When I first entered the BFI center, the Reuben Library captured my attention. I was intrigued by the information it obtained. Understanding that I could not check out any of the books I chose readings that interested me the most. I was able to narrow it down to three novels. Out of these three, the main book that brought enlightenment to the world of film was Jeffrey Richard’s, “Films and British National Identity.” The book connected the concept of British identity to films throughout British history. Furthermore, the book addressed race and how it played a large role in British culture and, in turn, British films.
Specifically, starting on page sixty the book highlighted Paul Robeson that helped transform the film world for blacks in Britain. Originally born in America, Robeson moved to London to pursue a career in TV, film and theatre in hope that he would be received better as an actor in the UK. This is where he began a successful career by appearing in films, such as, Showboat and The Emperor Jones. Interestingly, Robeson began to receive negative feedback from the black community and black writers because the roles he played in portrayed blacks in a stereotypical, ignorant way. After the ridicule, Robeson began expressing to the press how he desired to play “positive black roles.” Robeson brilliantly explained, “We are a great race, greater in tradition and culture than the American race. Why should we copy something that’s inferior? I am going to produce plays, make films, sing chants and prayers, all with the view in mind to show my poor people that their culture traces back to the great civilizations of Persia, China and the Jews.” Truly an inspirational story that, in addition, provided historical insight. I was pleased to be able to take knowledge with me as I departed from the Reuben Library. I would recommend anyone interested in not only British film, but film in general, to visit this marvelous library.
Following the Reuben Center, I visited the Mediatheque. It is directly across from the Reuben Library. It was a very interesting place that offered many options for exploring the world of film. The place administered headphones and provided access to computers that displayed a database of British films that varied in periods of time. As I scanned through and read about different films I came across a particular film that captivated me. The film was called “The Far Pavilions,” starring Ben Cross, Amy Irving, Christopher Lee, Omar Sharif, Rosanno Brazzi and John Gielgud. This 1984 film focused on British colonial India. It demonstrated the levels of culture, power and control between the Indians and British. Moreover, it portrayed what was considered the norm in regard to social status. Additionally, the main character connected the two, adverse worlds by being British but raised by Indians in India; therefore, he displayed respect for a race that was looked upon as inferior. All the way into his adult years, he carried Indian traditions and rituals with him, not allowing anyone to disrespect the Indian culture in his presence. Furthermore, once reunited with an old Indian friend he showed nothing but happiness and affection. Meanwhile, his British company was confused by his strange affections toward a native. The film continues to play out revealing more and more of the racial tension and sense of superiority.
Looking closer at the film I reviewed and the information I found in the Reuben Library I came to the conclusion that race has played a large role in the development of British film. Whether you’re looking at national identity, status, power and or something else. It all goes right back to race. British film has done well in displaying controversial and social issues.
This field expedition was a great experience and I am pleased to express that I’ve learned more about the British culture in film and history. This place is perfect for those that are not experts in the world of European film but would like to either become proficient in British film or simply learn more about it. The two places are located in the BFI Southbank Center on Belvedere Road, London. Check it out on a nice afternoon. The times are flexible, typically not closing until 7 pm Tuesday through Saturday. It’s in a nice area and it’s an educational, fun and intriguing experience. Do something different and learn. I’ll just leave it at that.