Sunday, 8 March 2009

Connecting with the past...

One of the biggest challenges with my particular project is its particular historical basis. Essentially I'm looking at the Hammer group pre-1956 when they moved into horror projects with the commencement of The Curse of Frankenstein. From there on, the scholars that have gone before me have largely covered the entire period in great detail, perusing every available document (well... maybe, I'll come to that again in a latter blog), and speaking to just about anyone who worked on the films.

Before that, the concensus appears to be a) there simply isn't enough material in existence to justify the research and b) there's no-one left alive who can tell us anything anyway.

As I'm not interested in getting into a great theoretical discussion about the films under the Exclusive banner (you could arguable about some of them, but as a whole, that would be much too complex) then I need to find as much as I can in hard records and memories. It can be a painful process, wading through hundreds of pages just for a couple of relevant sentences. I guess no worse than doing a theoretical-based project.

This week I start conducting interviews for the project, something I'm looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. In each case I know I'll want to follow them up again with more questions, and hopefully most of my subjects will be willing to do that. That and we're talking about films made 60 years ago or more - B features that surely aren't that significant? Well I guess I'll be able to tell you more in a few days.

I've lined up two absolutes, and 1 probable so far. Trying to talk to people from both sides of the camera. It strikes me a little more like journalism than research, but oral research is an important aspect of an historical project. If we don't record the memories, then in the absence of paper records, everything is speculative or forgotten.

I challenge anyone to argue against the scholarly nature of Wayne Kinsey's books on Hammer - his histories of the Bray and Elstree periods centre themselves fully on oral history and are a crucial research tool. I certainly use both in my researches.

There's also something rather humbling about talking with the people who worked on the films that I'm looking at - and so enabling me to properly connect with the distant past. I spent a week in the summer of 2007 driving around the English countryside with a friend following on from the Hammer at Bray III event, visiting the various sites of the Exclusive/Hammer studios and locations. Walking the roads that the filmmakers and executives had before me, getting a feel for the space and indeed the spatial relationships between the sites. I know the approach doesn't suit everyone, but for me it did allow an understanding of sorts.

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