John Grierson spoke of 'an unknown England beyond the West End' and of a desire to 'travel dangerously into the jungles of Middlesbrough and the Clyde'. This has been a feature of British realist films through Ealing and 'new wave' to the 'underclass films' of the 1990s such as The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997) and Brassed Off (Mark Herman, 1996) - the use of northern landscapes and shots of 'our town from that hill'. This was Grierson's idea of the purpose of documentary: to allow the nation to represent itself to itself, to educate and inform. He believed his own Drifters (John Grierson, 1929) was the definitive example of film, primarily because the aesthetic fulfilled a social aim: to champion the 'high bravery of upstanding labour', or 'working-class heroism'.
The work of Grierson with the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit (1927-33), argues Ian Aitken, was modernist and aesthetically experimental.
To back this up, he employed the likes of Len Lye, Norman McLaren and Alberto Cavalcanti, who, with Harry Watt, helped to develop the documentary-drama form of the Second World War for the Crown Film Unit. Andrew Higson sees this as a 'Golden Age', with drama and documentary coming together to form a 'truly national cinema'. North Sea (Harry Watt, 1938) was an influential film in this respect - it was singled out for special praise by The Home Planning Sub-Committee in May 1939: 'Its success has been considerable and warrants serious consideration of the story form in representing government propaganda'.
Cavalcanti was one of the documentary filmmakers employed by Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios, ensuring that the Documentary Film Movement would influence British Cinema in terms of personnel as well as aesthetic form. Balcon believed Ealing could make a serious contribution to the war effort, by bringing...