*Exception Taken: How France Defied Hollywood’s New World Order*

by on February 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm in Books, Economics, Film, Law, Political Science, Television, The Arts | Permalink

That is the new and excellent book by Jonathan Buchsbaum, offering the first comprehensive history of the debates over free trade and the “cultural exception,” as it has been called.  It is thorough, readable, and goes well beyond the other sources on this topic.

To be sure, I disagree with Buchsbaum’s basic stance.  He views “advertising dollars” as something attached to Hollywood movies like glue, giving them an unassailable competitive advantage, rather than an endogenous response to what viewers might wish to watch.  The notion that French or other movie-makers could possibly thrive by innovating and exploring new quality dimensions seems too far from his thought.  And he writes sentences such as: “France sought quickly to regulate multiplex development,” yet without wincing.

Perhaps his best sentence is the uncharacteristic: “Other commentators during the 1980s observed wryly that the only real European films were U.S. films, for only U.S. films succeeded in crossing borders in Europe.”

He spends a fair amount of time criticizing me, usually a positive feature in a book.  Furthermore, he delivers very strongly on the basic history and narrative, and draws upon a wide variety of sources.  So this one is definitely recommended to anyone with an interest in these topics.

1 rayward February 16, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Maybe net neutrality is making us all nitwits – all the same nitwit. Maybe if there were different grids for really dumb people, dumb people, middlebrow people, smart people, and really smart people, it would be less likely that all of us would be in the same category of nitwit. And maybe, just maybe, it would force Google, Facebook, and the rest to kick their advertising addiction. On the other hand, it might just mean different categories of nitwits rather than one category, from really dumb nitwits all the way up (or is it down?) to really smart nitwits. See you at the movies, the same movies, since all (or most) movies are made for only one category of nitwits.

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2 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Oh my goodness this is one of the worst posts ever at MR.

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3 anon February 16, 2017 at 2:01 pm
4 Careless February 16, 2017 at 3:45 pm

You’ve been here long enough you could have trained your eyes to skip over a post by rayward if you wanted to.

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5 JWatts February 16, 2017 at 5:17 pm

“Oh my goodness this is one of the worst posts ever at MR.”

Certainly an overly long way of saying basically nothing. But you could say that for at least a third of rayward’s posts. So, I’m not sure why this was exceptional.

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6 Rich Berger February 16, 2017 at 5:54 pm

I wonder if he’ll ever discover the paragraph.

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7 JWatts February 16, 2017 at 7:37 pm

The lack of paragraphs is minor compared to the lack of coherent thought as evidenced above.

8 Rich Berger February 16, 2017 at 9:52 pm

Basically, he’s mulp without the whimsy.

9 rayward February 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm

If all restaurants relied on advertising revenues rather than just revenues from the sale of variety and quality of food, all food would be the same. Then what would Cowen do with his evenings.

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10 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 2:39 pm

LOL, not even remotely applicable. Your constant whingeing about those evil advertising tech companies is moronic. Why don’t you rag on TV and radio and newspapers too?

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11 dan1111 February 17, 2017 at 8:11 am

“Why don’t you rag on TV and radio and newspapers too?”

Be careful what you wish for…

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12 you're a nitwit February 16, 2017 at 4:37 pm

you don’t know what the term “net neutrality” means and you embarrass yourself and bring great shame to your family by posting.

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13 Jeff R February 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

I might have to steal that line. “You bring great shame to your family by _________” is a good one.

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14 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Agreed, I’m using that.

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15 derek February 16, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Mom. Bring me another sandwich, and by the way I bring great shame to you.

Somehow I don’t think the insult will stick.

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16 Jeff R February 16, 2017 at 7:05 pm

You’re doin’ it wrong!

17 Donald Pretari February 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

Has anyone tried selling products within a film? Say, on Amazon Video, John Wick is wearing a really fine suit. It would be nice to look it up and purchase it . Music, books being read, hotels being filmed, restaurants, recipes, etc.It seems fertile ground for enhancing the viewing experience.

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18 Percy Sykes-Corbett February 16, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Alexa how much to get this sperg to shut up?

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19 ex-PFC Wintergreen February 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm

I think that this will happen eventually. When streaming shows or movies through an Amazon Fire device, I can click the remote and the IMDB listings for the actors in the scene pop up on screen. It wouldn’t take much to add a Buy Now button to the clothes the actors are wearing.

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20 Percy Sykes-Corbett February 16, 2017 at 3:42 pm

I suppose if off the rack is your cup of tea. But if you are so inclined- might I suggest Turnbull&Asser and Charvet my son and one needn’t worry a whit about Amazon Fire.

For me Paris is the space between north station and place vendome- which thankfully reminds me a little of Trafalgar Square or I dare say I wouldn’t even make that trip to the continent.

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21 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 3:59 pm

I think its very, very unfair what has happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were ILLEGALLY, I stress that – illegally leaked. Very very unfair.

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22 JWatts February 16, 2017 at 5:24 pm

No, Flynn was canned as he deserved to be. However, whomever was leaking the data was also committing a fairly serious felony. A crime more serious than what Flynn is guilty of.

23 anon February 16, 2017 at 5:32 pm
24 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 5:48 pm

I won’t accept being impersonated.

25 Sam Haysom February 16, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Trump at 55 percent in Rasmussen and with a significant lead over Warren in a hypothetical head to head. I can see in some of my less enraged leftists colleagues the distinct signs of panic setting in as they realize that Trump is probally coasting to re-election. At a certain point the rage on theft just becomes a panic-fostalling tactic.

26 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

I’m right behind you on this.

27 anon February 16, 2017 at 6:28 pm
28 Ricardo February 16, 2017 at 11:49 pm

“Trump at 55 percent in Rasmussen…”

And what better way to predict electoral college outcomes over three and a half years in the future other than with a cherry-picked national opinion poll?

29 So Much For Subtlety February 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm

It is common in Telenovelas of all sorts, but especially Brazilian ones, to put product placement. The military had limits on advertising and so it was a way of getting around it. It is mildly disconcerting when Noêmia is confronting Madalena about flirting with Horácio when Pedrinho starts going on about his favorite cornflakes.

If only we had someone here from Brazil who knew about these things.

However it has been huge in Western films for a long time. People pay surprisingly large amounts of money to turn up in James Bond films. Cars, obviously. I think BMW got screwed because they picked the wrong films to be in. Watch makers I believe as well. Pepsi has been a long-time fan of this approach. You often see a Pepsi machine in the background of modern films. I don’t think it works for them though.

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30 falstaffAZ February 16, 2017 at 6:46 pm

Now that you mention it, Pepsi’s product placement does seem ill-advised, considering most theaters (around here, at least) serve Coca-Cola products.

Heineken has done tie-ins with the last couple Bond films, which is another one I find odd, given that James Bond is famously a martini drinker. When I mentioned this to a friend, he suggested that maybe Bond will go for a Heineken on cheat day.

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31 anon k. m. February 16, 2017 at 9:47 pm

If I understood correctly, the term you’re looking for is “product placement” and it has been going on for ages.

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32 collin February 16, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Well it was France that led the New Wave in the early 1960s in which Europe was making more exciting films than Hollywood for most of the decade. (Well at least until Hollywood learned to steal some of the techniques with the film-makers of the late 60s/1970s) Yes, it appears harder to do so in today Hollywood domination and huge capital amounts but it is possible.

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33 Joël February 16, 2017 at 5:50 pm

@collin This is true (or at least, I share your opinion), but not directly relevant. During the 1960s the French new wave were making great films almost without any support from the government, any subvention, any protectionism against american film (and by the way, the Cahiers du Cinéma, a movie critics journal where many of the new wave debuted, had a strong stance against protectionism in cinema).

The book in question is discussing a later period, from 1981 on, where France tried to protect its ailing movie industry by cultural protectionism (including massive subventions) and that was a period when French cinema was mostly extremely dull (cause or effect, I don’t know).

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34 So Much For Subtlety February 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm

The problem with French protectionism is that it is intended to protect French culture. Great. We can all support that. But, as you point out, French films have been dying for a long time. No one in their right mind would go and see one except to see Emmanuelle Béart naked.

So that protecting French culture by protecting French film has turned into protecting a small number of French film makers and actors. The French have to show – but not watch – a certain percentage of French films every year. But no one wants to watch them. Which means they rely on State-funding. Which means a very small clique of government bureaucrats give money to a very small clique of film makers who in turn employ a very small number of actors. Hence every French film needs to star Gérard Depardieu (or at least Daniel Auteuil).

It is even dumber in the food industry. The French government hates McDonald’s. French people do not. I am all for the French protecting French food but basically if the French don’t want to eat it, it is not going to be saved. So they have compromised and let the French eat at a Belgian hamburger chain instead. Quick is actually a pretty good burger maker. The film industry needs to copy that model. Try to do what the Americans do but with better buns (apologies to Mlle Béart)

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35 steveslr February 17, 2017 at 2:44 am

My vague impression is that around 1959 De Gaulle told his Minister of Culture Andre Malraux to go find some talented young non-Communist artists to support to make France fashionable again and Malraux put the prestige of the regime behind Truffaut, Godard, and their New Wave friends, a deal that, at least initially, worked out well for both sides.

My impression of French cinema in the 1980s was that it was pretty much being carried on the broad shoulders of Gerard Depardieu. It seems like about half the French movies I went to in that decade starred Depardieu. I don’t know what we can learn about the success of a government policy if it was highly dependent upon one movie star.

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36 Ray Lopez February 16, 2017 at 1:49 pm

TC: “He spends a fair amount of time criticizing me, usually a positive feature in a book” – because TC knows the old Hollywood adage, ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’.

How does this book compare to these classics, two of which I’ve read?

Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding – Jul 21, 2010 by Tyler Cowen

Markets and Cultural Voices: Liberty vs. Power in the Lives of Mexican Amate Painters – Apr 13, 2005 by Tyler Cowen

What Price Fame? Mar 29, 2000 by Tyler Cowen (about $2.07, if the used book price is any indication).

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37 anon February 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I have been trying, not too hard, to figure out The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon.

It seems that the movie’s efficiency is that it reduces plot until it can be accessible to 7 billion moviegoers.

Yay market innovation.

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38 Doug February 16, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Never in the history of the world have you had access to such a dizzying array of film and television. All instantly available from the comfort of your home, much of it for very cheap prices. If you want sophistication, it’s available in spades. The reality is most people don’t. That’s alright, it doesn’t affect you.

Lamenting the state of modern cinema by citing movies like Fast and Furious is equivalent to criticizing the New York culinary scene because you don’t like the Applebee’s in Times Square.

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39 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Precisely.

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40 anon February 16, 2017 at 2:41 pm

That’s fair. And for the record I roll my eyes at every Applebee’s.

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41 Percy Sykes-Corbett February 16, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Nothing more cringingly middle class than rolling your eyes at middle class eateries. Take it from a guy from a family that lost track of how many pocket boroughs it controlled- we figure it had to be fewer than Howie had- excuse me the Duke of Norfolk had.

We made our peace with Disraeli you can make your peace with your station and it’s food options.

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42 anon February 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm

I was raised in the middle class, and do pride myself on maintaining a middle class morality. It is underrated. That combination of responsible actions shunned by those above and below.

The tragedy of Applebees though is that you can always eat better and for less. It is for people for whom burrito is a strange and scary word.

(About half the taco shops and small stores, even a Metro PCS, around here are shuttered today. More power to them, practicing middle class morality.)

43 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I think its very, very unfair what has happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were ILLEGALLY, I stress that – illegally leaked. Very very unfair.

44 anon February 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I should have done better with that comment. Off day.

Applebees .. is like a rejection of life’s possibilities.

Better?

45 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 5:49 pm

I will not accept being impersonated.

46 ex-PFC Wintergreen February 16, 2017 at 3:29 pm

+1

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47 too hot for MR February 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Concur. Side note: It disappoints me about myself that I recognize Alexander Scott as the smartest writer going, and yet I rarely click over there. It’s all Yahoo and MR and boobs with my morning coffee.

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48 slothtosser February 16, 2017 at 4:05 pm

a recent Economist article on this topic:

Mass entertainment in the digital age is still about blockbusters, not endless choice – http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21716467-technology-has-given-billions-people-access-vast-range-entertainment-gady

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49 Michael B Sullivan February 16, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Consider that “plot” may not be a strength of movies per se. They’re quite short! In terms of a plot-oriented story, the timeframe of TV shows or TV miniseries may be considerably more powerful. In this view, until like the 21st Century, you might’ve gone with a movie to deliver plot because:

1. TV shows had to be created so that individual episodes could be shown in any order.
2. The expense of good special effects could only be recouped by movies.
3. Beautiful cinematography could only be appreciated in the movie theatre.

But with the rise of non-episodic television and particularly internet-enabled binge-watching, the lowering in price of “good enough” special effects, and the increasing size and resolution of TV screens, maybe TV overtook movies for plot, and the niche of movies is now pure spectacle and extravagant special effects.

I wouldn’t bet 100% on this being an explanation, but I think it’s probably a little facile to just point grumpily at movies these days.

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50 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Another good reply.

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51 anon February 16, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Good replies, but too I think it is an established thing that “special effects movies” work in global markets because they rely on less common culture.

The Great Wall looks like two scenes from Lord of the Rings, with story removed.

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52 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 2:50 pm

You’re not wrong about this. People can understand big monsters and stuff blowing up in any language. Did you know The Great Wall was actually jointly produced by the US and China, not just made in the US with an eye on the Chinese market?

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53 anon February 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm

I assumed it was more Chinese, but probably it is typical of the new global blockbuster machine (some scenes filmed in New Zealand).

54 Treehorn February 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm

The premium for advanced screening plays a role as well. I would love to see a test where Game of Thrones episodes are released at movie theaters a week in advance of TV releases, assuming HBO has saturation of cable subscriptions from the show at this point. Perhaps the window is closing, I’d bet the premium is shrinking steadily because of piracy and available free streaming.

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55 steveslr February 17, 2017 at 3:00 am

Well said.

It’s hard work to squeeze an entire novel into a 2-hour movie. Often times the effort doesn’t really come off.

It’s easier to extend a novel into a 22-hour soap opera on Quality Drama Television.

Personally, I can’t watch a dramatic show for more than 6 hours, but most people these days seem to enjoy the slow pace and the who-will-sleep-with-whom-next padding.

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56 Scott Mauldin February 16, 2017 at 4:02 pm

True for film but not for increasingly high-budget TV production:
“All that Netflix wants is for people to keep subscribing to Netflix. So if you have one show that will keep you happy — it’s the same thing as the HBO/Showtime model — if people don’t churn, if people don’t walk away, then you’re making money off them every single month, and you have 10 different shows that reach 10 percent of the audience, then you’re not going to have any churn.” – http://wnpr.org/post/another-great-year-tv-david-bianculli-best-and-worst-2015

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57 Mark Thorson February 16, 2017 at 4:16 pm
58 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Limits on imports of foreign films helped Brazil’s cultural industry in the 1970’s. I think they should be reinstated.

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59 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

I think its very, very unfair what has happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were ILLEGALLY, I stress that – illegally leaked. Very very unfair.

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60 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 5:50 pm

No, I do not think.

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61 Thiago Ribeiro February 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Don’t listen to yourself. We do think.

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62 Thiago Ribeiro February 17, 2017 at 3:19 am

I say I won’t accept being impersonated.

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63 dearieme February 16, 2017 at 4:48 pm

It’s all been downhill since Buster Keaton, the only genius of film.

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64 msgkings February 16, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Poppycock. It’s been downhill since Daguerre. Who ever said pictures had to move?

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65 derek February 16, 2017 at 6:44 pm

The last french movie I watched had John Travolta in it and some foreign sounding guy. Rhys-Meyers and some good looking french chick who ended up being an islamic terrorist and was shot just before she blew up the US embassy. Great show. First time I’ve been able to follow the plot in a french movie.

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66 Donald Pretari February 16, 2017 at 7:56 pm

JWatts February 16, 2017 at 5:24 pm
No, Flynn was canned as he deserved to be. However, whomever was leaking the data was also committing a fairly serious felony. A crime more serious than what Flynn is guilty of.

JWatts, I told you that the big story is the amount of leaks emanating from the Trump Administration aimed at other parts of the Trump Administration. It is not partisan, but it is about policy and power. Since he didn’t come into office with his own dedicated crew from years of politics, it’s a power free-for-all, which should surprise no-one, especially people who voted for him on the basis of his not being a politician. Trump himself is just one part of the Trump Administration.

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67 Alex from Germany February 17, 2017 at 5:13 am

The “ARTE-effect”:
When french TV audience members were asked how much time per week they spend watching ARTE (a French-German state(s) funded public cultural broadcasting service), the results were twice as high as ARTE’s actual viewership ratings.

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68 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:36 pm

As the largest and most influential culture on the planet by almost any imaginable measure, it is easy to understand how completely myposic and basically dumb Americans are when it comes to understanding that other nations and cultures are not strict economic calculators when it comes to evaluating policy preferences and societal outcomes in relation to media market access, the roles of private and public markets in them, and other connected considerations.

Left to the free market, the world would be full of American dirty seconds, produced for mass market appeal with little sensitivity to local interests. Dirty seconds which would nevertheless win markets because they can sell at marginal reproduction costs instead of having to recoup full production costs.

So, for example, you have rules like 30% Canadian content required for a variety of contexts. Access to non-corporate media, funded by public dollars within highly independent reporting and news institutions, can also be important.

How many times has it been a public broadcaster itself which made initial revelations or provided deeper research into major issues of public concern with regard to the government? In the West, there is no Chinese-style CCTV, but instead a PBS, CBC, BBC, SBS and others, which general enjoy very high repute compared to most other sources in terms of both accuracy and perspective of news meida reporting.

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69 Troll me February 18, 2017 at 7:36 pm

typo: myopic

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