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Polyform Film: Peter Watkins and the Paris Commune

Beaumont, M; (2022) Polyform Film: Peter Watkins and the Paris Commune. Quarterly Review of Film and Video pp. 1-26. 10.1080/10509208.2022.2085501. Green open access

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Abstract

In the roughly 125-year history of cinema, no more than five narrative films seem to have been made about the Paris Commune. In their very different ways, all of them represent an attempt to avoid what Grigory Kozintsev, the co-director of one of them, referred to as “the detestable historical film” (Starr 2006, 176).1 Kozintsev was referring to the “historical pictures” produced by the “Leningrad cinema factory,” which “shot the costumes,” as he put it in a delightful formulation, “with the actors inside them” (quoted in Leyda 1973, 202). But the phrase “detestable historical film” might also be adapted to describe the prim, corseted style of what is today called “period drama” or “costume drama.” Here, I characterize this generally conservative, nostalgic genre, which has been synonymous in Britain over several decades with BBC adaptations of canonical nineteenth-century novels, as Uniform film—both because of its commitment to superficially scrupulous depictions of the past, which might be called merely costume-deep; and because of the stylistic uniformity of its mise-en-scène. Kozintzev, in contrast to this static, superficially respectful approach to the events of the past, hoped “primarily to replace this parade of historical costumes across the surface of the film by a feeling of the epoch, in other words purposively to replace it with a general style, and not the naturalism of details” (Leyda 1973). As the first proletarian revolution in history, seminal in its importance both to contemporary and later radical movements, the Paris Commune seems to have demanded a cinema that replaces the parade of historical costumes and that refuses the naturalism of details.

Type: Article
Title: Polyform Film: Peter Watkins and the Paris Commune
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/10509208.2022.2085501
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/10509208.2022.2085501
Language: English
Additional information: © 2022 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10152496
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