The Ealing film studios are synonymous with the heyday of British post-War filmmaking. The studio became such a well-recognised player in the 1940s and 1950s that the ‘Ealing film’ became a genre in its own right. For audiences, the geographical location represented films with ensemble casts, community spirit and celebrations of the plucky British spirit. Hue and Cry (1947), Passport to Pimlico (1949), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Blue Lamp (1950), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955) were all produced by Ealing in the space of ten years and remain beloved classics.
Producer Basil Dean founded Associated Talking Pictures (ATP), as the production company working out of Ealing Studios was initially known, in 1929. The studio building itself was finished in 1931 and the production company’s name changed to Ealing Studios in 1938.[i]
The studio itself used community and collaboration for its corporate branding as well as for its film topics. Michael Balcon, who took over the running of the studio in 1938 when Dean left, has been described as managing the studio with “benevolent paternalism.”[ii] This neighbourhood feel was also reflected in the shape of the studio’s main building, which from the front looked like a house:
Associated Talking Pictures/Ealing Studios films from the interwar period include Look Up and Laugh (1935) and Laburnum Grove (1936). As is evident from the posters for these films, Ealing Studios also cultivated its brand of ‘cozy old England’ in its film advertising.
The very British pedigree of the films are the focus of the posters. Not only do the British stars receive ample attention, both posters also highlight that the films’ stories are written by J.B. Priestley, a quintessentially British writer. The posters have the feel of a collage, with different fonts and images laid over one another. These are not posters that stress modernity, like other types of posters of the same era such as posters for ocean liners or railways. Instead, they almost have a home-made feel.
I found it curious, then, to see the advertising campaign used by property developer St George to market a new development in Ealing. As such developments are now inevitably given a name, St George has called this site ‘Filmworks’. It is not at the site of the studios, but stands in the place of what used to be the Ealing Empire Cinema. The development’s website promises a property development ‘inspired by the past’. On the hoardings of the building site itself (although not used on the website) are copies of four advertising posters made to look like film posters:
Or, more correctly, they are made to look like what a corporate entity thinks a 2018 audience thinks an interwar film poster resembled. The sharp lines and minimalist designs of the Filmworks posters stand in contrast to what film posters in the 1930s actually looked like. The Filmworks advertising alludes to a vague idea of transnational modernism that cannot be found in British interwar cinema posters. The films that used similar poster designs were German cinema posters such as for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Spione.
Ironically, these German films were produced by the UFA studios, a massive company that produced the majority of Germany’s films in the interwar period. UFA was the polar opposite to Ealing in its vision and approach to film production. Yet today, years of re-appropriation and re-hashing of historical illustration and design styles means that a minimalist illustration of a woman with short bobbed hair wearing a tuxedo is believed to represent interwar London. The historically imprecise style of the posters represents the opposite of the Ealing Studios’ ethos – they employ a false nostalgia to sell luxury goods.
[i] Charles Barr, Ealing Studios, London: Cameron & Tayleur, 1977, p. 4
[ii] Ibid., 6