23 November 2006


Most people have heard of the phrase supposedly said by Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring: “When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver.” In fact, he may not have said it and, even if he did, so did other Nazi leaders, such as Rudolf Hess. The real phrase came from a Nazi propaganda play by Hans Johst, whose artistic and theatrical ideas seem to be an uncanny mirror of those enunciated by such luminaries of Communist literary agitprop as Bertolt Brecht.

Somewhere in what sounds to be a mind-numbingly boring play, “Schlageter” about the man who was executed by the French in 1923 for resisting their occupation of the Ruhr through sabotage (you learn a lot on this blog), one of the other characters says: “Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning”. “When I hear of culture … I release the safety catch on my Browning.” Much neater, I think.

What would any of this folk or, for that matter, their opponents like Karl Radek, the German Communist subsequently one of the accused in the Second Moscow Trial of 1937, sentenced to a prison sentence and killed by another prisoner, and Brecht, who prudently escaped to the West, say about a press release from the European Commission that is peppered with the word “culture”. Oh I don’t know. Brecht may be quite happy, as long as he could be in charge as he was in East Germany.

It seems that Our Nellie (Kroes) has approved of tax incentives for the British film industry as long as there are "cultural" British films are produced.
The total annual budget for the UK film tax incentive amounts to £120 million (€ 177 million). To be eligible for support under the scheme, films other than European co-productions will have to pass the revised UK Cultural Test. To pass this points-based test, a film must obtain at least 16 of the available maximum of 31 points for different criteria. There are four categories of criteria, including Cultural Content and Cultural Contribution for which up to 20 points are available, ensuring that the aid is directed towards a cultural product. The UK authorities will bring forward legislation to apply the revised Cultural Test and make the scheme operational.
I am rather looking forward to that legislation and the possibility of briefing members of the House of Lords on it (no point in briefing the other lot, they have never heard of films, culture or revolvers).

Think of the definitions one could have for “Cultural Content and Cultural Contribution” and the points to be awarded. Would one, for instance, award points to films that used English classical music and musicians? I think not though, I imagine, rock bands who will disappear within a couple of years from sight may well get the much needed points.

Hugh Grant, now. He has become a national treasure. How many points would a film get if it fielded Hugh Grant and, let us say, Michael Caine? Not that Caine has evinced any desire to act with Hugh Grant but you never know. Then again, Caine is also a Hollywood star, though he lives in England. How many points is that?

Since the kultukampf of the modern film-making industry does not include ordinary middle class families and their lives (unless it is to show what a sham it all is, though even that is now left to the Americans), no film of the kind Sir Carol Reed or Sir David Lean used to make would pass muster. I mean, would anyone award points to something like "Brief Encounter" or "Waterloo Bridge", not to mention "In Which We Serve" or "Went the Day Well?" or "The Ladykillers"? Surely not.

No Shakespeare play would get the go-ahead unless it showed parallels with the Iraqi war (there not having been any wars ever before in this country’s history); no play by Oscar Wilde would be turned into a film unless it can be updated to make it "relevant" (hint: means nudity); no play that involves any foreign immigrant or asylum seeker would be made unless the latter, usually female and attractive, is to be played by a French film star; above all, nothing English would be shown without winsome charm.

Accountants who deal with the film industry must think they have died and woken up in heaven.

The aid takes the form of an "enhanced tax deduction" and a "payable film tax credit". The "enhanced tax deduction" allows a film production company to benefit from a higher deduction for certain production costs than the normal UK tax rules would allow. The "payable film tax credit2 allows the film production company to receive a cash payment of up to 25% of any tax loss (after applying the enhanced tax deduction). The pre-production, principal photography and post-production expenditure borne by the beneficiary on goods or services that are used or consumed in the UK can be considered under this aid scheme.
Accountancy Age is on the case with Fiona Hotston Moore of MRI Moores Rowland explaining:
If a film was filmed and produced in the UK and the dialogue was in English it would be eligible for tax relief. The new cultural test means that the producer and director will have to be British to claim the reliefs.
Right. So that leaves out all the US companies who brought money into the country by making films here, which is a pity since a number of them, including the makers of the Bond films have been making noises about Britain being a tad too expensive.

It sounds all a bit like those quota quickies of the pre-war period and absolutely terrible they were, too. The idea, enshrined in the 1927 Cinematograph Film Act, was that cinemas must show British made films. Thus a plethora of cheap B-movies was produced in order to accompany the main feature, which was all too often American. Even the British ones made in the mid-twenties were often Anglo-German productions.

Was it a success? Not according to the distributors who insisted that important changes had to be made in the legislation when it was renewed in the mid-thirties. Would the better British films have been made without the quota? Probably, but one must not say that as that would imply that there is a qualitative difference between various films and this does not depend on where they are made or what nationality the director or the producer might be.

The trouble with all this tax incentive is that the cinemas will continue to show films they think might bring in money and the culturally impeccable, EU-approved, British director made unwatchable rubbish will continue to be left out of everybody’s calculations.

Incidentally, would the enormously successful Carry On films have passed the test?