Bad education: UK TV is depriving us of exposure to great cinema

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Stuck in a cycle of mainstream repeats, UK television is neglecting the importance of film education by ignoring auteurs such as Godard, Antonioni and Lynch.

Television is the easiest way to get to the masses, alter their emotions and inform their conversations with others. If the BBC wants to get people talking about a period drama full of scandal and fancy dress, it will commission such a drama. But imagine if the BBC wanted to get people talking about a David Lynch film, where a woman is dry-humped whilst a man watches in secrecy through a closet – the power of television could allow this to happen. Sadly, it won’t.

Sky has nine different movie channels and shows around 70 films a day, yet constantly absent are films of cinematic importance

Tarantino has been famously quoted as saying that he never went to film school – he went to films. It’s an apt way of saying you don’t need to pay 15 grand to learn how to make a movie. But how much does it cost to develop a proper film education that is nourished by the true masters and movements of cinema, from Bergman and Truffaut, to Italian Neorealism and Dogme 95? Due to UK television broadcasters’ steadfast refusal to educate their audiences in the true pearls of cinema, it can cost quite a bit.

Tarantino was heavily influenced by the films of Jean-Luc Godard, a director associated with the French New Wave, a movement considered by many to be an important step in the evolution of cinema. Godard’s films were stylish and innovative and had a bearing on Tarantino’s engaging and lengthy use of dialogue. But how many Godard films do you see on UK television? The answer is none.

It isn’t an answer preserved just for Godard films either. It is true for many of cinema’s greatest directors and auteurs – their films just aren’t shown on UK television. A quick sift through a weekly TV guide tells you all you need to know. Sky has nine different movie channels and shows around 70 films a day, yet constantly absent are films of true cinematic importance. Instead, there are inane repeats of Braveheart, The Forgotten and American Pie. Sky, to its large discredit, and despite the bulk of films currently in its library, doesn’t care for films which defined cinema, rewrote the rules and had a significant cultural, aesthetic, socio-political or intellectual impact.

red desert

Film4 was once a beacon for challenging cinema, but these days it fares little better than Sky. A few years ago, the channel screened a Bergman season, but now Bergman pops up intermittently every six months, usually wearily an hour after midnight, with his nightcap already on. Admittedly, Film4’s current Editor’s Picks is tasty, and includes Antonioni’s seminal classic The Red Desert. But, frustratingly, it was aired on the channel at 1.15am. In fact, all three of the editors’ current picks are aired after midnight. If they are so good, and the editor knows they are good and recognises them as being cinematically important, just why are they screened so late? Does Film4 really believe that all disciples of pure cinema have nothing to get up for in the morning?

If somebody in the UK wishes to delve into film movements and the films of renowned auteurs, they must look beyond television

As it stands, if somebody in the UK wishes to delve into film movements and the films of world renowned auteurs, they must look beyond television, which currently fails to offer an alternative to its collection of films catered largely for the mainstream. This firstly means they must have a drive to delve deeper into the world of cinema and something has to have sparked this drive. They then must have a certain amount of knowledge to know who and what to look for, and they must have the means. It is asking a lot when UK television broadcasters tell us there is Bridget Jones’ Diary, Transformers, Pulp Fiction and not much else.

To cultivate a proper film education, a person must have something about them. Sadly, they are not always helped or given much encouragement. If somebody wishes to watch a Tarkovsky film, they have to pay over-the-top prices on Amazon – the current price for the Tarkovsky Collection is £89.99. When you consider Casino is available for £1.30, despite it proliferating all over ITV2 every week, you have to consider the injustice. Netflix is a poor alternative. Its library again accommodates the mass market and, somewhat shockingly, doesn’t even included The 400 Blows, the French New Wave classic by Francois Truffaut.

blue velvet

Yet the issue runs deeper and affects more than just film aficionados. People say British cinema is, by overall standards, poorer these days than it ever has been. Our output is average and sparse. Is this perhaps partially due to our exposure, as a collective, to banal repeats of substandard movies? Our lack of exposure to innovative filmmaking movements, past and present, may be telling. Who knows what could happen if a young couple suddenly switched over to ITV3 one evening expecting another showing of The Terminator 2 only to be subjected to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet?

Education is important and film education is more important than a lot of people give it credit for

This isn’t to suggest that a nation can be measured by its television output, but who knows what would become of our nation and its relationship to films if Badlands, for example, was screened on Christmas Day on Channel 4, whilst Persona was on BBC1 at the same time, with Paris, Texas on ITV? Television is at the heart of the masses’ homes – people wouldn’t switch off, but would be encouraged to watch at least one of them.

And it isn’t inevitable that they would hate each of those three films – there is a chance they would find something they like. People enjoy movies, it’s just that most people just aren’t aware of the different kinds of movies available to them. A Die Hard lover could just as easily fall in love with La Haine, they just aren’t aware of its existence. Somebody who likes Love, Actually could just as easily fall in love with Paris, Texas. This lack of exposure in the UK is almost criminal. Education is important and film education is more important than a lot of people give it credit for. Watching a Bergman film can make a person more rounded – they just need that first exposure.

 

Featured image: Columbia

Inset images: Rizzoli; De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

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