France



DISTRIBUTION AND THE EFFECTS OFTELEVISION: THE 1980s

By the end of the 1980s, it could no longer be said that cinema dominated the French cultural landscape. It had become merely one medium among many that appealed to French audiences. Beginning in the late 1970s, French cinema became part of le paysage audiovisuel français (the French audiovisual landscape). Though certain established film stars retained their impact, the new generation of French film stars failed to achieve the cult status of their predecessors. The national film star was eclipsed by international celebrities from a variety of media, including music and television. Certain French stars, such as Juliette Binoche (b. 1964) and Gerard Depardieu (b. 1948), achieved world standing through participation in international co-productions; however, it was the rare French star who migrated to Hollywood, where male stars such as Charles Boyer (1899–1978), Chevalier, and Louis Jourdan (b. 1920) had achieved success during the classical era. Other French stars, for instance Isabelle Huppert (b. 1955), extended their audience by appearing in theater productions. In general, French stars continued to cross between a variety of media, including film, television, café-theater, and advertising. New French stars, however, failed to achieve the kind of international notoriety conferred by the paparazzi on the likes of Bardot, Catherine Deneuve (b. 1943), Belmondo, and Delon in previous decades.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, television became a significant distribution network for film through the development of privately owned television stations, pay-TV, and cable networks. Indeed, television became a repertory theater devoted to screening the entire archive of French cinema from the silent era onward. Theaters were unable to compete, and even art et essai theaters, with their niche audiences, were threatened with extinction.

Television channels were extremely competitive and quickly began producing films as well as distributing them, especially in order to offer new material during highly desirable time slots. The first attempts of this type date to 1959, but it was not until 1976 that television coproductions became popular, and by the beginning of the 1980s few films were produced without some sort of support from Canal Plus, a subscription-based, encrypted television distribution network and subsidiary of Vivendi, a multinational media company. Beginning in 1984, the television industry was taxed, and these new revenues offset the decline of ticket-entry based levies, which had been one of the primary sources of support for French cinema since the inauguration of the CNC and its policies.

The film industry received a further boost in 1985 when Lang created the Société de Financement deśmatographiques et Audiovisuelles program (SOFICA), which offered tax shelters to companies investing in the film industry. Despite a steady decline in cinema attendance throughout the 1980s that reached its nadir in the early 1990s, these efforts succeeded in providing a sound financial basis for the French film industry. Yet the rise of international co-productions threatened the distinctiveness of French films while contributing to the industry's health and stability. Television had a paradoxical effect on cinema in France: on the one hand, it successfully challenged film as the primary form of mass entertainment; on the other, it was a source of financial support that enabled the film industry to continue to produce French films for a French public while encouraging the development of financially advantageous international co-productions.

With the rise of television, the distributor became a major force in the French film industry. Family-owned theaters disappeared and were replaced by multiplexes. In 1970, Pathé and Gaumont jointly created a network of over four hundred theaters under an umbrella organization, G.I.E. In 1971, the theaters grouped under UGC, l'Union générale des cinémas (the General Union of Film Theaters), which had been requisitioned by the state after World War II, privatized and became the heart of a network of several hundred cinemas. Another network, Parafrance, developed with the support of the CNC. But this system was unstable. In 1983 the CNC, empowered by a decree issued by Lang, dissolved G.I.E. Pathe Industries Ciné-Gaumont. By 1984, Parafrance was no more; however, Pathé and Gaumont reorganized, partitioned, and consolidated their shares of the market. The multiplex system became—the CNC's efforts notwithstanding—one of the formative influences on the further development of French cinema.

The major distributors were averse to taking risks. They evolved a system that maximized profit by saturating the national market with promotional materials and supporting multiple premieres in the most commercially viable locations. After 1989, it was not unusual to make eight hundred prints of a single film, which would then be shown simultaneously at ten percent of all theaters. The rising production costs made the financial risks greater, but the multiplex system also enabled producers to enjoy enormous financial rewards if they did have a box-office success. The incentive to produce blockbusters grew while the possibility of enjoying a modest success in a niche market diminished. Either a film made it big during the first week of its release or disappeared from the screen. Under this system, French cinema became even more vulnerable to the threat posed by Hollywood movies, particularly in the form of the blockbusters.



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