Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain

Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain

Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain

Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain

Synopsis

What does it mean to talk about a "national" cinema? To what extent can British cinema, dominated for so many years by Hollywood, be considered a national cinema? Andrew Higson investigates these questions from a historical point of view. Challenging the received wisdoms of British cinema history, and combining detailed analyses of film texts from the early 1920s to the 1940s with studies of industrial and cultural contexts, Waving the Flag is an impressive and wide-ranging survey of the concept of national cinema.

Excerpt

At the turn of the century, British film-makers were among the most enterprising in the world. By the First World War, this initiative had been lost to the American film industry and, ever since, British screens have been dominated by Hollywood films. Various measures have been adopted by British film-makers, the film industry, the state, and various self-appointed guardians of the film culture in an effort to establish and maintain a national cinema in the face of this competition. In the pages that follow, I will be exploring some of the more pervasive cultural and economic forms that this construction of a national cinema has taken.

The materials with which I will be dealing include films, the industry which produces and presents those films, and the culture which consumes them--in particular what I call the intellectual film culture. One of my central arguments is that critical discourses do not simply describe an already existing national cinema, but that they themselves produce the national cinema in their utterances. This is not to deny that the film industry has produced a huge range of films over the years. Of course it has, but descriptions of British cinema as a national cinema do not generally attempt to embrace all such activity. On the contrary, they tend to be far more selective in promoting one particular reading of British cinema over others. Similarly, representations of the nation in British films are not reflections of the actual formation of the nation-state, but rather ideological constructions of 'the nation', a publicly imagined sense of community and cultural space. Another of my concerns here will be to examine the sorts of representations which have dominated at least certain traditions of British cinema.

The core of the book is made up of three detailed case-studies which explore different but often interdependent areas of British film practice which have in various ways been interpreted as models for the construction of a national cinema in Britain. The case-studies illustrate different strategies for attempting to secure or maintain a significant and profitable share of the film market. One such strategy has been competition with Hollywood as the international market leader by attempting to emulate its films. Another strategy has been the differentiation of British films from Hollywood, sometimes by drawing on specifically British popular cultural traditions, sometimes by attempting to establish some form of art cinema.

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