Monday 15th December 2008

The Eurostar to Paris. “Every term has an end’. I sit grading papers and writing references as the train shuttles from St Pancras to the Gare du Nord through the Tunnel (more capital, more labour) in an unbelievable two and a half hours. Paris is still a soft city. When I first lived here as an eighteen year old my greatest ambition was to be able to have the time and money to eat a long lunch over a newspaper in one of the better restaurants du quartier. Am ambition realized but,as with all such pacts there is a Mephistophelian twist . Now I have the money to drink as much good wine as I like but although the spirit is willing the flesh is weak and I can’t even manage a bottle, but then one of the reasons I eat at the Pre Cadet is that le patron charges by the glass.
I have read the economic news first since early August 1982 when at a cocktail party in New York I saw bankers white with fear as Mexico threatened to default. As Marx’s politics and ideology seemed more and more threadbare through the eighties and nineties, the economics seemed more and more accurate. Of course, one felt rather like a loony wearing a sandwich board reading “ the crisis of over-production is at hand” and as a whole generation bought the idiocies of neo-liberalism one felt more and more like the village idiot. It certainly adds a spring to one’s step to morph from ‘yesterday’s Marxist” to “he saw it coming” although I might ask for a pass on attending the financial Armageddon that we nearly experienced in early October and which still looks a real possibility.I have to speak in the afternoon at Laurent Creton’s seminar on the political economy of the cinema.. Frederique Berthet, who revealed the secrets of the CNC’s archives to me when I was writing the Godard biography has asked me to come and reflect on my career under the general rubric of the relationships between “teaching, writing and producing”. The problem is that the seminar is looking for general lessons where all I can see in my career is a collection of happy accidents. >As I prepare my talk, some of the accidents turn into history. Certainly my career is a product of British television. In the sixties as a teenage viewer my intellectual heroes were Jonathan Miller and A.J.P. Taylor and therefore I realize retroactively the ambition of combining scholarship and the moving image runs very deep . A more familiar thought is the incredible importance of Jeremy Isaacs’s decision to commit 10% of Channel 4’s revenues to film, which made the eighties and early nineties a moment of great experimentation in British film. Finally I retell the sad story of how Thatcher’s Broadcasting Act of l990 accomplished its objective of destroying British television. I can recount the whole story now ,complete with its New Labour BFI subplot without emotion. For it is all history and what is now exciting are the possibilities offered by the art world and the internet; the extraordinary technological developments which now allow all of our students to become master editors.
Two points bring general recognition and enthusiastic discussion. I emphasise the importance of producer monopoly for aesthetically excellent mass entertainment. Whether you look at the Shakespearean stage, Hollywood in its classic period or British television from 1957-1990, you find a producer monopoly driven by intense competition. My audience prefer the term ‘emulation’ to ‘competition” but whether you look at the rivalry between the London playing companies, the Hollywood studios or British television channels, emulation seems too weak a word for the intensity of the rivalries. Another area of recognition comes when I describe how the destruction of British television in the mid-nineties went hand in hand with the introduction of grotesque levels of economic inequality between executives and producers. While I know this was a feature of the demise of British television, I had not realized that this was a general feature of neo-liberal reform of the media.

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