The Filmmaking Style of Andrew Haigh
What is the filmmaking style of Andrew Haigh and what makes it so unique? By analysing Weekend, 45 Years and Lean on Pete, I’ve attempted to unpick the formal and stylistic elements that define these films.
All of Andrew Haigh’s films take some influence from the social-realist films of the early 1960s, with Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings (Reisz, 1960), The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (Richardson, 1962) and Kes (Loach, 1969) serving as key examples. Haigh’s films all adopt the same aesthetic whilst appearing more deliberate and subtly stylised. That style in particular, is the focus of my video essay.
I’ve attempted to analyse the films simultaneously, often overlapping their footage to show the visual symmetry and harmony between them. With only three feature-length films under his belt, my bold opinion that Haigh must be regarded as an auteur does require significant evidence, which I believe the overlapping footage helps to shape. Furthermore, it aids in demonstrating how his style has grown more and more sophisticated with each film. The decision to analyse the films at the same time also helped me break-up my essay into different segments without letting it feel too fragmented. I wanted to explore both the broad narrative style of his films – chiefly their social realist aesthetic – and then move onto the film form and comprehensive utilization of micro-elements.
By starting with a wide-ranging discussion on what social realism is, I believe its most important that we establish its history and heritage – which I quickly outline. Following on from that, I dive into how Haigh crafts characters, and the observational and objective approach he takes to films, something very much influenced by the kitchen-sink dramas of the 1960s. I then move on to discuss his protagonists, particularly Haigh’s use of passive characters – something most screenwriting books warn against. I’m fascinated by this narrow notion that passive characters are regarded as screenwriting problems, therefore I pose a convincing argument that the use of passive characters has helped keep Haigh’s narratives fresh and exciting. Taking traditional stories and subverting them through the choice of protagonist, an active decision that simultaneously brings his films closer to the social realist tradition.
Due to time-restrictions, the second act of my video essay isn’t quite as expansive as I’d like but nevertheless I choose a number of formal elements of Haigh’s style and analyse how he uses them. Namely, the zoom, the two-shot and his use of natural light. On the surface these are simplistic methods, but I argue that Haigh shows an incredibly sophisticated and subtle use of them. Furthermore, the former two are often regarded as outdated – replaced by modern technology (steady-cam/dolly) and a more rapid editing style – which is something I touch upon, arguing that Haigh understands the nuances in which these stylistic techniques help to accommodate. Ultimately, by bringing attention to these elements, I communicate the extent to which they are threaded throughout Haigh’s work, further exemplifying a consistent style to his narrative-features. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep in references to both Haigh’s docu-drama Greek Pete and American TV Show Looking, simply due to the fact neither are narrative-feature films and the latter wasn’t exclusively written by Haigh. It also added too much breadth to my topic, which couldn’t be sufficiently covered within the constraints of the project.
Whilst I have done extensive reading around the history of British social realism, most of my research on Haigh comes from interviews and film commentaries. My video essay is unique in that it’s the first to cover Haigh’s filmography, which seems somewhat outrageous when you consider the wide-ranging critical acclaim his films have achieved. Nevertheless, this means that my video essay is both extensive and wholly original in its content.
My essay attempts to convey the tone and atmosphere of Haigh’s films through the means of its audio-visual presentation. With the use of a melancholy soundtrack and a delicate voiceover, I’m attempting to reflect upon the meaning and themes of his film through the production and construction of my piece. I believe a number of videos have accomplished this and thus served as my inspiration. These include Sight & Sound’s What is Neorealism? and Crisswell’s Her: Needs and Desires. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m attempting to interrogate and subsequently educate with this essay, however, I believe the medium offers up far greater emotional capital than a more traditional written approach, and therefore I’ve made it my objective to exploit that.
I hope that you enjoy my video essay and find it to be an insightful and poignant reflection on the work of this truly wonderful filmmaker.
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Hill, John, Ken Loach: The Politics of Film and Television (UK, BFI, 2011).
Kolker, Robert, A Cinema of Loneliness (USA, Oxford University Press, 2000).
Murphy, Robert, Sixties British Cinema (UK, BFI, 1992).
Murphy, Robert, The British Cinema Book (UK, BFI, 2009).
Powell, Danny, Studying British Cinema: The 1960s (UK, Auteur Publishing, 2009).
Seino, Takano, Realism and Representations of the Working Class in Contemporary British Cinema (UK, De Montfort University, 2010).
Armstrong, Richard, ‘Social Realism’, Screen Online, <http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1037898/> accessed 26th April 2019.
Bloomer, Jeffrey, ‘Lean on Pete is a Trojan Horse’ in The Slate < https://slate.com/culture/2018/04/lean-on-pete-andrew-haighs-new-movie-reviewed.html> accessed 21st April 2019.
Bordwell, David, ‘Where did the two-shot go? Here.’ Observations on film art, < http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2013/10/07/where-did-the-two-shot-go-here/> accessed 25th April 2019.
Dallas, Paul, ‘Interview: Andrew Haigh’ in Film Comment < https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-andrew-haigh-45-years/> accessed 31st March 2019.
Heeney, Alex, ‘Andrew Haigh: “Blocking is everything”’ in Seventh-row < https://seventh-row.com/2018/04/16/andrew-haigh-lean-on-pete/> accessed 24th April 2019.
Laffly, Tomris, ‘A sense of Kindness: Andrew Haigh on Lean on Pete’ in RogerEbert.com < https://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/a-sense-of-kindness-andrew-haigh-on-lean-on-pete> accessed 28th April 2019.
Lee, Benjamin, ‘Andrew Haigh Interview’ in The Guardian < https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/dec/18/andrew-haigh-45-years-interview> accessed 20th April 2019.
O’Callaghan, Paul, ‘Lean on Pete Review’ in Sight & Sound < https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/reviews-recommendations/lean-on-pete-andrew-haigh-low-key-horse-road-movie> accessed 20th April 2019.
Shetty, Sharan, ‘It Could All Break Down in a Week” in The Slate < https://slate.com/culture/2015/12/interview-with-45-years-writer-director-andrew-haigh.html> Accessed 29th April 2019.
Sight and Sound, ‘What Is Neorealism?’ < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odJxAd4WU8Y> accessed April 25th 2019.
Crisswell, ‘Her: Needs and Desires’ < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RISgjGPkA0&t=704s> accessed April 25th 2019.
45 Years, dir. Andrew Haigh, Prod. Film4, BFI, 2015.
The Dark Knight, dir. Christopher Nolan, Prod. Warner Bros, 2008.
Kes, dir. Ken Loach, Prod. Woodfall Film Prod, 1969.
Lean on Pete, dir. Andrew Haigh, Prod. A24, 2018.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, dir. Steven Spielberg, Prod. Lucasfilm, 1981.
Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, dir. Karel Reisz, Prod. Woodfall Film Prod, 1960.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, dir. Tony Richardson, Prod. Woodfall Film Prod, 1962.
A Taste of Honey, dir. Tony Richardson, Prod. Woodfall Film Prod, 1961.
Weekend, dir. Andrew Haigh, Prod. Peccadillo, 2011.