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Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema$
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John Orr

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780748640140

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748640140.001.0001

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1929: romantics and modernists on the cusp of sound

1929: romantics and modernists on the cusp of sound

(p.5) Chapter 1: 1929: romantics and modernists on the cusp of sound
Romantics and Modernists in British Cinema

John Orr

Edinburgh University Press

In Britain, the silent cinema perishes in its moment of triumph. The five landmark films of the silent era came at the instant of transition to sound in 1929. They are John Grierson's Drifters, Anthony Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor, E. A. Dupont's Piccadilly and Alfred Hitchcock's The Manxman and his famous transition to sound, Blackmail, which exists in both silent and talkie versions. If we call these films ‘avant-garde’ because they are path-breaking, which they were, they are not part of a clearly unified British avant-garde movement. They are more accurately modernistic, experimenting with the possibilities of silent film narrative in an epoch of artistic modernism. These five silent films contain the seeds of the sensibility that dominates an earlier phase of UK cinema — romanticism. They are, we might argue, romantic and modern at the same time. If we add a sixth title, it would have to be Hitchcock's Number Seventeen, made in 1931 but released the following year.

Keywords:   Britain, silent films, Drifters, romanticism, sound, modernism, A Cottage on Dartmoor, Piccadilly, The Manxman, Blackmail

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