While European cinema markets itself as art house, and American cinema is mostly populist, British cinema is neither enough of either to fall on to one side. American films began to become popular in the 1910s, during which time Hollywood films dominated British cinemas due to block-booking. Before this, mainly up-to 1914, American cinema had itself been dominated mostly by European films, in the same way that American films then began to dominate British cinemas. World War Two had been fought on the European continent, and damaged its economies; with European art house films no longer reserving their seats at the pictures, American films moved in; very little has changed since then. Economic relativity is what also allowed those Hollywood films to be successful in Europe: inflation rates could be exploited in order to make big American dollars through little European success. The offices that made deals and drafted contracts – the buying and the selling – was located in London – Britain was the centre of Hollywood’s trading with Europe. Possibly as a result, either direct or indirect, Britain became Hollywood’s biggest international buyer. British cinemas weren’t just dominated by American films, they were the most dominated in the world. In 1926, 84% of films exhibited in British cinemas were American; by 1927, British films exhibited in British cinemas made-up only 3% of them. Due to the British film industry’s enthusiasm for American films, America began to become more involved with British film production. Hollywood studios became based in Britain for tax purposes. Many of the resulting films were technically British co-productions, but creative control was served entirely by America (arguably, these films’ status as British co-productions was a formality, and didn’t really mean anything). Whereas before, British cinemas had been dominated by America, now, the British film industry was helping make many of them. Measures had to be taken. Which introduces a new field of study into this series of analyses on films from Britain and Europe: economics. There are three distinct business plans that Britain’s film industry used in an attempt to challenge American domination and empower the domestic market:
- State protectionism
The 1927 Cinematograph Film Act set a quota for how many British films must be shown in British cinemas per year, in order to give British cinemas more variety by making British films more available on average. A 1938 amendment standardised British films’ duration and budget – any British films not meeting these standards weren’t protected by the quota and could be rejected by British cinemas. The production of British films per year reached record lows during World War Two, but the 1940s is considered to be British films’ golden age and highest period of quality and consistency, due to most British films being set during, and being about, that time. After World War Two, further measures were taken, when the “ad valorum” tax was introduced, which set a value added tax on foreign films imported into Britain. Hollywood reacted to this with a boycott, which lasted for nine months. The boycott was resolved through a deal between Britain and America for Britain to become involved in Hollywood film production. Whereas Britain had previously been helping Hollywood produce films, Britain was now an activate participant in Hollywood film production. Effectively, Britain’s film industry and Hollywood’s film industry had merged. State protectionism had attempted to weaken Hollywood’s strain on Britain’s film industry, but this had ultimately lead to the British film industry’s next business plan:
To “go-along-with” it and exploit it at the same time. British cinemas were obligated to show a quota of British films, but audiences weren’t obligated to see them. Hollywood was producing films in Britain for tax purposes, but British films were funded proportionally to budget and inflation. Thus, Britain co-produced American films in order to make British films resemble Hollywood films, while still being British films. British films were becoming transformed into their rival, in order to avoid competition with that rival. These off-Hollywood British films would be marketed at America internationally; to sell British films to an overseas country by making British films that resembled that country’s own style of film-making. British films had essentially been replaced with films made by Britain’s film industry – which are not the same thing. Britain’s film industry established subsidiary companies in America in the same way that America established subsidiary companies in Britain. The line between Britain and America’s respective national film industries was becoming blurred. Many of these were star vehicles. The difference is that the United States Dollars and Great British Pounds still returned to their country of origin, regardless of the complicated context. America’s economy is bigger – its film industry can afford a loss. Britain’s film industry could not afford a loss. Many British film studios have become bankrupt from the failure of one film. Film4 invested in consecutive failures, and now co-produces less as a result. Every business strategy eventually fails when it normalises and can no longer be marketed as new. Which is what makes the next plan all the more necessary, and sustainable in the long term.
- Product differentiation
This is the idea that British films should aim to be distinctly British and representative of British culture on the basis of no other country being able to offer this. British films such as this can be marketed overseas as products of a foreign culture, that are appealing because of how different they are. The big trends of British cinema in the 1970s were the Carry On and Confessions of A series. Adaptations of sitcoms were also common. However, Britain’s smaller domestic audience meant that these films were given lower budgets to compensate for what was expected to be a lower gross on average. However, art house films have been able to find a global audience due to cult distribution and fan network circulation. While art house films were the European film industry’s international successes, Britain’s equivalent is arguably social realism. Developed in Britain, social realism is a film-making genre that resembles documentaries. Britain’s social realist films were sponsored by brands, as opposed to being funded by film studios.
Bronco Bullfrog and Deep End are two British social realist films. Released in the 1970s, this is an era in-which Britain’s industry had moved-through the three above-described phases, and had developed a national film industry that differentiated itself by being British. Bronco Bullfrog is a more conventional British social-realist film, while Deep End is more of a challenge to the form. Social-realist films are set in an urban environment at the time of the film being made, are shot almost entirely on location in monochrome, featuring unknown actors that could personally relate to the story. Sexuality was portrayed more explicitly, and often in scenes of extra-marital relationships. The protagonists were rebelling against authority, which involved generational conflict. Social mobility was also a common theme. Characters were often materialistic, which clashed with traditional versus mass cultures. Individuals found themselves feeling disconnected from their community. Endings were normally arbitrary, due to the narrative being naturalistic, and therefore without a definitive “end”. These indefinite narratives were deliberate – realistic societies don’t have constructed plots. Bronco Bullfrog in particular features a freeze-frame ending to suggest that these characters continue to live their life, as if the ending is only the moment at-which the film ends, not its content. Contrary to this, Deep End constructs characters as ideas, with contrived and unbelievable plots that aren’t naturalistic like other social-realist films. Whereas most social-realist films are capturing the real lives of a community in a certain time, Deep End intends to disturb its audience with the themes, and is based on several, unconnected events that have occurred previously. Whereas Bronco Bullfrog was set in the real version of its location, most of Deep End was filmed in Munich… due to being co-produced with West Germany. Most of the supporting cast is West German and were dubbed. Bronco Bullfrog is a typical British social-realist film; Deep End is a deconstruction of that format that demonstrates what British social realism by only being so much of it.