Screening the Brits - An Introduction to British Cinema


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An overview of British cinema.

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Screening the Brits - An Introduction to British Cinema

  1. 1. Screening the Brits<br />
  2. 2. Examine British film institutions (finance, production and marketing)<br />Representations of ‘Britishness’<br />Linking the two together<br />How are images of Britain used to market UK films both here and abroad?<br />Aims of Today<br />
  3. 3. Headline from Time Out, July 2007<br />Range of Industry professionals interviewed about what they considered to be the state of UK cinema<br />Is British Cinema in Crisis?<br />
  4. 4. Seems to be ‘perpetually’ in crisis!<br />1930s: new talkies Americanised cinema<br />1940s: ‘quota’ system resulted in quickly made, poor quality films<br />1970s: struggle against the American blockbuster at box office<br />1980s: collapse of Goldcrest films, falling audiences due to video<br />1990s: demise of FilmFour<br />2000: The loss of the UK Film Council<br />Is British Cinema in Crisis?<br />
  5. 5. Are we talking about a crisis in talent? In quality? In financing? In commercial success? In maintaining a strong identity?<br />To which more ‘stable’ nation’s cinema are we referring?<br />Are we comparing UK cinema’s success to US cinema?<br />Or to other European cinema (French, Spanish, German, Turkish, etc)?<br />What is the context for the ‘Crisis’?<br />
  6. 6. How do American successes compare to Britain's?<br />Britain vs Hollywood<br />
  7. 7. Mamma Mia - £69.17 million<br />Quantum of Solace- £51.02 million<br />The Dark Knight - £48.69 million<br />Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull- £40.27 million<br />Sex and the City - £26.43 million<br />Hancock– £24.74 million<br />Wall-E - £22.91 million<br />High School Musical 3 - £22.75 million<br />Madagascar: Escape to Africa - £21.86 million<br />Kung Fu Panda - £20.20 million<br /> UK Top 10 films 2008<br />
  8. 8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix UK/USA - £49.23 million<br />Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End USA- £40.24 million<br />Shrek the Third USA - £38.34 million<br />The Simpsons USA - £38.19 million<br />Spider Man 3 USA - £33.55 million<br />Transformers USA– £24.74 million<br />The Bourne Ultimatum UK/USA - £22.42million<br />Mr. Bean’s Holiday UK- £22.11 million<br />Hot Fuzz UK- £20.99 million<br />300 USA- £14.21 million<br />UK Top 10 films 2007<br />
  9. 9. The Dark Knight UK/USA - £533.33 million<br />Iron Man USA- £318.41 million<br />Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullUSA - £317.10 million<br />Hancock USA - £227.95 million<br />Wall-EUSA - £223.81 million<br />Kung Fu Panda USA– £215.45million<br />Twilight USA - £191.38million<br />Madagascar: Escape to AfricaUSA- £180.01 million<br />Quantum of SolaceUK- £168.37 million<br />Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! USA- £154.53million<br />Top 10 USA Box-Office 2008<br />
  10. 10. How many are co-productions?<br />How many are fantastical? Or children’s films?<br />How many are original screenplays? How many are adaptations or franchises?<br />Do they represent British National identity?<br />Top ‘UK’ Films 2008<br />
  11. 11. UK audiences don’t like British films as much as American?<br />Family films from either US or UK are very popular<br />‘Blockbusters’ are popular, regardless of country of origin<br />Adaptations/franchises/sequels are popular<br />…and, when UK films target these markets, they are very successful.<br />What does this indicate?<br />
  12. 12. But….<br /> WHAT IS A BRITISH FILM?<br />
  13. 13. Diversity makes a defining a ‘British’ film very challenging.<br />Some UK Film Council definitions:<br />Films principally shot in the UK, using a British crew/cast<br />Film’s financed from within the UK<br />Film’s that are set in the UK<br />Film’s that address British Identity and Society<br />What is a British film?<br />
  14. 14. Range of definitions – 32 in total, but to qualify as a British film only 16 must be met.<br />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)<br />UK Film Council Cultural Test<br />
  15. 15. Yes:-<br />Director – Paul Greengrass is British<br />Large section is filmed in London, some studio work at Pinewood<br />Largely British crew<br /> No:-<br />Doesn’t reflect British themes or concerns<br />Lots of other locations<br />Produced by Universal – Frank Marshall and Doug Limanare American<br />Universal are American owned company<br />Is ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ a British film?<br />
  16. 16. If we can’t define, we can recognise traits and conventions of specific trends and cycles: enough to be genres?<br />Trends and themes within UK cinema<br />
  17. 17. Costume dramas: A Room with a View<br />Historical Epics: Pride and Prejudice<br />Literary Adaptation: Remains of the Day <br />Merchant-Ivory – winning brand of Heritage cinema created by producer-director team. Normally a period piece, set in Edwardian England featuring lavish sets and genteel characters.<br />‘Heritage’ Cinema<br />
  18. 18. ‘Kitchen sink’ stage/TV dramas of 1960s<br />Ken Loach: Kes, Raining Stones, Sweet Sixteen<br />Mike Leigh: Abigail’s Party, Naked, Meantime<br />Social issues explored in complex fashion but often shocking and depressing. <br />‘Social Realism’ and Social Commentary<br />
  19. 19. First funded by television – especially Channel 4 in 80s<br />Nick Broomfield: His Big White Self, Biggie and Tupac, Tracking Down Maggie<br />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)<br />Documentary<br />
  20. 20. Special effects industry developed with Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey<br />Lots of Sci-Fi filmed at Pinewood and Shepperton studios: from Alien to Harry Potter<br />Science Fiction<br />
  21. 21. Hammer studios was a British production company that led the world in horror during the 50s and 60s (although this was partly through distribution deals with US owned studios such as Warner Brothers).<br />Managed to have significant impact on world market – famous for a certain style of Horror that low budgets, but nonetheless appeared lavish, making use of quality British actors and cleverly designed sets. <br />Horror <br />
  22. 22. First produced by Working Title films<br />Four Weddings and a Funeral – grossed £240 million worldwide<br />Sliding Doors, Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jone’s Diary.<br />Romantic Comedy/Urban fairytale<br />
  23. 23. Fame of British pop music established UK as leader in youth culture<br />Films capitalised on this: Quadraphenia (Mods), Performance (Hippies), Human Traffic (Ravers), This is England (Skinheads) and Control (Indie).<br />Popular globally because Mods, Hippies, Ravers, Skinheads from any country will want to watch their own ‘subculture’. <br />Youthful ennui and sense of rebellion is universal<br />‘Counter-Culture’ Cinema<br />
  24. 24. Crime and Gangsters<br />Crime cinema has always been popular – Hell is a City, Blue Lantern<br />Films like Get Carter were able to be more downbeat and violent than American films<br />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<br />
  25. 25. How are images of the ‘British’ used to market films?<br />Selling the Brits<br />
  26. 26. ‘Heritage’ cinema<br />Literary adaptations<br />‘Urban Fairytale’<br />UK Film used to reinforce patriotism (for domestic audience)<br />UK Film used as tourist marketing strategy (for foreign audiences)<br />‘A Green and Pleasant Land’ – idealised visions of Britain<br />
  27. 27. Notice the differences bewteen the US and UK posters for the 1998 film Elizabeth:<br />
  28. 28. Term used to describe a particular style of costume drama.<br />Presents the past as ‘spectacle’ – ‘museum aesthetic’ where the past is displayed for visual pleasure.<br />The past, and our relationship with it, is not questioned or criticised<br />Films ‘half in love with fancy frocks and immaculate cutlery’ i.e. the mise-en-scene becomes more important than the narrative or the characters. <br />Heritage Cinema<br />
  29. 29. Heritage cinema presents a very patriotic vision of Britain.<br />Usually set in Victorian, Edwardian or inter-war years – mostly focussed on upper middle classes. <br />Often adaptation of literary works.<br />Romanticised view of the past – ‘bygone Golden Age’<br />Popular when British national identity is questioned WWII and 1980s. <br />Heritage Cinema<br />
  30. 30. Term to describe romantic comedies of the 1990s<br />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)<br />Set in contemporary London – lots of tourist landmarks; middle class neighbourhoods; ‘sanitised’ vision of urban life.<br />‘Urban Fairytale’<br />
  31. 31. Case Study: Four Weddings and a Funeral(Mike Newell, 1994)<br />
  32. 32. Some Background Information<br />A co-production with Polygram, Film Four Productions and Working Title films.<br />Made for about $4.4million, made about $245million worldwide (around $50million in the US) – a massive success. <br />Made a star of the lead actor, Hugh Grant. <br />
  33. 33. A ‘British Film’?<br />Think back to the work we’ve done before. List the ways in which ‘Four Weddings’ is a ‘British’ film. <br />You may have written that this film shows ‘British’ life. What representation of British life is seen in the film? Consider: class, race, culture, etc<br />
  34. 34. Something to discuss:-<br />‘Four Weddings’ has been called a ‘postcard to America’. What do you think is meant by this?<br />
  35. 35. Why was Four Weddings a success?<br />Make a list of the factors that you think contributed to ‘Four Weddings’ worldwide success. How many can you come up with?<br />
  36. 36. Conforms to US market’s stereotype of the British – ‘Anglophilia’. Like cinematic tourism.<br />Reinforces nostalgic vision of Britain and British values to domestic audience<br />‘Escapist’/positive representation of modern Britain<br />‘Literary’ status – treated as ‘prestige’ films (for an ‘intelligent’ audience); book franchises<br />(Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Book Club, Clueless – Austen as a genre)<br />Why are these idealised images successful?<br />
  37. 37. Stereotypes of Britishness: polite, reserved, aristocratic, chirpy cockney, honourable etc. <br />Concentration on upper middle class lifestyles<br />Nostalgic, romanticised vision of the past<br />Literary associations (adaptation, biography)<br />‘Heritage’ cinema – visual pleasure of sumptuous costume and set design<br />‘Urban fairytale’ elements – romantic comedies, sanitised images of Britain, mostly white middle class characters, strong women supported by close-knit friends <br />Conventions to spot…<br />
  38. 38. Remains of the Day<br />Pride and Prejudice<br />Four Weddings and a Funeral<br />Why would audiences enjoy these elements?<br />Task: Identify these elements in clips<br />
  39. 39. ‘Gritty Realism’<br />
  40. 40. Opposite of Heritage cinema – critical of British life, not reinforcing patriotic values (Trainspotting: “It’s shite being Scottish!”<br />Challenging to audience’s comfort zones: unflinching portrait of harsh reality of modern Britain<br />Often shocking examination of dark side of human behaviour; explicit sex, violence, drugs. <br />Deals with social problems (drugs, poverty, violence, child abuse) explicitly but with complexity<br />Often focuses on working or ‘underclass’ characters<br />‘Gritty realism’<br />
  41. 41. Rival to ‘saccharine’ sentimentality of Hollywood films – more daring and shocking.<br />Liberal art-house audience who like cinema to challenge their preconceptions and comfort zones.<br />Makes middle class audiences feel secure by contrasting characters lives.<br />Critical success – ‘serious’ film for more ‘intelligent’ audiences. <br />Why are these images of Britain successful?<br />
  42. 42. Bullet Boy<br />Sweet Sixteen<br />London to Brighton<br />Why would audiences enjoy these elements?<br />Task 2: Identify traits of ‘gritty realism’<br />
  43. 43. A Case Study: Bullet Boy (Saul Dibb, 2004)<br />
  44. 44. "Before you'd hear about boys being in a gang and getting shot. But now you hear about anybody being shot, it doesn't really matter." We understand this sentiment as we ourselves could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be that "anybody" who gets hurt.”<br />This was said by a 14 year old girl whose friend was shot in Hackney 2007.<br />
  45. 45. Do British films have to say something to their audience about the ‘British experience’ to be a success?<br />
  46. 46. This poses an interesting question: how do British films then find that audience?<br /><ul><li>What obstacles or problems do you think a British studio would face in trying to find an audience for it’s films?
  47. 47. What might stop that film from being a success?</li></li></ul><li>Claire Monk’s phrase for historical dramas that don’t just ‘display’ the past, but ‘interrogates’ the past and our relationship to it.<br />Questions how the past is represented.<br />Explores contemporary themes in historical setting. <br />‘Post-Heritage’ Cinema<br />
  48. 48. Still lots of authentic period mise-en-scene<br />Often beautifully lit and shot<br />Well received by fans of historical films<br />But doesn’t shy away from ‘historical realism’ and the harsh realities of the past – not romanticised.<br />So enjoyed by more ‘serious’ audiences.<br />Audience pleasures of ‘Post-Heritage cinema<br />
  49. 49. Elizabeth<br />Atonement<br />This is England<br />Task 3: Identify traits of ‘Post-Heritage’ Cinema<br />
  50. 50. Case Study:<br />This is England (Shane Meadows, 2007) <br />
  51. 51. Born in 1972 and lived most of his life in the Midlands – the setting of all of his films.<br />His first proper feature-length film is Twenty Four Seven (1997) and like many of his films this was largely autobiographical and focussed on incidents from his past. <br />His most recent films, This is England (2006) and Somers Town (2008) have seen his profile as a director grow and grow.<br />Shane Meadows as auteur<br />
  52. 52. Tends to make films that have similar themes (effects of violence, revenge) or characters (loners, impressionable-yet-strong boys) that reflect his own upbringing.<br />Similar setting – in and around the Midlands area.<br />DIY approach to filmmaking – little or no formal training.<br />Encourages actors to ad lib in order to create the impression of real people and thus create a better sense of reality. <br />Tends to work with similar actors (Paddy Considine, Thomas Turgoose) and screenwriters (Paul Fraser).<br />Shane Meadows as an auteur<br />
  53. 53. Originated in the late 1960’s, came from mods who were welcomed into the reggae clubs in London.<br />Here they discovered ska music and the key components of the skinhead look. <br />The skinhead culture was taken up by black and white working class kids working in shipyards and factory lines. <br />Skinhead Culture<br />
  54. 54. Second wave of skinheads fused ska music, like Madness and The Specials, with a new punk genre, called ‘OI!’ music - romperstomper, energetic music, charged for fighting. <br />In the 80s teens from areas of high unemployment looking for solidarity, who were ignored by Thatcher’s ‘me’ culture, were especially vulnerable to the advances of the National Front.<br />Skinhead Culture<br />
  55. 55. ‘The skinhead, because of their aggression and outward appearance, they’re almost soldier-like, were I suppose almost handpicked to become soldiers for the National Front. You don’t see the contradiction that you’re being indoctrinated into the National Front whilst listening to black music. When I first heard about the National Front, the picture that was painted to me was a Churchillian vision of Asian families rowing into the white cliffs of Dover on boats, and that skinheads would be on the beaches fighting to stop them entering your country. As a twelve-year-old kid that’s quite a romantic image. It’s almost like ‘what your granddad did.’<br />‘When you’re twelve and no-one in your town can get a job, and someone comes up to you and says ‘these people are to blame’ it’s easy to believe. I did for about three weeks, some people still believe that as adults and that’s frightening.’<br />Quote 1<br />
  56. 56. ‘It’s not to do with colour so much, it’s to do with identity and belonging.’<br />- Shane Meadows<br />Quote 2<br />
  57. 57. Watch the clip.<br />How is ‘England’ being defined? How is ‘Britishness’?<br />What is ‘England’?<br />
  58. 58. How do the connotations of the flag change for Shaun?<br />What does this flag mean to you?<br />Having looked at the film do you think these associations have changed over time?<br />Does the flag have specific group association now?<br />Is the flag something to which you feel any kind of allegiance?<br />Where do these ideas/feelings come from?<br />
  59. 59. Question<br /> Why do you think we see a montage of the Falklands war at the end of the film, just after Milky has been nearly beaten to death?<br />
  60. 60. How is British national identity defined?<br /> How is it problematised?<br />Is this an accurate portrayal of British life?<br />Is it nostalgic?<br />For a ‘historical’ film, how is it relevant to today’s audiences?<br />How does it differ from other British films?<br />How ‘British’ is it?<br />Questions for This is England<br />