Monthly Archives: October 2016

From culturally respectable to pleasant films

The latest issue of Volkskunde features an article I wrote on the revival of popular comedies in the 1980s. You can read the full article here.

The article shows that the official film production policy in Flanders played an important role in the revival of the genre of Flemish popular comedies in the eighties. When a film support system was installed in 1964, the cultural dimension of films, in the sense of their artistic and intellectual qualities, was dominating the policy discourse and practices (cf. this previous publication). In 1981, after years of Christian Democratic domination, the Ministry of Culture, and thus the film policy, was taken over by the Liberals. After a dispute between the new minister and the old film commission (which advised the minister on the allocation of government grants to film projects), the latter was fired and replaced. The replacements of important policy actors marked a shift in the development of Flemish film policy. Audience-oriented and commercial-economic motivations became more important, which was manifested in the support for popular comedies, such as films with the comic duo Gaston and Leo, or with the comedian Urbanus.

hector-lowPoster for Hector (1987), with Urbanus. Source: Ronnie Pede; Copyright: Multimedia, Eyeworks, Linden Film

While the Liberal ministers were outright supporters of popular comedies, the film commission was more nuanced toward such projects. For the most part, the commission found the quality standards of the popular comedies insufficient. On the other hand, these film projects raised economic arguments on the continuity of film production and attracting private investments, important elements in creating a stronger Flemish film industry. Moreover, attracting a large audience was a decisive argument. Connected to this argument, there was a broadening of the vision on what is culturally valuable and thus deserves government support. In addition to artistic and qualitative elements, the entertainment value of the films and the viewing pleasure of the audience were also taken into consideration, which weakened the earlier aversion to popular culture. The popular comedies show that from the eighties on, not only culturally respectable films, but also amusement films without much artistic or intellectual ambitions were deemed worthy to be supported by the government.