Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Curtisland goes to sea

[addition 13.6.11: see for a useful, brief guide on RC's career]
[this is from another DB blog intended for A2; you may find it quite hard going]

Opening title for The Boat That Rocked:
Not England. Britain. And it's set on a boat in the North Sea. ... Yet, even in this scenario, there are no Scots, no N.Irish, no Welsh; the only variety from S.Eng characters comes from an American (a US star, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in to help sell to a US audience), a Southern Irishman and an Australian character.

Its worth noting that Curtis, seen as part of the rather embarassing 'Cool Britannia' moment/movement* is the individual directly responsible for the advent of Red Nose Day, arguably one of the few remaining powerful expressions of 'Britishness', of Britain as a single nation (at least outside of the handful of big teatime family shows on BBC1 and ITV1: Strictly Come Dancing; Britain's Got Talent; X Factor; Dr Who). There is no conspiracy to undermine this national identity, but commercial considerations, especially the power of the London/Southern England 'brand' or identity, seem to come out on top (an analysis which would be categorised within the 'political economy' school of Media Studies).

*mid-90s: 4Weddings+Funeral signals new confidence in Brit cinema, and lighter hearted shift away from the social realism of Loach and Leigh, while with Oasis, Blur + Britpop pop culture looks back to the 60s and makes prominent use of British iconography that had been associated with racist movements like the NF/BNP from the 70s

The film in many ways is a perfect postmodern text; 'Britain' is referred to, and we get frequent shots of the audience, presumably intended to be a snapshot of all of Britain. There are no place-specific signifiers, nothing to anchor the North, the South, Scotland or wherever; the onshore people we see don't speak (though some girls do scream) for one thing, so there are no accents to denote region. Even the time period, the era, is signified in a very hollow fashion; as Baudrillard might term it, we get a 'simulacra' of Britain in the 60s - a symbol referring to a symbol referring to a symbol, and any sense of reality lost in the mix. We see the clothing and colours associated with the 60s, and versions of the strange dancing styles glimpsed on Top of the Pops 2; the people we see behave as if living in a music video.

I doubt its intentional, but in many ways Curtis and his technical team are closer to the satiric representation of 60s Britain of the Austin Powers series than any perceived reality. Indeed, has Austin Powers, driving his Union Jack-patterned 'shaguar', become part of the British identity here and abroad?

"For the first time in history the United Kingdom of Great Britain will take on the United States." [Bill Nighy's character, Quentin]
Perhaps, like the BBC with its references to 'Team GB' at the Olympics, Curtis is somehow unaware that the Union of the United Kingdom is that between GreatBritain and Northern Ireland?!? Even when directly employing this British collective identity, Curtis still manages to undermine the sense of four nations with a shared national identity by completely ignoring one of them. (Commutation test: if you don't think this significant, consider if he managed to forget one of the UK's 4 constituent nations, and that England was the one he forgot...)

Has he at least managed to overcome the mono-culturalism (as opposed to multiculturalism) of his whites-only earlier work? Yes ... and no. In the sequences of the British audience, we get one Asian character. Can you guess what crassly stereotypical job he has? *Answer below! Then there's the one black character on board the ship itself. He doesn't speak for most of the film. When a flotilla of boats arrives to rescue everyone on board the pirate radio ship, he's pulled out of the water by ... a boat full of black women. Very enlightened of you there Mr Curtis!

You may pick up when looking at examples of press articles which directly tackle the issue of national identity that there is a clear gap between the left-wing and right-wing papers which you can link in to this last point. This is generalizing but broadly true; look for your own examples (some of the links to the right would do) of where the right-wing papers express hostility to the concept of a multicultural (i.e. mixed ethnicity, no 'national' religion, Britishness influenced by a range of foreign cultures through immigration, the curry as British national dish being a good example of this) Britain, while the left-wing papers generally favour this, see it as a positive.

If you did want to tackle this point you could draw upon theories such as the agenda-setting theory and primary definition thesis - see links, left and outlines below. Consider the sources you see quoted, and look for differences between the left- and right-wing papers ('source strategies' theory - see this as an example).

A final point of interest: Geri Halliwell's Spice Girls outfit: the Union Jack dress; you can see an interesting list of popular culture uses of the UJ at - scroll down for Union jack.

(Alongside portrayals of the Union Jack as a symbol of racism and/or militarism (some would see the two as combined in the context of recent military conflicts, or look back to colonial conflicts), we see it as a camp, postmodern icon - the company Groovy Entertainment uses it in a playful way, as does Visual Bliss (respectively, the Austin-a-gram and backdrop pictured)).
*The one Asian character in the audience sequences was ... a shopkeeper! Not exactly pushing the boat out on that one ...

In addition to the iconography of 'the' national flag (remember, we're looking at a hotly contested national identity, a source of fierce pride to some, a source of resentment to others), portrayals of the monarchy can be worth looking at. As the success of so many heritage/costume dramas (from WT's Elizabeth + its sequel to virtually all of Merchant Ivory's output) have shown, the US and wider global have a great appetite for the pageantry, the castles, kings and queens associated with our monarchical history. Press coverage of incidents such as The Sex Pistols' release of  "God Save the Queen" back in 1977 showed a strong deference to the Royals (this article suggests that hasn't necessarily died out) - although Murdoch (linking to his Australian background) is fiercely Republican, and pioneered intrusive tabloid coverage and criticism of the previously untouchable Royals. The Express, once a great paper, is now something of a running joke for its incredibly frequent front-page splashes (stories) on ... Princess Diana! (Its rather cheap to make up or rehash stories rather than pay for actual investigative journalism!)

“the power of politically and economically dominant groups in the society largely defines the contours of debate and ensures that their ways of thinking are reproduced, dominating the public agenda of discussion” (Schlesinger, 1993, p.187)

Primary definers are: ‘Those sources of information, usually official, that generate, control and establish initial definitions of particular events, situations and issues.’ (O’Sullivan et al, 1983, p.181)


‘A term used to describe the ways in which the media wittingly or unwittingly structure public debate and awareness. … in the first instance agenda setting refers to the question of what topics the media present to the audience, and secondly how information on these topics is presented. This relates to the dynamics of coverage; for example what spectrum of viewpoints, symbols, questions and so are selected to construct a particular news item or documentary programme, and crucially how they are ranked, or accorded legitimacy and priority.’ (O’Sullivan et al, 1983, p.6)

This item seems to imply, rather fancifully, that prior to The Boat That Rocked Curtis had an unblemished body of work. Is this the same man that masterminded the success of The Black Adder (before being retrieved from the mire by Ben Elton who, incidentally, really has gone from dizzy heights to guttural dross) and sought the dubious talents of one Martine McCutcheon: a crime to cinema that can never be forgiven? All his efforts have been corrosive to British Film and always render the queasy feeling of having artificial sweeteners injected straight into your eyeballs.
This is a reader quote (TheMicroProf 8 Jun 2010, 1:41PM) from an article on RC: (1st 2 paras below)

How Doctor Who gave Richard Curtis a shot in the arm

After last year's The Boat That Rocked, critics feared he'd lost his mojo. But the director has made a triumphant return – to the small screen, at least

Doctor Who: Richard Curtis and Karen Gillan
Are you ready for your mojo-locating proceedure? … Richard Curtis with Doctor Who assistant Karen Gillan Photograph: Guy Levy/PA

It's been a year or so since Richard Curtis showed us his film The Boat That Rocked, about a 60s pirate radio station, a very eccentric and not terribly funny comedy — one which moreover bore worrying signs of meaning an enormous amount to him personally — and nobody quite knew where to look. Could it be that Richard Curtis was on the way out? Could it be the self-imposed burden of being a feature film director and globally important charitable dynamo had crushed the funny in Richard Curtis?
This was the romcom supremo who wrote such terrific and massively influential films as Four Weddings And A Funeral and the still underrated Notting Hill, films which hundreds of other films have tried unsuccessfully to rip off, by an unfashionable but very funny and clever comedy writer, who did a massive amount personally to restore our faith in the entire concept of a "British film industry".
The following is a PowerPoint created by Alleyn School's Mick Googan - ALWAYS acknowledge your sources!!!


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