It’s 3.33am on Tuesday morning, 18th January 2010. It’s been bugging me, I am awake. I am thinking about films, but I am also thinking about the here, the now and the future.
In the early hours of Monday morning (GMT that is) The Golden Globes were awarded and in 4 hours time, The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) will annoucne their nominations. In a few weeks The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will issue their Academy Awards nominations (ie The Oscars) and we are very much into the awards season. For most it is a tale of two films this year. The very British ‘The King’s Speech’ and the very American ‘The Social Network’.
In many ways it is a tale of two cultures. One buried in tradition, history a class structure fascinated by a reverence for past times, the there and then if you like. The other is rooted in the new, the brave ,the here, the now and the future. A tale of social division geared by class and age versus one of social inclusion, built in a class by the young. An age of austerity versus an age of excitement. A fading Empire and a growing, vibrant, democratic empire. In short one difference between British and American culture.
Both films centre on a key protagonist, a battle for power and the importance of communication. ‘The King’s Speech’ tells the story of a young, socially inept man thrust into the spotlight by circumstance and betrayl and his battle to overcome his own shortcomings in order to make his own mark in a world on the brink of social meltdown. He has a speech impediment and he needs to get over it. He can speak, but commuication is very, very difficult for him and the people on the receiving end. The ‘new ‘medium of radio gives him the power to connect to ‘his subjects’ all over the world, he just has to figure out how to do that. ”The Social Network’ tells the story of a young, socially inept man thrust into the spotlight by circumstance and betrayl and his battle to overcome his own shortcomings in order to make his own mark in a world on the brink of social union. He can speak, but he finds communication very, very difficult. The ‘new’ medium of the internet gives him the power to connect everyone up around the world from the bottom up. He just has to figure out how to do that. Technology plays a key role in both films. Something the British used to be good at, and something that the Americans are now very, very good at.
And therein lies the rub. For all its magnificence, its splendour, its craft and its sheer class, ‘The King’s Speech’ is simply not as relevant or indeed as important as ‘The Social Network’ today. Right here, right now. History is a brilliant way of looking at the past and seeing what, if any lessons one can draw for the future. But it is only relevant if you are awake. Even if you look at the way these films have been made, you can see key differences in both our cultures but also in our relevance. ‘The King’s Speech’ would not get made in Hollywood, it just would not get past the focus testing. It was in fact supported by The Film Council and the National Lottery, which given the quality of the result is probably a good thing, thank god not every decision is down to money . However, ‘The Social Network’ may not have got made at Pinewood, or if it did, it would be a pale version of the Sorkin/Fincher masterpiece.
But one thing in the real world seems absolutely certain and that is that the real social network, Facebook, would never get made in Britain, not in a thousand years and not whilst the culture of conservatism, tradition, coupled with lack of vision and innovation pervades our creative industries. We ‘do’ history awfully well, we do future a little in the past tense over here. Faded glory of the British technological genius versus the innovative disruption of the technological force that resides in America.
Culturally the clue is in our Academies, the ones that exist to foster and then recognise the creative talents both of our wonderful countries have. The British one has ‘Arts’ in the title, the American one has ‘Arts’ and ‘Sciences’. That tells you a lot and may go some way to explaining why we lag behind the Americans in the technology business.
Don’t get me on the subject of interactive entertainment and video games just yet. That comes in future blogs. I attended a high level meeting at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) yesterday where we discussed, amongst other things, how the investment community does not ‘get’ the content creation community here in the UK. The appetite for investment into technological driven content is insatiable in California and laregly bereft in London. So, in my humble opinion if Britain is to continue to make a living in the creative arts, an industry that does produce some of the very best content in the world, then Britain as a society needs to recognise the part that science plays alongside arts in our creative economic future.
The Coalition Government who have stated that they want to effect real change and fast, should start by decoupling ‘sport’ from the DCMS and adding in ‘science’ – Department for Culture, Media and Science. No need to change the signs, just change the key word and then change the culture. Simple really.
PS – a prediction – best film at the BAFTAs? ‘The King’s Speech’. Best film at the Oscars? ‘The Social Network’. Both films ‘of the year’ in my view – one is history and the other is about making history. I loved both, for very different reasons, that’s the great thing about culture.