JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Distributors and producers often use reviews as a tool for the cultural and interpretative framing of a movie for its viewers. Names of nationally well known critics can be used for TV spots …

… as well as for DVD bonuses.

A DVD extra on the U.S. DVD edition of Bridget Jones: “A Guide to Bridget Britishisms” – the extra provides “mock” American-English vocabulary. Cultural and language American/English differences are not effaced. On the contrary, they are self-consciously displayed for the pleasure of a “knowing” viewer.

DVD extras with actors do not just have an ethos of professional confessions. Rather, an effort to inform and to convey the sincerity of personal memories are the main registers of DVD extras Here, Andie MacDowell reminds us of the time she was making Four Weddings and a Funeral on that special edition DVD: “It was not gonna be a very difficult job for me. … It was the time of my life. It was the greatest role”)…

... Such a statement also expresses  irony, even in a very explicit, direct and reflexive mode. The DVD extras can address viewers as “knowing” audience – as the audience that knows what marketing strategies are about.

“DVD featurette will not: be boring; be overly self-promotional; show gratuitous clips of Hugh Grant in wet shirt … unless absolutely essential.”

The plotlines of Working Titles´s romantic comedies work as shame-producing narrative machines. The hero experiences shame in front of a movie star…

…or famous celebrities such as Salman Rushdie…

…or the whole (TV) nation.

The British Bridget Jones´s Diary is framed for the U.S. audiences through people and products well known in U.S. popular culture.

As Andrew Higson points out, the Working Titles romantic comedies are sold to the world as having a “Hollywood star plus British culture heritage.” Four Weddings and a Funeral shows “olde-worlde inns”…

… and country houses.

In Notting Hill, “Julia Roberts features as an American film star who comes to England to appear in period costume in a Henry James adaptation.”

Bridget Jones´s Diary is partly based on Jane Austen´s Pride and Prejudice – and the special edition DVD points it out proudly.

In the Working Titles romantic comedies, London is presented as a clean, elegant, sanitized city. Tim Bevan, one of the two Working Titles´ co-chairs, commented the reasons of the strategy: “Interesting thing in terms of getting the film received in America is that when you begin to show the city off like that, they begin to not feel that the film is an import.”

 

New products, similar approach: irony and shame

I have described aspects of DVD production and distribution aside from content, such as those related to tie-ins and marketing, and changes not specifically related to the creation of extras, such as the incorporating of reviews. In addition, some of the extras produced for the U.S. edition obviously try to attract the viewer from the side of U.S. context and U.S. (pop)culture and also to adapt some of the elements of “Englishness” or cultural otherness. But what is significant is that this reference to cultural otherness comes in an ironic, self-conscious mode.  The most visible case is in the U.S. Bridget DVD's “A Guide to Bridget Britishisms.“ This extra provides “mock” American-English vocabulary, “translating” and comically explaining some of Bridget's “spicy” words and phrases, British cultural oddities, or even ordinary words: barrister – an attorney; loo – the bathroom; knickers – “not pants but ladies panties”; daft – foolish or stupid; bugger off – a milder way how to say “fuck off”; tarts and vicars – “a common British party themes involving priest and prostitute costumes”. In this case, cultural/language differences are not effaced smoothly; on the contrary, they are self-consciously displayed and reflexively admitted for the dissociated pleasure of a knowing viewer.

The “language problem” has been one of Working Title's highest priorities as it has attempted to succeed in the U.S. market. As Adam Dawtrey puts it, 

“The British sensibility of Working Title's movies plays more mainstream in foreign territories, particularly in Europe, where the movies are dubbed into local languages, than it does in North America, where the audience can hear the quaint British accents.“

He confirms that by quoting David Livingstone, the head of Universal's marketing team in London, and Tim Bevan, respectively: 

"When the Americans see British films, they describe them as upscale, because of the voice they hear. And when they say upscale, they mean, the guy in Middle America isn't going to gravitate towards this." (Livingstone)

"In America, our films are regarded as imports by the consumer, and it's about getting over that hurdle“ (Bevan).[17] 

But even when the producers consider an English accent a barrier and develop a DVD production strategy to break through it (as well as other barriers of cultural specificity and slant – see below in relation to the image of London), the difference in accent can be even used in a self-conscious, mocking, and ironic mode in the DVD extras. So, the DVDs (in both the British and the U.S. edition) often point out things like the presence of a "talented Texan actress for beloved British character“ (as one of the extras says). For example, in the case of Bridget Jones, director Sharon Maguire comments on this as both a serious production problem and a risk:  

"The fact that Renée was a Texan was an immediate anxiety, of course.“

But the extras also refer to language difference with a comic distance. As Hugh Grant described Zellweger in Bridget's "behind the scenes featurette":

"She was doing her English accent off the set as well as on, and I didn't know her as a Texan until the wrap party, when she turned up with this weird voice."[18] 

Irony is one of the most pervasive features of all these extras, together with the ethos of sincerity of professional confessions, the informational effort, and personal memories. Irony is not, of course, the exclusive feature of the U.S. extras, as it is also present in both the films (and the genre of romantic comedy) themselves and in contemporary promotional strategies in general. 

In the DVDs, irony is present both in an implicit form and as an explicit approach. The Bridget Jones's Diary featurette tips off: 

“When casting for a role of 'Classic Cad' we'll not forget three important things: Irony, Irony, Irony.”

Less explicitly but more significantly, there's an announcement:

"The DVD featurette – Resolutions … will not: be boring; be overly self-promotional; show gratutious clips of Hugh Grant in a wet shirt. Unless absolutely essential …” 

These words are then followed by a clip of Hugh Grant in a wet shirt. 

The Four Weddings and a Funeral DVD includes with its extras two unused trailers. As the producer Duncan Kenworthy points out, both are based on the difference between Andie MacDowell's and Hugh Grant's star power – Grant wasn't recognized internationally as a star at the time.[19] Both trailers show the actors inviting viewers to the movie. In the first case, Grant meekly introduces big star MacDowell, and the clip ends before he manages to say anything about the film. In the second trailer, MacDowell tries to introduce Hugh Grant to the viewers – and, embarrassingly, she cannot recall either his name nor any of his previous films. 

In the plotlines of these Working Title's romantic comedies, irony goes hand in hand with a pervasive sense of shame – and self-irony is a cure for it.[20] The “shame-producing” narrative machine is based on the relationship between a self-confident U.S. woman and a shy English man, reflexively and extra-textually doubled by the relationship between the U.S. star (Andie MacDowell) and the unknown English actor (Hugh Grant) in the case of Four Weddings. As the formula is repeated, this concept keeps shifting in the self-conscious discourse of the history of the Working Title's “romantic comedies” cycle. This cycle moves through the relation between two stars (Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill) to reversing the relation around the axis of nationality (Renée Zellweger, supposedly so unknown at the time of making Bridget Jones's Diary that she could work undercover in a publishers). This reflexive doubling of the characters'/ stars' relations is extended and repeated in the commentaries and featurettes on the DVDs with Four Weddings and Bridget Jones's Diary. In the case of Notting Hill, however, Hugh Grant alone takes the role of a star, owing to the absence of Julia Roberts in the disc's extras. But in the case of Four Weddings, the time distance of ten years brought extratextual commentaries to a memorial mode – the extras situate the story as commemorating the times when Grant was not yet a star.

New products, new contexts:
pop-culture associations and appropriation of spaces
  

Because the textual/extratextual relations of characters/stars are essential for the films' affective work and lay grounds for the films' universal popularity, they are exposed and reflected on these DVDs for both markets. In addition, at least two more distinct points “frame” the movies on the U.S. editions. First are “the young and the mateless (an expert's guides to being single)“ extras. These star women quite well recognized in U.S. popular culture, who comment the "singles“ phenomenon and give "tips“ on how to date and be attractive. Some of the presenters here include Linda Wells, editor of “the beauty expert” magazine Allure; Jerry Bicks, author and producer of Sex and the City; and Karen Salmansohn, author of the book Even God Is Single.[21] In this way, a direct connection with a tremendously popular “post-feminist” TV-series is created, as well as an indirect association with the “how to” books “industry” (significantly, in its ironic version). 

Also there is a strong demand for so called chick-lit (or pink-lit)[22] in U.S. and especially in Hollywood, and this is more of a U.S. pop-culture phenomenon than overseas. Thus, even such films as Legally Blonde succeeded in below-average fashion internationally. This particular kind of intertextual connection works better in the United States. To draw a comparison between U.S. and U.K. cultural preferences here, Legally Blond grossed $96.5 million in the U.S., $45.2 million overseas; the sequel got $90 million in the U.S., and only $34.7 million overseas. In contrast, Bridget Jones's Diary earned three times more in other countries overseas than it did in the United States. The same situation is the case with the other Working Title hits. Four Weddings earned three times more in other countries than the U.S., Notting Hill two times more. These films work overseas even better proportionally than U.S. blockbusters, such as Spider-man, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Independence Day or Pearl Harbor do (where the rate is somewhere between 1:1.1 and 1:2). It explains the worries of the UIP executives about the "foreigness“ and the "posh“ accent of these U.K. films, even though such a worry seems to be a bit schizophrenic. As I indicated, these films are based on a cultural difference that is very pointed and exploited both in the films themselves and in the DVDs extras. In addition, Hollywood stars provided the films with a “Hollywoodish” high-concept value and are “sold” to the world as having a “Hollywood star plus British culture heritage.” As Andrew Higson points out, all these films bear marks of “English heritage films”: 

Four Weddings, with its country houses, olde-worlde inns, and upper class eccentrics, shares a great deal with heritage films like the Forster and Waugh adaptations. Notting Hill features Julia Roberts as an American film star who comes to England to appear in period costume in a Henry James adaptation. And Bridget Jones's Diary reworked parts of Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice."[23] 

My second point about these film's international construction, which seemingly has later DVD distribution in mind, is the way that the overseas English setting of Working Title's films (London, primarily) is presented and exploited. Not to create any barrier for the reception of U.S. audiences, London comes across as an elegant, clean, sanitized city. The strategy behind such an approach in depicting settings has been tellingly expressed by Tim Bevan: 

Notting Hill, Bridget, About A Boy and Love Actually were all London-based films. We've had a bit more money, basically, (than other British filmmakers) and have been able to give the city a look on those films, which is very gratifying. It doesn't look like a grotty place. You get used to low-budget British films and we don't show our city off to the best (in those). The other interesting thing in terms of getting the film received in America is that when you begin to show the city off like that, they begin to not feel that the film is an import. They see the film as just a movie sort of thing. There's a magic hurtle that we have to go through with British films for the American audience where they're no longer feeling that the film's a nice quaint little picture from over the pond. They just accept it as a movie."[24] 

This kind of sanitized London imagery has been strongly commented on and criticized – in the British press, of course.[25] Still, London remains "one of the stars“ of Notting Hill. The U.S. DVD edition of Notting Hill includes a "travel book map.“ The extras offer a map of Portobello Road noting second-hand shops, greengrocers and antique markets, and also the infamous blue door. The second map shows eateries in the locality with their addresses. The special edition's mode of presentation is nostalgic, highlighting the movie as an exhibit of cinema history and an exhibit of the personal histories/memories of both crew and, above all, viewers. Also this “travel book” extra tries to establish a connection with the viewer's present space. Through this “spatialization” of a part of the diegetic world, it changes the imaginary, untouchable, un-visitable diegetic or story space, elusively present in the viewer's emotional memory, to a concrete space through which you the viewer can wander and which you can enjoy physically by all of your senses that are not involved in experiencing the film.[26]

However, this work of spatialization, a "palimpsestic" rewriting and concretization of the imaginary space, is not unique to this DVD. On different DVDs, its motivation can vary. The extras on the Notting Hill DVD do basically the same for Notting Hill what, for example, the Lilo and Stitch DVD's extras does for the Hawaian islands – it presents the place as something both intimately known and exotic at the same time. A general use of spatial, temporal and cultural distance is, however, essential for this way of presenting another location in an evocative way. 

Conclusion

U.S. distributors take the advantage of producing the U.S. DVD editions (region 1) separately in the United States to adapt and culturally “translate” movies for domestic audiences, at least in the case of “hot” movies. There is a notable difference between cultural flows in “framing” DVDs content, and due to the system of regions, these flows are not reversible. In the case of the flow from the U.S. to overseas markets, Angela Tammaro's words holds fully true – the differentiation that works here is based on lines of age, gender, taste, social status, and generic fandom, rather than lines of nation and culture. In that regard, the difference between the U.S. and the international editions tends to be a negative one. That is, some extras seen in U.S. DVDs are missing in some editions for international distribution. As for the flow from overseas to the U.S. (i.e., the case of films backed by Universal's money and produced in England), Tamarro's words holds true only from her point of view. She is certainly right – who should know it better? – in declaring that Universal International Pictures does not prepare various extras for various markets. There are, however, other “framers.” U.S. producers of DVDs for U.S. markets partially set up DVD content considering international editions. At the same time, they want to produce a culturally- and market-specific context, to appropriate and “frame” a culturally foreign product through the paratexts circulating around the film itself. All the materials included on a DVD can be used as external institutional constraints, as a cultural filter routing the viewer to a territory that is more culturally familiar and less discouraging. 

(Continued: Notes)


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