Congratulations to David Williams (University of Manitoba) for winning the Priestley Prize, announced at this year’s meeting of ACCUTE at Congress. David wins for his essay, “Film and the Mechanization of Time in the Myth of the Great War Canon” published in ESC 41.2-3.
Thank you to the adjudication committee Laura Robinson (MUN Grenfell, Chair) Chantel Lavoie (RMC) and George C. Grinnell (UBC).
The jury’s comments:
By examining films created during the first world war and shortly thereafter alongside cinematic novels, David Williams convincingly demonstrates that even an “epic” film such as “The Battle of the Somme” (1916) “lets slip more than it intended, framing corpses as the “finished” product of the ‘assembly line’.” In clear and accessible prose, this article powerfully documents the mechanisms by which film and cinematic narratives transform soldiers into materials of war akin to artillery, and the extent to which spectators, as well as readers and writers at the time acknowledged this cross-over between written and cinematic genres. It convincingly highlights how such transformative moments of cultural production remain haunted by the production of death in life. As attentive as the essay is to the triumphalism associated with mechanization in the context of WWI documentaries and the forms of cultural memory they produce, its most powerful moments are deeply human ones that consider how the unpredictable “lessons of war-time cinema” reveal not just the truth of “mechanical writing with light” but a transformation of human life itself. This article builds a bridge between our current digitized image-centered age,
and the word-centered genres with which we associate the Great War, as well as demonstrating, convincingly and clearly, the influence of evolving film technology on the reception of the war’s events at the time, as well as the response to film in literature itself during and after the war. As an essay that examines a very precise archive, it is exceedingly hospitable to a general audience and stages debates and histories of interpretation in a very engaging manner.