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Sparrows can't sing : East End kith and kinship in the 1960s

By Amy Sargeant


Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963) was the only feature film directed by\ud the late and much lamented Joan Littlewood. Set and filmed in\ud the East End, where she worked for many years, the film deserves\ud more attention than it has hitherto received. Littlewood’s career\ud spanned documentary (radio recordings made with Ewan MacColl\ud in the North of England in the 1930s) to directing for the stage\ud and the running of the Theatre Royal in London’s Stratford East,\ud often selecting material which aroused memories in local audiences\ud (Leach 2006: 142). Many of the actors trained in her Theatre\ud Workshop subsequently became better known for their appearances\ud on film and television. Littlewood herself directed hardly any material\ud for the screen: Sparrows Can’t Sing and a 1964 series of television\ud commercials for the British Egg Marketing Board, starring Theatre\ud Workshop’s Avis Bunnage, were rare excursions into an area of practice\ud which she found constraining and unamenable (Gable 1980: 32).\ud The hybridity and singularity of Littlewood’s feature may answer,\ud in some degree, for its subsequent neglect. However, Sparrows Can’t\ud Sing makes a significant contribution to a group of films made in\ud Britain in the 1960s which comment generally on changes in the\ud urban and social fabric. It is especially worthy of consideration,\ud I shall argue, for the use which Littlewood made of a particular\ud community’s attitudes – sentimental and critical – to such changes and\ud for its amalgamation of an attachment to documentary techniques\ud (recording an aural landscape on location) with a preference for nonnaturalistic\ud delivery in performance

Topics: DA, PN1993
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3374

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  1. (2002). Amy Sargeant is Reader in Film at the University of Warwick. She has written extensively on British silent and sound cinema, being the author of
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  14. (1995). The Way We Live Now, London: Chatto and Windus.
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