Thursday, September 11, 2014

'British' Cinema? Some egs to consider

With the Scottish referendum looming, this question could become ever more complex, but we need to think when using the term British to describe cinema that may be as much American, or more accurately linked with one of the UK nations/regions.

here's a few examples to consider:

Handmade Films, budget £1.1m, box office £0.5m UK, $1.5m US.

Typically unglamorous? Typical production finance issues - only rescued by Beatle George Harrison stepping in when the film was about to be abandoned! London features, though not a Southern setting in the main (albeit, the locals up north are portrayed as eccentric). A 'cult' movie.

Ali G Indahouse (Mark Mylod, 2002)
WT2, £5m. £10m, $0 ($27m)

American stylings and genre, though a satire of each and the UK fascination with US culture - it failed to get a US release nonetheless; few UK Indies ever do. The opening scene in gangland LA proved impossible to get insurance for - it alone swallowed up a good chunk of the budget. The Palace of Westminster is used as a key backdrop/location, although the drum'n'bass that fired up as Ali G drives (following the opening scene and over the opening titles) is likely to leave many non-UK viewers (and many of all ages here unfamiliar with that genre) a tad confused/bewildered!

Working Title, StudioCanal, $26m. £42m, $72m ($281m)

The money and the lead are American; the marketing in the UK featured Grant and Zellwegger, but everywhere else it was only Zellwegger featured on posters, sleeves etc. (Stereo)typically London/South setting, and comfortably middle-class (and upwards) white characters. A female director ... who wouldn't work again for several years despite the success with this (she didn't direct the sequel). A franchise, an increasingly key part of a successful film company's output and strategy, with considerable merchandise too. 
The video below is an eg of UGC...

Working Title, £650k. £?, $2.5m

Is social realism the quintessential 'British' form/genre? Its cheap, which is key! In stark contrast to what would follow as a series of rom-com hits pushed WT into the big league, this low-budget debut production centred on ethnic minority characters (the Asian co-lead), had a working-class co-lead (Daniel day-Lewis' debut role), and generally reflected the social realist path they would quickly move away from. Director Frears would work again with WT.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Eon, Sony. $200m+. £98m, $300m ($1.1bn)

The Olympics (embedding disabled for the Olympics promo this links to) was quite a marketing coup, in keeping with a tentpole release; is this really British though? It was the first to top £100m at the UK box office alone, one of a select few to top $1bn globally.

Here's the Screen Junkies/Honest Trailers take on Skyfall (a fair critique I think!)

Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010)
Working Title. $100m. $35m, £5.5m ($95m)

A relative flop, given the budget and galaxy of major A-list stars, there is nothing British about this film ... other than its director and being produced by a British company!

MickyBo and Me (Terry Loane, 2004)
WT2. $5m. £172k, $0.

The opening (YouTube). The comparison with Son of Rambow, similarly a film about two young boys obsessed with one particular film, is remarkable: Son was a sizeable hit despite the lower budget and Indie production ... but then it was set in Southern England, with nice Southern English accents, while MickyBo featured strong Belfast accents and setting! It failed to go beyond Northern Irish screens, and even there just got one week's release.
Warp's upcoming '71 might succeed where Mickybo failed ... it uses the device of an English protagonist, though the according 'otherness' that is then placed on the Northern Irish makes me wonder if it can be considered a positive cultural representation - I'll try and see it on its October 10th release.

Handyman (TillyDennis, 2014)
Supernova Studios, Hand-held Productions. £0. £?

In 2014, student productions aren't always immediately obvious as such, and Garth Edwards also showed, with Monsters, that convincing sci-fi can be achieved on low budgets (see also Moon)

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