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Marquis, Eric (1928-)

Director, Writer, Producer, Editor

Main image of Marquis, Eric (1928-)

Eric Marquis (pronounced 'Mar-key') was a talented but unjustly neglected filmmaker whose choices of subject and approach were often brave, and the results he achieved thought-provoking and stylish. His output in postwar sponsored filmmaking was considerable, spanning the 1950s to the 1980s, totalling some 60 titles. A versatile writer, director and producer, he made public information documentaries, industrial films and sponsored corporate promotional pictures. He was particularly skilled at adding humour and excitement, finding surprising depths and, at times, a certain savagery.

Although his films have little in common with the social documentaries of the 1930s and '40s, still less with TV current affairs, they often amount to 'social documentary' of a compelling kind. He could construct a vivid, unflinching representation of reality, informed by a detailed understanding of his subjects - this is particularly true of his works relating to mental illness, a rare theme in earlier non-fiction films.

A foundling born on Guernsey in 1928, he was taken to the slums of Stockport in the 1940s. There, he found distraction from the squalid conditions in the library and the picture-house, where, as a boy, he was able to educate himself and to escape the grim reality of his childhood. At 14, he left school and spent all of his days in Stockport's cinemas, earning his wages rewinding 35mm film. At 16 he ventured to London in search of film work and approached producer Sydney Box, who gave him his first break.

Many of Marquis's best films were commissioned to precise briefs, and were intended mainly for showing to professional or educational organisations, whereas the best work of the most talented sponsored filmmakers was more often distributed publicly. This contributed to Marquis's lack of profile. Yet his films refuse to allow their imaginative scope to be limited by their circumstances: Marquis always assumed 'specialised' audiences had the right to be entertained, excited or provoked, as well as informed, by first-rate cinema.

He really came into his own with Time Out of Mind (1968), a compelling, dynamic and (even if only within the field of industrial films) acclaimed cinematic work. He was now the director of Verity Films and this was the first of four Film Producers Guild productions he devised for Roche. Brazenly experimental, the film illuminates the debilitating effect of mental illness, imaginatively but discreetly conveying the message of its sponsor while showing real insight and sensitivity towards its subjects. Its brutally graphic opening brings mental turmoil sharply into focus.

By April 1970, at the age of 41, Marquis was appointed to the Film Producers Guild's board and became the managing director of the newly formed Unit 7 Film Productions. He was now at his peak, working at full stretch and with the independence he had grafted for, but he continued to devote his efforts to his sponsors' messages. From the 1970s onwards, he got to grips with serious subjects, reflecting his sense of civic duty. On Policeman (1970), a careers film for the Metropolitan Police, he established a good rapport with the Met, leading to five more collaborations. His films are realistic because they used real officers and never attempted to glamorise them or their jobs. In the often-gruesome sponsored film Time of Terror (1975), audiences are told about the devastating effects of terrorism. According to the director, Time of Terror was never intended for consumption beyond its commissioners' four walls.

In 1971, he scripted, produced and directed what was perhaps his most expensive and certainly his most important work, the internationally praised The Savage Voyage. This genuinely experimental mental health film illustrated the research and development of benzodiazepines for Roche Products. Through this scientifically probing, savage and strangely poetic film Marquis employs a wider range of techniques than ever before to create a vivid expression of the fears of those with anxiety and depression.

Declining an offer to join the new Cygnet Guild conglomerate, Marquis made one last film under the Guild umbrella (a British Gas promotional film, Customer Service, 1976), then continued to pursue various freelance commissions before setting up his own company. He continued to make award-winning documentaries until he retired from filmmaking in 1984.

Rebecca Vick

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Selected credits

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Life around Liverpool and the tale of its two newspapers

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