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DVD Review: The Stuart Hall Project

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Stuart Hall pioneered cultural studies at Birmingham University and became one of the most influential academics of the late twentieth century. This film, directed by John Akomfrah, pays an earnest and often fascinating tribute to Hall, harnessing a wealth of archive content (a lot of it sourced from the BBC archive) and interviews with its subject to build up an interesting portrait of a man drawn to topics involving race, identity, social mobility and equality.

Hall was from Jamaica and came to postwar UK and gained a place at Oxford University. The film charts Hall’s problems with fitting into British life and the difficulties that were put in his way by those who objected to either the colour of his skin or the place where he was born. During his adult life, he went on to form the New Left Review.

Akomfrah’s film chooses to build up its portrayed with old material with an often very entertaining and intriguing mixture of photographs and video footage. At times I did start to yearn for a wider range of voices from other scholars and critics that were working around the same time as Hall. It would have been even more interesting if some of Hall’s approaches and ideologies had been challenged more rigorously. However, this is more of a love letter to an interesting man than a debate-fuelled episode of Question Time, and it’s so well edited together it makes an involving documentary none the less.

A note on the disc: Presented in its original widescreen production ratio of 1.78:1, The Stuart Hall Project is a DVD only release. It’s not surprising that a Blu-ray hasn’t been scheduled for release as the majority of the archive material used has been drawn from standard definition sources and the film was apparently delivered to the British Film Institute in the SD format for distribution. The picture quality is inconsistent, though this is of course down to the wide variety of footage used and not because of a lazy transfer. Generally, it looks as good as it could ever look.

The Stuart Hall Project (2013), directed by John Akomfrah, is released on DVD in the UK by the BFI, Certificate 12.

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