Media, Modernity and the Middlebrow

‘Secrets of the Film World’: Archives, Cinema Writing and Interwar Intermedia

Lisa Stead, Tuesday 1 Mar 2016, CEIR Seminar Series

The Centre was delighted to host Dr Lisa Stead earlier this month, whose paper addressed how women’s fictional writing, primarily from the 1930s, and other media forms, such as film and fan magazines, collectively produce a fascinating account of women’s experience of the cinema and of cinema-going in the interwar period.

Stead - 1

Dr Carrie Smith introduces Lisa’s paper



Reminder: Lisa Stead’s paper on interwar cinema is tomorrow!


Visiting Speaker, 1 Mar 2016: Lisa Stead on interwar cinema

Lisa Stead (University of Exeter) will be presenting her paper, ‘ “Secrets of the Film World”: Archives, Cinema Writing and Interwar Intermedia’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 1 March 2016. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 4.43, and will be followed by a wine reception.

This talk will explore the relationship between women’s writing and filmic cultures in interwar Britain. Film and literary media created new identities for women as both the creators and consumers of interwar movie culture, intervening in how women saw and thought about themselves, and how they navigated the everyday experiences of modernity in spatial, behavioural and emotional terms. The paper will focus on the diverse textual forms and archival ephemera that constituted a larger, gendered print culture of cinema, and examine the role that archives in particular play in creating access to a gendered film world behind and around the silver screen. Exploring a rich network of print media from newspapers and magazines to middlebrow and modernist fictions, the paper considers how women created networks of storytelling media around practices of filmgoing. It will touch upon the writings of figures such as Winifred Holtby, Stella Gibbons, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, Elinor Glyn, C. A. Lejeune and Iris Barry, alongside lesser-known columnists, magazine and short story writers—in doing so, it seeks to illuminate a literary preoccupation with the figure of the female cinemagoer, and the experience of cinemagoing. In turning to archival traces of this literary movie culture and its creative figures, the paper will consider the dual process of reclaiming and reframing these writers and their works, foregrounding recent project work seeking to bring these materials to life in new digital and audio visual forms for new audiences.

Rob Walker, Victorian Cut-out Theatre: Stranger in a strange land

This is the third in a series of occasional posts by writer and filmmaker, Rob Walker, whose YouTube series, ‘Victorian Cut-out Theatre’, celebrates the esoteric, strange and downright weird Victorians by animating contemporary illustrations in the tradition of Monty Python.

‘It is the eve of St George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?’ She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. It was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, ‘For your mother’s sake,’ and went out of the room.’—Dracula, Chapter 1

This scene from Bram Stoker’s novel, lays the groundwork for terror as Jonathan Harker enters the Carpathian Mountains, hoping to locate the man who hired him. First, however, Harker is introduced to strange food, strange landmarks and even stranger people. The opening of ‘Dracula’ plays a little like a travelogue, as Harker tries his best to reconcile his new surroundings with his ‘modern’ Victorian upbringing. This scene would proliferate hundreds of copycats in horror literature and cinema. We see it adapted in the film Nosferatu (1922), the first screen adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The German solicitor, Hutter, plans to find the castle of Graf Orlok after a short meal at an inn, only to be told by the proprietor that ‘You can’t go any further tonight. A werewolf is roaming the forest.’ It doesn’t matter what language you speak, or culture you’re from, there is always a place where the food tastes funny and the people are strange. We even have a version of this scenario in the American West, where I grew up. It always begins with ‘You ain’t from ’round here, are ya?’ (more…)

Close-up from 'A Touch of Murder'

Rob Walker, Victorian Cut-out Theatre: Robot butlers and the art of detection

This is the second in a series of occasional posts by writer and filmmaker, Rob Walker, whose YouTube series, ‘Victorian Cut-out Theatre’, celebrates the esoteric, strange and downright weird Victorians by animating contemporary illustrations in the tradition of Monty Python.

My first foray into the world of the mystery story began in the fourth grade when I read ‘The Adventure of The Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes from that day forward, and the hawkish detective led me by the hand to Agatha Christie and my countryman, inventor of the mystery story, Mr E. A. Poe. It wasn’t long before I began reading the entirety of the Holmes canon, and was thrilled to finally run across a collection which featured the original illustrations by Sidney Paget. Paget would create the definitive Sherlock Holmes in his work for The Strand Magazine, and this would be the look by which all future portrayals would be judged. Paget’s illustrations led me to seek out other Victorian illustrators, and I soon found my way to Tenniel, Rackham and Caldecott. If I am to trace the roots of Victorian Cut-out Theatre, or at the very least episode #11, ‘A Touch of Murder’, I would discover the partnership of Doyle and Paget. These artists both led me to explore their own inspirations and contemporaries, allowing me to draw my own connections. It would be decades later, almost out of necessity, when I would put these twin inspirations together in the first episode of VCoT. (more…)