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The Depiction of Class and Gender in Early Local St Andrews Cinema

The Depiction of Class and Gender in Early Local St Andrews Cinema

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Conor Mckeown. Originally submitted for Film and the Archive at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Tom Rice in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Conor Mckeown. Originally submitted for Film and the Archive at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Tom Rice in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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In this essay I sought to illuminate a specific cultural presence in the local history of the townof St Andrews: the working class fishing people that formed a large part of the town’sindustry until the advent of the Great War. This historic demographic is in danger of beinglost from recollection due to the overshadowing presence of filmic representations of thetown that continue to occlude them. With this in mind, I have chosen to focus on films fromSt Andrews,
St Andrews 1916 
(1921) and
(1950). The first of these films presentdepictions of the working class while the second film focuses on the labour performed bythem. As such, the act of filming St Andrews takes on an inherently classist regime.Supporting this, I contrast these depictions of working class St Andrews with a series of filmsI independently researched in the Glasgow based Scottish Screen Archive. I have dubbedthese short films
The Frances Hedges Montgomery Films 
in reflection of their creator, the1929 Bourgh Councillor of St Andrews, Mrs Frances Hedges Montgomery. These filmspresent an idea of life in St Andrews as relaxed and privileged, adhering to a currentpreconception of the town as a University and tourism hot-spot but also as a site for theprogression of women’s rights. As such, while filming St Andrews has helped solidify thetown’s progressive reputation, it seems the art of filming is in many ways inherently linkedwith the suppression of a specific demographic.In making this comparison, I intend to channel and progress the theoretical frameworkoutlined by Patricia Zimmerman in her work
Mining the Home Movie 
, challenging thecounter-cultural quality Zimmerman imbues home movies with. Instead, in this essay, Ipresent the idea that home movies such as
The Frances Hedges Montgomery Films 
 challenge our conceptions of history and society but can do so while simultaneouslydrowning out the historic voice of a previously othered cultural presence.In conclusion I attempt to argue that the existence of the early record of the fishing people ofSt Andrews in
St Andrews 1916 
can, when resituated in studies such as this, begin toresonate in those films from which they have been excluded. The fishing people, driven offthe edge of the screen, become present through their omission as an important part of thetown’s economic and social history.
Film and the Archive Essay
St. Andrews 1916 
(Scottish Screen Archive, 1922) is a record of major local events in St.Andrews in 1916 and 1922. It is comprised of at least two short films shot by professionalfilmmakers and is now presented as a single whole. The film is a ‘local topical’, created tohighlight local interests. Local topicals also served to attract patrons to the cinema byincluding a wealth of footage of townspeople who could then pay to see themselves on the
cinema screen later that week.
St. Andrews 1916 
was first screened at the Cinema House StAndrews in 1916, but has had continuous life; it was rescreened in 1922, along with newlyshot footage, and this combined film was then shown for the 50
Anniversary Celebrationsof the cinema in 1963.
 While the main events of the film are the installation of Sir Douglas Haig as rector of theUniversity in 1916 and the Prince of Wales playing golf on the Royal and Ancient ‘OldCourse’ in 1922, the majority of shots are of local people. For the most part, this isachieved through the filming of crowds, presumably gathered to celebrate the public events.While this is to be expected given the local topical nature of the film, seven minutes intothe film there is a brief section which captures the working class fishing people of St.Andrews of the time. Notably in this section, there is a close up of an unknown olderwoman who has been dubbed the ‘shawlie woman’.
This moment of the film isparticularly striking as the scenes directly before and after show an entirely different classof people – made evident by their appearance and their activities. While the other localscaptured in
St. Andrews 1916 
are at leisure (playing golf or watching others playing golf,watching the arriving general or enjoying a music hall celebration) these people are filmedhard at work, shovelling cockles into wicker baskets and detaching shellfish from barbedlines with impressive ease.Because of this,
St. Andrews 1916 
has the potential to give a voice to an entire class of people who are otherwise almost completely unseen in moving images. This is particularlytrue when
St. Andrews 1916 
is compared to later films from the same local region. In
 (Scottish Screen Archive, 1950) the local agricultural and industrial practices of the region
Alexander Marlow-Mann, ‘The Earliest Film in St. Andrews’, online resource:<http://cinemastandrews.org.uk/the-earliest-surviving-films-in-st-andrews> [last accessed: 13/05/12]
‘The Earliest Films in St Andrews’, as before
are displayed. However, in contrast to
St. Andrews 1916,
in this film fish are shown in theircaught state, ready to be eaten and already existing as capital. The working people whocaught the fish are unseen. Something similar is evident in a collection of films made by anearly female film maker and burgh councillor of St. Andrews, Frances Hedges Montgomery(Scottish Screen Archive, 1928-30). These films symbolize an early presence of thewomen’s rights movement in St. Andrews and so become entwined with the history of women’s rights in Scotland. However, Montgomery’s camera work and the practicalities of the filming process result in limited images of working class St. Andrews citizens, whichmay hint at a certain amount of upper-class bias. This calls into question whether therecorded image of one early cultural presence can obscure another.The wider potential for these local films becomes particularly apparent when one considersthe recent academic attention paid to amateur cinema. Patricia Zimmerman, particularly in
 Mining the Home Movie,
with Karen Ishizuka, makes the case for amateur film presentinghistories which would otherwise remain unseen, minoritized and unfairly disregarded.Zimmerman aligns amateur film with ideas of ‘history from below’, emerging from carefulattention given to everyday life rather than the reductive tendency of assessing historythrough a series of events with national or international importance.
This reconsiderationof the value of amateur film production is a positive step towards a more public orientedand dynamic historiography. However, Zimmerman disregards the importance of earlyprofessional films, such as
St. Andrews 1916 
in creating alternate histories. At the sametime, she fails to acknowledge the many shortcomings of the medium illustrated by theFrances Hedges Montgomery films which obscure one history while unearthing another.
Patricia Zimmerman, ‘Introduction’, in
 Mining the Home Movie,
Karen L. Ishizuka and PatriciaZimmerman, (University of California Press, London, 2008) p. 5

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