British Identities

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A look at how British Identity is constructed by stereotypes, images and ideas

Text of British Identities

  • 1. FM2 British Cinemas, British Identities

2. Who Are We? Britain and England are not the same. Britain = England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland. Regional identities. Ethnic identities. Im British but . 3. Identity Crisis? Who are we??? Identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty. (Kobena Mercer, quoted in Modernity and its Futures, Stuart Hall, Polity 1992). 4. Components of the Crisis Globalisation. Europe. Northern Ireland/North of Ireland. Devolution. Ethnicity. 5. Culture and National Identity A nation does not express itself through its culture: it is cultural apparatuses that produce the nation. (James Donald, Sentimental Education, Verso 1992). The nation is not just a collection of institutions, it is a system of cultural representations, a symbolic community. The media play a key role in this system: Through Brit film we have become known for heroin abuse, bowler hats, chimney sweeps, crime capers and Football hooliganism 6. Nations and Stories Nations and peoples are largely the stories they feed themselves. (Ben Okri, Birds of Heaven, Phoenix 1996). The life of nations no less than that of men is lived largely in the imagination. (Enoch Powell, quoted in The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, Profile Books 2000). Nations as imagined communities. The world has a different view of the British established by its Film exports: What do our films say about us? 7. What do you think this means???What is British?What does it mean toyou? 8. Is this not British?? 9. British Cinema How British is it? Is it cinema? Commercial and cultural. 10. The Heritage Industry Key texts: The Heritage Industry, Robert Hewison, Methuen 1987; On Living in an Old Country, Patrick Wright, Verso 1985. Heritage culture imagines the community in a very particular way. Closely linked to the Thatcherite project of making Britain great again and returning to Victorian values. 11. Heritage Culture One of the most powerful imaginative constructs of our time (Raphael Samuel, Patriotism, Routledge 1989). Backward-looking, nostalgic. Rural. White Focussed on the upper classes. English, and frequently southern. A laundered, sanitised past. The glamour of backwardness (Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, Vintage 1994). 12. Heritage Culture Heritage representations function as lures which oppose their brilliance to the more tawdry and divided experience of contemporary Britain (Patrick Wright). National Heritage is the backward glance taken from the edge of a vividly imagined abyss (Patrick Wright). 13. Heritage Culture Not since the 1890s or the 1930s has the worship of wistfulness been so widespread. And there in part lies the explanation; then, as now, depression is the begetter of nostalgia (David Cannadine, quoted in Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory, Verso 1994). One of the marks of the feudal ancien regime was that the dead governed the living. A mark of a decrepit political system must surely be that a fictitious past of theme parks and costume dramas governs the present (Neal Ascherson, quoted in ibid). 14. Heritage Cinema and Television Chariots of Fire (1981) The work of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant (Howards End (1992), Room With a View (1986) etc.) Brideshead Revisited (1981,Granada Television). 15. Heritage Cinema and Television Continuing the tradition of the historical film, the costume drama and the tv classic serial. Connotations of quality and high culture. A country house version of Englishness Loving re-creation of period details. The past is delivered as a museum of sounds and images (Andrew Higson in British Cinema and Thatcherism, Lester Friedman (ed.), UCL Press 1993). 16. Heritage Cinema and Television Settings play as great a role as character and action. The visuals are frequently seductive and self- consciously aesthetic. Narrative is transformed into spectacle, which becomes an end in itself. Like a lovely day out in some National Trust property (Sunday Telegraph review of Pride and Prejudice (1995)). All the classic ingredients are here; the exquisite period settings, breathtaking photography and a superb cast (video cover of Maurice (1987)). 17. Post-Heritage Historical Cinema Historical cinema was sexed up and re- branded as part of the Cool Brittannia wave of the mid to late 90s: Braveheart (1995). The Madness of King George (1997). Elizabeth (1998). Shakespeare in Love (1999). 18. Re-branding Britain We must not define ourselves solely in terms of the past, or tradition, or what we have inherited. Culture and personal and national identity are every bit as much if not more about the future as they are about the past (Chris Smith, former Culture Minister, Creative Britain, Faber 1998). 19. Re-branding Britain When we try to understand how our national culture and sense of identity intertwine, let us remember first and foremost that diversity is one of the key ingredients of both that culture and that identity (Smith). 20. Young People Trainspotting (1996). Twin Town (1996) Human Traffic (1999). These films also represent aspects of Britishness other than Englishness. 21. The Underclass The work of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Brassed Off (1996). The Full Monty (1997). Nil by Mouth (1997). 22. Ethnic Communities Most modern cultures consist of a number of different and distinct cultures and stories. It has been suggested (in the report The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain) that Britain is best regarded as a community of communities. Multi-culturalism and the legacy of 9/11. Cinemas and televisions generally liberal stance on ethnicity contrasts strikingly with the illiberal views expressed by much of the press on this issue. 23. Cool Britannia With the arrival of New Labour in Britain there was an upswing in re-branding Britain as a cool place to be reflected in its culture (music and art as well as film) this led to films which moved away from the more gritty traditional Brit Film and followed the more American-friendly path of Four Weddings & a Funeral. Such projects led to further professional interest in British film and more financial investment from both local and international sources. 24. Ethnic Communities My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). My Son the Fanatic (1997) East is East (1999). The work of Gurinder Chadha. Yasmin (2004). 25. British Cinema Today Hollywood films account for over 70% of British box-office takings. The most commercially successful British films of the last 15 years - Four Weddings and a Funeral, Trainspotting, The Full Monty, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Notting Hill, Billy Elliot, Bridget Jones Diary - have either received funding and/ or distribution from US companies. Working Title films are distributed by Universal. British studios (Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesdon) frequently provide facilities and personnel for Hollywood films (e.g. Gladiator, Tomb Raider). 26. The UK Film Council The UK Film Council (UKFC) was set up in 2000 by the Labour Government as a Non departmental body to develop and promote the film industry in the UK. It is constituted as a private company limited by guarantee governed by a board of 15 directors and is funded through sources including the Lotto. In its own words, the aim of UKFC is: To stimulate a competitive, successful and vibrant UK film industry and culture, and to promote the widest possible enjoyment and understanding of cinema throughout the nations and regions of the UK. UKFC has a mandate that spans cultural, social and economic priorities.