that I before had little interaction with, aside from that of my own surviving grandparents. I learnt that life in the 50’s was difficult, people were poor with plain clothes, thin from post-war rations and for young people, their working life was in large determined by the 11 plus exam, giving them a chance at grammar school, or not. But notably, if it was the latter, the idea was that you ‘just got on with it’. They played board games together, delighted at the treat of sweets, (or even citrus fruits, as Jean Miller told us), marvelled at the sound of the emerging rock and roll, and the potential of one day owning a television.
A story that stuck in my head was one of William, a now 85-year-old man I spoke to who lived on the original Southbank site, before they built it up for the Festival. His whole street of 15 families lived as a tight-knit community through the war, schooling, church-going, working and playing together, often squeezing into the old crypt of the little St John’s Church seeking shelter from air-raids. In the final year of the war, the Church was hit and several people were lost, trapped in the ancient ‘shelter’. Following the war, tough times were not over, a flower garden was planted over the churchyard bombsite and the remaining members of the community made do. Boys played together in the street, fathers worked long days as dockers and mothers scrubbed their doorsteps clean. No one locked their doors, they didn’t want for much but they were proud of what they had. When the idea of the festival took off, the labour government needed to clear the area, and for the first time, turned their attention to their street. The houses, albeit badly damaged, were deemed ‘not dwellable’. They replaced the shabby roofs with plastic sheeting and after a few months began to evict the families into separate housing (many still being hastily built) around waterloo. Poignantly, William commented ‘the war didn’t split us up, but then the government did’. What really struck me though, was his lack of actual bitterness about the situation. William was sad that his community was dispersed, (and mostly that his dog was put down to move them into the new place), but he watched the festival being built through a gap in the fence and felt inspired. I met William at the annual Festival of Britain Society meeting, which he has been a member of for many years.
There’s a sort or kindness and genuinity that is often characteristic of our oldest generation, war babies, they know that life can be tough and they appreciate small charms in life, but no one expects anything from anyone. Every time I have phoned, there’s always a ‘so kind of you to call’, to offer a DVD ‘oh how generous’. It seems different, perhaps just more real than what we are used to now, where a general proposition becomes a sort of ‘business exchange’, always a suspicion, a ‘what do I get for that’? It can be demonstrated by recent events, the looting ‘discontented’ kids, exposed scandals in our popular media, and the constant demand to reveal all government corruption, expenses laid out on the table. And then comes the fear that we are now living in a ‘dysfunctional society’. There has been and always will be corruption and inequality, probably much more last century, although we know more and need to know more now. But what I think the real difference is, is the element of pride in us as a nation, and the level of respect and care in our people and the community we live together in. Bring it right down onto a local level and, unlike 95-year-old Betty Scott from poplar, we don’t and won’t bring our neighbours clothes in from the rain or look after their kids, and we would be guarded if they offered the same for us.
However, like the Festival of Britain, perhaps it takes a pivotal cultural event amid a time of some hardship, to encourage change. In her comments about our Festival of Britain film, Samira Ahmed asserted that unlike the 50s, ‘Britain is coming out of a period of binge spending into austerity’. But as Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre always asserts, in austere times comes great art. And art brings us together. Proudfoot are just starting work on a new film for the Southbank Centre, to be used as a promotional tool for their 2012 event ‘Festival of the World’. As the name suggests, this goes beyond Britain, and focuses on togetherness in the world. To tie in with the Olympics, the event aligns to Pierre De Coubertin’s original humanitarian theory behind the Olympic games which relate not only to sport, but to all kind of creative and intellectual pursuits.
‘the important thing in the Olympic games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well’.
Britain is a very different place today than in 1951, the world is smaller and because of technology we all know more about it. 1951 welcomed TASPO from Trinidad, 2012 welcomes the world. Regardless of how we’ve got here, lets hope that the Olympics will be good for us, to bring us all together and, as all of our interviewees for the Festival of Britain agreed, to ‘have a little fun’.
Posted by Eddie on September 29th 2011 at 5.37pm
Twitter feedback on our Festival of Britain doc
Have a look through a select bunch below- it seems there is a subculture that craves ‘anti X-Factor’ programming…
Watched doco about Festival of Britain: a celebration of creativity & vision. Preferable to the parade of degradation that is the #factor.
Lovely footage of London in the 1951 Festival of Britain doc. Oh I am partial to a bit of archive.
Festival of Britain a time without irony or satire, just optimism about the future and modernism. Alien and refreshing.
There’s a very good programme about the Festival of Britain on BBC2 you know.You don’t have to pour corrosive acid on your soul with xfactor
That documentary about the Festival of Britain on BBC2 (8.15pm) looks promising. Go on, give X-Factor a miss and treat yourself.
Posted by Eddie on September 26th 2011 at 10.00am
The Great Gatsby’s tears
I’m listening to ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald on my ipod at the moment. I can’t read books on the 38 bus (my bike is being worked on) so I have decided to try an audio book. I don’t know who the man is that’s reading to me but he’s doing a great job- he doesn’t seem to breathe ever and he’s got a great line in male and female voices without ever falling into the pantomime pit. As I suspect is the same with everyone (although I can’t be sure) my brain has a special property in the morning. Thoughts rise and fall like water in the middle of the ocean- it’s difficult to pin-point where they begin and end. Listening to an audio book in this state means that lines from ‘The Great Gatsby’ bobbed along with my other thoughts (housing surveys, possible music for films, guilt about friends’ forgotten birthdays). One passage, though, popped out into clear consciousness this morning. It was a description of a woman singing at a party. She is drunk and crying as she sings to a room of sleepy guests. The language containing long ‘f’ and ‘l’ sounds calmed and saddened me as I heard the words read out loud. I was transported to the 1920s on Long Island (a long way from the 38 bus). It’s strange how a collection of words can be detected by the brain and presented to you for special attention. It’s even stranger how images can stick and revisit you like a real life memory throughout the weeks following your first encounter. ‘Mascara infused tears rolling down the singer’s cheeks’ have stuck with me all day. I think films are the same. Who knows which passage of a film you make will stick with people. The kind of random stickiness of memories is often associated with children and their recollections, a meal in a restaurant on holiday, the name of a character in a cartoon, but adults are just as vulnerable. I’ll probably forget the story of ‘The Great Gatsby’, but the feeling concocted by this passage of words will always stay with me, severed from it’s mass, probably as F. Scott Fitzgerald would have wanted.
Posted by Eddie on September 21st 2011 at 12.08pm
Back to the Dales for Chase
On the 1st of September it was time for me to visit home and see my northern friends and family again. 6:03pm train from Kings Cross to Skipton Town. I had decided a couple of months back to go to Bingley Music Festival which was now here and a sell out. From bands like Fun Loving Criminals, Athlete, Maximo Park, Feeder, Coral, Wretch 32, the list goes on, not bad, £35 for the weekend. I’ve been to Bingley before and it’s one of those events that when you’re with all your friends sometimes the performances just become background music, but you can’t compare Coral on CD in the living room to a live performance in front of 15,000 people, all in the sunshine enjoying themselves with a couple of shandies! Textbook!!!
So, as this weekend went on, the performances went by, with a surprisingly good performance by Athelete, not really a great fan but they were alright. I was looking forward to Maximo Park but to be honest they were very, very average. Their old stuff has been played so much and I’ve seen them so many times via festival TV viewing, they just were not a stand out performance for me, ready for a new album I think, although…
Taxi back to Gargrave village to rest the eyes, then Sunday, back to Myrtle Park. We arrived and had missed Wretch 32. He decided to play earlier because he’s so good and so busy now, wasn’t too fussed though. Leed’s band, Sunshine Underground came on as we arrived. A very similar sounding tempo for a lot of their songs but they had a good sound and with the sun shining, got the crowd really going. Think I pulled a couple of shapes!! Very impressed with them though, really good way to start the day and get everyone in the mood. After them Stereo MCs, Eliza Doolittle and The Coral, who were another good pick for me.
Everyone stood with the sun going down, waiting in anticipation for the headliner – the main reason why my brother and I purchased the tickets. On a Friday night in and randomly talking about Bingley, we decided to check the line up see who else has been confirmed…… ‘Tim….err you’re not going to believe who’s just been announced for Sunday. Chase & Status!!!’…… tickets bought!
Stood ready for the weekend’s highlight, thinking it would be great to try get to the front but everyone else not wanting to go. So myself, Tim and Andy went for it. They came on stage as we made our way, people going mental as we made progress. Andy managed half way until he got taken down and we lost him as we ploughed our way through everyone. We thought about turning back but we were too far in now. I realized, the now half empty Carling I was holding was not going to last any longer, had to think fast, didn’t have the space or time to drink it, so on the face it went! Why? I don’t know, the moment and the previous cans just got to me! Tim and I kept going, slowly gaining ground. Eventually we got there, the front, amazing.
The music was mental, although so far nothing we recognized. It was unreal, people pushing, fighting; some of them had definitely not just been drinking Carling. But, 20 minutes of being chucked about, falling over several times, being hit in the face twice, dripping in beer, sweat and what ever else?…. my bro made the call to retreat back, good idea perhaps. After slowly wading our way back, we found everyone, all still the same, chatting and stood around and watching from afar. We walked up to them, their faces looked at us in amazement, and of course the girls laughing. Me and Tim stood, dripping wet, a little bit shocked and not really knowing why we just did that, but at the same time knowing it was an incredible experience.
Still the tunes played out and the strobes, still insane; plus the Chase & Status tunes we all knew were still to come. Back altogether, Andy still in disbelief of how we actually got to the front and even more so, how we made it back. The night was top notch and one of those that I will never forget. Bingley 2012 is definitely worth checking out, it’s a really good weekend (might not be £35 again though) and one thing about my weekend, Chase & Status was definitely not just background music.
Posted by conor on September 15th 2011 at 3.50pm
The Great Wall of Production
We filmed in Beijing last week. Just in case you haven’t been for a while, there aren’t 9 million bicycles. They’ve all been crushed under the wheels of the 9 million cars.
A real challenge when making short films in other countries is how to ‘represent’ them in the shots that you film. You need to tell the viewer where you are (usually) and you need to avoid cliche. I’m a selfish traveler. I want to see countries BEFORE they’ve been homogenised- with Ford cars, iPads, and KFC joints filling the camera’s frame instead of rusty bikes, chinese manuscripts, and old tea shops. But if you go to Beijing and come away with shots of paddy fields and old women cycling past statues of dragons then you are not a film maker.
I have an internal set of rules when filming abroad; NO FLAGS… actually that’s it… but I try to avoid lazy ways of saying where we are. If you watch some adverts (especially ones found on aeroplane entertainment systems) you would see a world where mexicans wear sombreros, nigerians ride donkeys, and swiss people eat melted cheese…
I suppose the secret is to think- if, for example, you are from Leeds and you’re making a film about an artist that lives there, would you go and look for a man with a flat cap eating a lump of coal standing on the steps of the town hall?
Posted by Eddie on September 5th 2011 at 3.50pm