A studio known for making B movies, hiring a B list action star to be in a debut feature from a pair small time cinematographers can seem like pretty standard fair. But the unique combination of Lionsgate, Jason Statham and Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) created one of the most bold and interesting action films of the decade. Crank and it’s sequel Crank: High Voltage, manage to freshen up the stale action genre making It with dynamic digital cinematography, great action and a well developed story that plays to the best of the genre.
The contemporary action genre that exists today is very different to what it was in its heyday of the 1980s. As it exists now there are two distinct form’s. The most common is the blockbuster movie, commonly seen in cinema’s, often combined with the science fiction genre to create a movie with a huge budget, huge action and huge special effects. These movies involve solving or averting problems with world shattering consequences. A simple way, producers and screenwriters have to ratchet up the stakes for the protagonists and thrilling audiences.
The other form is where the 80s action stars moved to. The low budget, straight to video/dvd movie. Stars like Jean Claude van Damme, Steven Seagal and Dolph Lungran. These movies carried on the spirit of the 80s action movies but saw their budget and profits diminish over time.
Crank’s action is of much lower spectacle of a blockbuster like Transformers. Crank is more character lead with Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios on screen for much of the films running time. This makes Chev the very centre of the action gunfights and chase scenes that take place during Crank. And rather uniquely there are no explosions in the entire film.
The Crank movies narrative best resembles the revenge film 1970s. Crank, sees Chev getting revenge before a poison kills him. Even thought Chev is a gangster at the beginning of the film, and the audiences first introduction to him, Chev is little more that a victim. In Crank: High Voltage, Chev is trying to find and retrieve his heart which was stolen from him and again he becomes a victim through different means. The narrative ‘[shows] the hero moving from victim to vigilante with both the system’s and the viewers’ implicit approval.’ (Leitch, 2004, p.89) and that Chev ‘has the opportunity to occupy all three major positions associated with crime fiction: victim, detective, and criminal’ (Leitch, 2004, p.82) But like action movie’s, Crank’s narrative comes across as almost episodic, ‘allowing for wide variations in tone, the inclusion of different locations and incidentally introduced characters, and moments of spectacle, generally involving fights explosions or other types of violence.’ (Marchetti, 1989, p.188) Episodic vignettes of an almost surreal comic natural. The best example of this is in the second movie. A climatic encounter between Chev and his faux enemy, Johnny Vang, doesn’t turn in to a standard fight scene but instead morphs into a Toho Studio’s Godzilla style fight. With gigantic warped versions of the characters fighting in slow motion. Or another example would be a dream-like sequence of Chev riding a motor cycle while "Everybody's Talkin" by Harry Nilsson plays. The song itself is from Midnight Cowboy.
Also worth noting would be the sex scenes which take place in odd unusual locations. In the first movie, the middle of china town in the second on a horse track.
Sex scenes in action movies are frequently meant to titillate and have no plot reason for being in the movie. Neveldine/Taylor flip even this on it concept on its head by having the sex scenes matter to the plot. Chev must have sex with his girlfriend to survive.
However most audiences come to an action movie for the spectacle so does the quality of the story and narrative really matter that much?
This is almost like an old-school action movie where the stunts are real stunts and that’s what excites me. (Statham, 2006)
Where Neveldine/Taylor really come into their own is their behind camera skills. Both trained as cinematographers, and use the Crank movies to show off, as well as experiment, with the camera. With the directors behind operating the camera’s the frame is constantly moving and reframing on-the-fly. Neveldine/Taylor don’t storyboard anything take full advantage of digital film making techniques. Modern, Lighter camera’s allow them to use a highly mobile camera style that is beyond anything seen in in a blockbuster action movies without losing the quality of a blockbuster movie. But these long takes are also the kind seen in other films such as the Mean Streets and Goodfellas. The style of these shots were more standard mid-shot compositions designed to follow the characters through a space showing their connection to it. In Crank, the long take draws the connection of the psychologically state of Chev with the narrow concrete corridor representing his state of mind and options at present, only one, escape to his car. With the directors behind operating the camera’s the frame is constantly moving and reframing on-the-fly. ‘A sustained period of ‘experimental’ techniques – including rapid discontinuous montage editing, the use of a distorting ‘fish-eye’ lens, unstable ‘subjective’ camera-work’ (King, 2002, p.41) convey Chev’s problem within the film. He’s jittery, pumped on adrenaline and running for revenge. Varying the style of shots as well as using POV’s from inanimate objects and shop security camera footage of Chev help to ‘[Draw] attention to the way a film is constructed makes us aware of its status as a construct.’ (King, 2002, p.40) The consumer grade HD camera’s also allows the opportunity of getting shots that heavy film camera’s could not allow. Like shooting from the footwell of a car or shooting from inside a a flying helicopter.
We're trying to go back to the Mad Max style of filmmaking... put the camera in peril and put the actors in peril and do a lot of real stuff and stay away from CG if you can.” (Neveldine, 2006)
Neveldine/Taylor’s approach to the visuals of Crank seem to have their roots in the 70s new hollywood cinema movement. Smaller camera’s back then pushed the boundaries of where and what could be filmed. Crank is a hyperactive handheld approach, that both puts the audience amongst the action and creates a connection with the protagonist.
‘Explosive montage editing and rapid, unsteady camera movement have become two of the signatures of the major set-piece sequences of the contemporary Hollywood action cinema.’ (King, 2002, p.245)
The intensified continuity style editing found in blockbusters can be found in the Crank film but in a different way, due to the lack of coverage. The main bulk of the editing switches between two simultaneously running something fairly unique. More than once in the film, edits on movements are seamless. A result of Neveldine/Taylor’s A/B camera filming. The entire concept of editing resolves around creating fluidity, in time and space, from disparate pieces of footage, but Crank manages this easily. Although this is not constant and can only be witnessed in a couple of scenes. Split screens are used to full effect with the concept being played with to a certain degree. The splits change and move, and on one occasion both shots of the split screen are of the same character. Some of the subtitles are also fairly subversive to the concept of subtitles. Something that wouldn’t necessarily be considered. Where the subtitles are mocked as being unnecessary with the subtitles ready “BLAH BLAH BLAH.” or even POV subtitles, where the subtitles are backwards to the audience but normal to Chev who is reading them.
‘In that sense, it is absolutely of its time. More than that, it feels like an end game, a last act, an aesthetic requiem.’ (Bochenski, 2009)
With the Crank films, Neveldine/Taylor clearly show that they are both cine-literal. What results is an understanding, a comprehension and subsequent execution of genre conventions without being post modern. Similar to the likes of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Both these films manage to show off the technical accomplishments of there directors and the technology used used in there making. Whilst also managing to infuse a sense of life and freshness into a genre that has become homogenised and diluted. Thus, they manage to achieve greatness regardless of how under rated they are by critical community.
Gina Marchetti, ‘Action-adventure as ideology’, in Angus and Thally (eds), Cultural Politics in contemporary America, New York, Routledge, 1989.
King, G., 2002. New Hollywood Cinema. London: I.B.Tauris.
Leitch, T., 2002. Crime Films. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Neale, S., ‘Action-Adventure’ in Cook, P. (ed.) The Cinema Book, London, British Film Institute, 1985.
About.com Hollywood Movies, 2006. Jason Statham Talks About the Action Film, Crank. [online] Available at: <http://movies.about.com/od/crank/a/crankjs072606.htm> [Accessed 10 Janurary 2012].
About.com Hollywood Movies, 2006. Directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine Discuss Crank. [online] Available at: <http://movies.about.com/od/crank/a/crankbt083006.htm> [Accessed 10 Janurary 2012].
Little White Lies, 2009. Crank: High Voltage Review. [online] Available at: <http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk/theatrical-reviews/crank-high-voltage-4420> [Accessed 10 Janurary 2012].
Crank, 2006. [Film] Directed by Neveldine/Taylor. USA: Lionsgate.
Crank: High Voltage, 2009. [Film] Directed by Neveldine/Taylor. USA: Lionsgate.
Transformers, 2006. [Film] Directed by Michael Bay. USA: DreamWorks Pictures.
Mean Streets, 1973. [Film] Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Warner Bros.
Goodfellas, 1990. [Film] Directed by Martin Scorsese. USA: Warner Bros.
‘We can usefully consider the “art cinema” as a distinct mode of film practice, possessing a definite historical existence, a set of formal conventions, and implicit viewing procedures’ (Bordwell 2000: 774).
How might Bordwell’s description of art cinema be applied to film examples from the course and/or of your own choice?
I believe what Bordwell is trying to put across is Art Cinema being a genre. The essay ‘The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice’ puts across the idea that over a canon of films considered Art Cinema there will be certain ideas, concepts that will be present in all of them. This creates the idea of Art Cinema being a genre.
Bordwell suggestions on what make up an Art Cinema film can be placed into three categories: Character, Narrative and Location. Location being a minor category of the three.
Bordwell suggests that Characters in an Art Cinema film will be:
Lacking in goals.
Passively slide between situations.
Tell each other stories.
All these ideas of what make up a protagonist in an Art Cinema film make them seem realistic. Character arcs aren’t necessarily completed by the time the end credits come up. This again adds the realism that the characters haven’t solved their emotional or physiological problems in the running time of the film. The audience know from life that emotional and psychological problems may in fact last a lifetime. As well as the incomplete character arcs many characters have a mixture of positive and negative character traits. For example a protagonist maybe considerate to one character but not to another. The character then can’t be called considerate as they treat people different. This inability to place the characters into a box labelled good or a box labelled bad, this leaves the characters as different shades of grey thus adding to the realism that Art Cinemas aspires to.
An Art Cinema narrative will have;
“…A loose [and] accidental narrative structure that resembles life.”
(Bordwell 2000: 777)
Since the focus of an Art Cinema film is on character rather than of plot, the narrative takes a backseat to some degree. The baseline story is normally rather simply so as to not impede the psychological examination of the character being studied. Never in an Art Cinema does the plot become necessary to the story. Events in an art cinema film happen not to further the plot but to highlight or reinforce certain aspects of the characters personality.
“[Have] a certain drifting episodic quality to the art film’s narrative”
(Bordwell 2000: 776)
Events or scenes in a Art Cinema Film have little linkage between them which is what gives them the episodic quality. The question is not, for example, why have the characters gone to the beach? but rather, what do the characters have to say at the beach?
“Persona” the 1967 film by Ingmar Bergman, is seen as a shining example of Art Cinema.
The story revolves around Elisabeth who is unable to speak, and Alma how aids in her recuperation. The two female protagonists for one reason or another in the story are sent away and are isolated in a cottage in the country. Since Elisabeth is unable to speak her characterisation is more internalised than Alma. Alma can use her voice to express how she is feeling and therefore has a more externalised characterisation. We know what Alma is thinking and feeling because she is telling us, through words but also through the way she is speaking. At some point during the film the role of patient and carer switch. Alma is supposed to be looking after Elisabeth. Alma has been having conversations with Elisabeth but since she cannot speak Alma fills in the gaps. In Elisabeth, Alma has found someone she can talk to that will listen to her every word, maybe. Alma seems to be using Elisabeth so examine the skeletons in her own closet and from her past
“…Tell one another stories: autobiographical events (especially from childhood), fantasies and dreams”
(Bordwell 2000: 774)
Alma using Elisabeth to exercise her demons, seems rather self-centred and cruel. The negative character trait coming from a nurse seems odd. However this adds complexity and makes Alma a morally grey character.
According to Bordwell “Persona” has all the key character hallmarks that make an Art Cinema Film.
In the story, Alma is sent away to an isolated cottage to care for Elisabeth for little reason. This move to the country seems like a device in order to get the two main characters along together. The story may revolve around Alma looking after Elisabeth but it seems more like the ends to the means. An audience needs to know that there is a story even though it may only be a means to an end. The plot of “Persona” is;
“Sufficiently loose in its causation as to permit characters to express and explain their psychological states.”
(Bordwell 2000: 776)
As Bordwell points out this is a feature of a lot of Art Cinema films and again is used “Persona”.
The locations in Art Cinema films are real locations. This realistic use of locations is so that the backgrounds do not take away the attention of the viewer.
“The art cinema defines itself as a realistic cinema. It will show us real locations…”
(Bordwell 2000: 776)
These ideas for what makes a European Art Cinema Film can also be applied to American Independent Cinema. Could these two in fact be of the same genre? Only separated by country of origin?
“Swinger” the 1997 film by Doug Liman, seems to contain a lot of guidelines that Bordwell says comprise an Art Cinema film.
The main protagonist in “swingers” Mike is an emotionally complex character. After the break up of a relationship he is left emotionally broken and unwilling to move on. This is realistic portray of human emotions isn’t common in American Mainstream Cinema.
“Most important, the art cinema uses ‘realistic’ – that is, psychologically complex – characters.”
(Bordwell 2000: 776)
Normally the protagonist of one of these films won’t be sensitive, they won’t show the more complex emotions. However the character of Mike is full of them. At one point in the film he spends two days lamenting of his inability to get over his ex girlfriend. A theme of “Swingers” is friendship. The centre friendship of the film revolves around Mike and Trent. Trent is a character that contains a lot of negative character traits. However it is his loyalty to Mike that wins the character over in the eyes of the audience. At one point the character himself references the fact that he is a character the audience aren’t sure they like. In a Mainstream film Trent would be written off as a bad guy since he uses women for his own gain. However in the context of Art Cinema he is seen as a balanced, realistic individual.
So does the way that “Swingers” portrays its characters fit in with Bordwell’s guidelines on what characters in an Art Cinema film are like. Yes, the characters are emotionally complex and lacking in goals and passively sliding between situations.
The narrative of “Swingers” lacks a lot of plot. Between scenes the locations change with no mention to how and why this has happened.
“The cause-effect linkage of events… become looser more tenuous in the art film.”
(Bordwell 2000: 775)
One scene could take place at a golf course and the next in a diner. These scenes will also feature different characters. However where the scenes are occurring and why the characters are there, is not the focus. The focus is on what the characters are talking about. The narrative is also much more concerned with Mike getting over his ex girlfriend. However this story may not seem like the story on first time viewing. The film may seem to end abruptly, however in fact the ending is rather obvious, it’s the end of the story arc. It may leave questions unanswered but that is the job of an open-ended narrative.
“How to conclude the film? The solution is the open-ended narrative. Given the film’s episodic structure and minimization of character goals, the story will often lack a clear-cut resolution.”
(Bordwell 2000: 779)
Many of the aspects that make “Persona” an Art Cinema Film are also present in “Swingers”. This implies that since “Persona” is obviously an Art Cinema film that makes “Swingers” an Art Cinema film.
What Bordwells essay does is put across the idea that Art Cinema is a genre. That like action films, Art Cinema too has a certain set of codes and conventions. These codes are what go together to create a genre. However I feel that Art Cinema can be summed up thusly;
“[As the] story is thin or absent in the art film… directors must compensate by… [using] dialogue heavy scenes of… characters’ self-conscious descriptions of there emotions.”
(McKee 1999: 61)
A critical summary of Foucault’s essay: ‘What is an Author’ (feb08)
Foucault’s essay is hypocritical. The essay focus’ on the idea that author’s are whole at societies creation and influence whilst at the same time citing many key philosophical authors that have influenced him. The main reason for writing this essay was as a response to “Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes. So it could be said that Foucault was influenced into writing “what is an author?” by Roland Barthes’ essay “Death of the Author”.
Reading this essay it is apparent that Foucault’s definition of an author switches between arguments. The Oxford English Dictionary, list essentially two main definitions of the word “Author”:
The person who originates or gives existence to anything.
One who sets forth written statement.
Definition 1, means in broad terms the ‘Creator’ of anything. Whilst Definition 2, is an ‘Author’ in terms of literature, the author of a book.
“A private letter may well have a signer-I does not have an author” p211
Occasionally it won’t be clear which definition he is using. A “private letter” does in fact have a creator. However
Foucault seems to take this subject of “authorship” overly serious. He seems to make broad sweeping statements, that:
History has many examples of great “Authors” that have lesser works. Foucault thinks history and society use an authors name as a stamp of approval; therefore Foucault seems to think that authors don’t have the right to edit themselves.
“When undertaking the publication of Nietzsche’s works, for example, where should one stop?… What if, within a workbook… one finds a reference, the notation of a meeting.” P207
An author would not, unless being avant garde, regard a laundry list as a work. Individual ego would not allow it. Foucault seems to ignore the individual ego of the “author”.
Furthermore, in a commercial sense, classification that is not author driven would leave a bookshop in disarrayed and one would never be able to find the book they are looking for.
What I see as the major mistake with this essay is very simple, and happens on the cover of the book. On the over it reads:
The fact that Michel Foucault is writing, as an author, takes away his argument. Would this essay have had the amount of time dedicated to it if it hadn’t had Michel Foucault’s name associated with it? This is the question that Foucault bases much of the essay around. If he feels that this essay is a work, he should therefore believe it should be held up by its own merits. Not the merits brought with his name being attached to it. So by placing his name on this work, he wants the individuality and recognition he argues authors don’t deserve in the work.
An Essay on the relationships between technological change, film aesthetics and the Social/Economic contexts in which they are located.
With the help of Steven Spielberg, the 1980s saw a shift in the amount of money a film could earn. ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ in the late 1970s showed that suspense and action driven films could make more money than a film driven on plot or character. This led to the invention of the Blockbuster. These blockbuster films would sacrifice plot in way of action. The Blockbuster would also cash in on the star quality of the lead actor. Some times resting the entire film on their shoulders. A prime example being ‘Die Hard’, Bruce Willis was as well know and well respected TV star and this film rested on the idea of a big TV star making his transition to film. The film was a huge success and reinvigorated the action genre. However this reliance on big name stars would grow into what is now know as an ensemble cast. Instead of one main lead and the rest minor supporting actors, an ensemble cast will have several big name stars. This thirst for money that blockbusters quenched was largely due to period in which they were made, the 1980s. A large consumer culture had developed and studio execs wanted to cash in on this growing trend. For ‘Star Wars’ audiences were seeing the films multiple times on its first run. This was pretty much unheard of. Films were now being seen as spectacles again. This made certain action movies seem like gimmicks. A film like ‘Speed’ was described as “Die Hard on a Bus”. By the early 1990s the action genre became clichéd again.
With teenager having more freedoms and more disposable income than previous decades and new genre of film emerged, the teen genre. These films would normally combine drama and comedy and use teenaged actors. These became hugely popular, and heralded for their realistic portray of the trials and tribulations of the modern teenager. These films also helped popularise the music of the time as well as show the advantages of using popular music instead of a dedicated films score. Which became fully formed at the birth of the Independent film movement.
After the home video boom of the 1980s, where smaller low budget independent videos were getting a much wider audience, the 1990s brought a rash of commercially successful independent films. These independent films often felt rushed, badly performed and poorly filmed. However this added to the heart of the genre. This was due to the low budget. Filming would have to be quick to keep location costs down, Actors were normally inexperienced or amateur and the lack of expensive well made cameras, lighting rigs and sound devices. The independent film ‘Clerks.’ was made for $27,575 and included all the previous made points. It featured two main locations, which didn’t cost anything to the production as the director worked there. The cast feature many people who had never acted before or had only participated in amateur theatre. ‘Clerks.’ Was filmed using black and white 16mm film stock due to how cheap the stock and the equipment was to hire.
The look of the film isn’t the only reason why the 1990s gave rise to the independent film. The story’s and the way they were being told was another very equal reason. ‘Pulp Fiction’ told a very generic crime story, but presented it in a very human way. It was also much heralded due to its clever use of narrative structure. Unlike a film such as ‘The Killers’ which told one story from beginning to end, through multiple time frames. ‘Pulp Fiction’ would not show the beginning or end of some of its stories, but rather show certain episodes in the characters life, with a certain time frame. This formula has been used by Quentin Tarantino in other films but never achieved the same high praise.
Most of these independent films take a realistic approach to film making. This realistic approach is due to the low budget of the production. The limitations mean that a filmmaker doesn’t have total control of the environment that they are shooting. So many aspects such as sound and lighting are left fairly untouched, only manipulated slightly if it is possible.
The 1990s also gave way to the use of computer-generated images in films. This technology started off as an aid to the filmmaker. If some wires need to be taken off a stunt man, the wires were removed by computer. Then in 1991 ‘Terminator 2’, the antagonist was made more terrifying with the aid of computers. Then ‘Jurassic Park’ made realistic looking dinosaurs interact with real life humans. These all helped tell the stories that film makers wanted to tell. However as the technology became easily accessible to more film makers it started to be used lazily. In ‘Daredevil’ a CGI rat is used instead of a live rat. This has led to a public backlash of sorts, where the film audience are wanting to see stunts performed for real rather than being computer generated.
The end of the 20 centaury saw a huge advancement in technology. The technology in the professional and amateur areas of the movie industry became smaller, cheaper and better.
With the 1980’s came a time of wealth. The general film watching public had enough disposable income to be able to afford more entertainment based consumer products. Home video gave an audience the chance to purchase a movie they had seen at the cinema and view it as many times as they liked. Up until then, once a films run at the cinema had ended, it would rarely be seen again. However this gave rise to a format war. Betamax versus VHS. Betamax had better quality films but VHS was cheaper. As such more people bought VHS. With the commercial viability of home video in the 80’s a new era of film making occurred. Video cameras also gave way to home movies, which would later help shape, a new group of filmmakers but also help in the creation of documentaries and news. With the home video market ever growing a new branch of film quickly opened up, the straight to video movie. These films were similar in style to the exploitations films of the 1970s. Where a same production company would make extremely low budget films then release them straight into shops. Huge amounts of money were saved in the process, as the companies wouldn’t have to spend money advertising the film to a cinema going audience. These films however are critically panned, as such a low budget is limitation and not a good limitation. These low budget provide large profitability for the movie studios financing them. Many studios have taken to making straight to video sequels of theatrically released films, to cash in on the brand name of the film. Some of these movies stars have become famous through there work on straight to video movies such as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.
Now there is a new format war between Blu Ray and HD DVD. Both are high definition movie formats that give a better quality of picture and sound to a film. However the film audience has been slow to take the new formats on. The audience may not understand the technology or feels that the technology is too expensive or that they just don’t need the technology.
Now in the 21 centaury with the emergence of high definition technology, Low budget films can have a high quality appearance, ‘Wolf Creek’. This has given the rise to very low budget independent films that still can have a commercial release. Normally due to the poor low-resolution quality attached to home video cameras hardly any films are released commercially filmed using DV tape. However with the low cost of High Definition cameras film maker’s reliance on the major movie studios is starting to diminish. Using computer software filmmakers are now able to write a professional looking script, and other aspects of preproduction. As well as pre production, professional postproduction software is easily available. Filmmakers have the ability to use the Internet to there advantage. Originally an independent film would need to find a distribution company to release there film to a cinema and the onto the home video market. Now an independent film could be self distributed in a number of different ways. The film could be released through the Internet or through home made DVDs. This makes it easier than ever to make commercially available films for cheap. This has led to a large boom in the amount of Independent narrative films as well as documentaries.
Another impact the computers had on the film industry was the introduction of CGI, computer generated images. This has led to a revolution in filmmaking. A film can have completely computer made characters on screen, ‘Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace’. Or a film could have entire sets and locations made, ‘300’. And even a completely computer made film in both a cartoon style, ‘Over the Hedge’ or in a photo realistic style, ‘Beowulf’. Synthespians have become the newest craze in Hollywood. A synthespian is a totally CGI appearance of an actor, however their movements and voice are used for the character. Ray Winstone recently provided the voice and movements of the title character in ‘Beowulf’. The same goes for Andy Serkis in ‘King Kong’ where he provides the movements but nothing else. These synthespians have been greeted with mixed reviews, many criticisms stem from the dead look in the synthespians eyes, and the loss of subtle nuances that a real life actor gives. Director James Cameron has spent the past few years on stereoscopic digital 3-D believing this to be the future of cinema. However he appears to be the only mainstream backer of this technology, as there doesn’t seem to be a want or demand from the general public.
Technological change of film seems to be deeply rooted in the social norms of the time. The technological advances only reach the public domain once the cost have become affordable to the majority of the population. Once this market is established companies will then invest in what they believe to be the next technological advance. Synthespians hasn’t won over the public yet because it doesn’t provide anything new or interesting. Unlike The special effects in ‘Terminator 2’, which broke new ground as well as help, tell the story and make the antagonist more terrifying. Home 35mm projectors never took off because of the great expense and size of the equipment. However VHS took off because it was cheaper than a 35mm projector. This movement in technology doesn’t change the heart of film; it just changes how we perceive film.
“To accept Hollywood's methods of film-making as superior, without recourse to US-scale resources and without thought for a long-term consequence for film-making in Britain, is now a reflex action within the British film world.” (James, 2009)
With a never ending torrent of movies American movies washing up on the shore of British cinema's it can be difficult to get a smaller film of any other nation on to a cinema screen. However these smaller films tend to be the majority of Britain Film-making output. In 2009 British films accounted for only 22% of all releases at cinemas which in turn racked in 16% of the box office share.
So how does British Cinema's combat this invasion. British Cinema responses to this influx in a few different ways.
Learning from them.
Doing the Opposite of them.
These lessons are then driven into the key to Britain's responses is the genre film. Making Films that Britain can do well. The three I have chosen are; the British Crime Film, the Heritage Film and the Social Realist Film.
Movies in which Cops and Robbers battle it out has been as tend pole of cinema since its inception. British Crime has frequently had ups and downs.
“In the four years between April 1997 and April 2001 at least twenty-four British underworld films were released, more than were released in the twenty years before.” (Chibnall, 2009)
The crime genre is something that appeals to a wide range of people. Probably due to the clear cut nature of most of the characters making them easily identifiable archetypes, leading to a cops versus robbers situation.
With a lot of the films coming out of the genre going straight to DVD, once in a while a breakout and become hugely successful. A great British Crime film can become part of the zeitgeist, much like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Sexy Beast or Gangster No.1 did.
Like most genre fiction Britain's crime genre output has stagnated in recent years. Not in terms of numbers but rather in terms of quality. Following the success' of Guy Ritchies films, a slew of similar gangster films came out and failed to different degrees, critically and commercially.
“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was responsible, it is assumed, for the flood of 'imitations' that followed.” (Chibnall, 2009)
And that's exactly what the wave of post Guy Ritchie crime films were, imitations. A major problem with the post-Guy Ritchie movies have been they appear to be all the same. What do I mean by this, well, repetition. Many British crime movies centre around London Gangsters, and very little else. London is the centre of so many British Crime movies, it would be possible to think that no crime happens anywhere else in Britain. Also they seemed to lack the quality, wit and innovation of Ritchie's, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
In a strive to make the gangster protagonist likable they are often tweaked into becoming an anti hero. Often striving for a better life, a better life being away from the violence that they face on a daily basis. These British gangster movies often portray the characters as lovable rogues instead of the reality as single minded sociopathic killers.
As mentioned, the British Crime movie and almost entirely become the domain of the Gangster. Whilst in no way am I saying that gangster's shouldn't be featured in Crime films, what I do bring up is the lack of films from the other side of the fence, that being films centred around the Police.
Even thought many of the films end up going direct to DVD and never being in a Cinema, the British Crime Film lives on. Crime films have been around
It has been questioned whether The Heritage Film is a genre of film on merely a style.
“A loose body of films through their common innovation of British history, literature and/or an 'approved' cultural tradition.” (Hall, 2009)
Nevertheless it is a hugely popular form of film-making. This is because Heritage Films are hugely popular around the world, Foreign audiences like to indulge In the old fashion stereotypical view of Britain. As a result these movies become very important to the British Film Industry. They are movies that are financially safe. In times of financial hardship the genre booms, and a slew of films arrive.
Much of the enjoyment of the Heritage Film is in the the visual artistry of the story telling. The mis en scene, is turned up to eleven in the Heritage Film .
“[The] Prestige attached to these films as quality products, evidenced in the certain features of their marketing campaigns, and in their frequent appearance in the lists for Oscars, BAFTAs and other film-industry awards.” (Hall, 2009)
Typically the Heritage Film becomes the kind of film that will more than likely be successful post awards season. Recently The Kings Speech was nominated for many awards purely on the back of its festival screenings, before having a wide release or being released in Britain. This created a huge amount of marketing momentum which resulted in huge box office returns.
Whilst these films are popular in foreign markets, many Britons do feel, however, that the Heritage film give the rest of the world a warped perspective of what British life is really like.
“[Every studio] is scrambling to identify the "safe" choices, and that means latching onto pre-existing material and treating it like a cure-all.” (McWeeny, 2011)
Many of the Heritage Films tend to be adaptations of existing material, mainly books. This over reliance on an existing texts means no original movies get made, a problem with all adaptations. Adaptations are seen as being a safe bet for the financiers as they are exploiting a (possibly) well loved and well established brand. This guarantees a certain amount of interest and audience before the camera's have even started rolling.
Social Realist Films have been around since the 60s, a mixture of documentary film-making and traditional drama. This film movement has enjoyed steady success in Britain and account for much of the National Cinema output.
The main reason for making a film in the Social Realist ilk is to educate your would be audience about a world or culture they would not normally see. A world of community degradation, of poverty, etc
One of the benefits of making a Social Realist film is that they are remarkably cheap to produce, many being made for less than a million pounds. This is practically insignificant when compared to the average Hollywood blockbuster. The smaller budget means more movies can be make and there is a better chance of breaking even particularly quickly. However it does limit the scope of the the film-makers ambitious, and a chronic lack of funding is a problem with in British Cinema.
“The emphasis is always on how little money it can be done for, not on how much it needs to achieve it's ambitions.” (James, 2009)
The small budget of these social realist films limits there cinema releases. Only a small handful of films make it on mainstream cinema after they receive a considerable amount of buzz. The reality is that the good ones will make it into the independent cinemas, the rest will either tour the festival circuit of be released straight to DVD.
The result of this small marketing strategy is that the films released rarely become popular enough for mainstream audiences. As a result very few people actually see the film. When you can't reach a wide audience you'll frequently be preaching to the choir, and the only people seeing your film will be the people with enough interest to have sought it out, meaning they may have a distinct draw to the subject matter. This may be the point Cinema has always been seen as an escapist medium. Most go and see the big specular blockbuster because it is so far removed from the audiences real life.
A major complaint of this genre comes with the subject matter. The flip side of their ability to examine contemporary Britain is they're cynical negative outlook on life.
“But the film's concentrated austerity of mood and setting eventually suggests miserabilism rather than realism.” (Brown, 2009)
The Social Realist and the Heritage Films are genre's that Britain can do particularly well. We have the history for the Heritage Film and diverse social problems for Social Realist Films. America doesn't have the same amount of history to mine compared to Britain, however there nearest analogue Is the western. And America also tends to be in denial when it comes to social issues, and as a result there films tackling these problems are often documentaries.
Which do I prefer? None. of them.
I feel that all the genre responses have they're own built in flaws that make them a poor response to the American invasion. Heritage Films pander to stereotypes, British Crime Films are terribly generic and Social Realist Films are rarely seen.
The two major problems in British Cinema I think are:
Lack of funding for original and unique stories.
Inability to distribute wide enough to be seen.
Backing movies that are safe bets may ensure a slight return but hardly push the boundaries of both genre and cinema. The average production budget of the BAFTAS Outstanding British Film category is just over £2 million. This lack of funds limits the artist vision of so many film makers, resulting in movies based on some level of realism, and hence the Social Realist genre. This lack of ambitious film-making really separates the good film-makers from the bad, Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle, chiefly among them.
British Filmmakers lack the gravitas and power of getting their films into cinemas and in front of audiences. Even the poorest quality Hollywood films make a small amount of money at the British box office, whilst a film like Pimp starring Danny Dyer, doesn't even get the chance to be show in a cinema.
“[British] films only end up in our mainstream cinemas if Hollywood acquires them – and pockets most of the money in the process. It's hardly surprising then that 19 out of 20 of these truly British films loses money.” (Williams, 2010)
I would like to see a British film industry where a British movie makes an international profit that goes back into the British film industry. Also in the introduction of a quota system in the UK.
“[The] absence of a quota system compelling cinemas to show British or european films mean that domestic productions rarely make and impact at the box office.” (Eyeles, 2009)
I would like to see more intelligent responses to the threat if Hollywood. I believe that one of the best examples of this is Shaun of the Dead. The filmmakers took an American fascination, the Zombie, transplanted to Britain and made it work in a way that make the film distinctly British. The comedy in the film came from the contrast of the walking dead and sleepy British suburbia. From using a cricket bat to further kill a zombie to waiting to be rescued in a Pub. All of these a cultural artifact that are clearly British, but it's presented in a way that's unique. A horror comedy, about zombies. However like most success' in British Cinema, a wash of derivative films arrived. Severance, Lesbian Vampire Killers and The Cottage, all never really hit the same heights as Shaun of the Dead did.