All entries for August 2008

August 31, 2008

Web 2.0 Opportunity For Entrepreneurs: The Huffington Post

Web 2.0 Opportunity For Entrepreneurs: The Huffington Post


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Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington by Cummings FT


I almost always find something of media related interest in the Financial Times Weekend and this weekend was no exception. There was an interesting article by Joshua Chaffin on the rise and rise of the Huffington Post an extremely successful blog based "online-newspaper" in the US. It is run by Arianna Huffington whom some of you may remember from the 1970s as the infamous anti-feminist Arianna Stassinopoulos.


In many ways Chaffin's article supports some of the points I was making in a discussion of the issues being raised by some media analysts around the need for Media Studies 2.0. My argument then was that the present user generated content from blogging and similar types of new media associated with Web 2.0 would eventually fragment into work which was being done professionally / semi-professionally and a more leisure-based hobby based type of approach. The latter being very much a virtualisation of small scale hobbyists, magazines etc. These might generate small amounts of advertising for relatively small niche markets. For the more serious bloggers the aim is to make a splash and also to earn money through the enterprise because to blog seriously and to research the content would be pretty much a full time job and the rest. This means that inevitably the best bloggers will either re-prioritise their time to do something else, be highly succesful at blogging so that they generate sensible amounts of advertise revenue / sponsorship to make a living or else they will build a user base which might conceivably be seen as 'added value' if a fully fledged media company decides to buy them out and use the virtual real estate and pay a salary for the generation of future content.


The Huffington Post and Arianna Huffington don't quite fit any of these models. She became a born again blogger early on and, given her past, is extremely well connected at higher levels in Californian society. As a result she has beeen able to gain professional advice, as well as venture capital from people like Alan Patricof to help establish her political blog. According to Chaffin's article it is receiving in the region of 4 million unique users per month. The blog was founded in 2005 and is now one of the most popular political blogs.

There has apparently been much talk about expansion of the blog with the intention of establishing new sections. She is hoping to raise another $10-20 million dollars to back this expansion. some people are speculating that the site could be worth $200 million however this could be rather an overestimate for as Chaffin notes cautiously:

...the site is not consistently profitable .Bloggers have not yet proved they can convert traffic into advertising dollars. (Chaffin  W/E FT  p 11)

Naturally this argument was of interest because anybody trying to raise $10-20 million for a blog is redefining the meaning of the term which originally signified slightly geeky people whipping out their thoughts to the world which for the most part ignored them. Here Web 2.0 is turning into a serious media venture. OK the model doesn't precisely fit but it shows that there is venture capital money out there backing likely looking ventures and trying to establish new audiences interacting with media in different ways, which accords with the spirit of my argument. Certainly Jeff Jarvis has been impressed as Chaffin has noted in the FT:

"They laughed when Arianna sat down at the keyboard, but she was right, and she's built something pretty incredible," said Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York who also writes a media blog, BuzzMachine.


So how does a site like this make money and how does it build its audience? these seem to be the critical questions for new media enterprises which makes them exactly the same as so-called old-media. Everything must change so that everything remains the same to paraphrase Lampedusa in The Leopard! Chaffin put it very clearly in an earlier FT commentary in 2007:

These days, Ms Huffington and her partners tend to recoil slightly when the Huffington Post is called a blog. To them, blogging is merely the latest technology tool to transform the news industry - just as cable television yielded CNN and the 24-hour news cycle. While that tool may be central to their success, their aim now is to expand the Huffington Post into a mainstream media business - a path that other blogs are also pursuing as the once-fledgling medium becomes more professionalised.


What Happens at the Huffington Post?


The Audience

Well, with 4 million unique hits per month its a little hard to define the audience however to put the numbers in perspective the Guardian released its figures a couple of weeks ago and the numbers were in the 18 million range with the Daily Telegraph lagging not too far behind. Obviously a key difference between these well established British dailies which have developed  parallel web-based facilities is that they have already got a brand name, a well developed regular readership and a well developed peripheral readership who probably buy / read the paper on an intermittent and possibly regular basis. I usually get a Monday Guardian for the media pages for example but the Weekend FT and the Independent occasionally as well. Yes they are available online but I actually like a hard copy especially on the train if I'm travelling that way.

Both the Guardian (8/10 Google ranking just for the blogs page ) and the Daily Telegraph (7/10 just for the blogs page)have developed blogs from some of their regular correspondents. So has the Financial Times (6/10 Google ranking) although the FT has a more sophisticated system for registering and providing online services primarily targetted at business users. There is then a parallel subscription service as well as the online advertising model that they all use. The BBC Blog Network (7/10 Google ranking) is a recentinitiative by the BBC to centralise all their blogs as well, to date people have been accessing them independently via links on the current newspages for example. Doubtless the Google ranking will rise as more people discover the page full of links to all areas of the BBC. As a regional paper the London based Evening Standard blogs page gains (6/10). Even a much smaller paper such as the Coventry Evening Telegraph blogs and forum page gains a Google 5/10 ranking. This quick research of the web based aspects of older media organisations shows that many if not most of them are in the process of making well organised transitions to a web based format runnng in parallel with the main services previously offered. With the exception of the BBC (for obvious reasons) all seemed to have a healthy balance of adverts, so advertising too is making a good transition to the web. None of the sites mentioned seemed to suffer from irritating pop-ups.

Obviously potential advertisers will be given access to at least some of the key analytics benchmarks in terms of not just number of hits but regulararity of use, and the most accessed columns and pages and how long users stay on them. The cost of advertising can then be worked out in a similar way to hard copy. Furthermore the greater the use the better the quality of advertisers drawn in which means better graphics, more amusing adverts etc. In reality good adverts provide users with a far better media experience and can prove to be an attraction rather than an irritant if they are well used.

Audiences for mainstream media sites in the UK seem to be strong. Remember 4 million hits per month is in the region of 120,000 hits per day and the problem with measuring who "unique" users are is difficult if people are not logged into the site's own system as then a regular visitor could be using the site from different computers. Chaffin reports that Huffington's site has 4 million unique users  as measured by the analytics system but these  cannot be totally accurate and it may be possible to "cookie" the books:

Authentication, either active or passive, is the most accurate way to track unique
visitors. However, because most sites do not require a user login, the
most predominant method of identifying unique visitors is via a persistent cookie
that stores and returns a unique id valu
e. Because different methods are used to
track unique visitors, you should ask your tool provider how they calculate this
metric.


A unique visitor count is always associated with a time period (most often day, week,
or month), and it is a “non-additive” metric. This means that unique visitors can not
be added together over time, over page views, or over groups of content, because
one visitor can view multiple pages or make multiple visits in the time frame studied.
Their activity will be over-represented unless they are de-duplicated.


The deletion of cookies, whether 1st party or 3rd party, will cause unique visitors to
be inflated over the actual number of people visiting the site
. Users that block
cookies may or may not be counted as unique visitors, and this metric is handled in
different ways depending on the analytics tool used. Ask your tool provider how
blocked cookies are managed in their tool: it is important to understand how this
impacts other metrics with regard to these visitors.
(Web Analytics
Association Standards Definitions
. My Emphasis)


What Future for the Huffington Site?

Huffington has been a social networker for decades gradually moving from right to left in the political spectrum, opportunism  eclecticism  if not 'me-ism' are the core values I suspect. Here's what one interested blog critic has to say:

The very things she has been mocked for over the years—her ability to shift swiftly from topic to topic, her swashbuckling political rhetoric, her penchant for attention-getting—are what the online world is all about. She’s found her home in the blogosphere.

Walking into the offices of the Huffington Post, I have a dizzying flashback to 1995: It’s an airy dot-com loft that—unlike, say, Air America, whose corporate cubicles we’d visited that morning—feels exceptionally well funded. Bright Pop Art splotches adorn the walls. Twenty-five-year-olds huddle on sofas eating takeout. There’s an MTV-logo-shaped fish tank in the lobby and a massive portrait of Muhammad Ali and, of course, a pool table.
(Adam Ash Blog 2006)


As a consummate networker and has somebody who keeps churning out books over the years Huffington has gained something of a brand name and being an 'early adopter' along with some financial backing and a business plan has helped her to gain an online presence and she is clearly trying to compete with established media forms. The reality is that if one visits the Huffington Post  site it is rather more than just a blog but laid out professionally with tags across the top and a range of pages dealing with things such as entertainment, business etc. Huffington on today's visit has her latest blog comment posted., with enough of her own characterful interpretations of whatever to attract a certain audience. The 'blog' is effectively an online newspaper which provides a range of links to other news sources. The front page has developed an excellent Google weighting of 8/10. This is only one point behind the BBC Online News Front Page which is currently 9/10. However these figures could exaggerate the Huffington site's importance because of the way search engines work.

Google reportedly has over 200 parameters when it assesses the importance of sites and pages within them via is web-bots. One aspect that Google values as good web 2.0 promotion is lots of linkages. It may well be that a more detailed analysis of the Huffington Post pages shows strong attention to this, certainly as something which is more parasitic in terms of largely acting as a hub and organising links this site's importance in real terms could be exaggerated. It is quite obvious that the web weighting by Google of Huffington Post is skewed when compared with the BBC. I don't know if the BBC release their web useage numbers broken down to the public but as it is probably one of the largest sites in the world if not the largest with thousands of pages available online. I strongly suspect that being based in California Huffington has a couple of smart tecchies working very hard on web optimisation, probably from an SEO optimisation consultancy. This would certainly fit in with Huffington's overblown real world persona.

Chaffin reports that The Huffington Post relies almost totally on news collected from other links although he managed to find an example of somebody who managed to upstage the professional news reporters. The reality is that Huffington swans around and a bunch of minions who know something about specific areas such as fashion, business or green issues sort out linkages. There are a few other bloggers on the site who presumably are regulars. Some bloggers will write for nothing as guest posts into order to advertise their own blogs. I suspect this is what Huffington gets, success berreds success and it drives down the cost of her content:

Sell Your Guest Posting Services:

Most bloggers write guest posts for other blogs for free as a way to promote their own blogs. However, you can also offer your guest posting services for a fee. (Make money blogging)


If that is the case it largely bears out my theory that the best bloggers will get sucked in to something else.  Some advertising is via Google and others appears to be sponsored links. The site itself is keen to get registered users and the temptation to become registered is increased by some web marketing which offes lots of freebies, but you need to register first to access information about these!

Overall then overheads appear to be quite low compared to the sites of conventional organisations, in that sense it is a sort of parasite as it appears to contribute little to the public sphere as such merely act as a sort of hub and as an advertising vehicle. Whether this will prove to be a feasible new media business model remains to be seen. My interests are firmly in the range of already existing news organisations which are already developing excellent web based and new media systems. If I want continual updates I can connect with an RSS feed anyway.

My own suspicion is that once the intitial palaver about Web 2.0 / Media 2.0 dies down, things will gradually default to the mainstream media unless people like Huffington can compete for the highest quality analysts currently employed by the BBC / Guardian / New York Times etc. This though would mean money to put people into the field otherwise it hard to discern what the Huffington Post offers that can't be gained usually for nothing.


Once the hype is stripped out of the notion of Web 2.0 the issues of having the time to undertake all this possible interaction becomes paramount for most people. As for the Huffington site, well venture capitalists are usually working to a tight business plan. Real world businesses usually take 5 years on average to move into consistent profit, and the Huffington Post has been going for three. When venture capitalists are involved they are usually looking for an exit at a very high rate of profit (Return on Investement or ROI) and they are not known for being altruists. As with much about the web there is much hype and speculation. They are probably trying to get the revenue streams and user figures up in order to exaggerate the value of the site and then sell it on to some other media firm making a quick exit. This looks as bad an investment as ITV for the long-term, I quite simply don't believe it. I've more confidence in Second Life.

Please note I haven't put a link into the site quite deliberately, I don't want to push it further up the Google rankings and add "virtual value" to what is largely puff.


Webliography


This morning's Media Guardian is carrying an interesting article on yet another business model for the record industry in the digital era. You too can become a venture capitalist. Well at least it could be more fun than being an investor in Northern Rock :-). (Health warning this isn't a recommendation).


Web Analytics Association

Blogs get the old-media habit. Joshua Chaffin Financial Times

Deals Pioneer Gets Second Wind. Joshua Chaffin in Patricof the venture capitalist behing the Huffington Post and other technology start-ups


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Happy–Go–Lucky(2008): Mike Leigh

Happy-Go-Lucky(2008): Mike Leigh

Return to Mike Leigh Page

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Trailer for Happy-Go-Lucky from YouTube 



Introduction

I have just got the DVD of this film and sadly I wasn't too impressed despite generally liking the films of Mike Leigh. I have included a short synopsis of the reviews of other critics reactions to the film's theatrical release and have saved my own brief review until the end.

Synopis and Comment

Mike Leigh's latest film Happy-Go-Lucky is now on general release. It has proved successful in the recent Berlin film festival with Sally Hawkins who plays the lead role of Poppy picking up a Silver Bear. The film is promoted as a comedy drama which focuses upon the character of Poppy a London based 30 year old single primary school teacher. Poppy is a a cosmopolitan urbanite who takes life lightly but seriously. In fact she is "absurdly cheery" (McNab) in the face of life's minor set-backs such as getting her bicycle stolen. (Surely not a reference to Bicycle Thieves.)

Despite this 'comic' (idiotic?) side to her and the ability to be comic in the face of adversity is balanced with her commitment to good teaching and a stated concern about issues such as children 'playing too much on video-games' (Hopefully Leigh isn't contributing to moral panics about children's media consumption here). 

Happ go Lucky 1


Dave Calhoun in a Sight and Sound feature (May 08) has commented that Poppy, the central character of the film, needs to be analysed in relation to the Zeitgeist when as viewers we consider her actions and behaviour. He quotes an interview with Mike Leigh:

I don't think Happy-Go-Lucky is any less political than my other films... its as much about dealing with life and coping with issues as anything I've made.

If it is a Zeitgeist film Leigh would argue it represents a humanistic solidarity with fellow beings at a time when in a post-political (in a party sense) world there is little else one can do. After all it's hard to rise above the cynicism and disappointment displayed by an older man of late sixties in the bank in front of me expressing his horror at how the banks had been bailed out by a Labour government of all things. Well Poppy is clearly a survivor in a topsy turvy world. Calhoun describes Poppy as:

...a modern, urban woman, as comfortable with her friends as with her family, able to balance pleasure with work, and confidant in being single while retaining romantic ideals. 

Importantly Calhoun is pointing out that underneath Poppy's extremely lively 'in yer face' character there is an issue of whether she is repressing something or trying to compensate for a fundamental insecurity.  Many critics have described this as a comedy and then argued that this is a change of heart from Leigh who is often held up as a "miserablist".


Leigh comments that the structure is different to his other films in that there is really no parallel narrative unfolding:

The only thing that makes this film unique apart from two tiny scenes, there's no parallel action. The entire action focuses on what's happening to Poppy, whereas even in Naked there's a lot going on with other characters.

This change in narrative structuring is a significant break from Leigh's normal working practices where he tends to work in a semi-improvised way with the actors who are often only introduced to the turns in events in the story as they would happen to the character in real life.  It is an important break for as Leigh points out:

Rather than a causal narrative, here I'm more concerned with a cumulative narrative that evokes an atmosphere and evokes Poppy's spirit. 

The review in Sight and Sound by Geoffrey McNab makes the important comparison between the picture postcard London promoted by Working Title produced films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill. Unlike these films Leigh notes the racism and also the racial and ethnic complexity of London. This makes a film which is giving a more honest representation of Britain rather than being a film which is a cultured British pearl for the American market, this is 'True Grit' one might say.

McNab makes a comparison between the permanently ebullient Poppy and Vera Drake in Leigh's film Vera Drake. For him there is a certain näivety yet ability to empathise with people common to both characters. At the same time Poppy appears to want to avoid responsibility. This is sharply pointed up when her pregnant sister Helen who is less than satisfied with her lot pressurises Poppy about marriage and a family: Poppy though, is having none of it. This would appear to be the Zeitgeist, if you can't change much better to think about the present than the future. Is this a Leigh critique of the postmodern condition?

Happy go lucky 4


Not everybody agrees with David Calhoun's interpretations of Mike Leigh and his approaches to this film and others in his oeuvre. The 'Letter of the Month' in the July issue of Sight and Sound is scathingly critical of Leigh:

Happy Go Lucky is about as accurate a study of British society as Four Weddings and a Funeral (David Secombe Sight & Sound July 2008 p 96)

Secombe continues arguing that Leigh is a middle class film maker making films for the middle classes. He bases the argument on the notions that Poppy is nothing like any primary school teacher despite the fact that:

...her overall presentation is intrinsically immature and occasionally suggests that she may be in need of remedial attention herself.

After spending some time commenting on what a change this makes for Mike Leigh the "miserabilist" the Channel Four reviewer sees the film in a rather less misanthropic light:

Poppy is the perfect primary school teacher. Her character's realism is found in memories of that supply teacher everyone once had, when their regular and boring teacher got pregnant or went to Pompeii, the one who let you do projects on space aliens and collect woodlice. Yet somehow you remember every word she said while the rest of those years are a Tudors-and-fractions blur.


The Telegraph reviewer argues that:

Leigh [admits that he] set himself a challenge: to make Poppy initially irritating, and then to allow her goodness to win audiences round. He embarks on this task subtly.


The divergence of opinions can perhaps be put down to everybody's memories of primary school teachers.  Remember to bring yur memories with you when you get to the the film. I can't say I've really considere Leigh as a miserabilist anyway rather more an astutue observer who works in a sort of 'tragicomedy of the quotidian'.



Afterword

When it come to thinking about the state of British cinema in general the interview with Calhoun ends with some thoughts about what Leigh would like to make in the future. He expresses frustration with the fact that he can only access budgets of 5-6 million. Talking about a desire to use a larger canvas his metaphor becomes very obvious when he talks about wishing to make a film about Turner, nobody, he says is interested.  He admits that his ways of working haven't proved attractive to financiers and here one is remonded of Godard's Le Mepris with its ironic critique of an American producer trying to work in sex at the right point to make the film sell. Godard's film of course ended up a long way from what was being expected by his producers. 

Strange that in these days when appaerently the notion of 'cultural industries' is accompanied by notions of getting British identity up and running again that it appears to be impossible for a well respected film maker to be able to make a film about an iconic and extremly important painter. Turner certainly preceded the French Impressionists when is came to being modern as he applied some of Goethe's theories of colour into his work amongst other things but then of course the Olympics in already into its expected tripled cost overrun, which will doubtless keep the consultants happy if not the taxpayer. As for Mike Leigh making a film on Turner.....  


Special Preview Performance Q & A with Mike Leigh on Happy-go-Lucky




DVD Review

Having summarised some of the issues around Happy-go-Lucky identified by other reviewers when the film had a thaetrical release I have now had a chance to view the recently released DVD. I must say I found the film extremely disappointing. Admittedly I have high expectations for mike Leigh films and Abigail's Party (TV Play), Meantime, Secrets and Lies & Vera Drake are outstanding examples of his oeuvre over the years. This film bored and irritated me in roughly equal amounts.

There were some splendid examples of Leigh at his best when he brings a sense of shock to the actors which tranmits itself onto the screen because of the way he works. The Flamenco teacher was splendid, the scene at the house of Poppy's sister Helen worked brilliantly and the Eddie Marsden driving instructor was generally excellent.

By comparison the character of Poppy quite simply didn't add up. There is a difference between being 'happy-go-lucky' and a complete airhead. For most of the film Poppy was a complete immature airhead. There was a clear disjunction between Poppy as represented in her professional life as a primary school teacher and her life outside. There has been much made of Poppy's warmth, empathy etc by Leigh & Hawkins in interviews on the DVD as well as by some of the reviewers above. I totally don't buy into this idea at all.

Poppy is intensely irritating, unserious in terms of her own future and unserious when she takes the role of a student. She is a total clown in both the Flamenco class and in the driving lessons. Far from being warm and empathetic she is totally self-obsessed and I find it hard to disagree with the comments from the letter of the month in Sight and Sound

...her overall presentation is intrinsically immature and occasionally suggests that she may be in need of remedial attention herself.

Whilst Leigh makes a virtue of there being non-parallel actions within the narrative and a lack of causality this would be fine if the scenes such as the one with the tramp actually advanced some depth of character. The scene with the tramp is totally artificial. Poppy is going down a rough looking street at night and then hears some drunken singing offscreen. she follows this sound into a derelict factory which is apparently open to all the world and finds a tramp behind a pillar. no-one in thier right mind would have domne this in the first place as it wouldn't have been possible to see properly. Later in the scene after the tramp has changed positions there appear to security lights blasting out in the same derelict factory. OK so McNab's point that this isn't the tourist gaze of London is correct but this representation of the seamy side doesn't really come across well.

From the outset Poppy is the sort of person you want to shake some sense into. Her visit to the bookshop in the opening scenes represents her as a complete idiot. She displayed no interest in any books whatsoever and seemed intent on trying out some light flirting with the bloke running the shop who was entirely bored by her. Poppy's playing with chicken fillets as breast enhancers with her mates after the night club when they carried on drinking to the point of stupefaction is clearly what we expect from 30 year old professionals. What was more astounding if not surrealistic was the ability of her and her friends to make miraculous recoveries after a heavy night.  Poppy was a complete idiot when she got into the car for the first time with the driving instructor and carried on being an idiot. Poppy was also a complete clown when she turned up at the Flamenco sessions. This kind of a approach is unlikely to say the least from someone who is a practitioner in the educational system. She was behaving throughout like an immature office worker with no education at all and flirting with all and sundry. Had she not been a primary school teacher then the character added up, but Leigh by wanting to have it both ways and giving Poppy hidden depths in her professional life ends with a character that makes it impossible to suspend disbelief. Meet her in a pub and you'd probably be bored out of your head in two minutes. No she wasn't a malicious character but so what?

Even when there is a danger of Poppy entering serious discussions, such as when discussing the issue of children and video games or issues of parental responsibility for their children after a hard day at work, she skims the surface. The scene in Helen's house was sterotypical in terms of its content, with the sort of sharp binary positions being displayed which might have shocked in a 1960s play but just seem old hat nowadays. Poppy defends her freedoms from being tied down with a house and children against her sister who seems to be stuck out in an amorphous suburbia and is nearly 9 months pregnant. Helen is even made to act like a 70 something year old as is made up and dressed in an appropriate manner which again just didn't gel. Poppy even scorns a pension, except that as a teacher she would get a pension deducted from her salary anyway. Inexact detail lke this irritated.

In the past Leigh has been a master at creating quirky characters but believable ones not -as a correspondent in the September letters column of Sight and Sound suggests - surreal characters. People do not behave like automatons and Leigh has brought out this aspect of life significantly in the past. Leigh is associated with realism rather than naturalism but it has been a realism at the micro level which has focused upon the the dynamics of relationships between people and their individual choices rather than a realism such as Loach's which is always trying to strip bare the surface of the social world and identify and challenge what the structuring agencies within society are.

For me Poppy just didn't add up as a character. Her liberal ideas seemed to be without foundation and it is hard to believe that a person who had worked her way around the World as a teacher with sessions in Vietnam and sometimes classes of 60 wouldn't by the age of 30 have some deeper things to say. At times too there was a sort of faux-naivety in her dealings with other people. Far form being warm and empathetic she totally fails to understand the driving instructor, and the scene with the physiotherapist was ridiculous. Her flirty innuendos are fine coming from an 18 year old but they just made Poppy look stupid.  Does the argument that Leigh is a surrealist save this film by giving it a different reading? I don't think so. Certainly Leigh is able to appreciate the surreality of the quotidian but the defense that Leigh and Hawkins put up in defence of Poppy's character scupper this idea from the outset.

In the end this film was disappointing and frequently bordered on the vacuous despite being interspersed with some good sections. The films of Leigh's that I'm familair with and mentioned above are far more worthwhile and it is worth adding High Hopes to the list as well. I'm a little surprised that the reviewers have been as soft on the film as they have. Maybe I'm turning into a complete misanthrope but I can't remember anything in it which struck me as funny. This isn't to say that there wasn't an enormous amount of skill and effort involved. Hawkins was great at making you sqirm, its just that the character as originally conceived didn't gel leaving an impossible task for the actor. There is nothing very satisfactory in this film in terms of the relationships. The central interaction between Poppy and the driving instructor was also difficult to buy into, if you have ever actually taught anybody to drive. The best one can say of this was that it was a representation of post-modern pap skimming the surface and skittering onto the next thing, certainly it lacked depth despite sympathetic reviewers trying to root it out.  There are quite literally hundreds of good films to see and spend time and money on, sadly this wasn't one of them.


Webliography


Independent review Johnathan Romney

Independent Sarah Sands on Happy-Go-Lucky

Sally Hawkins on meeting with Mike Leigh  

BBC on Happy-Go-Lucky with video interview available.  


Return to Mike Leigh Page


August 26, 2008

Channel 4 Films / Film Four


Channel 4 Films

(For other case study work please go to Working Title)

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Introduction

When Channel Four became the fourth terrestrial channel in 1982 (the only channels you could get then were BB1, BBC 2 & ITV) it had a brief for commissioning and showing a range of cutting edge materials which were very different to what was being shown on other channels. British film became a huge beneficiary of this policy and many films were made which appealed to quite different audiences. Many of these films became some of the best known and most financially successful films in British cinema since 1982.  This shows what a powerful influence C4 has had over the long term as it has now been operating for over 25 years. By 1984 C4 had co-produced over 20 feature films for the special slot Film on Four.

Because there was a guaranteed TV premiere for these films they could afford to take more risks in terms of both their content and their treatment of this than mainstream films. Nevertheless few of the films were about contemporary Britain. Alexander Walker (2004) correctly identifies The Ploughman's Lunch (1983) as a film which was more critical of the trends within the Thatcher government of the time to which could be added Mike Leigh's Meantime (1983) which deals with a dysfunctional London based family with everybody in it on the Dole (Income support rather than gainfully employed). this had great resonance at the time given that unemployment in the UK was approaching the 3 million mark under the Thatcher government.

Channel Four Films and the Industrial Context

In terms of costs C4 films were typically £500k-£600k at the top end, this compared with conventionally funded feature films of the time which typically cost around £3-4 million. (Walker 2004). C4 films proved attractive to filmmakers and producers because until 1985 there was a generoius system of tax write offs against production costs in which costs could be written off against profits straight away whilst films not initially targetted at TV had their cost written off over several years. This meant that in terms of risks and returns for investors funding C4 films was much lower risk in a high risk business. The Nigel Lawson budget of 1985 was to reduce this tax shelter as the government sought to ensure it got its share form the film-making business.

Whilst film-makers enjoyed the tax write offs they wanted to have their cake and eat it by having the films given a theatrical release in the cinemas first of all. Many wanted an 18 month to two year window for cinema release however David Rose the commissioning editor for fiction at Channel 4 correctly felt that this wouldn't allow C4 to build up its audiences. The reality was that these films even when they did get theatrical release didn't enter into the mainstream anyway usually being released in a small number of cinemas which were identified with the Art House circuit. From the perspective of many in the audience this acted as an artificial ckoke on the market and represented greed from the investors by tryng to squeeze every last penny out of audiences. The problem for C4 was also that the freshness and sense of the contemporary would inevitably be watered down if audiences had to wait. They might even lose interest in the film.  As a result few films had theatrical release and those that did had very limited ones. At this time there was still considerable friction between the film and TV industries. Cinema was very defensive about its major circuits of distribution and exhibition which is where the real money has been made in cinema. The distributors wanted to keeep films off TV for three years and only in the case of commercial flops were they prepared to allow them onto TV inunder three years.

Channel four was badly effected by this industry restriction on trade practices. An example cited by Walker (2004) concerns She'll be Wearing Pink Pajamas (1984) starring Julie Walters. Walters had starred in the very successful film Educating Rita (1983) only the previous year a film which she is still rembered for and consequently her fees had gone up considerably.   C4 had put up all the funding for this film coming to £950k, whilst they had planned an initial theatrical release they had intended to release it on TV as soon as possible in order to recoup their very high overheads against tax. Sadly they were unable to follow this release strategy and the film didn't justify its costs.  This is a good example of the British film industry cutting its own throat when it comes to investment in genuinely British films rather than what are effectively Hollywood ones.

During the mid 1980s the costs of video recorders was coming down considerably as was the cost of films on video and by 1990 most homes had a video-recorder. The rise of video rental shops was an important phenomena and this began to undermine the distribution industries stranglehold on film release. Piracy and fear of piracy within the industry meant films became generally available to audiences much more quickly at at more reasonable prices than before. When videos were first made of Hollywood films they cost around £50-00 each at 1980 prices.

Channel Four had been established with the aim of getting many programmes either by commisioning or buying in programmes from other companies rather than producing its programmes in house which was what both ITV and the BBC did. By 1987 24% of C4 programming was externally produced and films were a large part of this 24%. C4 had an ambitious target of co-producing 20 films per year which was beyond the resources of any other film making companies in the UK. According to Walker (2004) it had a budget of £6 million to spend on fully or part financing films. It typically invested between £250k - £300k per film buyijng in the TV rights. C4 also invested £750k per year in British Screen Finance  and another £500k per year in the BFI Production Board.  One of C4 first films The Draughtsman's  Contract (1982) was a co-production with the BFI Production Board . In the case of the last two investments funds were matched by the government which provided extra stimulaus to the industry.

By the end of 1987 C4 was producing 17/28 films per year on a £9.5 million budget. Very few of the films directly recovered their costs and to all intents and ourposes C4 remained an 'art-house' producer as the films weren't reaching mass popular audiences they had on the other hand established a good rapport with more specific audiences and can be used as an example of how audiences were beginning to fragment as more media products became available. The breakthrough films for C4 were My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Letter to Brehznev (1985) Mona Lisa (1986). A useful boost was that these films also found an alternative audience in the United States.

By 1989 the bonanza for the film industry through TV funded film was beginning to dry up. Channel reduced its financial committment to film making reducing its annual production target down to 16 films and capping its financial committment to any one film to one third of the overall costs. The head of film at Channel Four David Rose was about to retire. He had had a considerable influence on the success of C4 Film with about £50 million spent on around 160 films up until this point. Many in the British film industry were critical of the C4 approach arguing that the small scale cutting edge film that C4 had built its reputation around was dead. They further argued that C4 had not acted as the launchpad for British cinema which they had expected instead film makers still had to find a considerable amount of finance for themselves. In all honesty this sounded like the carping on of filmmakers eager to break into the Hollywood market and get themselves fame and fortune. Pure greed and overblown egos and the hubris which has seemingly beeen present in the British film industry for decades. In the first instance if the ideas for British films were so good why shouldn't they go out and sell it to find the financial backing? People in other types of business do this all the time. Rather than looking to the amazing effect that C4 had in stimulating a distincly British type of film which was representing aspects of British society greed was the driver of these criticisms.

Walker (2004) suggests that many in the British film industry including the likes of David Puttnam and Working Title (the production company which had grown dramatically on the back of Film Four) were impatient for the bigger budget more ambitious films. TV financed films were too small in their cope and their appeal so the argument went.

Despite this criticism one Film Four success of the time was Riff-Raff (1991). There was a huge debate about whether this film should receive a theatrical release at the time. Eventually the BFI arranged some limited screenings and then Palace Pictures screened it in a range of university / art house cinemas around the country. It reached around 200 screens out of the 3,000 available in the country at the time. Walker is keen to point out the problems that independent British films had in Britian compared to releases in continental Europe:

In Europe where a culture of exhibition existed and was valued, Loach's film was a popular success, ahcieved full-scale releases in several countries and won the new European Film Award in 1992 (Walker, 2004 p 122)

In 1991  C4 decided to back the Crying Game (1992) as a co-production with Palace Pictures (Stephen Woolley) along with Miramax run by the Weinstein's. it was also backed by British screen. Overall it had what Walker described as 'an anorexic budget of £2.3 million' (Walker, 2004 p 149).

Successes of the Early Years of C4 Films: Developing New Audiences

Films that were especially successful in the early years of C4 were Letter to Brehznev (1985) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). My Beautiful Laundrette was a seminal film of the mid 1980s for it brought the mischievous and iconoclastic scriptwriting of Hanif Kureishi into the public eye as well as proving successful for director Stephen Frears and actor Daniel Day Lewis.

These were films that touched contemporary critical audiences in the 20 something to 30 something age ranges especially. Kureishi had been brought up on the back of sixties hippiedom then the punk rebellion and then Ken Livingstone's first GLC which had promoted festivals, events and activities by the ANL, Rock Against Racism, feminist organisations and Gay Pride. The concept of cultural industries was also developed. London and young audiences especially in larger cities around the country were keen on seeing the representations and contradictions concerning hybridity and identity which people of a critical nature were keen on debating, discussing and acting out at the time. My Beautiful Laundrette was followed up by C4 and Kureishi a couple of years later with Sammie & Rosie Get Laid (1987). Again directed by Frears and scripted by Kureishi it failed to touch the cultural moment in the way that My Beautiful Laundrette had done but at least Asian identity was now recognised in British cinema. Before My Beautiful Laundrette a large percentage of the British population  went largely unrepresented in the media. There can be little doubt that C4 Film made a significant contribution in this respect.

The 1990s under David Aukin

By 1992 the succession from David rose to David Aukin had been completed. Channel 4 had increased its average contribution to the financing of films to over 40% "but only because costs had risen, not due to optimism" asserted Alexander Walker (2004 p 154). The cost of a typical Channel Four film had risen from £400k in 1982 to £1.8 million. So much for Thatcher's stance against inflation or was it the greed of filmmakers and others in the industry which caused this 4.5 fold increase over a ten year period? Walker's explanation doesn't really add up here. However by this date C4 had part-funded nearly 250 films which is an excellent record.

It was still associated with more radical and alternative film-making for it co-produced Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein with the BFI Production Board. The film was produced by Tariq Ali and the script was written by Terry Eagleton. In 1994 C4 backed Shopping which was pitched to them as a film made with the stylishness of Luc Besson. 1994 also saw C4 become involved in part backing The Madness of King George. It starred Nigel Hawthorn and Helen Mirren and was an excellent history film which also benefitted from crossing over with costume drama thus fitting the heritage genre. However the film was dealing with an unusual and turbulent period of British history and didn't simply celebrate the successes of Britain in the past. It was a much more expensive film than was usual with its budget running in the region of £13 million. It gained good distribution in the USA and turned out to be a profitable film.

The sort of films that C4 was involved with through commissioning and / or co-production deals include
Trainspotting and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Both of these films were hugely successful although appealing to very different audiences. Trainspotting was a low budget film based upon the book of the same name which had carved itself a good niche audience. It was co-produced with Working Title and backed by the powerful Polygram filmed entertainment department. Polygram put some canny marketing into the film. Knowing it would appeal to ravers and clubbers they focused their marketing on this large niche audience which proved highly successful. As a result the film gained distribution in the USA as well although it did need sub-titles there. Four Weddings and a Funeral was a clever production which played upon aspects of national identity successfully including Scotland, however moving renderings of a W. H. Auden poem provided a double theme of national and gay identity, and the film played upon the 'naice' elements of Britishness rather than focusing upon the sort of aspects of British society apparent in Shopping and Trainspotting (ram-raiding and heroin addiction respectively). With a continuing well handled light-hearted romantic comedy audiences were won over on both sides of the Atlantic by its feel-good factor making all concerned large amounts of money and providing the breakthrough film for Hugh Grant as the quintessential 'English Gentleman'.

Channel Four Films and the Representation of Cultural Hybridity

Channel Four has had a very progressive policy when it comes to helping to fund films - and guaranteeing a scrrening of these films -  representing relatively recently ethnic groupings in the UK. These films have been far more than just about separate communities which early multicultural ideas were concerned with. The films commisioned explored and developed ideas of cultural hybridity in which there was mixing and exchange of ideas and attitudes in a complex way. My Beautiful Laundrette launched this approach which was followed by Bahji on the Beach, The Wild West and perhaps most successfully East is East which was the first British film representing hybrid and ever changing cultural and social mix in Britain to make it into mainstream multiplex cinemas. Recently Film four produced the BAFTA prizewinning film Brick Lane (2007) directed by Sarah Gavron. In this respect Channel Four has played a groundbreaking role taking a lead in developing this theme for over twenty years. It also screened the film Yasmin when it failed to gain a cinema distribution deal in 2004. As well as extending the ways in which British society is represented Channel four has thus sought to develop and win over entirely new audiences who are foar mor hybrid and cosmopolitan in their world view. It is not unreasonable to suggests that out of all the  film making institutions  operating in Britain since 1982 -when the Channel Four film arm was initiated- Channel Four has been by far and away the best in this respect. In that sense its committment to the public service broadcasting ethos perhaps means that it has earned the right to gain some of TV licence fee payers money.

1999 Film Four Dominates at Cannes

The late 1990s saw many changes in the structure of the film section of Channel Four.  FilmFour separated from Channel 4 to become a stand-alone company in 1998 (Guardian July 2002). By 1999 Film Four was at the top of its game with nine films were officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival that year although some of these were American. By the late 1990s Film Four was building on its successes but also responding to changes in the structure of TV in the UK which had seen the launch of Channel Five a few years previously and increasing numbers of digital satellite channels becoming available via Sky.  This led on to more changes  in 2001 & 2003:

In 1998 FilmFour, a specialist subscription film channel, was launched.... and in April 2001... FilmFour World and FilmFour Extreme, two further film channels, available to subscribers to FilmFour. These channels were available on ITV Digital but are not carried by Freeview, a wholly free-to-air proposition. In 2003 Film Four World and Extreme were replaced by Film Four Weekly... In May 2001 Channel 4 formally launched a new incorporated company, 4 Ventures Ltd, to manage all its film, learning and other new business activities. (ITC [now Ofcom] on C4 history)

Problems at Film Four

One of FilmFour's biggest problems has been competing for cinema space with multinational film companies, whose films account for more than two thirds of UK box office takings. FilmFour blames the poor box office results on its lack of clout in the distribution market rather than the quality of its films. (BBC on Film Four Partner Search)

2001 turned out to be rather a problematic year for Film Four. Charlotte Gray contributed to a £5.7 million loss as it was one of the most expensive films thay had made and it was a box office flop. Ever since it has become remembered for causing major financial problems at Film four however the problems were more deepseated than that.

In 2001, Film Four put out 14 films, but its releases accounted for just 0.7% of the UK box office market. (ibid)

By 2006 Film four was struggling. Its business model of pay TV on a subscription basis wasn't working, Andy Duncan C4's chief Executive announced:

The people who make money in terms of pay channels tend to be the platform owners or big rights holders. The subscriber levels that we have been getting [for FilmFour] have been very low. We believe we can make money from advertising," (Guardian report)

The actual relaunch came in July as the BBC reports:

In the process it will become the UK's largest free film channel, available to 18m homes, the broadcaster says.

Around one-quarter of the films shown on the channel will come from the UK, but they will be broken up with advertisements for the first time.

Film 4 currently appears to b doing well now it has migrated to Freeview and has taken to an advrtising model to pay for it.


Timeline of Channel Four / Film Four: Films & Events

Year Event Director of Film Arm Films Produced Director
1982

Launch of Channel Four. A separate film arm Film on Four was established. 

David Rose

The Draughtsman's Contract

Angel (Danny Boy US title)

Peter Greenaway

Neil Jordan

1983

Meantime

The Ploughman's Lunch

Mike Leigh

Richard Eyre

1984



1985 The Nigel Lawson buget removed the tax shelter for C4 Films.

Letter to Brezhnev

My Beautiful Laundrette

Chris Bernard

Stephen Frears

1986

Mona Lisa

Caravaggio

Neil Jordan

Derek Jarman

1987



1988 Lawson economic boom underway



1989 Beginning of downturn in TV financed film



1990

Life is Sweet
Mike Leigh
1991 Recession in UK

Riff Raff
Ken Loach
1992 Britain forced out of the ERM
David Aukin now head of Drama at C4

Bahji on the Beach

The Crying Game

Gurindar Chadha

Neil Jordan

1993

Wittgenstein

Raining Stones

Derek Jarman

Ken Loach

1994

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Madness of King George

Shopping

Mike Newell

Nicholas Hytner

Paul Anderson

1995

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle
1996

Secrets & Lies

Trainspotting

Brassed Off

Mike Leigh

Danny Boyle

Herman

1997
David Aukin left C4 and went to Miramax Welcome to Sarajevo
Michael Winterbottom
1998 FilmFour separated from Channel 4 to become a stand-alone company in 1998 Paul Webster an ex-vice-president of Miramax was appointed in Aukin's palce in February


1999
Film 4 "dominates Cannes" (Walker 2004 p300)
East is East Damien O'Donnell
2000

Sexy Beast Johnathan Glazer
2001 FilmFour makes loss of £5.4 million

Charlotte Gray

Lucky Break

Gillian Armstrong

Peter Catteano

2002 UK distribution and international sales departments folded.  Film production budget was slashed by two thirds to £10m.  50 staff  axed Paul Webster Chief Exec loses job Once Upon a Time in the Midlands
Shane Meadows
2003

Touching The Void

Bright Young Things

Kevin MacDonald

Stephen Fry

2004



2005



2006
February 8th Film Four leaves pay TV and goes onto Freeview


2007



2008



2009



2010





Webliography

Film 4 Productions: About

Film 4 Recent Productions

Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation

Screenonline Channel Four Films / Film on  Four / Film Four

BritFilm.Org on Channel 4 & Film

BBC 2002 on lossmaking of Film Four

BBC: How Film Four lost the plot (Useful audio clips available here)

BBC 2002 News Story on need for C4 to make cuts and dangers to Film Four

Guardian Story 10th July 2002: Executive goes as Channel 4 pulls plug on ailing FilmFour production arm

Film Four guarantee money back to audiences over Dancer in the Dark if not satisfied after half an hour

Film File Europe: Film Four Production Profile  

BBC Film Collective: The Demise of Film Four

Cast & Crew of My Beautiful Laundrette

Return to British Cinema Hub

(For other case study work please go to Working Title)


August 25, 2008

Somers Town, 2008: Dir: Shane Meadows

Somers Town, 2008: Dir: Shane Meadows

Somers Town 2 Poster


Good to see that Shane Meadows has released another film Somers Town after his success with This is England which successfully represented the feel of the Northern (post)-industrial working class youth in Britain at the time of the Falklands war and its problems of dcoming to terms with identity in this rapidly changing society. Somers Town again  stars Thomas Turgoose who played the pre-teen skinhead in This is England.  I haven't had a chance to see it yet but this time the setting is  London in the Somers Town area which you are unlikely to find on a map of London however it is situated in the St. Pancras / Kings Cross part of London. The film is sponsored by Eurostar and started life as a short which mutated into a full-length feature film.


The film was entirely shot on digital video and is mostly in black and white. It won the Michael Powell award for best new British feature film. Generically it is something of a 'coming of age film' in which Tommo (Thomas Turgoose) is a young runaway from Nottingham.  After some trouble on arrival in London Tommo meets Marek the  son of a Polish construction worker on the rebuild of King's Cross as it turns into the hub for the Eurostar train. It is a story of scams and adventures and there is a love interest over the French waitress Maria in cosmopolitan London. The film is in a much lighter vein than This is England.  The Sight and Sound review  spends a lot of time  drawing comparisons  with  the British film culture of the 'Swinging Sixties' which turned from social realism / kitchen sink drama into a lighter vein via Billy Liar. A slight puzzle in this review is the notion that Thomas Turgoose is:

...a Rita Tushingham for our more tangled times...

I would have thought a Julie Christie might have been a better analogy. In Billy Liar she does make the break to London whilst Billy Liar signally doesn't. Christie's character then tranmutes into the 'Darling' girl in Schlesinger's next film called Darling with Christie's switch to swinging London. Tushingham goes from holding the social realist baby in Tony Richardson's  Taste of Honey to Richard Lester's The Knack which was her switch to the swinging sixties. In terms of directorial interest perhaps  this signals a shift in  Meadows'  approach, for  most of the  social realists of the late fifties early 1960s produced films in a lighter vein later on  but  with  a strong political satirical edge.  Richardson's Tom Jones, and then Charge of the Light Brigade, and Karel Reisz's Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment and of course Lindsay Anderson's 'If' all moved from the somewhat dour British social realist paradigm for film making to  political satires. By comparison Lester as an American initially linked with the Beatles films came from a rather different background. Here the satire was absent and the films were far more straightforwardly celebratory reflecting a surface mood. Realism of course does try to look under the surface to expose and critique the underlying processes of society.

Certainly the reviews linked to below have quite different takes upon the film. The Independent review is perhaps the most insightful one and isn't afraid to cut through the nostalgia and whimsey which by the sounds of it suffuse the film. If it is more like The Knack than the work of the post-social realist British directors of the 1960s then as the Independent puts it the lack of dramatisation:

...should bother anyone who claims Meadows as one of the great hopes of British film-making.


At this point I'm unable to comment on whether Meadows has managed to bring in some useful insights to bear into the globalised economy which has led to diasporas in the labour markets in a way that Ken Loach did in It's a Free World for example. However these are important issues to bear in mind when viewing Somers Town. Currently analogies to the Knack seem to indicate that Meadows has missed an opportunity here. I shall develop this debate further once I've seen the film. In the meantime hopefully the links will be of use to readers and provoke some general thoughts about issues of representation of the global working class and the role of British cinema within this.


Official Trailer of Somers Town




Webliography


Sight & Sound review of Somers Town

Shane Meadows' Somers Town takes top Edinburgh award: Guardian June 30th 2008

Guardian Video Review of Somers Town

Independent review of Somers Town. Downloadable trailer available.

Timesonline on Somers Town

Nottingham Evening Post on Somers Town

Financial Times Somers Town Review



August 24, 2008

Invest in ITV Shares? The Price is Right – I Don't Think So!!!!!


Invest or Advertise on ITV? If the Price is Cheap Enough: But When Will That Be?


I started to look at how ITV was doing elsewhere on this blog (Is ITV Going Down the Tubes?) in the early Spring of this year as Michael Grade tried to pooh-pooh the signs of an economic downturn which is now being considered as more of a recession if some financial commentators are to be believed with worse news to come. At the time of writing the ITV share price was still slipping it is now hovering at the 40 pence level - around a pound a share cheaper than this time last year!

Merryn Webb's article ( Merryn Webb Financial Times 22nd August ) which in the hardcopy version of the Weekend FT is entitled Investors Should Switch on to ITV but Advertisers Should Switch on to ITV in electronic versions shows a supreme over-optimism to my mind. One  thing for certain is my SIPP won't be going for this one and any investment trust my SIPP has an interest in which does will be dumped by me at the earliest opportunity. I did that last year when I noticed that Northern Rock appeared in the top 20 holdings well before the infamous credit crunch. Some investments are obviously bad even to non-professionals.

I  argue that both advertisers and investors should steer clear of ITV at the present moment. Now, there is an argument that the vultures are beginning to circle around ITV with the intention of stripping the carcass. Speculation earlier this week has linked BMG to a possible swap of its Channel 5 holding with the SKY holding in ITV. Sky are currently resisting the forced sale of their shareholding but will need to have some sort of exit strategy. Arguably despite the cost the blocking of NTL now Virgin Media in a planned takeover of ITV has worked to SKY's advantage as they have been able to use the time to establish better non-satellite based srvices.   Of course any deals like that would push the share prices up a bit and for the quick-fire trader rather than investor a small quick profit might emerge but if we are talking about investment, i.e. holding the share on the basis that the performance and prospects of ITV might improve decently then don't hold your breath. Leave it to the recovery funds to judge when the time is right. The shares have further to sink and this one is very difficult to call because of the rapidly changing media environment.


A key problem with Merryn Webb's article is that it relies on anecdotalism as the key element of its analysis rather than serious research. Merryn Webb, like myself, is not of the internet generation and this can make it more difficult to analyse a new cultural phenomenon. Her argument is based upon the fact that she uses the internet a lot and doesn't click on adverts. Instead she prefers the Skoda advert on TV. Merryn needs to make a cultural leap to gain a better insight into what is happening.


Webb ignores the advantages of the internet for advertisers, publishers and also consumers. Increasingly Google - probably the most sophisticated web company who at times seems to be driving the web - has brilliant algorithms which are continuously improving and are delivering and helping to create new markets to new creators - now there is a company to buy shares in! For example one of my AS students last year was earning about £25 per week from his adverts on his web sites. I'm a little envious it earns loads more than this site and neither of us set out to be commercial. He has more experience than me and he is clearly hitting his target market which is his peers. This is how people of that age and younger do things. Rather than analysing the average amount of pocket money that young people are getting getting abetter idea of the incomes of 14-19 year olds is what is needed. Clearly not all of them are working in Tesco, some are developing their own on-line income generators. How will they spend this? Probably on items advertised via the web. The latest iPod / MP3 phone or maybe a faster computer with better screens or ISPs offering better deals for a generation that increasingly turns to the web for a vast range of cultural experiences. People use the web for pleasure and for experiment and this is creating new ways of doing things which is still very young. Merryn I suspect uses the web purely as a working tool and that is the generational difference!

Google matches target audiences and advertisers which is essential in the era of audience fragmentation and on-demand media. Take this blog for example. There are around 500 publicly available pages produced by one person. Google has very successfully matched the page content to relevant advertisers. The better the page content the more closely the adverts seem to relate to potential users and the more popular the page the more the advertiser receives. New media then is intensely competitive. Those who actually make a living out of web publishing for example are amongst the new breed of entrepreneurs for the information age / networked society.

From the perspective of the advertiser once adverts are designed to fit the various Google formats available then they get advertising 24/7 at little or no cost. Only if the advert attracts attention does the advertiser incur costs. Furthermore the adverts can change from country to country so the global reach of the internet can be linked into local audiences. How clever is that? Pretty damned clever I reckon. Furthermore, an individual is attracting advertisers who are huge global companies. BT / Hewlett Packard / Sky for example all have / have had adverts on this blog. This is presumably the case for many thousands of individuals or small groups running small-scale sites. The fact that adverts from high quality companies can be attracted to these sites with no specific effort from the site-owners is truly phenomenal: Unimaginable without Google.

Not only is  publishing to  a global market for all possible but  advertising to all interested parties is possible. Just as the concept of mass media is changing so is mass advertising hoping to attract somebody out of a very general audience. Targeted advertising is where it is at and it will become more and more sophisticated. Publishers are free to focus upon creating the content and tuning their search engine optimisation techniques again with the help of Google.

Now from the perspective of the person clicking on an advert they are probably in most cases sufficiently intersted in the product or service to pay strong attention otherwise why bother clicking in the first place? People surfing the internet aren't going to waste time clicking on adverts to see if they find the advert amusing. By comparison the fact that Merryn finds the Skoda advert in Midsomer Murders memorable might relate to the content of the programme - in an inverse ratio?


Advantages of the Internet for Advertisers

I can think of several good reasons for preferring to place adverts on the internet rather than on TV:

  • Extremely low costs for distribution of the adverts
  • Low administration costs
  • Global reach
  • Local target audiences
  • 24 / 7 availability
  • Potential customers who actually cost the advertiser are self-selecting and clearly very interested in the product / service accessed either generically or specifically


Merryn Webb's Arguments for Investing / Advertising Using ITV

Merryn Webb's arguments come down to several key points:

  1. Anecdotal she doesn't click on ads therefore why should other people?
  2. Ads on the internet are irritants (they aren't on TV?)
  3. You can't block ads on TV out (Try using a Skybox!)
  4. 'The average internet user devotes just 24 minutes a day of his home time to the medium'. Evidence please and who is this "average" person anyway? Average and the concept of target markets are mutually incompatible
  5. Last year, 16-24-year-olds watched only 150 minutes (of TV) a day and also said they media multitasked while watching (they sent texts and fiddled on the internet at the same time). Webb writes of young audiences as having no money to spend on TV advertised products anyway: young reduced pocket money /new graduates weak job market / 20 somethings lack credit status. (Anecdotally my A level students have better iPods, mobiles and cars than me...!)
  6. Old people have more money and lots of it locked away in their homes. But which old people? Bring on the equity release schemes... (problem if your property values dive and forget leaving your money to relatives...!)

Media related arguments:

ITV has a few good things going for it, too. It makes the kind of entertainment and music shows both old and young like.

It still has 23.5 per cent of the UK viewing audience. It could even see advertisers return as they scale back online (Really?) spend and seek refuge in a tried and tested medium in a recession.

ITV is also cutting costs, and a possible change in public service broadcasting requirements may help with this. And, although it seems there won’t be a bid from Endemol, ITV is cheap and another bidder may appear in the future. (My emphasis)

Against Webb's arguments:

  1. The appeal to both old and young alike seems to contradict Webb's earlier arguments which wrote off the young as being irrelevant to advertisers anyway. The reality at my level of anecdotalism is that sixth form students barely watch any ITV at all. It is for "old people" (which I suspect is anybody over about 30). C4 is the popular channel.
  2. 25.3% of the UK viewing audience is something of a disaster when compared with what ITV achieved as part of the media duopoly that existed up until the early 1980s. The next thing is which 24.3% of the viewing audience? Possibly those who can't afford Sky and who find the BBC too elitist? If this is the case this means lowest common denominator viewers for most of the time who are less likely to have a big income (with the exception of footballer's wives of course). Obviously this weak demographic is very attractive to the serious advertisers.
  3. There is no evidence that advertising is migrating back from the internet rather the models of marketing and advertising via the internet are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Check out this Media 2.0 workgroup link for example.
  4. ITV is cutting its costs. Well it needs to because it is losing valuable income as ads migrate to the internet and as economic downturn bites. Given that much of its market comes from those designated as  sub-prime when it comes to credit ratings general mass advertising is likely to be wasted.
  5. Don't hold your breath over immediate changes in public service broadcasting requirements. There is no sign of the Governement relinquishing theses at present. If they don't happen for Michael Grade then ITV will really be struggling.


A more convincing argument about the effectiveness of webvertising


I find the argument below more interesting as what happens after a click through is of course extremely important. However this is a matter of how good the company is at delivering its services / products online. Amazon ad links go straight to the relevant book and now their service provides a good second-hand service as well - brilliant. As a  bookbuyer I use Amazon more and more.  In the end  the argument below doesnt negate wbvertising at a generic level it raises issues about competitiveness  and competence in the  delivery institution.  But this is the same issue  however / wherever a consumer  consumes.  The best companies will out!


...the rhetoric of departure in hypertext theory.
The other end of the ad's hypertext link is the landing page. Most often, these pages are highly disappointing and cause the user to back out immediately. This is why even click-through is a poor measure of the value of Web ads since it measures the alluring quality of your creative and not the ad's ability to deliver business. (Jakob Nielsen on why Advertising Doesn't Work on the Web)


Nielsen makes another important contribution to developing theories of advertising in relation to websites. Regular returning visitors are likely to be the most valued visitors for the development of websites:


If you build a good site, users may come; but if they only visit once, you lose. This is one of the reasons why raw "hit rates" are discredited as a measure of site success: you can build seemingly impressive traffic volume by spiking your pages with search engine bait or by spending liberally on banner ads on other sites. You gain zero value from people who visit one or two pages and turn away in disgust when they discover that your site is not really about the topic they searched for or that you don't fulfill the promise of your ads. Site tourists crank up your hit count but do nothing for the long-term viability of your site. Repeat users are satisfied customers and the way to build a site. (Ibid)


I absolutely agree and these are the principles behind this blog. Developing long-term content which is of educational value. Google Analytics provides me with visitor loyalty analysis and I can quickly see how much a regular user base is developing. Nevertheless there are opportunities for occasional users. there are some educational service pages on the site such as information about the UCAS points system and  listings of undergraduate courses. Whilst users might return there is still useful advertising to be done for one off users. Hit count isn't totally irrelevant as it helps place the site up the search-engine rankings. Appear after page 2 of Google and your site is commercially dead.  This on the other hand is how  the  web  becomes enormously  competitive and  how in the end the best content for specific target audiences should win out.


ITV Media midget in a Global Mediascape

The simple facts are that ITV do not have the weight financially to compete on the increasingly global media market and provide good quality products. At some point the whole will equal less than the sum of its parts in terms of share price. when that happens this is the time to buy because breaking up ITV and splitting the production facilities from the company will make the overall value clearer. As we move closer to 2012 the ominous presence of companies geared up to deliver mobile moving image products is going to be crucial. How well ITV can adapt to this rapidly changing media environment is a mute point. I'd stick your money in Vodaphone / WPP if I were investing in media companies.  The alternative is to short out ITV: I suspect that once the share price comes down into the 25 pence area then some real value can be potentially released:

Companies naturally dislike investors who bet on their share price to go down. But the activity is legal, and helps keep the market efficient. If the shorts are right, and a company is overvalued, its price will come down in time regardless. By publishing their own analysis, they can stop damaging misvaluations from persisting. (John Authers, Strategic Short-Sellers Not the Root of All Evil, FT 23 / 24 August 2008)



This isn't to argue that TV advertising is redundant, however the argument that because TV didn't kill off Radio, doesn't apply to the internet. The point is that the internet potentially allows for on-demand high quality moving image based media content this will depend on high speeed broadband connections becoming generally available. The other key issue is that 2012 sees the digitisation of the airwaves. There will be increased fragmentation of audiences and content which will be paid for by advertising most probably. Look out for groups of students gathered around the latest handheld devices laughing over 15 minute comedy shows whilst they are on the trains to school or college. Sky seems better placed to provide this content than ITVDraw your own conclusions when it comes to investing in pension funds. My Space will have given the Murdoch camp a lot of experience at the sort of content which younger audiences enjoy. (These aren't recommendation for Sky / My Space please note).

Overall investment in ITV for those not savvy with the rapidly changing media world and who don't have access to a lot of figures and some knowledge of developments in on-line advertising models will be taking an extremely risky punt right now. ITV will need to be significantly reconstructed if it is to survive beyond 2012 but how that is to be achieved and by whom is far from clear and the current downturn in the British economy is working strongly against it.





Webliography


Merryn Webb Financial Times 22nd August


Merryn Webb's article as displayed by Yahoo


Ofcom August 2008 Research Report


Ofcom PDF on the changing market context including use of communications by older people and the changing advertising market.


FT Technology Blog on web advertising


How-to films get ahead in web advertising. Guardian June 2007


VUNet comment on growth of European Webvertising

Why Advertising Doesn't Work on the Web

Why Site Tourists are Worthless


Warwick University Student Union Site advertising rates.  (Excellent example of  a very tightly defined target audience). The fact that  this site  came high on the search term "web Advertising"  already tells us something about the effectiveness of the site!


Webvertising


Five Bad Webvertising Techniques


August 18, 2008

Centripetal and Centrifugal Space in Film Noir 1939 – 1959

Centripetal and Centrifugal Space in Film Noir 1939 – 1959: Case Studies Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep


LA City Hall

L.A.s City Hall a signifier of Centripetal Space isn't usually represented in Films Noir


Introduction

Some early 20th film criticism by critics such as Siegfried Kracauer (an architect by training) has considered film in relation to cities and alongside this the growth of modernity in which representations of the city were usually associated with modernity frequently in a very optimistic way. Dziga Vertov's elegy to the city in Man With a Movie Camera is perhaps the best example of this. (Try and avoid the version with the Michael Nyman soundtrack it wrecks the meanings of the film as they might have have been generated by contemporaries).

Film noir as a cinematic category runs counter to the tradition that modernity is progress and focuses upon the seamy undersideside of the city and frequently the spaces in the city which are ignored and which contain currents that continually undermine notions of progress and the city of light and enlightenment understood as the general aims of supporters of modernity. The cinema of Weimar Germany provides some good examples of this and I don't just mean the 'expressionist cinema' which was largely finished by 1923, but rather the German films that took some of the stylistic attitudes  but also explored various aspects of crime in the city. Fritz Lang's 'M' considered from the perspective of reading spaces of the city and also alternative types of surveillance is fascinating in this respect - Lang too was an architect by training. Joe May's 'Asphalt' is another. Then  French 'Poetic Realism' of the 1930s has also had both a stylistic and critical similarities to what became known as film noir. Film Noir's origins are irrevocably a cultural reverbaration of the upheavals of the European 30 Years War 1914-1945 with many of the core directors of 'noir' having had a European if not German background  such  as Lang, Wilder & Siodmak. In the case a of Siodmak and Wilder their noir sensibilities were a million miles away from the optimimistic ethnographis style of film People on Sunday celebrating everyday life in Berlin in 1929 which was released only weeks before the Great Crash which eventually brought Germany into the hands of the Nazis.


Since the 1970s the critical category of film noir has been much debated within film studies circles. The term originated from French film critics in the aftermath of World War II when the French market was flooded with American imports of films which were unavailable under Nazi occupation. Most of these films were originally generically marketed as something else in the United States[1] however, in a post-war mood these thrillers were experienced as doom laden and pessimistic, with resonances of the French poetic-realist cycle as well as the German expressionist cycle. In recent years it seems as though 'Noir' has been overwritten and although it was once a critically developed category neo-noir has become a style / sub-genre that is exploited by the industry with many variants such as 'tech-noir'.

The definition of film noir is highly contested [2], “film noir’ suggests Vernet (1993 p 26) ‘ is a collector’s idea that, for the moment, can only be found in books’ however, for the purpose of this article the aim is to explore the spatial hypothesis proposed by Dimendberg (2004) rather than to examine definitions of ‘noir’ itself and the reader will need to consult some of the well known writings about this. The films I have chosen as case studies are accepted by all critics as central to the group of films that have been constructed as ‘noir’ and therefore provide a good basis to develop debate around Dimendberg's ideas of the representations of space.


Dimendberg argues that film noir between 1939-1959 represented the spatial infrastructure of American cities through highly specific spatial configurations marking the reconstruction of the American city space from an early modern model of centripetal space to a more complex one based upon centrifugal space. Dimendberg defines these spaces in the following way:

Centripetal and centrifugal space, tendencies towards concentration and dispersal, recur and often overlap throughout film noir. (Dimendberg, 2004 p 18).

Two core films from the film noir cycle - Double Indemnity (1944) dir. Billy Wilder and The Big Sleep (1946) dir. Howard Hawks - will be used as case studies using a detailed textual analysis of the representations of space to explore Dimendberg’s hypothesis[3]. Both films are about Los Angeles (L.A.) and both involve the work of Raymond Chandler[4]. L.A. has been the subject of much scrutiny by critics from a range of academic backgrounds such as Frederic Jameson, Mike Davis and Edward Soja and has been seen as the archetypal post-modern city.


Centrifugal and Centripetal Space

Dimendberg locates the growth of centrifugal space as a tendency or process which started in the middle of the 19th century in the United States. This was made possible by new transportation systems that intersected with a desire to live away from the intensities of the centre. Dimendberg identifies centripetal tendencies as

“... a fascination with urban density and the visible – the skyline, monuments, recognisable public spaces, and inner-city neighbourhoods” (Dimendberg 2004 p 177)

whereas centrifugal space is bound up with:

immateriality, invisibility and speed’ (ibid).

The growth of cinema as an institution has been intimately bound up with the growth of modernity and the city as part of the built environment and culturally in terms of mass urban audiences[5].

The ‘film noir’ cycle is commonly thought to have started in 1941 with the Maltese Falcon many of the core films noir emerged in the years following Double Indemnity in the late 1940s such as Mildred Pierce (1945) Michael Curtiz (Austro-Hungarian), The Big Sleep, Sunset Boulevard (1950) Wilder (Austrian). Joan Copjec, it is worth noting,  is scathing about what she describes as the

“pop-psychological diagnosis of pot-war male malaise” (Copjec 1993b)

which many argue motivated the ‘film noir’ cycle. [6]

Developments in the American city since the 1940s have combined both centripetal and centrifugal tendencies. Los Angeles is particularly interesting for film noir primarily represented Los Angeles and to a lesser extent New York notes Dimendberg. The work of Mike Davies (City of Quartz) and the geographer Edward Soja during the 1990s examined the spatial reconfigurations occurring in Los Angeles. The core of the post-industrial city for Davis was a centripetal fortress of hi-tech offices with shopping and other recreational facilities entirely spatially separated from the surrounding areas of extreme urban deprivation. The workers in the shiny quartz offices travelled either from the centrifugal periphery where gated communities were designed in an authoritarian atmosphere to control the inhabitants, in places like Orange County or, from gated / securitised higher density communities in the city (Soja, 1993). Both at work and in private time the spatial reconfiguration of Los Angeles has been marked by the reduction of public space and the increase in fortified privatised space, as privatised mall culture replaces the American ‘Mainstreet’ of modernity[7].

LA 2005

LA downtown: A centripetal fortress in the City of Quartz



For Dimendberg the representations of the city in ‘film noir’ express the changing configurations very effectively, because many of these films relied upon location shooting. It was this relationship to realism first noted by the French critic Nino Frank which makes film noir so important in relation to the representation of urban space:

Today’s spectator is sensitive to nothing more than this impression of real life, of lived experience… (Dimendberg 2004,p 5)

The Representation of Space in Double Indemnity

In Double Indemnity the film opens with a sense of the modern as a car races through the streets to a modern office building with a night-porter and lifts. The car goes past workers repairing the tram system, a reflection on both the capabilities of the modern car and a reminder of how the public transport system had been undermined by vested interests several years previously. As a figure enters the building the viewer sees a huge empty hall where the administration of modern society is carried out as the character makes his way to an office and starts to record his confession on the latest recording technology.

Double Indemnity spanish House interior

Neff & Phyllis in the Spanish Interior: Double Indemnity

This space signifies a huge engine of centripetal economic forces. In a flashback narrative structure typical of film noir we are taken to a suburb of Los Angeles on the edge of the city. The house that Walter Neff is visiting is commented upon in both its style and price as a voice-over. It is in the popular Spanish colonial style which is very expensive, retro and tasteless redolent of ‘new money’. The difficulties of transportation to the ‘downtown’ are strongly signified as the daughter gets a lift from Walter Neff to go to meet her boyfriend in downtown LA. This provides clear evidence of the centrifugal nature of the place and the need to rely on private transportation.

Boss office Double Indemnity

Keys and Neff in the Boss's well upholstered office in Double Indemnity

Another core space of the film takes place in the modern office building of the insurance company that employs Neff. The space is strongly hierarchical ranging from the porters on the door to ways in which the internal space is divided to represent the power relations. Looking down on the main hall which is full of serried rows of typists the engine of repetitive monotonous capitalism is represented. Neff who is further up the pecking order shares an office space with another salesman. Neff’s line manager (Keys) has his own office from which he is responsible for checking the deals made and assessing any claims many of which are fraudulent. The chief executive of the company has a very large office and attention is drawn to this visually and in the dialogue. This is the architecture of centripetal capitalism, an intense hub of activity, yet its location is represented only indirectly by a brief view of the City Hall through the window of the Chief Executive’s office after Phyllis has been made an offer to settle her claim. This provides only tangential reference to the metropolis.

Double Indemnity Neff and Phyllis in the supermarket

Double Indemnity: Neff meets Phyllis in the supermarket in the anonimity of no-place



Other spaces represented in the film include the supermarket where Neff arranges to meet Phyllis. This is a space created by centrifugal forces for it isn’t a localised ‘Mainstreet’ it is a space full of strangers who are unlikely to recognise either Phyllis or Neff, otherwise it would be unsafe for them. It isn’t part of a city of ‘community’ or ‘collective memory’.

Neff’s own bachelor flat is an undistinguished dormitory area of the city. It has its own underground garage for residents with a supervisor who cleans the cars as well. This signifies the type of space best described as ‘mid-town’ for the aspirant social status of the occupants.

Other spaces which are represented is the cafe in which Neff meets Lola and also the view over the Hollywood Bowl which represents a centrifugal tendency in that the centre doesn’t have the ability to provide this entertainment. This kind of space would appear to require a car to access it.

There are several off-screen places referred to which are clearly thought of as provincial compared to the importance of L.A. itself. The passenger on the train comments that Palo Alto is a ‘nice little town’. The passenger himself comes from Medford, Oregon a town of perhaps 50,000 in those days. Trains and trams represent centrifugal forces for they were designed to serve centres either of the city itself in the case of the tram or in terms of travel from one central hub to another on the train.

Phyllis on the railway Tracks

Phyllis on the railway tracks in Double Indemnity

Lola the step-daughter of Phyllis Dietrichson has also moved to Hollywood and there is precise reference made to the type of housing and thus the type of people who live there: it is a space of constrained circumstances for young hopefuls. This is also a centrifugal reference.

Los Angeles as represented by Double Indemnity is constructed as a space in which the individual to successfully negotiate the newly developing urban space must drive. That Neff’s flat has an underground garage shows that this is a modern residence built for a city which requires the car. The car itself symbolises the decentralisation of place.

Throughout the film there is recognition that space is becoming more abstract. The insurance industry is an example of a layer of abstract capitalism which creates ‘products’ out of nothing but the fear of the future. Neff knows the double indemnity clause included in expensive insurance policies is a cynical marketing tool which  for all statistical purposes is never going to happen.

Double Indemnity is a film which could have been scripted by Foucault. Keyes’ dismissing his superior’s argument relies upon the use of actuarial tables that cover every eventuality is an aspect of the new scientific methods of control which Foucault discusses[8]. Surveillance is a central theme throughout the film and the seemingly panoptic gaze -driven by statistics- which Keyes manages is seemingly far more effective than the surveillance system of the police who bought into the accidental death story. Capitalism is clearly more thorough ans scinetific in its investigations.

What makes Double Indemnity a film which is rooted in the representation of centripetal space is the marked lack of a significant centre. The downtown is only briefly seen through a car window and there is no significant landmark. This fits with Dimendberg’s comments on Crossfire (1949) and The Big Combo (1955) in which they are presented

‘…without the clearly delineated plaza, piazza, place, or Platz that traditionally provided a focal point for collective life in the large city… (Dimendberg 2004, p 89).

The most significant place in terms of monumentality is the Hollywood Bowl which is far from the centre and is only seen at a distance.

The Representation of Space in ‘The Big Sleep

In similar ways to Double Indemnity, the Big Sleep also represents the centripetal nature of contemporary LA. Whilst the spaces represented are different to those of Double Indemnity the lack of a defining central space means that this film too is focused upon the negotiation of spaces which are far from the centre. for example one shoot-out takes place in a country retreat as a signifier of space which is outside of the surveillance systems of the city.

There are several key spaces in which the action takes place. The house of the General signifies old money rather than the new money of Double Indemnity. Central places for the action are the out of town gambling club[9] and Geiger’s rented house which is used as a site of blackmail. Its exact location in the city remains obscure but it is not fully urbanised central space. Other places used are the two shops, the flat in older apartment building and run down office spaces, both Sam Spade’s and another one where a minor criminal is poisoned.

Outside Geigers Rented House

Outside of Geiger's house which was rented out.
Located in a non-specific suburb this is an example of centrifugal space


In both films cars function as significant spatial markers. Significant actions take place in them in both films. In Double Indemnity Neff develops a link with the daughter and in another car the murder takes place. In The Big Sleep the General’s chauffeur has been killed in his car, and Sam Spade falls in love with the General’s daughter in a car. The car then is a signifier of a space which is no-place. Notably some space is not represented in either film such as industrial space or working class or ethnically based places.

LA Gasholders undated

Above: an undated image of gasholders and an industrial scene in Los Angeles of the 1940s. This represents the industrialised aspects of LA not represented in the case study films

Space as Nodal

In both the films analysed space is represented as increasingly amorphous and abstract, lives appeared to be increasingly the negotiation of the space between a range of discrete nodes. Shopping space was represented as a modern node in Double Indemnity but we are never familiarised with its location, essentially the location is irrelevant. The shops represented in The Big Sleep are like the offices  inhabiting slightly run down marginalised areas - they sell second-hand and pornographic books – they aren’t the spaces of modernity like department stores. To some extent these are sites of nostalgia for Raymond Chandler, who was involved in the screenplays for both these films later moved away from LA itself. Chandler had sarcastically slighted it as a city which was losing its structure:

“Real cities have something else, some individual bony structure under the muck”. (Chandler cited Dimendberg, 2004 p 170.)

Dimendberg cites a response by Foucault to Rabinow who had noted that architects were no longer the ‘masters of space they once were or thought themselves to be’ (Rabinow cited Dimendberg 2004 p 174).The response which Foucault gave seems to fit perfectly with the above analysis of the representations of space within Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep. Foucault identified three ‘great variables’ which are territory, communication and speed all imbricated with each other in complex ways: “that exceed received understandings of the architectural and usefully define centrifugal space”. (Dimendberg 2004,157).

Given that films noir represent a dis-ease within society it is worth trying to situate the representation of L. A. within a broader framework of models of representation of the city itself. Boyer (1996) identifies three broad models of the city:

These representations of the city can be equated to the traditional, modern and contemporary periods. In many respects Los Angeles has largely missed out on the longer organic growth of this process model of city development.  In the 1870s L.A. was still a small town of little more than 5,000 people. The discovery of oil in 1892 turned L.A. into a boom town and by the middle of the 1920s it was producing nearly a quarter of the world’s oil. As well as this is was associated with the massive boom in film production as Hollywood became the world’s leading film-making place. Both of these industries are referenced in Double Indemnity. Oil is also the basis of General Sternwood’s fortune in The Big Sleep. The massive growth of industry in L.A. during the war meant it was the largest producers of cars outside of Detroit by 1950. It was also a huge centre of migrant labour, yet neither of these films make the slightest verbal or visual reference to these aspects of L.A. therefore the representations of urban space are very selective [10].

. Bunker Hill 1900

Bunker Hill 1900


L.A. is being represented as a city with little collective memory, and Chandler himself was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the city[11]. There is a hint of nostalgia in Double Indemnity when the man from Medford, Oregon says that they take their time to make sure up in Medford, when Keys is questioning him. Keys makes it very clear there is no time in L.A., underpinning Foucault's arguments, and indicative of notions of speed as one vital parameter of emerging city-space. While the city hasn’t existed as a city in the model suggested by Boyer, it seems to have entered the stage associated with the 'City of Panorama', yet only one panoramic view of the Hollywood Bowl was provided in Double Indemnity. The Hollywood Bowl itself shades into the next model of 'City as Spectacle', it appears as though the representations of the city are in transition between the two later types of city suggested by Boyer. Neither industry nor the diverse racial population are represented. In fact the city was founded by Afro-Americans. That was news to me and certainly doesn't appear in films noir as a part of the collective memory!


The City of Panorama

The city of panorama is described by Boyer as:

…the city of soaring skyscrapers and metropolitan extension, a spatial order that when seen from a birds-eye perspective that requested deciphering and reordering.” (p 41)

But this developmental process didn’t happen in Los Angeles in the way it had happened in other cities. The city hall completed in 1928 remained the tallest building in Los Angeles until 1964; height limitations were imposed because of the fear of earthquakes. At the time of the making of these case study films the City Hall was physically prominent and not ‘dwarfed’[12] by its surroundings. Yet this public monument, which was clearly centripetal in design, was specifically denied by the films  underscoring their centrifugal mode of the representation of space.

LA dowtown 2005

Above LA Downtown 2005

Los Angeles was never subjected to the disciplined vision of Le Corbusier; geology had contributed to its specific development because it has been built near a significant fault-line making earthquakes an ever-present danger. LA then is “celebrated as the prototypical contemporary place”. (Boyer p47):

Los Angeles fails to offer the traveller a series of city tableaux, framed sites ruled by the lines of perspectival space. A non-place, existing in a state of constant flux and interfaces becomes a new synthetic time-space…


City of Spectacle

The city of spectacle, argues Boyer, is a city of appropriations of historic styles, bounded by nodes within ‘an urban composition criss-crossed by highways and invisible electronic circuitry.’ (Boyer p 47). Spectacle here is linked to the work of Guy Debord and is related to the notion that vision is elevated in order to deceive[13]. By comparison Foucault, writing polemically against Debord, argued that contemporary society was based upon technologies of surveillance[14].

But Foucault’s opposition of surveillance and spectacle seems to overlook how the effects of these two regimes can coincide’. Crary (1994 p18)

Dimendberg’s arguments about the representations of urban space in films noir can’t really be fully justified on the basis of case studies of just these two films. It is also problematic that these films were both strongly influenced by Raymond Chandler who had his own particular perspectives on the nature of Los Angeles and the rapid urban changes it was undergoing. Some historical aspects of Los Angeles have been used as it is clear that its growth and the way urban space developed has been different to cities such as New York or Chicago and of course major European capitals.


Why such Pessimism about Los Angeles? Subjectivity & the Category of 'Noir'

There is an enigma of why there a pessimistic vision of LA created in these two films. Perhaps it is the critical construction of these films originally started by French critics -coming from a radically destabilised position- discussing them as 'noir' rather than as straightforward crime thrillers which has created a problem of analysis by distorting the field of vision?

Importantly both the films have redemptive aspects to them refuting accusations of ‘pessimism’. In The Big Sleep Sam Spade seems to have got his girl. another aspect of Sam spade is that he is honest at heart, he is trustworthy but he is also anti-bureaucratic. The audience can identify with him because the ends justify the means which sometimes means being unconventional to get to 'the truth'.  In Double Indemnity Neff recognises the power of true love and enables Zachette to reunite with Lola. Neff has failed to kill his substitute father figure Keys who forgives him in the closing scene. If a critical analysis can ignore for a moment the title of “film noir” and see these films as thrillers with specific target audiences the representation of Walter and Phyllis becomes one of two aspirants desperately trying to make it by taking short cuts rather than following the protestant ethic: lured by spectacle they become victims of surveillance technologies in the Foucaultian sense. The world of the Big Sleep is a different class world in which there are still people still trying to ‘make it by short cuts’ who all lose in the end. The world of the gambling club bears an indirect witness to the rapidly growing economy of LA. This is where the new money is being spent and the new upper-middle classes are emerging. Both films represent Los Angeles in a way that privileges the centrifugal over the centripetal and arguably represents spatially the roots of the postmodern city avant la lettre.


Webliography

Catapano, Peter Film Philosophy December 2006: Review of Dimendberg, Edward. 2004. Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge (Mass) Harvard

Downey, Dara. Film Philosophy December 2006: Dimendberg, Edward. 2004. Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge (Mass) Harvard


Bibliography.

Boyer, Christine. 1996. The City of Collective Memory. Cambridge (Mass): MIT

Castells, Manuel. 1996. The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Blackwell

Clarke, David B. Ed. 1997.The Cinematic City. London: Routledge

Copjec, Joan.Ed.1993.Shades of Noir. London: Verso

Copjec, Joan. 1993. The Phenomenal Nonphenomenal. Copjec, Joan.Ed.1993.Shades of Noir. London: Verso

Crary, Jonathan. 1994. Techniques of the Observer. Cambridge (Mass): MIT

Dimendberg, Edward. 2004. Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge (Mass) Harvard

Jameson, Frederic. 1993. The Synoptic Chandler. Copjec, Joan.Ed.1993.Shades of Noir. London: Verso

Rykwert, Joseph. 2000. The Seduction of Place. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Vernet, Marc. 1993. ‘Film Noir on the Edge of Doom’. Copjec, Joan.Ed.1993.Shades of Noir. London: Verso

TV Documentaries

City of Quartz: by Mike Davis. Channel 4 TV documentary 1991.

Los Angeles the Postmodern City: by Edward Soja. Open University: Department of Geography. 1993.



[1] Vernet 1993 p 2 points out that ‘…recall that, by those in charge of publicity at the time of its release, Gilda and films like it at the time were presented as ‘romantic melodrama’.

[2] Vernet (1993, p 14) points to 5 problematic areas in the construction of film noir as a critical category. Elsewhere in the article he challenges the cinematic techniques used such as ‘expressionist lighting’. Vernet also points out that the original list of films noir by Borde & Chaumeton only had 22 films on it. Silver & Ward writing several years later had several hundred.

[3] Wilder was an Austrian émigré who was involved in making an ethnographically based film of the city People on a Sunday made in Berlin in the summer of 1929 when optimism abounded and the industrial economy in Germany (not the rural) was still expanding. Only a few weeks later the German economy entered into a dramatic downward cycle emanating from the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. Howard Hawks was an all- American established director and had made Scarface a key film in the 1930s American gangster cycle which represented the city very differently.


[4] There is not the space here to compare representations in film noir of L. A. and New York. Each city has its own specificities.

[5] It was in post-war Germany and Soviet Russia where representations of the city in relation to the underlying tensions and hopes for modernity were first explored. Metropolis (1926 released 1927) from Fritz Lang marked a transition from the anti-modern expressionist cycle representing the literal layering of city-spaces from the Elysian heights of the elites to the catacombs of the ancient city. Lang’s representation ended in a populist appeal for a more understanding society with mediators. Walter Ruttman an avant-garde artist brought out Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). This represented the city as a space of rhythms in a documentary form but avoided social issues. Dziga Vertov’s far more political film Man With a Movie Camera (1929) celebrated the city space of modernity and identified it as a space of progress building a better future.


[6]This was the period when America underwent a period of rapid change. There were many tensions to overcome, the demobilisation of millions of service personnel and their re-employment, the re-settling of women who had been providing the industrial labour needed to run the war and as well as this the reconstruction of American cities which had an infrastructure that had been deteriorating rapidly because there had been a lack of investment because of war and the preceding depression. Nevertheless LA at this time was a boomtown which had done extremely well out of the war and it became a major beneficiary of the long post-war economic boom.

[7] Later the planner and geographer Manuel Castells would identify the construction of these cities as a fundamental aspect of Informational Society summed up in his ideas of ‘the space of flows’ and ‘timeless time’.

[8] Crary (1994) notes that Foucault as well as writing about new disciplinary regimes to create a modern subject coincide with the development of industrialisation he also describes the role of the newly constituted sciences in regulating the behaviour of subjects “crucial to the development of these new disciplinary techniques of the subject was the fixing of quantitative and statistical norms of behaviour”. (Crary 1994, p 15). Copjec (1993 b pp167-172) spends some time discussing the reference to actuarial tables in relation to Foucault

[9] Frederic Jameson (1993 p43) points out that Chandler frequently represents gambling clubs in his novels. These function as a subcategory of “ the gradual enlargement of the private club or casino into the whole closed enclave of the private development with its gates and private police”.

[10] Copjec (1993 b p 185) draws attention to the range of ‘social’ policies encouraging suburban expansion and ethnic and racial segregation which was mainly mandated by the Federal Housing Administration founded in 1934. The representations in the two case studies create a spatial absence perhaps linked to these policies.

[11] Jameson (1993 p 37) argues that Chandler is ‘the least politically correct of our modern writers’ and ‘faithfully gives vent to everything racist, sexist, homophobic, and otherwise socially resentful and reactionary in the American collective unconscious…”

[12] Rykwert (2000 p 132) makes similar points to Boyer in his chapter “Flight From the City: Lived Space and Virtual Space” although he doesn’t differentiate so precisely between the historical characteristics of each phase.

[13] “since the spectacle’s job is to cause a world that is no longer directly perceptible to be seen via different specialised mediations, it is inevitable that it should elevate the human sense of sight to the special place once occupied by touch; the most abstract of the senses, and the most easily deceived, sight is naturally the most readily adaptable to present day society’s generalised abstraction”. (Debord, cited Crary 1994 p 19)

[14] Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance… we are neither in the amphitheatre nor on stage but in the Panoptic machine.” (Foucault cited Crary 1994 p 17)


August 17, 2008

Julie Walters

Walters Thats another story cover

Cover from Julie Walters 2008 Autobiography




Julie Walters

Return to British Women Actors

Under Development

This entry is still under development, however the links might well prove useful for those studying Women and Film particularly in relation to stars and star theory. If you are citing this URL plase ensure that you take the dats accessed as it will be very dynamic over the coming weeks with many changes.

Biographical Details

Date of birth: February 22, 1950
Place of birth: Birmingham, England
Category: Actor
Nationality: British


Introduction

Julie Walters is a paradoxical figure in that she is both star and celebrity yet she is also Everywoman. Enormously popular in the UK Julie Walters first started out in TV comedy before landing her first film role as Rita in Educating Rita. Although this brought to the attention of international movie makers Walters has largely eschewed Hollywood remaining on the British acting scene working across mainstream theatre and TV drama as well as playing roles in many films. Her performances are always fully committed but are often characters associated with warmth, directness and  wit.  Her  Britishness is  far away from the Home Counties model and the heritage industry style of film populated by actors such as Helena Bonham-Carter and increasingly Kiera Knightley. The characters Walters plays are associated very much with ordinary people who are working class or lower middle class. In this sense Walters can be said to represnt a far more realistic version of Britain than many of her fellow actors. This may well account for the estem with which she is commonly held.


Filmography

  • 2008 - Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince
  • 2008 - Mamma Mia!
  • 2007 - Becoming Jane
  • 2007 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • 2006 - Driving Lessons
  • 2005 - Wah-Wah
  • 2004 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • 2003 - Calendar Girls
  • 2002 - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • 2001 - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • 2001 - Before You Go
  • 2000 - Billy Elliot
  • 1998 - Titanic Town
  • 1997 - Girls' Night
  • 1995 - Intimate Relations
  • 1994 - Sister My Sister
  • 1992 - Just Like a Woman
  • 1991 - Stepping Out
  • 1989 - Killing Dad
  • 1988 - Buster
  • 1987 - Personal Services
  • 1987 - Prick Up Your Ears
  • 1985 - Car Trouble
  • 1984 - She'll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas
  • 1983 - Educating Rita
  • 1976 - Occupy!


Webliography


Screeonline: Julie Walters


BBC Drama Faces: Julie Walters


Mail Online: Serialisation of Walters Autobiography


Guardian: Walters to appear in "A Short Stay in Switzerland". Euthanasia TV Drama.


BBC: Walters wins 2002 Bafta Award


Bibliography



Return to British Women Actors


Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton (1960-)

Tilda Swinton Cinema of Dreams Nairn

Tilda Swinton My Space: The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of DreamsTilda Swinton.net



Return to British Women Actors


See Also Stars & Star Theory



Introduction

I returned from holiday on Aug 16th which coincidently is the day that actor Tilda Swinton, along with Mark Cousins a  curator of the Edinburgh Film Festival have started their own film festival in Nairn a small town in Scotland where she lives called Cinema of Dreams. Tilda Swinton is undoubtedly one of the most interesting actresses working mainly in Britain since the early 1980s. In the last few years she has taken on work in mainstream cinema as well as working with independent film makers  who are politically and aesthetically more cutting edge and avante garde. This has helped her to broaden her approach to film-making rather then compromise her more rebellious attitudes to the dominant political and aesthetic norms. This year she became an Oscar winner, she is also patron of the Edinburgh Film Festival and has sat on the jury at Cannes. 

Starting a new small scale festival is an exciting departure and chimes brilliantly with some of my own thoughts  about the need to create policy initiatives which encourage and develop  audiences  and a  love  of  cinema  in which cinema going is deemed as an important cultural activity as it is in much of mainland Europe. All too often the festivals which get covered in the media are primarily market mechanisms rather than an expression of the love of film itself.  In the 1980s and 1990s Swinton was very much associated with the politically and artistically radical sections of theatre, film and TV. Swinton has often chosen to work with directors in Germany and France and has been openly critical of the British cinema as it has dveloped under New Labour which she sees as trying to emphasise an industrial agenda rather than one driven by the aesthetic and critical desires of audineces and those who wish to work outside of the mainstream.

In recent years it has been somewhat of a surprise for many to see her playing a role in the screen adaptations of the C. S. Lewis Narnia novels. Swinton is asked about this in a BBC interview, her response focuses upon the different styles of creativity between a blockbuster and smaller independent films. The Observer Know your Narnia Books glossary describes Tilda Swinton's Jadis as follows:


T is for Tilda Swinton

Whose extraordinary face makes her perfect for the White Witch, and yet there's something oddly missing. Usually an evil woman in myth has a dangerously sexual element to her power. But since her adversaries are children and animals, that sexual weapon becomes redundant, and the result is a little bland



YouTube interview with Tilda Swinton on winning an Oscar for best supporting actress in Michael Clayton:



Profile Summary

Coming from a well off background Tilda Swinton attended had a privately funded education as a child. She gained four A levels and had an interest in theatre and performance. she went to Africa for two years after leaving . She then attended New Hall, Cambridge, a women's, college from 1980 to 1983, studying social and political science and English Literature. At university she became involved in more politically oriented and punk influenced productions. After leaving university this experience helped her to join the RSC where she played in 4 minor roles. This type of institution didn't suit her radicalised approach at the time and she left  returning to Edinburgh to  join the Traverse Theatre which was and is primarily concerned with contemporary plays.  She played in The White Rose a politically oriented play about the role of women in the Soviet Union and their resistance to the Nazis. Here she first met her future husband John Byrne. At the time Byrne was a set designer for White Rose being a talented playwrite and painter.


By the mid-1980s she started to work with Derek Jarman who made many of the most challenging of British films at the time such as Sebastiane taking on issues of homosexual desire, he also made Jubilee as a punk take on the Queeen's 25th anniversary celebratory year.  Swinton first worked with him on Caravaggio and later worked on most of the rest of Jarman's films such a The Last of England an excoriating examination of Britain under Thatcher and also The Garden, Wittgenstein (1993) and then Edward II and providing the narration for Blue. She also worked with Sally Potter as the lead in Orlando (1992) based upon the book by Virginia Wolff.

Swinton has also had a good working relationship with John Maybury appearing in both his screen adaptation for TV of Man to Man which Swinton had starred in as a stage play. Much later she would apear in Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998) a controversial film produced by the BBC and part funded by the National Lottery about the life of painter Francis Bacon.

Swinton increasingly took up work in the USA and appeared in films such as The Beach and Vanilla Sky becoming more familiar to American audiences. This undoubtedly helped her chances of being offered the role of Jadis in the Chronicles of Narnia series. 2008 can be seen as  Tilda Swinton's most successful year in terms of international recognition when she won a BAFTA in February  2008 for her  role in Michael Clayton a role in which she also gained an Oscar for best supporting actress. See Tom Brook's BBC America interview with Tilda Swinton.

There has been an ongoing committment to helping to develop Scottish cinema in the films she has acted in such as the low budget thriller The Young Adam alongside Scottish actor Ewan McGregor and directed by Scottish director David Mackenzie set amongst the Glasgow barge community, and written by the avante-garde Scottish author Alexander Trocchi  her patronage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival  and now her  new  festival project in Nairn the Cinema of Dreams. On the Young Adam link in the filmography there is a downloadable interview with her about developments in Scottish Cinema.

Swinton in sleepwalkers

Tilda Swinton in the video installation Sleepwalkers



Swinton's interviews make interesting viewing for she is happy to give the interviewer's a hard time rather than rolling over for an imagined adoring audience. Often she will throw interviewer's sometimes sycophantic questions back at them. She has well thought out views, principles and perspectives and is following a career path which has now diversified into a rich and multilayered one going well beyond acting itself. She likes working with artists on moving image work rather than straightforward films. This was shown in her long collaboration with Derek Jarman as well as work with Sally Potter and then taking a role in the Maybury film about Francis Bacon. One of her most recent collaborations with an artist was on the video installation Sleepwalkers by Doug Aitken. Tilda Swinton is determined to set new challenges for herself and her audiences and dalliances with the mainstream appear to enhance her radical positions rather than compromise them.



Filmography



Film Title
Year  of Production
Director
Producer
Country of Production
Caravaggio 1986 Derek Jarman

UK
Zastrozzi: A Romance  1986


The Open Universe
1986


Egomania - Insel Ohne Hoffnung 1986


Friendship's Death
1987


Aria
1987


Degrees Of Blindness (short)
1987


L'Ispirazione
1988


The Last Of England 
1988 Derek Jarman
UK
War Requiem
1989


Edward II
1991 Derek Jarman
UK
The Party  1991


The Garden  1990 Derek Jarman

UK
Orlando
1992
Sally Potter

UK
Blue (voice)  1993 Derek Jarman

UK
Wittgenstein
1993 Derek Jarman

UK
Female Perversions
1996


Conceiving Ada 1997


Love Is The Devil 1998
John Maybury BBC Films
UK
The War Zone 1999


The Beach 2000


Possible Worlds
2000


The Deep End 2001


Vanilla Sky
2001


Teknolust
2002


Adaptation
2002


Young Adam
2003 David Mackenzie


The Statement
2003


Thumbsucker 
2005


Constantine
2005


Broken Flowers
2005


The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe 2005


Stephanie Daley
2006


Sleepwalkers (video installation) 2007 Doug Aitken


The Man From London
2007 Bela Tarr


Michael Clayton [Oscar & BAFTA best supporting actress] 2007

USA
Julia 2008 Erick Zonca


Burn After Reading 2008 Cohen Brothers


The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian  2008


The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button 2008 David fincher


Derek
2008
Isaac Julien








Webliography

Swinton takes on Cannes with cup cakes and Scottish rain By Jonathan Brown Independent Saturday, 16 August 2008


Peter Ross The Scotsman chatting with Tilda Swinton Aug 2008 at The Cinema of Dreams


BBC on Tilda Swinton's Oscar Nomination for her role in  Michael  Clayton.


Screenonline Tilda Swinton Profile


Tiscali Biography of Tilda Swinton


Presskit from Sony for The Young Adam


Guardian review of Young Adam and associated pages


Sight & Sound review of The Young Adam


Bibliography


Return to British Women Actors


See Also Stars & Star Theory


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