Meet the lecturer: Dr David Archibald

Each month we chat to a university lecturer about their passion for their subject – and for teaching

Senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Glasgow, David Archibald has long been fascinated by the power of cinema: “It is an extraordinary machine for shaping public consciousness, not least because it is understood primarily as entertainment.”

Television was supposed to be the death of cinema. So was video. And streaming. What makes cinema so enduring?

Cinema can tell stories in a way no other art form can. It has an unparalleled capacity to reproduce images and sounds which approximate to real life. But cinema is not just the fictional feature in the multiplex, it is documentary, artists’ cinema, activists’ video, and so on. It is also in cinema’s variety that its longevity lies. You can make short films with high-quality images on a phone, edited with free software. A colleague from Spain, Núria Araüna Baro, and I just shot and edited a zero-budget short film about life and protest in our respective places, Catalonia and Scotland, during the pandemic. It’s increasingly possible to take control of the means of representation and create your own films, in the spirit of cinema’s pioneers. Indeed, perhaps that’s the future.

You wrote a book about cinematic representations of the Spanish civil war. Where does the fascination lie?

I was interested in how one film could be stretched to accommodate different perspectives: films made by the fascists and anti-fascists at the time, but also subsequent films, from Hollywood blockbusters to Eastern European war films, and films made under Franco. Film-makers trying to circumvent Spain’s strict censors created incredibly powerful films which dealt with the conflict, perhaps most notably, The Spirit of the Beehive, an eerie film directed by Víctor Erice in 1973. Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom, although made by an outsider, deals with some of the complexities on the socialist, republican side of the war and was a revelation when released in Spain in 1995. We once more face the black hole of fascism so returning to this event seems appropriate; we urgently need to channel some of that progressive, positive energy. Pedro Almodóvar’s new film is set in the conflict’s fallout and I’m looking forward to it.

David has studied the works of film director Ken Loach for his new book out next year


You’ve written also about the films of Ken Loach

I observed the production of The Angels’ Share, shot in Scotland in 2011. That, and subsequent research in the archives, form a central part of a book, Tracking Loach, which I’m putting the finishing touches to. It will be published next year by Edinburgh University Press.

“Streaming is no substitute for a community of bodies in one room, but it does create new viewing opportunities”

On the one hand, terrestrial TV once regularly screened films from the French and Japanese New Wave, Bergman and Buñuel, etc. On the other hand, the internet. Is it harder or easier for today’s students to become cineliterate?

Much easier. Streaming platforms, MUBI in particular, have created an unprecedented opportunity to watch global cinema; I watched three Spanish films last week on Netflix. Of course, it is no substitute for a community of bodies in one room, but it does create new viewing opportunities.

You can transport yourself back to any film set in cinematic history. What is it?

Cinema is a time machine. And where better to return to than France, in the late 1920s, to hang out with Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí on the set of the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. The surrealists were like an artistic strand of the revolutionary socialist movement, not neatly fitting into either anarchist or communist camps. Their seeking liberation through a revolution of the mind might have failed; however, we could do with resurrecting their artistic and political spirit. Perhaps their time is still to come.

Follow David on Twitter: @GlasgowsDA

You might also like: Meet the lecturer: Lynn Miles

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