Documentary exploring how the American movie industry changed British culture in the 1920s and 30s, offering cinema audiences a glimpse of a glamorous lifestyle.
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Britain in the 1920s and '30s was facing a cultural invasion.
America was the new world power
and its wild and wanton ways were threatening our shores.
British restraint was under siege and fading fast.
It was a tremendously energised period.
The thing about the Twenties, whenever you look at the music
and dancing, there is a tremendous pumping of energy
going on all the time.
On high streets throughout the country,
Hollywood movies were showing ordinary people
that life didn't have to be so British.
Just think, Joe, what fun it is to be a newspaper woman
like the ones in American movies.
America's screen gods and goddesses
were becoming British national heroes.
All of a sudden perhaps you don't want to be a princess,
perhaps what you want to be is a film star
in a lovely slinky, satin dress.
The young were falling for the American Dream,
but for the old it was becoming a nightmare.
I don't know what this generation is coming to!
Over the top and over here,
this is the story of how American glamour changed Britain for ever.
Our 21st century fascination with American culture is nothing new.
Since the early days of cinema, the British have been seduced
by the allure of Hollywood.
There is no other glamour like that of the '20s and '30s, is there?
If you think of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich,
they are the most glamorous women that have ever lived.
Glamorous isn't beauty, it is something which is...
surrounded a bit with magic, it's powered with a bit of stardust
and that, in a sense, fits in so obviously
to the silver screen, to films.
Going to the 'pictures' was more than a night out
in the interwar years - it was a new, exciting mass entertainment
that had a profound impact on the lives of ordinary Brits.
It provided a window on the world which wasn't an accurate window,
it wasn't a mirror, of course, but it was a fabulous,
distorting and chanting mirror that people loved and accepted.
When people come out of the First World War, the playing with drugs,
the exotic dances, the tango, cocaine, you know, sky's the limit...
silent movies was the right medium for that.
The movie stars of the 1920s were larger-than-life characters.
British exiles like Charlie Chaplin would become household names.
Today the plots seem implausible
and the acting forced, but in the silent era,
British audiences had never seen anything like it -
12-foot images of the mad, the bad,
and the scandalous transported them to another world,
especially if they were on a horse and called Rudolph Valentino.
Women swooned when they saw him in The Sheikh,
but we really only ever saw him
dressed in his full kit and in more make-up than women were wearing.
Over-powdered and over-dressed,
Valentino hinted at sex and sensation.
The silent era sirens like Theda Bara were a bit more obvious.
The vamps were a male projection.
Theda Bara was a male attraction film-star, geared to a male audience.
I'm not saying she had no female fans but that wasn't what she was about.
She was an expression of a kind of sexual creature who,
in the recesses behind that curtain, was getting up to all sorts,
and that was essentially a male fantasy.
The early silent sex-bombs
had little in common with good British girls
who were expected to stay at home until they married.
But in the 1920s, potential husbands were in short supply.
I think it's quite important to remember that...
in the 1920s...
Britain and the world were emerging
from an absolutely catastrophic, cataclysmic war.
Britain had, in a way, become a sort of mutilated society.
There was a pall of loss, a pall of grief hanging over the country.
The Great War claimed the lives of 10,000 men a day in the trenches.
For the women left behind, it would be a time of immense change.
Many had stepped into men's jobs while they were away.
Others had worked as nurses at the front.
For the first time, young women were empowered.
There would be no going back.
'Throughout the country, women took on all kinds of jobs.
'This film shows gas masks being made for the men in the trenches
'and here, fighter pilots have their planes tended to by women.
'Some of these jobs would have been inconceivable
'for any respectable, pre-war girl.
'Attitudes were changing, and new jobs meant more money,
'new freedoms, greater self-confidence,
'in short, a new emancipation.'
One of the by products of the war was these women had been left
on their tod, you know, husbands and brothers had gone away
so they were making the decision, they were running the households.
I think it was very difficult for women after both wars, when the men
came back to suddenly find that in many cases, they were expected
to suddenly get back in the kitchen and the rest of it. To a certain
extent with the young that didn't happen, their confidence stayed.
British life was changing, and it wasn't the men leading the way.
The weaker sex was getting stronger.
The women's suffragette movement had won the right to vote,
but only for wealthier women.
In the 1920s, their campaign was spreading
to young working class women who also wanted a voice.
The women at that time knew they were riding on the backs of giants,
they weren't the originators.
The giants were the new women of the 1890's, they were the suffragettes
for goodness sake, who were the heroines of the cause.
But 1920's young women came along and they rode along on it. They said,
"OK, let's ride the crest of this wave.
"The suffragettes, the new women have done the hard work,
"broken down the barricades. Now let's get out there and rejoice,
"let's lift our skirts, let's have a ball, let's have a party."
This was a generation with little interest in the past.
Women wanted their futures to be modern.
It was in their local picture houses that they first saw glimpses
of the lifestyles they would come to crave.
Everybody started going to the movies
and the movies that they saw were Hollywood movies.
They were promoting some actresses who lived in ways that, you know,
a normal women from the Midlands would never have dreamed possible.
The female role models that women would have started to see
from Hollywood movies were utterly unlike any kind of role model
they would have seen before.
Absolutely exceptional individuals who were unusual,
odd and tantalising for that reason.
One American actress would show British women
what they might be capable of.
Clara Bow is the kind of archetypal, X Factor girl of the 1920s.
She enters a talent competition and that's how she becomes a movie star.
The reason we remember her is because she starred in a film called It.
The 1927 film It turned its leading lady into a star,
and its title became synonymous with sex appeal.
On screen and off, Clara Bow was the original It Girl,
more interested in having a good time than behaving properly.
The Cinderella story of transformation
was exactly what young British women were dreaming of.
It's a really great movie actually because it completely
focuses on her and her desire.
She's a shop girl and she looks across at the owner
of the department store and she just looks at him and suddenly you know
she's going to have him, and there's this great inter title which says,
"Sweet Santa Clause, give me him!"
She goes out to get him and she totally gets him and, actually,
one of the ways in which she does that, thinking about this
concept of glamour, is by making herself glamorous.
The film was silent, but its message was loud and clear -
girls, you can make it too.
You just need glamour, sex appeal and a big pair of scissors.
There's a great sequence where she gets him to invite her to the Ritz
and she realises she has nothing to wear
so she cuts up her store uniform and makes it into a great ballgown.
Clare Bow was one of the first shop girl movie stars.
She was in one way an ordinary girl just like you and me,
and in another way, ravishingly pretty,
in exactly the right way for the Twenties.
Clara Bow, I think, was a very American star.
She was very much an expression of Americana.
She absolutely represents this concept of a young woman
who is throwing convention out of the window, is out for a good time,
is not afraid to express desire, who is modern.
Women could afford to go to the cinema two or three times a week.
American movies were showing these girls that wherever they came from,
they too could transform their lives into something special.
Obviously, if you were young and you looked at your mother
and at the life she had had you thought,
"Well, maybe, there's something to be said for sex-appeal, for being an It girl,"
so I think that we now think of Hollywood as being sheer consumption
but I think in many ways it was peddling a different message -
"There's another way and there's a world out there to go and grab."
As Hollywood grew more sophisticated, so too did its stars.
By the '30s, the British working classes could spend
an evening with some of the most glamorous people in the world.
The word glamour first became very popular in the 1930s. Its history
is actually quite complicated. The word derives from Scottish.
It was first used by Walter Scott in 1805 to mean a magical power that
could make something or someone look much better than they really were.
The reason for the term becoming so popular in the 1930s
is precisely because film, more than any other medium,
achieved this ability to make things seem better than they were.
I'd like to kiss you, but I've just washed my hair. Bye!
In many ways glamour is different from beauty.
Glamour is something that can be acquired,
it can be bought, so in a sense it's democratic.
That was the idea, I think, that it was democratising.
It did give the shop girl the opportunity that she too
could be glamorous. She might never be beautiful,
she might never be rich, but she could be glamorous.
A shop girl in Newcastle who goes to the movies and sees
Gloria Swanson is going to be...
swept away by the glamour of it.
She is not going to be able to wear that dress, but she is going
to be able to paint her nails or have her hair waved in that way.
That's where this incredible power...
..of the industry to create trends
and create money for the people behind it is really starting.
America's cultural and commercial assault
started after the First World War
when Britain was £1100 million in its debt.
Mass production and consumerism had made the USA rich.
Their standard of living was five times higher than the UK's.
By the '30s, most Americans
had four wheels when many Brits still had two.
The United States was the envy of the world.
America holds the strings to...
the consumer purse and everything everybody wants, like Coca-Cola...
..or the latest jazz records, comes from America.
America had industrialised later than Britain, so it had
all sorts of new technology, much more up-to-date methods,
and of course a huge country with a vast labour force, and
of course, a vast purchasing population.
Mass production took off in America
in a way that it never could and it never would in Britain.
Technological developments like washing machines, Hoovers, fridges,
electric cookers meant that household life was freed up.
You didn't have to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week
doing the laundry and making sure your family had enough to eat.
Those things truly liberated women,
and so their expectations of life grew greater.
Young women started to lavish their spare time on themselves.
Using make-up became widespread when American mass production
found its feminine side.
They made lipstick cases, twist up lipstick cases which
were developed from a cartridge shell from the First World War.
Hinged powder compacts for the beauty business and they had
labelling and bottling plants.
The cosmetics companies were churning it out.
Seduced by the promise of beauty, make-up became irresistible
to women regardless of their class.
Colour cosmetics, until roughly the beginning of the First World War,
were used by actresses, which was absolutely fine,
or whores, which was not.
So ladies who used make-up, because Queen Victoria hated make-up,
so the ritual of wearing colour cosmetics was an absolute no-no.
If you wanted to buy a lipstick you had to go behind your hand to
hide the conversation with the shop girl
and then she would find you the lipstick.
'The plain girl needn't be plain says this popular artist.
'Take this girl, for instance.
'Let's try the face, that's the pale over under the hair.
'It's one thing to draw the line and the other to know where to draw it.'
The girls were flaunting tradition, they loved it, they would take out
their powder compact and strike a pose with it.
This was something which they knew that their mothers
and their grandmothers would hate so they instinctively loved it.
'An ever so discreet touching up and glamour's just around the corner,
'in fact it's arrived, and soon her admirers will be wading in.
'Make the most of your good features and conceal the your worst.
'In other words, if you've got a face, don't treat it rough.'
It was part glamour, part the trend and part bucking
etiquette and restrictions that have been in place before.
In the interwar period, the beauty business
became a multi-million pound industry,
aided and abetted by the screen sirens who helped show the ordinary
how to achieve the extraordinary.
to be beautiful and natural is the birthright of every woman.
The influence of these women, of stars,
in terms of marketing, was colossal.
Practicality went out of the window.
Before you bought a product because you needed it. Now you were buying
products because you wanted them, you desired them.
Don't it look cute, huh?
Whenever there was a movie with a different change of make-up
or change of hair, platinum blonde, Gene Harlow's platinum blonde,
thin plucked eyebrows, it set an enormous trend.
Customers were insatiable for it.
Greta Garbo created a trend for using eyebrow pencils. She had
to use it because she was extremely blonde so you couldn't
see her eyebrows on the screen, but she almost changed the faces
of women in the UK because of her pencilled-on eyebrows.
That technology was new then, as well.
Clara Bow promoted Max Factor's make-up, she wore his mascara.
It could be said that the creation of the luxury beauty industry
started with Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein
at the turn of the last century,
and by 1935, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden,
great rivals, great rivals it must be said,
were the richest businesswoman in the world.
The aspirational model, I think for a lot of British women,
had been sort of princesses and the Queen and the Duchess and things,
and if you look in magazines, you see adverts for cosmetics and it's
usually the Countess of this or the Duchess of that who's endorsing it.
Then of course come in the film stars, and there's Jean Harlow and
all of a sudden perhaps you don't want to be a princess, perhaps what
you want to be is a film star in a lovely, slinky satin dress.
Film is the showcase of consumption.
It is the thing where you look at you think, "I'd like to buy that"
or "I'd like to have that," and that activity is understood
to be American, and it's through the Thirties that we start
to get comfortable with that.
There was a great Punch cartoon from 1930 which shows a cinema
much like this full of people. On the screen, there is a sort of
mad man strangling a woman, her back is to the screen and she has
this beautiful wave, and one of the women turned to the other and says,
"That's the hair do I was talking about."
And there's a real sense,
even in the period, that cinema isn't about narratives,
it's about showing you a lifestyle that you might want to emulate.
American cinema was influencing British women,
and the old order was not amused.
The first UK census after the Great War revealed there were almost
two million more women than men.
And these unconventional singletons were proving a problem.
There's a lot of anger,
a lot of a feeling of defensiveness,
a lot of paranoia from an older generation of men
young, free, single,
liberated, possibly sexually liberated women are going to rise up
and take over the world.
These thoroughly modern millies were known as the flappers.
A product of America, they struck fear into the establishment.
The flapper was dangerous because she was unmarried,
she was single, she was young, she was emancipated,
she smoked, she drank,
she appeared not to care about getting married
and having a family and that kind of thing.
There was a great deal of controversy what to do with them,
there was the husband hunt it was described as,
everyone was thought to be out there,
doing their best to doll themselves up in the hope of catching a man.
There was a lot of pointing the finger at the new fashions,
at the raising of skirts and the donning of silky leg wear and...
girls who were no better than they ought to be wearing
make-up and lipstick because they were hoping to catch a husband.
So there was very much a kind of accusational tone.
There was a famous editorial in the Daily Express in 1927
which said that British people
talk American, think American, dream American, that in fact that many
women in particular were becoming temporary American citizens and they
were particularly anxious about the so-called flapper voters, the women
under 30 who they felt were going to swing the political system their way
and this created a campaigning crusade against the flapper vote
which filled a lot of column inches in 1927 and 1928.
There's one pamphlet written by a man called Shall Flappers Rule,
and his view was that flappers were...
..that it was monstrous that these frivolous young women
should be allowed to have an electoral voice.
And of course they did, they brought in a Labour government that year.
'Now women were represented in Parliament, there is new legislation
'concerning women's rights.
'Public service was open to them and Margaret Bunfield
'became the first woman cabinet minister.
'For these women, emancipation meant the chance to play
'an active part in politics and to serve the greater number of women
'for whom emancipation meant other things entirely.'
These women with other things on their minds were the most regular
cinema-goers of the period. The movies were an escape
in more ways than one.
You'd better come up and see me.
There's something about men.
Hello, you haven't proposed to me yet tonight.
Women couldn't go into pubs, there weren't many public spaces
that women could go to. They could go to dance halls, of course,
women could go to the cinema, they could even go on their own,
they could go with their friends, they could go in the afternoon.
Some 85-90% of films shown in Britain were from America.
Only 5% or so were British-made,
and this led to a lot of anxiety amongst the British cultural elite.
During the First World War, the Hollywood studios had flourished and
now, in peacetime, the British film industry was only a bit part player.
Everything in Britain was subsumed by the effort of winning the war
in the 1910s. By the time the 1920s came along, Hollywood was
already up and running, it is an industry with its own momentum.
There's no way that Britain can catch up with that because you've got
experienced actors, directors, producers, you've got the whole
advertising industry and marketing industry working.
They have a top-down control of their industry so
everything is wrapped up, there's no way that England could compete.
There's an economic concern which is there's a lot of money
coming out of British pockets and going to foreign companies.
There's also a sort of cultural argument about
an anxiety that somehow the British way of life is not
being shown on the screen, that a generation of young people are being
brought up to understand America as a place of opportunity and
excitement as opposed to Britain which, by comparison to the
Hollywood screen, seems rather dull and drab and dreary and unpleasant.
You know, when I wrote this song, I was thinking about you.
-Were you, really?
# Baby... #
Weak on fantasy but strong on reality,
the British film industry was out of touch with modern aspirations
and in danger of disappearing. The Government stepped in.
In 1927 an act was passed to increase the number
of home-produced films screened in British cinemas.
The result was the wholesome and hearty Quota Quickies.
When people admire America too much,
then, of course, the questions start to come up, why are we eating worse
food, why are we living in worse houses, what are we doing wrong?
To counteract that, what you have to say is,
"Yes, it's true, you're living in a two up, two down with
"no bathroom but on the other hand, you've got British spirit, British
"values, you've got this massive camaraderie, you've got culture."
I don't know what this generation is coming to!
This generation is the same as any other, it's out for a good time
while the going is good, and I don't blame them.
Anyway, Sylvia will make Frank a good wife.
Frank, what's that?
I don't know. Anyway, it was a very fruity one.
What quota quickies did was they offered a different
kind of cinema entertainment.
They were much more indigenous and often much more based around
familiarity rather than glamour.
I ain't afraid of catching cold anyway.
Catching cold, you've always got one.
Here was an opportunity to win back the home audience.
But Brits had grown used to the sophistication of Hollywood
and the cinema-going public expected nothing less.
I never saw anything!
-Well, it was behind you!
-Was it? Don't be silly.
Part of the problem was that the response was that fairly cheap
and shoddy films were made in Britain, so-called quota quickies,
just to fill the quotas and to respond to this new law,
and that didn't help British cinema in the short term at all because
British films has perpetuated the reputation for poor film making.
Here's something right up your street.
The legend of them is that they were so dreadful they were unwatchable
and they were shown 10 o'clock in the morning when the cleaners
were in the cinema and so nobody ever saw them.
-Half an hour ago, you said you wanted to tell me something.
Glamour wasn't the only thing missing -
they even struggled to capture vital moments.
-We've known each other for quite a time now.
-10 days to be exact.
Yes, what I wanted to ask you was, would you, could you...?
Frank, are you proposing to me?
Really, the trouble with British cinema was that it found it
very difficult to generate any stars.
Partly this was the type of people who were in the acting profession.
Most of them came from a theatre background, most of them were
upper-middle-class, they had Metropolitan accents and they didn't
have the classless appeal and the glamour of the American stars,
that was cultivated by the American studio system.
Hurray! The party is waking up at last.
The biggest stars in the 1930s are Gracie Fields and George Formby,
who again, they're not stars who trade in glamour,
they're stars who trade in familiarity.
Indeed, Gracie Fields, quite a lot of Field's films are about
the contrast between her ordinariness and a kind of glamorous world.
Interestingly, humour seems to play more of a role when it comes
to British stars. If you look at the films from the Twenties,
and certainly Thirties, there seems to be a chirpy
and quite often working-class ethic running through it.
It was almost like, "We're definitely one of you,
"we share your values and aspirations, your pluck.
"It's us against a slightly uncaring and difficult world."
It's either this sort of bloodless, "Anyone for tennis?" things
and that sort of other end of it.
But neither were the kind of highly sexualised gods and goddesses
of the American screen.
Britain did finally attempt to play Hollywood at their own glamour game,
but films like the 1937 musical Gangway were peddling a completely
different message about America.
# Gangway, I'm shouting gangway
#I've got a very extraordinary date to meet the one I love. #
# Gangway, I'm shouting gangway... #
The Jessie Matthews movie express a kind of cheery gallantry.
# Running down the street
# And hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry to the only one that I adore. #
-Get your feet off my desk!
-These films are not quota quickies,
they are big budget British films, and they're ambitious to be exported
to Hollywood, so they're trying to compete with Hollywood films.
Nothing ever happens in England.
Those birds in America have all the fun. Gangsters...
Gee, what a swell country to live in.
Just think, Joe, what fun it is to be a newspaper woman like the ones
in the American movies.
Wisecracking with the boss, sitting around with the boys,
then the alarm and off you go.
If they'd only give me half a chance round here,
I'd get some front page news.
She's like, "I wish I was a girl
in an American film, it'd be so marvellous."
And, of course, in the narrative she then gets that opportunity,
so she goes to America,
she gets involved in this kind of detective narrative, and what she
realises from going to America is that it's actually quite scary.
What on earth are you doing?
Keep looking straight ahead, sister, and don't try to pull anything.
Remember there's a gat sticking right in to your ribs.
A gat, a rod, a gun.
By the end of the film, she's like, "Oh, let me go home!"
Just a minute, I forgot something.
I forgot to stay home.
Ah, she's always kidding.
In real life, Jessie Matthews did remember to stay home.
But for many other Brits, the Hollywood studios called
and proved to be their salvation.
Cary Grant is a pretty classic example. Archie Leach from Bristol -
He had a cheeky chappie thing and if he
had stayed here, he probably would've been playing the spoons in the halls.
But Hollywood spotted something in him,
and they developed his looks and they developed his charm, his quirkiness,
and eventually you have one of the greatest stars of all time.
You lied to me.
-A ridiculous story about a leopard.
It wasn't a ridiculous story. I have a leopard.
-Where is the leopard?
-I don't believe you.
-But you have to believe me.
I've been a victim of your unbridled imagination... Ooh!
Most potential British stars achieved
their fame through going to Hollywood, so people like
Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard
all made their name by going to Hollywood, as did some of the key
directors like Alfred Hitchcock. They made their name there.
This was the trouble that Britain had, keeping on to its talent when
Hollywood had all the riches and the power.
For working class men like Cary Grant,
the British class system conspired to keep them in their place.
The USA, on the other hand, was the land of opportunity,
where rags to riches stories didn't just happen in the movies.
But America was viewed with suspicion, and in a period of
growing anti-Semitism, the Jewish movie moguls
were accused of undermining old-fashioned British values.
There was a great deal of snobbery about this, the idea that
British culture was being diluted, British taste was being diluted by
this vulgar newcomer, because America was still regarded as
an upstart nation, founded as it were by the British, now they were biting
back and they were going to take over British culture, take over British
ways of life, and this was in music, theatre, cinema and just in goods.
This obviously was something which was resented,
particularly by the mandarins,
and the holders, as it were, of the British tradition.
America was viewed with suspicion by many of the British cultural elites
because it was seen as a brash, emotional, unrestrained
society - materialistic, without the social and cultural hierarchies that
were secure in Britain.
But Hollywood in particular was seen as a hotbed of scandal.
In the 1920s, a lot of Hollywood stars
caused scandal by divorcing each other,
by taking drugs, by dying in unfortunate circumstances,
and there's a sense as the 20s go on that Hollywood is projecting a sort
of unhealthy image to the world.
In the 20s and 30s,
Chicago mobsters weren't only causing a problem in America.
Gangster films are a classic example of a film showing behaviour which
creates a certain amount of concern amongst the authorities.
There's only one thing that gets orders and gives orders,
and this is it. I'm gonna write my name all over town in big letters.
-Get out of my way, I'm gonna spit.
Very rarely were they scruffy gangsters. They were dressed up to
the nines in fantastically cut suits, hats pulled down over their eyes,
their shoulders hunched up, almost to hide their necks.
They had particular ways of walking that many people in Britain and other
countries certainly imitated.
Classically in gangster movies, films like The Public Enemy,
or Scarface, there's a point in the movie where the young guy from the
streets has made enough money as a gangster and he transforms himself,
so you get a point where he...
I think there's a point where Jimmy Cagney
arrives in a new car, or in a new set of clothes, and there's a sense
of having made it and displaying that having made it through dress.
And that's very not British.
Arnie, you're through.
You hired these mugs, they missed.
Now you're through. If you ain't outta town by tomorrow morning,
you won't never leave it except in a pine box.
I'm taking over this territory.
Many British cultural critics of the time
dismissed cinema as neither art nor smart. The arrival of cinema sound
provided them with more ammunition
to fire at the Americans.
When the talkies come in, there's a lot of concern about
the ways in which sound will affect the use of the English language,
so there's various commentators who say things like,
"We don't want people saying, 'Oh, yeah,' and, 'Says you,'
"and all this terrible American slang, how vulgar.
"We want to have a film industry which reminds people of the
"greatness of British literature, of the beauty of the English language,"
and so forth, and so on.
What are you driving at?
Jean Harlow was a star who had a massive worldwide impact, mainly
because of her trademark hair, the platinum blonde,
but also because of her manner.
You bet you ain't.
You think I sit home all day looking at bracelets? Ha!
Of all the dumb bunnies.
What do you think I'm doing while you're out pulling your dirty deals?
Waiting for Daddy to come home?
She had this very rough, sharp, wisecracking way of speaking which
meant that when she was situated in films which were often high-class,
she's often dressed in shimmering white frocks, pictured in hotels,
in luxury homes, she appears to be in a way both at home as a film star
and out of place as Jean Harlow, the woman from the street.
And I think that paradox, in a way,
was something that made her very appealing to British audiences.
I have told you a million
times not to talk to me when I'm doing my lashes.
Then don't you talk to me when I'm shaving.
Hollywood created for the female audience, because they were
female supported stars,
they created the concept of the woman who's tremendously well dressed,
and always in wonderful tailoring and beautiful white frocks,
and this and that and the feathers,
but always with the right thing to say.
There was no l'esprit d'escalier for these dames. They had it on the
tip of their tongue. Rosalind Russell in Front Page,
"Whack, whack, whack", and this was a kind of, for me, healthy fantasy.
This was the empowered woman
who also attracted women because she looked great,
her make-up was great, her hair was great, but she was nobody's fool.
But in the land of opportunity, things were far from perfect.
America's rags to riches story was suddenly going into reverse.
'And in the richest country in the world,
'in towering Wall Street, disaster.
'The money castles came crashing down and fortunes dissolved in a day.'
Mass production had fuelled a spending spree that couldn't
be sustained, and in 1929 the US stock market collapsed,
creating a worldwide financial disaster.
The Depression only affected part of Britain,
but where it did affect in the North
and North-East, Wales, Scotland, it was very real.
The cinema could provide escapism from that, of course.
It's very interesting, in places like South Wales, where there was a strong
tradition of miners' institutes, a lot of miners' institutes would build
a cinema or hold film shows in their halls, and though the people running
the cinema or the miners' institutes would want to have good,
socially educative films,
often what the population wanted was just glamour.
They wanted to see Shirley Temple in
the Good Ship Lollipop, they wanted films which showed a better life.
They wanted to lose themselves for a couple of hours
in something that was lovely, rather than necessarily having the
realism, which they had plenty of in their daily lives.
There you go.
Thank you kindly.
I don't suppose you have any loaf bread at all?
I ain't seen that much eatings ever in my born life.
The poorer and more reduced
the majority of the population, the greater the level of glamour,
beauty and escapism that they want to see on the screen.
One of the interesting things about cinema in the 1930s is that it
continues to grow, audiences continue to rise, people still are drawn in by
the glamour of the cinema, despite the fact that there's a Depression.
Working-class men and women
still wanted to spend their money on the cinema, and were still attracted
to the dreams and fantasies of the whole Hollywood scene.
In the 1930s, a new state of the art movie theatre was opening every week
on the British high street.
Bigger, better, and still easily affordable, the Hollywood experience
moved up a gear.
'Scenes of enthusiasm such as the district has never witnessed before,
'but for the grand opening of the Odeon cinema.'
Cinemas in the 30s were the first introduction to luxury
for a lot of people.
There were carpets, soft lighting,
usherettes in uniform, cigarette girls, people selling chocolates.
They were known as dream palaces and this is what they were, really.
And of course the architecture showed that.
For the price of a shilling, you could come off the miserable
streets of Glasgow, or the Elephant and Castle, and you could sit in a
soft velour seat surrounded by soft lights, be served by an usherette,
and also the cinema owners were very well aware of that
and they encouraged their pageboys, cigarette girls,
to welcome people in as if it was The Dorchester on the Old Kent Road.
Hardship and poverty fed our desire for escapism.
And Hollywood, even in a depression, managed to
deliver just what audiences needed.
Gold Diggers Of 1933 - you get these shining stars who were like gods and
goddesses. They do these glamorous films, and then 100 dancers jump out.
# We're in the money
# We're in the money
# We've got a lot of what it takes to get along... #
In Gold Diggers Of 1933, Hollywood puts its own spin on The Depression.
Nothing, it seemed, could get America down.
# We've got a lot of what it takes to get along... #
The key moment, for me, is the point where one of their mates shows up and
says, "There's an audition, there's a new show going on. We must all go
"down and audition." And they realise that they can't audition
because they don't have any clothes to wear, they don't look glamorous,
they don't look like showgirls
because they've had to pawn all their clothes.
And the one person who has got a job,
has got a job in a drugstore, and she's wearing the drugstore uniform.
And so they draw lots to see
who will get to wear the frock that she's wearing in order to go to the
audition in order to then try and get them all jobs.
You've got to give Carol that dress.
Don't, I've got to go back to the drugstore.
We'll give you something good enough for a drugstore.
-The dress belongs to them. I'm a hostess there.
So am I a hostess. I've got to entertain Bonnie
with the idea of putting us to work.
There's this real sense in which
even a uniform from a drugstore is glamorous enough
to be able to then market yourself as a showgirl,
to then market the glamour of what a showgirl represents.
# We're in the money
# Come on my honey
# Let's lend it, spend it, send it rolling around... #
There's a sense in which, if you can pretend to be the thing
that you're trying to be, you can pass in this economy as that thing.
Don't forget to stand in the light, Carol, when you're
talking to Barney. They know what they're doing
when they dress their hostesses in that drugstore.
Well, you don't look bad.
And behind the scenes at the movies, Hollywood's big players were
starting to dictate women's shapes and sizes.
'The production numbers of director Busby Berkeley provide not only
'escape from The Depression,
'but a rare combination of picture and sound.'
Busby Berkeley is a good example of the search for the perfect form,
the perfect woman. He'd line his chorus girls up against a grid
to make sure that their measurements were all in proportion
and that they achieved a standard of beauty.
'Weight, shape, colour of eyes and hair, dancing ability and screen
'personality form the basis on which the girls are being selected.'
With Hollywood setting such high standards,
British women now had to start worrying about the whole package.
This is when people discovered calories.
Not only are people copying Hollywood stars and their diets and lifestyles,
but they're also starting to count calories for the first time.
The most popular bestseller of the 1920s was a diet book.
This was the beginning of the kind of body shaping that we see today.
The craze for slimming was influenced by Hollywood and a lot
of the fashions were very clingy.
Satin is a very slinky, but very unforgiving fabric.
I think Hollywood did certainly influence people's desire to keep
their zest for life and health and beauty.
And Busby Berkeley, all the synchronised dancing,
the synchronised exercising was very much a 30s thing.
'The ladies of Cambridge like to feel that they're ahead on most subjects
'and now that physical training is the rage they're showing the
'world what they can do.
'It doesn't guarantee to make them all film stars, but it gives them
'poise, balance and beauty.
'As far as the beauty goes, they don't seem to be doing so badly.
'I'll buy the second one in the third row.'
There are certain eras were the kind of zeitgeist is
so strong that everyone wants to join it, everyone wants to look
like they're supposed to look.
Really the 20s and 30s is one of those periods where
the girls of season and the girls working in a shop in Doncaster were
essentially after the same look.
They have abandoned the more traditional,
British concept that the classes dressed to look differently.
There was a conscious desire among the classes to express
their rank through their clothing.
Their parents in 1910 -
you could have spotted someone's income by what they were wearing.
That went in the 20s and 30s.
In the 20s, Paris set the fashion trends, but in the 30s
it was film stars leading the way in impossibly glamorous outfits
created by Hollywood's costume designers.
It's absolutely essential
to understand how important the film costume designers were.
They were in their heyday in the 30s,
much more powerful than the so-called international Parisian designers.
Adrian at MGM,
Travis Banton at Paramount, Orry-Kelly at Warner Brothers.
These men were part of the inner circle of the coterie of the most
famous, wealthiest and glamourous women in the world.
And they dressed them.
They hid their lumps and bumps
and short necks and small breasts and big backsides.
They were very powerful and their clothes were much copied.
When Adrian did an organdie ruffled dress
for Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton,
Macy's sold half-a-million copies of it.
Since the 20s, American
manufacturers had been exploiting the demand for film star frocks.
Now British women could achieve the glamourous Hollywood look
at high-street prices.
When rayon was invented in the mid 1920s,
it became the working girl's best friend.
Nylon stockings, later, so you didn't have to have silk stockings.
You could have a fashion copy blouse
maybe for £2 and 10 shillings as it would have been in those days
which before that would have cost more than double a week's wages.
In the 30s because of the beginning of mass consumption
and the beginning of a little bit
more disposable income, it was
possible to not necessarily have your mother run up your clothes.
You could see something in a magazine, you could go to a shop
and you could buy it. In a sense looking beautiful became
within the purchasing power of a great deal more people.
It wasn't just a question of admiring beauty from afar -
you could try and appropriate it for yourself.
American-style department stores were now offering shoppers of
any income a chance to wander around inspecting all the items on sale
without suffering the embarrassment of having to ask the price.
Woolworths was a great model.
Marks and Spencer's, for example.
Their chief executives went to America
to find out how Woolworths was doing it.
Certainly amongst some of the British cultural elites there was a
fear and anxiety about the department store,
the materialism which it was supposed to encourage,
the informality of the display
and interaction between shopkeeper and the public.
To some extent they became another avenue
of Americanisation in the period.
America continued to fascinate British audiences.
Yet what they were seeing was neither entirely accurate,
nor especially good for their health.
Most cinema-goers got a completely
false impression of what America was like.
It was either the wide skies of Montana and the cowboy films,
or it was the chrome and glass-plated Manhattan penthouse.
Every hour the Martini hour.
Respectable women before
the war didn't smoke or drink in either America or England.
When women started smoking in public and getting drunk,
it was a revolution.
Do you realise we've been sitting here for over an hour
I was just thinking that.
Women were smoking cigarettes
because American tobacco companies were promoting directly to women.
The sheer amount of smoking that goes on is enormous.
It's really shocking to see that today, actually.
SHE SINGS IN FRENCH
I think there's something about the gesture of smoking
that's inherently glamourous.
I can't tell you what it is, but it's true that even now
when you watch an old movie and people are smoking...
It's perhaps also something
to do with the way the light works on the smoke as well.
The black and white with the smoke going up to the
ceiling and the way that it's lit creates an idea of glamour as well.
There's something elegant about the gesture and the way that you're
forced to sit or hold yourself when you're smoking a cigarette.
Cocktails sprang up as a response to
prohibition in America so we now think of the 20s and 30s
as being the cocktail era in this country as well, but people didn't
need to drink cocktails in this country because booze was legal.
The only reason cocktails were invented was to mask the taste
of bootleg liquor.
Yes, America is having a huge influence.
The fact that people are drinking cocktails at all in England is a
direct result of American influence.
To a successful trip and a quick return.
I can do better than that.
Here's to all of us just as we are.
As the 1930s progressed,
the rising threat of global conflict cast a shadow over the country and
by the decade's close Britain would once again be at war with Germany.
By the end of the 30s, women are having to move off centre stage
and during the war
in the early days, most of the films were about
war situations because there was the idea that people wanted realism.
They needed to have the sort of films
that would show them how to cope in these impossible situations.
The big event the whole country is talking about, Mrs Miniver,
a timely drama tuned to the tempo of the world of today.
Mrs Miniver, the story of a valiant woman whose love and devotion shield
her family from the cruellest onslaught of devastation ever
visited upon mankind.
Films like Mrs Miniver
were Hollywood's contribution to the war effort, propaganda to edge
Americans towards supporting Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany.
Mrs Miniver takes you from
this relatively carefree lifestyle through into a wartime situation.
That film itself traces the shift from glamour
to fighting for survival.
In a sense the future does lie with men again.
# Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile... #
In wartime there would be less call for Hollywood's fantasy.
British moviegoers wanted a dose
of traditional values and home-grown pluck.
# What's the use of worrying..? #
Part of the war effort was putting on a smile.
That's something the Americans don't give you,
that sort of cheeky chappie cheeriness.
I think it's nice.
But in a time of air raids, military uniforms and rationing
our Hollywood gifted obsession with glamour served as a secret weapon
to boost British morale.
Mrs Clark made her frock from a pair of
her husband's old plus four trousers and half a yard of new material.
Dreams of better lives may have been on hold, but our inter-war
infatuation with luxury and glamour
has had a lasting effect on British society.
I think the glamour of the 1920s and perhaps especially
in the 1930s left a deep mark on British society and above all on the
expectations and aspirations of the audiences of the films at that time.
There's no question that the post-war consumer boom was fuelled by
the dreams that Hollywood peddled to British audiences in the 1930s.
That perception of buying into glamour,
buying into something pretty, buying into something that's like "me time"
in front of the mirror on the dressing-table,
whether you approve or disapprove of it, it's very real.
Even today American films still represent the glamourous lifestyle.
You don't go to see Ocean's Eleven
expecting to see a lifestyle that's like your own on the screen,
whereas you might go to a British film
expecting to see something more like your own life.
The artifice of the Hollywood fantasy has become clearer to
us as the decades pass, yet despite ourselves we're still seduced by the
tinsel-touched lifestyle we so often encounter in American movies.
In cinema as in life, there remains a yearning for the undeniable allure
of Hollywood's golden age and its oh so enticing glamour -
a glamour that changed the world forever.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Documentary which explores how the American movie industry changed British culture in the 1920s and 30s. The movies, the film stars and the cinemas themselves combined to offer British audiences a glimpse of a glamorous lifestyle and the suggestion that they might achieve it.
Selling a succession of rags-to-riches fairy tales featuring go-getting women like Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Katharine Hepburn, American movies also fuelled demand for cosmetics, cigarettes and dieting. It was an era in which Hollywood changed what Britons watched, what Britons wore and what Britons wanted.