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Montagu, Ivor (1904-1984)

Director, Writer, Producer, Critic

Main image of Montagu, Ivor (1904-1984)

Ivor Montagu was born in London in 1904. After studying Zoology at Cambridge, he entered the world of cinema and subsequently directed a handful of films in the context of a rather meandering career which included not only screenwriting, editing, and producing, but also film society organisation, critical writing on film, polemics against censorship, translating the key writings of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and active involvement in the ACT, the film technicians union. Penelope Houston referred to him as '"an inspired odd job man'", though that perhaps underplays his importance to the development of a vibrant intellectual film culture in Britain during the interwar years.

In the 1920s Montagu was instrumental in the formation of the Film Society in London, introducing European art films and Soviet political cinema to British intellectuals and film- makers; he also became involved with commercial cinema, initially through post-production work on Hitchcock's The Lodger (1927) and subsequently as an associate producer with Gaumont-British in the 1930s, working on a number of the famous Hitchcock thrillers. His directorial career began in the late 1920s with a short film about table tennis, and, of greater interest to film history, three short comedy films - The Tonic, Day-Dreams and Blue Bottles (all 1928) - made at the Gainsborough studio, based on story ideas provided by H. G. Wells, and featuring Elsa Lanchester.

In the 1930s Montagu worked on the expensively-mounted travel documentary Wings Over Everest (d. Montagu/Geoffrey Barkas, 1934), but, as a resolutely political figure and a member of the Communist Party, much of his energy was directed at low budget, independent political film making. He made a number of compilation films, including Defence of Madrid (1936), about the Spanish civil war, and Peace and Plenty (1939), which used stock footage combined with graphics, titles, still photographs and animation to deliver a savage polemic against the National government in Britain.

During the 1940s he made one film for the Ministry of Information and worked at Ealing as a scriptwriter; his reputation and significance, however, depends mainly on his various endeavours as Britain's pre-eminent polymorphic cinephile in the interwar period, which spanned the conventionally separate artistic and popular dimensions of film culture. He died in November, 1984, but remained active until shortly before his death, with a book review in that Summer's issue of Sight and Sound.

Brown, Geoff, 'Table Tennis over Everest', Sight and Sound, Spring, 1984, pp. 98-99
Higson, Andrew (ed.), Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain 1896-1930 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002). Essays by Sylvia Hardy, pp. 242-255, and Gerry Turvey, pp. 306-320.
Houston, Penelope, 'In Memoriam', Sight and Sound, Winter, 1984/85, p. 6
Low, Rachael, The History of the British Film 1918-1929 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971)
Low, Rachael, Films of Comment and Persuasion (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979)
Marris, Paul, 'Politics and 'Independent' Film in the Decade of Defeat', in Don Macpherson, (ed.), British Cinema. Traditions of Independence (London: British Film Institute, 1980)
Montagu, Ivor, The Youngest Son (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1970)
Film Dope 44, March 1990, pp. 31-34

Tom Ryall, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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