Category Archives: British Cinema

Quantitative methods and the study of film

UPDATE: By sheer coincidence the day on which I gave this talk in Glasgow was also the day on which the Korean research on movie types was published online by the Journal of Media Economics. You can find a link to the published paper here.

On 14 and 15 May I gave a talk and a workshop at the University of Glasgow of quantitative methods and the study of film. It was very gratifying to meet a group of researchers who were interested in using, were already using, 0r had used quantitative methods and were looking to develop this more, but were a little tentative about moving forward. One thing that occurred to me on the (long) train journeys back from Glasgow is that there are some researchers out there studying film (and other media) who are ready to kick on with developing their quantitative skills but need a push; someone to tell them that it’s OK to do this, that it’s not completely alien and that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do something that is the ‘core process’ of the discipline. In my talk I argued that a change of mindset away from ‘Film Studies’ to the ‘study of film’ is the first step to adding quantitative methods to our toolbox for understanding the cinema. The second step it seems should be building the confidence of researchers to sustain that momentum. Once you’ve got your toes wet you want to get in the pool – but you might need your arm bands for a few weeks.

No-one from Screen attended the talk or workshop.

The text of my talk can be accessed here:

Nick Redfern – Quantitative methods and the study of film

This talk addresses the analysis of film – its texts, its audiences, its political economy – in higher education, arguing for the abandonment Film Studies as either a subject or a discipline and approaching the cinema as a complex object of inquiry that demands an ecumenical methodological perspective in order that its numerous and various dimensions are fully comprehended. Though used widely by those studying the cinema beyond the narrow methodological confines of Film Studies, quantitative methods are at present underused by film scholars. To fix their place in the study of film and place the study of film in the wider world – particularly the BFI’s recent recognition of the importance of evidence-based policy making – I argue there is much to be gained from the application of quantitative methods in studying film and its audiences, and I illustrate this claim by drawing on a range of empirical studies.

This piece refers to some material available online.

The work on audiences and genre from KAIST can be accessed here: Shon, J.-H., Kim, Y.-G., & Yim, S.-J. (2012) Dissecting Movie Genres from an Audience Perspective: MTI Movie Classification Method, KAIST Business School Working Paper No. 2012-008.

Andrew McGregor Olney’s work on film genres can be accessed here: Olney, A.M. (2013) Predicting film genres with implicit ideals, Frontiers in Psychology 3: 565.

The summary of the 2011 Research and Policymaking symposium can be accessed here: Research and Policymaking for Film – A Symposium, 26 October 2011, Report of the Day.

My account of this symposium was published on this blog a week later and can be found here.

(The rhubarb crumble was also very good – and I say that as someone from Yorkshire were all the world’s rhubarb comes from).

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The Veritiphone system

I have previously written three posts on the efforts of the Leeds inventor Claude Hamilton Verity to develop a synchronisation system for motion pictures using a sound-on-disc system. In 1923 he sailed to America to work with the Vitagraph Film Company, though the result of this collaboration remains unknown. His efforts were reported worldwide but he has disappeared from the history of British cinema. You can read my earlier posts here, here, and here.

I had not thought about Verity for many months until Luke McKernan asked me a question yesterday, and I took the opportunity to have a quick search to see if anything new was available.

Rather wonderfully I have just found a discussion at Gramophone Collecting which has images of two articles. One is by Verity himself written for The Sound Wave 1922 describing his ‘Veritiphone’ system complete with a picture of this unusual machine.There is even a picture of the man with his machine. The other is a description of his efforts.

The original discussion can be found here.

The introduction to the article reads:

We have had an opportunity of testing the acclaimed merits of the Veritiphone. This is the invention of Mr. Claude H. Verity, of Leeds, who has made a deep study of the synchronisation of moving pictures, and who has admittedly accomplished what at one time appeared to be an impossible feat, that of timing the movement of the lips of the speaker  with the recorded speech given coincidentally. The Veritiphone is, indeed, the outcome pure and simple of Mr. Verity’s pursuit of the science of synchronisation.

From this we can infer the Veritphone system worked, performing exactly as Verity claimed and as reported around the world. And yet he is utterly unknown to historians of British cinema.

Here are the images from the forum.

Genre trends in five European countries, 2006 to 2010

This post is an updated and extended piece I wrote last year on genre trends at the box office in five Eurpoean countries with the data cleaned up and new variables considered. Although the numbers have changed slightly from lasty year’s version the orignal conclusions remain valid.

The pdf can be accessed here: Nick Redfern – Genre trends in five European countries

Abstract

This paper analyses box office trends of the genres for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. We find that, generally, the frequency of genres is homogeneous and that the same types of films dominate the highest reaches of the box office charts; while the number of films unique to a country and the variation among production sources within a country is strongly associated with the distinction between international ‘technology-friendly’ films (action/adventure, fantasy/science fiction, and animated family films) and domestically produced ‘technology-unamenable’ genres (comedy, drama, crime/thriller, romance, and non-animated family films). The results suggest the concepts of national cinema and genre are closely interrelated, and that for audiences in these five European countries the decision about which films to see presents itself as a choice between genres that is often also a choice between Hollywood films and domestic films.

 

Genre and European box office, 2006-2010

UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by a revised version that cleans up the data and extends the analysis and should be referred to in place of this. See here for the new version.

To round off a series of posts on genre and box office this August, I look at the frequency of different genres in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – to see what we can learn about different national markets.

For each of the five countries, I accessed the data from Box Office Mojo for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive. (For some reason, Box Office Mojo lists some films twice in the same year if they have slightly different titles; and I removed these duplicates to replace hem with the next film in the box office rankings). This gives a total sample size of 250 films for each country, and a total of 1250 data points overall. Obviously this does not mean we have data on 1250 films because many of the films reached the top 50 in more than one country. Overall, this sample has data on 596 different films.

Usually I use a system of nine categories for sorting films according to genre; but due to the fact that the number of horror films reached double figures for Spain and the UK only (with 11 and 10 films, respectively) and were very small in number for the other countries (France = 2, Germany = 7, and Italy =6), I have put this films into the category of ‘Other.’ Obviously the fact that horror infrequently reaches the top of the box office charts is interesting in itself, as is the French aversion to horror.

The eight categories used are, therefore, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, Family, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Romance, and Other. Alongside Horror films, Other also includes Westerns, War films, Musicals (including concert films), and Documentaries.

First, we look at the frequency of films occurring in each country in each genre (Table 1).

Table 1 Genre frequency in the top 50 grossing films in five countries, 2006-2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of data points for each genre and NOT the number of different films)

Overall, the number of films from each genre to make it into the top 50 films in the five years covered is similar in each country. To test if the proportion of films from each genre was the same in the five countries, I performed a chi-square test of homogeneity (corrected α = 0.0131, based on 8 tests and an experiment-wise error rate of α = 0.10). These results are presented in Table 2, and show that the only statistically significant difference occurs for the comedy genre. Post-hoc analysis of the adjusted standardized residuals (based on a two-tailed critical z-value of 2.5596) revealed that this is due to Spain having fewer comedy films than expected (z = -3.6880), but the effect size for omnibus test is small (V = 0.1122).

Table 2 Chi-square test of homogeneity for the proportion of films in each genre in five countries

With the exception of the missing comedy films in Spain, these five different markets appear to otherwise very similar for each genre. However, this does not mean that audiences in these five countries are necessarily watching the same films.

To find out if the same films were making it into the top 50, I counted the number of times a film featured in the list of films for each genre. For example, if a film only made it into the top 50 in Germany (e.g. Elementarteilchen (Atomised)) then it would appear only in the list of drama films only once, while a film that made it into the top fifty in all five countries (such as one of the Harry Potter films) would appear in the list of Fantasy/Science Fiction films five times. This is a somewhat crude measure, but it does allow us to see some basic commonalities and differences. This information is presented in Table 3.

Table 3 Frequency with which individual films make the top 50 highest grossing films in five countries from 2006 to 2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of different films in each genre in the overall sample)


Table 3 reveals three distinct patterns:

  • Action/Adventure films tend to feature in the lists for four or five different countries (59%). This is the only genre for which this is the case.

Generally, these films a big-budget Hollywood franchise films such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and the like. Just less than a quarter of these films feature in only one list, but even these tend to be Hollywood films (e.g. Watchmen or Resident Evil: Extinction*).

* Resident Evil: Afterlife did much better though, ranking everywhere except the UK.

  • The genres of Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, and Romance and dominated by films that appear in one list only.

If Hollywood is able to dominate the global market with its action movies, then it is much less successful when it comes to these four genres. Comedy, in particular, seems to be very different with 78% of films appearing in the list for only one country. Some of these are individual Hollywood films that have performed well in one country not the others; but many are films that only feature in the list of the country in which they were produced. For example, the series of Christmas comedy films from Italy directed by Neri Parenti has performed exceptionally well in that country: one film has made the top 5 grossing films in each year in the sample, with Natale in crociera (2007) and Natale a Rio (2008) both taking the number 1 ranking. However, these films have not made any impact at the box office in any of the other European countries included here. Four comedy films made it into list of each country (Burn After Reading, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Hangover).

The Crime/Thriller genre features several big-budget Hollywood films that were successful in all five countries (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, No Country for Old Men, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc), but again these five markets are more different than they are similar. Some films that appear only once are Hollywood films (e.g. The Taking of Pelham 123, State of Play – neither of which are as good as the originals); but most are successful only in the country in which they originate. So Un prophète and Ne le dis à personne feature in the French box office charts only; and Gomorra and Milano-Palermo: il ritorno only in the Italian charts.

Only a few drama films appear in the top 50s of all countries (Australia, Blood Diamond, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, and The Pursuit of Happyness), while 73% feature in one list only. Romance films show the same pattern, with only seven (13%) films featuring five times (and three of these are from the Twilight franchise), and 65% of films featuring once only. The drama and romance films that appear once tend to feature only in the country from which they originate, but when drama films do cross borders they go between the continental countries and not tot the UK. For example, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) features in every country except the UK. There does not appear to be the same level of cross-over for the romance films, and when a film from this category appears more than once it tends to be a Hollywood film.

Laughter and love do not apparently travel well – in the cinema at least. And nor do crime and drama. The five markets are much less homogenized in these categories, unlike the Action/Adventure films where they are much more consistent in terms of the films in circulation. This clearly raises question about the extent to which we can speak of the Americanization or globalization of European cinema, as it appears to affect some categories of films more than others.

Finally, the third set of genres:

  • The genres of Family and Fantasy/Science Fiction are split between films that feature in one list only and films that feature in the box office charts of all five countries.

For the family genre, 41% of films feature once and 39% of films feature five times. For the Fantasy/Science Fiction films, the equivalent statistics are 42% and 29%. This suggests that there is a divide in the market for these films. The majority of the films in these two genres are Hollywood blockbusters no matter how many time they occur. But we do see a clear split between films that are broadly successful against films that do not travel across borders so well; especially when it comes to animated family films that perform well in all markets (e.g. Cars, Flushed Away, Ice Age: The Meltdown) alongside several European animated films that appear – yet again – only in the country of their production (e.g. Konferenz der Tiere in Germany, El ratón Pérez in Spain, or Azur et Asmar in France). Separating out the UK is much harder as many of the Hollywood films are produced here anyway.

As Other is a category comprising films from several other genres it makes little sense to speak of trends, but it is interesting to note that the three films that feature in all five lists are High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Inglorious Basterds, and Mamma Mia!

As I said before, this is a crude way of measuring differences in audience taste, and I won’t have a much richer picture until I start to compare the box office gross of films in each country directly. But what the information in the above tables provides is a means of describing the national specificity of film a markets based on the types of in circulation and which achieve the highest box office rankings. There are many similarities between these five countries, but we should want to know why the Spanish do not go and see as many comedy films as the British, Germans, French, and Italians? Why do we all seem to watch the same Action/Adventure films but not the same Drama films? Perhaps the specificity of a national cinema is only evident in some categories of films and not others; or Hollywood has cornered the market on such blockbusters to the exclusion of all other producers. Why, if the audiences in these five countries are watching mostly different Romance films, is the proportion of films from this genre in the 250 films for each country so similar? Is there a common underlying structure to European film a markets? Why did the British not pay to see Resident Evil: Afterlife unlike the rest of Europe? And where are the French horror films?

The romance genre at the box office in five European countries, 2006 to 2010

Assuming I have not been defeated by the rivers Wharfe, Aire, and Ouse I shall today be presenting a paper at the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference in York (though it is entirely possible that I’m stuck in York railway station). Below is the basic text of my presentation from which I will have inevitably digressed enormously. The pdf file is below. This is based on the same data I used in earlier post on genre and European box office although it has been cleaned up a little so the results are slightly different, though this does not have any impact on the conclusions.

Nick Redfern – The romance film at the box office in five European countries

We analyze the box office performance of romance films in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, based on the top 50 grossing films in each country in each year. The results show that romance films account for only a small proportion of the films to reach the top 50 highest grossing films, and that there is no statistically significant variation in the proportion of romance films among the highest grossing films in each country. However, few romance films achieve a high box office ranking in more than one of these countries, indicating a lack of commonality across different markets with different audiences watching different romance films. Romance films achieving top 50 rankings in Germany, Spain, and the UK originate almost exclusively from outside these countries, whereas domestically produced films account for a larger proportion of romance films in France and Italy. Romance films perform consistently at the box office in three of the five countries, albeit lacking the very high grosses achieved by action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films; while this genre performs particularly poorly in Italy and Spain. Romance films emerge as a fixed part of the exhibition market in all five countries, but the variation in the films viewed, source of productions, and box office grosses indicates some important national differences.

Sequels and remakes in European cinema

In recent years there has been increasing interest in remakes and sequels in the cinema such as Constantine Verevis’s Film Remakes (2006), Anat Zanger’s Film Remakes as Ritual and Disguise: From Carmen to Ripley (2006), and the essays in Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal’s Play It Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes (1998) and Jennifer Forrest and Leonard R. Koos’s Dead Ringers: The Remake in Theory and Practice (2002) on the one hand and Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood (2009) and the essays in Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis’s Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel (2010). See my earlier post on Hollywood remakes and sequels here.

In this post I look at the number of remakes and sequels to make the top 50 grossing films in France, Germany, and the UK from 2006 to 2010 (see here for a description of the sample).

To take remakes first the first thing we notice is that there are so few of them: seven in Germany, five in France, and nine in the UK. Given that the sample used here covers 250 films over a five-year period, it is clear that remakes constitute only a small proportion of the highest grossing films in these countries. Three action and adventure (AAD) films are common to each country (Casino Royale, Clash of the Titans, and The Karate Kid), while of the comedy (COM) films The Pink Panther features in both Germany and the UK. The Departed made the top 50 in all three countries, while Fun with Dick and Jane achieved a high-ranking in Germany and the UK in the crime and thriller genre (CTH). Only one Fantasy and Science Fiction (FSF) remake made the top 50: the 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The 2007 version of Hairspray made the top 50 in the UK. Interestingly, there are no remakes in the drama (DRA) genre. It is notable that these remakes are all Hollywood films. The only remake to make the top 50 in any of these countries that was not a Hollywood film was St. Trinian’s, which ranked in the UK only.

Sequels account for 62 films in the total sample for Germany and the UK, and 54 in France. Figure 1 shows the percentage of sequels in each genre for each country. What is immediately apparent from Figure 1 is that sequels account for a large proportion of film in some genres but not others, and that the proportion of sequels in each genre is similar in each country with the exception of films classed as ‘other’ (OTH).

Figure 1 Percentage of sequels in eight genres in the top 50 grossing films from 2006 to 2010 in three European countries

Sequels account for between 43 and 52 percent of action and adventure films, and these are all Hollywood franchise films (The Dark Knight, Spider-man, Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, etc). Similarly, between 26 and 31 percent of fantasy and science fictions are sequels from Hollywood franchises (Harry Potter, Terminator, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc). Although many of the films in these genres are Hollywood productions produced in Europe (and can thereby classed as some sort of co-production), there are no sequels in the top 50 of these countries that can classed as domestic productions.

Sequels also account for a substantial proportion of family films in these countries (between 26 and 34 percent). In France and Germany this includes some domestically produced films that belong to franchises (e.g. Asterix and Arthur in France and Die Wilden Kerle in Germany), though the majority of the sequels are films from Hollywood series (Garfield, Ice Age, Shrek, Toy Story, Madagascar, etc). In the UK family films that are sequels are all Hollywood films and there are no domestically produced series of family films.

Sequels account for a much smaller percentage of the other genres. Comedy film sequels in Germany and the UK are dominated by Hollywood films, but in France there are some domestically produced sequels (Camping 2, the OSS 117 series). Crime and thriller sequels are all Hollywood films (Ocean’s Thirteen, The Bourne Ultimatum) in each country. The single drama sequel in Germany and the UK is Elizabeth: The Golden Age. The sequels in the romance genre are exclusively Hollywood films (mostly Sex and the City and Twilight films), with the exception of Zweiohrküken in Germany. France has a much smaller percentage of sequels in the ‘other’ genre due to the lack of horror films and dance films. In both Germany and the UK films from the Saw and Final Destination franchises made the top 50, as did films such as Step Up 2 and Step Up 3D.

In summary, remakes comprise only a small proportion of films to make the top 50 in France, Germany, and the UK between 2006 and 2010, while genre is clearly important in understanding the frequency with which sequels occur in these countries. Though there are some remakes and sequels of European origin the overwhelming majority of these films are from Hollywood and this accounts for the consistency of the proportion of films across the different countries. Some European films have produced sequels but many have not and it is a key area of research on this type of film to understand why not. Another question to address is the lack of European remakes: why is that Hollywood is able to remake both its own films as well as films from other countries while European film industries can do neither? It is perhaps the absence of European remakes and sequels that is the most interesting thing about them.

Recent research on British cinema

This week some articles on British cinema that have appeared over the past 18 months, with a particular nod to Scottish cinema.

Brown S 2011 ‘Anywhere but Scotland?:’ transnationalism and new Scottish cinema, International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 4 (1): http://journals.qmu.ac.uk/index.php/IJOSTS/article/view/109/pdf.

Fifteen years on from the moment that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) fulfilled the promise of his earlier Shallow Grave (1994) and helped to launch what has become known as New Scottish Cinema, the critical debates which have accompanied its development find themselves at a crossroads. Prompted in part by the New Scottish Cinema symposium, which took place in Ireland in 2005 and looked back over 20 years of Scottish film, key writers have begun to critically assess the arguments which have circulated and to refashion the debate for the future. Initial models focussing upon the influences of first American and then European cinema have proved themselves to be inflexible in locating New Scottish Cinema within a global cinema marketplace, and furthermore have privileged a certain type of film, influenced by European art cinema traditions, as being representative of Scottish cinema to the exclusion of other more commercial projects. Not only is this ironic considering the inherently commercial nature of both Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, but also it had led to a vision of Scottish film which is more European than Scottish; more international than national.

Claydon EA 2011 National identity, the GPO Film Unit and their music, in S Anthony and J Mansell (eds) The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: NB: This is an abstract of the full chapter.

The GPO films, seminal as they were in helping to construct the British social realist movement, are as much remembered for their sound worlds as their visual properties. Whether it is the crackling audio of the ensembles who played, or the (to our ears) richly evocative accents of the narrators, or the adventurous musical soundtracks, the sound worlds of the Empire Marketing Board, GPO and Crown Film Units are utterly textural and utterly of their time and place. This timbre is largely the effect of Alberto Calvancanti‟s aesthetic, but it is also a reflection of the range of composers and filmmakers employed by the Unit. In this chapter, I shall focus upon the way in which Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden‟s sonic collage in Night Mail created and reinforced concepts of national identity and place and how the use of sound in Humphrey Jennings‟ Spare Time established a semiotic musical sense of British identity by engaging with popular forms, a mode which he would later develop in Listen to Britain. These are films which are much discussed and much loved, but for that same reason, it is worthwhile to step back, to distance ourselves somewhat and to re-examine the elements we can take for granted: what we hear that we know too well. Consequently, this chapter situates the development of a documentary „national soundtrack‟ within it specific cultural and artistic contexts.

Fukaya K (2012) Quota quickies – British B movie’s narrative style and the problem of nationality in the 1930s, GEIBUN: Bulletin of the Faculty of Art and Design, University of Toyama 6: 124-131.

This paper will explore the meaning and function of a narrative style in the 1930s British film culture constructing national consciousness. Around 1930, the British government and film industry tried to protect themselves from the excessive amount of Hollywood films imported from the United States, and to reconstruct the national film culture. The paper will reconsider the idea of national cinema, especially from cultural perspective, and examine the roles of narrative in the creation of nationally conscious films.

Goode I (2011) Cinema in the country: the rural cinema scheme – Orkney (1946-67), Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 30 (2): 17-31.

The act of transporting cinema to and exhibiting films for the rural communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has attracted a fair amount of press attention at home and abroad recently (“Box Office”). This is partly due to the events pioneered by the British actress Tilda Swinton and the writer and critic Mark Cousins. This began with the film festival The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams held in Nairn on the north east coast of Scotland in 2008, followed a year later by A Pilgrimage which involved tugging a mobile cinema along an exhibition route from Fort Augustus to Nairn incorporating Loch Ness. These initiatives and less publicized others, such as The Small Islands Film Festival (2007-2009), are born of a passionate desire to not only take a preferred vision of cinema to selected areas of rural Scotland, but also, to offer potential audiences a different cinema-going experience by challenging what might be considered the norms of film exhibition.

Hand C and Judge G (2012) Searching for the picture: forecasting UK cinema admissions making use of Google Trends data, Applied Economics Letters 19 (11): 1051-1055.

This paper investigates whether Google Trends search information can improve forecasts of cinema admissions, over and above those based on seasonal patterns in the data. Using monthly data for the UK for the period 2004(1) to 2008(12) we examine various forecasting models that incorporate Google Trends search information. We find clear evidence that Google Trends data on searches relevant to cinema visits do have the potential to increase the accuracy of cinema admissions forecasting models. There is also some evidence to suggest that Google Trends indexes based on combined information from searches using a number of different search terms work better than those based on only a single keyword. The results also appear to confirm earlier findings that the UK cinema admissions series is more suitably modelled by the use of fixed seasonal dummies than through autoregressive formulations.

Wilks L 2012 ‘Boys don’t like girls for funniness:’ raunch culture and the British tween film, Networking Knowledge 5 (1): http://ojs.meccsa.org.uk/index.php/netknow/article/view/249.

This paper discusses representations of teenage girls in three contemporary British film productions or co-productions, aimed at the “tween” market (defined as nine to fourteen year old females). Such texts are examined in the context of a British equivalent of ‘raunch culture’ (Levy, 2006), a strand of postfeminism that I propose characterises the decade in which they were released. The films engage with contemporary debates regarding the media’s alleged sexualising impact on tweens and the body ideals it impresses upon them. Drawing on McRobbie’s notion of ‘double entanglement’ (2009), I consider their negotiations of a conflict between sexuality and a perception of childhood innocence, which produces contradictory interpellations of their teenage female characters. While the films to some extent critique the perception that investment in raunch culture “empowers” teenage girls, elements of the texts also simultaneously celebrate the commodified young woman’s body, inciting cultural anxieties about the ways tweens are represented. All three films depict girls’ attempts at embodying a ‘postfeminist masquerade’ (McRobbie, 2009) of excessive femininity as a means to (faux) empowerment. I argue that this apparent “empowerment” is particularly hollow for tweens, their actions simply reinforcing patriarchal norms that envisage females as nothing but objects.

Williams S 2011 Between a Rock and Hard Place: Space, Gender and Hierarchy in British Gangland Film, University of Hertfordshire, unpublished PhD Thesis.

A principal aim of this research has been to establish the capacity of British Gangland film to articulate its era of production through the cinematic interpretation of contemporary concerns and anxieties in narratives relating to the criminal underworld. In order to do so, the study has concentrated on the analysis of space, gender and hierarchy within representative generic texts produced between 1945 and the present. The thesis is divided into three sections: the first offers a general overview of British Gangland film from the 65 years under discussion with the aim of identifying recurring generic patterns and motifs. The second and third sections are more specifically focused, their chapters examining the narrative significance and development of the male and the female protagonist respectively. Within the films under discussion, the relationship between these protagonists and their environment represents a fundamental generic component, resulting in an emphasis on space and place. Space within these narratives is inherently territorial, and thus irrevocably bound up with hierarchies of power. The predominantly urban locations in which the narratives are set represent a twilight world, a demi-monde, which is rarely neutral but dominated by the patriarchal order structuring the notion of ‘Gangland’. Such spaces are therefore inextricably linked with gender, hierarchy, and dynamic power relations. Whilst it would have been possible to explore each of these areas in isolation through specifically relevant theoretical perspectives, their interdependence is central to this study. Consequently, a holistic theoretical approach has facilitated analysis of the symbiotic relationship between the three key elements of space, gender and hierarchy and the processes involved in the generation of meaning: this has resulted in a reading of British Gangland film as cultural artefact, reflecting its circumstances of production.

Statistical literacy in film studies II

Previously I have argued that statistical literacy is relevant to film studies because much research on the cinema presents quantitative information in numerical, graphical, and tabular forms, and it is therefore necessary to be statistically literate in order to understand research on film industries, film style, film audiences, and film perception (see here).

This week I want to focus on a further reason for developing statistical literacy in film studies I have touched on briefly before (see here): namely, the ability of film scholars to participate in an evidence–based policymaking process is compromised by a lack of statistical literacy.

‘Evidence-based policymaking’ has become one of the key phrases of the past 15 years, and refers to ‘a policy process that helps planners make better-informed decisions by putting the best available evidence at the centre of the policy process’ (Segone & Pron 2008). Statistics have been described statistics as the ‘eyes’ of policymakers (AbouZahr, Ajei, & Kanchanachitra 2007), while Scott (2005: 40) writes that ‘good policy requires good statistics at different stages of the policymaking process, and that investment in better statistics can generate higher social returns.’ Most people involved in a decision-making process will be using data collected, analysed, and interpreted not by themselves but by professional statisticians, sociologists, market researchers, economists, and so on. It is important to recognise that while we need to be able to understand the information presented to us as part of the making of policy we do not necessarily need to be involved in the research process itself. You can criticise research even if you are not a researcher, and you can criticise statistics in research even if you are not a statistician. It is necessary, therefore, to bear in mind the difference between ‘statistical competence’ and ‘statistical literacy’ I noted in my earlier post.

A distinction can be made between people who are users of statistics and those who are provider of statistics. Whilst it may be unrealistic for professional decision-makers and practitioners to be competent doers of statistics, it is both reasonable and necessary for such people to be able to understand and use statistics in their professional practice. Integrating statistics into practice is a central feature of professions. An increasingly necessary skill for professional policy-makers and practitioners is to know about the different kinds of statistics which are available; how to gain access to them; and, how to critically appraise them. Without such knowledge and understanding it is difficult to see how a strong demand for statistics can be established and, hence, how to enhance its practical application (Segone & Pron 2008).

Participating in a policy making process therefore requires – as a minimum – the ability evaluate research and to understand quantitative information presented in a variety of forms.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics put this very clearly:

The availability of statistical information does not automatically lead to good decision-making. In order to use statistics to make well-informed decisions, it is necessary to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to be able to access, understand, analyse and communicate statistical information. These skills provide the basis for understanding the complex social, economic and environmental dimensions of an issue and transforming data into usable information and evidence based policy decisions.

If you do not understand the information provided to you, the methodologies used, and the pitfalls of both how can you make a sensible decision about which policies have been effective in the past and how can you decide which will provide the best policy for success in the future? Or, as Florence Nightingale wrote, ‘Of what use are statistics if we do not know what to make of them?’

These issues are directly relevant to film studies and its relation to policymaking for film and film education in the UK. The DCMS policy review published in 2012 recognised ‘the need for a strong evidence base for film policy’ and recommended the establishment of a ‘research and knowledge function’ for the BFI in order to

a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.

Evidence-based policymaking has clearly arrived at the BFI, and statistics will inevitably be a part of this process. The BFI’s research outputs already have a substantial statistical component. Obviously, the statistical yearbook is the standout case here, but the Opening Our Eyes report (see here) and the recent policy review both use information presented in numerical, tabular, and graphical forms. These are intended to be used as part of the evidence base for subsequent policy making regarding film education and training (as articulated in the New Horizons document, see here), film distribution, and film production.

Other agencies also produce data-heavy reports. For example, Skillset notes that ‘research provides the evidence, authority and justification for all we do’ and includes large amounts of statistical information in its surveys. There is also much research available from the EU that is loaded with statistics. To these we can add trade publications (Screen International, Variety, etc) and academic research on the cultural economics of film (such as those papers collected together for last week’s post here). Again, this is information that is supposed to provide a basis for decision-making about UK film policy, and all of it containing quantitative information to be used as the desired evidence-base.

The ability to participate in debates is predicated on an assumption that those involved in this process are sufficiently statistically literate to be able to work with the available data and analyses thereof. However, statistical literacy is not a part of the film studies curriculum in the UK at any level. Consequently, film scholars who do not possess the required level of statistical literacy will not be able to fully engage with any evidence-based policy process. Furthermore, film studies courses are not producing graduates with the required skills to participate in debates on film policy in the UK and so this situation will not change. This cuts both ways:

  • If you’re not statistically literate, how are you going to know which questions to ask of the information presented to you?
  • If you’re not statistically literate, how are you going to communicate your ideas to those with ultimate responsibility for decision-making?

Since the BFI was re-constituted following the abolition the UK Film Council, film studies has to work harder to make its voice heard in the same quarters as industry bodies that have much more experience of lobbying government agencies and are much more effective at it. There is a risk that film studies will be overlooked: for example, in New Horizons ‘education’ tends to be equated with ‘training’ and academic film studies is largely absent, while the panel for the DCMS policy review did not include a single academic working on film in any field let alone film studies. Without taking statistical literacy seriously film studies will find it more difficult to make its voice heard, and risks being reduced to a passive observer of the policymaking process unable to engage in key aspects of the debate because of a lack of relevant skills in understanding the complex and varied dimensions of an issue.

The other side of this coin is that if the BFI is going to produce numerous reports containing large amounts of quantitative information and expects (deep breath) ‘stakeholders’ to participate in an evidence-based policymaking process then it needs to ensure those involved are sufficiently literate to work with statistics. Are film producers statistically literate? Is the Minister for Culture, Communications, and Cultural Industries statistically literate? Is Amanda Nevill statistically literate? The BFI has to take a lead in promoting statistical literacy in order to render consultation processes meaningful, and other film and education bodies have to follow.

The alternative is to have an evidence-based policymaking process in which no-one is able to communicate, understand, and/or challenge the evidence effectively.

References

AbouZahr C, Adjei S, and Kanchanachitra C 2007 From data to policy: good practices and cautionary tales, The Lancet 369 (9566): 1039-1046.

Scott C 2005 Measuring up to the measurement problem: the role of statistics in evidence-based policymaking, in New Challenges for the CBMS: Seeking Opportunities for a More Responsive Role. Proceedings of the 2005 CBMS Network Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 13-17 June 2005: 35-93.

Segone M and Pron N 2008 The role of statistics in evidence-based policymaking, UNECE Work Session on Statistical Dissemination and Communication, Geneva, 13-15 May 2008.

Some notes on New Horizons for UK Film

Following on from the DCMS policy review for British film published in January 2012 (see here), the BFI has published its consultation document – New Horizons for UK Film – on the future development of education, audiences, filmmaking, and film heritage. The document can be accessed here.

New Horizons is focussed on three ‘strategic priorities:’

  • Expanding education opportunities and boosting audience choice across the UK
  • Supporting the future success of British film
  • Unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy

Associated with each of these priorities are a series of proposals about what the BFI is intending to do over the next five years in each of these areas. In today’s post I want to focus on the educational aspects of the plan.

First, the importance of moving image education is asserted as a first principle – which is exactly what the BFI should be doing:

Education is a key part of the foundation of a vibrant film culture and successful film industry.

Now, I don’t see how anyone can disagree with this statement, but it is indicative of a particular attitude that education serves industry and not the individual. This is the first problem with the future plan: it is not clear what the anyone is supposed to get from moving image education. The value of film culture as expressed in New Horizons exists solely in relation to the economy. But when choosing a path through education students at every level base their choices on what will deliver the maximum value to themselves based on their own personal goals and interests. They do not base their decision-making on their relationship to some abstract concept like ‘the economy,’ ‘national identity,’ or ‘film culture.’ Film and media education is no different, but New Horizons does not make any argument as to why someone should choose to study film. This is a document promising results to politicians, but it doesn’t have anything to say to anyone who might actually participate in any of the proposed programmes.

Now clearly this is an unfair criticism of a document that is obviously intended for a particular audience; but making the case for media education to politicians will count for nothing if the BFI cannot emphasise the value to the individual in terms of what such an education will add to their life (e.g. employability, intellectual stimulation, pleasure, etc). The BFI is often unfairly criticised for being too focussed on industry, but here the complaint is justified.

A part of the problem is that ‘education’ is not defined in relation to film. For example, the BFI states that

Our aspiration is that film is part of the education of every young person in the UK.

But what does ‘part of the education’ mean? Does it mean using films in the classroom as a teaching resource or does it mean the study of film in a sense that those working within film studies would understand? These are two very different things. The goal of the BFI is

to create a unified (watching, making and understanding) new education offer for all 5-19 year-olds, aimed especially at schools and colleges.

Sounds good, but are we going to teach five-year old children to make films? Are we going to teach continuity editing as part of the reception class? No, of course, we aren’t; but I would like someone to explain to me exactly what it is a five-year old is to be expected to learn about the cinema. The plan makes reference to (but does not cite) research demonstrating

that children who regularly go to the cinema are three times more likely to attend more frequently as adults. Regular visits help to develop a lifelong relationship with film, growing the next generation of audiences and filmmakers, instilling a love of cinema-going. We will invest heavily so all young people can increase their appetite for a broad range of film.

There is no arguing with that, and I think the BFI’s plans sound very good if you start at the age of 14 or 15. It’s about that age that you start to make decisions about the types of music, literature, films, and so on that you like as you develop you own tastes, and exposure to new cinematic experiences at this critical stage will have a lasting effect. But what constitutes ‘a broad range of film’ to a five-year old?  Actually, what constitutes ‘a broad range of film’ for anyone? My rental list at Love Film is as long as my arm (and I’m a big guy), but I couldn’t say whether the titles I have selected represent a ‘broad range.’ I’m the sort of person who spends his time drawing graphs of the editing patterns in slasher films, so what chance do primary school teachers have?

There is a tendency in this document for ‘film education’ to be equated with ‘skills and training’ (even though the proposals under the second strategic priority are primarily concerned with the latter), with no reference to academic film studies. One of the reasons for the distinction between the BFI and the UK Film Council was that the former had responsibility for film culture and film studies while the latter was industry-facing with responsibility for skills and training. Merging the two organisations also appears to have collapsed the distinction between education and training at the expense of the former. You can’t possibly disagree with investment in the training and development of the next generation of filmmakers in the UK, but is the case for film studies being made within the BFI?

The BFI states that it will

advocate the value of film education …

Good – assuming the BFI knows what ‘film education’ is. Again, we might ask to whom are the BFI advocating the value of film education? Based on this document the focus is clearly directed towards policymakers with no consideration given to making the argument to the public.

The low status of film and media studies in the UK is clear evidence that the BFI and other media organisations are failing to reach either audience. Certainly, promoting the value of film education to a Conservative Department of Education is a challenging prospect, especially when the Secretary of State for Education thinks that Latin is a vital addition to the primary school curriculum in the 21st century (as opposed to Mandarin or Cantonese because it’s those pesky Romans that are soon to become the dominant economic power and not the Chinese – oh no, wait, that’s not right).

Film studies and media studies are considered to be ‘soft subjects,’ and a report for the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange (here) found that leading universities in the UK do not admit students with qualifications in these subjects at A-level even though they teach degree programmes in these subjects. This suggests a lack of faith in the standards of education at GCSE and A-level in non-traditional subjects rather than an aversion to the subjects themselves. The reason traditional subjects are accepted by universities with fewer problems is that they have been around longer and admission tutors know what to expect from teachers who are part of a clearly defined lineage in providing instruction in those areas. A maths teacher at a school is the next in a long line of maths teachers working within a well understood field that every admissions tutor has direct and personal experience (because everybody has to do maths). In contrast, film and media studies have only been a part of the school curriculum in the UK since the early 1990s and have only really become popular in the past decade; many of the teachers delivering these subjects have come from other areas (mainly English) and will have little specific training in film or media; and university admissions tutors are unlikely to have direct knowledge of the subjects. The problem lies not in the subjects themselves, but in the quality of delivery and in the understanding of university admissions tutors. The Policy Exchange report failed to notice this aspect – but the BFI does recognise the problem and has made a proposal to specifically deal with the issue:

We will increase the number of film education specialists including teachers so they can work closely with young people to develop an appreciation of film culture and their creative talent.

Now this really is awesome. It needs to be accompanied by educating government and universities about film and media subjects, but you can’t go wrong by doing the opposite of whatever Michael Gove says.

David Buckingham defended media studies in the Guardian in 2009 (see here), but noted the problematic nature in defining the subject that also features in New Horizons:

On the one hand, it is chided for being not vocational enough: …yet on the other, it is condemned for not being academic enough.

If the BFI is going to advocate the importance of film education then it needs to decide what it means by ‘film education.’ You can find my definition of film studies here.

The BFI’s future plan is part of a consultation process in which the views of interested parties are invited. Again, this is a good thing and there is much here that is useful and sensible. I don’t disagree with anything in New Horizons. It all sounds very good. I bet there’s another plan in 2017 that says exactly the same things.

Gini coefficients of five European film industries

Back in May 2010 I looked at the Gini coefficient of the opening grosses in the UK in 2009 (see here).

The Gini coefficient (G) is a measure of the inequality of a statistical distribution, ranging from perfect equality when all the members of a population have equal share in some property such as income (G = 0) to perfect inequality when all the property is owned by a single person (G = 1). This inequality can be represented as a Lorenz Curve, which shows the cumulative proportion of a property belonging to the cumulative proportion of a population. This can be interpreted in reference to the line y = x, which represents perfect equality, and the further away the Lorenz curve lies away from this line the more unequal distribution.

The Gini coefficient and the Lorenz Curve are useful for comparing the inequalities of different populations, and so this week I compare the Gini coefficients of the total grosses of films distributed in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – in 2011. The data used is from Box Office Mojo and all box office grosses are in US Dollars.

Table 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the total sample sizes and for the top 100 grossing films in each country. It is clear that the distribution of grosses in each country is very unequal, with the vast majority of the gross accumulated by a small number of films. The UK is more unequal than the continental countries. The highest grossing film in the UK in 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) – grossed $117.23 million, accounting for 6.4% of the total accumulated gross. However, this was not the most dominant film in any of these countries: in France the highest grossing film was Intouchables, grossing $116.13 million and accounting for 9.5% of the total accumulated gross. Nonetheless, the overall distribution of the other four countries are less unequal, indicating that the UK box office tends to have fewer mid-range films. For example, it appears from the Lorenz curves in Figures 1 through 5 below that the comparatively high value of G for the UK is the result of the larger number of very, very low grossing films in the UK that are not present in the other countries and the very rapid shift to very high grossing films at the top end of the distribution. This is not present in Germany (Figure 2) or Italy (Figure 3), for example, which show much smoother transitions from the lowest to the highest grossing films.

Comparing the Gini coefficients for just the top 100 grossing films shows the UK to be no more unequal for this sub-group than France, Germany, or Italy. This sub-group does account for a higher proportion of the total gross than in these other countries but the distribution of grosses is no different from these three countries.

The Gini coefficient for the top 100 in Spain is much lower than the other countries due to the lack of a film like Harry Potter or Intouchables whose grosses are so much greater than those of other films. The highest grossing film in Spain in 2011 was Torrente 4 with $29.03 million (3.4% of the total accumulated gross), and the top 100 declines steadily with rank. This gives a different distribution to that seen in the UK, France, and Germany – see here and here for examples – which have a large drop off between subgroups of the top 100 grossing films, and between the top 100 films and the others on release.

The inevitable conclusion that follows from this, of course, is that there are a great many movies on release that no one is watching. The lowest grossing film in the UK is Fuk sau che chi sei (Revenge: A Love Story), which is listed as having a total gross 0f $45 (~£29).

Film policy in the UK is intended to remedy this problem by getting a more diverse range of films onto the cinema screens most people have access to (i.e. multiplexes), but the problem suggested by these results is the that of the squeezed middle. Showing Green Lantern in so many multiplex screens isn’t taking audiences away from thrillers produced in Hong Kong since no one is watching these films anyway. The films that suffer are films like Neds ($1.58) or Submarine ($2.37), which have limited opportunities to find an audience. This may explain why the UK film production sector is seen to be less successful in comparison to, say, France or Italy despite the fact that the UK is the largest film market in Europe. Film policy in the UK should be directed at reducing the inequality in the UK exhibition sector to a level comparable to that of the continental countries by boosting the earning power of the middle grossing films.

Table 1 Gini coefficients and total grosses for the total sample (N) and the top 100 grossing films in five European countries in 2011 ($US millions)

The Lorenz Curves for each country are in Figures 1 through 5, with the total gross shown in black, the top 100 grossing films in blue, and the reference curve (G=0) in red.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in France in 2011

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Germany in 2011

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Italy in 2011

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Spain in 2011

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in the UK in 2011

An online module for calculating Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves can be accessed here.