State of the Nation: Watching British Films

By Clay, Andrew | Post Script, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

State of the Nation: Watching British Films


Clay, Andrew, Post Script


At the end of 20081 began a blog project to document what I subtitled "an out and about adventure in the British cinemascape." (1) I figured that because I had asked my digital culture and technology class to write a blog to learn about blogging, that I should do so too. A blog is an online journal used for many purposes and contexts, but mainly for people to be creative and share that creativity with others. What we all learned about blogging is that it is quite time consuming and demands a certain amount of regular commitment. The web is cluttered with the debris of abandoned or forgotten online journals that have proven to be more trouble than they are worth.

I chose to write a topic-driven blog about my attempt to go to local cinemas mainly in Leicester, my place of work, to watch British films. Leicester is a reasonably-sized city of about 300,000 people situated in the UK in the English East Midlands and distinguished by a sizable and mature Asian immigration settlement. Leicester has a specialist Asian cinema, Piccadilly Cinema, which shows English language films, but specializes in the exhibition of Indian 'Bollywood' films. Leicester is also well-served in terms of multiplex and multi-screen cinema. The newest is the Showcase Cinema De Lux (listing about 14 films daily), opened in 2009 on the site of the city's largest shopping center (mall). Slightly more out of the center on a leisure and supermarket site is an Odeon (also listing about 14 films daily) and further out, Vue Cinemas (listing about 12 films daily). However, these multiplexes tend to triplicate the same dozen or so films, offering a choice of starting times for the same film rather than a diversity of provision. There is also the City Cinema, a three-screen independent exhibitor, but currently closed. Finally, there is an art cinema, the Phoenix Arts, a single screen theatre that was unfortunately closed during the summer of 2009 while being relocated to another site in the city and expanded to three screens as a 'film and digital media' venue now called Phoenix Square.

The topic of my blog was my mission to watch every British feature fiction film (that is, excluding documentary) that was given any kind of theatrical release, large or small, during 2009--or in effect, as many of them that would be available and that I could manage to see. I did not know exactly how many films that might be, but that was part of my self-education. I guessed about 60, but in the end the figure turned about to be much higher--91. As a 'fortysomething' who had stopped going to the cinema beyond once every few months and someone who rented at least 40 films a year on DVD, I knew this was going to be a significant lifestyle tweak. I wondered if 'going out' would be the new 'staying in'? It was not, and in 20101 could be found once more back on the sofa watching rental DVDs, mainly catching up on over 30 British films that I was unable to see theatrically the previous year.

The reaction from most people to whom I mentioned what I was doing was that, given the reputation of British film, I was in for a year of masochistic suffering. They were not wrong, on the whole. There are many British films that do not merit wider distribution, but equally many that deserve to be more widely seen and supported by such measures as building audiences for 'British national cinema.' My viewing 'adventure' was not a normal way of cinema-going, but that was its appeal. It was a 'completist' project designed to learn about the 'state' of British cinema, and not governed by more usual questions of taste and appeal. Yearly UK cinema admissions have plateaued around 160-170 million (173.5m in 2009) (UK Film Council 9), so that if an average cinema-goer exists, they go to the cinema 2.8 times per year (UK Film Council 68). I hoped that I would learn something about film exhibition in the UK and the qualities of British film, and I did. I wondered if the cinema experience was something to be valued. …

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