64 MediaMagazine | February 2009 | english and media centre


Rock N Rolla
Rock N Rolla (2008) was considered by many to be a return to form for Guy Ritchie. Featuring his usual cast of gangsters, cockney villains and lovable rogues, it was a clear return to the glory days of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000), which saw him branded by some – maybe somewhat too enthusiastically – as an ‘auteur’. But how have the media platforms of moving image, the print press and the internet contributed to this regained popularity?

Rock N Rolla: the trailer
One of the most obvious ways of promoting a film – and an important focus of any cross platform media study – is the film trailer. Fans of Ritchie’s body of work will be unsurprised to discover that Rock N Rolla provides its intended audience demographic with a technically flashy and action-packed piece of film that introduces its hybridised generic conventions via characterisation, mise-en-scène and diegetic sound. Here, besuited and rugged looking males are found in abundance, conforming to the generic expectations of the English gangster – a gentleman and a thug. In addition to this, the various mise-en-scène that range from

Duncan Yeates

grimy recording studios and East End hovels to upmarket council offices reinforces the gangster’s connections with the street, as well as his ability to have influence and function in the highest echelons of power. Diegetic sound is used to reinforce the dry wit and sarcastic humour of its main protagonists: ‘What do you think we are, gangsters?’ – as well as to add a small element of almost slapstick comedy: Gerard Butler’s character, One Two, asking the people he has just robbed where to find reverse gear in their car is a good example of this. The one unusual generic element to this brew of violence is the Rock N Rolla himself: rock musician Johnny Quid. However, to play down any of the effeminate
english and media centre | February 2009 | MediaMagazine



connotations that can come with rock musicians, he is shown displaying his muscular bare chest, wearing sunglasses and firing two guns at once with apparent violent delight. Consider the dynamic relationship between audience, text and institution here. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch were box office successes for Ritchie. His texts attracted large audiences and made money for the institutions (parent film companies) behind them. Between these early films and Rock N Rolla Ritchie has made a number of box office flops – Swept Away, anyone? By returning to the generic conventions of a text that proved popular in the past – gangster films – and by adding a new twist, the incorporation of rock musicians, Guy Ritchie regains the attentions of fans of his past glories as well as attracting a new audience demographic: music fans. It is worth noting here that, as in the case with musical fashion, rock and indie music is currently in vogue. In addition to this, its stars have continued to garner much press attention for their rock and roll lifestyle. Consider the proliferation of stories about ‘crackhead’ Pete Doherty, former front man of The Libertines, who, incidentally, is referenced by Ritchie himself as an inspiration for the character of Johnny Quid.

Images: image. net and Dark Castle Entertainment/The Kobal Collection for Thandie Newton, Gerard Butler and Toby Kebbell in Rock N Rolla (2008) d. Guy Ritchie

The print dimension
Print media has been one way in which Ritchie has been able to commodify his persona and public life in order to attract a variety of different audience demographics and win them over to his latest release. Consider the way he is represented in the September issue of Zoo magazine, with its laddish focus on ‘birds, booze and football’. Here, he talks enthusiastically about his ‘non-faffy boozer’, ironically situated in Mayfair, London, and bemoans his status as a lapsed Chelsea fan while playing up the comparisons between Roman Abramovitch and one of the main characters in his latest film. In addition to this, he makes reference to his ‘criminal’ associates 66 MediaMagazine | February 2009 | english and media centre

to give him a suitable edge of menace and danger. This is all suitable fodder for a magazine that celebrates ‘laddish’ behaviour and delights in explicit pictures of gory injuries amongst articles on Ultimate Fighting. Interestingly, in the Mail on Sunday a very different and somewhat more balanced Ritchie appears. Reference is made to his incredibly aristocratic ancestry and his time spent at private schools. Unlike Zoo, emphasis is also placed on the content of his film as well as his public persona. Consider the audience demographic of the Mail – C1 of the National Readership Survey’s social grade classification: lower middle-class office workers traditionally of a generally politically conservative nature. Ritchie therefore has to work out how to sell himself and his product to this institution and its ideals. He does this first of all by making reference to his background – Mail readers and the lower middle-class in general have a well known interest in the monarchy. Secondly, his apologetic attitude towards any morally incorrect behaviour he may have committed – Ritchie discusses his youthful dalliances with substance abuse, admitting it was a mistake, a confession that would endear him to a readership increasingly obsessed with an ‘immoral Britain’. In terms of Blumler and Katz, Ritchie is, in

both instances, offering his respective audiences the uses and gratifications of personal identity, diversion and surveillance, enabling them to identify with him; he also encourages them to be distracted by his suggestively autobiographical tales of gangsters and possibly gain what they consider to be an insight into the gangster lifestyle from a man who lays claim to connections with the criminal underworld.

Viral marketing
Viral marketing is an interesting and costeffective method of marketing a product that needs to target a very specific audience demographic. This form of marketing relies on the use and gratification of personal relationships (Blumer and Katz again!) to spread the word to the rest of its intended audience. Viral marketing is often associated with the internet where it is quick and easy to spread information with a mouse click but it can also take other forms. In the case of Rock N Rolla, beer mats have been used for this purpose. This may initially seem bizarre but consider one section of its target audience: Zoo readers – an audience demographic that fits into band D of the National Readership Survey’s social classification: semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, shop assistants, farm and building


site labourers – social groups that are often stereotypically associated in public discourse with heavy or binge drinking. Therefore, it could be argued that promoting Rock N Rolla on a beer mat inscribed with the rhetorical question, ‘Are you a Rock N Rolla?’ is an unusual and clever idea, specifically targeting its audience demographic and encouraging them to discuss the film with their drinking companions and promoting the film for free. The mat also offers some clear links with other media platforms, featuring as it does the address of the website and a phone number that can be texted for a film trailer and ‘free stuff’. Thus, any route that the audience takes to further their knowledge of the film also takes them back to the trailer to further pique their curiosity. It is also worth noting the use of iconography on the beer mats to produce enigma codes. Here, the picture of the bare-chested rock n rolla firing two guns is pictured – an image that only forms a small part of the official film poster. Why is this done? Firstly, to arouse the curiosity of its target audience; and secondly to appeal to the producers’ notion of the lowest common denominator amongst such a social group – violence. Links can be established between representation, audience and institution here. By appealing to the ideals behind each carefully selected institution, Ritchie represents himself in a way that appeals to and engages with each publication’s audience demographic and garners potential viewers who are interested in him and his work.

are being developed between platforms in a unified way. The reproduction of the film poster serves to develop some distinctive and clear film iconography – something that is expanded upon even more with the opportunities to download the film posters for personal use. Here, Ritchie and the institutions behind him are marketing their product highly economically, without the expenditure of billboard or broadcast advertising. The opportunities offered by email and social networking sites enabled hundreds or thousands of Rock N Rolla e-posters to flood the information superhighway at the click of a mouse. In addition to this, the press and broadcast promotion for the film both make explicit reference to the film’s website. Representationwise, the advantages of this are twofold: in the case of the film poster, the website provides an opportunity to develop the static codes and conventions of the poster by showing an attention-grabbing film trailer. Equally, for those whose curiosity has been piqued by the trailer, the website gives background information on the plot, characters and the parts of London it was shot in.

Reading the film
Consider dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings here. How does the internet reinforce a dominant reading of the film? By developing our understanding of Rock N Rolla with some short documentary-style clips about the London that inspired the screenplay,

detailing its main characters and offering some thorough production notes – our understanding is reinforced in a very deliberate and specific way. Interestingly, the extra information offered by the website contributes and develops some of the uses and gratifications that the trailer or poster may offer – surveillance is offered here with Ritchie’s film shorts on the London that inspired the film reinforcing a dominant reading of the film’s realism and social relevance. In addition to this, insight is also offered into the life of Ritchie as well as possibly the gratification of personal identification as a further film clip goes on to document the film’s premiere. It could be suggested that in many ways the marketing campaign for Rock N Rolla is a textbook example: clear links between platforms, excellent targeting of audience demographic and a clever and timely hybridisation of genre to engage the interest of a whole new sub-culture of music fans who may have never been bothered by Ritchie’s tales of the criminal underworld before. Duncan Yeates teaches English and Media Studies at Helston Community College, Cornwall.

The website
In terms of visual appeal the website for Rock N Rolla matches the flashiness of the trailer providing plenty of visual stimulation for fans of the action movie genre. The site opens with a brief countdown, followed by a screening of the film’s trailer to arrest the interest of the audience. This is then followed by a menu page that uses the official film poster as a backdrop. Here links
english and media centre | February 2009 | MediaMagazine


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