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Swedish Film and Television Culture Reading Report 1 by Lieneke Groll - National cinema, art film and TV September

20th, 2013

When facing with the concept of national cinema, it is quite difficult to give one explicit definition of the term. The first part of the concept, national, implies a culture different from other cultures. It implies something which is characteristic for a nation and is only a part for that specific country. Higson is defining national cinema as one that imagines, or enables its audiences to image, a closed and coherent community with an already fully formed and fixed indigenous tradition (Higson: 70). One of the reasons the concept of national cinema is problematic, and what Higson does question in his article, is the usefulness of the concept. Higson explains that it is clearly a helpful taxonomic labeling device, a conventional means of reference in the complex debates about cinema, but the process of labeling is always to some degree tautologous, fetishing the national rather than merely describing it (64). National has become a popular saying, but it has become a somewhat empty word. Even though films from different nations have similarities, by using the label national cinema it creates borders between these films. National cinema indicate the nation as just this finite, limited space, inhabited by a tightly coherent and unified community, closed off to other identities besides national identity. Or rather, the focus is on films that seem amenable to such an interpretation (66). When talking about national cinema there is only room for the national identity, but it fails to acknowledge the different sides of a nation. When something is described as national, the assumption is made that it is different from other countries. Higson formulates the two sides of national cinema perfectly: On the one hand, a national cinema seems to look inward, reflecting on the nation itself, on its past, present and future, its cultural heritage, its indigenous traditions, its sense of common identity and continuity. On the other hand a national cinema seems to look out across its borders, asserting its difference from other national cinemas, proclaiming its sense of otherness. (67) The concept of national cinema has two sides, in the way that it reflects on the nation itself and looks to other nations in comparison. Another aspect of the problematic status of national cinema, is the aspect of transnationally. A movie is never made by one person itself, there is a whole team behind one movie. When the production team exists of people from all over the world, it is hard to link a certain nation to the movie in question. Higson mentions that the cinemas established in specific nation-states are rarely autonomous cultural industries and the film business has long operated on a regional, national and

transnational basis (67). Movies go across different national borders and become transnational. When can we define a certain movie as national? There is no clear line or border to depict national cinema.

When talking about national cinema and nations, it is also interesting to look at television. Inside the different nations, television started to rise after World War II. When television was being introduced over the world, there was a discussion in many different countries about using television as a public service or as a commercial device. The identity of the medium was up for debate. How an old medium was shaped in the past, had a big influence on the upcoming new medium when we look back at history. Remediation is an important concept here, as it points out that a new medium takes in characteristics of an old medium. (Bolter and Grusin: 45) In Sweden there was also debate going on whether to adopt a mode of production that was strictly public service, and thus part of the corporate structure of the national radio, or to accept some form of commercial input (Olsson: 249). In Sweden the radio was an important factor in shaping television. Swedish radio was rather stiff and had different programs which were high-class. From the beginning there was not an entertaining side of radio. As Olsson explains the subsequent formation of a public service approach from scratch led to a very slow start for television in Sweden when the Radio Corporation built up its production structure (267). Television in Sweden consisted of one channel for a long time, with only a couple of hours of broadcasting per day. The development of television was free from market consideration and needed to be educational, cultural, combined with quality entertainment only. (250-256) In 1954 there was a special media event which introduced commercial television in Sweden. During one week, the Sandrew Television Week, a film company called Sandrews got a permit for television broadcasting. Even though this week was a huge success, the commercial television didnt saw the light until decades later. (249) Sweden followed the British educational model of BBC1 instead of the American model.

With the coming of television, a decline in the film industry was experienced. The movie attendance dropped by a large amount and alongside the rise of television, the existence of a big entertainment tax also caused problems for the film industry in Sweden. Moviegoers had to pay quite a lot of money just to go to the movie theatre. This was the reason Harry Schein wrote a chapter in his book about cinema and the need of changing the Swedish film industry. The institutional changes visible in the country included the creation of Svenska filminstitutet (Swedish Film Institute) in 1963 with its influential financial support, the removal of the cinema tax, and rapidly falling cinema attendance after the introduction television in Sweden in 1956 (Marklund: 239).

At the beginning of the 1960s, according to Widerberg, only Ingmar Bergman and Arne Sucksdorff had the privilege of making movies just as they wanted it in Sweden. There was only a problem with this privilege, as both directors make vertical films in a time when horizontal films are needed. Neither really made films about mans relationship to other people in todays dynamic society (240). With the coming of the Swedish film reform, it became easier for directors to make movies. New filmmakers got a chance to make films which were more personal. The reason why this was realizable, was due to the fact that new technologies made it possible to make films in a cheap way. However, more importantly, the Swedish Film Institute put up funds that supported quality films. Different factors could give a film the quality mark, such as the message of the film, the psychological side, the way it was directed or other artistic aspects. The term quality remains a bit vague, but the Swedish Film Institute made it possible to explore new facets of cinema. Flickorna came out in the cinemas in 1968 and was directed by Mai Zetterling. In the movie the subject of inequality between men and women is raised, next to the war and welfare state. (Larsson: 263) Flickorna is a perfect example of one of those horizontal films and why the movie can be considered as a product of the Swedish film reform. The relationship between men and women and society is portrayed. According to Mariah Larsson there can be said to be one central theme in the film: namely that although men have constructed the modern welfare society, women have comfortably settled in it and conserve it by enjoying it (267). Sadly Flickorna was not received well by critics and the audience. It didnt have a long screening in the cinemas and the attendance of the audience was low. One of the main funding part of the Swedish Film Institute was an ability to recoup their costs at the box office (240).

Literature Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media (London: MIT Press, 2000)

Higson, Andrew. The Limiting Imagination of National Cinema in Cinema and Nation, ed. by Mette Hjort and Scott MacKenzie (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp 63-74.

Larsson, Mariah. Modernity, Masculinity, and the Swedish Welfare State in Swedish Film: An Introduction and Reader (2004), pp 263-269.

Marklund, Anders. The New Generation of the 1960s in Swedish Film: An Introduction and Reader (2004), pp 239-242.

Olsson, Jan. One Commercial Week: Television in Sweden Prior to Public Service in Television after TV: Essays on a Medium in Transition, ed. by Lynn Spigel and Jan Olsson (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004), pp 249-269.