Thursday 7 May 2009

Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference 2009

LA/1/09/3/12/1 Draft for Britannia Hospital advertising
campaign © Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

This post is slightly late - only two months! In March I attended the Edinburgh International Film Audiences conference at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh along with two of my colleagues Karl Magee and Isabelle Gourdin. The conference was really interesting as were the people and it just had such a lovely atmosphere but what was particularly special about this conference to me was that it was the first time I have given a conference paper! I shan't bore you with how nervous I was beforehand but suffice to say, I was quite apprehensive. I think it went quite well though, and I even enjoyed the presenting, once I got over the nerves! The subject of my paper was the reception of Lindsay Anderson's 1982 film Britannia Hospital.

LA/1/9/6 Press cutting, The Daily Mail, 18/05/1982 © Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

The quotation above, from the Daily Mail, is a striking example of the general reception of the film by the critics in Britain.

Here is just a brief summary of the abstract put forward for the conference:
The film took a critical swipe at several elements of British society and its pessimistic view of the country was not appreciated by a nation fighting in the Falklands. The effect on the audience of negative press stories and poor reviews will be examined as will Anderson’s reactions which can be found in the letters he wrote to the critics who savaged his film.
Anderson replied to the fans who wrote to him, thanking them for their positive feedback on the film, and that personal aspect of the relationship between the director and his audience will be examined through a study of this correspondence.
The film’s failure at the British box office caused difficulties when it came to promoting Britannia Hospital in other countries. The search for an audience led down very different routes with advertisements presenting the film as a sub ‘Carry On’ romp in the US, an art-house movie in France and a video nasty in Australia. Anderson’s correspondence with the various distribution companies concerned with the film’s release provides an insight into its marketing, files enlivened by the director’s criticisms about how the promotional campaigns were conducted.

I've included a few examples below of posters from the promotional campaigns for the film from various countries which highlight the various ways in which the film was promoted in different countries.

LA/1/09/5/3/5 Advertisement for the Italian opening of
Britannia Hospital © Lindsay Anderson Collection,
University of Stirling

LA/1/09/5/3/4 Advertisement for the Australian
opening of Britannia Hospital © Lindsay Anderson
Collection, University of Stirling

I thought I would finish up with the image below of the headless corpse. This is taken from a scene in the film and this was the angle that Lindsay Anderson originally wanted to take with the British advertising campaign. However in a letter to Nat Cohen, a film producer, Anderson admitted “I could also see that the image of the headless torso waving a Union Jack … was not a good idea in view of the wholly unexpected turn that public affairs have taken during the last month or so” (LA/1/9/3/6/8, 18/05/1982). I know it wouldn't have done the advertising campaign, or the reception of the film, any favours but wouldn't it have been great if this was the image that had actaully been used in the British campaign?!

LA/1/09/3/12/1 Draft for Britannia Hospital advertising campaign
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for commenting on my blog. I felt I should return the honour by posting my response here :)

    It's quite difficult watching Britannia Hospital as someone who didn't really live through the Thatcherite era. On one hand, you have a more objective perspective, but on the other, you naturally will have less of a personal understanding of the context to draw upon.

    Watching it now, the film comes across as so cynical that it's almost bitter in its resentment of Britain at that time. It's such a damning portrait of human nature that it's sometimes difficult to laugh. I did find some of it funny (especially that part where a woman - but obviously a man - gets hit in the face by a thrown cabbage); nonetheless, I came out of it quite dispirited.

    Also, it's interesting how there was a huge difficulty in pitching this film, as you can see why they had trouble with it. The sex and nudity here works far less well here than in Anderson's previous works, and it does come across as just getting a bit of titilation going for its own sake, rather than anything more meaningful. I'm not surprised it was interpreted as a bit 'Carry On', because it does appear that way sometimes.