UCL News


UCL film pioneer celebrated

22 October 2003

The centenary of the film director Thorold Dickinson (1903-1984) was marked with a conference at UCL this month.

Thorold Dickinson (courtesy Lutz Becker) The screening of a series of his films at the National Film Theatre continues until late December 2003.

Dickinson was a respected figure of British cinema from the late 1930s up to the 1950s, but in an extraordinary second career he helped to found UCL's groundbreaking film department at the Slade School, where in 1967 he became Britain's first Professor of Film Studies.

The two-day conference looked at the influence of Dickinson and his powerful impact across British film culture. Despite his film-making being neglected in recent decades, conference organiser Philip Horne, Professor of English, considers Dickinson the most influential figure in British film culture since the Second World War. He said: "Dickinson's films - including masterful works such asThe Next of Kin, The Queen of Spades and Secret People - show a sharp intelligence, a quiet wit, an experienced editor's rapidity and economy of narrative, an acute sensitivity to music, the refusal of sentimentality, and a subdued intensity of feeling."

Dickinson had a typical apprenticeship and career for the British film industry of the time, slogging away as a film editor before getting his break as a director on low budget films. One of his biggest fans - and a strong voice in the restoration of Dickinson's reputation - is writer and director Martin Scorsese, who sees an unBritish flair in his films, with their "strong sense of sexuality and desire, of warring passions and impulses within people, of love turning bad". In an interview with Professor Horne, Scorsese said: "Dickinson's never afraid to push the emotion in a scene, and that's rare in British filmmaking."

The conference featured speakers who had been personal students of Dickinson, including Charles Barr, now Professor of Film Studies at the University of East Anglia. Barr remembers the early 1960s with Dickinson at the Slade as being "totally different from film studies now - nobody got a qualification, it was a pure research environment; a utopia in a way". He said that Dickinson's gift to his students was from his broad practical background, rather than a pure academic one: "He had accumulated a formidable experience, he brought this practical and empirical knowledge, and his multicultural experience, to his teaching."

Dickinson was a great internationalist of his generation, whose film-making work extended over Africa, London, Spain in the Civil War and Israel. He later worked as Head of Production for the United Nations. He was deeply involved in the Film Society movement, which brought foreign films to a London audience. This shaped the broader enthusiasm for film which characterised Dickinson; more than any of his director peers he branched out as a writer and thinker. It needed such an adventurous mind to pioneer the discipline of film studies during the 1960s and 1970s.

Dickinson's founding work at the Slade is being continued in the recent introduction of an MA in Film Studies at UCL.

Image: Thorold Dickinson (courtesy Lutz Becker)

To find out more about the MA use the link below.

MA in Film Studies