Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A British Picture

According to bequiffed British film critic Mark Kermode, "Ken Russell's mum used to have this phrase; 'Is it a British picture?' And what she meant by that was, 'Is it full of people doing the washing up, in black-and-white, in Ealing'"

British cinema was frequently caricatured as a damp, drab, kitchen-sink counterpoint to more exciting and glamourous Hollywood fare. But while Mrs Russell was simply reflecting the dominant view of the time in which she was living - the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s - nobody today has the same excuse.

The question, 'what is British cinema?' is harder to answer than one might think. Is a British film one that passes the UK Film Council 'Cultural Test'? Is it a film that is made in Britain by a British cast and crew using British money? Or is it something else entirely? One thing I know for sure is that the kind of films which tend to be trumpetted as examplars of British cinema - either period/costume dramas, films about the royal family or films starring Hugh Grant - present a nostalgic, soppy, sentimental view that I, as a Brit and as a film fan, find faintly embarrassing.

If we are going to compete in a competitive cultural landscape, we have got to put our best foot forward, and I would argue that the best of way of doing that is to champion the work of the many maverick direcors who have given British cinema a unique voice, not found anywhere. The likes of Powell & and Pressburger, David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock (before he moved to Hollywod), Lindsay Anderson, Nicholas Roeg, Mike Hodges, Stanley Kubrick (I'm claiming him), Terry Gilliam (yes, him too), Alex Cox, Danny Boyle, Michael Winterbottom and Shane Meadows. Ken Russell himself, of course, made the kinds of films that aim a cannonball at the rigging of the British cinema establishment, splintering it into a million little pieces . Tommy, The Devils and The Music Lovers, among many others, are all filled with sex, violence and Catholic imagery.

While British cinema rarely has the polished sheen of its trans-Atlantic cousin, like that sweater your grandmother knitts for you every Christmas, you almost like it all the more for its baggy, ill-fitting, hand-made charm. It is precisely that sometimes ramshackle quality that I want to celebrate, by bringing to people's attention films that are perhaps less widely known, in the hope that I might reinvigorate and reclaim the phrase, 'A British Picture'.
lunarpark.blogspot.com - A British Picture - Keyword description


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