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Narrating the Thirties: A Decade in the Making: 1930 to the by John Baxendale

By John Baxendale

In a chain of case-studies, ranging generally from documentary movie and the writings of J.B. Priestley to postwar historiography and is still of the Day, this publication explores the ever-changing and hotly contested narratives of england within the Thirties. The authors argue that photos of 'the Thirties' were a continuing presence within the building of the wartime and postwar global, and specifically within the emergent discourse of social democracy and its next decline.

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Moreover, it would be historically short-sighted to deny the importance of films such as Coalface, Night Mail and Housing Problems as representations of a changing attitude to the working class in the Thirties. 4o Looking back on these early attempts to celebrate the lives of the 'labouring people', it is not surprising to see that they are characterised by a residual sexism (Grierson's panegyric on the virtues of the 'common man' is reflected in the virtual absence of women from most of these films, with the partial exception of Anstey's Housing Problems and Jennings' Spare Time) and by what Raymond Durgnat has described as a 'hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil, see-no-evil idyll' of industrial life.

The Czech communist journalist Egon Erwin Kisch, who gloried in the name of Reporter in a Rush (Der rasende Reporter, 1925, was the title of the first of a series of his reportages) seems to have given the term currency in central Europe. It spread, mainly via the cinema, through the Western avant-garde. Its origins are clearly visible in the sections headed 'Newsreel' and 'the Camera Eye' - an allusion to the avant-garde film documentarist Dziga Vertov - with which the narrative is intercut in John Dos Passos' (1896-1970) trilogy USA, written in that novelist's left-wing period.

One forum which brought the two groupings together was the Communist Party 28 Narrating the Thirties which flourished in the period of the Popular Front, increasing its membership from 7700 in 1935 to 17 700 in 1939. 25 Through the medium of the Communist Party and organisations such as The Left Book Club (whose membership had reached 50 000 by 1937),26 radicalised middle-class intellectuals such as Auden, Isherwood and Caudwell were drawn into the ambit of a 'counter-public sphere' which seemed to offer the basis for a new relationship between intellectuals and militant workers.

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