British film industry has never been booming, but during 1970’s it found itself in the most permanent crisis. The Oscar triumph in 1981 gave a hope and started a so-called British cinema renaissance, but it was still very questionable in British Cinema could live up to the expectations.
I would like to discuss crisis and the attempts of getting of productions slumps in different levels: production level, the number of movies produced, style level, how many of the international awards have been won, cinema attendance. Also the important factor to consider is the fact that British films are often financed by international investors and film-maker have to appeal to the audiences worldwide, so how many movies can we can consider to be truly British?
The Thatcher era has had a huge impact on the state of the British film industry. Thatcher never openly showed any dislike for film, made big cuts in support for arts institutions. The government insisted on the film industry treated as any other business, and therefore it had to be accountable to market forces. A Films Bill in 1985 has banned the Eady Levy; the law that had meant a percentage of box office takings in Britain were put into British production. In addition, the 25% tax break for investors in film was abolished making film investment more risky. The National Film Finance Corporation that had been the only source of film financing by government was privatized. There were no new sources to replace the lost revenue.
However, there are opinions that in a long run Margaret Thatcher has helped the film industry, here is what Lonard Quart said: “Thatcher’s prime contribution to British film making was not the business climate she created, but the subject matter her policies and the culture she helped create provided British directors.” I can agree with him, that within 20 years period this might have had a positive effect, but at that moment it was very painful for the movie industry.
From 50’s up until late 80’s there was a huge decline in cinema attendance, it was partly caused by the introduction of television and then video. In 1954 there were around 1500 million visits to cinema per one year, but it well below 60 million in 1984, then raise a little in 1994 up to 123 million.
However the growing number of people attending cinemas were not a positive indicator of Cinema industry flourishing, rather most of the movies wereHollywood production. This may have been good news for the exhibitors and distributors but with the Eady Levy abolished, it did not benefit the producers in any way.
Britain has always been a target for international critics, despite of the little support from the home market. British filmmakers won one third of Oscars in the period from 1976 to 1996. But in fact, most of what we thought were British produced movies, weren’t actually. A British setting and a British cast and crew do not make it a British film if the money behind the project, and hence the profits from it, lie abroad. A good example of such a situation was Chariots of Fire, thought to be the starter of British renaissance was in fact financed by foreign businesses.
A famous director Derek Jaman says the following in Take 10: “In the eighties of Margaret Thatcher has come the ‘British Film Renaissance’. However, it was a fake. A group of advertising men who had gone into film – Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson, and their chum David Puttnam ran this PR exercise, declaring themselves to be ‘British Cinema’, using their knowledge of how to manipulate the media – it was very astute. But in this publicity campaign they had hardly any truly British films. Ken Russell, Nicholas Roeg and Lindsay Anderson were largely ignored, while they included American films like Revolution or The Killing Fields with some unbelievably tentative British connection – like an English producer or something”.
American investments were the stimulus for British production that is why it is debatable that some British films were created by pandering to the US market. For the reason of the poor public support of British products, a film in order to be a success has appeal to international audience as well. This created a problem of cultural identity, the question was raised whether the British film industry is able to retain its identity and still be accepted worldwide. The films that could be sold well in the world had to contain a romanticized view of Britain, a kind of British heritage that in fact never existed. This appeal particularly to America, a relatively young nation compared to most other countries, which look to Britain for a heritage they can pretend to be their own.
In his article Images for Sale, Thomas Elsaeser says, “whenever the word renaissance crops up in the context of British cinema (as it seems to do at least once a decade), one needs to be wary. Chances are the film industry is in deep trouble”.
It is important to keep track of the statistics when evaluating success of British film industry. According to cinema attendance graphs, the attendance doubled the number of visits to cinema in ten-year period; it seems like good news. However when we compare to the figure in 1945 that is over 30 time bigger, it does not seem that good at all. The increase in production is also promising but again it does not compare to Britain’s 1940’s levels. In 1984, British production reached it nadir with only 28 major features released that year.
The increase in the cinema attendance could be attributed to some type of renaissance. Despite of the interest in international films rather than British it still could indicate a growing film culture in Britain. Most of the audience in Britain prefers American cinema according to the research. Hacker and Price in Take 10 say:”British audience, which might naturally be reluctant to watch foreign films has always welcomed American cinema.”
As we see British audience, taste is all for American films, so why should they care if there is even home film industry at all. Another film trend of the 80’s was the exodus of British filmmakers who did not wish to struggle within their home country’s flailing filmmaking community. They went mainly to America where their talents were in demand.
If Britain is coming toward a healthy situation in filmmaking, it is in renaissance, and it is not just a result of good PR, we can say that this is a slow and painful process. Even this day the British film industry is still struggling. I think that it is too early to say whether the upturn in feature of British cinema has been through the consistent period of development.
There does not actually seem to be much point in saving the British film industry though while the home market remains so indifferent to its product. With such a big variety of international, and particularly American markets in the only place British films could be appreciated, there is a danger of Britain becoming little more than an offshore extension of Hollywood that specializes in quaint, heritage pieces and quirky, low budget social realism. I still believe British film industry will survive through the crisis and make its way to the situation where it is going to be respected in the rest of world and British films would be just as popular as American.