I. Andrew Higson, “The Concept of National Cinema” (written 1989)
According to Andrew Higson, the author of “The Concept of National Cinema” (written in 1989), four criteria can be defined to measure a country’s production of its “national cinema”, such as following:
- Economic based criterion. It is related to “defining cinema in economic terms” (132) concerning dominating and expanding film products to the domestic and international market.
- Content based criterion. It is related to regarding the concept through its content (texts, characters, scripts, etc.)
- Consumption based criterion. It is related to defining the concept of national cinema as “of and exhibition-led or consumption based approach of national cinema” (133). In the opinion of the author of this article, this approach correlates with the so called American cultural imperialism.
- Quality criterion. It is related to the criticism of the films in relation to the idea of their quality (Hollywood films vs. art cinema).
In the opinion of Higson, the concept of national cinema should be regarded “prescriptively rather than descriptively” that means “citing what ought to be the national cinema, rather than describing the actual cinematic experience of popular audiences.” (133). This opinion leads to idealizing the concept of national cinema in the context of discussion of the cultural experiences of Europe and America that stand for the totally different cultural values.
Higson emphasizes on the possibility of regarding the concept of national cinema in relation to other national cinemas. He supports the idea that there should be separate concepts of national cinema for every country (e.g. French, German, American, British cinema, etc.). This “means of asserting national autonomy in the face of (usually) Hollywood’s international domination” (133). Hollywood standards of quality stand apart from the other country’s standards of cinema quality. Therefore, Hollywood complicates defining the approach to national cinema in a way of “myth-making” and “ideological production”. National cinemas in relation to this can be regarded considering two approaches:
- “the method of comparing and contrasting one cinema to another” (134) that will lead to finding unique features in a national cinema of every country.
- “inward-looking process” (134) that is aimed to explore every cinematography in the context of given economies, evaluating the possibility to present films well at the domestic and international market.
Higson supports the idea that every national cinema should be regarded as a unique fragment of a culture of a country. The cinematography should be of good quality rather than commercially based.
Higson argues that film industry and national cinema depend on both by national film culture and consumption. The most appropriate solution for film makers is the way of being focused on the modes of production that will be adequate for values and tastes of people. Balance of these issues is very important since every business is based on demand.
Consumption issues are crucial for success of every business. The thing is to find audiences “for different of film” and research “how the audiences use these films in particular exhibition circumstances” (140). The accessibility to different audiences is crucial for better operating in domestic and international markets. In any case, Higson suggests defining “the range of films in circulation within a nation state” (140). Researches in consumption practices will help to formulate the basic trends in market.
Every national cinema helps to define the concept of national identity in the context of cultural values and historical background. The cinema of high quality, from the Western European perspective, is in the opinion of Higson, is the art cinema that makes people thinking and analyzing. But it requires intellectual efforts that cannot be accepted by every category of consumers. Therefore, art cinema can be considered as national, but only as idealized, as contemporary market will rather consume Hollywood dominating than high quality art films.
II. Andrew Higson, “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema” (written 1999)
Ten years later, in 1999, Andrew Higson wrote another article “The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema”. The purpose was to address the issues related to a total misunderstanding of the concept of the national cinema by a number of the other researchers who regarded this concept in relation to the nationalist ideas. It made Higson to reconsider the concept of national cinema rather as “transnational” than “national”.
This was an attempt not only to broad the horizons, but also to response to critics regarding the possibility of limiting the idea of national cinema to the context and community of a given country. This could not be considered in relation to nationalistic ideas but rather was related to the attempts of spreading cultural values of a given nation. The thing was not about the cultural expansion, but just promoting national cinema to the interested audience, either in international or domestic market.
In his earlier work, Higson already expressed the main ideas of high quality films in separate cultural contexts. In the later work, he was trying to bring the ideas of national cinemas that are consumed all across the borders.
Many researchers were trying to treat the concept of national cinema from the nationalistic point of view, including Hill and Willemen. Criticizing the ideas of these researchers, Higson finds the idea of national cinema as increasingly problematic. In spite of this, “governments continue to develop defensive strategies designed to protect and promote both local cultural formation and the local economy” (69), as well as the national cinema.
The purpose of governmental defending national identity and national cinematography lies deeply in their attempts to underline the specific features of cultures and values. When the concept of national cinema is widely in use, and if the ideas and cultural values are highly respected by people inside and outside borders of a country, a government also expects to be respected by heir people. This is also about ideological issues. Ideology functions both inside and outside a country, so it may be useful for creating a positive image of a country. Governmental care in promoting national film making is of the evident purpose. It helps much nationally and internationally.
Higson finds the concept of national cinema very problematic in the modern context. The reason of the problem is cultural diversity vs national specificity of countries. The author writes about the nation as the imagined community that consists of different people. For example, some of them prefer presumably British movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) or “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), and others prefer Hollywood romantic comedies. Some British people like to follow Queen family on TV, and others don’t care. National and cultural diversity within a given county may be significant.
In order to solve the problem, Higson suggests that “the concept of the “transnational” may be a subtler means of describing cultural and economic formations that are rarely contained by national boundaries” (64). In the researcher’s opinion, the concept of national cinema should be reconsidered and be “either local or transnational than national” (73). The concept of the “transnational” essence of the national cinema would be more useful. Transnational film-making should be focused on the cross-border activities when promoting cultural values. National diasporas outside a country would support this kind of attempts that would be positively evaluated. The audience for national cinema would be easily found inside and outside a country.
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I. Andrew Higson, “The Concept of National Cinema” (written 1989)
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