When it comes to film, is Britain a colony?

In the Guardian, 18 April 09, John Patterson likened the relationship between British drama and the American film industry as one which resembles the relationship between Ceylon and Britain in the days of British colonialism – “a colony producing rubber for the empire and getting little in return”. In a more modern metaphor he likened it to the small software companies which Microsoft swallows “in a single gulp”.
His article was triggered by “State of Play” where, once again, a Hollywood studio had remade yet another British TV drama – which is just the same as American television with its long history of remaking primetime British programmes from “Steptoe and Son” to “The Office” whilst leaving the audiences largely in the dark as to their origins.
This is a one way street. A ‘you can buy our drama, but we’ll just buy the rights to remake yours, pocket the profits, and even sell your dramas back to you in the process.’
But this doesn’t just happen in the Anglo-American relationship; no, this one way street runs across the whole world. And the Americans even go to the extent of awarding themselves Oscars, and every other sort of award, for remakes – with ‘The Departed’ even getting several in the ‘best script’ category!
Maybe John Patterson’s metaphors don’t go far enough. Maybe it’s more like the slave trade, or maybe it’s like sex tourism- “Hey meester, you wanna buy a velly nice story? Velly cheap! No problem! I even let you pretend it’s yours!”



3 Responses to “When it comes to film, is Britain a colony?”

  1. Eddie Singleton Says:

    Keep up the debate John…You do it far more succintly than I ever could.
    I remember so many false dawns and hype when it comes to the British film industry… Notably in the 70’s when Colin Welland (Yanks) unwisely shouted “The British are coming.” The fact is, The British aren’t coming. They haven’t even set off and they never will come…In part because of organisations like the UK Film Council…



  2. faraldo Says:

    Sadly, this is true.
    The answer however lies with British film-makers collectively organising to put forward a stronger defence for their indigenous film culture.
    This has not happened.
    Why not?
    The mystery is that with so many thousands of graduates from British acting, film and media courses that such protest has not occured – even when peoples careers in Britain depend on it.
    Why is this?

    • Jonathan Williams Says:

      I think that the lack of protest is down to a number of factors. The explosion in film and media course in the 1980’s was a direct product of Thatcher introducing ‘market forces’ into further and higher education; I’ve used the inverted commas quite deliberately as, before then, the needs of the labour market were a powerful force shaping courses and their provision. But Thatcher brought it a rather fatuous notion that ‘students’ were the ‘market’ for education, and that education should provide them with what they wanted regardless of employment prospects or anything else. Each individual student represented money, and so it was all about nothing more than recruitment and, equally significantly, retention. And so, fuelled by student demand, there was an explosion in film and media course.
      Of course this also meant that much of the staff were both inappropriately qualified and lacked practical experience. And the same was true for the more enterpreneurial who saw career opportunities for themselves writing syllabuses, setting exams, branding themselves as expert advisors and so on. But the others, the foot soldiers in all of this had no choice other than sell these courses, and once they’d recruited the students, keep hold of them. Hence, not only were staff ill-equipped to design and teach modules in such as the political economy of the media, they wouldn’t want to either as ther whole house of cards would collapse around their ears. But such course did require an academic gloss and the solution was found in a mixture of French semiotic derivatives (impenetrable post-marxist/structuralist/textural/deconstructivist philosphy largely seen as a joke in most academic circles) or bizarre exercises in content analysis – for example I recently stumbled across an academic paper in which the authors had examined the average shot length in films by Terence Davies in order to see if they could ascertain an underlying rhetoric – complete with charts (how rigorous!) – which singularly failed to demonstrate anything (surprise, surprise).
      It’s only when the students leave that they find that they have not been equipped to deal with the world which awaits them. Some are told that they will get nowhere unless they go to the NFS. Others are preyed upon by the pedlars of motivational snake oil (if you didn’t make it you didn’t try hard enough, so it’s your fault; but we can offer you this massively expensive weekend course that’ll teach you how…).
      And then of course, having not been taught anything about the UK Film Council, or their RSA’s, or EU Media policy, or been asked to conduct any research into such as these for themselves, they are easily intimidated by the fear that raising any criticism means kissing goodbye to the funding which you actually weren’t going to get anyway.
      But I think the last factor has been a lack of anyone giving any sort of a lead/of any organisation providing any sort of a focus.

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