More recently, a number of historians have argued that the Act was much more successful in supporting the British industry than had previously been supposed. Not only were many of the films produced by British companies highly popular with audiences 11 , but also the experience and opportunities offered to young British film-makers and actors in the s helped to nurture a generation who went on to form the bedrock of the British film industry for decades to come.
Their brand of blind patriotism and anti-intellectualism, however, was never far below the surface of both popular and official opinion in inter-war Britain. Eliot or the theories of Karl Marx, the higher-ups would see to it that you were kept out of any important job. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. Further, the journals which Orwell cites as the principal organs of the intellectual left, the New Statesman and the News Chronicle, were precisely those in which such critics wrote.
A letter published in the Times in captured the essence of the argument concisely:. No close study of films and talkies is needed to convince one that the British point of view is neglected oversea [s]. The backward races within the Empire can gain more and suffer more from the film than the sophisticated European, because to them the power of the visual medium is intensified.
Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain
The conception of white civilisation which they are receiving from third-rate melodrama is an international menace, yet the film is an agent of social education which could be as powerful for good as for harm. A successful British film industry, so the argument ran, would open up new export markets for UK firms across the economy. Whatever the merits of this argument as an explanation for declining UK industrial performance, it seemed to hold some sway at the Board of Trade.
It was indicated that the cinema is the most universal means through which national ideas and national atmosphere could be spread Apart from the national aspect, there was also the importance of the cinema to our trade abroad from the advertising point of view Foreign flags, foreign styles and foreign habits are impressed upon their minds. From the points of view above given it was submitted by the President of the Board of Trade, in introducing the Bill, that the need for the development of British films, from a national and a trade point of view was firmly established.
The formation of the Film Society in London in and the establishment of journals such as Close-Up and Cinema Quarterly provided the platform for a more intellectual appreciation of film as an art form in Britain. By the mids there was an established body of critics writing seriously about film not only in specialist journals but also in the national press. This body of opinion had not featured prominently in debates surrounding the Cinematograph Act, but they certainly exerted an influence on how that legislation was subsequently judged.
Until at least the s, therefore, most film historians were prepared to accept that the British industry had produced few feature films of note in the s, and that the so-called golden age of British cinema in the s was based largely on the work of a few directors such as David Lean, Carol Reed and Michael Powell and the occasional gem from Ealing studios. From this perspective the effect of the Cinematograph Act was hardly impressive.
Film production may have increased in the s, but the films themselves were much maligned and added little of cultural significance. By allocating approximately a quarter of all screen time in cinemas for the showing of British films, a market was created for small or medium budget British films directed at a domestic audience. The UK market was simply not large enough to justify big-budget productions that may have been able to rival the top Hollywood films for international popularity.
British film studios were not able to guarantee international distribution for their films, regardless of how much they spent on production. Far from enabling the British film industry to challenge the international supremacy of Hollywood, the Act did not even bring to an end the American dominance of the domestic market. Around three-quarters of screen time continued to be taken up by American films. Yet failure to achieve these over ambitious goals should not obscure the real advances made as a direct result of the Act.
In only 36 films were made in Britain constituting just 5 per cent of cinema releases. Ten years later the British film industry was churning out over films per year. By this time the industry had become much more concentrated, along American lines, with the formation of two large vertically integrated combines.
The Gaumont-British Picture Corporation and the Associated British Picture Corporation could not rival the major Hollywood studios, but within Britain at least were able to combine the functions of production, distribution and exhibition and thus guarantee an outlet for their films in their own chains of cinemas. A number of low quality films were made often by British subsidiaries of American companies that were intended to do little more than satisfy quota requirements.
For the most part, however, British studios, working within tight financial constraints, were able maintain a steady output of low budget films that audiences were happy to watch. The failure of the Act, therefore, was not a failure to encourage the development of a domestic film industry, it was a failure to develop an industry with international cultural influence.
In public the politicians continued to use bold and ambitious language, but behind this lay a recognition that Britain could not compete on equal terms with Hollywood. After years in which industry had been geared towards supporting the war effort, the transition to peacetime economic realities was a slow and difficult process. In short, the British had been living off imports for which they could no longer afford to pay. If the Treasury was not to run out of dollars the consumption of American goods had to be cut back.
Age Dream Palace Cinema Society by Richards Jeffrey
Unsurprisingly, under the circumstances, the popularity of Hollywood entertainment increasingly came to be viewed in official circles as an unaffordable luxury. In there were In it was estimated that the earnings of American films in the U. As the cinema became more of a social necessity, it also became a greater economic burden. In August the axe fell. An ad-valorem tax was imposed on the import of foreign films.
Until this point governments had sought to protect and support the British film industry without depriving audiences of the opportunity to see American films. The ad-valorem duty, however, made no such attempt to balance the interests of producers, exhibitors and audiences.
Philip French's screen legends: No 5: Gracie Fields | Film | The Guardian
The duty was introduced as a crisis measure. The decision between Bogart and bacon had been made, and the government had opted for the latter. In the years prior to the duty, British films made up barely a quarter of all those shown in British cinemas.
There was simply not the money, skill-base nor studio space within Britain to increase film production from around films a year to over Nowhere was this more keenly felt than among cinema exhibitors. The majority of British cinemas at this time were not owned by major companies, but belonged to small, locally managed chains, or were completely independent. To the managers and proprietors of these halls the loss of a regular supply of American films was a very serious threat indeed.
State Department, which argued that the import duty was totally against the letter and the spirit of the Vinson loan agreement, the duty was eventually removed. Much to the annoyance of the Americans, Wilson also decided to set a new quota of British films to be shown in cinemas at 45 per cent.
Certainly, there were those who felt aggrieved by the deal. When a U.
Embassy official visited the Foreign Office in August , hoping for at least some gesture of goodwill regarding the films quota, it was put to him that:. We were bound to take all the steps open to us to build up film production in this country if our film supply was not to be at the mercy of our dollar situation. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Temporarily Out of Stock Online Please check back later for updated availability.
Overview The period between the two world wars is often named 'the golden age of the cinema' in Britain. This definitive and entertaining book on the cinema and cinema-goers of the era is herewith reissued with a new Introduction. Jeffrey Richards, described by Philip French as 'a shrewd critic, a compulsive moviegoer, and a professional historian', tells the absorbing story of the cinema during the decade that produced Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, the musicals of Jessie Matthews and Alexander Korda's epics.
At the other end of the spectrum, it was blamed for the emergence of the "quota quickie". The quota quickies were mostly low-cost, low-quality, quickly-accomplished films commissioned by American distributors active in the UK or by British cinema owners purely to satisfy the quota requirements.
But, in recent years, an alternative view has arisen among film historians such as Lawrence Napper, who have argued that the quota quickie has been too casually dismissed and is of particular cultural and historical value because it recorded performances unique to British popular culture such as music hall and variety acts , which would not have been filmed under normal economic circumstances.
The act was modified by the Cinematograph Films Act , removing films shot by nations in the British Empire from the quota and further acts, and it was eventually repealed by the Films Act From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Namespaces Article Talk.