British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Film Review Shows

Film Review Programming on Channel 4

As a visual medium, television offers an ideal context for reviewing films. It allows the reviewer to successfully ‘quote’ content and carry out in-depth analysis using clips and trailers.

Certainly prior to the development of the internet, television had greater scope for the production of formally experimental film reviews than any other medium.  However, British television has historically had an inconsistent relationship with this area of programming.

During the 1950s, when television was first becoming a popular medium in Britain, there were a number of film review series on the small screen.  Indeed, programmes about the cinema and films themselves lent an air of glamour to television at a time when the new medium’s identity was still being established.[1] In subsequent decades film review programmes received varying amounts of air time and were subject to criticism from members of the specialist film press.  This criticism tended to focus on the use of film clips, which were used sparingly due to restrictions enforced by the distribution sector.

One issue at this time was the relative expense incurred when obtaining clips from older feature films. Indeed, it was much easier to access clips from new releases, as distributors welcomed the publicity that television reviews brought their films.  Furthermore, prior to the proliferation of electronic press kits, the cost of screening film excerpts was prohibitively high, with a going rate of £280 a minute for footage from older films.[2] The costs associated with obtaining footage meant that a film series could quickly become a very expensive form of small screen entertainment.

Critics and filmmakers commenting on the state of the cinema programme in the 1970s suggested that cost restrictions and regulations imposed by distributors undermined the quality of the BBC and ITV’s review series.  Some even went so far as to propose that difficulties associated with obtaining and screening clips prevented critics from carrying out honest analysis of a film’s content.  As long-running contributor to BBC1’s Film series throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Barry Norman was subject to much of the criticism levelled against British film programming during this period.  The Film programme, as presented by Norman, was glib and light-hearted, examining the plots of new releases and the activities of their star performers, rather than providing in-depth film analysis.

In spite of the criticism levelled against its host and content, the Film programme remained the only regular film review show on British television throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Other long-running arts series and strands, such as the South Bank Show (1978-2010), Arena (1975-) and Omnibus (1967-2003) did occasionally focus on cinema, with single documentaries devoted to directors and film genres.[3] However, their coverage of film was intermittent and did not constitute a regular contribution to film culture on British television.

With the establishment of Channel 4 in 1982 came the possibility for a change in British broadcasting.  It looked set to become terrestrial television’s trendy young upstart, promising ‘innovation’ and ‘experimentation’ in form and content to an audience that had become accustomed to the reliable duopoly of the BBC and ITV companies.  The fourth channel would provide an additional source of funding and a new exhibition space for filmmakers working independently at a time when the independent sector, as such, had yet to become fully established in Britain.  As with all of its early programming strands, Channel 4 attempted to provide a fresh perspective on the film review show format.  One of its earliest commissions was a formally experimental cinema series called Visions, which ran from 1982 to 1985.

« previous     1 2 3 4    next »