The Stuart Hall Project

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For many people on the left and in black communities, the Stuart Hall that we care about is not the disgraced "It's a Knockout" presenter. Instead, the man who enthralled us is one of the foremost post-war thinkers on the left in Britain. In the words of director John Akromfrah he is a "public intellectual" who in the 1970s "was one of the few people of colour we saw on television who wasn't crooning, dancing or running".

Akromfrah is clearly a disciple of Hall's and has crafted a fascinating documentary which charts Hall's geographical, theoretical and political journey over 50 years. From humble beginnings in colonial Jamaica, Hall progressed to a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. From there he went on to become the founding editor of the New Left Review, member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and later director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies at Birmingham University and professor of sociology at the Open University.

This film is far more than a narrow biography though. It includes archive footage of many of the seminal events of the late 20th century, from the Suez crisis to the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. These were the events that helped persuade Hall to help found a "new left".

As a cultural theorist and political commentator, Hall regarded 1968 as the year when there was a crisis of authority and the consensus of the 1950s and early 60s came apart. This assessment is aired over footage of the French May, the Black Power salute at the Mexico Olympics, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War.

Closer to home Hall characterised the response to the murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959 as the emergence of a national black politics. He examines the impact of Enoch Powell's 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech and describes the 1970s as a period of profound alienation for young blacks. The breadth of his analysis takes in the Irish question, women's rights, gay and lesbian liberation and workers struggles.

Each new section of the film is marked by a Miles Davis track, helpfully introduced for those wishing to explore one of the 20th century musical greats. This is fitting as Hall is a great lover of Davis in particular and jazz in general which for him was music which "opened up a new world and the possibility of exploring modern life to the full".

In the final frames Hall delivers a sharp rebuke in 2000 to a white woman who complains about the arrival of Kosovo refugees in the UK. The film ends on a slightly poignant note however. Still images show a slightly sad looking older man who admits that the world today looks strange and that he feels "out of time for the first time in my life". To those of us familiar with his involvement in the ill fated magazine Marxism Today this is not a total surprise.

Akromfrah's documentary does not explore the influence and demise of the Communist Party and Marxism Today which is, in my opinion, an unfortunate omission. But that is a minor criticism. As I write these words, a radio programme is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. Meanwhile our political leaders are preparing to discuss military intervention in Syria.

The Stuart Hall Project is a timely reminder that, while much has changed over the past 50 years, much remains the same. Hall finishes by citing Gramsci's famous words about pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. He is right to remind us that if we are to change things it will require "hard thought, hard graft" and a realistic consideration of the terrain in order to see if we can intervene.

The Stuart Hall Project, director John Akromfrah, is out at selected cinemas nationwide from 6 September.