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Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

They'll always be an England...and it looks like "Notting Hill"


What makes a British film? More importantly, who cares?

According to Mr James, some people get really incensed about this issue, which I find somewhat hard to believe. I mean, it's not like I go to the cinema thinking "I have to see this; it's British". Does anybody?

He gave two examples - one of a Carribean-English guy who felt he wasn't significantly represented in film. Erm...now you mention it, I don't feel that well represented, but it's not a life and death issue for me. {{{{{{Mind you, the other example he gave of really incensed was me..."like when Emily got really involved in the cult movies issue". Oops. January's exam paper had a question about what constitutes a cult film, which sucks because it means the question won't come up in June when I have to sit it. We still got to discuss it though. Lets put it this way. I'm generally easy to upset, but really hard to insult or annoy. I haven't raised my voice for ages. I normally keep my mouth shut in FS so I don't sound like too much of a suck-up - but it turns out my FS class has some real idiots in it, and I just had to put them straight.

I've pulled up four choice quotes from one pillock in particular:


"It can't be truly cult if nobody's heard of it" - Just wrong. The idea of cult is it's a film worshipped by the few, and forgotten by the many. Sometimes they're more famous (Rocky Horror Picture Show) but that's hardly a prerequisite.

"also, cult has to do with like the marketing and distrubution, like when films are marketed as cult" - he meant this with a total lack of irony. Cult has far more to do with a lack of marketing and distrubution. Sure, people love to give new films the cult label (take a look at the Brick poster. Describes it as "the new cult classic") but that's as reliable as Catwoman being described as "100% pure fun and excitement" by critic/quote whore Earl Dittman.

"Cult, like from culture" - nope, it's cult as in religious weirdos. Seriously, this Person is widely disliked, and today I only just realised why...

"Like, the Matrix, that's a cult film" - hmmm...massive budget...massive profit...IMDB top 250...spoofed by everything...cultural phenomenon...now I agree there is an argument there, but by this point I knew he wouldn't be able to make it. Is this making me sound arrogant? Probably. I just couldn't help putting him straight, because he clearly has no idea. I just want to make him sit through Pink Flamingos and Cannibal Holocaust (two films that yes, I admit, I haven't seen) followed up by Plan 9 from Outer Space and then see if the squeeky-clean action-packed Matrix still looks culty to him...(in case you don't know, they're drag-queen-eats-dog-poop, banned-since-forever-for-being-gross and worst-film-ever-made respectively.) He's probably very nice when you get to know him...but he's Yodaless at cult movies.}}}}}

While I was looking around for something entirely different, I found someone else with an opinion on our "industry" or lack thereof - the lovely Mr Roth*:
"It's phoney. It's fake. Merchant Ivory? Bollocks. Notting Hill? All those mannerisms and flawless turns of phrase; people don't really talk like that in England. Hugh Grant sounded like he was reading directly from a script every time he opened his mouth. British films are manufacturing fairy tales and Americans are going for it like they are buying picture postcards"


*this is Tim, not Eli


Well he would know, having been in a whole whack of uber-grim real-lifey Britpics, then scarpered across the pond. I'll admit he has a point about a section of films, but the same point can be made about flagwaving-actionpacked-bigbudget American blockbusters.

Listening to the radio this morning, there's a lot of emphasis that the Brits only have one in-competition film at Cannes this year. Erm...now if you haven't gathered by now, I am British and pretty patriotic at that, but I can't think of anything that matters less than the fact we have no film industry. It makes my career as a someone-in-film look bleaker, but aside from that I really don't give a toss.

Anyway. Here are the issues. Hollywood dominates the film industry in a fair chunk of the world. While it's normally pretty obvious when a film is, say, Japanese, our industry normally gets lost, engulfed by America - our actors are interchangeable, their production companies support ours, we speak the same language and have the same legends (this is a theory of mine on why foreign films are so "odd" - we have a different story background, we draw from the same structures, themes, myths etc that have been floating around in our lands since forever. It's instinctive. The French have different myths, as do the Italians, the Chinese etc. Is it a coincidence that all recent Japanese horror films surround a creepy, drippy ghostly goth-girl in white? Nope, that's just the traditional representation of a certain sort of ghost, as Casper is ours. And that's what makes foreign film so weird, but so wonderful to watch.)

For the audience, the content and actors are the most important factors in Britishness.

British "content" seems to mean either: adaptions of well loved classics, anything with period costume or upbeat-but-grim regional drama (The Full Monty, Commitments, Trainspotting et al). That country-y-feel, like how Leon still felt French despite being set in New York.

Take a look at this list - scratch out the Dickens, the histories and anything where the cast have an accent and what have you left? Brazil. A Clockwork Orange. And those two films are the odd ones out on almost any list going, except possibly "wacky sub-cult films my mother hated". British films have to be about Britain. We know how to do social-hardship, period drama and romantic comedy aimed at non Brits and that's it.

Blood Diamond is still American. So's Memoirs of a Geisha. Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings are not remembered as Great British Films. Hot Fuzz puts a twist on it - pinching the American action movie and making it British.

When you throw the actors into the mix, it becomes even more ironic. Miss Potter starred Miss Renée Zellweger, Becoming Jane had Anne Hathaway. At least Sense and Sensibility was mostly British (except the American funding /producers /distributors and the Taiwanese director)

The Prestige - set in London in the days when they wore top hats. Funded and produced by the USA. Starring Hugh Jackman, who wasn't British the last time I looked. And Christian Bale, who definitely was. And the brothers Nolan, they're British too. This makes the film...hang on a moment...what a mess.

For the men with the money, they're much more interested in where the money comes from. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has 4 categories of film defining how British it is:

A - financial and cultural impetus from UK, and most of the personel are British
B - although there our foreign partners, there's still a UK cultural interest and a significant amount of Brit finance and personel.
C - foreign (non-US) films with a small UK involvement in finance or personel.
D - American films with a small creative/minor financial involvement - Saving Private Ryan - or international films which happen to be made in the UK.

Where this leaves Lord of the Rings I don't know...

Final point to consider is the Companies involved!

The biggest problem our industry has is lack of distribution. The "cinema chain" goes something like this: you need a producer to make the film and an exhibitor to show it. The distributor is the middle man. It does the marketing, makes sure there's an awareness of the film, and makes the most cash out of the three bits of the chain The UK Lottery fund supports production, not distribution which means either Brit films don't get shown at all, or they get distrubuted by American companies (which means most of the investment isn't going back to the UK.)

So a short, grim history of British production - not mentioning Hammer or Ealing because I simply can't be bothered.

The 60s was nice artistically, but sucked financially - by 1967, 90% of production finance came from the USA. We had the free cinema movement and so-called "British New Wave", which was all about documentary style, working class subjetcts, treated in a personal way, with lo budgets and hand held camera. Billy Liar, Darling, A Hard Days Night, Cathy Come Home and Alfie are some names to remember.

The 70s was, if anything, worse. There was no finance to be had at all (the National Film Finance Company contributed only £4 million in 9 years...), the remaining 4 British studios concentrated on American films and good ole Hammer Studios -well there it is after all - went bust. Meanwhile, cinema-going dropped as more people got TVs

Things looked up in the 80s though. Channel 4 revived films on the small screen, and produced 49% of British films. T'was a nice time for production company Goldcrest, with Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields, and Room with a View all doing well (note three historicals and a period drama) Big companies can handle the odd flop - little ones can't, and Absolute Beginners and Revolution killed it. This is possibly the number two problem with our industry-or-lack-thereof. Our first 85 multiplexes opened.

And the 90s, which people keep telling us were great. Channel 4 comissioned films for their channel, and eventually developed into FilmFour - distributors and producers. FilmFour was our Last Hope for a decent industry. It financed To Kill a King and Velvet Goldmine, so naturally I'm indebted to it. FilmFour had the capability to do things on a larger budget - they were contracted by Warner Bros to deliver seven films with budgets of £13 million+. Still not much compared to your average Hollywood, but at the time British films cost an average £3 million, so it was something of an improvement. But pandering to a mass audience with Charlotte Gray in 2001 killed it. Even though it was distributing international films such as Monsoon Wedding, and turning up successes like Touching the Void, one or two big failures were enough to kill it dead.

In fact, we've only got one success story - Working Title Films. And it's hardly a great success - it exemplifies all the criticisms of our industry. They're a British company based in London, most associated with Richard Curtis' rom coms. They're slightly owned by Universal, which means that while they make their own creative decisions, they've got the power to survive a flop like Captain Corelli's Mandolin. They made Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shaun of the Dead, Billy Elliot, Robin Hood, Johnny English, O Brother Where Art Thou...spot the difference? All these Britbrit classics, and then O Brother which is 100% Americana - set in the South, wall to wall country music. All the characters speak with deliberately thick accents , the cast is made up of the George Clooneys et al , there's not a British bone within a mile of the movie. Except Working Title. Is it still a British film? What a question.



While it's nice to have a foothold in global cinema, Working Title isn't without its critics - TR among them points out that they're "picture postcards" aimed-at-the-US. As already mentioned, our rom-coms are skewed towards an American audience first - Notting Hill, Four Weddings, Bridget Jones' Diary and Wimbledon all have American leading ladies. While this can be seen as A Bad Thing, the very fact it has appeal in America is what makes them so successful and keeps the company from going the way of it's predecessors. It's a mini Devil's bargain - maintain your artistic integrity and die, or submit to foreign ideas of Britishness to stay afloat.



Jeez, the very fact I keep coming back to the same few films has to tell you something!

Famous British films I feel I should have mentioned As They Are Important but didn't have room for - Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the Full Monty.

As for me, I find it hard to care what counts most towards Britishness in film. At the end of the day, a film's a film's a film. If it's good, who cares where it was made? In the pretentious spirit of Hollywood-killed-cinema, naturally foreign film will always beat anything in the English language. And I certainly don't want real-life portrayals of Britain any more than I want the real life of anywhere else.


Final word: I love love love The Prisoner, a culty little 60s show about a spy(?) who resigns, and is kidnapped by this Very Nice "Village" who want to know why. It's surreal, perfect and I've been fuming about the possibility of it being adapted into a film. Now this feels awfully like betrayal, but I've calmed down since discovering whose attached to the film. I saw this and immediately thought "phew!". I've seen three of Nolan's films - Batman Begins, The Prestige and Memento. Now while I didn't love any of them, they're all stunningly well made. He understands darkness, nice colour schemes and clever plotting. I don't want this movie made, but if it has to be, there's no one I'd rather have direct it than him. Except possibly Terry Gilliam, though TG's version would be less pure, as he'd turn it into his own animal instead of staying true to the original.

Even better, the current screenwriters Janet and David Peoples, I learn, wrote for Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys and Unforgiven - three morally dubious classics, two of which address the same sort of issues and ground as The Prisoner did. If this combination stands, then I will be (if not happy) then content.

So there's only one more problem...replacing the perfect Patrick McGoohan as Number 6. It's highly unlikely they'll find anybody at all I'm anywhere near happy with. But you never know. Let's wait and see...

4 comments:

lauren said...

ahaha oh come on, the 'cult. like from 'culture'!' bit was hilarious XD he's such an arrogant fucktard

Ninquelosse said...

It's not so much that he didn't know the smallest about cult films, but that he had to contribute like he did...drives me up the wall when peeps do that. Like if you ask Some People about computers, or the web, she'll deliberately use the most obscure terminology possible to prove she knows what she's talking about.

Actually, it's exactly the way I drop words like chiascuro, goreno, high-concept and dwimmerlaik into ordinary conversation...oops...

Will said...

You mean Notting Hill isn't typical Britian?

I guess I am happy I am American, it seems everything is geared toward us. But do you have to keep bludgening us with Hugh Grant? (I can't stand that guy)

I like the idea that we share mythologies. I definitely identify more with y'all then with say the French or the Tibetians.

Ninquelosse said...

See, I didn't even notice Notting Hill was an inaccurate picture of Britain until people started pointing it out. It hadn't even occured to me. It's film - I don't go expecting (or wanting) it to be realistic. I've got a massive capacity for belief; I just nod and smile at whatever movies tell me, however illogical the premise I'll accept it. I never spot continuity errors _ever_. "What do you mean you can't talk for that long after being shot?" So Notting Hill's fantasy England didn't bother me, just as Star Wars didn't bother me when the spaceships went "wooosh" instead of being silent. Anyway, it's odd how peeps pick on just our rom-coms for giving happy, glossy and false images of a place - 9/10ths of films airbrush the homeless people from their cities. I don't have an agenda on it, it's just a fact that never bothered me.

As for the mythologies thing, I think cultural differences are pretty cool really. How people interpret colours or images (like our image of Death as a chap with a scythe) - every time I watch Spirited Away, I always wonder what subtleties I'm missing becase I don't understand the cultural whatever behind Japanese demonology (some really weird things happen in that film...)

Have you seen those HSBC adverts with things like traditional/trendy? You can see some of them here: http://www.yourpointofview.com/hsbcads_airport.aspx
Very very cool

 
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