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Screening the Brits “There is a great incompatability between the words British and Cinema.” -Francois Truffaut “Bollocks to Truffaut.” - Stephen Frears.

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Presentation on theme: "Screening the Brits “There is a great incompatability between the words British and Cinema.” -Francois Truffaut “Bollocks to Truffaut.” - Stephen Frears."— Presentation transcript:

1 Screening the Brits “There is a great incompatability between the words British and Cinema.” -Francois Truffaut “Bollocks to Truffaut.” - Stephen Frears

2 Aims of Today Examine British film institutions (finance, production and marketing) Representations of Britishness Linking the two together: How are images of Britain used to market UK films both here and abroad?

3 Is British Cinema in Crisis? Headline from Time Out, July 2007 Range of industry professionals interviewed about what they considered to be the state of UK cinema feature/3224/the-state-of-uk-cinema.html

4 Is British Cinema in Crisis? Seems to be ‘perpetually’ in crisis! 1930s: new ‘talkies’ Americanised cinema 1940s: ‘quota’ system resulted in quickly made, poor quality films 1970s: struggle against the American blockbuster at box office 1980s: collapse of Goldcrest films; falling audiences due to video 1990s: demise of FilmFour

5 On the other hand… 1930s – first British ‘talkies’ helped reinforce British identity (tagline to Blackmail: “See and Hear It - Our Mother Tongue As It Should Be Spoken!” 1940s/50s – often audiences would go to the cinema three times a week 1960s/70s – after 2001, Britain becomes centre for special effects work 1980s – tax breaks, plus investment from television 1990s – return of public funding with the UK Film Council receiving lottery money; US success of Trainspotting and The Crying Game

6 What is the context for the ‘crisis’? Are we talking about a crisis in talent? In quality? In financing? In commercial success? In maintaining a ‘strong identity’? To which more ‘stable’ nation’s cinema are we referring? Are we comparing UK cinema’s success to US cinema? Or to other European cinema (French, Spanish, German, Turkish etc)?

7 Britain vs Hollywood How do American successes compare to Britain’s?

8 UK Top 10 films 2007 1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix* UK/USA £49.23million 2 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End USA £40.24million 3 Shrek the Third* USA £38.34million 4 The Simpsons* USA £38.19million 5 Spider-Man 3 USA £33.55million 6 Transformers* USA £22.96million 7 The Bourne Ultimatum* UK/USA £22.42million 8 Mr. Bean’s Holiday UK £22.11million 9 Hot Fuzz UK £20.99million 10 300 USA £14.21million

9 UK Top 10 films 2006 1 Pirates of the Caribbean 2:Dead Man’s Chest* USA 2 The Da Vinci Code* UK/USA 3 Ice Age II USA 4 X-Men 3 USA 5 Superman Returns* USA 6 Cars* USA 7 Mission: Impossible III USA 8 Chicken Little USA 9 Over the Hedge* USA 10 The Break Up* USA

10 What does this indicate? UK audiences don’t like British films as much as American? Family films from either US or UK are very popular ‘Blockbusters’ are popular, regardless of country of origin Adaptations/franchises/sequels are popular …and, when UK films target these markets, they are very successful!

11 UK films in USA Top 10 2007: Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix (5) The Bourne Ultimatum (7) 2006: The Da Vinci Code (5) Casino Royale (9) 2005 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

12 Top ‘UK’ films 2007 How many are co-productions? How many are fantastical? How many are original screenplays? How many are adaptations or franchises? Do they represent British national identity?

13 UK Oscar nominations 2008 Atonement (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay) Eastern Promises (Best Actor) Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Best Actress) The Golden Compass (Best Visual Effects) 2007 The Queen (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay) The Last King Of Scotland (Best Actor) Venus (Best Actor) Notes on a Scandal (Best Supporting Actress) United 93 (Best Director)

14 UK Cannes winners 2007 Control – Special Mention in Cinematography 2006 The Wind That Shakes the Barley – Palme Do’r Red Road – Special Jury Prize

15 Critical success – but were they commercially successful? Atonement – budget: $30 million; worldwide gross: $125.73 million The Queen – budget: $15 million; worldwide gross: $113 million Last King of Scotland - budget: $6 million worldwide gross: $48.28 million United 93 – budget: $18 million worldwide gross: $80.57 million

16 Compare to Blockbusters Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – budget: $150 million; worldwide gross: $938 million Pirates of the Caribbean: At the World’s End – budget: $150 million worldwide gross: $952 million


18 What is a British film? Diversity makes defining a ‘British’ film very challenging. Some UK Film Council definitions: Films principally shot in the UK, using a British crew/cast Films financed from within the UK Films that are set in the UK Films that address British identity and society

19 UK Film Council Cultural Test Range of definitions – 32 in total, but to qualify as a British film only 16 must be met. One is that the film represents/reflects a diverse British culture, British heritage or British creativity. (so we don’t just make lots of imitations of American films)

20 Is ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ a British film? Yes – Director, Paul Greengrass is British Large section is filmed in London; some studio work at Pinewood Largely British crew No – Doesn’t reflect British culture or heritage Lots of other locations Produced by Universal: Frank Marshall and Doug Liman are American Universal are American-based distributor

21 Trends and Themes within UK cinema If we can’t define, we can recognise traits and conventions of specific trends and cycles: enough to be genres?

22 ‘Heritage’ Cinema Costume dramas: A Room with a View Historical epics: Pride and Prejudice Literary adaptations: Remains of the Day Merchant-Ivory – winning brand of Heritage cinema

23 ‘Social Realism’ and Social Commentary ‘Kitchen sink’ stage/TV dramas of 1960s Ken Loach: Kes, Raining Stones, Sweet Sixteen Mike Leigh: Abigail’s Party, Naked, Meantime Social issues explored in complex way but often shocking and depressing

24 Documentary First funded by television – especially Channel 4 in 80s Nick Broomfield: His Big White Self, Biggie and Tupac, Tracking Down Maggie Nature documentary sold around the world – often turned into theatrical release. E.g. Deep Blue (cinema version of The Blue Planet) and Earth (cinema version of Planet Earth)

25 Science Fiction Special effects industry developed with Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey Lots of sci-fi filmed at Pinewood and Shepperton studios: from Alien to Harry Potter

26 Horror Hammer Studios led the world in horror cinema during 50s and 60s Reinvigorated ‘classic’ monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein – mixture of horror and costume drama British horror can get away with more explicit sex and violence than Hollywood, so fans like it Other successful British horror: Hellraiser, Living Dead of Manchester Morgue, 28 Days Later

27 Romantic Comedy/ Urban Fairytale First produced by Working Title films Four Weddings and a Funeral – grossed £240 million worldwide Sliding Doors, Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary

28 ‘Counter-Culture’ Cinema Fame of British pop music established UK as leader in youth culture Films capitalised on this: Quadrophenia (Mods), Performance (Hippies), Human Traffic (Ravers), This is England (Skinheads) and Control (indie rock) Popular globally because Mods, Hippies, Ravers, Skinheads from any country will want to watch their own ‘subculture’ Youthful ennui and sense of rebellion is universal

29 Crime and Gangsters Crime cinema has always been popular – Hell is a City, Blue Lantern. Films like Get Carter were able to be more downbeat and violent than American films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels started a new trend in 90s for fast-talking cockney gangster films: Snatch, Essex Boys, Gangster No1, Layer Cake

30 Planning Research Project Use list of ‘macro’-questions Select two ‘genres’ of UK cinema as focus areas Use a selection of suggested films to try to answer one of the ‘macro’-questions. Or… choose a specific film and use to answer three to four ‘macro’-questions

31 Selling the Brits How are images of the British used to market films?

32 ‘A Green and Pleasant Land’ – idealised visions of Britain ‘Heritage’ cinema Literary adaptations ‘Urban fairytale’ UK film used to reinforce patriotism (for domestic audience) UK film used as tourist marketing strategy (for foreign audiences)

33 Heritage Cinema Term used to describe a particular style of costume drama Presents the past as ‘spectacle’ – ‘museum aesthetic’ where the past is displayed for visual pleasure. The past, and our relationship with it, is not questioned or criticised. Films “half in love with fancy frocks and immaculate cutlery” i.e. the mis-en-scene becomes more significant than narrative or characters

34 Heritage Cinema Presents a very patriotic vision of Britain Usually set in Victorian, Edwardian or inter-war years – mostly focused on upper middle classes Often adaptations of literary works Romanticised view of the past – ‘bygone Golden Age’ Popular when British national identity is questioned: WWII and 1980s

35 ‘Urban Fairytale’ Term to describe romantic comedies of the 1990s Typical love story conventions: mismatched couple who don’t immediately get on, obstacles to relationship that eventually overcome (often with help of close knit group of friends). Set in contemporary London – lots of tourist landmarks; middle class neighbourhoods; ‘sanitised’ vision of urban life

36 Why are these idealised images successful? Conforms to US market’s stereotype of the British – ‘Anglophilia’. Like cinematic tourism. Reinforces nostalgic vision of Britain and British values to domestic audience ‘Escapist’/positive representation of modern Britain ‘Literary’ status – treated as ‘prestige’ films (for an ‘intelligent’ audience); book franchises (Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Book Club, Clueless – Austen as a ‘genre’)

37 Conventions to spot… Stereotypes of Britishness: polite, reserved, aristocratic, chirpy cockney, honourable etc. Concentration on upper middle class lifestyles Nostalgic, romanticised vision of the past Literary associations (adaptation, biography) ‘Heritage’ cinema – visual pleasure of sumptuous costume and set design. ‘urban fairytale’ elements – romantic comedies, sanitised images of Britain, mostly white middle class characters, strong women supported by close-knit friends.

38 Task: identify these elements in clips Remains of the Day Pride and Prejudice Four Weddings and a Funeral Why would audiences enjoy these elements?

39 ‘Gritty Realism’ Opposite of Heritage cinema – critical of British life, not reinforcing patriotic values (Trainspotting: “It’s shite being Scottish!” Challenging to audience’s comfort zones: unflinching portrait of harsh reality of modern Britain Often shocking examination of dark side of human behaviour; explicit sex, violence, drugs. Deals with social problems (drugs, poverty, violence, child abuse) explicitly but with complexity. Often focuses on working or ‘underclass’ characters

40 Why are these images of Britain successful? Rival to ‘saccharine’ sentimentality of Hollywood films – more daring and shocking, riskier. Liberal art-house audience who like cinema to challenge their preconceptions and comfort zones. Makes middle class audiences feel secure by contrast to characters lives. Critical success – ‘serious’ film for ‘intelligent’ audiences.

41 Task 2: Identify traits of ‘gritty realism’ Bullet Boy Sweet 16 London to Brighton Why would audiences enjoy these elements?

42 ‘Post-Heritage’ Cinema Claire Monk’s phrase for historical dramas that don’t just ‘display’ the past, but ‘interrogates’ the past and our relationship to it. Questions how the past is represented Explores contemporary themes in historical setting e.g. Wind That Shakes The Barley – set in early 20 th century Ireland… but brutality of English soldiers to Irish civilians is analogy for British soldiers in Iraq

43 Audience Pleasures of ‘Post- Heritage’ Cinema Still lots of authentic period mis-en-scene Often beautifully shot and lit …. So enjoyed by fans of Heritage films. But doesn’t shy away from ‘dirty realism’ and the harsh realities of life in past – not romanticised …. So enjoyed by more ‘serious’ audiences

44 Task 3: Identify traits of ‘Post-Heritage’ Cinema Elizabeth Atonement This Is England

45 This is England – focus case study

46 Shane Meadows as auteur Started making films as a teenager in East Staffordshire; even began his own mini- film festival because there was no way to promote films about life in the Midlands Often autobiographical: TwentyFourSeven about a boxing club; Dead Man’s Shoes inspired by a friend who had been bullied into taking drugs and finally to suicide.

47 Shane Meadows as auteur DIY approach to filmmaking. No training – just him and his mates. Shot 25 short films while on the dole – Where’s the Money, Ronnie? won a shorts competition. Depicts larger than life characters in ordinary situations; often uses non-professional actors and improvised performances. “British films have to – you haven’t got $200 million, so you have to focus on plots that are character-driven.”

48 Is this England? Meadows wants to portray the Britain never seen in costume dramas and ‘urban fairytales’. Mostly shoots in Nottingham and the Midlands, not London. Most characters are losers, low-lives, criminals and juvenile delinquents – but many are sympathetic. This Is England directly addresses British national identity through its examination of racist skinhead culture of the 80s.

49 What is ‘England’? Watch the clip How is ‘England’ being defined? How is ‘Britishness’?

50 Questions for This Is England How is British national identity defined? How is it problematised? Is this an accurate portrayal of British life? Is it nostalgic? For a ‘historical’ film, how is it relevant to today’s audiences? Would this appeal to a US/European audience? How does it differ from other British films? How ‘British’ is it?

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