The media is full is of the withdrawal of this recently completed film by a major Hollywood corporation. It is an undesirable development. However, a few caveats are in order.
The accusations against North Korea are less compelling than official spokespeople suggest. Internet experts (there was one on Radio 4 yesterday) make the point that the evidence is tricky and difficult to pin down.And the complaints about ‘freedom of expression’ are somewhat hypocritical.
President Obama’s claim to end the boycott of Cuba provides one parallel – as Cuban cinema was one victim of this over the years. Moreover Hollywood is always happy to block films that do not fit with its interests. This Film is not yet rated (USA, 2006) provides a compelling case study of the operation of the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system. This system regularly blocks access or restricts audiences for films that do not fit its values (though these are not actually available to the public).
In the UK the British Board of Film Classification operates a similar policy of restriction. Judging by the comments that accompany a certificate their major obsession is protecting us from the use of colloquial language – a protection from which Ken Loach’s films have suffered.
Sony Pictures commenting on the withdrawal of The Interview explained that this was due to pressure from exhibitors. A nice reversal of the norm, as it is usually the distributors pressurising exhibitors. You have probably had a similar experience to me at a multiplex on some occasion – the premier release occupying the major auditorium but with a smaller audience than in some of the minor theatres.
From its earliest days the cinema industry has been dominated by major firms largely sited in advanced capitalist economies. And they have consistently denied screen space to competitors, alternatives and especially films that deny their interests. It would be interesting to know if any major Hollywood studio has had a pitch for a tale about CIA plots against Fidel Castro – and what response they gave.
The MPAA has just released figures for the Top 20 film markets worldwide in 2013. The Hollywood majors are most interested in the financial return so they list markets by value:
2013 Box Office (US $ billions)
1. US & Canada 10.9
2. China 3.6
3. Japan 2.4
4. UK 1.7
5. France 1.6
6. India 1.5
7. South Korea 1.4
7. Russia 1.4
9. Germany 1.3
10. Australia 1.1
11. Brazil 0.9
11. Mexico 0.9
13. Italy 0.8
14. Spain 0.7
15. Argentina 0.4
16. Netherlands 0.3
16. Turkey 0.3
16. Taiwan 0.3
19. Sweden 0.2
19. Switzerland 0.2
19. Malaysia 0.2
The total box office worldwide was $39.5 billion.
The major caveat that needs to be noted is that these are mainly the figures collected by rental tracking agencies which are part of the Hollywood-dominated international film industry. Where such agencies don’t operate (large parts of Africa, Middle East and Asia) it is difficult to gather data on box office. Some estimates suggest that the true figure for India would be more like $3 billion. The chart does not rank film territories according to admissions. Although most ticket prices in the territories above are roughly similar at US$6-9, prices in India are lower and in Japan much higher.
It would seem that the majority of BAFTA members are lacking in any sense of irony: they awarded the Outstanding British Film Award to Gravity. Technically they are correct, and apparently about 90% of what we see and hear [much of it debris] was Made in Britain. However one wonders what criteria they were following: two Hollywood stars and the logo of Warner Brothers. I thought the latter resided under the famed Hollywood sign rather than overlooking one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square?
One wonders how many of the members actually watched all of the nominees in this category. Not that this mattered that much: they included Philomena, The Selfish Giant and then the South African Mandela biopic, Rush and Saving Mr Banks. The last two were celebrating Formula 1 and Walt Disney. I assumed that given Best Picture frequently goes to a Hollywood movie that the function of Outstanding British Picture was to celebrate home-made films. I rather think we are in danger of losing the plot.
Gravity also won the award for Best Cinematography. This would seem slightly more appropriate. If like me you listened to Radio 4 on Friday morning, you would have heard one of the skilled technicians explaining about the Computer Generated Images in the film. Monday’s Radio 4 had a critic justifying the awards, including that for Gravity. ‘Me thinks they protest too much’.
To balance the above the officially listed US film 12 Years a Slave won Best Film and Best Actor – the director and lead actor having crossed the Atlantic to present a film about slavery in the USA. This is a film that also has no visible presence from these shores: but the invisible presence includes the British ships that transported the majority of Africans across the same Atlantic Ocean.
For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to distil some of the best ideas and analysis on The Case for Global Film into a form that I hope will be accessible and useful for students and teachers. The project has now reached fruition in the form of The Global Film Book published in January by Routledge in the UK and US. I’m very grateful to Routledge for their support in publishing a full colour textbook with a range of illustrations and I think it looks very good.
I have also committed to writing a support blog for the book and that too is now live at globalfilmstudies.com At the moment, nearly all the posts on the new blog are taken from the archives of The Case for Global Film, but they are organised in relation to the structure of the book and, over time, new material will appear as exclusive to the new blog (but I will also continue to contribute to this one).
The new book offers an argument about the global production of films (and includes a chapter on ‘global television’) and analyses the ways in which the international trade in film exports operates. It can’t cover every film-producing territory so I have selected certain film industries and film cultures in order to explore specific aspects of my general argument. After a brief outline of the development of the international trade in films since the early 20th century, the book offers an analysis of the influence of the ‘Hollywood model’ and then considers ideas about European ‘national cinemas’ in the UK, France, Spain and the Nordic countries.
I’ve included a chapter on the festival circuit, new waves and auteur cinema (with a case study on Claire Denis). Cuba and Sub-Saharan Africa feature in discussion of what was once known as Third Cinema, ‘Middle East Without Borders’ surveys a region whose cinematic identity often seems to be defined by those outside the region and which is sometimes characterised by the influence of diasporic and ‘exilic’ filmmaking. Japan and South Korea are the focus for a debate about the challenge to the idea of Hollywood as the ‘only’ classical cinema and Indian and Chinese cinemas get separate chapters in recognition of their importance for the future.
One chapter looks at four case studies of filmmaking from around the world and attempts to help students become engaged. I’m going to draw on this material in a free event to be hosted by the National Media Museum in Bradford on Saturday 15 March which will launch the book officially. Film and media teachers and students of all ages (including evening class students) are welcome to attend. Please check out the details here. After this event I will also be giving an illustrated talk to introduce the screening of the new Claire Denis film Bastards (France-Germany 2013).
If you can’t make the launch, the book is available from all good bookshops and the usual online stores – it’s also available as a Kindle book and an e-book from Taylor & Francis (Routledge’s parent company). You can get full details and ‘look inside’ on the Routledge website.
The Global Film Book follows on from The Media Student’s Book in not being tied to a specific syllabus or course. I hope it provides useful background and an introduction to study of films from around the world for any student from A Level to undergraduate and evening class – indeed anyone interested in global film.