Blog Archives

The geographies of cinema II

This week some more links looking at geographies of film. The first post in this series with lots of other links, is here.

(As ever, the version of a paper linked to may not be the final published version).

But before we get to the papers, it is worth taking some time to visit Aether: The Journal of Media Geography, an open-access journal edited by Jim Craine, Jason Dittmer, and Chris Lukinbeal.

Aether offers a forum that examines the geography of media, including cinema, television, the Internet, music, art, advertising, newspapers and magazines, video and animation. It is our goal to provide a space for contributions to current issues surrounding these media, beginning with constructions of space & place, cultural landscapes, society, and identity.

The editorial from issue 1 can be accessed here: Lukinbeal C, Craine J, and Dittmer J 2007 Aether: A Prospectus, Aether: The Journal of Media Geography 1: 1-3.

Alderman DH and Popke EJ 2002 Humor and film in the geography classroom: learning from Michael Moore’s TV Nation, Journal of Geography 101: 228-239.

How can teachers use humour and film to convert geography classrooms into public spaces for thinking and talking about the world in a critical way? One useful resource for raising student consciousness and critical discussion is TV Nation-a satirical television newsmagazine show created, produced, and hosted by rebel filmmaker Michael Moore in the mid 1990s. TV Nation not only serves as a potential instructional resource for geographers but also provides teacher and student a springboard for re-thinking humor and television news as analytical/educational objects. Moore challenges the popular notion that humor should not be taken seriously. By combining laughter with harsh reality, he questions the legitimacy of established ways of seeing the world and provides a unique way of discussing the socially constructed and contested nature of space and place. TV Nation also challenges the value traditionally placed on claims of neutrality and objectivity in conventional television news narratives. By making his own perspectives clearly known, Moore exposes the positionality inherent in all media representations of place. Included in this paper is an annotated list of TV Nation segments available on video and a description of how one of these news segments was used in a college-level classroom to teach about the complexities and contradictions of free trade and globalization.

Aitken SC and Dixon DP 2006 Imagining geographies of film, Erdkunde 60 (4): 326-336.

To the extent that the geographic study of film has come of age, it is important to not only tie it to disciplinary issues but also to push theoretical boundaries. Geographic concern is often lacking a critical perspective, focusing primarily on the geographic realism of films rather than how they produce meaning. Geographers needed to elaborate insights through critical spatial theories, so that our studies are not only about filmic representations of space but are also about the material conditions of lived experience and everyday social practices. With this essay, we argue for more critical film geographies. In doing so, we note how a series of traditional and emergent geographic ‘primitives’ – landscapes, spaces/spatialities, mobilities, scales and networks – are reappraised and push disciplinary boundaries for geography and film studies in general.

Chanan M 1997 The changing geography of third cinema, Screen 38 (4): 372-388.

The next paper is not strictly relevant to film studies – it belongs firmly in the culture wars of the 1990s; but it adopts such an odd way of arguing about the relationship between science and postmodernism (via Mary Poppins as an allegory) that I thought it worth including.

Dixon DP and Jones JP 1996 For a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious scientific geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86 (4): 767-779.

Contemporary geographic thought finds scientific approaches triangulated by critiques launched by various political economy, feminist, and poststructuralist positions. In aiming their conceptual arsenal at fixed understandings of scientific geography, however, such critiques run the danger of essentializing their intended target. Moreover, in the consequent stabilization of the trajectories taken by these critiques, the process of criticism itself becomes an unreflexive exercise. In this paper we deploy the resources of poststructuralism to achieve an antiessentialist reading of scientific geography that moves beyond mere repudiation and seeks instead to identify a redemptive moment within this constellation of ideas and practices. To do so, we draw upon a modern-day parable–Mary Poppins–whose film version we read as offering a panoramic on theoretical divisions in geography. Though ostensibly a story about an all-too-perfect nanny, the film’s key protagonists serve as allegorical figures animating our analysis. Fortunately for all concerned, the banker/patriarch comes to the realization that he too can countermand rather than reproduce the fixed spaces of everyday life.

Engert S and Spencer A 2009 International relations at the movies: teaching and learning about international politics through film, Perspectives 17 (1): 83-103.

For mainstream Political Science, ‘popular culture’ is still not considered worthy of serious investigation. Similarly, the idea of using movies as a pedagogical tool has remained at the margins. Nevertheless, film can be a valuable means of teaching university students about politics and international politics in particular. This paper identifies four distinct ways of using movies as a teaching tool: the first approach uses film to portray historical events such as the Cold War, and the second utilizes film to debate specific issues in international politics such as terrorism or genocide. The third approach examines movies as cultural narratives– e.g. anti-Americanism in Turkey –, while the fourth uses film to explain and criticize IR theories (here, for example, Post-Modernism is discussed with the help of the movie Pulp Fiction). The article examines the strengths and weaknesses of using film in the IR classroom in general and illustrates each of the four approaches by using examples from movies.

Kennedy C and Lukinbeal C 1997 Towards a holistic approach to geographic research on film, Progress in Human Geography 21 (1): 33-50.

Geographers’ interest in film has increased during the last 20 years. Methodological and theoretical perspectives tend, however, to be bipolar and reflect either cognitive or social approaches. Work reflecting these approaches is reviewed with geographic research grounded in transactionalism and postmodernism as examples. A geographic view of film that recognizes the importance of more than one theoretical framework, positions the cognitive and social in a continuum reaching from the individual to the societal, and makes traditional notions of scale antiquated is recommended. Research by geographers contesting the assumed objectivity in documentaries is reviewed as are geographers’ contributions to understanding the construction of meaning of urban and natural settings in films. Suggestions for future directions in film research are made.

Schlottman A and Miggelbrink J 2009 Visual geographies – an editorial, Social Geography 4 (1): 1-11.

This paper is about the relationship between the visual and geography in lots of different ways and does not focus specifically on film, but its concerns are relevant to geographies of cinema and its list of references is useful.

Weissbrod R 2008 Israeli literature and cinema in a web of intercultural relations: the reconciliation of conflicts on screen, Borderlands 7 (1):

One way of establishing intercultural contacts is to produce a cinematic adaptation of a literary work originating in another country. The present article examines three adaptations in which Israeli culture is involved: Lost Lover, directed by Roberto Faenza (1999), which is based on Avraham B. Yehoshua’s The Lover (1977); The Island on Bird Street, directed by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen (1997), which is based on a novel by Uri Orlev (1981); and Saint Clara, directed by Ari Folman and Ori Sivan (1996), which is based on The Ideas of Saint Clara (1986 [1981]) by the Czechs Jelena Masínová and Pavel Kohout. Films usually re-shape their literary sources, seeking to adapt them to new circumstances and to a new audience. A significant modification of the source is likely to take place when the transfer from literature to cinema is also an intercultural one. In the era of trans-national media, account should also be taken of the possibility that the filmmakers might endeavor to make the film universally acceptable rather than adapting it to a specific target culture. Against this background, the article examines how the films under consideration depoliticize (in the terminology of Barthes) historical, ideological and political issues referred to in the novels, replacing controversial stands with widely accepted values such as peace and love, probably in order to increase their appeal to diverse audiences. This applies especially to the treatment of Zionist ideology and history which the films prefer to marginalize or evade rather than criticize or endorse.

Finally, Cinema City was a course aimed at postgraduates run by Majilis, Max Mueller, and SNDT Women’s University in October 2010. The website for the course is here, and by going to ‘course infromation’ and then clicking on ‘resource materials,’ you can access lots of online papers on the cinema in urban space, Wim Wenders, spectatorial rights, Hindi cinema, and many other things.

Gini and the UK box office

The opening weekend box office of a film is used a measure of a film;s popularity, as a marketing tool for promoting films either by their ranking or by the records they set, and is widely considered to be a good indicator of a film’s overall box office gross. This post looks at the box office data for the opening weekend of films of films released int he UK in 2009, by examining the inequality of their distribution.

The Gini coefficient (G) is a method of representing the inequality of a population, and is commonly used by economists to represent the inequality of income in a country. The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1; and the lower the Gini coefficient, the more equal the distribution. This can be represented visually by a Lorenz curve: if the distribution of box office income were equal (i.e. every film grossed the same on its opening weekend), then the curve would be a straight line from the origin – the line of equality – and G=0; and the further away from this line, the more unequal the distribution of income and the greater the value of G.

Box office data for the opening weekend was collected from the UK Film Council archive for 2009. All films were included, except films that were reissued (e.g. Barry Lyndon, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, etc).  The data was sorted into different samples: the total sample of films, the top 150, US films, UK films, and Indian films. Where films have been sorted by country this includes co-productions. Where a film fits into two data sets (e.g. an UK-USA co-production), then it has been included for both categories. Any gross from previews is included in the opening weekend box office. The Gini coefficient and percentiles for the Lorenz curves were calculated using Wessa’s online calculator (here). Summary data of these samples is given in Table 1, and the Lorenz curves are presented in Figures 1 through 5.

A total of 435 films released in the UK in 2009, grossing over £282 million. The film with the biggest opening weekend was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with £19,784,924 (including previews). The films with the smallest opening weekend was The Blue Tower which grossed £94. As can be seen from Table 1, the distribution of this income is very unequal, with a high Gini coefficient; and by looking at just the top 150 films, we can see that although they accounted from approximately one-third of the total number of releases, these films account for almost all the opening weekend gross. The remaining 285 films accumulated a total of £9,158,667, or just over 3% of the total. Films listed as American (including co-productions) accounted for just under half of the total number of releases, but for over 90% of the opening weekend box office; where as films registered as British (including co-productions, and remembering that some films will feature in both data sets) accounted for approximately one-fifth of releases, but only one-sixth of the box office. Indian films (including co-productions, and with the same caveat as above) accounted for over one-tenth of releases, but for very little box office.

Table 1 Summary of opening weekend box office gross for films released in the UK in 2009

From the Lorenz curve for the total sample of 435 films (Figure 1), we can see that the distribution of opening box office income is very unequal: 77% of films released in the UK account for just 10.4% of the total opening weekend income; while the top 5% – a total of just 22 films – account for 50% of income earned. It is clear, then, that a small number of films gross very large sums of money on their opening weekend, while the vast majority of films gross very little. A mitigating factor here is that many films released in the UK will have been released to only a small number of cinemas for short runs.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross for films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 435)

The distribution of opening weekend income for the top 150 – which account over 96% of the total income – is more even, but remains dominated by a small number of high grossing films. For this data set, 50% of the films account for 15% of the box office; with the top 22 films accounting for approximately half the box office, while representing only 14% of the sample.

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross for top 150 films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 150)

Figure 3 shows the distribution of income for American films, and lies somewhere between the curve for the total sample and that for the top 150. It is still a very unequal distribution, but can be thought of as ma mixture of the two other curves: 125 of the US films were listed in the top 150 films, and so the upper part of the curve reflects the very dominant position of these films; while the remaining 86 films grossed very little – 41% of films account for just 1% of the total gross for US films. As we would expect, the top 22 films (being the same films as above) were all US films (in various ways), and so the top 10% of this data set account for just over half the total gross.

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of American films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 211)

The most unequal of all the data sets is that for the UK films, and this may be accounted for by the presence of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. This film accounts for 45.7% of the total opening weekend box office gross for UK films. (It should also be remembered that this film is listed as a UK/USA films, so it is also the highest grossing film in the sample of US films). The figure quoted above for Harry Potter includes £7,854,660 from previews; but, even with this gross removed, the opening weekend for this film was still 6.5 times greater than the second biggest weekend for a British film (Slumdog Millionaire – also a UK/USA film), and would still have accounted for 33.6% of the total gross of UK films. The value of G remains high at 0.8242 once this film’s previews have been taken into account. Slumdog Millionaire, as the second highest grossing British film, took £1,827,457 on its opening weekend; and the highest grossing UK film that did not involve a US producer was St. Trinian’s 2 which took £1,586,832. In the total sample of 435 films, this films was ranked 49th. Only three of the top 10 UK films did not have a US producer (St. Trinian’s 2, Harry Brown, The Young Victoria). In general, some British films do alright and these are really UK/USA films; but the vast majority of British films have opening weekends so small it really is not worth bothering with them: 79% of British films account for just 10.4% of the cumulative box office, or just £4,492,654 is grossed by 73 films.

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of British films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 92)

Indian films are the third largest national group of films released in the UK in 2009, behind only the US and the UK. In itself, the proportion of Indian releases at the UK box office (~12%) is an impressive figure and indicates Bollywood is gaining a growing share of screen time in the UK; but that this is not being translated into cash as Indian films remain in something of a cinematic ghetto that does not touch the mainstream. The Lorenz curve is similar to the that for the top 150 films released in the UK, and with a Gini coefficient of 0.5555 their income is more evenly distributed than is generally the case int he UK. However, it is still the case that a small number of films dominate the sample: Indian films grossed a total of £4,359,988 in the UK, with the top 17% accounting 52% of that figure. The Indian film with the biggest opening weekend was Love Aaj Kal with £405,673, but only 15 of these films grossed more than £100,000 and only 6 made it into the top 150.

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the opening weekend box office gross of Indian films released in the UK in 2009 (n = 54)