Could there be a better example of the economic phenomenon of the 'tragedy of the commons' than the recent £8.6m offer to subsidise showing 'specialist films' across 20 EU countries, asks UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom (PSEurope)
•For those not familiar with 'tragedy of the commons' it is when everyone owns something, so nobody has responsibility for it. The common fisheries policy is a prime example but I digress. Brussels is offering £8.6m to a network of cinemas across at least 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, to show these European films for 12 months.
No one wanted to watch these films, such as Muumise Kunst, a 2006 documentary about Estonians selling Tupperware, the first time round and I cannot believe anyone will the second time round. I do not think that oi Albinoi, the story of a lovesick Icelandic Albino, or O Fantasma, the tale of a Portuguese dustman, is going to having them queuing round the block either. The EU allots its MEDIA 2007 an annual budget of £100m to support small enterprise and independent film-makers.
The history of film making is a fascinating subject. The birth of the film industry was in Europe – had the Great War not come upon us in 1914 it is probable that England would have eventually overtaken a strong French film industry simply because the eventual global hub of films would have to have been English speaking. As the United States very sensibly kept out of the Great War until 1917, Hollywood established its grip of steel on this art form.
One may wonder what the eclipse of Hollywood might have meant, especially for the English speaking film goer. Would the Western ever have become the perennial favourite? Can one imagine a film history where Tom Mix, Roy Rodgers, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott and Audie Murphy did not ride off into the sunset having beaten the guy with the black hat?
The South African and Australian frontiers were equally compelling and yarn-worthy in the nineteenth century. The Raffles story of Singapore and the Lawrence brothers in India equally so in the East. Indeed for deeds of derring-do the old British Empire was more over the top than anything Hollywood could have written. Sadly most of this potential entertainment has been confined to the dusty top shelf of the university library.
I would argue, well as a neo-Austrian economist I would, would I not, that entertainment is the responsibility of the filmmaker, song writer, artistes, and shareholders. Surely it is what people are prepared to pay for that produces lasting works of art. The great classical musicians were sponsored privately, yes indeed also Royalty. "Too many notes my dear Mozart", did the market rule? Was his next work of fewer notes one wonders? My experience is there is always a Mozart buff that will assist me.
The film industry has developed beyond all recognition in the last hundred years. The technical production of films now would be beyond the imagination of my grandparents, who referred to the cinema as the picture palace, and before that I believe the bioscope. The money and power these days has shifted from the great Hollywood moguls, Sam Goldwyn, Louis Mayer, David Selznick or even the 'seat of the pants' entrepreneurs like Michael Todd, and to the stars, most of whom are overrated, over paid and over lauded. Actually with the exception largely of British and French actors; if you can make it in Hollywood as a non-American you have to be rather better.
I would also make an argument that annoys my snobby friends that the best music post war has been film music. The score to Gone with the Wind, which scandalously did not win an Oscar, started a genre that runs strongly to this day. Again composers, of whom many are Brits, as far as I know have not needed state sponsorship.
Nor do I believe good films need big budgets. The fabulous run of Ealing comedies in the 50s and 60s prove that. Any youngsters who do not believe me I suggest you dig out School For Scoundrels with Terry Thomas, Ian Carmichael, Hattie Jaques and a bevy of other all-time greats of character comedy acting. The sale of the Swiftmobile with Peter Jones and Dennis Price about half way through is a classic. So films have nothing to do with the state. Nor should they.
These are though a plethora of tax systems to aid film-making. I have myself taken advantage of some of them. They usually fail because their primary objective was tax avoidance – not evasion incidentally, there is a difference. Indeed rather late I found out failure was the objective. There have been some very good, relatively low budget films out of France, Ireland and the UK with tax relief help. I am not hostile to a little help with the state stealing rather less money, but the gratuitous waste of £8m, given the way things are, is pretty disgraceful – and they claim there is no possible way to reduce EU budgeting. If we must show films at public expense let me suggest two. George Orwell's 1984 and Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 Triumph of the Will, albeit it might be too late to learn from that.
Godfrey Bloom is a UKIP member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire