Divided By A Common Language

The Arts


Back in 1951, Powell & Pressburger didn’t make a film called ‘Pandora & The Flying Dutchman’, but everyone thought they did. The film has the odd ethereal feel of one of their miraculous lightning-in-a-bottle movies, as Ava Gardner and James Mason find redemption from their respective mythologies in the present-day Riviera.

The interesting thing is that for all of its ‘European-ness’, American audiences loved it and made it a hit. Hollywood had looked to European talent since its inception, of course, and an even greater number fled the war in Europe for the safety of the West Coast. The cross-fertilisation of American know-how and European mentality paid big dividends and spawned numerous critical and audience hits.

Cut to the 1980s, and a new style of Hollywood movie appears which mines a rich seam of Americana, largely spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. Europe returns to making its own domestic product, selling the odd film here and there to the US. Britain retreats into the Downton Abbey school of filmmaking, conforming to stereotypes and reaffirming them. So, while France and the UK please their domestic markets with homegrown blockbusters like ‘Welcome To The Sticks’ and ‘The Inbetweeners’, they export ‘Amelie’ and ‘A Room With A View’.

And on to the present day. The major markets to please now are China, India and Japan, so most of Hollywood’s summer blockbusters have covert signifiers inside them for SE Asian audiences – recognisable stars and products that won’t interfere with domestic box office, but will also reap rewards domestically. This splits Hollywood in two, exactly as it has in Europe. Saturday Night Live alumni star in vehicles that don’t play beyond the US, and other films like ‘Kung Fu Panda’ are made specifically for export. You have no idea how huge ‘Frozen’ is in the Far East. Disney is marketing wedding dresses and endless spinoff albums from it. It’s still everywhere (not in the UK, though, which prefers to look forward to America’s autumn dramas).

In other words, just as Scotland and Catalunya and the Basque Territory and other parts of Europe seek to split away and find their own identities, the same thing is happening in the arts. Until recently, a single product could conquer the world – think of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise or the brilliant ‘Lord of the Rings’ films – but it will be interesting to see what happens now. Do we honestly think anyone in Los Angeles would want to see ‘Wolf Hall’?

Me, I’d like someone to have a fresh look at Phillip Pullman’s astounding ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. The first film version, despite being critically lauded, was caught up in anti-religious accusations in the US which killed its box office, and bombed in favour of the more Christian ‘Narnia’ film, but that series also petered out. And I hope that the long-mooted script for ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ comes to fruition.

9 comments on “Divided By A Common Language”

  1. Brooke Lynne says:

    Regarding “Wolf Hall,” please don’t mistake Los Angeles (or “LA,” as it’s called here–easier to spell) for the rest of the United States–if only because 49% of LA’s population is Hispanic and probably not interested in Tudor history. Both “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” were rated as best books by New York Time and Washington Post; more importantly, they were on the best seller lists for at least 3 months. Every executive I know–people who only read their quarterly investment reports and then only on iPhone– read both books. The political gore attracts audiences here.
    The east coast, Boston to Alexandria, is where the money is made, and, by the way, where the majority of the reading population resides. Mantel’s publisher had great distribution at news stands in every major train station and airport I was in; sales in Grand Central in New York alone probably got “Wolf Hall” on the best seller list.

  2. Roger says:

    “49% of LA’s population is Hispanic and probably not interested in Tudor history.”
    Presumably they’d be cheering Katherine of Aragon then!

  3. neer says:

    Mr.Fowler, I had a question regarding J.D. Carr. You mentioned in an earlier post that Carr had written a sequel to The Burning Court. May I know which book is that as I haven’t been able to find reference to it anywhere else? I have just finished The Burning Court and still in a shock over its ending. Please do reply.

  4. Iain says:

    Isn’t Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell coming to BBC TV in 2015 with a script by Peter somebody?

  5. Brooke Lynne says:

    Not on your life! Hispanic, as in Latino, not Spanish. Katherine’s parents and their offspring launched havoc on the ancestors of these communities. No cheers there.

    Sorry, I don’t write well. My points: 1) LA (Hollywood) is not longer the media decision-maker; money and power are now east coast-based; 2) don’t underestimate the popularity and attraction of all things English to large segments of the US market; and 3) well executed marketing and distribution push good writing and content to the top.

  6. admin says:

    Let me check that for you when I’m back at my desk this week.

  7. admin says:

    I agree, Brooke – Hollywood is feeling the cold winds of change but so are European producers right now. I think we’re in for another big shakeout.

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    Jonathan Strange is being made I believe, Bertie Carvel has the role.

  9. snowy says:

    Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is in post-production, they were tidying up the dialogue last month, [doing ADR].

    It is/was intended to be part of the Beeb One’s line up for late December, [I’m not saying the ‘C’ word, even if the supermarkets are packing their shelves with seasonal tat, BECAUSE IT IS STILL ONLY SEPTEMBER! FFS!]

    [Should anyone not know what on earth we are talking about:

    Set at the beginning of the 19th-century, England no longer believes in practical magic. The reclusive Mr Norrell (Marsan) of Hurtfew Abbey stuns the city of York when he causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. With a little persuasion and help from his man of business Childermass (Cilenti), he goes to London to help the government in the war against Napoleon. It is there Norrell summons a fairy to bring Lady Pole (Englert) back from the dead, opening a whole can of worms…

    7 episodes of 60 minutes.]

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