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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Selling the city: Fantasy london as a cinematic construct

Rahoul Masrani
  • Fonction : Auteur


The notion of cinema as central in the cultivation of the symbolic value of the global city (new York, london and Paris; see Sassen, 1991) is taken for granted in the scholarly community (see, for example, Hemelryk Donald and Gammack, 2007; Cruikshank, 2010). in the contemporary marketplace, the synchronicities between cities and film studios are becoming ever more apparent, whereby setting a film in a certain city may be attractive to filmmakers as the city itself may possess a great deal of symbolic value. this notion is grounded in Bourideu's (1985) concept of symbolic power as composted of both economic and representational (cultural) elements. the contemporary representational space of cinema as a global media and cultural industry signals a move towards the economic realm of symbolic power through its cultural properties. the ways in which the global city is represented in cinema, therefore, is not simply a result of particular artistic conventions. rather, the global city acquires the characteristics of a commercial 'good', whereby the market creates a space through which to capitalise on the global city's symbolic value, which is discursively articulated in the medium of cinema.The conflated practice, for example, of city promotion through film and, perhaps more significantly, film promotion through the city, re-positions the city as a filmic product through 'product placement', whereby a variety of film industries use certain cities as a selling point. equally, the city itself utilises the cinematic medium to communicate and maintain its symbolic significance. The diverse use of the cinematic city in the contemporary market space reflects shifting conceptions of the global city in the political economy of place. this paper highlights the blurring of the boundaries between cinema and the emerging phenomenon of city promotion, which is indicative of the current state of the cultural industries in general, in which convergence and synergies are becoming increasingly common: this is a developing phenomenon rooted in both the evolution of cinema more generally and indeed in the experience economy (see Pine and Gilmore, 1999) and the neo-liberal ethic in the corporatisation of the city, often as a promotional entity.this focus on the experiential and corporatised (neoliberal) realms of consumptive discourses has to a certain extent transformed the ways in which the symbolic value particularly of the global city is produced and maintained. the role of the cinema industries in cultivating particular variants of the city, through a range of discursive techniques, is expanding. For example, the current promotional market is rife with opportunities for cities and films to enjoy a synergetic or symbiotic relationship. Product tie-ins, cross-promotions and cinematic advertising are increasingly prevalent across the contemporary media landscape. Film viewers are encouraged to enter competitions or consume products associated particularly with the global cities, both in terms of physical immediacy (encouraging viewers to visit these cities) and symbolic significance (encouraging consumers to purchase or experience products and services associated with these cities). Cinema and the cinematic city have therefore begun to expand beyond their traditional confines, permeating other modes of visual representation, whereby the cinematic city is re-articulated in non-cinematic genres, such as this paper, i use london as a case study to apply some of the results obtained in my PhD research, in which i carried out a discourse-semiotic analysis of a variety of London-set films released between 1997 and 2007. One of the key results was the identification of a variety of filmic categories prevalent in London's identity during this period. in this paper, i discuss one of these variants, which i term 'Fantasy london'. the Fantasy london theme is inspired by the work of Church Gibson (2003), Brunsdon (2007) and Murphy (2009), who cite this filmic variant as central to London's 'global city' identity. Brunsdon (2007) notes that the romantic comedy genre, upon which the fantasy category is based, is largely absent from london's filmic past prior to the 1990s (p. 120). Indeed, london as a cinematic city in the 1980s and early 1990s is somewhat bleak and 'raw'. it is precisely the romantic comedies of the late-1990s and 2000s which register '...a sense of london as a global city' (p. 111). Drawing on Sassen (1991) and King (1990), Brunsdon (2007) suggests that the release of similar films in this category, with their focus on light entertainment, such as Sliding Doors (1997) and notting Hill (1998), is far from coincidental. indeed, as Church Gibson (2003) notes, the Fantasy london category is highly favourable for filmmakers, as this image of the city, coupled with other filmic elements like cast and distribution, entails 'significant commercial success' (p. 365).the Fantasy london theme is often re-articulated in non-cinematic genres, like advertising. in narrative advertising, for example, london often plays a starring role alongside well-known actors in promoting luxury products which at times have no direct relation to the city on screen. the city serves as the backdrop and enhances the high value associated with the product being promoted, whereby the lighting, shots and style create an air of desirability. the product is often left ambiguous until the very end of the advertisement, leaving the film star and the city, the secondary products, in the foreground. there exist many examples of this phenomenon, including, amongst others, advertisements for high-end fragrances, fashion, cosmetics and even financial services. I identify these examples and link them back to the core theme of Fantasy london as a strategy by which to cultivate and communicate london's symbolic value. Cinema's contribution to the widespread distribution of london as a representational space, positions this and other global cities and their associated commercial products as objects of desire. rather than contributing to a fluid cinematic-commercial repository, the promotion of the city through cinema in many ways reinforces a standardised visual (cinematic) and, by association, consumer culture. this relates to the evolution of promotional practices, but also to cinema itself. Cinema as an industry is changing, extending its reach beyond the silver screen and penetrating the promotional industries and indeed other media outlets like television and the internet, rendering the global cities' image far more accessible to a wider and often global audience.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840454 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840454 , version 1


Rahoul Masrani. Selling the city: Fantasy london as a cinematic construct. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840454⟩


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