Cinema in Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies

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Cinema in Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies The interwar period witnessed an explosion of a variety of leisure activities within British society, some of which were new and some of which were not. One such leisure activity was that of the cinema, and featured as a popular pastime in Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies. Whilst the cinema was not a new leisure activity during the interwar era, there were however, developments within this industry that were unique to this period. The cinema as a form of leisure was not new to British society, and indeed most western industrialised societies, during the interwar era. Prior to World War One it was not much more than a 'technical curiosity', but by the 1920s it was the 'new medium' and one that was a 'fully fledged form of art'. (Taylor 1970 p, 180) Throughout most of the 1920s, films shown in cinemas around the world were 'silent'. While silent films were not new to this era, the popularity of them experienced a 'new' and unique interest amongst the general public. Indeed, Vile Bodies highlights the popularity of the cinema and in particular, the 'silent' film as a regularly experienced leisure activity. Waugh's character, Colonel Blount, is the most obvious representation of the popular interest of films and film making at the time Vile Bodies was written. He tells Adam, after asking his interest in the cinema, that he and the Rector went 'a great deal' to the 'Electra Palace'. (Waugh 1930 p, 59) Furthermore, the films themselves were more often than not, directed at certain sections of society, for example women, immigrants and the youth. This often aided in attracting such sections of society to the cinema. The overall appeal of the cinema to the masses was particularly evident during the interwar era. Audiences worldwide wanted to watch the variety of films, particularly American produced films, and they always went back. The visibly attractive and glamorous Hollywood movies often depicted the success of the underdog over unjust authority. Values of cash over culture were often a theme in the early American films and societies with restricted social mobility, such as those in Europe, could dream of such a triumph. The working class and unemployed could fantasise about wealth, fame and freedom which America as a country was portrayed as offering. The stars, particularly Hollywood stars, made a huge contribution to attracting vast numbers of people to the cinema.

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