The Heritage Film And The United States

If British television pioneered the production of handsome adaptations of popular pre-war narratives, American public television trained American audiences to consume them. American series such as Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! showcased quality British television programming from the 1970s; film and television production reinforced each other (and established a pattern of crossover labor), with, for example, Sturridge's lush Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited appearing in the same year (1981) that Chariots of Fire took American movie theaters by storm. Less obvious is that success on the small screen should translate to success on the large screen. Nonetheless, the heritage film spoke to the institutional needs of both British and American filmmakers and distributors in the 1980s. The modest budgets by American standards made heritage films attractive to US distributors, who found that the films could be gratifyingly profitable in extended runs at a limited number of well-chosen theaters, such as the Paris in New York City, before going on to stepped releases elsewhere in the nation. In the British context, heritage films operated as a heaven-sent solution to the financing problems created by the introduction of the Films Bill in 1984-1985, which removed earlier government supports to the film industry (Quart in Friedman, p. 23). Because of its connection to a small but reliable niche audience in the United States and in Britain, the heritage film could expect to recuperate its costs outside the UK, which most British films must hope to do to become profitable.

The heritage film in fact operated internationally as a kind of highly accessible art film. It was frequently distributed through small art cinemas, promising a kind of reliable upper-middlebrow visual pleasure without necessarily demanding the kinds of interpretive effort typical of films such as L'Année dernier 'a Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961). Rapturous acclaim via the Oscars®, such as was received by Chariots of Fire (four Academy Awards®, seven nominations) and for James Ivory's A Room with a View (1985) (three Academy Awards®, seven nominations), coupled with good box office, did not merely add to the films' prestige: on some level, American involvement and reception helped constitute the constellation of characteristics that typified the heritage film. For example, James Ivory (b. 1928), an American director—his collaborators, producer Ismail Merchant (1936-2005) and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (b. 1927), are respectively Pakistani and German by birth—is responsible for seven of the iconic heritage films of the 1980s and early 1990s.

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Film Making

Film Making

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