A Productive Fortnight

To begin with, my apologies for the delay in updating. My plan was to write the blog on Fridays as a way to reflect on the week’s work. The last two Fridays have just gotten away from me apparently. I’m learning though, to forgive myself when I’m not quite as productive as I want to be because getting grumpy about it is simply counterproductive. So anyway, because I’ve now gone two weeks without a blog, doing it on a Monday and then hopefully getting back on track with my Friday updates seemed like a good idea.

It has actually been a pretty good two weeks, despite me throwing my organised schedule somewhat to the wayside. This fortnight, I completed my first Annual Progress Report for my Candidature. That was a far easier process than I originally expected it would be. It was also a good opportunity to stop and take stock of where I’m up to and what’s left to do. I’m grateful that I had no major issues to report and that I have been blessed with wonderful and helpful supervisors that I think I work well with and work well together. I know that myself and my thesis are in good hands with them! Examining where I’m at and where I have left to go was a bit more anxiety inducing. I know that I have been working fairly consistently but I did feel like I could have been a bit further ahead than where I am now. I also know that this chapter I am working on is going to form a guide for how to write my other analysis chapters and that I’m working out the bigger ideas through writing it but I think that I had thought I might have more content down by now. Nonetheless, having to do the research plan based on submitting on time (Jan 2021) was helpful. Next year will be busy but if I stick with my plan, for the most part at least, it’s doable!

Over the past fortnight I have also read a good amount of really interesting and useful things. Worth mentioning are Jerome Christensen’s article “Studio Identity and Studio Art: MGM, ‘Mrs. Miniver’, and Planning the Postwar Era” and Gabriel Miller’s book William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director. Both of these texts discuss some of the production context that I had been neglecting in my Miniver chapter. Christensen in particular, discusses the role of MGM during the war. He argues that MGM was a “synecdoche for the industry in the eyes of the public” during the 1930s and into the 40s and that because of its prominence, its activity during the war, including the involvement of major stars, was particularly notable (p. 261). He also delineates three types of home front films that MGM was making during the war. The first of these was promoting civilian participation in the war effort, the second was “domestic spectacle,” and the third, which concerns Mrs. Miniver, are those which extend the home front to include Great Britain, bridging the gap between the U.S. and the U.K. (p. 261–262). He argues why these films were important, most of these reasons being things I have already looked at with Miniver, such as encouraging Americans to sympathise with the British and to think about the war coming to them if they don’t help out. He adds though, the idea that by 1942 when Miniver was released, public opinion was centred on the war in the Pacific rather than in Europe, which Christensen suggests was “of greater strategic consequence” to the Roosevelt Administration (p. 264). This is helpful context for the production of the film. I did not realise until I read this that I had been forgetting about this in my actual chapter.

Christensen raises another point I’d like to note before moving on. He discusses the difference between persuasion and propaganda in a way that I think will prove really useful when I come to writing my section on the discourse around propaganda. To begin with he simplifies the difference by arguing that persuasion “influences choice” and propaganda “instills or confirms a faith impervious to evidence” (p. 271). I thought that this was an interesting idea that I can explore further in the propaganda research and writing. I was also impressed by a particular analogy that he uses. He states that the differences between persuasion and propaganda “are as clear as that between black and white, or rather the difference between choosing black or white and being compelled to see black as red” (p. 271). This struck me as I was reading it and I’ve noted it down to return to when I’m working on that section. I also watched the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (Karim Amer & Jehane Noujaim, 2019) which looked at the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which it was revealed that Facebook had turned over user data to company Cambridge Analytica in order to target and ‘persuade’ voters in favour of the Trump campaign in the U.S. and the Leave.EU campaign in the U.K. This raised points for me while watching it about the line that extends between propaganda films of the Second World War that were persuading general audiences towards particular ideas and the current notion of ‘fake news’ specifically targeted toward individuals through their social media accounts to encourage them toward particular political positions. This feels like it might be worth exploring to an extent, as this kind of campaigning was intrinsic to the Brexit referendum which is important context for Dunkirk (2017) in particular.

Moving on, Miller’s book provides some more detailed context for William Wyler himself, both personally and as a director. Importantly, Miller breaks down the idea that Wyler’s style as a director was largely realistic. Rather, he claims, “Wyler’s mise-en-scène is in no way neutral…. Wyler’s pictorial arrangements are often complex” (p. 3). He further argues that Wyler was masterful at subtly controlling and manipulating the gaze of the audience (p. 4). This struck me as important given the discussion of mise-en-scène and melodrama that I have in my analysis section of the chapter. This context gives more credence to Wyler’s use of melodrama in Miniver. Miller also points out that Wyler had a long history of making socially and politically conscious films, often critiquing American society (p. 13).

Notably for my research and analysis, Miller explores in depth the production of Miniver. He discusses the adaptation of the story from Struther’s novels, noting that most of the important plot points in the film were added by screenwriters, Arthur Wimperis, James Hilton, George Froeschel, and Claudine West (p. 209). However, Wyler himself had significant input into the script. In the original script, the German pilot that Kay confronts was originally cast more sympathetically, “suggesting that he reminds Mrs. Miniver of her son Vin” (p. 212). This is obviously not the version that made it into the actual film. According to Miller, Wyler refused to shoot the scene this way, believing that the sympathy for the Nazi pilot was going too far. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM at the time, was wary of offending foreign audiences and wanted Wyler to keep it as it was in the script. Eventually Mayer relented but Miller notes that by the time America entered the war, the entire incident “was forgotten” (p. 212–213). I won’t carry on but the insights that Miller provides in this book will be really useful for filling out the creative context for the film. Miller also notes that Wyler himself published a number of essays on his work that may be worth looking up at some point, just to see if there is any insight to be gained there.

Other than all of that, I have been working on my draft a bit, working out how I can restructure the analysis in particular so that it flows a bit better. I’m feeling happier about it at the moment and I think that by next week I should I have something worth looking at again.

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