All 126 entries tagged A Level Media Studies
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June 12, 2008
Creative Industries, Arts Management, CulturalPolicy & Planning Degrees
This page is devoted mainly to undergraduate degree courses, however, these kind of courses are also available at Masters level and can provide an excellent career path for those who have ficused upon the creative content and critical aspects of the arts at undergraduate level. This Masters Degree Course at the University of Warwick in Creative and Media Enterprisesis an excellent example of this potential path.
Media studies is an interdisciplinary subject and provides a gateway into many different types of degree courses. The planning and research skills as well as the analytical skills you have started to develop can be applied in a number of different ways. There has been an enormous growth in what has become known as the "creative industries" sector. This kind of work demnds planning and policy and research careers as well as more creative production type of careers. Here is what Bangor University National Institute for Excellence in the Creative Industries™ (NIECI) writes about this new industrial complex:
Throughout the World, the Creative Industries are defined as: Television and Radio, the Writing Arts and Publishing (incl. Creative Writing, Professional Writing and Communications, Journalism), Film and Video, Architecture, Music, Performing Arts, software and computer games, Crafts, Design, Designer Fashion, Art and Antiques Market, Interactive Leisure Software and Advertising.
Commercialisation of Art or the Art of Commercialisation?
At least this site recognises that there is a slightly uneasy relationship between art, creativity and commercialisation. some have argued that especially with an American media model the task is to create audiences for the purposes of profit. This view is of course entirely counterpoised to the idealistic perhaps romanticised notion of the original artist/s creating new ways of seeing / understanding / experiencing the world. One noticeable absence from the creative practices listed above is Art as a separated practice. above it seems to be conflated with the market place "art & antiques MARKET" photography too seems to have been forgotten. Nevertheless they do seek to think about the differences of approach:
Sometimes in the arts or creative industries, you are relatively 'connected' to commercial practice.
Sometimes you are relatively 'unconnected' to the commercial world (as in the case, for example, of the experimental writer, film director or new media maker).
How Big is this Sector of the National Economy?
- The British Councilreports that the creative industries are the fastest growing sector of the UK economy, employing 1.8million people and worth an estimated £56billion, accounting for almost 8% of the UK’s gross added value (Culture and Creativity, British Council, 2007).
- The UK music industry alone is worth £5billion a year, generating 126,000 full-time jobs (UK Trade & Investment, 2007).
- The sector (including advertising but not crafts) has seen a 9% rise in employment in recent years, with the running of arts facilities growing by 38% (Footprint Report, Creative & Cultural Skills, 2007).
Where are the main possibilities for work?
Where can I work?
- The highest concentration of people working in creative or culturally related occupations is in London. There are a range of initiatives to increase the sector in the British regions.
- Many in the sector, e.g. writers, photographers, designer-makers and musicians work from a home-based studio or office.
- The rapid growth of the Networked society growth has encouraged many creative industries to develop. As broadband access and speeds increase this area of work will increase and can be done on a global basis.
Webliography of Creative Industries
Timesonline on Creative Industries Masters Course at Cambridge.
The University Courses
Arts Institute Bournemouth
Creative Industries Scholarship. Potential funding here for 300+ UCAS points!!!!
Napier University School of Creative Industries
Sheffield Hallam University
University of Greenwich
University of Winchester
June 09, 2008
Media Production Degrees and Courses
Please note that the general entry levels for this kind of course are lower than for Media Studies or Media Studies and Production Degrees. These courses emphasise the "skills" element of production. This tends to mean that the type of work that you enter into afterwards is lower paid than other work within the industry. With large numbers of media production courses coming on stream all the time you need to be questioning whther the jobs market will be flooded with Media Production Degrees. If it is then pay rates will probably be lower and the contracts less secure. As you will probably be taking on board debts to complete the course you must be convinced that you will be able to repay these in a reasonable lenght of time to make the course worth pursuing.
Göering the loutish Nazi commander of the Luftwaffe (German Airforce) once said "When I hear the word Culture I reach for my Pistol". I tend to think the same about the way "skills" are being pushed for almost everything. You are strongly advised to enquire very carefully about job prospects and ask for evidence of pay rates from typical jobs in the industry. There may well be a case for saying that the media industry is looking for technicians as fodder and avoiding paying for training their employees. Remember as you are paying a lot for your training you are justified in asking what you are likely to get back in the longer term. You may well be better off working for higher grades in your A levels so that you can get on a course which offers more flexibility. Having said that a lot of these courses look like great fun.
At the end of the day it depends what you are looking for and how much you are committed to the course. I have no doubt that there are sojme very well paid media production professionals out there. However ask yourself this: Why, if the field is so promising careerwise, are there people teaching this at relatively low salaries in universities?
The list below is not comprehensive and more will be added in due course. As much as anything this is to give you a flavour of what is going on in a range of course across the country.
Some Media Production Courses UK in Alphabetical Order
Liverpool John Moores University. Media Professional Studies with Television
Sheffield Hallam. Film and Media Production.
University of Hertfordshire. Media, Design and Production (Foundation Degree)
University of Hull.Digital Media Studies.
March 21, 2008
Mobile Cinema in the UK
In these days of hyperspace and broadband internet mobile cinema still has an important place in Britain's rural communities. The concept of mobile cinema is an old one. It was used during the Soviet Revolution to help give the illiterate peasants speaking many different languages a sense of what was happening. Importantly funding is available to help out for cinema is best experienced on a big screen which it was designed for and of course an appreciative audience helps.
In 2004 the National Lottery recognised the importance of cinema as a powerful medium and decided to stimulate cinema in rural areas through the use of mobile cinema:
The Lottery fund has given £500,000 to the initiative. Successful applicants will receive up to £5,000 to spend on portable digital film equipment. (BBC Film Report)
A mobile film initiative was carried out in Wales in 2002. The project, called Wyred, was held in five venues in Monmouthshire and Powys, including village halls, pubs and cafes:
A series of short films are being shown by a mobile touring cinema at venues along the Wye Valley.
The programme of 11 films includes a number of Oscar-nominated and Bafta award-winning movies made by Welsh-based directors. (BBC Wales)
Flicks in the Sticks
Flicks in the Sticks is a mobile cinema which provides films to people in Shropshire and Herefordshire.
The company has a choice of hundreds of films which are shown in village halls in 70 areas across the two counties. (BBC 2003)
Flicks in the Sticks gained support from Screen West Midlands in 2007:
Flicks in the Sticks 2007
Flicks in the Sticks tours Big Screen cinema to rural venues. Flicks works with local people, setting them up as promoters who choose what film to show, when to show it, and undertake all venue preparation and publicity. Flicks in the Sticks was one of the first projects in the country to deliver cinema in this way.
In 2007, Flicks worked with 59 venues in rural Shropshire and Herefordshire, delivering over 545 films to an annual audience in excess of 25,000 people.
Moviola is a small charitable organisation which provides screenings in villages across several South Western Counties. It is providing alternatives and developing film culture.
This Moviola What's On provides you with current and past screenings to show the range of films screened.
Mad Cornish Projectionist who seems to be well linked.
This was an entirely refreshing find for a Good Friday Morning when I didn't have to get up early. Check this site out and send them some sponsorship money this is such a great idea!!!! Architecturally ands in terms of urbanism this has to be a good 'parafunctional space'.
Guerilla Cinema: The 'Other' of Contemporary British Cinema
I have entitled this posting 'guerilla' cinema because it is there to signify that ongoing tension or little war between mainstream cinema which is primarily about creating an ongoing business which feeds the creation of a cycle of stars, festival goings, critics and articles and slots in TV wotz'on this weekend on Friday nights. The more "artsy" it is the later it is broadcast. Film festivals by themselves or as a part of larger festivals are increasingly a part of the shift towards a "cultural industries" agenda which seeks to 'colonise the lifeworld' as the social theorist Habermas might describe it. For those of us who attend these things you are doubtless overburdened with evaluation forms given out to gain audience feedback on the event space etc. Of course these are done as much as anything to cover the bums of the events organisers as anything else. They can be used to justify the event and to argue for "quality improvements" next time around. Of course this kind of surveillance of culture can kill any poetry in an event stone dead.
The idea for the posting came from reading an article in the latest Sight and Sound about the difficulties of distribution and exhibition for British independent filmmakers when even the "Arthouse" cinemas are increasingly showing the same fare, in a sort of mainstream for the middle-classes. Some of these issues of control are already covered elswhere in the blog. combining this perception with flicking through an issue of Architectural Design entitled Poetics in Architecture reminded me of how staid, sterile and boring everything which smacks of the 'New Labour' is or has become. This whole blog started out as an aid to Open Studies Learning which has emerged as "Lifelong Learning" in the New Labour lexicon of control terms. Whilst under the aegis of extra-mural studies this form of learning wasn't controlled in terms of having to make the students perform some work. The space of learning was poetic in as much as an enthusiast delivered a course and a group of people interested came and interacted with the content and in that specific learning space in a dynamic and performative way which wasn't subject to measurement and control. If people were disatisfied then they would move on. Many of the attendees had good qualifications in other areas but simply wanted to extend their ideas and knowledge base into different areas at a more informal level without writing essay etc. Now this form of education has become instrumentalised. Humans on the whole are inquisitive if they are not browbeaten into accepting false limitations.
The increasing commercialistion of spaces of alternative cinema at the same time create a residue 'a surplus' in which expressive and creative acts and desires find no menas of expression. The exponential explosion onto the web of YouTube and similar sites bears witness to this surplus of creativity which is largely outside of the commercial. Yet this is still unsatisfactory for cinema in its origins was a social space of F2F interactions amongst the audience. Here cinema intersects with architecture. This posting is the beginnings of an investigation into the possibilities of creating spaces of exhibition for an ever expanding multi-media consciousness which like many popular music forms seeks recognition but is also part of an unfolding cultural dynamic in which a search for 'poetry' which is defined here as a resistance to the rationalisation and control of all aspects of social life. It is a search for performative cinematic space which is 'parafunctional' in the words of Nikos Papastergiadis.
The term parafunctional space:
Refers to zones in which creative, informal and unintended uses overtake the oficially designated functions. In parafunctional spaces social life is not simply abandoned or wasted; rather it continues in ambiguous and unconventional ways.
Now Papastergiadis was thinking of older industrial cities where areas are becoming rundown or corners where people resist the instrumentalism of everyday life under New Labour by glue sniffing -See This is England. But as he points out this fits in with Bachelardian notions of poetics of space because it is dreaming and an attempt to break free of colonisation.
The Campaign over the Dalston Cinema is a good example of a parafunctional space.
7 Inch Cinema as Parafunctional Space
What they say about themselves:
Two things helped give birth to 7 Inch Cinema: masses of good films out there, particularly shorts, that never get near our cinemas or TV screens; and more and more people choosing to watch film online or on beefy home entertainment systems. We are firm believers in the old-fashioned communal film experience. Our job is to sift through festivals, archives, DVD submissions and the web for interesting work and then to screen it in a relaxed setting for people to enjoy, perhaps alongside a discussion, a bit of music or a quiz. The setting could be a pub, an art gallery, a church, a warehouse, a military decontamination tent. It could even be a cinema. The main thing is to create a sense of occasion, and to show people something they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Flatpack Festival Birmingham
Good news for Flatpack
Monday 16th Jun 08
The UK Film Council have selected Flatpack Festival as one of the seven recipients of their national Festival Fund. Whoop! If you don't believe us you can get it straight from the horse's mouth, and there's also some info on the 7inch blog.
Here are some interesting links when I used the search term "Guerilla Cinema".
Cannes in a Van (Seems togive a nice sense of the general ethos)
It's not British Cinema but its a great Idea. Check out this Parasite site for a metro projection system in Berlin
Well my search turned up Moviola which is a small charitable organisation which provides screenings in villages across several South Western Counties. OK it's not exactly the normal concept of Guerrilla but it is provinging alternatives and developing film culture.
Well I found the above link on Mad Cornish Projectionist who seems to be well linked.
March 20, 2008
What is a Lifestyle Magazine?
What is Lifestyle?
The originates in sociology but has changed in its primary meaning since it was first used towards the end of the 1960s. Then it was more about how the ways in which people live are indicative of thier class position in society.
In more recent work, the concept has been used more widely still to designate the tastes, attitudes, possessions or ways of behaving of any social group which distinguish it from any other social groups. In this sense anyconnectionbetween the concept of that and social class has been severed. (Abercrombie et al. Penguin Dictionary of Sociology).
To fully understand the notion of lifestyle we need to have an understanding of what is meant by consumer culture. This term argues that societies are increasingly organised around modes (ways) of consumption. The main charctersitics of the discussion within sociology and cultural studies has been organised arounfd the following points:
Rising Affluence. It is argued that the inhabitants of Western Societies now have far more money to spend on consumer goods, holidays and leisure.
Working hours have been falling. Arguably this is leaving far more time for leisure pursuits.
Identity. People are now taking thier identity more from what they consume and their activities as consumers and in their leisure. Previously people's work used to a far greater marker of identity. This particualr notion of identity works well with the arguments of sociologists like a?nthony Giddens who argue that as the older key factors influencing identity decrease in importance so self-reflexivity of people who thinl about thier identity and work to develp or change it increases. The older forms of identity such as class and work and also place are breaking down because of globalisation.
The Aestheticisation of Everyday Life. There is far greater interest in the presentation of an image and construction of a lifestyl. The acquisition of certain goods are used as markers of a certain social position.
Positional Goods. These goods or services have desirability because they are scarce and therefore in short supply. Scarcity can be in both price or through cult status. Paradoxically the more people acquire them the less desirable they become. (The Burberry hat which became a 'Chav' symbol is perhaps an extreme example). Ownership of a Bentley/Aston Martin or a Hermes handbag are clear examples of positional goods. Of course there is a clear hierarchy in each range of products. Sometimes other goods will try to position themselves in relation to these goods. The relationship between Breitling watches and Bentley is a good example.
Consumption Cleavages. In the 19th and earlier part of the 20th century social class, race and gender were the major sources of social division. It is argued that these social divisions have been replaced by consumption cleavages describing the patterns of consumption above.
Growth of Consumer Power. It is argued that in consumer societies the consumer gains power at the expense of the producers. These producers may provide goods or be professionals offering services such as doctors, lawyers or teachers. The economic position of the consumer can in some respects be seen to be replacing political rights and duties - the consumer is replacing the citizen?
Increasing Commodification of Everyday Life. The market is extending into all areas of life, shopping has become a leqaisure activity rather than a chore.
These arguments tend to focus on the fact that in the past sociologists focused too much on issues of production in society including work experiences and the effects of paid work and not enough on issues of consumption.
However many argue that this is not the case and that the increasing focus upon consumption rather than empowering consumers merely extends capitalist values. Ultimately it further polarises society into rich and poor.
Lifestyle Magazines and Branding
If one applies the categories of lifestyle applied to consumption as discussed above then it is important to have role models to help generate the desire to consume. The generation of the desire to consume goes beyond what might normally be expected of people in that it can encourage people to aspire to certain ways of living that can easily be reached provided one is prepared to spend money. It then is a matter of how the individual is prepared to spend that money. Magazines and other forms of media which can encourage the branding of goods are an extremely important mechanism for this.
Lifestyle Magazines and Gender
The markets that are created for lifestyle magazines frequently revolve around the issues of gender construction. The frequent use of nearly naked women on the front of GQ is an excellent example of the continuing predominance of a constructed male gaze despite or more likely as a backlash response to feminism which at its core demanded women to be accepted on their own terms rather than being constructed as sex objects. Below is an extract from arecent Guardian discussion about lifestyle magazines:
Nicole Kidman is an award-winning actor. So too is Maggie Gyllenhaal. So why do they - and other talented female Hollywood stars - still have to expose their bodies in order to get into the public eye? Kira Cochrane despairs
Kira Cochrane in August 2007 was pleased to see that the Lad's mags especially Loaded suffered a severe downturn in their circulation. She notes that it was magazines like Loaded that rapidly caused GQ to change its policy about naked or near naked women on the front cover. The fact of the matter is that these magazine were very much a backlash against the demands of feminism to be treated as normal humans rather than objects of the male gaze:
So it was at the end of last week, when I read about the problems facing the "lads' mags" sector. ABC circulation figures for the first half of this year painted a bleak picture for those weekly and monthly paeans to beer, birds, cars and football, with a year-on-year sales drop of 25.9 per cent for the market bestseller, FHM, 18.1 per cent for Zoo and 9 per cent for Nuts. But the magazine that recorded the biggest sales plummet, with readers deserting it in droves, was Loaded, which suffered a 35 per cent drop in circulation from the same period last year.
Here are some before Loaded and after Loaded GQ front covers:
The first ever issue of GQ with politician Michael Hesseltine on the cover
A 1991 GQ cover with Prime Minister John Major
GQ 1999 had long since revoked on its promise never to put nude women on its cover
The recent GQ practice does seem to be having near naked intelligent women on the cover, which supports Cochrane's arguments
Web Comments on Lifstyle (notes)
At the end of the day, magazines are about communities of interest, whether professional or lifestyle driven. If magazines keep that driving mantra in mind, and use the Web for all its is worth, things could begin to look brighter and bigger on the monetary side soon. (Magazines Online: A Brief EssayBy Rafat Ali - Sun 09 Sep 2007)
THE teenage lifestyle magazine market is in “serious decline”, with ABC results next week expected to reveal a significant fall in circulation numbers, according to industry sources.
The findings will be released just days after Emap, the media group, closed Sneak, the teenage celebrity gossip magazine, conceding that teenagers were now getting their showbiz news on the internet. Smash Hits magazine was also closed by Emap six months ago after 30 years in business. () August 12, 2006
Intelligent Life is the new quarterly magazine offering from The Economist, a lifestyle magazine that, says the accompanying blurb "will be more than just a catalogue of the things for readers to buy". Oops. From Guardian Organgrinder.
Interview: Sarah Joseph, Emel magazine (Evening Standard) Sarah Joseph edits Britain's only Muslim lifestyle magazine. She says it can help show there is more to Islam than prayer and politics. By David Rowan
Green Lifestyle Magazine (Consume in order not to consume? )
Benwell Bethan (Ed) Masculinity and Men's Lifestyle Magazines. Oxford: Blackwell
Horsley Ross. Men’s Lifestyle Magazines and the Construction of Male Identity. PhD thesis which can be downloaded in its entirety.
March 01, 2008
The Importance of Mise-en-scène and Textual Analysis: Part 1
For those visitors who are reading this piece to help them with an 'A' level textual analysis exam, you will find that the term mise-en-scène is a contested one. The OCR Textual Analysis paper specification is largely following the position of the writers Bordwell and Thompson in their book Film Art: An Introduction. Consequently there is a clear list of its expectations. an on-line page from Northallerton College has usefully put the OCR details up. You do need to be aware that there is a debate about exactly what constitutes mise-en-scène. Learning at A level should partially be a matter of recognising that things in the world aren't entirely black and white.
At the end of the day, the essay you are expected to write based upon an unseen scene from an action-adventure movie needs to discuss the creation of meaning using the various elements of film-making. In that sense the film as presented to you on the screen can be considered as an organic whole which stimulates a range of meanings and interpretations. You need to write about how these various elements contribute towards the holistic meaning. You will need to say why certain shots, for example, created a deeper sense of meaning for the audience.
The issue of mise-en-scène and textual analysis in terms of the importance of creating meaning within a film is a very large topic. Below there is some discussion about the term mise-en-scène. There is some discussion of depth of field with some video links. Use of depth of field creatively is a very important tool.There is some discussion around the notion of cinematic space and the use of different types of shots to help organise the cinematic space. Sound, which is a very important component creating meaning, is not discussed at all here and must be discussed elsewhere in order to keep the article of a manageable size. There is an extract from Once Upon a Time in the West followed by a shot and spatial analysis to show how meaning can be created. There is doubtless more that can be said here and some aspects will probably be revised and developed in due course. There are also some definitions and a Webliography and Bibliography.
What is Mise-en-Scène?
Mise-en-scène is an extremely important aspect of cinema and in many ways it is surprising that there is relatively little misè-en-scene criticism in recent film studies writing. John Gibbs (2002) focuses in the problem of misè-en-scene criticism in the opening page of his small handbook on the subject which I have paraphrased:
...mise-en-scène is sometimes used as a straightforward descriptive term but it is really a concept complicated but central to a developed understanding of film...
...Thinking and writing of misè-en-scene which is concerned with visual style in the cinema - helped the study of film reach maturity. Yet many of the textbooks of today, including those which aim to give an introduction to the subject area, underestimate the importance of misè-en-scene. (Gibbs 2002, p 1)
This term misè-en-scene originally came from theatre and meant staging. Its literal translation from the French means:
having been put into the scene
It crossed over into cinema relating to the production practices involved in the framing of shots. This covers the sets, costumes and lighting and also movement within the frame. As this is the expressive tool available to a filmmaker analysis of mise-en-scene is a way of identifying a particular filmmaker. As a theory it was developed by those interested in how the director and sometimes the team could participate in the construction of meaning.
Mise-en-scène is a term employed in theatre to designate the contents of the stage and their arrangement. In cinema however the reference is rather to the film frame, including the arrangement of the profilmic event, of everything, which is in front of the camera – settings, costumes and props. mise-en-scène also refers more broadly to what the spectator actually sees on the screen – the composition of the image and the nature of the movement within the frame. As an element of mise-en-scène, composition of the cinematic image , for example, may produce narrative meanings relating to the spatial location of the story …..In any one film, mise-en-scène will work in conjunction with other codes to produce narrative meanings. ( My emphases;Kuhn, Annette, 1982 :37 )
But it is worth challenging whether this analysis is fully adequate. Gibbs (2002) is keen to emphasise the importance of the interaction of all the parts of the film. Gibbs argues that there are many variables and elements of mise-en-scène at a film makers disposal:
...these elements are most productively thought of in terms of their interaction rather than individually - in practice it is the interplay of elements that is significant.
There is a history of mise-en-scène criticism which goes back to France in the 1950s and then taken up in the UK through the magazine Movie as Adrian Martin (2004) points out. Originally this discussion was linked to the notion of the Auteur - the idea of the director having at the moment of taking the shots the possibility to impose his (usually) / her creative vision and methods of making meaning upon the film. This was always an aspect of film criticism which was overemphasised and nowadays anybody who mentions the word auteur rapidly qualifies the expression by emphasising the team making aspects of a film.
Problematising the meaning of mise-en-scène
As is becoming apparent the notion of mise-en-scène isn't quite so 'deceptively simple' as it first appears. In the argument put forwrd by Martin below there is a concern expressed that Gibbs is in danger of making the term mise-en-scène mean everything that is the director's work and risks losing the specificity of the separate aspects of the process :
Gibbs it seems to me never frontally tackles let alone tries to resolve the foundational ambiguity that has long haunted mise-en-scène criticism. Namely: does it indicate a quite specific phase in the filmmaking process—which would be the shooting or ‘principal photography’ phase in which the scenes are blocked and shot within the décor—or is it a looser term a metaphor almost for film style taken more broadly and holistically? If it’s the former then the definition of mise-en-scène must be meaningfully limited and not allowed to ‘bleed’ over other phases of the filmmaking process; and if it’s the latter then is the displacement of the word style by mise-en-scène blocking our full appreciation of the complex levels of aesthetic form in cinema? This is what I believe has indeed happened in many places where film criticism is practiced.(Martin, Adrian 2004)
To some extent it seems as though film criticism is short of a concept around which consensus can be constructed. Should we use the term style to define the overall effects of what is created through the whole film-making process and which combines together in an organic whole to create layers of meaning which are available for interpretation by audiences? How does this relate to the notion of the use of the term poetics which is sometimes used to describe more artistic films and is the subject of a recent book by David Bordwell? Perhaps Martin's use of Bertolucci is helpful at this point in helping to giveus a feel of an essence of good cinema. Strangely in the spirit of serendipity this turned up on a search after I had completed the analysis of the scene of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West co-scripted by Bertolucci.
If in this sense mise-en-scène is taken as the essence of film art, and of the auteur’s ‘gesture’, it enshrines the three-point diagram with which Bernardo Bertolucci paid fond homage to Sergio Leone and, behind him, a vast tradition of ‘organic’ cinema: what matters, fundamentally, is that mobile, modulating, sinuous relationship between the camera, the actor, and the environment (whether natural or constructed).(My emphasis: Martin Adrian 2004)
For those visitors who are reading this piece to help them with an 'A' level textual analysis exam, the next part of Gibbs' argument will not become available to them as they must currently view a five minute extract unseen from a film. This means that you are likely to have only a narrative perspective which is given in that 5 minutes which is clearly very limited. This attitude to the teaching of whilst it is useful up to a point can have its limitations and is in danger of leading to mechanistic approaches to mise-en-scène analysis. Those particular visitors to this page may wish to add that mise-en-scène on Gibbs' argument needs to take into account the narrative structure as well:
Additionally we need to consider the significance acquired by the individual element by virtue of context: the narrative situation, the 'world' of the film, the accumulating strategies that the film maker adopts. (Gibbs, 2002 p 26)
Gibbs' second chapter is entitled 'The Interaction of Elements' and he notes here the importance of casting:
In addition to the expressive skills which a performer brings to a film, the casting of a role has consequences for our understanding. (Gibbs 2002 p 33)
Gibbs' third chapter is about the coherence of relationships within a film and below he refers to an examination of a scene with the film Lone Star which he examined in chapter two however the argument is relevant across cinema:
...in order to make sense of the one moment, we have had to balance a detailed examination of the sequence itself with perspectives derived from an understanding of the rest of the film, knowledge of the traditions and conventions within and with which the film is working (those of the Western for example), and information from the world outside... (Gibbs,2002 p 39)
Gibbs argues that within a film there can be two elements contributing to a sense of coherence. In the first instance this would be taken across the whole of the film. From the pespective of those reading this to help with an unseeen extract for example Gibbs' second point will probably be prioritised. We can be talking about how the form and the narrative content merge together to make a coherent whole. In this sense it is artifical to separate out form and content. We can say on that basis that style is substance providing that there is an overall holistic sense of coherence achieved. Where a film becomes known as simply being about style then it is likely to fade in people's memories fast. If it is a truly substantive film it will probably stand the test of time.
Later on in his book Gibbs makes very clear the differences between a form of criticism and analysis which values coherence (and by implication complexity) in a film compared to an older form of criticism that wasn't so aware of the issues raised by
mise-en-scène. There is always a danger of being mechanistic in applying the notion of "rules" to an analysis of say the camera angles. The mechanistic approach suggests the a high angled camera is ALWAYS signifying a position of power and a low camera angle ALWAYS signifying a position of inferiority. Of course this is not the case at all. In the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus is introducing Neo to the concept of The Matrix they start in a sterile white space containing two retro leather chairs and a retro TV. When Morpheus shows Neo the real world of The Matrix he ends up sitting down in a clear position of authroity reinforced by his dress code compared with Neo's. The dark mirror shades simply add to the position of power. Neo is standing up very much as a minion might to a sovereign lord and master! ANALYSIS MUST ALWAYS BE GUIDED BY THE FILMIC CONTEXT!
Other Critics versus Bordwell and Thompson
Gibbs moves on to challenge the evergreen Bordwell and Thompson and their classic book on Film Art: an Introduction which many students end up with on their shelf. Gibbs argues that to fail to think about the issue of the interaction of elements is a fundamental problem with Bordwell and Thompson's work:
It is my belief that the definition of mise-en-scène offered in the book is misleading. Bordwell and Thompson restrict thier definition of mise-en-scene to those elements common to film and thatre. The definition of of mise-en-scene therefore makes no reference to framing, camera movement or the position of the camera. Instead Film Art devotes a separate chapter (entitled "Cinematographic Properties") to the discussion of these areas. (Gibbs 2002, p 54)
Gibbs powerfully contributes to his cause when a little later he comments that the actual reality of film making supports his position:
...on set or location, film-makers do not stage the action and only subsequently think about where the camera is going to be placed in order to record it. Similarly to discuss the lighting of a shot without reference to the position of the camera is to misunderstand how films are made, one does not light a set and then set about where the camera is going to be placed. Rather a set is lit with the framing and the movement of the camera absolutely in mind. (Ibid)
Currently I don't have an up to date version of Bordwell and Thomson's book and Gibbs' comment relates to the 7th edition which may have changed I've taken it at face value for now. I guess it's time to update). There isn't the space to specifically discuss lighting in any depth precisely because of its importance. Cinema is after all 'writing with light'. Something on lighting will be added in due course. There is something very brief below.
Jacob Leigh is coming from the same direction as Gibbs (this is confirmed by looking at the bibliography. Immediately below though he cites the famous art historian Gombrich which is awarnig against reductionism when it comes to creating criticism:
When it comes to criticism, articulating levels of meaning or describing parts of a harmonious whole risks tearing what Gombrich calls the ‘web of ordered relationships’; Gombrich notes that ‘as soon as you single out a certain relationship of forms you upset precisely that balance between all the relationships of which you want to speak’ (Gombrich 1993: 73). Further on, he emphasises: ‘It is partly a matter of taste and tact how far we want to go in articulating these levels of meaning, for they, like all others, can only be singled out at the risk of tearing that miraculous gossamer web of ordered relationships which distinguishes the work of art from the dream’ (Gombrich 1993: 79-80) [Cited Leigh Jacob]
In the early years of Hollywood lighting wasn’t meant to draw attention to itself. In some countries such as Germany lighting was used very early on to create dramatic effects. Low angle , low key lighting was used in German Expressionist cinema . There are three main aspects to lighting:
- key lighting – hard light, used to highlight focused on a particular subject
- Fill lighting – used to illuminate the framed space overall
- Backlighting – this can distort and brings out silhouettes (commonly used in horror / film noir / expressionism).
Deep Focus / Shallow Focus Photography and the Construction of Cinematic Space
Mise-en-scène is, as Kuhn and also Gibbs (2002) have pointed out, a way of organising what appears to the spectator on the screen:
Space is a vital expressive element at a film-maker's disposal (Gibbs p 17)
The Term deep focus means that both the foreground and background of a shot are in focus at the same time. Correctly Andre Bazin links this technique of photography with the concept of mise-en-scène. Bazin argues that deep focus helps to make a film more realistic, however it will be argued below that this is not necessarily the case . For Bazin deep focus has three advantages:
- It brings spectators into closer contact with the image
- It is intellectually more challenging than montage which manipulates spectators to make them see what the filmmaker wants them to see, whilst deep focus gives the viewer choice in what they see;
- It allows for ambiguity essential to works of art. For example Andrè Bazin thought that Italian Neorealist film kept 'reality' intact. By shooting in deep focus less cutting is necessary so the spectator is less 'manipulated' by the narrative and more free to read the set of shots in front of them. Ideologically (see ideology) as an editing style it can be considered as counter to the Hollywood style of film making which is found in action adventure films for example.
Whilst Bazin was keen to link the concept to realism deep focus photography can of course be used for all kinds of films. It is frequently used in action adventure movies and if we add another element to that of Bazin's we can see that deep focus can often link characters together on screen whereas shallow focus could bring out the presence of one character and make a different impact upon the spectator by isolating that character from their surroundings. This would probably encourage a spectator to think in terms of the psychological state of mind of that character at that particular moment.
Deep focus is derived from the technical term within photography called depth of field. A photographer can gain greater depth of field (keeping more of the image in frame in clear focus by decreasing the aperture and taking a slower exposure. Of course if the lighting is low as well then fast movement can be a problem to capture. The diagram below taken from the wikipedia article clearly shows the effect of a shallow depth of field. Here the butterfly is only in focus in the centre ground. To capture a butterfly flying requires a very 'fast' lens with a very wide aperture. This wide aperture makes the depth of field narrow / shallow.
A photographer can of course use depth of field to create certain affects upon the audience. In the image below the photographer simply wants to highlight the term 'depth of field'. There are also some web based videos in the webliography which explain the basic photgraphic conects effectively.
Connecting the Characters in Cinematic Space
In this image from the William Wyler film the Best Years of Our Lives players of the piano duet are intimately connected to the rest of the bar as can be seen by the reactions to the music from the two men sitting at the bar who are plainly in focus because it is a deep focus shot.
In this shot from Touch of Evil both characters are intimately linked through the use of deep focus. This is very important in terms of narrative development. Narrative and cinematography are integrated.
Sergio Leone was an adept at utilising a low placed camera combined with a deep focus shot to link characters together within cinematic space:
The lead up to the final shoot out in The Good the Bad and the Ugly starts with a wonderful establishing shot of the scene which places all the characters literally within an arena of death which is even coloured with the pall of death to emphasise the point. Perhaps it is Leone's familiarity with amphitheatres which gives him this sense of space:
In Once Upon a Time in America the gang arrive at the farmhouse to deal with any witnesses. The small boy is linked to the gang through a deep focus tightly cropped long shot. The colour of the clothing evoke notions of a bleak dustiness and a bitter wind seems to be blowing in the desert in a shot full of forboding. There is a strange sort of symmetry constructed with the three central gang members wearing dark hats and the ones on each end wearing light hats:
The following extract from Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America is an excellent example of the construction of a cinematic space through the use of deep focus and long takes. For Bazin this might have meant reality however this is a highly stylised and choreographed scene where the villain finally meets his nemesis * in the ultimate of rvenge movies. I'm afraid this extract has got a dreadful soundtrack as somebody has made a "music video" out of it so forget that and concentrate on the visual and camera techniques!!!
An analysis of some of the film language which Sergio Leone has utilised in the extract
If one was presented with the extract as an unseen piece it is immediately obvious from the clothing and buildings that the film is a Western of sorts and it quickly transpires that there is some sort of stand-off which looks as though it is a prelude to a shoot out and that it is to the to the death. This is shown by the way the space is represented and by the way the characters are moving through the space.
Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of the whole scene is how the cinematic space is constructed as an arena which becomes a fight to the death. This fight is handled in a highly ritualised and symbolic way utilising the iconography* of the western but embedding a combination of unusual shots and a deliberately slow unfurling of the narrative which is the climax of the film wherein poetic justice is exercised. The extract has a European flavour to it in the way it utilise longer takes than Hollywood style films and Leone's style emphasises a lot of deep focus work in this extract.
The scene starts with an LS at a normal persons height Frank's (Henry Fonda) symbolic black outfit stands out in stark contrast to dusty browns and beiges of the slightly tumbledown buildings. There is a cut to deep focus extreme close up from behind Frank's right shoulder. We see Harmonica (Charles Bronson) in the distance. Behind him is a greyish looking hill. The arean and its protagonists are established. There are no witnesses other than the spectators voyeurs in this fight to the death. There is a reverse shot with an ECU of Harmonica's left side of his face lit up facing a black figure himself set against the background building which is in deep shadow and very dark. The manichean symbolism is hard to avoid. On a crane the cameras zooms out whilst gaining height and Harmonica walks to the left. Meanwhile Frank walks slightly forward. There is a cut to an LS of the whole area taken from behind and to the right of Harmonica. The sun is casting shadows from Harmonica's left / Frank's right. They are manouvering within the arena to ensure they are not facing into the sun. Behind Harmonica there is a low wall reinforcing the sense of an arena or theatre (of death). It is a ritualistic space. In a cut the camera is now position further to the right- now only Frank is in frame. Dust gently wafts from the right hand side of the screen to emphasise the isolation of the gladiators. There is a cut to a camera position directly behind Frank at his boot level. Still in deep focus we see Harmonica who looks relaxed with his left foot on what appears to be a tree branch in the distance as Frank sheds his black cloak which is flapping in the wind as the tension is gradually built up. The grey cliffs and the sparsely vegetated hills lends an unremitting bleakness to the proceedings. The camera cuts to a MLS of Frank with the buildings still very much in focus behind him as he moves forwards and to his right. Tracking him the shot changes to an ECU of Frank head turned towards Harmonica looking concerned this time though it is in shallow focus. The spectator is only concerned with what is going through the mind of Frank. suddenly the supreme predator has a hint of doubt. The camera pans and dollies with Frank for about 7 seconds. There is a cut to Harmonica MLS still motionless. The camera tracks to the right for amoment then there is an ECU of Harmonica who is deadpan. Still in ECU the camera dollies around him to the right whilst Harmonica is watcing Frank who is clearly moving in that direction. There is a reverse cut to Frank who is still moving to his right in ECU. Then the camera cut to a full on CU of Harmonica zooming into an ECU. Then all is dark for a transitional to a flashback.
A hand is holding a harmonica which is being forced into the mouth of a youngish teenager. Only at that moment is the audience privileged to understand what has happened in the past. as the scene unfurls the narrative details become clear. The camera zooms slowly out to reveal that there is somebody standing on the teenagers shoulders. The camera continues to zoom out to reveal the rest of the surrounding scene. A young man is talking to the boy. There are a group of horses grazing in the background there is a man tending them. There are mountains in the extreme distance. This is all in deep focus. Continuing to zoom out whilst the camera is tracking backwards and going higher on a crane the spectator now sees the full scenario. The man on the boy's shoulders has a noose around his neck which is attached to something that itself is a part of a strange arch structure in the middle of a desert. Probably marking agateway to the property of the man and boy. Some other cowboys are symmetrically lounging at the bottom of each side of the arch. The camera cuts to an ECU of a younger Frank smiling viciously; there is then a reverse shot to the boy in CU who is wobbling from the strain and the heat with the harmonica in his mouth knowing that eventually he will collapse and the man on his shoulders will die. The camera tilts upwards tracking up the man man to a very low angle shot of his face in CU. As he wobbles there is a cut to the distressed features of the boy in ECU in shallow focus with the boots just showing. Again the audience is drawn into wondering what is going through his mind as the sweat drips of his face. It is clear that his hair is also drenched in the sweat of fear / physical strain / heat. Cut to a reverse slightly low angle shot of the younger Frank with a contemptuous sneer on his slightly curled lip. A moment of blackness. The camera reverses to a cut of the boy in MCU with camera at waist height. It is a shallow focus shot with the legs of a gunman whos is leaning nonchalantly against the archway to the boys right whilst behind the boy who has clearly collapsed to his knees are the pair of boots dangling at an angle which makes it clear that the wearer has now died. The camera tracks the boy down as he collapses face first into the dusty soil at a slightly high angle as he hits the ground. We see the harmonica by his mouth then there is a cut to the draw with the camera positioned at waist height behind Frank, Harmonica appears as a 'Plan Americaine' so the camera is at a slightly low angle. We seem them swiftly drawing their guns with Frank's holster in CU and in the deep focus shot we see the smoke from the muzzle of Harmonica's revolver. There is a reverse cut and the spectator sees Frank wheel to his left jerking backwards. There is a cut to a blurry shallow focus ECU of Frank. Here the audience is led to identify with Frank's subjectivity or point of view (POV)*- he has been critically wounded and his vision is going. The image snaps back into focus for a moment and then cuts away to Frank's right with the background slightly out of focus. For a couple of seconds the audience sees the hand trying to reholster the gun while the body is shaking hard in the background. Then the gun drops. There is a CU of Frank tottering forwards unbelievingly. The camera tracks back and zooms out slowly as Frank staggers forwards after it, refusing to give up on life. He comes to a stop as the camera tracks up on him whilst at the same time he falls to his knees. The camera stops moving and zooming and the head of Harmonica appears in the bottom of the frame behind and to the right of Frank. He walks forward implacably into frame in slightly low angle shot. Frank collapses to the left of the screen just the brim of his hat showing as Harmonica moves towards the right of the screen. The camera cuts to a high angle deep focus shot from behind Harmonica's left shoulder. Looking down on the stricken Frank. The shot is held for some seconds whilst Frank queries Harmonica. There is a cut to an extreme low angle shot of a now smilingly scornful Harmonica in ECU in a position of absolute power. He says nothing. There is a reverse cut high angle ECU to Frank staring up, then it cuts to a low angle medium close up of Harmonica ripping the harmonica of its string. The camera pans left following Harmonica down as he gets to his knees beside Frank. In a low angle two shot from behind Fonda with the camera seemingly at ground level Harmonica leans forward with the harmonica in his left hand. The audience know what he is going to do. The camera cuts to a very high angle shot with Frank in ECU and Harmonica's hand so close to the lens it is blurred. Frank's performance manages to combine a look of fear and loathing knowing what Harmonica is about to do. The hand implacably moves into full focus and thrusts the harmonica into Frank's mouth. Frank takes a few breaths and his eyes wander. There is a cut to the teenage boy falling into the dust and Frank knows who his nemesis* is. There is a cut back to Frank from the same high angle - he gives a slight nod of recognition then starts to fall to his side. There is cut to a two shot ECU of Frank's head from beneath him with Harmonica looming up. The camera tracks him down as he collapses dead onto the ground the camera is at ground level and Frank's face is in ECU with the harmonica so close to the lens it is slightly out of focus.
In terms of its wider meaning the film's climax is about the delivery of poetic justice (see also definition of nemesis below*), as this whole piece is about trying to get better definitions of meanings then this too needs defining. My fairly ancient Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms has this in the entry:
...the morally reassuring allocation of happy and unhappy fates to the virtuous and the vicious characters respectively, usually at the end of a narrative or dramatic work...the term may also refer to a strikingly appropriate reward or punishment , usually a 'fitting retribution' by which a villain is ruined by some process of his own making. (Baldick,1990 : Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms )
There are layers of meaning within the mise-en-scène which simply are not available to those who see the film as just this extract however on Gibb's notion of coherence in terms of the film as a whole as well as the extract in isolation we can begin to weave together certain aspects of the scene's overall coherence through the clothing and make up and performance of the actors. Even in this scene the viewer can see the difference in the way the actors are dressed. Frank in this scene and also throughout the film has a certain sartorial elegance which is amplified by his dress, posture and attitude. He is a man of the city, articulate and, knowing and powerful, able to be a leader of men albeit of the most unpleasant sort. By comparison Harmonica is taciturn in the extreme. He is almost the colour of the earth into which he collapsed in the scene and he blends with the countryside.
Bronson playing the taciturn Harmonica looks and dresses as though he has come from the earth itself, dusty and bleached out. Signifying perhaps a force from beyond the grave.
Frank's city clothes stand out he is not of this space, but he feels he can control it. However throughout the extract we see that his supreme confidence starts to take on elements of doubt. The fact that he feels the need to move. The fact that had we seen the previous scene Harmonica already had the drop on him and has given him what appears to Frank to initially be an easy chance to win in a formalised showdown sees consternation begin to emerge in his face. Why would this seemingly implacable enemy even give him this seeming chance to avoid death unless he was so confident he could beat Frank. Here Henry Fonda's performance and indeed his casting fit beautifully with the role just as Bronson's for those familiar with The Magnificent Seven know him to be both taciturn and brilliantly fast with a weapon. This of course relates to Gibbs' point about knowledge and expectations about the genre.
One can get an impression here that Frank has a better dress code than Harmonica. In the scene below Frank is is in a position of power in the ornate railway carriage interior, smoking a cigar. Here the image is in quite shallow focus. With the horses out of focus the viewer is led towards the meeting between the two men. Not only does the high angle shot make Harmonica look inferior it can be sen that Frank's dress is more in keeping with the interior. Harmonica looks out of place:
*Iconography: Buscombe came closest to arguing the position that a genre’s visual conventions can be thought of as one of the defining features of a genre such as guns, cars, clothes in the gangster film. It is hard to argue this with any great consistency because the possible connections between the items or icons is unclear. More importantly it is actually very difficult to list the defining characteristics of more than a handful of genres, for the simple reason that many genres – among them the social problem film, the biopic, the romantic drama and the psychological horror film – lack a specific iconography. The genres of the western and gangsters discussed by critics McArthur and Buscombe happen to fit the concept of generic iconography very well. Others that fit well are the gothic horror film, and the biblical epic. Neale argues that the failure to apply the concept productively to other genres suggests that the defining features of Hollywood’s genres may be heterogeneous.
*Nemesis: "retribution or punishment for wrong-doing; or the agent carrying out such punishment, often personified as Nemesis, a minor Greek goddess responsible for executing the vengeance of the the gods against erring humans".(Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms.)
*Point of View: The following definition is taken from the Dictionary of Literary Terms and of course literature is not cinema although there are obvious cross-overs. More work will be done on point of view (POV) later. The position or vantage-point from which the events of a story seem to be observed and presented to u. The chief distinction usually made between points of view is that between third-person narratives and first-person narratives. A third person narrator may be omniscient, and therefore show an unrestricted knowledge of the story's events, another kind of third-person narrator may confine our knowledge of events to whatever is observed by a single character or small group of characters, this method being known as 'limited point of view. A first-person narrator's point of view will normally be restricted to his or her partial knowledge or experience, and therefore will not give us access to other character's hidden thoughts. Many modern authors have also used the multiple point of view, in which we are shown the events from the positions of two or more different characters.
Filming Shakespeare's Play. A Google search of this book provides an explanation and shows how deep focus helped create a relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. go to pages 48 / 49.
An interesting and in depth for the more advanced visitors. This blog posting and discusssion on the importance of Bazin and misè-en-scene and takes issue with some comments by the well known critic David Bordwell.
This Film Lexicon from MIT is particularly useful providing information and ideas about film language well beyond the notion of deep focus.
Baldick,1990 : Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kuhn, Anette. 1982. Women's Pictures. London: Routledge
January 30, 2008
iPhone Bows to Winds of Recession
Who is going to be tempted by this little offer ?
Better deals for UK users of Apple's iPhone are being launched as operator O2 overhauls tariffs less than three months after the mobile hit the stores.
The lowest £35 monthly tariff is to offer about three times as many texts and minutes, while the current £55 deal will be cut to £45 from Friday.
In the US only two months after the iPhone's launch in July Apple slashed the price. Obviously you don't this when sales are steaming ahead! Nevertheless Apple tried to put a good face on the situation by announcing that it had sold one million iPhones keeping ahead of its target date of the end of September.
The same thing is happening in Britain. Sales are obviously slowing fast after the busy Xmas period as the credit card bills come in and houses continue to decrease in value. O2 tried to put a good face on the situation according to the BBC:
Sally Cowdry, O2 UK marketing director, said: "The iPhone is already our fastest ever selling device and this added value will allow us to appeal to an even greater segment of the market - it is an unbeatable proposition."
Just hang on what is this "added value"? Loads more texting? The people good at texting are my students: behind their backs, blindfolded, under the tables naturally they will all be rushing out to spend £280 to get more texts.....
Looks like iPhone is the top texting mobile !
January 29, 2008
Music Industry Protectionism Stopped in its Tracks
Excellent news for those concerned with the protection of privacy in a contemporary information society which everyday is developing into "surveillance society". The BBC reports that the EU's Court of Human Justice have ruled against a case brought by the Spanish music compan.
Internet service providers do not have to divulge the names of users suspected of illegally sharing music files, Europe's top court has ruled....
In rejecting the complaint of Spanish trade body Promusicae, the court sided with Spain's largest telecoms group, Telefonica.
Quite right too! The incursions of rabid commercialism have already gone far too far. The music industry has brought this crisis upon itself being the only media industry that has been prepared to condemn almost everybody who listens to music as a "pirate" quite frankly nobody beyond the music industry has ever taken its ludicrous cliams seriously. The reality is large international drugs companies who are usually accused of charging ludicrous prices for new drugs hqave a better case. They cannot protect their patents for very long before the generic drug companies are allowed to produce their own versions. By comparison purveyors of feuilltons are able to copyright these artefacts for decades. No wonder nobody takes this copyright stuff very seriously. Maybe architects and bricklayers should get paid for intellectual labour everytime someone opens the front door! The essence of popular musci which is what we are largely talking about is its immediacy, its sense of Zeitgeist. Try and control it too long and the underlying spectre of the real zeitgeist - commercialism- comes to the fore.
It's a commercial Zeitgeist which is underpinned by the whingeing of the U2 manager Paul McGuiness:
The manager of rock band U2 has urged internet service providers (ISPs) to help end illegal music downloads, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Manager of rock dinosaurs U2 emulates Dinosaurus Metallicus
Just as Metallica were the music industry stooges in the battle against Napster so Paul McGuiness has decided to emulate this exersise in defacating upon naive fans. As the Financial Times reports McGuiness launched a tirade against ISPs and companies like Microsoft at the Midem rock music get togther in France. Naturally it was timed to conincide with the European Court of Justice ruling in a shameful attempt to try and influence natural justice commenting:
that they (the industry) had concerned themselves for too long with the small fries who organised illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing on the internet.
Desparately Seeking a Revenue Model (For the Champagne Lifestyle)
McGuigan suggested that there could be a productive partnership with ISPs in the future.
“For me the business model of the future is one where music is bundled into an ISP or other subscription service and the revenues are shared between the distributor and the content owners,” he said.
Of course you would have to buy into his ridiculous analogy of internet service providers being in some way responsible for spawning nations of thieves. Telecommunications lines, shipping lanes, roads and motorways are all arteries and those who build and maintain them aren't responsible for the myriad of different agendas of the people who use them. I strongly suspect that many of the people in that conference have partaken in serious amounts of drugs around thier arterial highways. Drugs which are probably illegal in most countries and they would be the first to complain about having their pockets and luggage turned out or being under continuous surveillance yet they want this to be done to millions of ordinary people out of pure greed.
The reality is most people think that musicians should be paid a reasonable amount of money but baulk at being ripped off by the industry which is more interested in profits than diversity. Why should they pay for this:
Normally, business at Midem is conducted from yacht to yacht, but seasoned veterans of the industry’s most prolonged schmooze have already detected a certain restraint in spending this year. Maybe it can be laid at the door of EMI. When Guy Hands of Terra Firma first gained entrance to the venerable institution, he declared it a mountain of waste. (Ben Fenton)
U2 manager urges ISPs to help fight web piracy.By Ben Fenton in Cannes. Published: January 28 2008 22:45 | Last updated: January 28 2008 22:45
January 28, 2008
The Model of the Music Industry Continues to Crumble
There is no doubt that online piracy and file-sharing has decimated the recorded music industry, which has been struggling to find an alternative business model in order to meaningfully survive. Interstingly the Jazz and Classical markets appear to be less affected when it comes to downloading. Usually the audiences are olde, better off and fussier about the music quality. Currently there are few sites that allow customers to download music files which provide even the equivalent quality to CDs. Linn the hi-fi company is one of the few. It can even offer studio quality masters at a price.
Global Music sales in 2007 fall by 10%
Leona Lewis helped boost online music downloads
The organisation blames music piracy for the shortfall. It is calling on internet providers to disconnect people who repeatedly download illegally.
The (Music) Empire Fights Back
Today was meant to see the launch of Qtrax which is an online only site which is going to allow visitors to listen to any of up to 30 million trqacks perfectly legally. This content would be paid for by advertising. Before every track ordered can be listened to the listener must undergo a barrage of advertising. Qtrax claim to have got the support of all the big four record companies:
But Warner, EMI and Universal all say they have not licensed their music. (BBC article)
Despite the hype Qtrax failed to meet its great opening on the announced day. checking it site today only got a beta version as announced in its logo. There is a lot of opposition out there not least from Apple who do not wish Qtrax to become compatible with its iPods.
More online shopping for music: not all deals are "good deals"!
Amazon has announced the international rollout of its digital music store. Already operating in the US customers can download music without any digital copying protection. Soon millions of songs will be sold without Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, allowing - for example - customers to burn their own CDs freely. Amazon says it is the only retailer to offer DRM-free MP3s for the four major record labels as well as thousands of independent record labels. However this offers no real advantage over buying a CD and has the disadvantage of being recorded at a lower level of quality than a CD.
How far are the Music Industry's "Problems" of its own making?
Perhaps the music industry needs an even more radical overhaul than just finding alternative models of making as much profit out of music as before. We have now entered the era of user generated content. Very high quality recodings of music can be made relatively cheaply as the price of sophisticated recording technology continues to drop. But with most music downloads being listened to on inferior sound systems there seems to be little point in making huge efforts to provide such high quality original sound and "adding value" i.e. trying to put up the profit margin. People quite literally aren't buying into it. Sell a lot more music a lot more cheaply and have more bands working and cut out the super star celebrity bit. Instead lets just get back to the music and the culture that surrounds that music.
The music industry has for decades being accusing the very people it relies upon for its existence as being 'pirates' or thieves. If people weren't feeling so ripped off and if music was sold at a fair price then it wouldn't be a problem. Popular music by its very nature is ephemeral it belongs to the moment it is part of the Zeitgeist. Making more of it more available as the Zeitgeist moves would help profit, help the industry and provide audiences with what they want. The Music industry has failed the great test of all media enterprises: keep your audiences happy. what the media consumers are regualrly being accussed of thievery?
The shake up at EMI promises to cut a lot of the fat out of the music industry, it will be leaner, fitter and all the better for it, but it is still at its heart a celebrity / star model of music selling.
15 Jan 2008 - Could EMI's latest idea to get specific sponsorship for bands change the face of music in the future?The new boss of EMI, Guy Hands, has announced job losses of up to two thousand which is about aiming to save the label £200m a year. EMI was taken over by the private equity firm, Terra Firma, last summer but this new development about sponsorship suggests brands could become more involved with music. (My emphasis BBC)
(Sorry this is work in progress at present)
January 27, 2008
BBC: Moving to a Multicasting Environment and Creating a Vibrant Digital Public Sphere for the 21st Century
Sir Michael Lyons: Chair of the BBC Trust
The best and bravest brains in media policy need to think outside of the top-slicing box. Britain once again needs to lead the civilised world into a new media era, to protect the creation of valuable but vulnerable programming and creative artists.(Maggie Brown Media Guardian)
The development of the content of the BBC Online which I generally consider to be an excellent public resource has not been without its controversial side. This has particularly come from firstly: those who had no concept of how the web could be developed and how that development could be influenced by strong Broadcasting institutions with their roots in 'old media'; secondly those who have a strong vested interest in the BBC failing such as News Corporation.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the future of what was once called broad-casting (the production of a limited amount of content targeted at large to very large audiences has largely been a thing of the past for several years. There will of course always be occasional events which comfortably generate local audiences of more than 10 million at the time but these will become increasingly rare. Massive stories about Royalty, England in a World Cup Final (if it ever happens again), probably the upcoming Olympics in certain finals if there is a national interest (oh and Dr. Who! ):
The Doctor Who Special on Christmas Day won a 50% share of the total television audience, averaging over 12 million viewers and peaking at 13.8 million. These are the Doctor's best viewing figures since the Tom Baker days of 1979. (Caroline Thompson operating officer for the BBC Jan 2008)
It is many years since the BBC was promoting a heavyhanded patrician Broadcasting policy largely dominated by a Reithian discourse that was often accused of being elitist. This posting starts to explore the history of BBC online and the policies that have underpinned it. It also looks briefly at the enemies of the BBC in the populist broadcasting / multicasting domain as well examining the pusilanimous attitude of New Labour in the face of the populist freemarketeers such as Sky and its ilk circling around an increasingly embattled BBC which is doing an excellent job. This blog takes the position that many people don't know what they've got 'til its gone'! As far as I'm concerned everybody who is taking out a subscription to Sky is banging a nail into the future of high quality British multicasting.
The Development of BBC Online
25 April 2006:
Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, also announced proposals to put the corporation's entire programme catalogue online for the first time from tomorrow in written archive form, as an "experimental prototype", and rebrand MyBBCPlayer as BBC iPlayer. (ibid)
It was announced that all future BBC digital output and services around three concepts -
Mr Highfield said the share concept would allow users to "create your own space and to build bbc.co.uk around you", encouraging them to launch ther own blogs and post home videos on the site. (My emphasis)
At the heart of the play concept is MyBBCPlayer, which will allow the public to download and view BBC programming online and was today rebranded as BBC iPlayer. (My emphasis)
The find concept relates to next-generation search and unlocking the BBC archive. From tomorrow internet users will for the first time be able to search for details of the corporation's entire programme catalogue as far back as 1937. (My emphasis)
Is it "All About Audiences"?
So, as far the Trust is concerned this is not a debate about the interests of broadcasters. In our view it's not even about the interests of the BBC, narrowly defined. It is – or it ought to be – a debate about the interests of audiences.(My emphasis: Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust, to the IPPR Oxford Media Convention 17 January 2008)
I would go further and in doing so seek to expand the remit of the debate into broadcasting into that of cultural policy in general. As with other policy environments and discources this raises the issue of citizenship. Just as there is a concept of social citizenship so there is a concept of cultural citizenship.
It seems the 'New' Labour government can't keep its hands off the BBC for a moment and there is already another round of examining the public servivce broadcasting (multicasting) systems in this country. At the heart of this is the continuing attempt to remove some of the BBC's rights to the whole of the licence fee which is often simply described as "another tax" by the more simple minded. Rather than being this it is a licence fee which runs a core element of what can be described as cultural citizenship which ensures that there is a good system of representation at the heart of the British nation, a system which isn't controlled by government but which has accountability.
This blog argues that it isn't "all about audiences" rather it is all about the creation and maintenance of a system of citizenship which has public service broadcasting / multicasting at its very heart. Those citizens are also the audiences. My concern is the construction and discourse which turns a citizen into an 'audience' and is something which will be discussed in greater depth on this blog. Here I wish to underscore the point that as the World moves towards an increasingly digitised and fragmented mediascape a core concept about media which needs to be maintained is that of citizenship.
The Changing Media Environment
Many people have a stronger sense of themselves as individuals rather than as parts of communities. Minorities are becoming more confident about asserting their needs. Britain is becoming much more culturally diverse. We see increasing numbers of people who identify with multiple communities – social, cultural or geographical. There's a rising demand for personalisation and customisation – for services crafted just for you. (Sir Michael Lyons ibid)
Lyons then proceeds to make the following key points:
- The BBC cannot cherry pick its audiences as commercial broadcasters can. Because of the way it is funded, and because its Public Purposes mean that it has to engage with everyone in the UK, the BBC has to find ways to reach all its audiences in all their complexity. (My emphasis)
- This doesn't mean that every programme or piece of online content has to satisfy every individual licence fee payer – although some kinds of BBC output should appeal to very large sections of the audience. (My emphasis)
- But it does mean that every audience member must find enough they value from the BBC to justify the licence fee and to provide the means by which the BBC can engage with them in order to deliver its Public Purposes. (My emphasis)
I think it will be useful to start to unpack these ideas bearing in mind that I prefer the concept of the cultural citizen to that of "the audience".
...every audience member must find enough they value from the BBC
Firstly let us substitute the concept of cultural citizen from the nebulous one of "audience". I have no doubt in my mind that every single citizen in this country - and also many global citizens have gained enormous value from the BBC, even if after the time they have left school they never watch listen to or access BBC content again.
The embedded values and the links with education alone and the educational broadcasting alone have provided enormous added value to the country as a whole. Those who are mentally tied to quantitative research methods or "metrics", as the trendy term seems to be, will conveniently ignore all this embedded value which has significantly contributed to the general Social / Political / Economic / Cultural (SPEC) environment that is Britain today.
Secondly let us look at the notion of "every audience member...". Well I think this is certainly an arguable point. There is a national grid for electricity, there is a legal obligation for all houses to attached to the telephone system should the citizen require it, there is a nationally levied road tax which all vehicle owners MUST pay however little they use their vehicle. There is an NHS system which is always available to all even if some people never get have accidents and die peacefully in their sleep without a day's illness or if they decide to continually go private. All of these things are aspects of contemporary citizenship and all of them rightly allow for individual agency.
Given the importance of creating and maintaining a multicasting system which provides information etc in as unbiased a fashion as possible which can act as a core part of every single citizens training as a citizen the notion of Public Service Broadcasting / Multicasting is fundamental to our way of life and everybody who is working should be contributing towards this. In return for this we should be expecting high quality rather than the dumbing down which has been a feature of populist media otherwise known as 'lowest common denominator'.
The Dangers of "Topslicing" the BBC Licence Fee
Sarkozy with a 'supermodel'. Oddly just as New Labour wants to dumb down the BBC as much as possible man of the Right in France Sarkozy wants a "French BBC"
One of the biggest dangers to the future of Public Service Multicasting and the future of the BBC as a powerful global player able to stand up the bullying of the 'Media Moguls' such as Rupert Murdoch and News International is the concept of 'topslicing' the BBC. This was something when the pusillanimous Tessa Jowell was the Culture Minister and is currently still being threatened. Given that this week we have already lost the culture minister with the resignation of Peter Hain citizens should be extremly dubious about the abilities of government ministers to be able to control this area.
Given that New Labour caved into Murdoch in their bid for power in 1997 everything that this governement do in relation to media and the BBC must be treated with an enormous amount of scepticism. Already the BBC has become the third most used site in the UK which is an extraordinary success story yet there is still whingeing in the wings about the license fee. The fact of the matter is that in terms of content and quality the BBC is topping the world league because to compare the use of Google or Yahoo is to compare using a TV company with a phone directory not an entirely adeqaute comparison:
The BBC website is number three in the UK. The two companies above us - Google and MSN - and the two companies below us, Yahoo! and eBay, are all the American giants. How we can adapt to that and operate on a global scale while still being predominantly funded through the UK licence, that's an issue for us.(Ashley Highfield)
From the perspective of public service multicasting Highfield's comments would be well served by some decent quality qualitative research into the length of use as well as frequency of access to the BBC website citizens make. It is something which can also be partially achieved through the BBCs own Analytics figures which I'm sure it has.
What is topslicing?
It is as Lyons elaborates below:
...the suggestion that a part of each licence fee should go to a body that would use the money to subsidise public service content from broadcasters other than the BBC.
Firstly let us as with the term "audience" analyse the underlying discourse that the BBC is dragged into here and seek to change it. Subsidise means to assist or to keep down the price of a commodity (Chambers dictionary defintion).
Well the notion of 'topslicing' uncoincidently emerged from the Jowell era after the BBC got into trouble with the government over Iraq. Please note that all the bad things that were expected to happen after the invasion happened have happened and there were no "weapons of mass destruction". However in the wider political context topslicing must be seen as a method of disciplining the BBC by government. For this reason alone it is right to oppose it.
"Topslicing" is more than this though. Throughout the period of 'New' Labour there has been a continual undermining of the BBC and the Public Service Broadcasting ethos. This has been very much because of the pressure applied on the BBC since the 1990 Broadcasting Act under the Conservatives and which New Labour have followed in their love affair with Rupert Murdoch. There will be more on the relationships with Murdoch and Greg Dyke's revelations after his resignation elsewhere in the blog.
Thankfully the Guardian's media correspondent Maggie Brown has made the point loud and clear when it comes to topslicing:
What no one raised at the Oxford media summit is that the top-slicing idea, which may see the cutting down and undermining of the BBC, is quite at odds with international developments.
Just across the channel, French president Nicolas Sarkozy is not only besotted with Carla Bruni. He is also a huge fan of the BBC. So much so that he plans to end the French public service channels' partial dependence on advertising and turn them purely non-commercial
Why Give Licence Fee Subsidies to Commercial Enterprises?
The reality is that as the new mediascape continues to develop there is less and less need for ITV and Channel 4. This is proven by the decline in audiences, advertising increasingly moving online a corresponding crash in revenue for old media and in the case of ITV the crashing of the share price. A recent survey suggested that actually ITV had been doing alright on advertising revenue expressing surprise at the slump in the stock market value In this latter case the market is 'pricing in' the future estimates of ITV advertising earnings. In an era which in media terms is driven by the equation:
What you want, where you want it , when you want it
Do we need these traditional old media companies?
There is no need for all these traditional broadcasters. Personally I never use either ITV and very rarely Channel 4 (this was my favourite channel until the early 1990s when it became increasingly dumbed down). In the latter case this is to access the excellent John Snow and his team. I occasionally use Film 4. Increasingly audiences are migrating online. There are plenty of opportunities for commercial broadcasters to thrive there if they are any good. As it is they will have to compete with the BBC and increasingly the best quality Newspapers which themselves are increasing moving towards a multimedia environment. Indeed it is worth reminding readers that in a BBC made game on the rise of video-gaming made around 3 years ago David Puttnam commented that perhaps between 2015-2020 TV as we know it will have largely disappeared.
When I research articles for this blog I never seem to get good links coming up from the search engines from ITV or Channel 4. Most of the articles are researched down to the current Google listing of page twenty and occasionally even beyond this. The BBC frequently comes up. Whilst this finding can only be taken at more of an anecdotal level it points to the fact that when it comes to doing serious work on the web the BBC along with the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Daily Telegraph score far more hits and I link into them far more frequently. As this is now a large film and media studies blog this might be taken as indicative that worthwhile content is not being provided by the commercial broadcasters and that their web presence is weak. If they can't find commercially viable audiences at a global level to pay their overpriced salaries then I certainly don't expect to subsidise them. It is a competitive commercial market and that is that!
My own suspicion is that the era for these companies is largely over and that they will probably disappear perhaps to be replaced by a plethora of more adaptive multimedia companies online. The ITV is a dinosaur best forgotten unless Michael Grade can use its past content creatively while turning it around to face the multicasting age. It should be able to contend with players such as Murdoch but it will have to do so without government support, however it should also have its remit to provide public service broadcasting / multicasting removed. Let it be an honest provider of pap within the regulatory regime of the moment. Its shareholders and those working for it in the past had an easy time of it as the other half of a duopoly. Let them work for their money and convince shareholders that they are a better bet than Google or Myspace. Personally I wouldn't want my pension invested with them at the moment.
Why is the BBC Different? Cultural Citizenship & The Public Sphere
The BBC is different because it sets a benchmark by which all other multimedia multicasting companies MUST meet or beat. The BBC isn't perfect and never will be, but by setting the benchmark for standards which effectively have become those of cultural citizenship in the contemporary era it gives us all a foundation upon which to demand improvements in content and comment upon issues such as over or under representation of specific groups or issues. This in short should be the central axis around which any public sphere (Habermas) should revolve and evolve. These are the standards by which we as citizens and therefore license fee payers should be judging the BBC and the content of its developing multicasting environment.
The notion of a genuinely interactive public sphere linked to access to knowledge and information and tied to a concept of citizenship is entirely antipathetic to commercial broadcasting models. Left liberalism has been so anti the patrician notion of the BBC that it has left the door wide open to rampant commercialism and as a result anybody foolish enough to try and change channels from BBC News 24 has to undergo a barrage of repeats of Big Brother or some other rubbishy "reality TV" show: thank you left liberal populists and your neo-con allies in News Corporation!
The notion of having a vital and influential public sphere means that a public service broadcasting institution should have far more independence than it does at present from the government of the day. There is no doubt that the BBC has to go cap in hand to the government of the day when a spending review and an updating of the licensing fee is sought. This is not to say that Parliament should not have some say in how this sort of instituion is run. A standing select committee for this and other cultural policy matters should be an important role, however this should be entirely divorced from matters of funding.
Funding through an automatically inflation-linked licence fee year on year should be the basic funding formula for the BBC however it should be able to access more funding when there is a specific case such as upgrading technologies on a national basis, such as instituting Freeview or BBC On-line for example.
This doesn't mean that every programme or piece of online content has to satisfy every individual licence fee payer
The second point that Lyons made in relation to the role of the BBC overlaps with my comments above. With the notion of fragmenting audiences and overlapping identities being very much the order of the day, let alone issues of personal preference and taste this is clearly a pertinent comment. We live in a media rich world which is getting richer by the day and offers extraordinary diversity. Pleasing all of the people all of the time is neither possible nor desirable providing most of the people most of the time with diversity combined with good quality is achievable.
Providing a plethora of content and also an environment in which content can be at least partially created by users is fundamental to the future of media and in this sense the programme suggested by the BBC has been very perceptive in its notions of how to interact with new media trends. The problem is that the very cultural heritage which we as citizens have already paid for as citizens is so rich and of such good quality and continues to be that the commercial operators cry foul! They persuaded the government to reduce the power and effectiveness of online opportunities such as the BBC iPlayer. It is this that is anti-democratic and is a clear case of government acting in the interests of a minority but powerful commercial group against the interests of those people who voted it in in the first place.
Of course this links into the first point made by Lyons:
the BBC has to find ways to reach all its audiences in all their complexity
Strange then isn't it that the government acts to curtail the BBC in an area of its key strength and advantage over crass commercialism. It is a case of citizens and audiences not getting the quality they deserve and have paid for already rather it is a case of commerce restricting access to increase its own bottom lines.
What is the BBC hoping to develop?
The Proposed Media City Salford
The advent of the networking model of society which is symbolised by the development of the internet is increasingly effecting how we envisage new ways of working and communicating in the contemporary world. Here an extract from a recent speech by Caroline Thompson shows just how far the notion of a networking society is reaching into core institutions:
Instead of the old hub and spoke arrangement, where London is the hub and the regions are the spokes, the BBC of the 21st Century will be based on a fully networked model. A model that will harness the power of human networks, tapping into a pool of creative energy across the country.(My Empahsisis: Caroline Thompson Chief Operating Officer the BBC Friday 11 January 2008
The move of the BBC headquarters to Salford is an important move and underpins in a physical and rooted way the virtual possibilities of media which is imnportant. Nevertheless it is recognised that new media is fundamental to the future of the BBC:
This will include the central Future Media team that leads the development of the BBC's offering across the internet, digital TV and mobiles, and also the Media Research & Innovation team. These are two of our most important businesses and, together with Future Media colleagues supporting programme-making areas based in Salford...The Director of FM&T, Ashley Highfield, believes this is a chance to reinvent Future Media and how the BBC goes about creating it. (My Emphasis, Caroline Thompson)
Rolling Out Web 3.0?
Currently Ashley Highfield is currently thinking beyond the Web 2.0 model already being developed and already more based upon audience interactivity to a Web 3.0 model:
The web 3.0 world puts a layer on top of that you could call editorial. It says this is probably what you were actually looking at. It says we the BBC know who you are. We've built up a good relationship with you through CRM. We know you were looking for a cop show from the '60s well here's a really good one that we know you - because we know something about you - will enjoy. (Ashley Highfield)
Thus far I have examined the notion of topslicing as yet another attack on the BBC from a government which isn't worthy of including the name 'Labour' in its title as it kowtows to the media moguls. I have also placed the debates about where the BBC should be going in the context of cultural citizenship. It is a concept that must be made central to the agenda of any serious media policy debate for it is this that will help to make Britain both competitive and a beacon of civilisation in less than ideal world. I have also examined somke of the thinking currently within the BBC and suggested that cultural citizenship is a term which should replace audiences. Issues of representation should always be at the heart of media debates and the BBC should seek to represent those aspects of life which more commercial media organisations are not prepared to risk. More funding of challenging films and programmes and increasing levels of access to older materials on the BBC are important aspects of developing a media manifesto for Britian's future.
From Ken Loach's ironically titled It's a Free World 2007. We can do without this 'free for all' in media. Citizenship comes first!
The Trouble With Trust: Building Confidence In Institutions:Mark Thompson Tuesday 15 January 2008