Co-productions



THE POSTWAR ERA

The next major period of co-productions extended from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1970s. With the direct assistance of the US government, Hollywood corporations formed the Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEAA) in September 1945 to expand markets and lobby for international free trade of American films. A series of agreements between the United States and the western European nations at first allowed for the almost unchecked flow of American films onto the screens of a reconstructing Europe. But protests by many national film industries brought about a wave of protectionist legislation in the form of quota and subsidy systems, as well as the limiting of American earnings that could be removed from certain countries. Hollywood responded by making "runaway productions": films shot abroad on cheaper locations with cheaper crews and facilities, financed with the large revenues earned by American exports but blocked from removal. Many of the elaborate and expensive epics of this period— Quo Vadis? (1951), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), Cleopatra (1964)—are examples of this mode of international production, which continues to this day (especially in Australia and Canada, though without the frozen earnings factor).

American firms also established studio subsidiaries in almost every western European territory so as to be eligible for government subsidies, with the bulk of American overseas participation in the European film industry in the 1960s centered in Great Britain, Italy, and France. These and other European countries inaugurated treaty co-productions as a means for facing the Hollywood threat head-on. On the one hand, the threat was perceived as cultural, and so several European governments sought to protect national cinematic expression through subsidies for quality or artistic films. On the other hand, the threat was economic, so other subsidies were created to support the more commercial side of filmmaking. Co-production treaties between nations were thus established as a means for maintaining standards of financing and participation for each nation's film industry (in order to qualify for state subsidies) while at the same time allowing for increased resources and budgets available for film production (in order to expand potential markets). The treaties specified how the financing would be handled, the nations and original languages in which the films were shot, and the percentage of actors and technical crew that must come from each participating nation. Treaty co-productions quickly became common practice in Europe beginning in the 1950s, though the tension between the cultural and commercial needs they were created to serve has continued to bedevil their existence.

The first treaty was signed in October 1949 by France and Italy, and it marks the beginning of a trend in Franco-Italo co-production that hit its stride in the late 1950s and peaked in the early- to mid-1960s. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, bilateral and trilateral co-production treaties proliferated among more and more national partners, extending beyond Europe to include Canada, Latin America, and North Africa. The films produced in this manner were broadly of three types: art films, genre films, and quality entertainment films. They constituted a sliding scale as regards budgets and identifiable national characteristics, though all allowed for financing increases of between one-and-one-half and three times those of national productions. One key factor for commercial success involved finding formulae with the widest potential appeal across national borders, and the most lucrative European co-productions in the 1950s were those in the costume melodrama and comedy genres. In the 1960s films were made across a range of cycles, including pepla (muscleman mythological epics), "spaghetti westerns," "swashbuckler" movies, sex comedies, horror films, and spy thrillers.

The rise of art cinema in this period highlights the contradictions inherent in the co-production treaty strategy. Whereas European "quality" filmmaking represented the attempt to fight Hollywood cinema on its own terms (big budgets, star-studded casts, elaborate sets and costumes), art cinema proceeded from the opposite direction, and one connected to long-standing anti-American sentiment: that the strength of European culture lies in its specific national artistic cultures. While usually considered as exceptional examples of auteurist films that represent their respective national new waves, a high proportion of European art films in this period were in fact international co-productions: L'Année dernière à Marienbad ( Last Year at Marienbad , Alain Resnais, 1961); La Nuit Américaine ( Day for Night , François Truffaut, 1973); all of the films of Michelangelo Antonioni's (b. 1912) tetralogy starring Monica Vitti (1960–1964); all of Federico Fellini's (1920–1993) films from La Strada (The road, 1954) through Satyricon ( Fellini Satyricon , 1969); all of Luchino Visconti's (1906–1976) films from 1967 on; and most of the 1960s films directed by Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), Claude Chabrol (b. 1930), Vittorio De Sica (1902–1974), and Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940), among many others. Some art film co-productions at times acknowledge their status as such, and Godard is particularly noteworthy in this respect—his 1963 film Le Mépris ( Contempt ) takes as its subject the making of an Anglo-Italo-French co-production, which it itself is.

Several prominent film actors were in perpetual migration across national borders to make co-productions of all sorts: Burt Lancaster and Charles Bronson of the United States; Dirk Bogarde and Terence Stamp of Great Britain; Anita Ekberg and Britt Ekland of Sweden; Klaus Kinski and Elke Sommer of Germany; Oskar Werner and Romy Schneider of Austria; Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale of Italy; and Catherine Deneuve, Alain Delon, and Gérard Depardieu of France. Their personal filmographies are one register of the degree to which co-productions became so important to international filmmaking in the postwar era. Another, more direct, register is the national filmographies of the nations that established co-production treaties in this period, though these are contradictory and often difficult to decipher. Of the major film-producing European nations—Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and West Germany—all but Great Britain engaged consistently in treaty co-productions after 1950, and all made more co-productions in given years in the mid-1960s than wholly national productions. France's co-productions between 1960 and 1972 exceeded completely French films by as a much as one-third.

As for Great Britain, its high production figures obscure the degree to which US investment underwrote the nation's cinematic output in the 1960s, making it difficult to define any part of the film industry as British rather than Anglo-American. One of the key films of the era, Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966), was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the first of a three-picture deal the famed Italian director made with the Hollywood studio. Blow-Up is considered by film scholar Peter Lev to be an example of the many "Euro-American art films" made from the early 1960s on that combine American and European approaches to filmmaking in terms of film form, budgeting, finance, and language. Such hybrid films evidence the balancing act engaged by the international film industries in a postwar market characterized by increased competition and innovation. International co-productions thus represent in this period, as they had in the interwar era and continue to do so today, a series of complex actions and reactions to Hollywood's global ambitions.



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