Film Appreciation and the Postwar Film Society Movement

MacDonald, Richard Lowell. 2010. Film Appreciation and the Postwar Film Society Movement. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis is an inquiry into the aims of the postwar film society movement. Film societies provided an organised alternative to commercially run film exhibition: screens and audiences for films overlooked by cinemas and opportunities to study and discuss them within voluntary associations. The thesis assesses the movement's contribution to both these objectives, focusing in particular on its promotion of film appreciation, a set of educational ideas and practices associated with training film viewers' capacity for film critical judgement. Tracing shifts in film appreciation as a discourse and as film society practice centred on screenings and discussion, the thesis contributes to our understanding of what film studies has been in Britain. It argues that appreciation connotes a cultural ambition specific to the postwar moment, broad social participation in discussion of cinematic value. The thesis brings together research into the activities of individual societies, specifically through detailed studies of the Edinburgh Film Guild and Birmingham Film Society, with a focus on the practices and publications promoted by the Federation of Film Societies that aimed to construct a cohesive movement from disparate societies. The values nurtured by self-organised film education bodies are explored through the ideal of active participation, embodied in the membership relationship, across a spectrum of film cultural activity: exhibition, education and criticism. The self-image of the film society movement was also that of a vanguard in taste and knowledge. The thesis traces the pressures on this self-conception during a period of radical shifts in judgement associated with emergent critical and educational vanguards fostered in particular by the professionalisation of film teaching. The thesis argues that although this professionalisation created new forms of film society pedagogy it also introduced an ever-widening divide between informal learning, premised on membership exhibition and discussion, and specialised film studies in formal education.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


film society movement, film appreciation, film education, postwar Britain

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

01 Jun 2020 10:04

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:25


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