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Mike Leigh

Sean O'Sullivan

Publication Year: 2011

In this much needed examination of Mike Leigh, Sean O'Sullivan reclaims the British director as a practicing theorist--a filmmaker deeply invested in cinema's formal, conceptual, and narrative dimensions. In contrast with Leigh's prevailing reputation as a straightforward crafter of social realist movies, O'Sullivan illuminates the visual tropes and storytelling investigations that position Leigh as an experimental filmmaker who uses the art and artifice of cinema to frame tales of the everyday and the extraordinary alike._x000B__x000B_Concentrating on the most recent two decades of Leigh's career, the study examines how Naked, Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake, and other less-discussed films such as Four Days in July and The Short and Curlies engage narrative convergence and narrative diffusion, the tension between character and plot, the interplay of coincidence and design, cinema's relationship to other systems of representation, and the filmic rendering of the human figure. This volume also includes key selections from O'Sullivan's several interviews with Leigh.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Contemporary Film Directors

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Mike Leigh has been an ideal subject as both filmmaker and fellow— from his warm response to my first letter of inquiry to the many hours he donated to talk about cinema, art, and the world. I am deeply indebted to him for all his contributions to the welfare of this study. ...

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The Nature of Contrivance

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pp. 1-11

It is time to reclaim Mike Leigh from the kindly ghetto in which he has been placed by his well-meaning enthusiasts. I intend to reclaim him, over the course of this book, as a practicing theorist—a filmmaker deeply invested in cinema’s formal, conceptual, and narrative dimensions. Leigh is typically considered an unassuming crafter of little movies, ...

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How to Watch a Mike Leigh Movie: The Short and Curlies

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pp. 11-33

Let me outline the major narrative and stylistic elements central to Leigh, the practicing theorist. An ideal place to begin, in terms of narrative issues, is with a neglected aspect of his career, The Five-Minute Films. Leigh made these short stories, each five minutes long, for the BBC in 1975—that is, in the relative infancy of his cinematic development. ...

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Biography and Career Outline

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pp. 33-36

Mike Leigh was born in 1943 in Salford, a borough of Greater Manchester.5 He was the son and elder child of middle-class Jews who lived in a working-class area; his paternal grandfather, Mayer Liebermann, was a Russian immigrant who set up shop in England as a portrait miniaturist, framing and applying color to old family photographs. ...

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Character and Plot: Meantime and Four days in July

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pp. 36-55

Meantime (1983) and Four days in July (1985) are, more explicitly than many Mike Leigh films, “about” something. Meantime is “about” unemployment; Four days in July is “about” Northern Ireland. One might think that Secrets and Lies is “about” adoption, or that Vera Drake is “about” abortion. ...

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Art and Narrative: Naked and Secrets and Lies

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pp. 55-80

Two films changed the picture of Mike Leigh. These films received the imprimatur of artistic importance by each winning two major prizes at Cannes, transforming their director from a regional to a global name. Part of the picture-change, then, came from the fact that Naked (1993) and Secrets and Lies (1996) seemed to complete Leigh’s translation from a televisual to an art-house context. ...

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Topsy-Turvy Girls, Career Boys: Career Girls and Topsy-Turvy

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pp. 80-105

Late in the twentieth century, Mike Leigh made a film that doesn’t look or sound much like a Mike Leigh film. Its visual style displays none of the hallmarks I have been tracing—the unbroken shots, the side-by-sides, the visual centaurs. The film’s sound track is likewise surprising— a smooth jazz sheen with lounge-bar vocalizations, ...

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Vera's Fingers: All or Nothing and Vera Drake

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pp. 105-132

What is a human being? One could argue that this is the central question of Mike Leigh’s films. It is a question first articulated through his process, in the way in which the actors slowly accumulate the bits and pieces of their characters through research, improvisation, and collaboration. ...

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Five Lessons, Four Seasons: Happy-Go-Lucky and Another Year

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pp. 132-144

The protagonist of Happy-Go-Lucky is a woman who does not know how to drive. The protagonist of Another Year is also a woman who does not know how to drive. In the first instance, the protagonist is thirty-year-old Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an effusive, constantly delighted primary school teacher who decides to take lessons, in the wake of the theft of her bicycle. ...

Interview with Mike Leigh

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pp. 145-162


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pp. 163-176


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pp. 177-180


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pp. 181-192

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093401
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036385

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Contemporary Film Directors