Measuring Film's New  Cultural Impact

 For the last five years I have been   leading an annual workshop for Europa Cinemas members at the Bologna Cinema Ritrovato Festival, where we discuss how to link the 'old' experience of cinema with contem-porary culture and especially e-media.

In 2009, I contributed to a study for the UK Film Council, Stories We Tell Each Other: The Cultural Impact of British Film, which explores how film's 'long tail' in digital media and the on-line blogosphere are amplifying film's cultural impact. This and a later  report, Opening Our Eyes (2011) are both online at the UKFC and BFI websites (also slides from presenting the report with my co-authors Bertrand Moullier and Silvia Angrisani. Above: Edinburgh presentation, with Mark Cousins, June 2010).


 A new edition of Gilliam on Gilliam

 is hopefully under way, which will trace

 the maestro's career since we left him

 back in 1999 after Fear and Loathing

 in Las Vegas, through the subsequent

 quixotic adventure of Don Q, The

 Brothers Grimm and the unfairly

 maligned Tideland, up to the magnif-

 icent Imaginarium of Dr Pannassus.

 Now it'll also have to take on board 

 Terry's brilliant production of Berlioz's

 The Damnation of Faust for Engish

 National Opera in 2011.  



Back to... The Edge of the World, The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom

 Michael Powell's breakthrough film, 

 The Edge of the World (1937), has

 reappeared in Blu-ray format, with all

 the extras from the BFI's earlier DVD -

 commentary by Thelma Schoonmaker

 and me, readings from Powell's book

 of the film by Daniel Day-Lewis, and

 I’ve written a new booklet essay.


 Also new are the Criterion and ITV 

 Studios versions of Powell and 

 Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, both in

 Blu-ray and DVD, and based on the

 new Film Foundation restoration.

 Criterion retains the original extras, with

 interviews and commentary by yrs truly.


 And Peeping Tom has also made the

 transition to Blu-ray in a new Optimum

 disc based on a recent restoration, with

 my commentary.




 I'm a film historian, curator, broadcaster and consultant, and have been Anniversary Professor of Film and Media History at 

 Birkbeck College, University of London, since 1999. I have written and edited books on early film, Powell and Pressburger, Russian

 cinema, Scorsese and Gilliam (further details elsewhere on this site); and worked on exhibitions ranging from Film as Film

 (Hayward,1979), Eisenstein: His Life and Art (MoMA Oxford, 1988) and Twilight of the Tsars (Hayward, 1991) to Spellbound: Art

 andFilm (Hayward, 1996) and Modernism: Designing a New World (V&A, 2006). I also contribute regularly to radio and television

 programmes on cinema. These have included essays on Harold Pinter as screenwriter and on Bach as a film composer for Radio

 Three, as well as interviews for The Hundred Scariest MoviesThe Thirties in Colour (BBC4), Scotland on Screen (BBC2), Rude

 Britannia, Dive! Dive! Dive!, Strictly Courtroom and Epics (BBC4).


 Having been involved with pan-European media initiatives since the 1980s, I am currently a vice-president of Europa Cinemas and

 member of its Experts Committee. I was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1994 and in 2005-06 was Slade Professor of

 Fine Art at Cambridge University, with a series of lectures entitled 'The Cinema Has Not Yet Been Invented'. Recent lectures have

 included the first Richard Gregory Lecture for the Bristol Vision Institute at Bristol University ('What do we see in Films?'), the Nick

 Burton Memorial Lecture at Christchurch University, Canterbury (‘Blind Spots: What about the History that's not on Screen?'), and

 the 2010 Holden Lecture at Senate House, London University (‘Something Stirring in the Stack? Why filmmakers enter the

 Library’). Details of recent conferences, symposia and presentations appear on the front page of thew website


 As a member of the Steering Group of London's Screen Archives Regional Network, I launched the London Screen Study 

 Collection at Birkbeck in 2006, and currently serve on the UK Screen Heritage Programme Board. I am also an adviser to the  London

 Film Museum, and a member of the Intellectual Property Office's advisory committee.


 Current research interests include the history of production design, early (and new) optical media, the cultural impact of film in the digital

 era and the potential of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience to tell us more about what (and why) we experience on

 screen. Plus continuing fascination with the work and careers of Sergei Eisenstein, Michael Powell, Martin Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, Raul

 Ruiz, Aleksandr Sokurov, Patrick Keiller and some other notable individualists among filmmaking folk.




  Recent and forthcoming publications

 The Art of Film: John Box 

 and Production Design  


  John Box seen here planning to build Aqaba

  from scratch - and in Spain rather than

  Jordan - with his art director Terry Marsh, for

  the famous charge in Lawrence of Arabia.

  John won four Oscars and four BAFTAs for

  his spectacular yet often unobtrusive

  production design during a career that

  stretched from the end of the British studio 

  system in the late1940s to the early days of

  CGI on the mid 90s.


  My book, based on interviews with John and

  surveying his full career, was published by

  Wallflower, with a grant from the David Lean

  Foundation, in July 2009.


  Another essay on production design appeared

  in Conjuring the Real: the Role of Architecture

  in 18th and 19th century fiction, edited by

  Rumiko Handa and James Potter (University

  of Nebraska Press, 2011)


  A new essay on production design,

  'Crafting Worlds: the Changing Role of

  the Production Designer', will appear in a

  collection of essays entitled Framing Film,

  from Intellect in 2012.


                        *                *                *


 Also due to appear during 2012 are:


 -  A chapter on Russian documentary for the

 BFI Companion to Documentary, edited by

 Brian Winston.


 -  A chapter in the Companion to Jean Renoir,

 edited by Ginette Vincendeau and Alastair

 Philips (Blackwell), on Renoir's reputation.


 -  An essay on early film accompaniment

 practices in London, in a collection Sounds of

 Early Cinema in Britainedited by Julie Brown

 and Annette Davison.


 - An essay on the role of ancient-world epics

 in developing cinema's new centrality in

 early 20th century entertainment, for a collect-

 ion edited by Maria Wyke and Pantelis

 Michelakis on The Ancient World in Silent



 - My cointribution to the proceedings of the 2010 

 Domitor Conference in Toronto, on 'Film as

 defined in British Law before 1910'.






Researching R W Paul

  Twelve years  ago, after writing and co-producing a television series on early cinema and what led up to it - The Last Machine (BBC2, 1994) - I began to research the enigmatic figure of Robert Paul (1866-1943), who produced Britain's first commercial 'animated photo-graphs' in 1895 (in a controversial partnership with Birt Acres). Paul went on to help launch the British film industry before closing his studio in 1909, to concentrate on scientific instrument making.

My work on Paul has continued intermittently, with discoveries about his private life, viewing a remarkable original print of one of his films of Queen Victoria's 1897 Jubilee (top left) in the BFI National Archive, and curating a BFI DVD of Paul's extant films in 2006.

In November 2010, a visit to Stockholm allowed me to investigate Paul's visit in 1897. He was there at the invitation of the King, to install and demonstrate a film projector. He also shot a series of films of typical Swedish scenes, which are all lost but known from his sales catalogues. 

What I discovered from the newspapers was that a programme of his films ran for three months in Stockholm at the Salon International, which means he must have trained an operator and left copies. Could they still exist somewhere? 

Spurred on by this and other discoveries, I now hope to finish the long-promised book on Paul and the early moving picture business during 2012.



Some DVDs I've contributed to, with commentaries and/or booklet essays

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  About Me

Ian Christie